April 28, 2013
Background Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 9-17
Devotional Reading: Titus 3:1-7
The scripture we will be studying this week is not one I would have chosen because it is difficult to relate it to us and our world. I am not alone, for Bible scholar William Barclay begins his exposition of this passage: “This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult passages in the whole New Testament.”
Dr. James W. Clark, writing in The Interpreter’s Bible, says: “This is the bizarre passage on (the) antichrist.” Why?
For one thing, we are lacking some vital Information because Paul and the Thessalonian congregation knew the situation in detail and we do not. But Paul, not knowing we today would be reading his words, doesn’t give us enough to be certain about what is going on.
Is it a letter or a false rumor to which Paul is responding? Who wrote it and to whom was it sent? It obviously involves teaching and false teaching on the return of Christ, but what is it threatening, to bring down the Thessalonian church?
It made sense to the Christians at Thessalonica, but it is hard – although not necessarily impossible – for us to digest.
The other reason this letter may elude us is it is using concepts, ideas and images that are not relevant for our times. Apocalyptic literature was well known, widely used and popular, especially in the first two centuries A.D. It served a purpose in those days, but in our times it is no longer relevant.
Remember that apocalyptic literature is based upon a deterministic and pessimistic view of history, makes a continuing use of symbolism and signs, deals with angels and demons, ecstatic visions and prophesies and a cosmic conflict between good and evil, God and the Evil One. Paul was probably wise in using it with the Thessalonians of his day, but it is difficult to connect to us in ours.
As I have repeatedly pointed out, it was based upon a popular expectation – as well as Paul’s own – regarding the immanent return of Christ in power and glory. He and many thought Christ’s return was immanent; it was not. When that proved incorrect, they believed it would take place within their lifetimes; it did not.
Now, more than 2,000 years later, Christ still has not returned – at least not apocalyptically, although some Christians, as did Paul’s people, still expect it immanently. But most of us have interpreted Christ’s return with a still far-off event, or perhaps one that occurred and was unrecognized.
One thing we have in common with the Thessalonians and other peoples of Paul’s day, as their world was shaken and trembling with fear, so is ours today. In 2:2,3, Paul writes: “We beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind …” The Greek word for “shaken” always implies violently unsettling.
It appears the world and the church were in a state of frenzy. Instead of, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” the message is, “the Day of the Lord is coming” – and it will be catastrophic in its consequences. Even without daily newspapers, television and Internet to warn us, our world appears to be coming apart at the seams.
It is interesting to note that the word translated from the Greek is rendered in English as “willful deception.” It is common for human beings to both deceive and be deceived. The evil that often goes with deception is it is intended to be deceptive.
I receive in my emails, as many of you probably do, lots of charges against people, organizations and our various forms of government. Usually I ignore that kind of email, but sometimes I answer back, saying: Can you provide proof of what you have just charged?
Accusations without authentication may pass as “good politics,” but it is really abominable Christian discipleship.
Son of perdition
Although we use other terminology, there is good reason to believe our world also has its equivalent(s) of the “son of perdition” (perdition means “lawlessness”). There are, there have been and likely will be individuals and groups that we may judge to be “sons of perdition,” who, although they may not be able to trigger the Second Coming of Christ, can cause and even are causing lawless acts on the highest and lowest of levels.
So, Paul’s admonition can have relevance for us as well: “We beg you, brethren, either by spirit or by word not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either in spirit or by word …” (2:1).
I have known some who wish and wait for Christ’s return now, not some future time, because they are anxious for “unbelievers to get what they have coming to them.” They believe in the judgment of God, but not the grace of God. They are awaiting the punishment and annihilation of the “guilty” with a fervor that is unbefitting for a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The word to the Thessalonian Christians and us today is the same: Fear not, for God is and will be in control of this world. The sons of Perdition in this world will not endure. Settle down and leave the details to our Lord.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.