Expecting Christ’s Return (5)

Scripture Readings

  • Isaiah 30:27-33
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We lived in an old Queenslander, raised from ground level.  From the front of the house to the back was a fairly steep slope, with the effect that one needed to climb quite a few steps to get to the backdoor.  Our dogs lived under floorboards at the back.  

One night just after sunset, one of them baked at a peculiar pitch which I found interesting.  I had a look.  In the semi-darkness, I saw this big snake, at that stage somewhat agitated by the dog.  I still believe enmity between men and snakes started in the Garden of Eden, and as you can imagine, I leaped away with a bouncing heart.  I ordered the girls to ring the RSPCA and ask for someone to come to our aid.  The answering machine said they would not be available before 9.00am on Monday morning.  Now, trying to hold the serpent at bay with the garden rake, I barked our a command to ring the lost pets people.  Same response.  Every minute this monster seemed to grow bigger.  My dog did not understand any of this and just thought to deal with the thing, but it backed off when the reptile reared its head with a hiss.  

My last option was to have the girls ring pest control, which said they were on their way.  In the meantime, the girls were on the internet trying to identify the animal.  I worked up a sweat, the dog got more agitated, and the snake became visibly unhappy.  Then, pest control arrived.  I expected the fellow to have a shotgun or similar weapon for self-defence with him; on the contrary, he only had a bag and a stick.  Before I could warn him against the danger awaiting him, he stepped forward with the stick-thing, and with one swoop, our enemy was in the bag.  How the fellow did it, I don’t know because at that stage I thought the snake was about 12 feet long!

“It’s a carpet snake; they’re harmless.”  And as the man arrived, he disappeared in the dark of the night.  Our dog kept sniffing around, I still shivered, and the girls were still on the internet. 

Christ and the Lawless One

This episode reminds my of the paragraph we are going to study this morning.  

It talks about the man of lawlessness, an individual who exalts himself over everything.  He is under control of Satan, doing all sorts of miracles; he is clearly someone to fear, isn’t he?  But we read about Christ appearing on the scene:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NIV)

There will be no battle between the Lawless One and Christ; the battle was already won at Calvary where Christ had a decisive victory.  When the last day of this deceitful and boastful one arrives, he will be destroyed.  Our Lord will have no resistance from the one with the big mouth;  He will just overthrow him with the greatness of his mouth; like with a breath! 

The events before Christ will destroy his enemy

The Gospel goes out to all nations

We don’t know for sure what the false prophets proclaimed to the new Christians in Thessalonica other than preaching false claims that Christ had already returned.  This also happened elsewhere.  Paul writes to Timothy about two false prophets… 

“who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:18, NIV)

It might also be that some false prophets told the Thessalonians that the persecution they were going through was because of their spiritual incompetence leading god to punish them; Christ will not return before they would improve their ways.  

Paul answers their concerns by sketching in less than complete terms what has to take place before Christ will return.  His return is not delayed by human intervention, but by God-ordained events which will precede Christ’s return and the coming of the last day.

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, NIV)

In the meantime, Paul points out, this man of lawlessness, Lawless One, is held back. He will be revealed at the proper time.  My dear friend, this puts a smile on our faces, isn’t it?  Anti-Christ does not have the power to act at his own will; he is held back.  The context points to someone under Christ who holds him back.  Before Christ finished his work of redemption, Satan had held deceiving power over the nations.  But Christ then declared that He received all power in heaven and on earth, He then sends out his church into all the corners of the world to make them his disciples, and He promises to be with them till the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).  We understand this is the period Paul refers to in 2Thessalonians 2 as the timeframe in which the Lawless One is held back.  

This teaching corresponds with the teaching of John in Revelation.     

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1–2, NIV)

Reformed understanding of the Bible interprets this thousand year period not as literal thousand years, but as the set period of time in which the Gospel concerning the Kingship of Christ will be preached to all nations.  

Surely, our text is clear about the influence of the anti-Christ now:  

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7, NIV)

Even today Satan has no power over the Gospel.  He tries whatever he can to stop the work, but God’s plan of salvation is being worked out.  Through the intercession of Christians and the work of the Holy Spirit the Father still answers the prayers of his church to see that missionaries and evangelists will not be stopped.  Even today, we gather here in the Name of the Christ, and our prayer that those who don’t know Him as Lord and Saviour might be saved.  We pray for our city and for the lost to be found by Christ to be saved.  Every day our enemy tries to frustrate the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit gives success and people receives salvation.  It happens all over the world.

The Lawless one revealed

Then, something dramatic and drastic will happen.  2Thessalonians 8: 

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NIV)

Once again, we read about the same event in Revelation 20:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number, they are like the sand on the seashore. (Revelation 20:7–8, NIV)

Since the ascension of Christ, we already live in the last days, the final dispensation.  But don’t misunderstand the end times:  there will be a brief period shortly before the return of Christ which our text refers to:  

… but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he  (most probably the angel referred to in Revelation 20:2 and 6) is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:7–8, NIV)

What will he do?  

He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10, NIV)

The return of Christ will be preceded by an unprecedented and climactic battle between the forces of the evil one and the church of Jesus Christ.  John speaks in different terms about the same event in Revelation 16:  

Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Revelation 16:1-4, 16, NIV)

We’ve already heard about Gog and Magog; the Bible also refers to the battle of Armageddon.  May great schemes and speculations have been offered to identify Gog and Magog.  After the fall of the Wall of Berlin and the spectacular failure of the communist USSR, some of these theories came tumbling down in the same fashion.  

I don’t want to serve you with speculation.  But let’s understand this: to think of a real battle between two real armies—made up of red soldiers, equipped with actual arms and ammunition on a physical battleground—is to misunderstand the war Christians will then be involved in.  On the other hand, it will surely not be a hypothetical or imagery battle; it will be a conflict with casualties, but in the first instance this battle is a contest for our hearts and minds, our allegiance to Christ.  This will be ongoing until the last scene before the return of Christ.  At that stage, things will really turn against the followers of Christ.  It seems that the false prophet, together with world governments and their agencies—or even a one-world government led by anti-Christ—will be given authority to test the church of God before Christ will return in splendor to destroy the so-called mighty governments of this world.  Paul writes:  

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10, NIV)

John writes in Revelation 16 about this satanic trinity—the anti-Christ, false prophet, and godless puppet governments—

They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. (Revelation 16:14, NIV)

Those who will follow these deceptions and take the signs and wonders of anti-Christ for the truth, are those who—according to our text in 2Thessalonians 2:10—“refused to love the truth and be saved”.  These people are even led further astray because “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.  (2Thessalonians 2:11-12).  

Jesus Himself warned in Matthew 24:  

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:23–24, NIV)

Our focus should be on Christ

When it comes to the teaching of the Bible regarding the return of Christ a great many books have been written about the anti-Christ and about all sorts of wars and battles which will precede the return of Christ.  The theories of some people are not serving Christians to be focussed on Christ; they get caught up in paralyzing fear, they flee for their little corners in the hope that they will escape it.  Well, we have the promises of God in Christ Jesus that no one will ever snatch us from the hand of God, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to protect us from falling for deception, we have the assurance of Christ that those whom the Father elected in Him will never perish—so, why do we need to live in this paralysing fear?

Our focus should be on Christ.  Let’s go a bit back in history.  We turn to Isaiah 30.  Let’s start with  verse 18:  

The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him! (Isaiah 30:18, NIV)

It talks about God anger and his wrath over his enemies:  

Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze. (Isaiah 30:33, NIV)

Paul uses the same figure of speech in 2Thessalonians 2:8:

the Lord Jesus will overthrow [the lawless one] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NIV)

John writes in Revelation 19

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre’ . He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:15, NIV)

Conclusion

I was in fear of the snake under my house.  The snake-handler knew it for what it was and got rid of if.  Don’t fear the works of ant-Christ.  Trust Christ who will destroy him with his breath.  Amen.

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