2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.
 Hold Firm to the Truth You Know

 Copyright 2009 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV


I was once riding a bus through rural China[1] and observed an old farmer, dressed in traditional country attire, driving his plow behind his water buffalo.  He was only holding onto the plow with one hand while he held the other against the side of his head.  Curious to understand why he did not use two hands on the plow I used the telephoto lens of my camera to observe more closely.  My appreciation of this beautiful and primitive pastoral scene was dashed by the sight of that free hand pressing a cell phone against his ear. 

One of the characteristics of this “modern” age[2] is our ability to communicate instantly.  The use of cell phones and internet connections has brought the world together, allowing us to receive sound and visual images as they occur essentially anywhere in the world.  This open communication also enables any individual with an idea to quickly broadcast that idea around the world.  We frequently hear self-proclaimed prophets publishing a new truth, or new predictions of the future.  We saw much of this during the millennial change from 1999 to 2000 when many proclaimed the end of the world.  “Y2K” became an icon for anything from predicted computer crashes to Armageddon.[3]  All this bombardment of information can make it easy for us to find ourselves immersed in such a sea of falsehood that we can begin to confuse the authoritative and logical arguments we hear with the truths that we already know.  How many times do we use the instruction, “You know better!” when we attempt to provide correction?

Having been given the truth, we should “know better” than to give any authority to those who proclaim falsehood.  How do we assure that our understanding of God’s word is not tainted with errors?  Everyone approaches their understanding of the faith with presuppositions: a system of definitions that shapes how we interpret that which we see.  For example, I approach faith with the presupposition that God’s word is without any error in its original form.  Consequently I consummately reject any teaching that disagrees with this presupposition.  Those who propose an errant scripture would consider me blinded by my position.

How do we know for certain that what we are reading and hearing is truth or falsehood?  Though none of the original biblical manuscripts have been found, the agreement among the thousands of copies gives us assurance that they are reliable.  However, if we do not understand Greek and Hebrew in the exact way that the ancients did, we cannot take advantage of these anyway.  We are forced to rely on translations and interpretations of translations that themselves are subject to the presuppositions of the translators.  With the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we can come up with a very reliable theology, but this process still leads to much controversy and disagreement over biblical truths.

Paul, Timothy, and Silas taught the truth as they planted churches during their missionary journeys, including the church in Thessalonica.  However, because of the conflict that their message had with the current religious leadership, they were chased out of town, and eventually made the 900+ mile journey back to Antioch.  From this point, Paul relied on letters and messengers to communicate with his churches.  Having sent Timothy on the long and arduous journey back to Thessalonica, and upon Timothy’s return, Paul learned that the folks in the church were still struggling with some important theological truths, including the nature and context of Jesus’ impending return.  Some were teaching that the second coming of Jesus (the perousia) had already taken place.  Some were proclaiming dates, stirring up the people only to experience deflation when the date passes without incident.  There were a lot of different ideas floating around, and many held firmly to any one of these disparate views.  The situation in the church is not that different today.  Few people know the word of God sufficiently to detect and deflect the plethora of false ideas that bombard us.

1.  REJECT FALSE DOCTRINE

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2.  Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

Having completed the introductions in the first chapter, Paul uses strong language to emphasize his concern over their error.  The KJV renders the word beseech to describe the thought of Paul’s intensity as he literally begs the Thessalonians to listen to his direction as he attempts to get them back on track.  Paul immediately makes a reference to two important truths: the LORD Jesus Christ is surely coming, and that the coming will be characterized by the gathering of the faithful.  Those who are faithful are the ones who are being led to believe that Jesus already came, and they have been left behind because of their sinfulness.  Paul reminds them that they have not been left.

Paul lists three sources of false doctrine that seems to be taking hold of them, shaking their beliefs and their confidence.  We still today are often shaken by untruths from these same three sources 

(1).  By spirit, pneumatos.  The Greek term is the identical term used to refer to the Holy Spirit, but the context omits the reference to holiness.  If we remove the holiness from the term we find Paul referring to an unholy spirit.  Such a spirit can be invoked by emotional agreement of a group to an error that is brought by a sincere, but incorrect, member of the fellowship.  It can be a spirit of fear that rises from the belief that the perousia has already taken place.  It is also easy for us to be influenced by an erroneous spirit, so we must always be vigilant to test the truth of anything that would serve to change our beliefs.

(2).  By word, logos.  This term refers to the spoken word that the Greek culture gave great power.  The scriptures describe God’s act of creation taking place following His “spoken” word.  Spoken words change things.  Words have the power to encourage and to discourage.  They can serve to build up, and they can serve to tear down.  Paul also encourages the Thessalonians to be vigilant to test the truth of the words that they hear so that they are not cast into confusion.  Much of the confusion of today’s culture comes from the cacophony of messages in the voices we hear.  We are just as apt to find confusion in those messages as the ancients were so many years ago.

(3).  By letter, epistolos.  Paul refers to the written word, and qualifies it with a term rendered “as from us.”  It was common in ancient culture to practice pseudo epigraphy, the practice of attaching the name of another respected person to a written document, implying authorship.  This was considered an honor to the one whose name was placed on the letter.  It is likely that they were being given written doctrine that falsely claimed Pauline authorship.  Today we use a variety of written sources to supplement our understanding of God’s word, and like the early church, we must be vigilant to test the content of written documents that would seek to change our beliefs.

By using these three metaphors, Paul has described all of the sources of possible bad doctrine that should always be approached with wisdom so that we are not misled into confusion.  He also speaks to a specific point of doctrine that has been vexing them: they are being told that the Day of the LORD, the perousia, has already taken place, or is now taking place.  This doctrine of “realized eschatology” carries with it a clear message that those who once placed their faith in God have lost their salvation.  This is such a damaging false doctrine that Paul is motivated to address it firmly and directly.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

In forming his defense, Paul points out two of the events surrounding the perousia that have not yet taken place.  He makes a very sound and logical argument to assert that the doctrines they are hearing are patently false.  The events to which Paul refers can also be found in the Revelation of John.

The first event that Paul refers to is that of the state of apostasy (falling away, apostasia) that will be seen throughout the world, a state of godlessness that will cause the degradation of society to such an extent that the church could not survive if God did not intervene.[4]  Paul also refers to the coming of a recognized “son of perdition,” one who he describes in a similar manner as the antichrist of the Revelation.[5]

We see the signs of the end all around us.  The world is continuing to fall away, and it would seem very possible that an antichrist could rise at any time.  Consequently, it is wise to be vigilant and prepared for the “thief in the night”[6]  However, we understand that these events have not taken place, so we have not yet been left behind.

I am reminded of a tennis game I played many years ago with John, a dedicated and faithful Christian friend.  As we approached the net after a point was played, two events took place simultaneously:  he lifted his water jug to drink, and a yellowjacket was hovering around the back of his head.  As his jug was lifted, I walked around the net and used my hand to chase the bee away.  When John lowered his jug it had appeared that I had vanished from in front of his eyes, and he was startled.  He testified that he thought the perousia had taken place and he had been left behind!

2.  HOLD TO THE TRUTH

2 Thessalonians 2:5.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

It is evident that Paul taught the members of the Thessalonian fellowship the details of the perousia when he was with them in Thessalonica.  They knew the truth, and they could remember the truth if they could do so without distraction.  They had come to doubt Paul’s teaching and became confused and disoriented by falsehoods that they had heard.  They did not trust the foundational truths that they had been taught.

Some of us have never had the opportunity to learn those foundational truths, and must be careful to rely on sources of instruction that are dependable and proven.  Many of us have learned from well-meaning, but uninformed teachers who have relied on sources similar to the church in Thessalonica and now face confusion when confronted with conflicting doctrine.  Others have a solid foundation and must be vigilant to test every source against that which is known to be true.  We can see that any doctrine that would cause us to change our opinion may not be wrong, but it should be tested against a reliable source.  Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he is that source.

2 Thessalonians 2:6-9.  And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

After establishing himself as the source that the Thessalonians should listen to, he repeats to them the same message he taught them when he helped form the fellowship.  Paul describes in some detail the character and experience of this antichrist who has not yet come.  The antichrist will be revealed.  His position as the antichrist will be obvious to those who have placed their faith and trust in God.  Those who have not trusted in God will be placing their faith in the antichrist.  However, the antichrist will be defeated, and his wickedness will be revealed.  Though the antichrist came with great light, the true darkness of his character will be exposed and he will be defeated by a word from Jesus. 

One might think that Paul read John’s Revelation when he wrote this, but it appears that this letter may have been the second written document in the New Testament, with the Revelation being written much later.  The argument that John received his knowledge of the antichrist from Paul’s letter is nullified by the much greater detail that John gives to the subject.  Each received their knowledge of the revelation from another source, Jesus Himself.  John heard his teaching every day for three years.  Paul heard the same teaching while in exile during the three years between his conversion and his appearance to the disciples.

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Paul continues as he repeats what he had taught them concerning the state of those who have denied the truth and followed the antichrist, the agent of satan.  It is these who will perish because they rejected the truth in their apostasy, exchanging salvation for a lie.  Paul clearly states that God gave them this choice.  Having been given this delusion (do not forget that God is sovereign, and even satan serves the purposes of God) the apostate chose to immerse themselves in it, finding great pleasure in it.

It may be instructive to be reminded of the basic purpose of this message that is presented by both Paul and John.  These are a persecuted people who are witnessing a wicked world around them that is persecuting them, and yet appears to be blessed by great wealth, power, and blessing.  Jesus has not returned for more than a generation.  These two circumstances served to bring discouragement to the faithful, opening the door for false prophets to jump in and gain their trust.  Paul and John both bring this message to remind them that the wicked will be judged and those who have been faithful will find reward.  Though they may not see judgment now, they can trust God that the judgment will take place when Jesus returns.

3.  BE CONFIDENT AND SECURE IN YOUR SALVATION.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.  But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recall my friend John, the tennis player.  (By the way, he is an outstanding player!)  John loves the LORD as much as anyone I know, and has demonstrated God’s working in his live in miraculous ways.  His is a wonderful testimony of faith and trust.  Yet, one quick circumstance brought a twinge of doubt to his heart.  The Thessalonians had much more than a twinge.  They were misled and discouraged by false teachers who manipulated them for their own personal purposes.  The false teachers served only to produce hurt and pain, probably in an effort to give themselves power and position.  These were not demonstrating true agape love.

When we look at Paul’s teaching, whether it is illuminating a need in a person’s life, or if it is lifting them up in encouragement, is always bathed in true, unconditional, agape love.  As Paul hears of the state of the Thessalonian church he is still bound to give thanks for them because he loves them as a father loves a child, or more accurately, as God the Father loves the church.  One who would tell them that they were left behind after the perousia is declaring their state of unrighteousness (which somehow the teacher must share in such a system of doctrine, since they are left behind too!).  Paul reminds them that God has chosen those who place their faith and trust in Him for a salvation that is held and assured by the Holy Spirit.  That salvation will be completed when they find themselves with Jesus in glory.  There is nothing that will ever take their salvation away from them.

There are teachers today who teach a similar doctrine.  They teach that we can lose our salvation by an act of sin, the same doctrine that has permeated mankind from the beginning.  Such a doctrine is quite appropriate for the apostate, those who have rejected God and the truth of the gospel; those who have never placed their faith and trust in God.  Their sin does condemn them to separation from God for eternity, as it is that sin that will show honor to the antichrist and to satan.  The penalty of sin is death: separation from God for eternity. 

However, when Jesus went to the Cross of Calvary he paid the penalty of that sin.  He suffered the price of sin so that those who would place their faith and trust in God would not have to.  Sin no longer has the power to condemn the community of faith.  Sin has lost its power, its victory, its sting.  Though people of faith may experience the consequences of their sin and the sin of others, consequences that can create limitless suffering, that sin no longer has power to separate us from God.  God promises, as Paul describes, to be faithful to bring us to the point of obtaining the glory of Jesus Christ.

If sin could condemn the faithful, we would all have no hope, for we all continue to sin.  The praise and glory of the gospel is in its grace, that God loves us when we are yet sinners, Jesus died for us, the one who is just for we who are unjust so that we would obtain a relationship with God, a relationship that assures an eternity with Him. 

2 Thessalonians 2:15.  Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The world is as filled with false prophets today as it was in the first century when the church was struggling to find its initial identity and purpose.  Today’s instant-communication culture allows every person with an idea an opportunity to share that idea across the world in a matter of microseconds.  Media preachers bombard us with doctrines and ideas with logical and passionate arguments that serve to sway many people to believe their words, yet is is their words that the people listen to rather than the Word of God.  Having exposed the false doctrine of those who the Thessalonians have been listening to, Paul encourages the fellowship to avoid repeating this error.  He refers the sources of the gospel they are to accept: “our” words and writings, the words and writings of the apostles, those who received the truth from Jesus. 

Jesus is the only source of truth.  Any gospel that conflicts with the words of Jesus is a lie.  Today, as in the first century church, the literal words of Jesus are found only in the testimony of those he taught.  Consequently, we consider as authoritative only those New Testament documents that were written by those who were taught by Jesus.  Most doctrinal error today comes from those who read their own ideas or the ideas of others into scripture without sufficient examination of the entire text.  If someone espouses a doctrine that sounds defensible based upon a biblical passage they choose, but it is contradicted by other scripture, then the scripture has not been sufficiently understood, and the teaching is false. 

All scripture is inspired and reliable.[7]  There is no disagreement across God’s word.  Consequently, in order to discern that which is false, it is necessary to know the truth.  The truth can only be found through the study of scripture, a task that, because of language and culture differences from the author to the reader, must be done with an understanding of the history, context, language, and culture of the intended readers.  Much is known about these things, and reliable sources of assistance can be easily found as we seek the correct meaning of the biblical text.  The most important agent of understanding is the Holy Spirit, and if one will pause and listen to Him, tuning out the noise of the cacophony of messages, He can provide a peace and illumination to guide us in that study. 

Paul is not stating that the Thessalonians should hold to their beliefs and traditions for the sake of those beliefs and traditions … such a position perpetuates falsehoods for generations.  He is referring to those that they have learned under his teaching.  One who stands fast is not easily swayed, and one who has established an understanding of its doctrines should not be easily swayed.  However, none of us shares God’s omniscience, so we always need to be teachable.  All of us who seek to understand spiritual truths should continue to grow and develop a continuingly deeper knowledge.  This implies continual learning, necessitating changes in our beliefs.  However, once one has come to a foundational understanding of the faith, that foundation should become firm and unshakable, not easily changed by every “wind of doctrine.”[8]

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.  Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. 

Paul closes this passage of doctrinal correction with a blessing of encouragement.  The authority of the false teachers came from their own mouths.  The authority of the Truth is our LORD Jesus Christ, and God the Father who loves us and has given us the gift of everlasting security.  I have met many people who hold to a tradition taught to them that they can lose their salvation.  My statement to them is sometimes, “What part of everlasting do you not understand?”  Most Christians are quite aware of one of the most well-know scriptures, John 3:16 that states:

   For  God so loved the world that He gave His

Only begotten

Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not

Perish, but have

Eternal

Life.

How long is eternal?

Do not be swayed by the logical doctrines of man that would teach you that you are responsible for your own salvation.  The church has used that doctrine to elevate itself to the position of God as it requires believers to come to the church for forgiveness.  The only source of forgiveness is Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, an act of grace that was performed one time to pay the penalty of sins for all time, saving those who placed their faith in God both before the cross[9], and afterward.  Be excited about the security of your salvation, and be wary of those who would bring false doctrine.  This is the message of 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2.
 

[1] Summer, 2007.

[2] The state of “modern” society, largely unchanging, is always relevant to the viewer’s perception of recent events, and events around the time of this writing may be still relevant for many years to come.

[3] Revelation 16:16 ff.

[4] The events surrounding this tribulation are illustrated in Revelation, Chapters 9-12.

[5] Revelation, Chapter 6.

[6] Matt. 24:43 ff., 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 1 Peter 3:10

[7] 2 Timothy 2:15.

[8] Ephesians 4:14.

[9] c.f. Hebrews, Chapter 11.