One of the reasons Paul was so fervent in instructing his disciples in the principles of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” was because he believed the coming of Christ to be a major incentive to godliness and sobriety in this present evil world. It is a fact that we find this precious doctrine of Christ’s second coming mentioned 318 times in the New Testament. We therefore believe, as did the first century disciples and their inspired teachers, that the second advent, when rightly perceived as to its relative importance, will occupy a supreme place in the life of Christians.
Now, the early churches knew of what doctrinal importance that Christ’s coming would have for the church. And even at an early period, there were false teachers among them who would seek to rob Christians of their blessed hope. Some of these teachers had arisen in the church of Thessalonica, and sought to lure disciples into the error that the day of Christ had already set in. It is against this error that Paul writes in his second epistle to the Thessalonians. He refutes the heresy by claiming that certain signs and manifestations would proceed the day of Christ. And this was considered enough to refute those who had crept in privily to corrupt the truth.
What is the substance of Paul’s teaching? Hearken closely: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, that the day of Christ is present” (2 Thess. 2: 1-2). What is the “Day of Christ” mentioned in his communication? It has reference to Christ’s visible appearance in the clouds of heaven. But this is intimately connected with the seven-year dispensation of judgment, during which man will be abased and Jehovah exalted. It is with this dispensation that the book of Revelation deals. It describes the judgments that will befall mankind when Daniel’s seventieth week begins.
Why were the Thessalonian saints troubled? Because someone had sent them false communications, either by word of mouth, or by a forged letter, that the epoch of judgment had already commenced, and/or that the revelation of Christ was already at hand. Therefore, the saints had every reason to be troubled, for if the assertion were true, then they had missed the rapture, that is, the special catching up of believers prior to the tribulation. The horror of such a thought had robbed them of their hope. Paul, however, disavows any such communication, and corrects the falsehood that the dispensation of grace had ended.
So he tells them something of the utmost importance, to which we ourselves must take heed. He writes: “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” (2 Thess. 2: 3). What is he saying? In this passage, he apprises the saints of the essential fact that the dispensation of judgment and subsequent apocalypse (unveiling) of Christ must be preceded by a “falling away” (apostasy) and a subsequent unveiling of Antichrist. The fact that these things hadn’t happened was enough to refute any teachers who had alarmed them with false reports.
Is there any application in this for us? Bless your heart, there is! For as it stands now, the spiritual and moral conditions of the world remain the same as they were in Paul’s day. We are still in the Dispensation of Grace, and are awaiting “our gathering together unto Christ.” Moreover, we will study Paul’s writings with diligence, when we realize that he gives us the same message he gave the saints of Thessalonica in A.D. 52. Let no man tell you, brethren, that Daniel’s 70th week has commenced. Neither let any man assert that the revelation of Jesus Christ in the clouds is imminent. For although the “falling away” has commenced (and this is a sign that we approaching the consummation), Antichrist has not yet been revealed. His revelation, however, is a sign that the coming of the Lord is near.
What is meant when Paul writes, “that the man of sin be revealed?” Does he imply that Antichrist will be some vague historical figure, to be overlooked by mankind until hundreds of years afterward, when some rationalistic German will discover that he was “The One?” Or does he affirm that Antichrist will be manifested before the eyes of all? The answer may be found in the Greek text, where Paul uses the verb “apokalupto.” This means “to unveil, so as to be visible to the eye.” Therefore, it is clear that Antichrist must be a verifiable personality, and not a mere theory out of a book.
The question quite naturally arises, well, has Antichrist never been revealed? If he has, be assured that day of Christ has already set in. But as we know that the epoch of judgment will last for seven years only, it is impossible that Antichrist can have already come on the scene. For in that case, the dispensation of judgment (day of Christ) is already over, Jesus Christ has returned to earth, and the Day of the Lord (1000 year reign of Christ) has begun. Incomprehensible! Examining the evidence, we’ll find that from the earliest post-Apostolic times well into the post-Nicene period, there is no record that Antichrist had ever been “revealed” to the world, let alone to God’s elect. This fact is of vital significance, for, like Paul’s argument to the Thessalonians, it refutes false teachers who claim that the revelation of Christ is at hand.
Paul then gives us the character of this personal Antichrist, that we may know him when he comes. “Who 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, boasting himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2: 4). This accurately describes the culmination of Antichrist’s career. He will start off as a “vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom” (Dan. 11: 21). He will end his career as the greatest enemy of God who ever existed, a persecutor of the saints, and Satan’s own masterpiece, the concentration of all spiritual wickedness and apostasy. Now, a simple glance at the above facts, and we ask: has any man been revealed as Antichrist? In the history of the church, have we ever seen one who matched the description given by Paul? The answer is, absolutely not. And it is for this reason that we take heed to Paul’s inspired teachings, and remain on the lookout for the “man of sin.”
Brethren, I think we shall live to see him in our own lifetimes. In fact, I think we have already begun to see the appearance of those “false Christs” who shall “deceive many” (Matthew 24: 5)–those precursors of the personal Antichrist which Paul describes. We know by the signs that are evident that the “consummation of the age” is nigh–even at the doors. Therefore, are we out of line in asserting that the “mystery of iniquity” is even more developed than it was in Paul’s day? Regardless of what unbelievers may say, we know that we are on the right track. And now what remains for us to do but to draw nearer to Jesus with pure hearts washed from all selfishness and deceit, and to prepare for the coming dispensation of judgment. Let us pray to God that we attain the special prize of being kept from that hour of temptation (Rev. 3: 10).
When Paul wrote to Timothy in A.D. 67, he said that in the “last days” (closing days of this dispensation) “perilous times would come” (2 Tim. 3: 1). Brethren, we are already in those times. The world is hurtling on to judgment, and therefore we have all the more reason to be diligent to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1: 10). For what will happen to the sleepy-eyed servants who fail to watch for His coming? Will they not receive their portion with the unbelievers? We know that if we keep our garments unspotted, and persevere in faith, hope, and charity, we shall obtain the blessed promises that Christ has held out to us. Oh, Lord preserve us all! Forgive us of our sins and the many times we’ve failed you. Strengthen us with thy Holy Spirit that we may press onward toward the heavenly prize. And above all, keep us watchful and on guard, that when the evil hour comes, we may not be caught unawares.