Verses: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Leading Question: Is the antichrist one person, one power, or potentially many?
The second chapter of Thessalonians again returns to the question of the second coming and adds much more detailed information than is found in his first letter. The primary problem was that some in Thessalonica were believing renegade teachers that Jesus had already come in some mysterious sense. No, says Paul. A number of events must first take place. In that connection, we should ask a number of questions.
1. Are the specifics clear? The characteristics of the “man of sin” are clear: he is deceptive and coercive (2 Thess. 2:9) and he sets himself up to be worshiped in place of God (2 Thess. 2:4). But is such a description limited to one historical possibility? In the book of Revelation, the evil power is described under the name of Babylon, an evil force of an earlier era. Can Babylon manifest itself in a variety of ways?
2. Should the details be ruled by the principles of “conditional” prophecy? When Christ did not return as expected in 1844, Ellen White addressed the question of delay in 1883. But she only did so once, and the quotation was not published until 1958 in Selected Messages, Book 1:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional. 1SM 67.8
3. God’s original plan for Israel? In the SDA Bible Commentary, vol 4, pp. 25-38, is a fascinating and often overlooked article: “The Role of Israel in Old Testament Prophecy.” It suggests quite a different end-time scenario than the one anticipated in the New Testament. Here is a synopsis of that article that opens up the possibility that Christ could have come at several different points in history. It builds on the principles of “conditional” prophecy and takes seriously a contextual reading of such passages as Zechariah 14 and Isaiah 66:
- On-site Evangelism. The world would be attracted to God by Israel’s witness and prosperity. Many would ask to become part of Israel.
- Salvation through the Messiah. God’s anointed one (the messiah) would have come, died, and risen again, but would have been accepted by his own people.
- Jerusalem as Missionary Headquarters. The present city of Jerusalem would have become a center for outreach into the whole world.
- Final Confrontation but the Gradual Elimination of Evil. A confrontation would finally take place between good and evil; God’s rule would be established; but the marks of evil would gradually disappear.
4. Practical applications. What are the practical implications for Christian living if we don’t know the precise details of Christ’s coming? If we follow the counsel of 1 Thessalonians 5, would it make us more capable of living day-by-day than if we are looking for precise details? In the essay, “The World’s Last Night,” C. S. Lewis argues that there are significant advantages in not knowing when the end will come. Here is a key quotation from that essay:
We must never speak to simple, excitable people about ‘the day’ without emphasizing again and again the utter impossibility of prediction. We must try to show them that the impossibility is an essential part of the doctrine. If you do not believe our Lord’s words, why do you believe in his return at all? And if you do believe them must you not put away from you, utterly and forever, any hope of dating that return? His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him. – “The World’s Last Night,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays(Harcourt, 1987 ), 94-95.
5. The study of Daniel and Revelation. Rather than studying our apocalyptic books for precise information, Ellen White suggests that these books would better be studied for the purpose of drawing us closer to God. Note these quotations from Testimonies to Ministers (pp. 112-14):
There is need of a much closer study of the word of God; especially should Daniel and the Revelation have attention as never before in the history of our work. We may have less to say in some lines, in regard to the Roman power and the papacy; but we should call attention to what the prophets and apostles have written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit has so shaped matters, both in the giving of the prophecy and in the events portrayed, as to teach that the human agent is to be kept out of sight, hid in Christ, and that the Lord God of heaven and His law are to be exalted.
When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience. They will be given such glimpses of the open gates of heaven that heart and mind will be impressed with the character that all must develop in order to realize the blessedness which is to be the reward of the pure in heart.
The Lord will bless all who will seek humbly and meekly to understand that which is revealed in the Revelation. This book contains so much that is large with immortality and full of glory that all who read and search it earnestly receive the blessing to those “that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.”
One thing will certainly be understood from the study of Revelation–that the connection between God and His people is close and decided.