Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Man of Lawlessness (Part 3 of 3): God Sends a Strong Delusion??

     In the two previous posts, we have identified “the man of lawlessness” as a personification of false religion that is to be openly revealed and destroyed at the return of Christ (2 Thess. 2:1-10). The passage goes on to say, “And on account of this God is sending to them a working [ἐνέργεια] of error [πλάνη] for them to believe the falsehood [τῷ ψεύδει], that all the ones not having believed the truth, but having delighted in unrighteousness, should be judged” (2 Thess. 2:11-12).1
     And on account of this,” viz. because “they did not accept the love of the truth” (v. 10), “God is sending [πέμπω] to them …”2 The only other passage where Paul says God has sent [πέμπω] anything is Rom. 8:3, “having sent his own Son …” (a demonstration of divine love for the whole world, John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).3 God then sent Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke into Macedonia “to proclaim the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). In Thessalonica, some hearers were “persuaded” [Acts 17:4] and “accepted” the word of God (1 Thess. 1:6), which is now “working” [ἐνεργέω] in the believers (1 Thess. 2:13). Others “did not accept the love of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). Therefore, what “God is sending” (i.e., the truth of the gospel) is not only working in the believers, it is also working in the unbelievers but with a different effect, viz. “a working [ἐνέργεια]4 of error [πλάνη] for them to believe the falsehood.”
     The noun πλάνη is literally “a wandering” or “straying about,” and metaphorically “error.”5 The article appended to ψεῦδος, “the falsehood” (or “the lie”), indicates something specific, and contextually this would be the rejection (perhaps misconstruing) of the gospel (v. 10). This is comparable to “those who call evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). The “ones perishing” regard the message of the cross foolish (1 Cor. 1:18); the “natural man” cannot understand (from a worldly perspective) spiritual things and considers them foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14-15); “our gospel is veiled … in those [who are] perishing” (2 Cor. 4:3) because of their predispositions, prejudices, and unwillingness to understand and obey.

     The point may be clarified further by considering the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The Bible repeatedly mentions Pharaoh’s heart being hardened as a result of the demands God made and the signs he performed in Egypt (Ex. 7:13, 14, 22, 23; 8:19; 9:7, 35; 14:5). The question is, who was ultimately responsible for Pharaoh’s stubbornness? The scriptures affirm that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) but also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 19, 32; 9:34-35; 10:3; 13:15). The answer to this apparent discrepancy lies in understanding how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not by subverting Pharaoh’s free will, but by simply making demands that Pharaoh did not like. Pharaoh hardened his own heart because of his own stubborn pride and rebellion. Just as the sun has different effects on wax and clay (one it softens and the other it hardens), so the word of God has different effects on those who hear it. God’s actions and demands in Egypt softened the hearts of some (Ex. 4:30-31; 9:20; 10:7) but hardened the heart of Pharaoh. It was not simply a matter of what God said or did that made the difference but rather the brazen opposition of Pharaoh’s obstinate will.6
     The “falsehood” (viz. “The gospel is foolish, is a lie, and must be rejected!”) is believed by those in Thessalonica who have refused to accept “the love of the truth” in order to be saved. Therefore, what “God is sending” (i.e., the gospel) turns out to be “a working of error,” hardening the hearts of those who oppose the truth, that all the ones not having believed the truth, but having delighted in unrighteousness, should be judged.” These unbelievers are “judged” according to their own decisions and actions (cf. Rom. 14:12), not based on anything God has allegedly forced them to do. Paul explains this further in his letter to the Romans: “For [the] wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, the [ones] suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, because what is known of God is manifest among them, for God has revealed [it] to them…. for they are without excuse…. they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish heart was darkened, professing to be wise they became fools…. Therefore God gave them up in the desires of their hearts.… who changed the truth [ἀλήθεια] of God into the falsehood [τῷ ψεύδει] …” (Rom. 1:18-25); cf. 2 Sam. 22:26-27; Psa. 18:25-26; John 8:44-47; 2 Cor. 2:15-16; 1 John 2:21.

God sends …
Effect on the Resistant
Effect on the Receptive
Romans 1
gospel/truth [vv. 16, 18]
hearts darkened [v. 21]
saved [v. 16]
Exodus 4–14
divine directives [4:12]
hardened [4:21; 8:15]
liberated [4:28-31]
John 3:16
Jesus [John 17:3]
sword [Matt. 10:34]
peace [John 16:33]
1 Cor. 1
gospel [vv. 18, 21]
foolish [v. 18a, 23]
saved [v. 18b, 21]
Acts 17
gospel [1 Th. 1:5]
upset [v. 6]
converted [v. 4; 1 Th. 1:9]
2 Thess. 2
truth [vv. 10, 12]
working error [v. 11]
enlightened/saved [v. 13]

     The effect of what God sends depends on the condition of heart with which it is received. Contextually, those deceived by the lawless one (false teaching/religion), who are destined for destruction, are the unbelievers who are troubling the Thessalonian Christians. “All of this [vv. 11-12] is intended not as a threat to the Thessalonians, but as comfort for them in the midst of present persecution” (G. Fee, Thessalonians 295).


     Whether or not, in modern times, certainty is ever achieved in identifying “the apostasy,” “the man of lawlessness,” and who or what is restraining, here is what can be known for sure. “We know that the source of his lawlessness was Satan. We know that the result of his lawlessness will be condemnation. Sadly, we also know that his work will mislead many who will face the same condemnation he will face. We know that the one who will defeat him is Christ. Thus, Paul still encourages the people of God to endure to the end regardless of what happens” (D. Burleson, “Man of Lawlessness” 347, emp. in the text).
     As the letter transitions into the next major section, note the following comment by J. D. G. Dunn. “After that powerful depiction the rest of the letter is something of an anticlimax, made up of disconnected themes and (unlike 1 Thessalonians) without further reference to our theme” (Theology of Paul 302). Nevertheless, J. Weima makes a valid case for connecting the following verses with the foregoing section. “The importance of including this paragraph with the preceding cannot be overstated. If one reads only up to verse 12, as most commentators unfortunately do, then this passage closes with a note of judgment for unbelievers. If, however, one reads all the way up to verse 17, then this passage closes with a note of comfort for the Thessalonian believers” (Thessalonians 545).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Many explain this as a common figure of speech by which God is said to actively do that which, in reality, he actually allows. For example, compare Matt. 6:13 and Jas. 1:13-14; the active voice is put for the passive for emphasis. “Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do” (J. MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles 29).
     3 Cf. Luke 20:13; John 4:34; 5:23, 24, 30, 37; 6:38, 39, 44; 7:16, 18, 28, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29; 9:4; 12:44, 45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 20:21.
     4 Since this “working” (ASV, ERV) is attributed to God, ἐνέργεια is also rendered “strong” (CSB, ESV, N/KJV, RSV) or “powerful” (ISV, NIV, NRSV).
     5 The expression ἐνέργειαν πλάνης, “a working of error” (ASV) in 2 Thess. 2:11, is also rendered “a strong delusion” (CSB, ESV, N/KJV, RSV), “a powerful delusion” (ISV, NIV, NRSV), “a deluding influence” (NASB, NET).

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Man of Lawlessness (Part 2 of 3): Description and Fate

     The descriptions of “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 readily fit into the genre of apocalyptic literature, which “needs to be recognized, along with the degree to which their literary medium has shaped the message they give” (J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul 304-305).

The Man of Lawlessness Described

     The [one] opposing and exalting himself above every so-called god1 or object of worship, so as to sit down in the temple of God, setting forth himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4).2 At the time of writing, “the man of lawlessness” was already at work. The word for “temple” here is ναός, which is not the whole temple but the innermost sanctuary, representing the presence of God (cf. Rev. 7:15; 11:1, 19; 15:8; 16:17; 21:22). False religion, in drawing people away from God and his church, essentially takes the place of God.
     Do you not remember that, still being with you, I said these things to you?” (2 Thess. 2:5). In the next verse and in 3:7 there are reminders of what these Christians already know, as noted multiple times in the previous correspondence (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 3:3, 4; 4:2; 5:2). Here, however, the rhetorical “do you not remember” is comparable to “do you not know,” serving as a mild rebuke. During the inaugural evangelistic campaign, the missionaries had done extensive teaching (1:10; 1 Thess. 1:5–2:13; 3:4; 4:2, 11), particularly Paul (cf. Acts 17:2-3). The imperfect active indicative form of the verb ἔλεγον (“I said”) indicates that he had repeatedly spoken of these things (cp. Acts 20:27-31).
     And now the [thing] restraining [τὸ κατέχον – neuter], you know, for him to be revealed in his time, for the mystery of the lawlessness is already working; the one restraining [μόνον ὁ κατέχων – masculine] now, until he might be [taken] out of [the] midst [‘out of the way,’ cf. Col. 2:14]” (2 Thess. 2:6-7). The ESV offers a smoother translation: “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.” The adverb “now” [νῦν] indicates something current, of which the Thessalonians are presently aware. The verb κατέχω [to “restrain”] means to (a) hold back or detain; (b) hinder or restrain; (c) hold fast or keep secure; (d) possess or take possession of.
     Contextually, “the [thing] restraining” may simply be “the love of the truth” (vv. 10, 12) that keeps false religion at bay, and “the one restraining” characterizes the one who loves the truth (vv. 13-15; cf. 2 Tim. 3:17; also Matt. 12:35a; 1 Cor. 2:15), refusing to yield to the enticement of false religion. The word “mystery” [μυστήριον] is descriptive of the subtle and deceptive nature of false religion (cf. v. 10a; Eph. 4:14; 5:6; Col. 2:8; 1 John 2:26), while the phrase “of the lawlessness” reveals its actual nature, i.e., contrary to the law of God (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:11-12; Rom. 2:12, 20-23; 7:22–8:8).
     The fact that this “is already working” indicates something happening at the time of writing (cf. Acts 20:27-31; Rom. 16:17-18; Jude 4; 1 John 2:26; 4:1, 3). After issuing a similar warning to the Ephesian elders, Paul commits them “to God and to the word of his grace” (Acts 20:29-32). What the Thessalonians “know,” having repeatedly been reminded, is that they have eagerly embraced the truth of God’s word (vv. 13-14; cf. 1 Thess. 1:5–2:13), “which also is working in you, the believing [ones]” (1 Thess. 2:13) as the restraining force against religious deception and corruption.

The Man of Lawlessness Destroyed

     And then the lawless [one] will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, and will abolish by the appearing of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). The “lawless [one]” is clearly “the man of lawlessness” (v. 4), responsible for “the lawlessness” (v. 7). While many commentators maintain that the lawless figure will be revealed prior to the Lord’s return, this is an assumption not explicitly stated in the text. The restraining continues “until” [ἕως] the Lord’s return (vv. 6-7). Contextually the circumstances involve “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ …. the day of the Lord” (2:1-2), at which time “the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2:3), viz. “in the revelation of the Lord Jesus” (1:7). In other words, all will be exposed as Christ returns, and those drawn into the deception of false religion will finally see the error to which they have allowed themselves to be blinded; see esp. 1 Thess. 2:14-16. From the revealing of “the lawless one,” the text immediately speaks of his destruction.
     False religion (personified) is doomed, “whom the Lord Jesus will destroy … and will abolish …” The principal character of the second coming is “the Lord Jesus” who executes the judgment (cf. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:16). The verb ἀναιρέω means to “take away, do away with, destroy” (BAGD 54-55), and the verb καταργέω means to “abolish, wipe out, set aside …. bring to an end” (BAGD 417). This will be accomplished “with the breath of his mouth [cp. Isa. 11:4] … by the appearing of his coming.” The apocalyptic imagery here reiterates 1:7b-8, “… in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of his power, in a fire of flame inflicting vengeance on the [ones] not knowing God and the [ones] not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” False religion will be annihilated, and those entangled in it will face the Lord in judgment.
     Lest we get distracted by the fantastic descriptions of this extraordinary event, remember the original intent of the writing. G. Fee observes, “Everything about the passage suggests that Paul is here offering a word of encouragement to these persecuted believers, since the emphasis is now altogether on God’s ultimate, righteous judgment of their persecutors” (Thessalonians 290).

The Satanic Influence Behind the Deception

     The description continues: “of whom is coming according to [the] working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood” (2 Thess. 2:9). The present tense, “is coming,” reaffirms that “the mystery of the lawlessness is already working” at the time of writing (v. 7) and is spawning “the apostasy” (v. 3). Readers are now informed that all this is “according to [the] working of Satan.” Satan has already been active, attempting to thwart this good work at Thessalonica and elsewhere (1 Thess. 2:18). He masquerades himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving [ones], lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, shines forth” (2 Cor. 4:4b). Unbelievers have allowed themselves to fall into “the snare of the devil, having been captured by him [to do] his will” (2 Tim. 2:26; cf. 1 Tim. 3:7; 6:9). Believers, on the other hand, who are open to and enlightened by the gospel, “are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Satan’s devious work is not limited to sorcery, black magic, satanic cults, and pagan idolatry. He is behind every form of false religion, including so-called “Christian” movements that deviate from the narrow path of truth (cf. Matt. 7:13-23; 2 Pet. 2:1-2, 18-22; etc.).
     The “power and signs and wonders” are not genuine miracles, like those confirming divine teaching (cf. Mark 16:20; John 2:23; 3:2; Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4). Rather, these are “of falsehood,” i.e. “false miracles, signs, and wonders” (CSB), cf. Matt. 24:11, 24; Acts 8:9-11; 13:6; 19:13-16, 19; Rev. 13:13. Myths, legends, superstitions, amulets, relics, shrines, mysteries of the occult, and numerous elaborate claims have been propagated by false religion throughout history.
     We read further, “and in every deceit of unrighteousness [to] the ones perishing, which instead they did not accept the love of the truth for them to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). The “every deceit” is the result of the aforementioned “falsehood” (v. 9; cf. v. 3). Linking this passage to the earlier discussion in 1:5-9 is another word with the δικ- root, viz. ἀδικία (“unrighteousness”). The judgment of God is “just” or “righteous” [δίκαιος] (1:5, 6) in taking “vengeance” [ἐκδίκησις] (1:8) and meting out the “penalty” [δίκη] (1:9) because of “unrighteousness” [ἀδικία] (2:10). Those deceived by unrighteousness are “the ones perishing,” the same who consider the message of the cross foolish, in contrast to the ones being saved who regard the same message as the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18; cf. 2 Cor. 2:15; Rom. 1:16).3
     The reason for judgment is that “they did not accept [‘receive,’ ‘welcome’] the love of the truth …” This is in stark contrast to the Thessalonian Christians, “having received the word …” (1 Thess. 1:6); “you accepted … [the] word of God …” (1 Thess. 2:13). Refusing to welcome and love the truth is a rejection of what God requires “for them to be saved,” i.e., saved from divine wrath and everlasting destruction (1:6-9; cf. 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Should θεός here be rendered “god” (CSB, ESV, ISV, NASB, NET, NLT, N/RSV) or “God” (ASV, N/KJV, NIV)?
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     3 In 2 Cor. 4:3, we read: “But even if our gospel [preached by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, 1:19; cf. 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14] is veiled [‘covered,’ ‘concealed’], it is veiled in those [who are] perishing.” Not everyone understands, appreciates, or amenably responds to the preaching of the gospel, viz. “those perishing,” whose prejudices and predispositions render them incapable of receptivity, unwilling to understand and obey, leading to their spiritual demise (cf. 2 Cor. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 1:18, 23; 2:14; also Rom. 8:5-8).

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