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).

Image credit

No comments:

Post a Comment