2 Thessalonians Sermon # 3 Sermon Series “What Can Shake Thy Sure Repose?”
October 25, 2015 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Today’s Sermon: “If You Love the Truth, You Won’t Be Shaken”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Imagine you are part of a very young church in the middle of the first century. If you have a Jewish background then you know the teachings of the Scriptures from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, and all of you have a letter that Paul had written to you (i.e., First Thessalonians). But now you are hearing rumors and prophecies that the Lord Jesus Christ has already returned from heaven to gather the church, His bride, to Himself – and you somehow missed it! Furthermore you get a letter, supposedly from the apostle Paul, confirming the same report.
So…what do you believe? Are you shaken and fearful? And who do you believe: what Paul had preached to you and written in his first epistle (old news), or the current prophecies, reports, and letters (fresh news)? This is the situation the believers in Thessalonica faced, almost 2,000 years ago…
And that kind of situation is one that we also sometimes face today:
There are pastors teaching that Christ has already returned; think of Harold Camping’s predictions, and how some sincere believers were shaken when Jesus didn’t come back then.
Or when a trusted Bible teacher says that he doesn’t believe in the doctrine of hell anymore, or another big name pastor begins teaching that Christ’s death on the cross had a universal application, and therefore everyone will go to heaven.
When Christian leaders teach doctrines that are at odds with the established truth of the Bible, it can cause people in the pew to begin to doubt. It can “shake our sure repose” and make us question what we believe.
We could frame the first two chapters of 2 Thessalonians this way: if Satan’s first method of shaking our sure repose in chapter one was to persecute the church with unjust suffering (from the outside), then his second method, here in chapter two, is to send false teachers (from within the church), to deceive us and get us away from solid Biblical doctrine.
So what does Paul write, to make sure that these young believers are not shaken? What does the apostle tell them so they can experience peace, stability and clarity of mind?
One thing that Paul does is to gently chide the believers for forgetting the doctrine he had taught them. Look at v. 5: “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?” You see, one sure way to not be shaken by deception and false teaching is to hold on to the original teachings of the apostle. That’s one reason we confessed our corporate faith this morning, by reciting the Apostles’ Creed. The Holy Spirit has been teaching the church for 2,000 years, and our best creeds and confessions of faith are evidence of that work. These creeds and confessions do not replace Scripture, but they help to understand and explain the doctrines of the Bible. They also function as “fences” to show us the “boundaries” of God’s truth, so we don’t stray outside these lines. Or to use another image, God’s Truth in Scripture is like a surveyor’s benchmark which tells us where we are, with precision, and we can always come back to that benchmark, to get our bearings, in doctrine and in life.
Furthermore, our best defense against error is to remind ourselves of the truths of Scripture, by memorizing Scripture, by carefully studying God’s word each day, and by absorbing the sermons you hear each Sunday. (How are you doing each of those things? Do you have a plan? Are you diligent?) If you fail to do so, you may forget the teachings of Scripture, and you open yourself up to letting false doctrines creep in.
The lesson is: Don’t make your study of God’s Word a merely academic one. Don’t listen to a sermon only intellectually. Yes, love the Lord with all your MIND. But ask God to speak to your heart, to your will, to your physical, sexual, and emotional needs, as well as to your relationships. For if you love the truth, you won’t be shaken.
Now let’s focus on the specific doctrine that was being undermined here in Thessalonica, namely, the events concerning the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could spend many sermons preaching on the details of the Lord’s coming and all the various prophetic interpretations that go along with it, but I’ll save that for another sermon series. If the Lord comes back before then, I won’t have to worry about whether my interpretation is correct! (By the way, I encourage you to read carefully Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, to get a wider perspective of the details of the Lord’s return.)
Let’s start with a foundational truth: we are living between the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus. He came the first time to give Himself for us, as our sacrificial atonement, and one day He’s coming back as the Judge of all men and to take us home to be with Him. But till then we live for Him, doing His kingdom work on earth, while we await the blessed hope, when Jesus comes back in all His power and glory.
But then Paul builds on that foundational truth by clarifying the order of events concerning the Lord’s return. He writes that the day of the Lord (v. 2b) cannot have taken place already, because two others things must occur before that day. One is an event and the other is a person. V. 3 “for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” First there must be a great rebellion, and the man of lawlessness, who leads that rebellion, must be revealed. The rebellion and the man of rebellion must come before the coming of the Lord Jesus, and since the rebellion hasn’t come yet, Paul argues, then you can be sure that Jesus has not yet returned.
Did you get that? First there will be a major rebellion against the Lord and the man of lawlessness, THE antichrist, will be revealed. (I John 2:18 tells us that there will be many antichrists throughout history, but this man of lawlessness is for the end times only. That is, there will be multiple fulfillments of this prophecy, but only one final such man of perdition, the man doomed to destruction.)
For nearly 2,000 years, this rebellion and this rebel have been held back (vv. 6-7), even though this power of lawlessness is already at work. Now the text this doesn’t tell us what or who is holding back this rebellion/ rebel, but since it is restraining this evil, it must be God or his angels. In any case, when this restraint is removed, then this rebel, the main antichrist, will be revealed, and his appearance will be accompanied by miracles, signs and wonders! (v. 9) And what is the source of his power? V. 9 tells us: it is the work of Satan.
Note that the coming of the lawless man (The Antichrist) will be a parody/ counterfeit of Christ’s second coming. Both will be personal, visible, and powerful. God allows Satan to put on a display of counterfeit miracles, of fake signs and wonders, so as to delude those who have refused to love the truth and have believed Satan’s lies. (vv. 10-11)
So we are reminded here that miracles, signs, and wonders, without a proper interpretation, can mean anything. Therefore you must not fall for a church leader’s teaching, even if he performs amazing miracles. Remember that Pharaoh’s magicians could also duplicate some of the signs and wonders which God performed through Moses. The Power of God will always be accompanied by the Word of God, giving meaning to the miracles and signs and wonders. That’s why the vast majority of godly miracles in history have occurred in clusters around the same times that God was revealing Himself through His prophets, His Son, and His apostles.
Finally, note what happens when the lawless one is fully revealed and the work of Satan is displayed in all its counterfeit glory: then the Lord Jesus will overthrow him with the breath of His mouth and destroy his fake splendor by His own coming in true glory and unrivaled power (v. 8). At that time, all those who have believed Satan’s lies and who have delighted in wickedness will be condemned, and Christ will return in triumph and complete victory over all evil…which is a great encouragement to all persecuted believers. If you love the truth, you won’t be shaken; God is sovereign and His perfect plan for all eternity will be revealed.
Now I want you to pay attention to the grim, slippery slope, in vv. 10-12: “and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Note how the following pairs are flip sides of each other:
People delight in wickedness (pornography, lust, brutality, abuse, greed, gossip)
They refuse the truth (Note that the Truth makes demands on us; we bow to it or reject it)
God sends them a powerful delusion (Romans 1: He gives them up to their base desires)
Satan deceives them (once you give in to sin and reject the truth, you are an easy target for
Satan to deceive you and make you believe his lies)
Therefore, they are condemned and they perish. (They receive the due penalty for their sins)
I think this downward pattern helps to explain the growing polarization in our culture today. There is little common ground left to stand on, for people are either standing on the truth of God’s Word, or they are sliding down the slippery slope of Satan’s lies. You are either delighting in Jesus Christ as Lord and His Word as Truth, or you are refusing to love the truth and believing Satan’s lies. There is no middle ground. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you can be neutral and unbiased. I think this calls for some wise and powerful prophetic preaching, teaching, and evangelism on our part, calling others to radical repentance. (Like slapping a hysterical person on the face, to help them.)
Now according to verse 10 the signs and wonders of the man of lawlessness deceive those who are perishing. Why? Why are they so vulnerable? Why do many professing Christians leave the truth and follow falsehood? (For example, Bart Campolo) Paul’s answer at the end of verse 10 is that they refuse to love the truth (literally: they did not welcome a love for the truth). One reason is that it is not merely an issue of knowing or believing in a merely mental sense: it is an issue of loving the Truth. Look at verse 12: ” . . . so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The opposite of believing the truth is delighting in evil.
And this means that saving faith—faith that will endure to the end through the affliction now and through the apostasy to come—is not merely an accepting of truth but a loving of truth. Verse 10: “They perish because they refused to love the truth.”
We can be sure that when the man of lawlessness comes, his signs and wonders will be used to support claims that appeal to our natural desires. Therefore the best defense against this appeal will be a deeper desire for God. If Christ is our portion and our treasure, if he satisfies our longings, and if we love the glory of his gospel, then the mystery of lawlessness will not overcome us, and our love will not grow cold and we will endure to the end and be saved. May the Lord grant us all to receive the love of the truth.
Remember: if you love the truth, you won’t be shaken. God’s truth will keep you, it will sustain you, it will feed you, and it will protect you.