Over the past 3 months we've seen a lot happening in a short space of time. Pete Sanlon in a recent Christian Concern discussion suggested that one effect of this virus is that society’s issues have been accelerated by 10 years! Whilst we must speak out the truth about all these issues as Christians, we are living in exciting times with the possibility of the second coming in sight!
Are we awake? Are we watching the times? Are we eagerly awaiting Christ’s return?
'Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christand our being gathered to him,we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lordhas already come. Don’t let anyone deceive youin any way, for that day will not come until the rebellionoccurs and the man of lawlessness[a]is revealed,the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called Godor is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
'Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed,whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
'But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
'So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
'May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.' - 2 Thessalonians 2
As a lot has happened for us in just 12 weeks, we see similarly Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, written only a short while after his first letter, perhaps only 6 months, that a lot was happening in a short space of time:
The Christians were facing intensified persecution
There was increased confusion and fear about Christ’s return
In the passage, Paul’s first encouragement through all that’s going on is ‘not to be shaken in mind or troubled,’ the NIV puts it ‘not to become easily unsettled or alarmed,’ and the Message as ‘don’t go jumping to conclusions.’Christ is returning, this is our anchor in unsettled times, but the Thessalonians were swayed by the situation around them. To be unsettled or shaken indicates a restless tossing, like a ship blown by the waves and the wind which has come loose from its moorings, and likewise the Thessalonians had become out of balance. They were panicked that Jesus would come at any moment without warning- had they missed Him?
Instead, the return of Christ should inspire Christians to hope and confidence! Paul brings them back to he facts- he lays out the things that must happen before the return of Christ, to show the worried Thessalonians that for those who are awake and sober, His return will not take them by surprise
First, there must be a falling away- a rebellion. The Greek word here is apostasia, from which we get apostasy, meaning to depart, defect, revolt. It indicates a religious defection from orthodoxy and so here it implies people who claim to believe but are not genuine in their faith.
We can see further what will happen in this rebellion in Romans 1, where Paul accuses Godless people of:
Suppressing the truth of God
Substituting the truth for lies
To suppress is to curb by force, to exclude from consciousness. This is active, not passive!
Therefore rebellion against the truth of God that is revealed in ignoring what He has revealed- we have no excuse! Paul shows two ways in which He has revealed Himself to the world. Firstly, in creation and secondly through our inner conscience; our own consciousness of right and wrong points to an ultimate Law Giver.
People actively suppress the truth because if they accepted it, they would have to exchange their self-centred lives for God-centred lives.
Having actively suppressed, they must exchange the truth for something else. In Romans 1:21, we see that this deliberate ignorance is labelled as 'a fool.' A fool in Scripture is someone who rejects God. It describes someone who hates wisdom and knowledge, refuses instruction and discipline, is arrogant and untrustworthy, speaks impulsively, argumentatively and recklessly gets into trouble.
Rejecting God’s truth leads to becoming foolish and futile in thinking. And if something is false, it’s foolish to keep talking about the truth of it! We can see this in the gender debate- clearly there are only two genders, but according to the BBC there are more than 100 gender identities. Those who exchange the truth for lies will perpetuate their ideas because their foolish hearts have been darkened.
Back to second Thessalonians, Paul says the next sign before Christ’s return is that a figure will appear, who will set himself up as God. When we reject God, something must take His place. We were made to worship, but when we refuse to worship God, we will always find something else.
Paul’s imagery here is very similar to the emperor Caligula, who deified himself and decapitated all the statues of gods to replace them with his own head. He even tried to put a statue of himself in the Jewish temple. Today we are seeing the destruction of many statues in the name of a new god of society. These idols in society come with stigma if we refuse to worship them alongside everyone else, just to name a few:
Social Justice movements
All these things seek ‘salvation’ by worshiping health, humanity and creation rather than God. Again in Romans 1:21 we see that the foolish ‘did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful.’ If we think about the ways of ‘honouring’ and ‘giving thanks’ to these things we see people clapping, kneeling and prostrating- all these things are acts of worship we are instructed to participate in when we worship God. We are seeing God being substituted.
Paul’s next sign is then that which restrains evil presently will be removed and release the greatest evil the world has ever seen. Here it may seem a bit confusing as Paul talks both about What is restraining and who is restraining. The what is the law that all are under: enforced by police and courts. The who is the law as represented by a person- behind the law is God’s Holy Spirit which restrains lawlessness.
We see this enacted in Genesis 6 where God says, ‘my Spirit will not contend with people forever,’ and as He removed His Spirit, violence and anarchy reigned.
Jesus is recorded in Matthew and Luke as saying, ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.’ And today lawlessness and violence are everywhere. People are rioting, calling for the defunding of the police, not being charged or convicted of criminal activity. The what that restrains evil has virtually no power as people no longer see themselves as under law.
This all contributes to the deception among those who perish because they did not love the truth. And because of their deception, they cannot stand it when the truth is expressed. This is where Christians stand in contrast to the rest of the world. the culture of post-truth is the perception of things according to an individual’s own feelings. Truth is the reality of things in their relation to God. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth himself: both God and the perfect revelation of humanity's relationship with God.
But the rejection of truth is not forever. Just the breath of the Lord is sufficient to overthrow this strong man! For those who reject the truth, God’s judgement is to hand them over to their sin, to allow them to keep living in increasing sin.
They gave God up, so God gives them up.
C.S. Lewis, commenting on this, wrote that the lost ‘enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded and are therefore self-enslaved.’ For those who suppress the truth, who will not see and will not hear, God shuts their eyes and ears (Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 6:9-10).
But Paul encourages the Thessalonians to stay faithful until Christ returns to deliver and bring justice. They are called to belief in the truth- to remain faithful to the gospel message.
The lack of morals are no less evident today than in Paul’s time. Our problem is not just the individual sins we commit, but the suppression of God’s truth, and the substitution of truth with lies, and yet Christians around us are not speaking the truth. In all the events we are seeing worldwide, the only answer is the truth- the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
There is a lie in society that there is a new righteousness; people virtue shame if you do not say and do what society deems as righteous. To speak out against that, there is a 'cancel culture,' and we have seen the mighty fall in this way. People refuse to hear, they refuse to see.
We do not set the standard of righteousness, only God does. And sin is present in every society, culture and nation, and will stain humanity as long as the world exists. Society's shaming, raging and backlash will not resolve the condition of the human heart. Only the gospel can transform the condition of the sinful, blinded heart and resolve the genuine injustices of the world.
Reconciliation does not exist outside of Christ.
Justice does not exist outside of Christ.
Health, restoration, new creation, nothing exists outside of Him.
In the waves of society tossing people to and fro, we can have peace because Christ is our righteousness, and Christ’s return will bring justice.
‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.’ Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!