Welcome to Monday’s Podcast. My name is Tom Finnemore and I’m part of the team at STC and I’ll pick up the baton from Mick as we continue working through Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica.
Our reading today is 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-12 but we’ll focus on verses 1-2:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and 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 Lord has already come.
My son has a wonderful phrase which he uses often ‘I’m just getting a bit interested…’ he will often use to explain why he hasn’t done something. We’ve now adopted in our family parlance because what he really means is that he’s got distracted. Somehow saying you’re interested in something sounds a bit more positive than to admit you’re distracted.
So now if we’re distracted – we say – we’re too interested.
There are many things that can get us Christians a bit too interested – or, being blunt – distracted.
One such thing is when will the world end. It’s a great question, and to be fair, it would be nice to have a heads up, wouldn’t it? And in some ways, that question seems pretty apt in this current cultural moment.
Now, if you believe some people on social media, we are in the grip of what people refer to the ‘End times’ with all the world events going on right now. Let’s be honest: it is a weird season – a global pandemic, a return to racial hostilities in the USA which is spilling out across the world, a strange political landscape with a controversial, to say the least, leader of the free world. They are actually pretty scary times. It’s the socially distant conversations I’ve had with our neighbours or random people I’ve met walking the dog, and they often say in jest “It makes you think, is this the end?”
And it strikes me that when things are personally challenging – and for many people this season is; for example I spoke ot a good friend a couple of weeks ago who’s single and she hadn’t really had any meaningful face-to-face contacts with people for months. That’s tough. Or the grandparents who can’t meet their little newborn grandchildren – that’s tough. Or people who have lost their jobs, and the list goes on. You see, when we’re personally challenged, under internal pressure, and the external world is uncertain, then we are really susceptible to fear.
Someone told me that FEAR spells out this: False Evidence Appearing Real. Massive internal pressure combined with external uncertainty equals fear. And this is precisely what’s happened to the Thessalonian Christians.Their personal persecution, the horrendous stuff they’re going through, has worn them down. And for some reason, we don’t know why, they have begun to believe that they are living through the end times, that Jesus’s return is imminent. And it has totally blindsided them, they’ve lost their peace, they’ve lost their way.
And perhaps you feel a bit like that today. The terrible death toll in the UK from the Covid-19 virus, or the horrendous events in the USA – it all just feels a bit too much. What Paul tells the Thessalonians applies as much to us today as it does to them.
Firstly, there are lots of theories around – just Google it or type into YouTube ‘the end times’ – and if we’re in it. And honestly, to use my son’s words, we can get “a bit too interested” in things that the Bible simply doesn’t make that clear, despite what people may claim on YouTube! That’s not to say it isn’t right to be curious, but end time conspiracy theories can leave people fearful, afraid and confused, and this is precisely what happened to the Thessalonian Christians.
In times of fear it’s easy to reach out for the fortune cookie “what’s going to happen next?” We’re not totally sure what led the Thessalonian Christians down this pathway, it’s most likely to have been a fraudulent letter that was sent to the church by somebody pretending to be Paul, but it caused real concern and upset.
And this is how Paul addresses it head on: he makes it clear, Jesus isn’t about to return anytime soon. You’re not in the end times; don’t panic. But he does say this: that this is what will happen at the end of the world, there will be a ‘man of lawlessness’ a kind of antichrist. Not the devil; a person, a world leader who will appear and will cause an untold rebellion against God. And he makes clear that the coming of the ‘lawless one’ is inspired by Satan.
But it’s important to emphasise that Paul is not predicting the future, he’s just clearing up the confusion to reassure the Thessalonians that they’re not living through it then. He doesn’t offer specifics. His ultimate goal is not to answer all of their questions; he does leave it vague. But what he is very specific about, at the heart of the passage – Jesus. Jesus will have the victory. And he wants to bring them comfort.
And we too, in this cultural moment, can take and receive the same level of comfort. We need to allow the truth of v8 to permeate our soul. This is what Paul writes: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow by the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the splendout of his coming.”
While things may very well seem out of control at the moment, Paul is absolutely certain that when Jesus returns, such will be his manifest power that it will be his breath that overthrows the ‘man of lawlessness’. What incredible power Jesus has, that it is his breath that will overthrow this wicked man. Wow.
You see, you might listen to this and say yes, but, you know, that’s one of Paul’s very first letters he ever wrote, and that was nearly 2000 years ago and a lot of stuff’s happened since then – we’re clearly in the end times. You might take the view that Donald Trump is the man of lawlessness or the EU was the mark of the beast so Brexit’s a good thing – I don’t know what you think about these things!
But I will say this: don’t do what my son sometimes does, get ‘a bit interested’ in the things that the Bible doesn’t pay all that much attention to. Focus on what the Bible is very clear on: Jesus will return for his people, and he will return in great power. He will right every wrong. Justice will flow like a river, with great power and authority. And that truth has brought great comfort to many generations of Christians living through horrendous uncertainty and persecution, so let’s allow that truth to bring us comfort this day.
Father, we don’t know the hour or the time that Jesus will return. So Lord I pray that you will help us to remain focussed and faithful in this season. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
BIBLE READING: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (NIV)
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and 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 Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, 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 splendour 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.