SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
- Apparently there was some confusion in the church at Thessalonica about whether or not Jesus had already come back to earth (a second time, to gather his followers and bring them to heaven). Paul makes sure to tell them that a few things have to happen before Jesus returns. There is some debate about whether all these things are literal, or may be more symbolic. Here’s what Paul says will take place before Jesus comes back to earth:
- There is a “secret power of lawlessness” that is already at work in the world but is being held back. This power of lawlessness is probably the spiritual forces that hate God and provide resistance to God’s kingdom. Paul refers to something that is holding this evil spiritual forces back. We don't know what it is, but perhaps God and his Holy Spirit.
- After the one who holds back the power of lawlessness is taken out of the way, there will rise a lawless one. This person, spirit, or whatever will be “in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives…” This leader or organization will lead a rebellion against God. Again, it's possible that this "lawless one" isn't literal, but is meant to be taken more symbolically.
- The lawless one will “exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” This could be an actual person or organization that commands everyone’s worship, or may just refer to a philosophy that says humanity is itself God.
- Finally, the lawless one, who is doomed to destruction, will be overthrown and destroyed when Jesus comes back to earth.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
- People can become obsessed with trying to understand and interpret prophecies like these in the Bible, but after 2,000 years no one has really figured them out yet. And, again, we're not even sure if they are literal or symbolic. But the point of all this is that there is still lots more to come, and in the meantime we must remain focused on Jesus. Whether Jesus comes back tomorrow, or thousands of years from now, we need to be loving God, loving people, and telling everyone about God's offer of salvation through Jesus.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
- How focused are you on Jesus and helping other people to know Jesus? What could you do in this week to grow in this?
- Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold on to the teachings he gave them. The same is true for us. So, is knowing the Bible a priority in your life? How can you use the Bible to know God in a more personal way? And how can you make sure you hold on to its teachings.