Saturday, 10 June 2006

in these last days

Well, now that summer has finally hit Brussels, we appear to have today a fête in my street and those adjoining it (complete with unicyclist, band and trampolines with elastic suspense bungy things) and, as we've had all week, full-on sun with an excellent breeze. I am for once glad that my room doesn't get the sun as it's cool enough to sit reading once I've the window and door open. Although my French notes on 2 ways 2 live have just blown off the desk and across the room in an aerial race with someone's prayer letter (probable finish line: the kitchen sink). Tomorrow after church I head to Barcelona for IFES Teams Debriefing conference - in a hotel by the sea. It's hard, this missionary life.

However, meanwhile, I've a Bible study to prepare for after the conference, and if anyone can help me with 2 Thess 2.3-8 I'd be grateful... I'm commentary-less (apart from IVP NBC on CD which wasn't excedingly helpful) and struggling. We're only getting half the conversation as Paul refers to what he's already told them. If he is drawing on Apocalyptic references (Ezekiel 28, Daniel), is what he says here to be interpreted more as apocalyptic in genre and therefore not a literalistic specific reference? But if so, why would Paul offer it as a sign (Don't be deceived: that day will not come unless this evil parody of Christ person comes first) if it doesn't refer to one specific figure who will be recognisable as this character? And as for the restraining one, it seems that it's got more to do with the 'law' (contrast v7, mystery of lawlessness, and 8, the lawless one) than God - as the restraining one will be 'out of the way' when the lawless one is revealed. I suppose then that the question is, is the reference (a) to something already historically fulfilled in one person (say, in the passing of the Roman Empire's rule of law and order), (b) as one of the events of these last days, a specific and unique person to come, or (c) a more general reference to the rule of Christ-parodying, God-defying rule of lawlessness of these last days [see Isa 11.4 for similar Messianic judgement]? I would say that for the purposes of this passage it doesn't matter very much whether it's a unique or more general reference, but it's a puzzling interpretative question - how is Paul, recognising that the coming of the Christ has taken 'us' into the 'last days', interpreting and applying OT apocalyptic? How then should we? Answers on a postcard - or the comment box will do, ta!


Pete said...

I can only offer some vague thoughts cos it's Saturday night, and I'm tired, and, typically, I'm at home and all my commentaries etc are in my office! I think your question boils down more to general questions about how we understand biblical teaching on the end times (which is my excuse for not being more specific!). The last time I looked at eschatology in any detail was when I had to write an essay on Matt 24 when I was at EMF, so I looked it up to see what I thought then!

It seems to me (note the provisional language - I'm willing to be corrected on any of this by those who've thought it through more than me) that in passages that refer to the end times there are overlapping fulfilments (as with so much biblical prophecy). So, in Matt 24, Jesus' teaching concerning the destruction of Jerusalem merges seamlessly into teaching on the end times (I just can't buy the idea that Matt 24 is purely about AD70 - the language just seems too exaggerated). Likewise, where it seems that Daniel's prophecy in ch11 was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, Jesus speaks of a further fulfilment of this prophecy in Matt 24:15.

So, applying this rationale to 2 Thess 2 I would incline to the view that it is both general and specific - there is the principle of lawlessness already at work (v7), and we await the revealing of the man of lawlessness (compare 1 John 2:18). It seems to me that the most natural reading of these texts is that we can see these 'principles' at work, that should alert us and warn us to be ready, for one day (and who knows how quickly?) such evil will culminate and then come under the judgement of God when the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

So, in answer to your original post, I guess you could answer 'yes' to all 3 possibilities, as (a) and (c) could be seen as foreshadowings of the culmination in (b).

Hope that may be of some use - and I await with interest what others may have to say!

David Raybaud said...

What do you need help with regarding @ Thess. 2:3-8? Contextually, it's about the antichrist and the abomination desolation.

Anonymous said...

I'd be glad to help in anyway I can.

David Raybaud said...

Pete, Daniel fulfilled one aspect of the prophecies pertaining to Antiochus. Yet the fulfillment of the Abom. Deso. has yet to be fulfilled in the final eschatological fulfillment.

Alan Davey said...

My commentares are still in boxes, but here is what Walter Elwell says.

B. The coming apostasy (2:3–7). Jesus, in his apocalyptic discourse, warned against deceivers (Mark 13:5), and Paul too is concerned that his readers not be led astray by false teachings regarding the Lord’s return (2:3). For that reason he instructs him concerning the major developments leading up to the coming of Christ. Before the parousia takes place, Paul explains, there will come a great rebellion and the man of lawlessness will be revealed; his readers must be careful not to be deceived “in any way” (a reference perhaps to the three possibilities mentioned in v. 2).

The day of the Lord will not come “until the rebellion occurs.” Apostasia (rebellion) can mean either a political revolt or a religious rebellion, or a combination of the two. In the Septuagint the word is used for rebellion against God (cf. Josh. 22:22; Jer. 2:19), and that is apparently the meaning here. However, we should not rule out a revolt against all civil order as part of the large-scale rebellion against God. “The thought is, we suggest, that when the moment comes for Christ to appear in glory and for all rebels against God to be unmasked and cast out, the forces of evil will arise as never before in a last desperate effort against God.”

Hand in hand with this massive uprising against God goes the revelation of “the man of lawlessness, the man doomed to destruction.” “Man of lawlessness” is a Semitic idiom for “the lawless one” (cf. v. 8), as is the expression son of perdition, meaning a person destined for destruction.

Like the Lord Jesus, this man of lawlessness will also have a “revelation.” This suggests that he is Christ’s rival and is, in fact, the Antichrist (a term used by John in his epistles; e.g., 1 John 2:18). At the end of the age when the Son of man will be revealed in all his glory, the Antichrist will also be unmasked. His revelation will be followed by his destruction. What is said of the beast in Revelation 17:8, is said of the lawless one here: he goes to ruin, to destruction. This is the lot of all the enemies of God (1:8–9; 1 Thess. 5:3).

The activity of this wicked monster is described largely in terms taken from the Book of Daniel, where Antiochus Epiphanes’ evil deeds are mentioned (Dan. 8:11–14). The Antichrist opposes God’s work, and “exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped” (2:4). The vocabulary seems to come directly from Daniel 11:36–37. Antichrist exalts himself over the true and living God as well as over all other gods. Moreover, he exalts himself over everything that people hold sacred. In his pride he arrogates to himself prerogatives which belong to God alone, so that he even “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4b). The naos (temple) is the sanctuary proper, the holiest part of the entire temple complex. The imagery is drawn from Daniel 8, where reference is made to the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes. Similar imagery is found in Mark 13:14.

Although the Jerusalem temple still stood when Paul wrote, Jesus had predicted its total destruction. How then is this eschatological evil personage to take his seat in the holy place? Since the church is called God’s temple (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21), some think the coming lawless one will find his power base in an apostate church. However, that goes beyond what our text says. It is probably best to take “temple of God” as a metaphor, meaning that the Antichrist will usurp God’s authority. And like the arrogant king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:2) the lawless one proclaims himself to be God and, by implication, demands loyalty and worship from all people. Although Antichrist has many forerunners in history, this eschatological enemy of God has not yet been revealed.

Some instructions about this eschatological revolt against God had been included in Paul’s teaching while in Thessalonica. “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?” (2:5).

Apart from 3:17–18, this is the only instance in this letter where Paul uses the first person singular. He had taught the Thessalonians about the parousia, but they had not remembered that the great rebellion and the revelation of Antichrist would take place before Christ returns.
“And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time” (2:6). Paul’s readers knew because they had been told; we are not so fortunate and so have to make informed guesses at what it is that restrains the Antichrist from coming into the open. Implied is that God determines the time, and not the lawless one.

A number of suggestions have been made for the identification of the restraining power in 2:7: (1) The state with its law and order is one suggestion. Paul did respect the state (Rom. 13:1–7). (2) The preaching of the gospel restrains the manifestation of evil. The “restrainer” might then be Paul, or the preachers of the gospel. We must concede that this time of grace is being extended by God (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8f.) to allow for the preaching of the gospel in the world (Mark 13:10). (3) The Holy Spirit also has been identified as “the one who now holds it back.” That God’s Spirit is at work in the church, as well as in the world, is clear from the New Testament. But whether Paul had this or some other power (or personage) in mind when he wrote this letter is impossible to say. What is significant for the church at all times, however, is the fact that God is in control of human history and that he has ways of keeping the titanic power of evil under control until the day when he makes an end of all resistance to his purposes.

Although it is comforting to know that evil is kept in check, Paul is realistic enough to know that “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (v. 7a). The Greek word mysteµrion (mystery, secret) in the New Testament means something that cannot be known except by revelation. It is a secret, concealed until God removes the veil. God’s salvific purposes, which have become plain in Christ, are called “mysteries” (e.g., Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4). “The secret power of lawlessness” is a satanic counterpart to the mystery of God’s saving plans. Implied may also be the notion that unless God opens our eyes we do not see evil for what it really is.

A parallel to our text is 1 John 2:18, where the apostle predicts the coming of Antichrist and then adds that “even now many antichrists have come.” So the man of lawlessness will be revealed at the parousia of the Lord Jesus, but evil powers are already at work throughout history. The present “lawlessness” foreshadows the coming of the lawless one in the end.

The last clause is elliptical: “but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (v. 7b). Clearly this day of grace, in which the Spirit is at work, the gospel is proclaimed, and the church of Jesus Christ is being completed, will some day come to an end. Mercifully God restrains the sinister powers who seek to destroy his work during the interim between Christ’s first and second advents. However, when the last day comes, this restraint will disappear and the lawless one will be seen for what he is.

Elwell, Walter A., ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company) 1989.

The general principle of battle in the last days is shown in its fullness in THE final battle of THE last day.

Alan Davey said...


It's not a con and it's good stuff!

étrangère said...

Thanks so much for the help guys!

Thanks Peter, that certainly is very useful indeed. I was trying to be too neat with my a,b,c as distinct options - thanks for running through the overlapping fulfilments. I think my mathmo brain is slow in processing what I 'know' about prophecy, apocalyptic etc, especially when it comes mixed into other genres.

Thanks for copying me that commentary Alan, it's good and clear. Certainly the CDs on that site look great, I may well get some when I've a computer that runs such CDs. At the moment I've a CD with esword on it for installation but the borrowed laptop I've got can't read it.

David, sorry if I didn't explain adequately why I didn't understand this passage clearly - Peter understood why, possibly because we're coming from a similar eschatological perspective. As he said, my question was really to do with how we interpret eschatological references, or more, how we interpret prophecy. As you highlighted in your second comment, we all see the need to 'pick & choose' which references apply to when because we see that prophecy and apocalyptic are not neat, propositional statement of faith kind of genres: we really need to show, however, that the whole of Scripture pushes us to the interpretative framework we use to make those choices/explanations.

Thanks again!