Slaying the Antilord
2 Thessalonians 2:8 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
The future end-time conflict before us in this text is actually the culmination of ancient biblical development that goes as far back at the dawn of man in Eden. There man, and more precisely, the first man Adam was placed in conflict with the ancient serpent, a conflict he failed to overcome. This point is critical because it reminds us that part of the work of the second Adam (Jesus Christ) necessarily involves this serpent-conflict. Of course, while the original representatives of humanity faltered at this critical stage of human history, the last Adam succeeded. But in order to bring us safely into His everlasting kingdom, Jesus must first destroy both antichrist and his demonic overlord, Satan. In reality what this conflict signifies is the total dissolution of the present evil age, the age that is bound to the god of this age (cf. 2 Cor. 4.4). This is precisely what Jesus’ role as messianic ruler entails. Isaiah spoke of the very things which Paul now vividly describes in this passage as the Spirit through Paul is signifying that the Branch, the “stem of Jesse” has come and will come for the end time conflict to strike the earth with “the rod of His mouth”:
Isaiah 11:1–5 1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
Just as Isaiah prophesied, when the messianic King arises to execute His justice in the world, it will transpire through the authority of His word of judgment over the wicked so that both the wicked, the evil one along with the “man of lawlessness” and the sons of disobedience will be judged and destroyed so that Jesus’ righteousness and His faithfulness may be magnified. Paul summarizes the final conflict in this way, “in order that they all may be judged” (2.12). Everyone who fails to obey the word of the King will be slain by the rod of His word, “the breath of His lips” (Is. 11.4; 2 Th. 2.12a). In this verse, Paul reveals the victory of the King by magnifying the sovereignty of God, the slaughter of antichrist, the futility of Satan, and Glory of the second coming.
The Victory Of Christ And The Sovereignty Of God
As we have previously seen, the restraining phenomenon in vv. 6-7 speaks of a temporary duration of time that is thus far ordained to restrain the arrival of the man of lawlessness. We argued that the identity of that restrainer was God’s angel, and even probably Michael the archangel, who has a long history of combat with the dragon i.e. the Devil (cf. Dan. 10.13-14; 12.1; Rev. 12.7ff.). But the purpose of that restraint will end at God’s appointed time, “so that in his (the man of sin) he will be revealed” (v.6). Of course this means that God is completely sovereign over the timing of antichrist’s manifestation and ascent to power. Therefore, there will be a time when the restraining influence will come to an end and the antichrist will finally arrive upon the scene of world history to seek to fulfill Satan’s schemes. But the fact that antichrist will be “revealed” (ἀποκαλύπτω) is a reminder to us all that even the hell he will unleash on earth and against the church will be finally orchestrated by the sovereign wisdom of Almighty God.
God was sovereign over the expulsion of the Devil and his angels in heaven and He will be sovereign over the duration and purpose of his tyrannical reign on earth. If we want absolute assurance of that we may want to consider Satan’s reprobation and his destruction that was ordained from long ago. Paul says in 1 Timothy that like man, God has “elect angels” (1 Tim. 5.21). God was sovereign over the reprobation of Lucifer and will be sovereign over the final stages of his influence upon the world even decreeing the precise timing of antichrist’s coming and manifestation.
In all these tribulations therefore, we should never lose sight of God’s ways, His wisdom, power and sovereignty that He has so ordered the end times that His people are afforded the promise of His protect and preservation which reaches beyond death and the grave (Rom. 8.38). Antichrist’s cruel ambitions for the Church and his authority over the nations is a delegated authority and power- even the short-lived influence that he will have will not ultimately be his to command. This note of sovereignty is found not only here in Thessalonians but also in Revelation when this future time is depicted:
Revelation 13:7–10 7 It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.
The Victory Of Christ And The Slaughter Of The Antichrist
Where Revelation leaves off we must go forward to the victory of Christ when He returns to slay the man of sin, “whom the Lord will slay” (ὃν ὁ κύριος [Ἰησοῦς] ἀνελεῖ). Thessalonians leaves us with the image of our Champion Warrior, Jesus Christ, who enters into final combat with our adversaries and brings the satanic reign of antichrist to a screeching halt and destroys him. What Paul states here succinctly was typified in the OT destruction of all previous world powers and cosmic forces that attempted to usurp God’s authority and destroy His people (e.g. Babel, Egypt, Babylon), and prophesied in the OT of the coming beast, the antichrist of whom Daniel said, “he will come to his end, and no one will help him” (Dan. 11.45). Commenting on this text in Daniel 11, E.J. Young wrote many years ago:
“… the great final enemy of the people of God, the Antichrist, will make his last stand and will come to his end in territory which is sacred and holy (peculiarly delighted in by the people of God— note the expression mountain of the delight or holiness— does this have reference to the church?) His end will be complete, apparently brought about by the glorious return of the Son of God from heaven.” (E.J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 253).
You have multiple references even in Daniel and other places to the destruction of the final world ruler (Dan. 7.11; also Is. 14.13-14) and some of those instances may have partial fulfillments in lesser antichrist figures (e.g. Antiochus IV, Nero, Titus), but they ultimately and collectively point to the final man of sin who will be destroyed by Christ at the parousia. This is then taken out of the realm of prophetic idiom (with all of its cryptic symbolism) and made clear by John the Revelator:
Revelation 19:19–21 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
The background for Rev. 19, like 20 is Ezekiel (Ezek. 39.17-20) in the battle of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38-39). There is where the reference to the birds eating the flesh of those who are killed at the second coming is to be found. Consequently, the reference there in Ezekiel is connected to the concept of the “mighty men” of the world (cf. Gen. 6.4; Rev. 19.18)- referring to world rulers who have the position and power to shape the course of events and history like Nimrod in Shinar who attempted to unite the world in a pseudo-religion, a false “mountain” eschatology (cf. Is. 14.13-14; Ezek. 28.1-10).
The Victory Of Christ And The Futility Of Satan
The victory of Christ is also seen in the futility of Satan, the antichrist and the world system united under their authority. The reference to the “breath of His mouth” (τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ), refering to Jesus, is not unique in Paul. Not only is there a rich OT tradition of Yahweh’s “breath” as an expression of God’s power to create, redeem and judge (cf. Job 4.9; Is. 30.27-28). John the Revelator also employed the language to refer to the judgment that would be meted out to heretics specifically (Rev. 2.16) as well as rebellious nations in general (Rev. 19.15). Jesus is specifically described as possessing a “sword” in His mouth (Rev. 1.16). The language here is that of apocalyptic metaphor to describe the judicial judgment of God upon the wicked (cf. Is. 11.4; 30.33). Here however that language is specifically leveled against the “man of lawlessness.”
The “breath” of His mouth should also remind us of the ease with which Jesus Christ will effortlessly defeat His enemies (cf. Ps. 110.7). This reminds us that the cosmic strife today is one of sovereign forbearance where God is patiently and mercifully delaying His coming and the arrival of the age to come so as to save all of His people through the gospel (cf. 2 Pet. 3.8-9; Mt. 24.14). It is not as if Satan, the antichrist and the present evil age are somehow hindering God, restraining His kingdom from arriving in power; the reality is, God’s enemies are powerless to stay His hand and none of His decrees can be thwarted (cf. Prov. 31.20; Is. 14.24-27; 42.13; 43.13; 46.10-11; 55.11; Eph. 1.11; also Acts 5.39). Revelation knows this and this is the source of his rage (Rev. 12.12)! The reality is the more Satan attacks the saints the, even to martyrdom the more that evidences his own demise. George Eldon Ladd states:
“The martyrs are safe and secure, having won their victory through the blood of the Lamb. But they are still martyrs. Satan is still able to attack the saints on earth and bring them to martyrdom, hoping that by doing so he may conquer them and compel them to deny their faith. This is the background for the last convulsive effort of Satan to crush the church and destroy the saints. Even though he knows his power is broken and his doom sure and soon, he attacks the church with great wrath.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 173).
But even this attack on the Church will proof futile in the end as the martyred saints will be brought back to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years, a description of the heavenly vindication of the martyrs. That is why the thousand years is best taken metaphorical because it describes a heavenly state not an earthly existence (Rev. 20.1-5). Not only will those who suffer most under antichrist be vindicated and assured victory over the beast, the beast too will be at last obliterated by Christ and His glory (cf. Rev. 20.10).
The Victory of Christ and the Glory of His Coming
The doom of the man of sin and the present hour of darkness that he will enjoy will come to an end by the brightness of the final great epiphany of God, the parousia-judgment of Christ. Antichrist will be slain, “by the appearance of His coming” (καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ). Exegetically, Paul has already spelled out the details of the second coming:
2 Thessalonians 1:6–10 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
When Christ returns for saints, notice the presence of the Church on earth during the final stages of the last days proving that God in fact did not ‘rapture’ them out of the world. But when Jesus returns, His coming will be an world-ending parousia to the present age to an end. The word used of antichrist’s end, “bring to an end” (καταργήσει) is the same word used by Paul in 1 Cor. 15.26 to bring “death” itself to an end. This corresponds perfectly with Revelation’s vision of the end when “death and Hades” will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20.14). When we take this theology collectively, as hard as it is but as we should expect, Paul, Daniel, John, Jesus (as with all of Scripture), speak with one harmonious voice on the final victory of Christ and His people:
Matthew 24:29–31 29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
If we stick to the theme of eschatology, we will remember that biblical eschatology is both already and not yet. Here is where we can draw out our application. Paul’s doctrine of antichrist is not meant to undermine Satan’s influence now but to heighten it and sober us as to the spirit already at work in the world that it is the spirit of antichrist. This should remind us that we have a real adversary who, though he has been bound, defeated definitively, and prejudged to Hell; that does not make him ineffectual. He is still lion-like (1 Pet. 5.8), a deceiver (2 Cor. 11.3), an oppressor (2 Cor. 12.7), and as the term “Satan” literally means, he is our adversary! He is still so formidable, that we dare not engage in ‘hand to hand’ combat with him directly but only recuse ourselves from the fight and say, “the Lord rebuke you” for it is there and in Him, in the Lord our Warrior-Lamb-King where our victory is found.
While it is now impossible for our adversary to stop world evangelization, it is still possible for him to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2.11). He does this by capitalizing on our weakness, the weakness of our flesh, past sins, and present temptation. Even in what may seem to us to harmless and inconsequential- Satan sees as grand opportunities for his work. Joel Beeke in his excellent commentary on Revelation reminds us of the subtle yet sadistic ways that our adversary still seeks to ‘stop up our path.’ He warns of the ways that Satan seeks to “lull us to sleep”:
“The word Satan literally means “adversary.” Peter tells us the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour whom he will (1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes he comes on tiptoe; sometimes he appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). The devil plays so many games! For example, when you sit down to listen to the news in the evening, you can easily absorb what is says. But if you turn form the news and pick up your Bible, suddenly our concentration is gone. Likewise, you can surf the Internet for hours, but when you try to pray, you suddenly begin to get sleepy. That is how Satan works… He has countless ways of getting at us.” (Joel R. Beeke, Revelation: The Lectio Continua, Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016) 350-351).
This is why we need to approach the ‘means of grace’ with sobriety; our adversary is seeking to undermine their impact and importance in our lives. Sermons, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, unity, fellowship and love are all in the enemy’s crosshairs all the time, let us not give him an occasion for victory at our expense.