The Apostasy and the Antilord
2 Thessalonians 2:3 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
While much has been made about the arrival of the antichrist or antilord in popular evangelical theology, the teaching of antichrist is not unique to the NT. The theology of antichrist begins in protology. As Satan who is the archenemy of God and His Christ, who gives power to the antichrist; the serpent of old is the antilord who seek to exalt himself in God’s cosmic temple. We will see these aspects of the activity of the ‘man of sin’ in vv.4-5. Here however, we will begin by two signs which precede his activity and speak to his anticipation. Paul begins with two signs that precede the Day of the Lord or the parousia of Christ.
Two Signs Of The Day Of The Lord
The apostle Paul has already indicated that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night for those who are in darkness (1 Th. 5.1-3). For believers however, those who see the signs of the times, the Day of the Lord will not overtake us as a thief because we will be spiritually prepared (1 Th. 5.4-8). In addition to that comforting thought however, we also have the reassurance that we need not fear any teaching or message or sprit (i.e. false teacher) that may seek to deceive us into thinking that the Day of the Lord has already happened or that the Day of the Lord possess a threat to believers in any way since two critical signs must precede the advent of Christ: the great apostasy and the man of sin.
The Great Apostasy:
In Jesus’ great Olivet Discourse where He outlines some of the features of the last days leading up to His return, Jesus indicated that the situation surrounding the parousia, His second coming, would find analogy in the world of Noah the world prior to the flood. The same analogy is used of Lot and the sudden destruction that came upon Sodom (Lk. 17.28). Jesus said “like the days of Noah” when man had reached an intolerable boiling point of depravity leading to the end of the world that then was (cf. 2 Pet. 3.6).
Matthew 24:36–41 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
During this time in the world the righteous were scarce, the gospel was out of fashion, the preaching of God’s people was unpopular, and the world order was united in sin. Furthermore, Jesus is highlighting the apostate condition of the world at the time of His return as a time that though it will be marked by wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, diseases etc. the world will nevertheless be asleep so that the Son of Man will come in judgment to separate the righteous and the wicked and the vast majority of humanity will be in a state of willful ignorance. Even worse, they will scoff at His coming as Peter indicates (2 Pet. 3.3-4). This is why it will hit them like a thief in the night. In every way they will be spiritually unfit for His return and unfit for the kingdom of God (cf. Mt. 25.1-13).
Jesus gave a parable in Luke designed to strengthen the faith of the Church in the present age and in light of the last days leading up to His return in which He seems to parallel the idea that Paul presents here namely that just prior to His return, just like the days of Noah, the faith of the righteous will seem all but gone, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18.8). So following Jesus’ teaching on eschatology, Paul asserts the same basic principle that the lack of faith will be a feature of the last days due to an end time apostasy. But Paul insists that this will not only be a feature of the end times but an indicator of the parousia-Day of the Lord.
Apparently, the conditions at the end of the age especially just prior to the return of Christ will be such that many professors of the faith will quickly reveal that they have no faith at all (cf. 2 Th. 3.2). That is what “the apostasy” (ἡ ἀποστασία) really is- the manifestation of false faith. Just as the Parable of the Sower instructs us, false hearts need only the right conditions to show that the soil into which the word of God fell never took root (cf. Mt. 13.18-23). It is not hard to see this sort of worldwide apostasy even now. With the third world being largely populated with the fraudulent teaching of the “prosperity gospel” and “word of faith” theology or the modern mysticism of the Pentecostal movement it is not hard to see how faith of this kind could easily crumble in times of intense satanic deception when God will send on the world a deluding influence to pull back the curtain and show the under belly of the false Church all over the world (cf. 2.9-12). In the West the scene is really not all that better. Although we may not have exact conditions of the third world, our churches often consist of easy-believism, market-driven seeker-sensitivism, therapeutic preaching, Liberalism, dead orthodoxy, ecumenicalism, and countless non-denominational churches who refuse to define themselves doctrinally and preach with little or no conviction.
These conditions however are nothing new. If we rewind the history of the Church, we will see that as the Church settled into the dark ages of medieval time, the Roman Catholic Church was comprised of apostate religion. Is it any wonder that the Reformers did not hesitate to identify Rome as Babylon the Great and the Papacy as the seat of antichrist, and the Pope himself the antichrist? As we consider these two signs however, we must never forget about God’s absolute sovereignty in the midst of all these cataclysmic events including the apostasy to come. God knows those that are His and His elect are ‘the apple of His eye.’ He will never forsake His people for they are in His grip even at death (cf. John 10.25-30; Rom. 8.33-39; Rev. 12.11). And although, it may seem in the last days that we are alone and there is a famine of faith, God knows His people and delays things for their sake. Jesus taught this very thing in the context of Luke 18 where the righteous seem out numbered, out gunned, and hung out to dry. Jesus assures us that this will not be so:
Luke 18:6–8 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
A probable parallel passage to all of this is in 2 Peter where Peter uses the same word Jesus used here to refer to God’s seeming delay (μακροθυμέω) for the sake of His people; for their salvation and repentance:
2 Peter 3:9 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
God does all things for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2.10). But in terms of the visible church, there will be an eschatological division and exposure of false Christianity rooted in false faith and a rejection of the truth:
2 Timothy 3:1–5 1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
As biblical faithfulness goes down and biblical illiteracy goes up, the result will be deception and apostasy every time. It is remarkable to think that today many of those who really oppose the true gospel are professing believers; those who profess to be in the faith and yet have no problem publically opposing the faith when the faith runs contrary to some social, ethnic, or moral and philosophical presupposition of theirs. Is it any wonder that in terms of this great coming apostasy we would be warned of its encroaching and even escalating nature. Paul wrote about this very thing:
1 Timothy 4:1–2 1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
The truly daunting thing is the fact that to whatever degree we might be seeing this now, apparently according to Paul, this will pale in contrast to the mass apostasy which will occur when the beast, the antichrist, he who would be antilord of the universe will be revealed. That is the next sign of the Day of the Lord and these two signs are congruent as concomitant eschatological realities.
The Revelation Of Antilord:
As mysterious, controversial and perplexing as the antichrist is, we can understand something about the nature of the antichrist based on his titles. He is both lawlessness, and destruction. As the “the man of lawlessness” (ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας) he is first and foremost characterized by offending God, breaking His law, and as the personification of all that contradicts the glory of God. He is sin incarnate. Consequently, through his influence and satanic origin, the antichrist produces sin and misery. He will seek to harness the present evil age, harness its power, and direct his diabolical forces towards the Lamb and the saints:
Revelation 13:7 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.
He is called the “man of lawlessness” because he will seek for sin to prevail in the world. His vision is to reign over a world of iniquity, a world under his satanic dominion, and a world that is mystified by his power and glory. This is what the signs and wonders are all about. Not that we know what the “signs and wonders” will be exactly but that we know that through these false signs the “beast”, the antichrist, will seek to bring the whole world under the subjugation of his lordship:
2 Thessalonians 2:9 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
That activity of “signs and wonders” is also explained in conjunction with the second beast of Revelation, the false prophet (prophet” (Rev. 16.13; 19.20; 20.10), who works such signs and wonders on behalf of antichrist so as to cause the whole world to worship the beast and pledge their allegiance to him ultimately through receiving his mark of ownership over their lives (cf. Rev. 13.16, 17; 14.9, 11; 16.2; 19.20; 20.4):
Revelation 13:11–15 11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. 15 And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
He is also “the son of destruction” (ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας) because his reign of terror will end in a fiery crash of judgment and all of his satanic delusions of grandeur will be terminated (v.8). As Kim Riddlebarger reminds us, antichrist will be a real person with a real end and a real destruction:
“… [like Jesus Christ] the Antichrist is (or will be) a figure of history. He is not merely a figment of the Christian imagination. He will have a name and a face, and he will be cast into the lake of fire by none other than Jesus Christ (see Rev. 19:20; 20:10). (Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 14).
Therefore, as “the son of destruction”, he has a close association with “destruction.” This may mean that he is a destroyer and that would certainly fit his nature well but ultimately, like Judas who was the “son of perdition”, he is connected to “destruction” because he is ordained to be destroyed. Likewise, MacArthur points out that the title “destruction” does not speak about the destruction that antichrist will bring but the destruction he will suffer:
“The Antichrist will be so completely devoted to the destruction of all that relates to God’s purpose and plan that he can be said to be destruction personified. He, however, belongs to destruction (apōleia; “ruin,” not “annihilation”) as the one to be destroyed. He is fixed for punishment and judgment; he is human trash for the garbage dump of hell.” (John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 273).
Paul’s point here is very simple, the Day of the Lord that is, the final advent of Christ when He comes in fiery judgment, that day of wrath (1.6-10), will not come until antichrist is revealed and since that had not happened in the time of the Thessalonians, they’re fears of somehow being unprepared or missing out on the presence of Christ was unfounded. This passage although it presents tremendous terror regarding future eschatological events simultaneously is the occasion of the believer’s hope.
Do You See Babylon?
The antichrist will come as the extension and personification of the ancient antilord, the serpent of old, Satan. The influence of the antichrist and the actual outworking of his reign of terror will take place in this world on the stage of actual human history. The nature of his rule however is a principle we cannot fail to see. Just like, Jesus’ rule, Jesus’ reign and Jesus’ kingdom is an already-not-yet dynamic; so too, antichrist and his influence is presented in Scripture as an already-not-yet reality. Not yet we could say, is antichrist’s arrival, his revelation and the manifestation of his demonic power over all the nations. Just as Jesus was anticipated until we finally knew His name, antichrist will be anticipated until we will see his face and know his name. Not yet do we see the worldwide persecution of the Church. Although persecution in many places is and always has been grave; we still for the moment operate in many places of the world with relative ease. However, the already aspect of this is also critical. Scripture says many antichrists are here, already “the mystery of lawlessness” is working, and already we see the formation of Babylon.
What is Babylon? Many error by seeking to limit the identity of Babylon to one nation; to America, Russia, the Middle East, the European Union, or even a global institution like the Untied Nations etc. Those who are thinking this way are really asking, “where is Babylon?” But that misses the question. Babylon is not somewhere as much as it is everywhere. It is not found in something as much as it is in everything. Babylon is ultimately comprised of the socio-economic world order, world power, state sponsored religion and spirituality- that spiritual-economic system which the world deems good and acceptable as long as it unites and exalts man not Jesus Christ who is the world’s only true King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17.14). Is it any wonder that Babylon is mainly described in Revelation based on what it provides and not where it resides? Food, music, fashion, industry, sex, luxury, comfort, convenience, cargoes of gold and silver, transportation, precious stones, precious metals, discovery, entrepreneurship, and autonomy (Rev. 17-18). The antichrist will arise to preside over this world system to be the grand broker of the world’s lusts, desires and dependencies. Just eat from the fruit that he offers and all can be yours.
How do we prepare for this? There is only one sure solution. Do not love your life unto death by faith in Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life and you will overcome the evil one:
Revelation 12:10–12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”