The Future Judgment
2 Thessalonians 2:11–12 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
While verse 10 ends with humanity’s rejection of the truth, the next section ends with humanity’s obsession with wickedness and that is why humanity will be inevitably judged. What Paul is looking at now is beyond the arrival of antichrist and his deception and to the future judgment where humanity will be given over and preconditioned for the future judgment. The future judgment includes a coming deception, humanity’s faith in a lie, and the nature of God’s eschatological judgment.
The Future Judgment And Divine Deception
In yet another expression of the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of God in the realm of eschatology and the coming antichrist crisis, Paul now shifts the focus away from the activity of antichrist and sets the church’s attention upon the activity of God instead. Paul’s focus is about judgment. What will God do to a world united under antichrist? How does God respond to those who follow deception and reject His truth; God gives them over to delusion, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” (καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πέμπει αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ἐνέργειαν πλάνης). We cannot overlook Paul’s logic here. The connection between vv.9-10 and v.11 is crucial, “for this reason” (διὰ τοῦτο) forms a crucial link in the exegesis. It is on the basis of the unbelief found in v.10 that God now responds in judgment. We will look more closely at that below. However, suffice to say that God’s “deluding influence” is the fitting divine response to a world in absolute rebellion to God and unified under antichrist and the coming godless system that he will preside over. There are two questions that need to be answered in this text.
First, what does this “delusion” refer to and how does it work. Second, what is the “lie” or that which is “false?” What precisely is the “lie” that God is giving humanity over to? The second question will be answered below. Here we focus on the nature of this “delusion” (πλάνης). We should first point out that this end-time deception is an activity of God. God is the One “sending” (πέμπει) the “delusion.” Interestingly enough, the Grammar of the text here indicates that this activity is a present reality (Note: the present active tense of πέμπει). The “influence,” according to Paul is already being “sent!” Of course, the force of the verb is future since that is the context, however Paul may have intended for his readers to perceive the already-not-yet nature of the eschaton, even as it relates to this final antichrist activity. This is also true in the seminal fact that what ultimately characterizes the world system and those who follow the man of sin is unbelief and the rejection of the truth of Christianity. This of course is a present reality even now:
Ephesians 2:2 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
2 Corinthians 4:3–4 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1 John 4:3 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
This is why what Paul is teaching here had an immediate impact on the church’s witness and evangelism; these principles are timeless for this exchange of the truth of God, the truth of the gospel for the lies of Satan have always been and will always be operative in every generation. In the future, this “deluding influence” (ἐνέργειαν πλάνης) or maybe more accurately translated, ‘activity of error’ will consist in buying into the “signs and wonders” of the beast so that a person concludes that these false signs authenticate antichrist and his power. This will be the catalyst of people buying into the Babylon system, the system of antichrist- a system which is already in place because it consists largely of economic and social norms (cf. Rev. 18.11ff.).
When antichrist comes, the same global system will take on a spiritual dimension so that people will render worship to the beast and surrender ownership of their lives by receiving his mark on their bodies (cf. Rev. 13.11-18). But this error, as is indicated by the grammar, is also a present reality.
What might an already inaugurated “deluding influence” look like today? It probably consists of a world in rapid free fall both morally and spiritually. A world where we are being increasingly confronted with man’s total depravity. Today through technology we simply have quicker access to humanity’s moral and spiritual decomposition. If humanity were a decomposing corpse, it is beginning to reek of death so that the stench of death is all around us (cf. 1 Cor. 7.31; 1 John 2.8, 17). Moral, political and financial scandal everywhere all the time. We cannot scarcely keep us with the news without even a moment free from backstabbing, slander, intrigue, criminality and ethical compromise. Just to sample the moral collapse of Western civilization, recently, athletes have finally begun to protest against moral relativism as female athletes, everything from professional runners in track and field, to wrestlers have begun to cave under the inevitable reality that “transgender” boys, are still simply anatomically different. And no amount political correctness and moral relativism can undo that no matter how hard society tries to redefine itself. Who would have guessed that someone born male might be faster, stronger and more durable than females? Of course, relativism is always self-refuting and results in logical frustration. Can we for a moment imagine what would happen if the UFC for example began allowing transgender folks to compete in the “octagon.” The UFC would easily suffer from its first fatality. But this is where the world is going under such a deluding influence. It is being given over to its own depravity- the depravity spoke of in Romans, that of a reprobate mind:
Romans 1:18–32 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
The Future Judgment And Faith In A Lie
Ironically, in this text in Romans, Paul uses the same construction that he does here in referring to “what is false” or as the Greek has it, “the lie” (τῷ ψεύδει). It also answers the purpose of the previous phrase. In the sending of this “deluding influence” those who refused to believe “the truth” will be handed over to “believe what is false” (εἰς τὸ πιστεῦσαι αὐτοὺς τῷ ψεύδει). But what is this falsehood, this “lie?” Commentators have given all sorts of general views on this point. Some say the “lie” is that antichrist is god (cf. v.4). Others say it is that the signs and wonders are true. Still others suggest that “the lie” is the rejection of gospel itself. It is difficult to decide from all these views especially since there are legitimate arguments for all of them to a certain degree. Taking a more general view MacArthur argues as follows:
“… Antichrist will deceive people with satanically empowered false miracles, signs, and wonders, his deception only will succeed because it fits into God’s sovereign purpose. He will sentence unbelievers to accept evil as if it were good and lies as if they were the truth. Those who continually choose falsehood will be inextricably caught by it. In the words of Proverbs 5:22, “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.” They will be abandoned by God to the consequences of their choice to reject the gospel.” (John MacArthur, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 284).
The “lie” may just in fact be a comprehensive thing, a worldview that buys into the final satanic system under antichrist and his claims. But MacArthur is absolutely right to point out the total irony of this “lie” and those who believe in it. This is so because of the deceitfulness of sin itself (cf. Heb. 3.13). It is the same delusion that people were in before the flood, before fire rained down from Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Lk. 17.26ff.). It is the delusion that leads people to live life as if life will simply continue on into infinity with no repercussion for sin. God, in giving the world over to its antichrist delusions, is confirming them in judgment. When their reason is taken away, when their capacity for discernment is removed, humanity will be powerless to withstand the end-time deception that is coming. The very wickedness that they take pleasure in in an antichrist fashion is the very wickedness that will ensnare them. The psalmist speaks of those who sought his life; the life of God’s anointed:
Psalm 35:5–8 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, With the angel of the Lord driving them on. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, With the angel of the Lord pursuing them. 7 For without cause they hid their net for me; Without cause they dug a pit for my soul. 8 Let destruction come upon him unawares, And let the net which he hid catch himself; Into that very destruction let him fall.
The Future Judgment And The Nature Of Eschatological Judgment
Humanity’s faith in this end-time falsehood prepares the world for the wrath of God, “in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (ἵνα κριθῶσιν πάντες οἱ μὴ πιστεύσαντες τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἀλλὰ εὐδοκήσαντες τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). There are a number of things that speak to the nature of the future judgment. First, Paul is careful to point out the comprehensive nature of God’s judgment, “that they all may be judged” (ἵνα κριθῶσιν πάντες). God will punish iniquity wherever it is found (cf. Rom. 3.19) but here it is precisely every person who took part in the system of the antichrist and rejected the truth of the gospel.
Second, the future judgment of God is not only comprehensive but just, “they… who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (οἱ μὴ πιστεύσαντες τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἀλλὰ εὐδοκήσαντες τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). Both negatively and postively both by way of omission and comission, humanity outside of Christ will be justly condemend. It is enough that people reject the offer of the gospel, that which can save them from their Adamic guilt, their sinful nature and their depravity. It is enough that people will perish by virtue of their willful rejection of etenral life and more precisely, the Savior who grants eternal life. But judgment is also a matter of rebellion not just rejection. God’s wrath will be just because people are not simply indifferen to the truth, they are hostile to the truth in their delight of wickedness because they “took pleasure in wickedness” (εὐδοκήσαντες τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). This is not different than what John’s Gospel records:
John 3:19–21 19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
In rejecting the light, people who will be judged rejoiced in the darkness, took pleasure in wickedness and accepted a lie in the place of trurth. Paul, has already detialed the events that lead up to this and its connection to the parousia. Here as we consider the rigteous nature of God’s judgment, we should conclude this study of eschatology with John’s final picture of the great judgment to come:
Revelation 20:11–15 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.