Chapter two contains the largest section of new teaching in this short letter and has generated a great deal of debate in several areas. It seems possible that someone had sent a letter in Paul’s name to Thessalonica, stating that they had missed “the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). One of their fears that prompted the first letter was that the believers who had died would miss the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13), which Paul addressed. However, it seems a “letter allegedly from” Paul and possibly a “spirit or message” claimed that, in fact, they all had missed it and were now living in “the day of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Since Paul had obviously taught them about the terrors of the great Tribulation, they were scared to be in it and wondered how they could have missed the Rapture.
In this chapter, Paul revealed three events that must happen first, before the day of the Lord could commence. The first is called, variously, “the rebellion” (NET, NLT, NIV, ESV); “the apostasy” (NASB, HCSB); and “a falling away” (KJV). There are three views of what this could be. One common view is that, toward the end of the Church Age before the Rapture, there will be an apostasy or falling away within the Church itself. This is prophesied in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, among other places. There will be people within the Church who are either not believers at all or weak, immature Christians who will fall away from the faith. This is the view promoted in Walvoord and Zuck’s Bible Knowledge Commentary. The translation “rebellion” presupposes this view. A second view is that this refers to the Rapture itself. Because the Greek word ἀποστασία (apostasia) simply means “departure,” and since it is prefixed with the definite article (“the departure”), some hold that there is only one specific departure Paul had already taught them about – the departure of the Church from this world, the Rapture. This view is held by Dr. Olander (The Greatness of the Rapture, Tyndale Seminary Press, Hurst, TX). The third view is that this will be a departure from the true faith, after the Rapture, by those who had only professed belief but were not true Christians. Constable promotes this view in his Notes on 2 Thessalonians (soniclight.com). This view seems less likely, because it seems that Paul thought his readers would see the apostasy, which they would not do if they had already been raptured, something he was also certain they would experience.
The second event that must occur before the day of the Lord is that “the man of lawlessness” must be revealed. Interestingly, although it is commonly used in Christian churches and theology books, the term “Antichrist” is never applied by the biblical writers specifically to the coming world ruler. In fact, John referred to anyone who denied the Word made flesh as an antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). However, Paul used a series of phrases to describe how evil this man will be: “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction…the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). He will publicly and unashamedly oppose and place himself above all gods, to the point that he will set himself up to be worshiped in God’s Temple in Jerusalem (a fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15). Since his arrival will come “with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders and with every kind of evil deception” and since his revealing must take place before the Day of the Lord and since that had not (and still has not) yet happened, Paul comforted his readers that they had not entered the Day of the Lord.
The third event that will precede the Day of the Lord is that “the one who holds him back will [be]…taken out of the way” before he is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Again, there has been great debate over who or what restrains the lawless one. The two most common views are that the Church or the Holy Spirit is restraining him. Those who believe the Church to be the restrainer say that the Rapture will release Antichrist to begin his campaign, since there will be no godly influence in his way. However, the Church is not more powerful than Satan, except through the power of God, so even that view unintentionally bows to the second. Only the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to stay Satan’s work in this world. After the Rapture, when the Church is removed from Satan’s attacks and God’s coming wrath, will the Holy Spirit release his hold on “the hidden power of lawlessness [which] is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
The chapter ends with Paul’s word of thanks, again, that his readers would not have to go through that time and an encouragement to hold fast to what he had already taught them on this subject, rather than being tossed around by false teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).