2 Thessalonians 2

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).

Zechariah 6

Chapter six closes Zechariah’s night with a final vision, this one of “four chariots emerging from between two mountains of bronze” (Zechariah 6:1-8). These chariots were driven by the four horsemen of his first vision (Zechariah 1:8-11). In the first vision they reported to Jehovah that they had settled peace on the earth at that time, probably in reference to Persia’s defeat of Babylon. In this vision they were returning to their jobs, walking the earth to do God’s will.

This chapter and section concludes with a final action Zechariah was to oversee at this time (Zechariah 6:9-15). From the Babylonian exiles, he was to choose four men (none of whom are named elsewhere in Scripture) to craft crowns (plural in Hebrew) for Joshua, the high priest. Astonishingly, this was a royal crown, not the high priest’s turban (mentioned in Zechariah 3:5), meaning that the high priest was also being crowned as king. Since Israel did not have a king during or after this time, and since the king and the high priest were distinct roles, this must be a prophetic illustration to be fulfilled in Messiah, who will serve as both priest and king in his kingdom. This is evident in three ways.

First, we have again the Messianic reference to the Branch of Isaiah 11. Second, in Zechariah 4:7-10 God had promised that Zerubbabel, not Joshua, would rebuild the Temple, yet this king-priest will build it. (This indicates that there would be yet another Temple built after Zerubbabel’s, something that history has proven to be true. 1 ) Third, after their “crowning” of Joshua, the four men were to take the crowns into the Temple “as a memorial,” showing that Joshua himself was not intended to serve as both high priest and king. Zechariah promised that, if they would “completely obey the voice of the LORD your God,” other exiles would come and help rebuild the Temple, “so that you may know that the LORD who rules over all has sent me to you.”

Notes:

  1. Modern Orthodox Jews believe that it will be the true Messiah who builds the Temple in Jerusalem. That is how they think they will finally know who he is. Unfortunately, Daniel 9:27 and later revelation indicate that Antichrist will probably help rebuild a Temple first, securing the loyalty of the Jews early in the Tribulation period, before he violates his covenant with them.

Isaiah 14

Chapter fourteen continues God’s message against Babylon, addressing the king of Babylon specifically. In Isaiah 14:1-4, God made the promise of Israel’s restoration again, declaring that they would return to the land of Israel from all the foreign nations, making their once captors captives. This is why he could guarantee Babylon’s downfall.

The particular taunt or mocking song that will be sung at Babylon’s demise is recorded in Isaiah 14:5-23. The king’s brutality brought a song when it was put to an end. Even the trees were given a voice to celebrate that they would not be cut down unnecessarily anymore (Isaiah 14:8). Sheol (“the grave”) was excited to finally receive him, and the other pagan kings of the earth were described as lining up to receive him in the underworld (Isaiah 14:9-10). No matter how glorious he was in life, in death he was just worm food, like the rest of them (Isaiah 14:11).

Verses 12-14 have been the source of debate for many scholars. While the rest of the chapter is obviously pointed to a human king, the language in these verses changes to something more celestial. Some believe that it simply speaks to the king’s arrogance, that he would think of himself in the terms of ancient gods (Constable). The NET Bible study notes offers a second explanation.

These verses, which appear to be spoken by other pagan kings to a pagan king (cf. vv. 9–11), contain several titles and motifs that resemble those of Canaanite mythology, including references to Helel son of Shachar, the stars of El, the mountain of assembly, the recesses of Zaphon, and the divine title Most High. Apparently these verses allude to a mythological story about a minor god (Helel son of Shachar) who tried to take over Zaphon, the mountain of the gods. His attempted coup failed and he was hurled down to the underworld. The king of Babylon is taunted for having similar unrealized delusions of grandeur.

Many Bible scholars have taught that this was a veiled reference to Satan’s own fall, when he sinned in heaven. 1 This interpretation would explain the “heavenly” language used and would certainly provide the basis for the Canaanite mythology. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, “O shining one” was translated as lucifer, which was retained in early English Bibles (and popularized by the King James Bible) as his name, rather than a description. 2

Isaiah 14:16 returns to more natural language for a human king, even calling him a “man.” In his death, the people would wonder how they could have been so afraid of him. After all, he was just a man (Isaiah 14:16-18). Unlike other men, though, the king would not receive a proper burial, and his sons would not rule in his place (Isaiah 14:19-23). His dynasty would be destroyed by God himself, and Babylon would become a memory, a desert ravaged by wild animals.

The chapter closes with two short messages to Assyria and Philistia. To Assyria God promised to destroy them as well, like Babylon (Isaiah 14:24-27). In fact, this was his plan for all the nations of the earth. About 150 years later God revealed to Daniel that the Messianic King would destroy all human kingdoms in order to set up his own (Daniel 2:44-45).

The message to Philistia was dated to “the year King Ahaz died” (715 B.C.). They were warned to not rejoice that their oppression had been broken (Isaiah 14:28-32). This could refer to Assyria, whose defeat was just announced and would soon collapse under Babylon, or to Ahaz, who had just died. Rather than rejoice at newfound freedom, they were to fear what was coming – possibly the mighty Babylonian empire – which would certainly destroy them.

Notes:

  1. Ezekiel 28 is another passage that transitions from speaking about a human king to the evil angel.
  2. It is interesting that scholars can see this as a reference to Canaanite mythology, yet say that “an allusion to the fall of Satan here…seems contextually unwarranted.” (NET Bible Study note)