Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Man of Lawlessness

Today is the fourth day of our 25th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Song of Songs 7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2; Psalm 127. 

Mikhail Gorbachev
When I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s, the religious circle that my family was part of was fascinated with end-time prophecy.  It seemed that one leader or another was always trying to predict the rapture, or to identify the reasons why the current political situation was setting the stage for the apocalypse.  Don't get me wrong--I believe it's important to take the Bible seriously, and that we should live each day as if Jesus is coming back today.  It's just that in those days, the interest in eschatology became an obsession.  I remember discussions about the identity of the Antichrist, who surely must be alive on the earth today.  In the '70s, it was a question whether the Antichrist was the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Palavi), or Ayatolla Khomeini, who supplanted him.  In the '80s, the Antichrist was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who had (purportedly) on his head the Hebrew letter vav ו, "dripping blood."  Of course, history has revealed that Jesus did not return in the 1970s and '80s, and that the Antichrist is still yet to be revealed.  So, given the religious climate of my formative years, you can understand why I'm a bit cautious when we discuss the topic of the Antichrist, whom the book of 2 Thessalonians calls "The Man of Lawlessness."

Still, we need to take the Bible seriously when it talks about such things.   2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (ESV) says:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The Spirit of even in the church
I have no doubt that in the end times (whenever those may be), there will be a "Man of Lawlessness," just as the Bible says.  However, since I don't presume to predict the times or seasons, I'm far more concerned with the Spirit of Lawlessness than I am with the Man of Lawlessness.  You see, whomever the Antichrist may be in the future, he will be a man possessed by the Spirit of Antichrist...and that spirit is certainly alive and well today!  This is a spirit that works in the world to oppose the church, and the gospel for which it stands.  It is the spirit that works even in the church to quench the work of the Holy Spirit, who desires the hearts and minds of God's people.  

I believe that the only reason why the Spirit of Lawlessness can't have full control is that the church is restraining him by the Holy Spirit's power (vv. 6-7).  Throughout the centuries, little antichrists (or, would-be Antichrists) have arisen, only to be defeated by the faithful, as they have been empowered by God.  Without trying to identify these antichrists in the future, or in history, I'll simply say that these people have operated by mystery and delusion, so that people will believe what is false (v. 7, 11).  One day, The Antichrist, or The Man of Lawlessness, will be revealed.  But until then, it still has to deal with men and women of lawlessness, empowered by the spirit of antichrist.  

How can you avoid falling into delusion?  How can you make sure that you're not led astray by false teachers and leaders?  James 1:5 (ESV) says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."  Verse 12 (ESV) says, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."  Verses 16-17 say, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."  Beware of those who would try to change the Gospel.  With God and His true message, there is no variation or change.

How do you avoid delusion?  Seek God--more than anything else in your life.  James 4:6-8 (ESV) says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

In the end, even the church won't be able to stop the Man of Lawlessness from coming into the world.  But we can say, "Not on my watch!"  We can stand for truth in this generation.  I pray that you'll stand for the truth, so that when delusion comes, you'll be found faithful, holding the banner of love and sharing God's message of life and peace.

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