************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 21, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#10)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
"The Man of Lawlessness"
When is Jesus coming again? "He has already come," said the Thessalonians, "because we received some prophecy, report, or letter supposed to have come from Paul, Silas, and Timothy saying that the Day of the Lord has happened" (cf 2 Thess 2:2).
When is Jesus coming again? Paul answers this question in our Bible reading. He starts with, "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ..." And, he sets the Thessalonians straight: "That day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (2 Thess 2:3).
I The Who of the Man of Lawlessness
A Who is the man of lawlessness? Many conflicting answers have been given. One answer most commentators agree upon is that the man of lawlessness is a picture of the antichrist we see in 1 John:
1 John 2:18,22 (NIV84) — 18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour ... 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.The title "antichrist" says it all. It means he is against Christ. But it also has the idea of "in the place of." He is against Christ and puts himself in the place of Christ.
The man of lawlessness is also a picture of the false Christs whom Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24.
Matthew 24:23–24 (NIV84) — 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. (Cf Mk 13)
B Who is the man of lawlessness? Look at what Paul says in verse 4:
2 Thessalonians 2:4 (NIV84) — 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
If you know your Old Testament, you recognize this sounds like what is written in the book of Daniel about the "little horn."
Daniel 7:25 (NIV84) — 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.The figure in Daniel is the same as the man of lawlessness. Both figures speak words against the Most High. Both oppress the saints.
C Who is the man of lawlessness? Listen to the further description we are given in Daniel 11:31.
Daniel 11:31 (NIV84) — 31 “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. (Cf Daniel 12:11)It is widely acknowledged Daniel is speaking of Antiochus Epiphanes some six hundred years later. In 167 B.C., Antiochus profaned the temple by dedicating it to the Greek good Zeus; he replaced the continual burnt offering with pagan sacrifices; he placed a pagan altar on top of the altar of burnt offering. Antiochus is like the man of lawlessness.
In Matthew 24:15-16, Jesus speaks of a coming abomination that causes desolation. In other words, there will be a second fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy about the abomination that causes desolation. This second fulfilment happened when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. At that time the Roman emperor Titus and his legions entered Jerusalem with images of the emperor -- images that were worshiped by the Romans. Titus is like the man of lawlessness.
Now, according to Jesus in Matthew 24, the destruction and abomination of A.D. 70 are but a type, a foreshadowing, of what will happen at the end of the world. We therefore are to expect a third major fulfillment of the abomination. This final fulfillment involves the antichrist, the man of lawlessness.
D Who is the man of lawlessness? I want you to note the phrase "is revealed.." The man of lawlessness is revealed. It doesn't say he is born. It says he is revealed. Revealed indicates that he already exists. He is taken out from the secret place where he has been hidden and is now fully disclosed. His true identity will be made known. He is already around.
At the Second Coming of Christ he is revealed. It is the passive voice in Greek. Someone or something else does the revealing. So, who does the revealing? The passive voice means God is at work. It is God who does the revealing. He takes the cover off. He lets the true colors show. There is nothing secret or hidden about the man of lawlessness anymore.
In this light consider the warning of verse 7: "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work ..." Meaning what? Meaning we see glimpses of his type of figure and his work throughout the history of God's people. His efforts against Christ didn't start when Christ was born; it started long before Christ was born. His first effort was the murder of Abel by Cain. His goal: to kill off the line of the Messiah. He tried this again at the time of the Exodus when Pharaoh ordered the death of the newborn boys of Israel.
When David was promised that the Messiah would come from his royal line, the spirit of the antichrist tried numerous times to extinguish the line and house of David. Read 2 Chronicles 21-22 sometime with this in mind:
-First, Jehoram killed all his brothers and the royal line got reduced to one person and the Messianic line of redemption hung on one life (2 Chron 21).
-Then, the Arabians came to the camp and massacred all the sons of Jehoram except Ahaziah and again the line hung on one life (2 Chron 22).
-Finally, Ahaziah died and his wicked mother, Athaliah, tried to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah; however, one boy, Joash, was hidden away for six years.
Fast forward to the Exile and a wicked man in Babylon by the name of Haman who tried to stamp out the Jewish race and therefore the Messianic line. And then there was Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, who tried to wipe out the Jews and failed because of the Maccabean revolution. And then came Herod who ordered the killing of all of Bethlehem's baby boys so the Messiah would be killed.
Notice, the man of lawlessness will be revealed only after that which restrains him has been taken out of the way (2 Thess 2:,7). Paul actually says in verse 6, "you know what is holding him back." Paul knew, the Thessalonians knew, I am guessing other early Christians knew. But we don't have a clue. No proposal seems to fit.
E Who is the man of lawlessness? Some think it is a movement -- like Communism, Marxism, Nazism, Secular Humanism, Socialism. Today, some say the man of lawlessness is Big Tech -- Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon. In these movements and powers we again see glimpses of his type of figure and his work.
I keep saying there are glimpses, foreshadows if you will, of the man of lawlessness. I say that because the description in our Bible reading cannot refer to anything but a definite person.
So who is this person? Many in the past have identified him with the Roman emperors Nero and Titus. At the time of the Reformation both Luther and Calvin identified him with the pope and the papacy. In more recent times he has been identified with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
The point of all this? That the man of lawlessness has been operating for a long, long time. That each age has its own particular form of antichrist activity. However, as the end draws nearer, we can expect this to intensify because right now he is restrained.
Who is the man of lawlessness? We have seen him in the past. We see him in the present. And, as the Second Coming approaches we will see a final, climatic antichrist or man of lawlessness.
II The Apostasy of the Man of Lawlessness
A This brings us to our second point. Tied in with the man of lawlessness is what our Bible reading calls "the rebellion." The Greek word is "apostasy." Paul writes that Jesus is not coming again "until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed." The man of lawlessness comes out of the apostasy.
What is apostasy? This is not something you will find in the world. Apostasy, by definition, happens only in the church. It is a rebellion against the Christian faith. It is a rebellion against what has been professed. It is falling away of members of the visible church. Those who are true believers will never fall away (Jn 10:27-29; 1 Pet 1:3-5); but many who have made an outward profession of faith will fall away. Listen to how Jesus describes this:
Matthew 24:10-12,24 (NIV84) — 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold ... 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.
B Apostasy is nothing new. Turning through the pages of the Old Testament we see apostasy on the part of God's people again and again. Already during the wilderness wanderings there occurred such a wide-scale apostasy that an entire generation of Israelites died in the desert without being permitted to enter the promised land. During the time of the Judges one apostasy followed another with almost monotonous regularity. The later history of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel is nothing but a sad tale of apostasy.
C Listen, again, to the warning of verse 7: "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work ..." Apostasy, my brothers and sisters, is not restricted to the end-time. Hebrews (Heb 6:6; 10:29), Peter (2 Pet 2:20), John (1 Jn 2:19), and Paul (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1-5) all speak about people of their time who were committing apostasy.
Apostasy is alive and well today too. It is apostasy when many so-called Christian leaders deny foundational teachings of the Bible like creation; the flood; the virgin birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus; the final judgment; and the need to repent and believe. It is apostasy when preachers proclaim myths instead of facts, political correctness instead of holiness, secular humanism instead of the truth of the gospel, ecology and the green revolution instead of repentance and faith. It is apostasy when in many European countries -- countries that have known the gospel for centuries -- most people stay away from worship -- including those brought up in the church. Thanks to COVID, we are seeing increasing apostasy in America: it is estimated that one in five churches will shut down; and, in churches that remain open, one in six members will not be returning to in person worship.
D As bad as all of this sounds, in the last days it intensifies with the appearance of the man of lawlessness.
2 Thessalonians 2:9–10 (NIV84) — 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
He is a rival to Christ. He tries to take the place of Christ. Like Christ, he uses signs and wonders. Whereas Christ's intent is to save, the intent of the man of lawlessness is to deceive and to lead astray into apostasy, away from the truth of the gospel, away from our Savior and Lord.
III The Worship of the Man of Lawlessness
In our third point we see that the man of lawlessness "sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God" (2 Thess 2:4). What does it mean to set himself up in God's temple? Remember, antichrist means opposed to Christ and it also means "in the place of" Christ. So what does he do? The man of lawlessness puts himself in the place of Christ.
Among the Greeks, where did one go to worship Zeus? To the temple of Zeus. Among the Jews, where did one go to worship the one only true God? To the temple. Temples are place of worship. Do you see what the man of lawlessness is doing? He is setting himself up in God's temple to be worshiped in the place of God and Christ.
I am not stating this strongly enough. The man of lawlessness will demand our worship. God's true people, of course, will refuse this demand. The result will be severe persecution and the "great tribulation" predicted by our Lord.
Now, let me end on a positive note. When Jesus comes again He will "overthrow" the man of lawlessness.
How? With the breath of His mouth and the splendor of His coming (2 Thess 2:8). The man of lawlessness is powerful and in control; yet, Jesus doesn't have to do anything to destroy him. Jesus doesn't have to call an army, use weapons, speak a word or give a command, perform a miracle, call His holy angels. All Jesus has to do is breathe and appear and the lawless one is destroyed.
Don't fear him because next to Jesus the man of lawlessness has no power and no strength. Next to Jesus he is nothing.
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