Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 6, 2022

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 Commentary

Paul spends much of his letters to Thessalonica’s Christians talking about Jesus’ second coming, about what he calls in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s verse 2 “the day of the Lord.” That, however, may seem like an odd topic for the Lectionary to call Christians to contemplate just weeks before our celebration of Jesus’ first coming.

But, of course, the Jesus whose second coming about which Paul writes at length is the Jesus whose first coming God’s adopted children plan to celebrate next month. What’s more, while preparations for celebrating Jesus’ first coming may make some people nervous, elements of Jesus’ second coming have panicked some of his followers. So this Sunday’s consideration of Paul’s words about Jesus’ return is highly appropriate.

Some Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson seemed to believe that Jesus’ second coming had already come and gone. Since they’re still alive, they apparently worry that they’ve somehow missed out on Jesus’ return.

While that may seem like an irrational fear to some 21st century Christians, it’s actually quite reasonable when we consider the circumstances of the Thessalonians to whom Paul writes. After all, most early Christians expected Jesus to return within a few years of his ascent to the heavenly realm. While Jesus had warned his followers against concocting any kind of timeline for his return, the first Christians seem to have often focused on his hints that his return was imminent.

In fact, at least some of the things had Jesus promised would precede his return already happened shortly after he returned to the heavenly realm. Various leaders persecuted and even killed some of Jesus’ first followers. Wars, earthquakes and famines rocked the world God loves so deeply.

At least some of 2 Thessalonians 2’s modern proclaimers and hearers are so comfortable with Jesus’ wait to return that we forget how much — and eagerly – his first followers expected it within their lifetime. We’re in so little hurry for Jesus to come again that we can’t understand how deeply some of his friends still long for it. Some of God’s dearly beloved people could wait so long for Jesus to return that we forget that the prospect of it has a prominent place especially in the faith of some of our hurting Christian brothers and sisters.

In fact, it sometimes seems that beleaguered Christians understand the nature of Jesus’ return better than some 21st century Christians do. While perhaps especially western Christians may be indifferent about or even fearful of Christ’s second coming, some Christians see it as something that they can and should confidently await.

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s Paul affirms that with his response to what we might call “fake news” of Jesus’ return. Through the apostle, it’s as if Jesus tells the suffering Thessalonians, “I haven’t come back yet. You didn’t miss it. Your misery isn’t a sign that God has somehow left you behind.”

Paul insists that a sign that no Christian has missed Jesus’ return is that the one the apostle calls “the man of lawlessness” hasn’t yet fully unleashed his reign of terror. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some Christians from thinking that that man some call the antichrist has, in fact, already begun to reign.

Some of Jesus’ earliest followers assumed the man of lawlessness was a Roman Caesar who opposed the Church and claimed divinity for himself. Some Reformers at least suspected that the pope was this antichrist. Some people identified Stalin, Hitler and Mao as the man of lawlessness. A few have even identified certain American leaders as the antichrist.

Yet while virtually all of those people who wreaked such havoc have died, Jesus hasn’t yet returned.  Even as a few authorities continue to both claim near divine status for themselves and treat Jesus’ followers despicably, Jesus continues to wait to come back.

To perhaps help the Thessalonians to continue to wait for Jesus to return, Paul highlights the contrast between the antichrist and the God whom we serve. In fact, while Christians sometimes focus on what 2 Thessalonians 2 says about that man of lawlessness, Paul focuses on God’s loving nature.  God’s grace rather than the man of lawlessness’ evil is this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s beating heart.

Next month Christians plan to remember how Jesus humbled himself by leaving the heavenly realm to be born in Bethlehem. In verse 4 Paul warns the antichrist will “exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped … proclaiming himself to be God.”

Jesus grew from a baby into a man who did signs and wonders that blessed people.  In verses 9 and following Paul warns, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed … in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.” The apostle teaches Thessalonica’s Christians that the man of lawlessness will be so self-deluded that he’ll claim for himself divine status. Paul also warns that the antichrist will also be so persuasive that he’ll convince “those who are perishing” of his divinity.

Jesus’ failure to return and the frequency of the kind of evil that will characterize the antichrist has led some scholars to suggest that the man of lawlessness is not a person, but a kind of widespread attitude. Some deduce that the man of lawlessness about whom Paul writes is a kind of evil outlook on life that some people grant great power to wreak real havoc.

While Satan and the antichrist have a lot of power to cause great misery, this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson reminds God’s dearly beloved people that God both remains in charge and will get the last word when Jesus comes back. God is, in fact, so good that Paul presses the comparison between God and the man of lawlessness.

The apostle notes that while the lawless one will deceive and thus destroy some people, God will, according to verse 1, graciously gather God’s people to himself. While the man of lawlessness will claim almost unlimited power, God will, according to verse 3, doom him to destruction.

While the antichrist will do evil in relative secrecy, God will, says verse 6, reveal him “at the proper time.” While the antichrist will do horrible things, God will eventually remove him. While the antichrist will set himself up as a god, verse 8 insists, “The Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming.”

So 2 Thessalonians 2’s preachers can remind our hearers that we don’t have to worry about either missing Jesus’ return or being overwhelmed by the man of lawlessness before it happens. We don’t have to turn our text into some kind of coded message about world leaders that we must decipher.  Nor do God’s adopted children have to be afraid or uncertain about any of this.

To paraphrase a common cliché, God’s got this. Followers of Jesus’ faith, no matter how flawed, is a sign of both God’s salvation and God’s tenacious grip on us.  God won’t let God’s dearly beloved people fall for the man of lawlessness’ deceptions.

Nor will God, preachers can with Paul announce, punish God’s adopted sons and daughters the way God threatens to punish those who have chosen to live in deliberately unrighteous ways.  God has called us, saved us and graciously given us the gift of faith that believes God’s truth against the antichrist’s lies.

So preachers and our hearers can remind ourselves and each other of these truths as we, in the Message’s paraphrase of verse 15, “keep a firm grip” on what the Scriptures have taught us. Jesus’ friends can also look for ways to share those truths lovingly and humbly with those who have fallen for false gods.

Yet I wonder if the Spirit might be using texts like this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson to call Christ’s Church to talk more about Jesus’ return. It’s, after all, tempting to become so busy celebrating his first coming that we remain silent about his second coming, and thereby leaving those God loves open to misunderstandings or even plain ignorance about that return.

Misunderstandings about Jesus first coming may seem strange or even just quirky. However, misunderstandings about his second coming may threaten Christians’ well-being. After all, those who misunderstand Jesus’ return may live as though he’ll never come back. Or God’s dearly beloved people may get so nervous about how and when he’ll return that we neglect to live into God’s grace.

So the Church’s preachers and leaders read, study and take to heart the Scriptures’ teachings about Jesus’ second coming. Jesus’ spiritually mature friends in turn teach those truths to those who are young in their faith in ways that are faith maturity-level appropriate. As we do so, we may even find that the Holy Spirit graciously, in the Message’s paraphrase of verse 13, puts a fresh heart in us, invigorates our work and enlivens our speech.


The parents of a former student of my father had raised him to believe in a kind of two-stage return of Christ. They’d taught him to believe that Jesus would return first for his followers only, and then at some later time for the rest of the world.

My dad’s former student reported that that especially frightened him when he became separated from his mom on their trip to the grocery store when he was a boy. After a thorough search didn’t locate his mom, the boy became terrified that God had raptured her into heaven and left him behind.

Preachers might contrast that boy’s abject terror or similar reactions with Paul’s promise that at Jesus’ return, God’s dearly beloved children will “share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15).


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