Do Not Be Shaken; Don’t Be Deceived!
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5
Do Not Be Shaken; Don’t Be Deceived!
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5.
Don’t raise your hand, but how many of you have ever had the unnerving experience of having one of your beliefs shaken? Maybe you were talking to someone of another religion at your door. Maybe you were trying to witness to someone, and he made a counter-argument that you weren’t expecting. Maybe you came across an idea online or through a coworker that challenged one of your beliefs.
Something very similar to that had happened to the Thessalonians. Their fundamental faith in the gospel was still intact, but another doctrine Paul had taught them had been called into question. False teachers had disrupted the Thessalonians, and unfortunately, they were falling for it. As a result, they were anxious and troubled.
Paul deals with this false teaching in today’s passage, and in doing so, he gives us more information about the Day of the Lord (2 Thess 2:1-5).
My outline this morning is very simple. First, we will examine the false teaching, next we will study Paul’s rebuttal, and then we will conclude with a question and a couple of closing thoughts.
1. The False Teaching
In this passage, Paul is correcting false teaching (v. 3a). We are not exactly sure how this false teaching made its way to the Thessalonians, but according to v. 2, it was “either by spirt or by word or by letter.”
The word “spirit” is most likely a reference to alleged prophecy. You might remember that back in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Paul said, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. But test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” I made the argument back then that those verses go together and that they are primarily about prophecy. “Do not quench the Spirit.” How? Well, in context, it is primarily by despising prophecy! “But on the other hand,” Paul says, “Make sure to test everything, because there are lots of false prophets out there!” Perhaps the reason that false teaching had been allowed to creep into Thessalonica was that the Thessalonians had failed to test prophecy.
But Paul gives another option for how false teaching might have entered, and that is through “word.” This is probably a reference to a spoken message or sermon.
Finally, Paul says that this false teaching might have entered through letter, and then he tacks on the phrase, “as through us.” So apparently, the false teachers (whoever they were) said they were representing Paul or that Paul approved of their message. It is even possible that they forged a letter and it was from him.
I tend to think that Paul knew which one of these forms the false teachers had used (after all, he was writing based on a report most likely from Timothy, and I would assume that Timothy knew what had happened). However, Paul knew that the false teachers might try any of these methods in the future, so he specifically mentions all three. And his point is, “Just because someone claims to be a prophet or presents himself as a preacher of the gospel–or even if you receive a fishy letter that says it is from me–please, be discerning!
Some of you received an email last week that said it was from Jan Battenfield, and she was asking for money. Some of you called her up and said, “Jan, is this really from you?” That was good! You were exercising discernment! The funny thing is, Dr. B. told me he got that same email! You see, you can’t automatically trust everything you hear!
Unfortunately, the Thessalonians had been gullible, and it had gotten them into trouble. Paul says at the end of v. 1 and the beginning of v. 2, “We ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled.” The phrase, “shaken in mind” could literally be translated, “shaken from your mind.” In other words, the Thessalonians had a particular mindset or understanding that they had been shaken away from. And this had all happened rather quickly. Paul says, “Do not be soon shaken in mind.” That word, “soon” could also be translated, “hastily.”
After that incident with the email last week, the Battenfields and I were talking about scams. Have you ever noticed that these scam artists always ask you to send them the money right away! “Hi, I’m your grandson, I’m going to go to prison, and I need you to wire me $1,000 in the next 30 minutes,” right? It’s never next week or next month, it’s always right now! Why? Because they know that if you take time to think about it, you will probably realize it’s a hoax! So they play on your fears and try to get you to act without really thinking it through. The same type of thing had happened in Thessalonica. Someone had come to the Thessalonians with a new doctrine, and the Thessalonians had hastily changed their position.
Not only that, but the entire situation and especially this new doctrine was making them anxious. Paul asks them in v. 2 not to be troubled. That word has to do with emotional anxiety. One of the easiest ways to gain a following is to preach a message that plays on people’s fears. We see that in politics all the time. Now, of course, there is a proper kind of fear. The Bible says that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. However, there are also improper types of fears. Beware of false teachers who play on unbiblical fears.
But now we need to ask the question, why were the Thessalonians troubled? What was it that they had been taught?
Verse 2 tells us explicitly. What does it say? “The Day of Christ”–or, “the Day of the Lord,” if you go with the reading mentioned in the NKJV footnote, which I do in this case– “the Day of the Lord has come.” That’s pretty straightforward. However, in order to understand what Paul means by that statement as well as why that doctrine would trouble the Thessalonians, we need to review what is meant by “the Day of the Lord.”
When we studied 1 Thessalonians 5, we spent a whole week examining Old Testament prophecies about the Day of the Lord. There are twelve passages about the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament. Besides that, there are other passages that refer to “that Day,” and there are New Testament passages, too! All that to say, this is a big theme in Scripture! And what we discovered as we studied some of those Old Testament passages was that “the Day of the Lord” was a term used by the Old Testament prophets to refer to impending judgments in their time period. However, these judgments also prefigured a worldwide judgment at the end of this age. When we compare these Old Testament passages with the New Testament, it becomes evident that the Day of the Lord in this ultimate sense is an extended period of wrath that coincides with what we more commonly call “the Tribulation”–a seven-year period in which God judges the earth and that climaxes in His Second Coming.
Now, if that’s what the Day of the Lord is, then why would the idea that the Day of the Lord has come have troubled them? The best explanation is that based on Paul’s former teaching about the Rapture, the Thessalonians had not expected to be present during the Day of the Lord
This view is buttressed by Paul’s lead-in to this paragraph (v.1). Every commentary I consulted agreed that v. 1 is a reference to the Rapture. Jesus comes down from heaven (1 Thess 4:15-16), then the dead are raised (v. 16), and finally, those who are alive are caught up (v. 17). In other words, we are all gathered to Jesus. So listen to how this reads: “Now, brethren, concerning the Rapture, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the Tribulation had already come.”
From what I have read, the Post-tribulation argument from this passage is that the word for “has come” in v. 2 should be translated “has drawn near” (the KJV actually includes a similar translation), that Day of the Lord refers only to the Second Coming, and that Paul’s point is basically, “Don’t lose your cool! Christ isn’t coming soon. These events in the Tribulation haven’t happened yet, so we’ve got at least 3 ½ years to go!” But that is a bad interpretation for several reasons.
First, it opts for a bad translation of the verb for “to come” in v. 2. That is a perfect verb, and even the commentators without an axe to grind admit that “has drawn near” is a very bad translation. Second, although the Day of the Lord certainly includes the Second Coming as perhaps its most dominant feature, it cannot be limited to that event, because the Bible also presents the Day of the Lord as happening over an extended period of time. Third, based on what Paul and Jesus say elsewhere about immanency, I just cannot imagine Paul saying to the Thessalonians, “Settle down. You’ve got at least 3 ½ years to go.” Finally, the Post-tribulation interpretation of this passage doesn’t fully explain the Thessalonians’ angst. After all, if they were expecting to live through the Tribulation anyway, wouldn’t they be happy that Jesus was almost here?
So it seems clear that false teaching the Thessalonians had received was that they had missed the Rapture–or better yet, that Paul had been mistaken about its timing. And they were probably susceptible to this false teaching because of the intense persecution they were facing. The false teachers said something like, “Do you see this persecution? This is what the Bible says Tribulation saints are going to experience! And they probably marshaled other arguments in order to convince the Thessalonians that they were living in the Tribulation. Are there any questions about that?
So how does Paul refute this false teaching?
2. The Rebuttal (vv. 3-4)
I’m just going to tell you right now, we are not going to get to all of v. 4 this week. You’ll have to come back next week for a study on the Antichrist. Right now, I want you to focus on Paul’s argument in v. 3.
Verses 3-4 in the Greek are actually an incomplete sentence. I want to read you my personal translation of vv. 3-5 to help you see what I mean. This is a little choppy, but it will help you to better understand the Greek.
“Let no one deceive you according to anyway. For unless the apostasy came first and the man of sin was revealed, the son of destruction, who is opposing and exalting himself over everything that is called God or a devotional object, so that he sat down as God in the temple of God declaring that he himself is God–don’t you remember that when we were still with you we were telling you these things?”
So Paul begins with an “if” statement in v. 3 (“If the falling away did not come first and the man of sin was not revealed”); then he inserts an extended parenthesis about the man of sin in v. 4; and then he interrupts himself in v. 5 and never finishes his original sentence! Do you think he was dictating this letter? I think he was, I think he was slightly worked up! That would explain the unusual grammar.
However, the idea is clear enough, and I think the translations get it right when they insert the phrase, “that Day will not come” in v. 3 in order to complete Paul’s thought. Do you see those words in italics in your NKJV Bibles?
So the essence of Paul’s rebuttal is that the Day of the Lord cannot be here because at least two things have to transpire first: 1) the “falling away” must take place, and 2) the “man of sin” must be “revealed.” What is this talking about, and what does it have to do with the Day of the Lord?
The word for “falling away” is the Greek word apostasia. It the word from which we get our English word “apostasy.” And what I believe it describes is a dramatic falling away from the faith by professing Christians that takes place during the first part of the Tribulation. You might remember hearing something like this during Pastor Kit’s series on the Olivet Discourse. Matthew 24:10-12 says, “And many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” One of the marks of the first part of the Tribulation will be widespread apostasy.
The second event that must transpire before the Day of the Lord arrives is the revelation of the man of sin. Who is that? It’s the antichrist. We’ll talk more about him next week, but suffice it to say that the Bible has a lot to say about that man, and it is all very bad.
The word “revealed” in v. 3 is the same word that is used to describe the revelation of Jesus from heaven in 1:7. Just like Jesus is revealed, the antichrist will be revealed. Paul’s choice of words here just adds to the overall picture that the antichrist is trying to replace Jesus! So when will the antichrist be revealed?
As best as I can tell, what Paul is referring to in v. 3 is an action that Antichrist takes right at the beginning of the Tribulation by which anyone who knows Bible prophecy will be able to distinguish him (Dan 9:27). So at the very start of the Tribulation, Antichrist makes a seven-year peace treaty with the nation of Israel. That is what distinguishes him as the antichrist. That is when he is revealed.
So how does v. 3 affect our understanding of the Day of the Lord? Well, it helps us to locate the onset of the Day. My understanding based on this and other passages is that the Day of the Lord begins sometime shortly after the beginning of the Tribulation.
Now, I said we would come back to v. 4 next week, but before we conclude, I want to look briefly at Paul’s question in v. 5.
3. The Question (v. 5)
It is very common for believers to make one of two wrong assumptions about eschatology. The first wrong assumption is that eschatology is only for the experts, like prophecy scholars and people who have been to seminary. What’s the problem with that assumption according to this verse? (Paul had only been in Thessalonica for a very short time, but he had taught them a lot about eschatology!)
Eschatology is not just for “experts”! It is for every believer! I know it can be overwhelming at times, but don’t get discouraged. Read and study your Bible, find some good resources to help, and learn what the Bible says about these things, even if you cannot figure out every little detail (which, by the way, you won’t).
The second wrong assumption that believers make about eschatology is that it doesn’t really matter. In theology, we often make distinctions between doctrines. There are certain doctrines that a true Christian cannot deny–for instance, the deity of Christ. There are other doctrines that while not essential for salvation, are nonetheless very important and tend to divide Christians institutionally. For instance, can you be saved and believe in infant baptism? Yes, of course! But if you believe in infant baptism, can you be a member of Life Point? No. So there are those types of differences.
Then, of course, there are doctrinal differences that should not divide believers institutionally. You can disagree with my assessment of when the Day of the Lord begins and still be a member in good standing at Life Point. Some believers would assume that since eschatology is kind of complicated, basically every part of eschatology belongs in that third category of unimportant differences that should never divide us. But that assumption doesn’t square with the fact that Paul taught the Thessalonians about some of these things while he was still in the city and gave tremendous emphasis to these teachings in his letters.
I wanted to close today on a very practical note. And so, returning to what I said in my introduction, how can you avoid that very unsettling experience of having your beliefs shaken? Let me show you two ways to avoid that. Both of them come from the text.
First, know your Bible. What rhetorical question does Paul ask in v. 5? “Don’t you remember what I taught you? The Day of the Lord won’t come until a great apostasy happens and the man of sin is revealed! So how can we be in the Day of the Lord? Come on, guys; this doesn’t even make sense!”
When you read and study your Bible–when you listen to solid, expositional preaching, you are constructing a biblical filter.
I used to work on pools in Arizona. Whenever you are service a pool, the most basic thing you do is you inspect and clean out the filter! Why? Because you don’t want any of that dirt and debris getting sucked into the pump! It’s not good for the system! When you read and study your Bible, it’s like you are building/servicing your biblical filter. And that is a very important to do that because you want to strain out false teaching! You don’t want any of that dirt and debris to lodge in your system! So, you’ve got to build and maintain your biblical filter; and you do that by studying the Bible.
What’s the second way to avoid having your beliefs shaken? When you hear something new or unusual, stop and take time to evaluate it. Paul says in vv. 1-2, “We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled.” In other words, “Please don’t hastily change your mind about these doctrines you have been taught!” Don’t panic when you receive some new piece of information or you’re presented with some compelling argument. You know the Scriptures! Relax and take some time to evaluate these new claims against what the Bible teaches.
When I think about these two admonitions, 2 Timothy 1:7 comes to mind. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” A sound mind informed by what? The Scriptures! So know the Scriptures. Be rooted in God’s Word so that you are like a tree and you are not easily blown around.
 Not all Dispensationalists agree on this point, but many do. For instance, this is (or was) the view taken by Pentecost, Walvoord, Gaebelein, and Saucy.