The Ultimate Deception
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 | The Ultimate Deception
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 (2 Thess 2:1-12).
As I conducted my study last week, I was reminded of the value of the truth. My parents taught me a song growing up that said, “Truth is the most important treasure in this world today.” The truth certainly is an important treasure, isn’t it? Why? Because the lies and deception are all around us!
Today, we are going to learn about perhaps the most insidious and pervasive lie ever to sweep the face of the earth. What lie am I talking about? The lie that that Antichrist is God (v. 4). Amazingly, most of the people alive on earth during the Tribulation will believe that lie. Why? How? Verses 9-12 explain the answers to those questions.
The title of my lesson this morning is, “The Ultimate Deception.” Our main points will be five questions and answers that I trust will guide us through this text.
Question #1: According to this passage, how will Antichrist deceive people?
Answer: By means of Satanic miracles (vv. 9-10a).
Paul uses three words for miracles in v. 9: “powers,” “signs,” and “wonders.” These three words also appear together with reference to the miracles of Jesus as well as those of the apostles. And each word describes a different aspect of the miracles. The commentator D. Edmond Hiebert says, “‘[P]ower’… denotes the inherent power producing the miracles; ‘signs’ point to the significance lying behind the miracles, and ‘wonders’ indicates their abnormal nature and the astonishment they produce in the beholder.” So these miracles are effected by Satanic power, they claim some kind of spiritual significance, and they are downright amazing.
Jesus says of this period in Matthew 24:24, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” There will be multiple false christs and false prophets, but two in particular will rise to the top–the Antichrist and his false prophet, who seems to be the one primarily responsible for these miracles. This false prophet is described in Revelation 13:13-15. “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” So clearly, there are going to be incredible miracles during the Tribulation.
Now, Paul refers to these miracles in v. 9 as “lying wonders.” In what sense are they a lie? Are they faked? (No) They are a lie in the sense that they do not prove what they claim to be proving. What do those performing these miracles claim to be proving? That Antichrist is God (v. 9)! This is “the lie” in this passage: it is the blasphemous claim that Antichrist is God.
Just like Jesus performed miracles in order to prove that He was God, Antichrist will produce miracles that supposedly prove that he is God. Does that make sense?
Question #2: According to Paul, who will fall for this deception?
Answer: Almost everyone; but in this passage, Paul specifically focuses on those who have rejected the gospel (e.g. the Thessalonian persecutors; vv. 9-10).
In v. 10, Paul uses the phrase, “those who are perishing.” He also uses that phrase three times in the Corinthians letters to refer to people who have rejected the gospel. For instance, turn with me to 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (2 Cor 2:14-16).
So basically, Paul says, “When I preach the gospel, God diffuses the aroma of the knowledge of Christ through me.” And then he says that gospel proclamation divides people into one of two categories: “those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing.” In other words, when the gospel is preached, either you will accept it and be saved or you will reject it and be on the “path to destruction,” so to speak.
Now, there is another sense in which Jesus also says in Luke 13:3, “[U]nless you repent you will all likewise perish [same word].” In other words, there is no true neutrality. Everyone is born under the curse; so, unless something changes, we will die and go to hell! However, there is also a sense in which those who have rejected the clear preaching of the gospel have placed themselves in another category of greater danger.
This understanding of the phrase “those who are perishing” is confirmed by the other things Paul says about these people in this passage. So turn back to 2 Thessalonians 2. At the end of v. 9, Paul says that they, “[D]id not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” In other words, they did what? (They rejected the gospel.) And v. 12 says that they “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” I think it’s clear that the particular people Paul is referring to are gospel rejecters.
Put yourself in the Thessalonians’ sandals. Whom do you immediately think of when you hear Paul say these things? You think of the people in town who rejected Paul’s message and now are persecuting you! Kind of like he did in chapter 1, Paul is telling the Thessalonians what will happen to those kinds of people when the Day of the Lord comes. Does that make sense?
Question #3: According to this passage, who will send this deception?
Answer: God (v. 11).
Now, at first, this can be hard to swallow; but if you’ll stick with me, I think it will make sense.
First, I want you to know that the words translated “strong delusion” in the NKJV in v. 11 can also be translated “a working of deception.” That language automatically points us back to the “working” of Satan mentioned in v. 9 and the “deception” mentioned in v. 10. In other words, when v. 11 says that God sends them “strong delusion” it means that He sends Satan, or at least, He sends this complex of events that includes these lying wonders.
What it does not mean that God deceives them in their hearts! Why would that be a problem? Let me give you a few reasons. Let’s start with Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie….” Let’s go to the New Testament. Titus 1:2: “…in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began….” How about Hebrews 6:18: “that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” And then of course there is James 1:13: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” God does not reach into people’s hearts and cause them to believe lies! He will not lie to you!
However, according to this passage, He may do what? He may send someone else to lie to you.
You say, “I don’t know, Pastor Kris. That doesn’t sound much better. Can you show me any passage in Scripture in which God does this kind of a thing?” I’m glad you asked! Turn with me to 1 Kings 22:19-23 (1 Kings 22:19-23).
Let’s talk about the background to this paragraph. Ahab was a very wicked king. He married Jezebel (one of the ultimate female villains in the Bible), and then pretty much let her run wild. He introduced Baal worship in Israel, he murdered a man just to get his vineyard… and 1 Kings 16:33 says that he “did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” That’s a pretty condemning statement.
Let’s talk about Ahab had no excuses. First, he had the Bible–the Old Testament Law. Second, he had prophets, most notably whom? (Elijah!) Perhaps the most condemning piece of evidence against Ahab was that he lived during the ministry of one of Israel’s greatest prophets!
In 1 Kings 17, Elijah tells Ahab, “It is not going to rain again until I say so.” And then what happens? (It doesn’t rain again until Elijah says so!) That’s a pretty clear sign!
And then, of course, there is Mt. Carmel, where Elijah calls down fire from heaven! So Ahab falls on his face and repents, right? Nope. There is hardly a change in him.
In addition, God gave Ahab victory in battle a couple of times, but Ahab did not even allow God’s goodness to lead him to repentance!
That brings us to 1 Kings 22. Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah goes to visit Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. That was a mistake. And Ahab says to Jehoshaphat, “Come fight with me against Syria!” So Jehoshaphat says, “I am with you!” But then he sort of reconsiders: “Actually, could we check with God first?” Ahab says, “Sure, fine. Bring in the prophets!” So they bring in four hundred false prophets, and they all say, “Go ahead! God is going to give you the victory.” Pretty predictable. False prophets make their livings telling people what they want to hear.
But Jehoshaphat still is uncomfortable, and rightly so. Because he knows all of these guys are false prophets. So he says to Ahab, “Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?” By the way, what happened to the other prophets of the LORD? (They were killed or driven into hiding!) Ahab answers, “Yes… but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” “He doesn’t tell me what I want to hear.” Boy, I wonder why not?
So they send for this prophet named Micaiah. And Micaiah starts off sarcastically. He says, “Go up! God is going to give you a great victory!” So Ahab proceeds to scold him! “How many times have I told you never to lie to me!” (like Ahab really cares about the truth). So Micaiah replies, “Oh, you want the truth? Okay, fine. If you go up to battle, you are going to die.” And Ahab throws up his hands and says, “See! I told you he only prophesies evil!”
But then, in a fascinating twist, Micaiah pulls back the curtain. He tells Ahab why all of the other prophets have lied to him. He tells them, “Here is what happened: God wanted to punish Ahab, so He asked for volunteers to persuade him to go to battle. Surprisingly, a demon lifted his hand. God asked, ‘How are you going to persuade him?’ The demon replied, ‘I will lie to his false prophets.’” And God said what? He said, “Go.”
There are four details I want you to notice about this passage that will also help you understand 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. First, Ahab had received lots of prior revelation. He had no excuse for believing the false prophets.
Second, even though God sends the spirit, He is removed a step from the lie. Notice, God’s original question in v. 20 is not, “Who will deceive Ahab?” but, “Who will persuade him to go to the battle?” It is the demon who suggests the deception.
Third, God’s mercy is evident in the fact that although He sends the demon to deceive Ahab, He also sends Micaiah to tell Ahab he is being deceived! Once again, Ahab is without excuse.
Fourth, God knows that Ahab will believe the lie and go to his death. That is all part of His plan to punish Ahab for his sins. And if you read the rest of the chapter, that is exactly what happens.
So, if we take this framework back to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, we see that the people Paul is talking about have received prior revelation, and they have rejected it. We can also affirm that although God sends the deception, He does not actually lie and thus violate His character. And we can affirm that although God will send the deception during the Tribulation, He will also send continual warnings.
In the Ahab story, Micaiah provided the warning to go alongside the deception. Who will provide those warnings during the Tribulation? The 144,000 who are sealed, the two witnesses (one of whom, I think–ironically–will be Elijah), and of course, the Bible! Think about this: people will be able to pick up a Bible and see for a fact that God predicted all of these things thousands of years before they occurred. And this very passage in 2 Thessalonians will warn those people living in the Tribulation that the miracles they see are a lie! But despite all of those merciful warnings, they will choose to believe “the lie.” Does that make sense?
Question #4: According to this passage, why will God send this deception?
Answer: Because they rejected the gospel
The deception is punishment for their sins.
Verse 10 says that “they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Not only did they reject the truth, but they refused to love the truth. And instead, they loved what? They loved sin (v. 10).
We need to recognize that in this passage, the deception not only leads to judgment; the deception itself is part of the judgment. The deception that takes place during the Tribulation will be part of God’s judgment on the world.
Question #5: Question: According to this passage, what will be the end result for these people?
Answer: They will all be condemned (v. 12).
Now, this leads to the question, “Does this passage teach that those who have heard the gospel prior to the Rapture cannot be saved after it?” Someone asked that question on a Sunday night awhile back, and I said I would answer it when we got here.
So here’s what I would say. First, it’s not so much about hearing the gospel; it’s about rejecting it. In other words, I think it’s possible for someone to hear the gospel in some way shape or form and not be saved without necessarily rejecting it. I wouldn’t think this passage would apply to those people.
Second, I don’t know that I would make the Rapture “the point of no return.” We have already seen that “the lie” that those who are perishing believe in this passage is the lie that Antichrist is God (see v. 4). However, that lie will not be propagated until the abomination of desolation takes place 3 ½ years into the Tribulation.
Third, rather than saying that they cannot be saved, I would prefer to say that they will not be saved. In other words, even though God is the one who sends the deception, they still make a conscious choice (remember Ahab), and God will hold them responsible for that decision. Does that make sense?
There’s a song in our hymnal that drives home the message of this passage. It’s called, “God’s Final Call,” and it’s all about this idea that it is dangerous to put off trusting Christ as your Savior because you don’t know when God’s final call to salvation will come. One line says, “This could be it, my friend, if you but knew: God’s final call, God’s final call.”
I’d like to make application to two groups of people as we close. The first group is those who are perishing.
You look around and say, “Pastor Kris, who are you talking to? We’re all saved here!” That may be the case, and I pray that it is. But when we get to heaven, I think we may be surprised at who gets there and who doesn’t. And in a church this size, it is very possible that there are some people who have all of the externals going for them, but there is no inner reality–there is no inner life–because they have never been born again. There may be others who don’t even have the externals going for you! You may be able to play the part at church (kind of, sort of), but if you were actually to thoughtfully examine your life week-to-week, you would find little if any fruit!
I’ve heard of church-goers who knew they were unsaved but didn’t speak up because they were too embarrassed. Friends, can I just tell you–who cares if you are embarrassed!? This is bigger than embarrassment!
So maybe you are concerned for you soul. Maybe you’re not, but you should be! Or maybe this is all new to you, and you just have lots of questions. If you find yourself in any of those group today, do not procrastinate! Get the answers you need from God’s Word!
You may need to walk right down to the front right at the end of Sunday school and say something to me before you chicken out. If that is the case, then do it! It’s worth it!
I don’t know of anyone in the room would fall into this next category, but there are other people who have not only procrastinated about receiving the gospel, they have rejected it entirely. They have dismissed it. They have consciously said “no” to that message. If there is anyone in that category in here this morning, I want you to know that you are in a very dangerous position, my friend. Because the Bible says that you are perishing. You are on a path that leads to destruction, and you have no clue how long God’s mercy will last! You are in serious danger of latching on to one of Satan’s lies and then being swept away in that lie to destruction!
You say, “I’m too smart for that. I’ll see right through the Antichrist.” No, you won’t. You won’t! The Bible says that Satan is going to deceive almost everyone. “If it were possible,” the Bible says, “even the elect” would be fooled! Of course, that is not possible. Believers are secure, and we don’t expect to be here. But the point is that you are not secure! And the only way to escape your fate is to repent and believe the gospel! If you don’t, then according to this passage, God’s judgment will fall; and then it will be too late for you, just like that hymn says.
Finally, I want to talk to believers. How do Christians respond to a sobering message like this? First, instead of envying or retaliating against unbelievers, we pity them and seek to win them to Christ. If you have no concept of eternity and you are being persecuted, all you can think is, “Woe is me.” But when you begin to develop the kind of eternal perspective that Paul is instilling, self-pity turns into pity for others. And you start to think, “You know, I’ll be alright. My eternity is secure. In fact, even if I get martyred, that’s okay. In fact, it would be a privilege because there are crowns for that in heaven. But that guy who has been persecuting me–he is not okay! He is in a very dangerous position right now, because he is flirting with eternal judgment! I have got to reach out to him with the gospel!” That’s how believers should respond to a message like this.
The second way Christians should respond to this sobering message is to trust God with the future.
I have a daughter who always wants to know the plan. “What are we doing tonight, Dad?” “What are we doing tomorrow?” “I heard you and Mom talking about something; what was it?” She wants to know the plan a) because she is curious, but also b) because it makes her feel safe. Doesn’t it make you feel safe to know that God isn’t just winging this end-of-the-world thing? In fact, He isn’t winging anything! He has a comprehensive plan, and we can trust Him.
I’m sure glad that it’s not my job to figure out how to deal with unbelievers in a manner that is perfectly just! That is God’s job, and He will take care of that! In the meantime, I need to focus on what I am supposed to be doing right now. So let’s do that this week. Let’s cling to truth, let’s share the gospel, and let’s trust the Lord with the future.