The Apocalyptic Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12)

2 Thessalonians 2 is as apocalyptic as Paul gets in his letters. While there are other hints of an apocalyptic worldview in Paul, 2 Thessalonians 2 has a vision of the future in step with Second Temple Judaism’s view of a general persecution at the end of the age before God breaks into history to intervene on behalf of his people.

For example in 1 Enoch 48-50, the “Son of man” will become a “staff for the righteous ones,” people may lean on him and not fall; he will be the hope of the sick and all who dwell on the earth will worship him (48:4-5, cf. 62:6, 9, 63, 90:37; Ps. 72:9, 11; Phil. 2:10.)   He will be the light of the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, cf. Luke 2:32).  The righteous will be saved by his name (48:7).  All of the powerful will be humiliated “in those days” as we are told they will be delivered into the hand of the Chosen One like grass to the fire or lead to the water.  The image of grass being taken to a fire at the time of the harvest is used by Jesus in several parables (for example, the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). For bakground on 1 Enoch, see this post, or check out all my posts on the Enochic Literature.

In 1 Enoch 50 the prophet describes a renewal of the righteous from their time of weariness.   This includes a judgment in which the sinners receive evil and the righteous receive good. The righteous are to be saved through the “name of the Lord of Spirits” who will lead people to repentance.  This chapter stresses the justice of the judgment of the Lord of Spirits – “oppression cannot escape him.” Those who are under his judgment no longer receive mercy (verse 5).

PaulPaul’s apocalyptic description of the activities of the Anti-Christ and his coming judgment resonate with 1 Enoch.  In 2 Thessalonians 2 as a parody of the “real Christ.”  The man of sin has a “coming” is παρουσία, the word that is most regularly associated with the return of Christ. Just as Christ has a παρουσία, so to does his doppleganger, the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ will do “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” The “miracles, signs and wonders” are also a part of this the Satanic parody since these are the very words associated with the ministry of Jesus and his presentation as the Messiah in Acts 2:22 and his representatives (Cf., Heb 2:3-4).

These “miracles, signs and wonders” are modified by ψευδος, a lie. The word is used here and in verse 11, underscoring the false-ness of the activities of the Anti-Christ. The signs will likely be much like the miracles of Christ, although powered by Satan. This is parallel to Revelation 13:1-4, 13-15, the most detailed discussion of the activities of these end-time players. While the true Messiah did great signs and miracles, he was rejected by his people. The Anti-Christ will demonstrate the same sorts of power, but he will be accepted by the people and worshiped as a god.

The goal of these signs is to deceive people. While the miracles may appear to be good and positive things, things that help people. Those that are deceived are described as perishing since they have rejected the love of truth. The word for “perishing” here is the same as the description of the Anti-Christ in verse 3, “son of perdition.” Those that are perishing will be lead to believe the ultimate “one who is perishing.”

When Jesus return in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, he destroys the power of the man of sin with the power of his word, not unlike the description of the beginning of the messianic age in Isaiah 11:4. The timing of the judgment of the Anti-Christ is at the “splendor of his coming.” This combines παρουσία and the word ἐπιφάνεια, a word that also means something like “appearance,” and is applied to the return of Christ a number of times in the New Testament. The combination of the words was used to describe the arrival of the Emperor from the time of Caligula on, implying the presence of a divine being as well as all of the pomp and ceremony associated with the Emperor.

Paul therefore resonates with the Jewish apocalyptic traditions common in the Second Temple period, at least in this earliest of his letters.

4 thoughts on “The Apocalyptic Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12)

  1. Throughout this blog post I reflected on the power of God’s word and just how sovereign God is. In the world today we can lose sight of who God is and what His word says. We need to remember that the devil is at work now in our lives, just as much as he was in the past and will be in the future. Hidden in scripture is what God says is going to happen, He is omniscient. In 2 Thessalonians the lawless one is spoken of, also being referred to as the anti-Christ who will come as it speaks in Revelations which is a few chapters after Paul’s journey in 2 Thessalonians. The lawless one will be revealed, who the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (2 Thess. 2:8). Our God has the power to bring down the darkness and with the coming of Jesus, He will. Prophesying in the New Testament, let alone 2 Thessalonians is extremely evident. Paul had the power of being apocalyptic in him because of Jesus.
    In Revelations we find where the lawless one or anti-Christ is called the beast. “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Rev. 13:5). I find it humorous that God allows the beast to speak and then as stated in 2 Thessalonians, God will bring down the beast with the breath of His own mouth. God allows things to happen for a reason and I think this is a perfect representation of it. It is amazing to see that Paul was a part of the apocalyptic period that resonates with Jewish apocalyptic traditions.

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  2. The contrast that P. Long makes between the anti-Christ and the real Christ is interesting. Looking back in scripture many people did not like Jesus and rejected him for his miracles because he claimed he was God and that was wrong in their eyes (ACTS 2:22-23). When the man of perdition is revealed, which will be before Christ’s return or parousia (TTP, 76) and he will perform many miracles and signs, while he is claiming to be the messiah people will worship him as God (2 Thess. 2:9). Christ will come back and destroy the lawless man by the breath of his mouth (2 Thess 2:8). As to P. long’s final statement of his second to last paragraph, was Paul referring to the lawless man being of that time such as a ruler or was he referring to someone of his future?

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  3. Apocalyptic literature is something that many people fear due to the confusion, yet eye-opening factor of it. Many times people think of end times of simply Jesus coming back and the excitement of this, but not too often do you hear about the differences and “similarities” between Christ and the Anti-Christ. If the Anti-Christ performs signs and wonders like Christ does, how will believers be able to tell the difference between them? If they are accepted by people, how do we tell the difference between acceptance of the wrong power behind signs and wonders, but yet also people accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and standing in awe of the miracles He is doing around us?
    Because of this confusion, it is hard for people to want to search for the answer, because they may feel like they are running in circles. I think the difference for me is knowing that someone has their eyes fixed on worshiping the one true God, and glorifying Him, it will not be easy to belief the works of the enemy when he does come with disorder and confusion. Even now questions will continue, and Paul knows this. He ends his letter by lifting the believers up in prayer, that the grace of God would be extended (Longenecker, 80). I am grateful Paul speaks directly to end times confusion, yet also reminds us that the Anti-Christ will be defeated once and for all, so we will no longer have to worry or live in unrest. In today’s time, we must go back to the truth and come to the Lord with our questions for more clarity and peace on this apocalyptic topic.

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