God’s agenda and the lawless one
It’s no secret that the western world, with its roots in Christianity, is becoming increasingly secular. The recent moves to accept homosexuality and hence same sex marriage (SSM) as a legitimate alternative lifestyle shows the further move away from God’s Word. Governments, instead of seeing themselves as servants of God, rule according to the wishes of the majority. And the majority, having turned their backs on the truth of God’s Word, are deceived by the propaganda of those who promote sinful practices.
But as Rev van Delden recently pointed out in a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (on which the following is based), we shouldn’t be surprised at the increase in godlessness as we progress towards Christ’s coming. Even Satan’s agenda must ultimately submit to God’s agenda, God plan. The falling away must happen before Christ comes, and then we will suddenly find ourselves in the brilliant, eternal perfection of the new heaven and earth.
The falling away and the lawless one
The idea that things would get even worse before that great day is something the Thessalonian Christians failed to understand. Things were bad for them, and they therefore expected Christ to return any day. And that expectation was good. However, some took it further and claimed – based on wild dreams or ‘contacts’ with Paul – that Christ had come and that therefore things would now get better. Paul had to burst that bubble of excitement by telling them that there would be a general falling away first when the son of sin, the son of perdition, is revealed.
The Lord Jesus had spoken the same way, saying,
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then 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” (Matt. 24:9-12).
Of course, we know that such things have happened in the past; the history is replete with false prophets and apostasy. But just before the Lord returns, there’s going to be an unprecedented falling away with many false prophets and many people being deceived. Many who profess to be Christians will abandon the faith, rejecting Christ and, in a sense, crucifying Him anew.
And at that time, says Paul, the lawless one will be revealed. He utterly despises and rejects God and will encourage people to sin in great measure. He deliberately defies God’s law and all that is holy. He is the son of perdition, the antichrist, who hates Christ and opposes His kingship and seeks to destroy His kingdom. Indeed, he acts as though he is god and says: mine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.
Meanwhile, he is being detained, held back, restrained like a savage dog on a chain. Who is holding him back? God is. Why? Because the gospel needs to go out to the ends of the earth. That’s what Jesus says in Matthew 24 where He speaks about the day of His return. After saying that many false prophets would arise and deceive many, and that lawlessness would abound and the love of many grow cold, He adds: and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come. That’s also what we confess in BCF 36 when we say that God has given governments to protect the church so that the church can continue to proclaim God’s Word everywhere.
The purpose of the coming of the lawless one
But when that’s done, when the whole world has heard the gospel, and most people have rejected it, God will remove the restraints and the lawless one will be revealed. And one might wonder what the purpose is of God letting go the restraint of the lawless one. Well, it is to avenge the rejection of Christ.
Christ says, as it were: The people don’t want to believe the gospel? Don’t want to accept the truth about their sin and about Christ as the Saviour? Want to reject the truth that Christ is their Lord and Master? Prefer the lie, the deception? Well then, so be it: the lawless one will be permitted to come in all his power, perform wonders and cause massive deception.
Now you may say, “That’s horrible! Would God actually send someone to delude, to deceive, people?” Well, He does. Indeed, vs 11 says, “God will send them a strong delusion that they should believe the lie.” And the word that Paul is using is the term we get our word ‘energy’ from. It’s a word that speaks of supernatural energy and power. God is going to pour out upon this world a spirit of delusion, a power that makes them believe the lie that this man of lawlessness proclaims.
Yes, God avenges the rejection of the truth by sending the lie, the deception. They did not want to be ruled by Christ; well then, they would be ruled by the lawless one and become even more lawless themselves, giving themselves over to unbridled sin. And through it all the world is ripening for judgement. The measure of the world’s wickedness is to become full to the point that it will be condemned.
In this great season of apostasy Christ will suddenly return and consume them with the breath of His mouth.
The lawless one will be consumed at the return of Christ
There is a close association between the lawless one and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. They follow one another in rapid succession. That suggests that in comparison with the lengthy gospel age, during which the lawless one is restrained, his time of unrestrained lawlessness and apostasy will be brief (see also Rev. 20). Paul says that suddenly Christ will appear and he will consume the lawless one with the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming.
This reference to the power of God’s speaking is reminiscent of creation. At the beginning of world history, God created everything by the breath of His mouth. He simply said, “Let there be …” and suddenly, out of nothing, wonderful things appeared. And at the end of world history, that same creative power will also have a reverse effect: it will bring to nothing things that exist. At the beginning God spoke and dispelled the darkness by causing light to shine. Similarly, at the end, the darkness of lawlessness and apostasy which envelopes the world will suddenly be dispelled by the brightness of Christ’s coming and be replaced by the light of righteousness, holiness, purity, goodness and truth.
We long for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, but He will not return before God’s agenda, His plan, is perfectly fulfilled. The gospel must be proclaimed to all nations; and for that to happen, governments are appointed to restrain lawlessness and to uphold law and order (BCF 36). That’s the time for the proclamation of the gospel in church and on the mission field. It’s the time for us, too, to be exercising our prophetic task (LD 12) by bearing witness of the truth.
Meanwhile, however, don’t be vexed in seeing society reject the gospel more and more and increasingly turning to lawlessness. Our nation has heard and largely rejected the gospel, and is still hearing and rejecting. As it continues to do so, God will let go of the restraints on the lawless one and the powers of darkness. There will be unbridled lawlessness in society and unprecedented apostasy by those who profess to be Christians.
So, don’t be alarmed at what’s happening as though it’s unexpected. It’s part of God’s plan. Even though things go from bad to worse, and society becomes utterly sinful; even though the powers of darkness reflect awesome influence and the church should shrink and dwindle, find comfort in knowing that according to God’s agenda, once the measure of sin has become full, and the world has become ripe for judgement, Christ will return and, simply by speaking, destroy all the powers of darkness and usher in the glorious new world of light.
(Based on notes taken on a sermon held 24/9/2017 in FRC Mt Nasura by Rev A van Delden of the FRC at Mundijong.)