This message is based on 2 Thessalonians 2 and concerns the signs which lead to Jesus’ Second Coming. It was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on March 27, 2011.
Today, we had the pleasure of honoring Dottie Heebner and Ann Lightle. Ann has served as our 2nd grade Sunday School teacher for close to 50 years. Dottie has been active with youth Sunday School and music education in our church for 35 years. Their years of service remind us of how important our children are. Each of us has a role to influence the next generation. We are not to live for the present, but also with an eye to our future.
The apostle Paul wanted to prepare these Christians for the future. As I mentioned last week, one of the main themes in 2 Thessalonians is to clear up confusion surrounding the Second Coming of Christ. There were some that believed it had already come. Others that thought it would be so immanent that they stopped working and were being intentionally lazy. And now the church was confused because of the many voices which spoke on the subject.
But as New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce points out, there is a difference between suddenness and immediacy. This is why we can speak of the Lord’s Day as being “at hand,” while watching signs that have yet to be fulfilled. When will this day come? Soon, as we are living in trying times. But Paul mentions that there are a few things that must occur before this takes place. What are those signs? That’s what I would like to speak with you about today. First…
BEFORE JESUS RETURNS, THERE WILL BE A GREAT FALLING AWAY.
This falling away is also known as the great apostasy. Notice what the apostle says in verse three: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction….” This “falling away,” marks those who were once presumed to be a part of the church, but have gone astray and left the faith. This is something that was known and recognized in the first few centuries of Christianity.
For these, the good news that Jesus preached turned bland. Jesus as Lord was replaced by “self” as Lord. There are many things that lead to one’s going astray, one’s falling away. Unfortunately, this happens all of the time. They are the following:
- Unrepentant sin. Living the way you want with no regard to God’s moral law found in the Ten Commandments.
- Unbelief. This is where a person sees no need for God in their lives.
- Worldly concerns and distractions. It’s the attitude that asks: “What can I get and how can I achieve it?”
- Consuming infatuation with self-absorption. Worship of self.
It is important to note that there is a difference between church membership and membership in Christ’s kingdom. Membership in the kingdom of Christ is marked by the following:
- Faith in Christ and repentance from sin.
- An active conscience.
- An active devotion to the Lord that includes a love for His word, His church and others, as I mentioned last week.
As this apostasy occurs, one will rise to a prominent place of leadership. This one is called “the son of perdition; the man of lawlessness. This person is otherwise known as the antichrist. He is proud and self-exalting (verse four) and comes with signs and wonders (verse 9). Many will follow him (verse ten). What is the concept of the antichrist? But many antichrists have come. The Apostle John wrote: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).” This is a spirit, a series of spirits and a person. He is one who appears to be good, wise and even spiritual. Yet, he is really someone evil, ignorant and demonic.
The scary thing is that one day, people will follow such a person without as much as an ounce of discernment. God will let them go, even encourage them through their seared consciences, for they saw no need for Jesus in their lives. That’s right. God will one day say: “You want it like this? Have it your way!” And they’ll turn and never come back. Scary thought.
Why will he be so attractive? Because he will appeal to so many and their immediate needs. People want a quick fix to their problem. This person will be an immediate answer to our country’s or our world’s concerns. He will be someone who will talk a good game, but his heart and his actions will be revealed. Many names have come across the pages of world history who’ve been accused of being the antichrist. All were popular at one time and had a significant following. The Roman Emperor Nero, who lived in the first century and burned Rome, blaming it on the Christians; Attila the Hun, the fifth century barbarian who conquered much of Europe and raped and pillaged as he went; or Ivan the Terrible, who imposed a Reign of Terror in Russia in the mid to late 1500’s, publically torturing and executing those he subdued. What about Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for the killing of six million Jews. Or Joseph Stalin, died in 1953 and is responsible for the death of 20 million, many of them his own countrymen. And the list goes on. Although all go down in history as being ruthless, at one time, all were popular and all had a following.
But the reality is many fit that bill and God’s people throughout every age are to operate with a high level of discernment. Many have gone; more of them are to come. So what are the things that the Lord Jesus wants us to know as we anticipate His coming?
BUT WE NEED NOT FEAR, FOR GOD IS AT WORK AMONG MANY.
And so verses 13-17 offer encouragement: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The encouragement is that God is sovereign. Although the world seems to be spinning out of control and under various influences, God is still upon His throne. He is reserving a people for Himself. So what are we to do?
- Be ready.
- Be holy.
First, what does it mean to be holy? It is interesting how Paul readies this group of Christians. We are chosen for salvation (vs. 13). This involves sanctification and belief. What is sanctification? It is the act of God’s free grace whereby we are made new and become dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Sin distorts a person’s sense of right and wrong. Some men were not providing for their families, but avoiding work because they believed Jesus would soon return.
Next, be ready. Readiness is an attitude is given to us in verse 15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” But there is a great encouragement here to hold fast to the traditions delivered to us. Jude calls this the faith that was once for all, “…delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).” This is contained is such elementary lessons as the belief in God as Creator; That Jesus is the only way to salvation because it was only He that shed His blood for our sins; that one must believe and repent; and that Christ is coming again one day. And for 2,000 years the church has been God’s vehicle for His truth. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”
Biblical tradition keeps us from falling for new lies. The Apostles’ Creed is a summary of such doctrine. Here what the church Father Cyril of Jerusalem said about the traditions handed to us. “In learning and professing the faith, embrace and guard that only which is now delivered to you by the church and confirmed by all the Scriptures. …For the articles of faith have not been composed to please human desire, but the most important points collected from the Scriptures make up one complete teaching of the faith. Pay attention, therefore, brothers, and cling to the teachings which are now delivered to you, and “write them on the tablet of your heart.” It is our responsibility to know and embrace the truth.
Let’s be a church that clings to the teachings of Scripture, and writing them on our hearts, by reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Church, what do you believe?
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hades; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
 Cyril of Jerusalem, “The Creed,” found in Ancient Commentary on Scripture ed. Peter Gorday, Volume IX (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 115.