The Lord's Return
1 When our Lord Jesus returns, we will be gathered up to meet him. So I ask you, my friends, 2not to be easily upset or disturbed by people who claim the Lord has already come. They may say they heard this directly from the Holy Spirit, or from someone else, or even that they read it in one of our letters. 3But don't be fooled! People will rebel against God. Then before the Lord returns, the wicked one who is doomed to be destroyed will appear. 4 He will brag and oppose everything holy or sacred. He will even sit in God's temple and claim to be God. 5Don't you remember I told you this while I was still with you?
6You already know what is holding this wicked one back until it is time for him to come. 7His mysterious power is already at work, but someone is holding him back. And the wicked one won't appear until this someone is out of the way. 8 Then he will appear, but the Lord Jesus will kill him simply by breathing on him. He will be completely destroyed by the Lord's glorious return.
9 When the wicked one appears, Satan will pretend to work all kinds of miracles, wonders, and signs. 10Lost people will be fooled by his evil deeds. They could be saved, but they will refuse to love the truth and accept it. 11So God will make sure they are fooled into believing a lie. 12All of them will be punished, because they would rather do evil than believe the truth.
13My friends, the Lord loves you, and it is only natural for us to thank God for you. God chose you to be the first ones to be saved. His Spirit made you holy, and you put your faith in the truth. 14God used our preaching as his way of inviting you to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15My friends, this is why you must remain faithful and follow closely what we taught you in person and by our letters.
16God our Father loves us. He treats us with undeserved grace and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope. We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father 17will encourage you and help you always to do and say the right thing.
There’s no question about it – the details in today’s reading are difficult to understand. Paul is referring back to what he had taught the people in Thessalonica when he was there, and to something that had happened since he had left. Paul himself is not sure exactly what it was that the Thessalonians had heard or where they had heard it from. I had to smile when I discovered that Augustine, in the fifth century, had written of this passage that even with hard work it was not possible to understand what the apostle was referring to, and came to the conclusion, “I frankly confess I do not know what he means.” If Augustine couldn’t figure out who the “man of lawlessness” was, or what Paul was talking about in verses 1-12, we won’t try here!
What we do know is that Jesus is coming back, and that nobody, absolutely nobody, knows when that will be. He himself told us that it would be when we least expected it. He told us to live in a way that honours him and to be getting on with the task at hand when he comes back (Luke 12:36-44). What we are not to do is to speculate as to when this will be, or work out detailed schemes about how it will all happen. Nor are we to behave as if he has gone away and doesn’t know and care what we are doing.
Let’s remember instead that God “is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope,” and pray that “our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father will encourage us and help us always to do and say the right thing.” (vv 16-17).
Lord Jesus, how I look forward to your return! Don’t let me get distracted or upset by any kind of speculation about when that will be, or about the details, but help me instead to devote myself to the work you have given me to do here and now. Amen.