- If Paul describes precursors to the “Day of the Lord,” does that not contradict 1 Thessalonians 5:2 when the Day of the Lord is described as coming like “a thief in the night” – a sudden coming of Jesus?
The “day of the Lord” was something that bothered the Thessalonians. In chapter 2 of second Thessalonians, Paul starts with a reassurance that this day had not come. The understanding of the phrase “day of the Lord” coincides with the first verse mentioning the “coming of our Lord” – meaning Jesus. The Thessalonians were worried that Jesus had come, and they were left behind. Paul reassured the Thessalonians that this had not happened, but he laid out two conditions that need to happen for this event to happen:
“For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” (2:3)
At first glance, this seems to contradict 1 Thessalonians 5:2:
“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”
The simile of a thief indicates a sense of suddenness and secrecy. If there are signs of a precursor, how can that be sudden and secret?
The key is the word προτον meaning “first” used as an adverb such as “first in time or first in place.” This means that the apostasy προτον is modifying “man of lawlessness” – the man of lawlessness has to come before the apostasy and they both happen at the same time as “day of the Lord.”
- How does the “man of lawlessness” compare to other references to Antichrist?
In the passage, Paul spends a good deal of time reviewing the “man of lawlessness.” His attributes are spelled out specifically as:
|Vs. 3b – 4||Vs. 9-10a|
|Doomed to destruction||Signs|
|He exalts himself above:
i. Every so-called god
ii. Or object of worship
|Sits in God’s temple|
|Proclaims himself to be God|
What these attributes portray is one who set himself as God and indeed above God. He is powerful in his deception and will lead many astray from the true God. This is similar to John’s portrayal of Antichrist in his first epistle:
“Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. By this we know that it is the last hour. Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son… but every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.” (2:18 – 19, 22, 4:3)
Sitting in God’s Temple would remind the readers of Paul’s letter of the Greek destruction of the Temple in the time of the Maccabees. The forced Hellenization of Israel led to a thorough desecration of the Temple. This antichrist would be similar to the Greeks in that he will place himself in God’s role, lead many to destruction, and desecrate the holiness of God’s dwelling.
Paul gives the Thessalonians a severe form of comfort – don’t worry. The brothers and sisters at Thessalonica were worried that they had been left behind because a number of sources had told them Jesus had already come. However, Paul spells out explicitly that this is not the case. We need to take Paul’s words of comfort as well. Each generation has its prophets foretelling when Jesus will return. Most recently, the late Harold Camping thought he had a “Biblical Numerological” system for determining the return of Christ. All of these folks were 100% wrong and left many people in hopelessness and despair.
There are many teachers among us now, unfortunately many of our fellow renewal and charismatic brethren, who, although not stating precisely when Jesus will come, have charted out the whole end times scenario. From 2 Thessalonians, Paul would consider their prognostications as rubbish. We are not to know. We will be unaware of His return. Apostacy will come. Antichrist will arrive. But all of this is according to God’s timing. The more we focus on what is actually God’s prerogative, the less we are focusing on what is actually our mission. That is to bring the Kingdom of God into this world by loving God and loving others – making disciples and offering hope to a hurting world. No amount of charts or templates will genuinely fulfill God’s mission for us – to be like His Son, Jesus.
 William D. Mounce and Robert H. Mounce, The Zondervan Greek and English Interlinear New Testament (Nasbniv), 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2011), 1154.
 Tremper Longman and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., Vol. 12, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006-©2012), 464-65.