As we enter 2022, Christians in the United States face quite a few challenges. Bitter political divisions have entered our nation. We’ve experienced a pandemic for almost two years, and disagreements over how to respond have been angry and entrenched. In such a situation, how can our faith shape the way we respond?
One major lesson the Church can learn from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians is that Christians are people of hope. Second Thessalonians 2 begins where the first chapter left off. In Chapter 1, Paul mentions that believers will find rest from their tribulations and experience the inexpressible glory of Jesus. Chapter 2 continues the theme: At His coming, Christians will be gathered to Jesus (2:1). For Paul, hope wasn’t in a growing economy, a new emperor, or better technology; it was in the fact that Jesus Christ was returning to be with His people forever. To be people of hope in a divided and uncertain society, we must remember that Christian hope is not ultimately about political solutions, better technology, or longer lifespans. Christian hope is about being with Jesus.
Paul did not want the Thessalonian believers to be deceived into thinking that Jesus had already returned. A “son of lawlessness” must come first (2:3). Although many disagree about the precise nature of this figure and what is restraining him (2:7), the overall point is that a great lawless one will set himself up as a god and demand that all worship him. The character bears a striking resemblance to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, Darius in Daniel 6, and Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian king that Daniel predicted in Daniel 8:11 and 11:31ff. Nero, the emperor of Paul’s day, also resembled Paul’s description.
What should we make about the fact that similar figures appear throughout history? First, the truth here is the same of 1 John 2:18-19: The antichrist is coming, but several antichrists have already come. It is as if evil reaches into the present from the future. The same spirit that will culminate in a great figure before the return of Jesus is already at work.
Second, we must always keep ourselves from being too optimistic politically. A long litany of “lawless ones” in history shows us that a constant temptation for political leaders is to try to usurp God. Just as Christ will slay the lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2:8), no power-hungry ruler will last.
The lawless one will deceive unbelievers with miraculous signs (2:9-10). When comparing this passage with Daniel 8:25, we see again that deception is a temptation in every generation. Paul was confident that the Thessalonian believers wouldn’t fall into deception. Why? Because they loved the truth, and this love was a sign of God’s work in their lives (2:10-13). Biblical truth is the only antidote for deception, and to avoid deception we, too, must relish God’s truth.
How do we become people of hope? Cling to biblical traditions: Worship together weekly, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, read the Scriptures, use your gifts to build up other believers. By holding fast to these traditions, we grow in our longing to see Jesus. We grow in hope.