What Must Happen Before
the Day of Christ Comes?

II Thessalonians 2:1-12 (NKJV)


1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,
2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,
4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.
7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,
12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


By Rusty Entrekin

What is the Day of Christ? According to verses 1 and 2 above, it is a dayconcerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him”.

The word “concerning” is translated from the Greek word hyper. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines this word, as it is used in this verse, to mean “with reference to”, or “about”.1

The Day of Christ is the time during which Christ comes, and we are gathered to Him. There is another interesting Greek word in this verse, the word parousias, translated "coming" here.

This word was used in NT times to refer to the presence of an arriving king. It is the same word that was used by Peter to refer to the first coming of Jesus to Earth in bodily form: 

2 Peter 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The invisible presence of Christ could not be what Paul is talking about when he uses the word parousias here in II The 2:1, because the Thessalonians were already enjoying Christ's presence in that sense.

Make no mistake, Paul is talking about THE Second Coming when he uses the word parousias here. The Parousia will not be an invisible or secret event which will escape the notice of most:

Matthew 24:26 Therefore if they shall say to you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 

Revelation 1:7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

Matthew 24:30 "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 

When Christ returns, it will not be an event that escapes the notice of all but a few. "Every eye will see Him." 

Apparently, some one had been shaking up the Thessalonians, troubling them by claiming that this day had arrived.

Sound familiar? Today, there are groups claiming that the Day of Christ has come. Within the Christian camp, Full Preterists claim that Jesus came in 70 AD. Outside of it, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe He returned in 1914. Several times in the last century, there have been those who have set near dates for Christ's return, and profited by selling books on the subject.

Since this is the case, this passage is just as relevant for us today as it was for the Thessalonians. We do will do well to take it to heart.

Apparently, there were false teachers who wanted the Thessalonians to believe that Jesus had already returned when He had not. Notice that the apostle told the Thessalonians, “Let no one deceive you by any means”.

Paul did not think that the Thessalonians were beyond deception concerning this matter. We should be humble enough to acknowledge that we are not beyond deception either, no matter how educated or clever we may be.  Sophisticated, educated and intelligent people are just as prone to fall for false teaching as anyone else, because they too are susceptible to the enticements of the flesh. They just need to hear sophisticated, intelligent, and educated sounding arguments!

The apostle anticipated that any number of means might be used to deceive believers concerning this matter, even writing letters in the his own name. He also instructed them not to be shaken up by spirit or word. He expected that not only false teachers, but also spirits might try to mislead the Thessalonians.

That is something to think about. Why would demons want to mislead believers  regarding the timing of Christ's return? This must give the enemy some strategic advantages.

If demons can sometimes mislead believers, even well educated ones, should we not expect to occasionally hear false teachings from very sincere believers regarding Christ’s return that sound, on the surface, quite convincing? I am not saying that any true believer would try to deliberately mislead God's people (unless he has a heart problem meriting Divine discipline). But it is possible for a believer to be quite sincere, but spiritually misled. Obviously, this is a very real danger, or Paul would not have taken the time to specifically warn believers that they should not be deceived in this way.

But with the possibility of convincing deceptions regarding the timing of Christ's return out there, how can the average believer recognize a deception when he hears one?

Fortunately, in the next few verses, the apostle Paul gives us accurate weights by which we may weigh any teaching that the day of Christ is at hand.

To teach that Christ has come before it has happened is to teach something that is not true, and we should not allow anyone to deceive us in this regard. But obviously, if He has come already, then to teach such a thing would not be wrong.  So how can we know if Christ has come or not? Thank God, Paul gives us definitive signs to look for. He tells us that the Day of Christ will not come "UNLESS" certain things happen first. What are these things? Let’s carefully read this passage to see.

3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,
4  who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Obviously, the apostle’s intention was to give the Thessalonians easily recognizable signs they could use to evaluate the claims of those who said that Christ had returned. We cannot transform these signs into mysterious, allegorical, or hard to recognize things, as many have done, without subverting the apostle’s intentions. We should not interpret a passage allegorically or symbolically unless there is contextual warrant to do so. As Martin Luther wrote:

{The Holy Spirit's} words cannot have more than one, and that the very simplest sense, which we call the literal, ordinary, natural sense. . . . We are not to say that the Scriptures or the Word of God have more than one meaning. . .We are not to introduce any . . . metaphorical, figurative sayings into any text of Scripture, unless the particulars of the words compel us to do so.. . . For if anyone at all were to have power to depart from the pure, simple words and to make inferences and figures of speech wherever he wished. . . [then] no one could reach any certain conclusions about . . . any article of faith. . .  2

First, before Christ returns, there must be a falling away. In Robertson’s Word Pictures, we read concerning this: “It seems clear that the word here means a religious revolt and the use of the definite article seems to mean that Paul had spoken to the Thessalonians about it. The only other New Testament use of the word is in Acts 21:21 where it means apostasy from Moses.”

Apparently then, Paul is talking about a great falling away from God and the Gospel. Since Paul is giving the Thessalonians definitive events to look for, it is reasonable to conclude that this falling away will be striking and easy to discern. Although this falling away may begin before the lawless one comes, it will reach its height when he comes, as we will soon see.

Secondly, the day of Christ will not come until the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. Note that he is not merely a force or a principle of lawlessness. Paul differentiates between this man and the mystery of lawlessness in verses seven and eight:

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

The lawless one is a literal man, not a principle. Remember, the apostle’s intention was to give the Thessalonians easy to recognize signs, not mysterious, ambiguous ones that would be difficult to discern.

It won’t be difficult at all to recognize the man of lawlessness. He will be someone “who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”

History DOES NOT YET record a literal fulfillment of this quite specific prophecy (a man sitting in the temple and claiming that he is God). Because of this, those who teach that Christ has already returned must ignore this verse, allegorize it, spiritualize it, or force it into historical events that aren’t an exact fit. The ONLY way for this scripture to be literally fulfilled is for the temple to be rebuilt.

When the time comes, the rebuilding of the temple could happen very quickly. Already, there are those in Israel who are preparing for this event [See http://www.templemountfaithful.org/]. Be ready for Jesus to return. Keep your lamps trimmed and plenty of oil on hand. When the shout goes out that the bridegroom is coming, events will happen so fast that there will not be enough time to get more oil!

Before Jesus returns, however, the lawless one will be revealed. There will be miraculous signs and other events that will accompany the revealing of the son of perdition, and many will be deceived thereby:

9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,
12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Note the parallels between this passage and the beast described in Revelation 13. There we read, “and all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Certainly the apostasy will reach it's height at this time.

The day of Christ will not come until the son of perdition is revealed. If there is any doubt that Paul is here teaching that Christ will return after this man is revealed, verse 8 should take it away: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”

You may have heard clever, very convincing arguments claiming that Christ has already come. No matter how convincing they sound, you should reject them unless these easily recognizable signs have literally taken place. The signs will be striking and easy to discern, not little known historical events, or hard-to-detect trends stitched together by some clever researcher who has combed through books and newspapers. Ignore these clear signposts to your own peril. Allegorize them or spiritualize them, and you open yourself up to deception.

Could All of This Have Already Happened?

One day, while involved in an intense debate with some Full Preterists (who believe that Christ returned in 70 AD), one of them read 2 Thessalonians 2:6 from the NIV:

"And now you know what is holding him back, so that he will be revealed in his time."

The phrase "is holding him" he argued, proves that the man of lawlessness must have been living when Paul wrote the letter. Therefore, he contended, all of the prophecies in this passage must have already been fulfilled.

His argument would have been a very powerful one, were it not for the fact that the NIV does not translate this verse with complete accuracy. A literal translation of this verse doesn't sound very natural in English, and because of this, the translators of the NIV may have added words they believed were implied.

In the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written, the word "him" is absent from the first part of the sentence, and this is very apparent in literal translations of this verse.

Green's 1993 Literal Translation reads:

And now you know the thing holding back, for him to be revealed in his time.

The 21st Century King James translates it similarly:

And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time.

Young's literal translation includes the words "his own," a more accurate translation of the Greek word "eautou":

  "and now, what is keeping down ye have known, for his being revealed in his own time,"

  Lastly, let’s look at the Greek Interlinear, both for this verse and the one following:

2 Thessalonians 2:6 kai {AND} nun {NOW} to {THAT WHICH} katecon {RESTRAINS} oidate {YE KNOW,} eij to {FOR} apokalufqhnai {TO BE REVEALED} auton {HIM} en {IN} tw eautou {HIS OWN} kairw {TIME.}

2:7 to gar {FOR THE} musthrion {MYSTERY} hdh {ALREADY} energeitai thj {IS WORKING} anomiaj {OF LAWLESSNESS;} monon {ONLY THERE IS} o {HE WHO} katecwn {RESTRAINS} arti {AT PRESENT} ewj {UNTIL} ek {OUT OF THE} mesou {MIDST} genhtai {HE BE GONE,}

Note something highly significant here:

to katecon ("that which restrains") in verse 6 is neuter, meaning it is a thing rather than a person doing the restraining. However,  in verse 7 o katecwn  ("he who restrains") is masculine, indicating that there is also a person (God, a human, or an angel) who is restraining.

It’s too bad we don't have Paul with us to tell us for certain who and what these two restrainers are, as the Thessalonians did. However, I believe that history and the scriptures give us some good clues.

Note that the neuter and masculine restrainers were working at the same time to prevent the antichrist from being revealed before his own time. Because of this, it seems likely that the masculine restrainer mentioned in verse seven was using some thing (a neuter force, circumstance, or condition) during the time of the Thessalonians as the means of restraint.

The purpose behind this may have been to have been to prevent other would-be antichrists from claiming the temple before Antichrist's time comes. This would have been necessary, because according to verse 7, the mystery of lawlessness was already at work. This fits in nicely with  "as ye have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now are there many antichrists" in 1 John 2:18. In fact, history does record that there was at least one man itching to get his hands on the temple around that time. Josephus records that the Roman Emperor Caius tried to claim the temple and set up images within the temple in AD 40.

The Jews pleaded with Petronius, the Roman officer charged with carrying out Caius’s commands, and told him that the entire nation would fight to the death to prevent his orders from being carried out. Petronius agreed, at the risk of his own life, to petition the emperor on the Jews’ behalf. Enraged that Petronius had not speedily carried out his command, Caius replied with a very angry letter. While delivery of that letter was delayed by stormy seas, the wicked emperor died. As God was pleased should happen, news of the emperor’s death reached the noble Petronius before that threatening letter did.

Some preterists have speculated that the “what” of Thessalonians 2:6 is the “Roman Government,” and the “who” of 2:7 is the Emperor Claudius, who was emperor of Rome when 2 Thessalonians was written. The one who is being restrained, they speculate, is Nero. Dr Kenneth Gentry, who is a partial preterist, comments "It may be that he (Paul) employs a word play on Claudius' name. The Latin word for " restraint" is claudere, which is similar to "Claudius." 

Some have claimed that this view was held by some of the church fathers. While I have not yet verified this, I should mention at this point that there is no doubt that some of the church fathers held to certain partial preterist views. However, all of the Church Fathers looked forward to a future resurrection. None of them were full preterists.

As Dr. Leon Morris has pointed out, Nero was only a child when 2 Thessalonians was written, so it is doubtful that Nero was being restrained from getting his hands on the temple at that time. II Thessalonians was written about A.D. 51 or 52. Nero would have been only 14 or 15 years old at that time. In fact, as a friend of mine pointed out, it may have been because Nero was not properly restrained (by his parents and guardians) that he turned out the way he did! 

In light of this, it seems more likely that the restraining force was the Jewish people, rather than the Roman government. The idea of the restraining force changing, but the masculine Restrainer staying the same, is supported by the fact that Paul does not use the neuter verb again in verse seven.

If the Restrainer is an angel or the Holy Spirit, at later times He might use other means of restraint (for instance, preventing the temple from being rebuilt). This might explain why the neuter verb is not used again in verse seven. Once the Restrainer stops standing in the way, Antichrist will be revealed in his own time:

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

While the prospect of a future Antichrist is dire, when he is revealed we will know that the coming of our Lord is near. We will have the sure and certain expectation of Christ's imminent return to sustain us through the brief reign of the lawless one. 

Then, we look forward to glorious, wonderful things. We look for a literal coming of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of those who have died in Christ first, and then the changing of the mortal bodies of those who are alive into immortal ones. We look forward to the time when the lion will lay down with the lamb, and the nations will beat their swords into plowshares. Finally, we look to a literal new heavens and new earth, in which there will be no more pain, sorrow or death. If need be, that’s worth going through a few years of persecution for! 

Jesus taught us to ask in prayer that our Father's kingdom will come, and that His will may be done, on EARTH even as it is in heaven. He would not have instructed us to pray for this if he had no intention of bringing it to pass!

Daniel 2:4 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

Psalms 2:8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thy inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 

Psalms 72:11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him.

Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

God's victory over sin and death will find full expression, despite the rebelliousness of most of mankind. It will first be expressed in the bride of Christ when He returns, accompanied by a temporal recreation of the earth. Then it will be fully expressed in all of those who enter into the eternal new heavens and earth. Then sin and death will be completely conquered, with no less finality than that with which the lawless one will be consumed and destroyed at the end of this age:

1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 

Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 

Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things have passed away. 

 And we, what do we say to these things?  Come, Lord Jesus!

 

  1. Page 1228, VII 507-16
  2. Quoted by W. G. Kummel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of its Problems (Nashville/New York: Abingdon, 1972) 22-23.

Copyright 2001, 2010  Marshall “Rusty” Entrekin
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Rusty Entrekin is a theology graduate of Louisiana College. He and his wife Julie have seven children, with four still at home, and four grandchildren. Currently, he resides in Kennesaw, GA. He writes apologetic and theological articles to help people come to know Christ and grow closer to the Lord. If this article has blessed you, and you would like to free him up to write more, you may make a donation below.

Rusty previously decided not to apply for 501c3 ministry status, so that he can write about political matters without worrying about government interference. Because of this, your gifts will not be tax deductible. However, you will receive a far greater reward for your donation:  treasure in heaven!