Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for their door-to-door evangelism techniques. Maybe you’ve groaned as you have seen them walk toward your door?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses trace their roots to Charles Taze Russell in the 1870s who, with a group of friends studying the Bible, came to new teachings on Jesus’ second coming. For centuries Christians had believed that Jesus would return physically and visibly. Russell and his followers rejected this in favor of an invisible, spiritual return. They believed Christ had invisibly returned in 1874 and that God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth in 1914.
Well, 1914 came and went without this prophecy being fulfilled. Many of Russel’s followers left in disillusion, but some stayed faithful. After Russell’s death in 1916 the movement continued. Their beliefs were modified, now teaching that the period of Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1914, not 1874.
Christians have long sought clarity on the end-times, with many generations believing the end would come in their lifetime. The basic Christian doctrine, rooted in the Bible and the Apostle’s Creed, is that at the end Jesus will return physically and visibly. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the first to teach something different.
Their teaching of a spiritual, invisible return of Jesus bears similarities to confusion going on in the Thessalonian church in the apostle Paul’s day. Some people were teaching that Christ had already come (2:1-2). Paul writes to correct them:
2:1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
The main point in this is encouragement not to be deceived (2:3) and to remember what Paul had taught (2:5). When Jesus gives instruction on what will happen, his motivation is the same: so no one is deceived (Matt. 24:3-4). This is vitally important. The Bible does not speak of the future just so we can make predictions of when and how, but so we are not deceived when false teaching comes along. In other words, the whole point is so we will remain true to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Paul teaches that certain things must happen prior to the end and since these things have not yet happened, the end has definitely not come: the rebellion and the appearance of a “man of lawlessness” who sets himself up among God’s people and proclaims himself to be divine.
The “man of lawlessness” is often equated with “the Antichrist“. Maybe you’ve heard Christians talk about the Antichrist before. But Paul does not use the word “Antichrist” here. The only time when the word “antichrist” appears in the New Testament is in the letters of John. John says antichrist is coming but focuses on the fact that many antichrists are already here (1 John 2:18). Any person who denies that Jesus is Christ, who denies God the Father and Son, is antichrist (1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7).
I think it is important to note that the Bible focuses much more on things that draw us away from Christ in the present. Again, a basic understanding of the future is important, but an unhealthy obsession that minimizes our spiritual walk right now is not what the Bible writers have in mind. Paul says that the power of the man of lawlessness is being held back right now (2:6), yet the mystery (“secret power” in NIV, bad translation) of lawlessness is already at work (2:7). Just like John says, the spirit of antichrist is already here.
If we are honest with ourselves, we often set ourselves against Jesus Christ:
When we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, as we have been forgiven by Jesus.
When we are greedy, refusing to help others in need, as Jesus helped and blessed us.
When we act as if certain people are beyond hope, that they cannot receive grace, as Jesus never gives up on us or withholds grace from us.
When we refuse to love our neighbor, our enemy, as Jesus demonstrated and commanded.
All of us are still works in progress…
Paul writes on the future, speaking of when the man of lawlessness is revealed, and the first thing he says is that Jesus destroys him pretty easily (2:8). The workings of antichrists look good (2:9-10), but will not last. This is why we must be reminded not to be deceived.
A lot will be left unsaid today, verses 9-12 deserve their own study. Note that verse 10 says “those who are perishing“. This reminds me that we are all choosing a path each day:
Are choosing to turn to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ who is all good, truth, grace, forgiveness, healing and love?
Are choosing to turn away from Jesus Christ, to be separated from God, to seek after things that look good now, temporary highs, things that lead to destruction and death?
The future is just an extension of our choices in the present.