So far in this epistle Paul has described the punishment awaiting non-believers and the wicked when Christ returns. He also reassures the Thessalonians that the "day" has not come because:
- The Apostasy had to occur first
- The Man of Lawlessness had to be revealed
In the previous chapter I mentioned several ideas concerning these events:
- The Apostasy (the falling away from the Christian faith) has already begun and is quite active in the world.
- The Man of Lawlessness has not yet been revealed, however the mystery of lawlessness is at work in the world creating great evil and wickedness.
I said that we will know the end is the next step (we know the sequence, not the time frame) when we see this lawless power in the world manifested in a person or entity who will be so evil and powerful that he will, in some way, claim equality with God.
This face of evil, Man of Lawlessness, will deceive nations to the point where the truth of Christ and the church will be seriously threatened. It will be at this juncture (when this lawless one will be revealed to Christians for who he really is) that Christ will return to destroy this person and bring His church with Him to eternal glory in heaven, and send the wicked, the unbelievers and those deluded by the Man of Lawlessness to hell.
Now in his description of these times Paul also mentions another idea that is hard to understand. He says that God will send a "deluding influence" on those who refuse to love the truth so that these people will be judged and condemned on account of the lie that they believed.
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
- II Thessalonians 2:11-12
At first glance it would seem that God forces people to believe a lie and then punishes them for it. This doesn't seem fair. Is there a solution? There is, but you need to understand how God's will functions in order to make sense of this passage.
The Will of God - II Thessalonians 2:11-12
The Bible explains the unusual way that God's will operates in His relationship with mankind and the material universe. There are two sides to God's will:
1. God's Direct Will
Some things are done in concert with the operation of God's direct will. This direct will functions in two different modes:
A. God's Direct Positive Will - God wills directly for good things to happen. For example, God wills the creation into being and it is good; God wills that Christ come to save man; God wills that His Word is recorded and preserved for mankind. God directly wills these good things to happen. In these we see God's direct positive will happening.
B. God's Direct Negative Will - God wills directly for judgment and punishment to happen. For example, God directly wills the flood to come and destroy the earth; God sends the plagues to punish the Pharaoh; God uses different nations to judge and punish His people throughout the ages. God directly wills negative things to happen to accomplish His justice and His purposes. So God directly wills both positive and negative things to happen in the material universe and to mankind.
2. God's Permissive Will
Many events in the Bible and in history occur, but do so in cooperation with God's permissive will. This permissive will also operates in two different modes:
A. God's Permissive Positive Will - A church was planted in Choctaw, Oklahoma in 1939 and years later the Choctaw church supports a missionary in Montreal to help build up a church in Quebec. There was no inspiration or revelation or miracle here. This was done according to God's permissive positive will. Men are the ones who decided to do it and God's permissive positive will allowed it to happen.
My wife and I decided to have a family. We decided to have four children (not three, not five or six, just four) and God's permissive positive will allowed us this blessing. He could have stopped us, but He didn't. He allowed this good and positive thing to happen.
B. God's Permissive Negative Will - Some things God permits, but they are not things He devises or likes. He permits and uses these nevertheless to accomplish His ultimate purpose. For example, Satan tempts Eve, attacks Job, manipulates the principle of evil in the world. God did not devise and will these things, but in His sovereignty He permitted Satan to do these things. There are illnesses, accidents and tragedies that happen in the world. God does not will these things, directly invent or send them, but He does permit these negative consequences of sin to affect us in different ways.
And so, God consciously wills certain positive and negative things to happen and He also permits certain positive and negative things to happen which He does not devise but does permit to take place. However, regardless of what happens and under which direction of His will a certain thing falls, God knows in advance what He will directly do and what He will permit others to do. He also knows the consequences and outworking of all that is done and how He will use everything in order to glorify Himself and accomplish His ultimate will, which is to justify the faith of the saints in Christ and punish the wicked and disbelievers.
So when we talk about the "delusion" sent on the people by God, we have to take what I've just said into consideration in order to understand what Paul is saying here. This delusion is sent under God's permissive negative will. God is permitting the deceiver (Man of Lawlessness) to capture completely through his lies and deceptions, all of those who do not love the truth. God doesn't invent the delusion, doesn't lie, doesn't approve of the deceiver, but He allows him to function for a time in the world. Those who believe the lies will be allowed to do so without interference from God. These will be judged and judged rightly because they preferred to believe the lies rather than the truth.
The truth, willed directly by God and gloriously revealed by Christ is so superior to the lie, but these preferred to believe the lie, so God permitted them to believe it to the fullest. God "sends the delusion" in the sense that He permits it to happen at the hands of the deceiver, and He permits it to work fully on those who choose to believe it rather than the superior truth sent directly by God.
In the end, this full acceptance of the lie will prove His judgment to be obvious, just, necessary and without doubt. There will be no doubt or sorrow that these people deserve what they get at judgment.
Once Paul finishes describing the events preceding the return of Christ and the condemnation of those not ready for His return because of their disbelief, he turns his attention to the Thessalonians themselves. Since these things are, and will be in this way, he urges the Thessalonians not to become like the ones who love the lies (and what the lies permit them to do) but rather, follow the path taken by those who love the truth and go where that road will lead them.
The Way of Truth - II Thessalonians 2:13-17
13But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
- II Thessalonians 2:13-15
Paul reviews the situation and tells them that even though there is a wickedness and danger in the world, there is still reason to be thankful – especially for the church in Thessalonica. He gives two basic reasons.
1. They have been chosen for salvation – vs. 13
Here, God's choosing is not in a judicial or arbitrary sense where one chooses someone or something over someone or something else. Paul refers to the phenomenon where God appropriates or chooses for Himself those who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit because they trust the truth of the Gospel. God will choose/appropriate everyone who does this without prejudice. He will choose for Himself all who choose to believe in Christ and has promised to do so from before the beginning of time.
In this verse Paul also says that those who are subject to God's choice of them are those who are transformed by the Spirit because of their confidence in what is true. This is different from the attempt at transforming themselves using systems or methods that cannot accomplish the transformation required by God. For example, people who try to change themselves by using:
- The Law (legalism or perfectionism)
- Magic (manipulation of the spirits)
- Idolatry (worship of the created)
- Philosophy (man-made truths and systems for self actualization)
They can be thankful that because of their faith in the truth of the Gospel (God's solution to sin and death) they have become the chosen ones of God and heirs of salvation. This change is real, personal, eternal and spiritual.
2. Their salvation is sure – vs. 14
The salvation they have will manifest itself fully when Jesus returns. The nature of this salvation is such that when He returns they will share in His glory. This is what the present transformation (sanctification) is working towards, what Christ will complete when He returns. This was the original intention of God's calling of them through the Gospel: that one day they would be perfected in glory. This final perfection, this completion of their spiritual transformation is a sure thing, there is no doubt that it will take place so they should be thankful for this.
In verse 15, Paul summarizes by saying that if these things are true then don't be fooled by lies. This is how you are to respond to the lies that are trying to disturb your faith, lies that are deceiving others.
- Stand firm – be mature, strong, unmoved. Don't lose your composure.
- Hold to traditions – hang on to what they were originally taught by their teachers and mentors: Paul, Timothy and Sylvanus.
He completes the passage with a blessing:
16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
- II Thessalonians 2:16-17
He prays that the same God and Christ who have given them their love will also comfort them with the knowledge that they are saved by grace eternally. He also prays that God will exercise His (direct positive) will in encouraging them when they are discouraged, and help them in what they are to say and do.
Yes, there are lies and condemnation for some, but Paul is thankful that they are saved and he prays that God will help them stay that way, using His direct positive will. God will not just let good things happen – He will make good things happen!
Will and Salvation
This passage is unusual in that within it are listed five things that God does and three things that we do in regards to our salvation. God's direct positive will operates in five different ways in regards to our salvation:
1. He loves – vs. 13
The motivation for God saving us is love. He consciously, willfully, purposefully loves each soul.
2. He chooses – vs. 13
As we said, this means that He takes for Himself. At the beginning God chose all those who would believe the truth to be saved. He deliberately chose this group to experience the glory of heaven.
3. He calls – vs. 14
God intentionally calls everyone to glory through the Gospel. Those who love the truth respond to the Gospel.
4. He saves – vs. 13
I Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all to be saved, this is His ultimate purpose. He provides everything we need for the complete transformation and salvation of the soul.
5. He glorifies – vs. 14
His ultimate goal is that all who respond to the call will become glorious like His Son Jesus.
Now in all of these acts God's "direct will" is in operation, and the significance of this for us is that if these things are God's direct positive will, then our salvation is certain because:
- God always loves – even when we are weak
- God never changes His choice – no surprises
- God continues to call – He wants all saved
- God guarantees salvation – we can trust Him
- God has the power to transform us into glory – we have something to look forward to
On the opposite side of this relationship we see that man also has his direct will in operation when it comes to salvation. It operates in three ways:
- Man believes – These Thessalonians chose to believe (accepted as true) the message of the Gospel. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves, no work or good deed can be exchanged for our souls. However, God asks of us not what we cannot do, He asks us what we can do, and exercising our positive direct will in believing and acting on that belief (repentance and baptism) is something we all can do.
- Man gives thanks (vs. 13) – The giving of thanks for our blessings is part of the direct operation of our will, and an expression of faith. Not to give thanks is usually the first sign of a loss of faith (Romans 1).
- Man stands firm in truth – We do not exchange something or do something to earn or maintain our salvation. We merely hold on to what has been given to us freely by God. We do this by retaining the truth of the gospel as it has been given to us by Christ, and avoiding the lies and deceptions that try to deny the Gospel and its power.
Man's direct will can reject God's love, refuse His choice, ignore His call, neglect His salvation and resist the transformation of one's soul into glory. When man directly opposes God in this way, God's passive negative will allows man to resist Him and suffer the consequences.
God's direct will was operating from the beginning with the purpose of saving the Thessalonians, and in spite of their difficulties, so long as they held firm in the truth, God would ultimately complete His direct will: their glorious resurrection and eternal life with Christ in heaven.
- It is God's will to save us but is it always our will to be saved?
- Do we reject His love by loving sin?
- Refuse His choice by choosing something other than Christ?
- Ignore His call by putting off our decision?
- Resist the work of the Spirit within us?
- God is in charge of our salvation from beginning to end. Don't worry, be happy. Our job is to trust the truth (Jesus is God, the cross saves us, we will be resurrected).
- Comfort and strength comes from God not from things. The only way things can comfort us is when we do good things and say good things, not when we acquire nice things.
The point for us in all of this is that God's direct will operates for us in the same way and power as it did with the Thessalonians. Let's not be overwhelmed by the power of evil in the world – let's have confidence that God is in charge and He will save us. Let's be careful not to believe lies but to remain faithful to what we have received from Christ and His apostles. Let's ask God to directly strengthen and comfort us in the doing of good and saying of good so we can be found busy in these things when Christ returns. If we do, we'll be ready for the second coming.