One of the more difficult NT passages that deals with eschatology is 2 Thessalonians 2:3-11. Of course Paul knew what he was talking about. The Christians in the Thessalonian church plant had heard Paul teach these things before so they knew what it meant (2:5). But we don’t know exactly what Paul taught them when he was with them. Therefore, the text is a tough one to fully understand.
One commentary on this passage that I’ve found helpful is G. K. Beale’s contribution in the IVP NT commentary series. Here’s what he says about verse 3 (Don’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. NIV):
Some contend that apostasia [NIV/ESV: rebellion] means a “departure” in the sense of the church being gathered bodily (in development of 2:1) at a “rapture” directly preceding the Great Tribulation and the coming of the antichrist. The following observations point to the implausibility of this identification (see further Gundry 1973:112–18). (1) The word apostasia in the Greek Old and New Testaments always refers to a “departure from faith” and never to a “bodily resurrection.” (2) A negatively religious nuance of “departure” is also probable, since in 2:3 it is conjoined with the man of lawlessness, and in 2:8–12 deception and departing from the faith also appear in conjunction with “the lawless one.” (3) The “gathering” of 2:1 is an allusion to Paul’s earlier teaching on the final resurrection of all God’s people (1 Thess 4:14–17). Thus, the readers should not be misled because a sure sign of Christ’s return (apostasy) has not yet taken place.
A second reason the readers should not be misled in believing that Christ has already come is because the eschatological appearance of the antichrist must also precede the Messiah’s last advent. Therefore, since these two signs have not yet come about in their full and final form, Christ has not yet returned. Paul’s use of “first” may mean that the apostasy will come before the man of lawlessness, but most agree that “first” probably applies to both events happening before Jesus’ final coming.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015