The Third Explanation: Deception, Delusion, and Divine Judgment in the Day of the Lord (2 Thes. 2:9-12)
Though the Day of the Lord will eventually usher in a glorious day of millennial blessing for those left after the Tribulation and the return of Christ to earth, it will begin with a time of judgment, a day of wrath, as described in Revelation 6-19. While millions will come to Christ beginning with the sealing and salvation of 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe of Israel) and extending to a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev. 7), the world as a whole will be in stark rebellion and will follow after the man of lawlessness in blind obedience and worship. That such is the product of man’s rebellion is obvious by the unrepentant heart described in several places even though the inhabitants of the world seem to know they are under the judgment of God’s divine wrath (see Rev. 6:14-17; 9:20-21; 16:9, 11).
How is it that man, in utter defiance, even in the face of what is obviously the outpouring of God’s wrath against man’s sin, still raises up his fist in God’s face and continues to follow after the beast and his system of government? The passage before us gives us insight into that question. Though there are issues beyond our comprehension here, it is centered around man’s delusion and deception, which occurs as a result of God’s judgment because of man’s failure to love the truth. Many get all bent out of shape over matters like God’s sovereignty, election, and predestination on one side, and on the other, the issues of man’s free will or responsibility to believe. The fact is, however, God’s Word teaches both elements of truth, and there is no place more evident than in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 and again in verses 13-14. Verses 9-12 deal with the unbelieving world and their responsibility and verses 13-14 with believers as the chosen of God, but through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and faith in the truth.
The Coming of the Lawless One and Satan’s Deception
2:9 The coming of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 2:10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved.
The Rise of Antichrist by the Counterfeit Work of Satan (2:9-10a)
In these verses we actually see the second effect and detail regarding the man of lawlessness. The first was his unveiling, but this is quickly countered by the promise of his destruction by the manifestation of the parousia of Christ at His advent to earth. Now another detail is given, namely, the source of the lawless one’s coming (parousia) and deceptive working in the world. It will “be by Satan’s working.” Literally, “whose coming is in accordance with a working of Satan.” This answers the question, “Why and how will the lawless one be able to so quickly deceive the world into following him to the point they even worship him”? As it was also revealed to John in Revelation 13, it is because he is Satan’s man; he is Satan-inspired, enabled, and indwelt, and evidently, the world will understand this and won’t care.
… And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?” The beast was given a mouth speaking proud words and blasphemies, and he was permitted to exercise ruling authority for forty-two months. So the beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God—to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven. The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them. He was given ruling authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation, and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed. If anyone has an ear, he had better hear! (Rev. 13:3-9).
Because of the mystery of lawlessness at work even today, such deception is actually not new. The masses have been deluded into following such tyrants and demonically-inspired men before as was so evident in the rise of Hitler. The difference seems to be one of degree. While most of the world recognized Hitler for who and what he was and finally gathered together to oppose him in World War II, just the opposite will occur when the man of sin is revealed. There will be those who resist the lawless one because of their faith in Christ, but the world as a whole will follow after the beast in amazement even to the point of believing that he is God.
The apostle explains that it is because his “coming is in accord with the working of Satan with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders,” the very things God used to authenticate the message and lay the foundation for the church (see Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 14:3; 15:12; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4). By the superhuman power of Satan, this will be redirected to accomplish Satan’s deception on an unbelieving world.
“In accord with” represents the Greek preposition kata used here with the word “working” in the accusative case. In such a context, this construction is used “to introduce the norm which governs something.” Sometimes, as here, the norm merges into the reason or the cause.69 With the restrainer removed, there is nothing to hinder the working of Satan. “Working” is energeia, “working, operation, action,” but in the New Testament it is typically used of that which is supernatural, either of the enabling power of God or of satanic operations (Eph. 1:19; 3:7; 4:16; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:29; 2:12; 2 Thes. 2:9, 11).
The activity of Satan is described with the words, “with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders and with every kind of evil deception.” “All” is the adjective pas, which, when used without the article, may include “everything belonging, in kind, to the class designated by the noun every kind of, all sorts of.”70 Satan will reach into his bag of tricks to use everything he has at his disposal. These are defined as “miracles, signs, and false wonders.”
“Miracles” is dunamis, “inherent ability, power,” but it often is used of the outward expressions of power, “deeds of power” or “miracles”—that which is beyond normal human ability. This word stresses the fact of the performance or display of miracles or powers, while “signs and wonders” look at the immediate effect on the people in two different ways.
“Sign” is semeion, “a sign or distinguishing mark by which something is known.”71 It refers to an event which is regarded as having some special meaning. This work points to the purpose and goal of the miracles from the standpoint of what the miracles are designed to communicate, i.e., the ideas and beliefs Satan wants to pawn off on the world. People will be thinking this man, this great leader of ours must be god incarnate because he does claim to be god and seems to have the power to prove it. He must be the answer to the world’s needs; surely he and he alone can mold the world into unity and peace and give us a life of great prosperity.
“Wonders” is teras, “wonder, marvel.” In the New Testament teras is always combined with semeion because it looks at another effect of the miracle or the dunamis in the sense it gets people’s attention and causes them to marvel or stand in amazement at what they have seen. But Paul calls them “false” or “lying” (NASB) wonders. “False” is pseudos, “a falsehood, a lie.” It may refer just to the wonders or (as is more probable) to both the signs and wonders or even all three nouns (miracles, signs, wonders). This looks at the purpose of these miracles as signs and wonders. They are designed to deceive. But this in no way denies the miraculous nature of the miracles. They are not like the slight-of-hand tricks of a magician. They are real, but they are designed to lead to belief in a lie (vs. 11). They are real miracles that are designed to deceive. Pseudos is the word Jesus used of Satan in John 8:44 as the one in whom there is no truth because he is a liar and the father of lies. This word often stands in contrast to aletheia, “truth” (cf. John 8:44; 1 Thes. 2:11-12).
Thus, the combination of these words or expressions are used to point to a supernatural component, but one with very definite and important religious implications, especially since the performance of such miracles implies divine power. In the life of the Lord and in the early church, they were used to authenticate the messenger and so his message. He was one speaking the truth. In the case of the apostles and prophets, they were those who became the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:22).72 But in the case of the apostle and prophets of the New Testament, they performed miraculous acts that authenticated a message that was in keeping with the Old Testament and its fulfillment. What will occur in the future is just the opposite.
The apostle Paul adds one more very interesting and explanatory statement, “and with every kind of evil deception.” This clinches the previous statement. Literally, the text says, “with every kind of deception of unrighteousness.” “Unrighteousness” may simply be an adjectival genitive, “unrighteous” deception, but it may also point us to the result, deception that leads to unrighteousness, or to the source, deception that proceeds from unrighteousness, which is probably best considering the context. However, maybe this is one of those plenary situations where all the grammatical possibilities could apply. Certainly, the deception proceeds from the evil nature of Satan’s system and it will lead to an unrighteousness that is unparalleled in history.
But the question still remains, “Who is it that will fall for his schemes, and how could the world become so amazed by his miraculous powers and so deluded that it will follow after the lawless one?”
The Reason for the Deception in Those Who Are Perishing (2:10b)
The reason is indicated in the words, “directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth …” What irony! First, those for whom the lying wonders are designed are described as “those who are perishing (tois apollumenois),” because they will follow “the son of destruction (apoleia).” The second stroke of irony is seen in the reason given. They will believe the lie of Satan because “they found no place in their hearts for the truth.” Literally, “because the love of the truth they did not welcome.” While this is an unusual expression, it points us to the fundamental reason why they will believe Satan’s lie rather than believe the gospel that they might be saved. It will not be a matter of the evidence for the truth of Christ, but a moral matter. The Lord put it this way in John 3.
John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 3:18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 3:19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 3:20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 3:21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.
The gospel will be preached to all the world in the Day of the Lord and millions will turn to the Savior and be saved (Rev. 7). It won’t be a matter of not hearing the gospel, as the book of Revelation makes clear. Rather, it will be a matter of rebellion and loving the darkness rather than the light. When people reject the truth, it leaves them open to all manner of evil and false beliefs as Romans 1:18-28 and Ephesians 4:17-19 teach us. To reject the knowledge of God and the light God gives leads to a further darkening of one’s understanding and a perverted mind that takes pleasure in every kind of impurity in the sphere of greediness for more and more.
The Judgment of God and the Deluding Influence
2:11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence that they may believe what is false. 2:12 And so they will all be judged who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil.
“Consequently” (Greek, dia touto, “for this reason”) looks back to the previous verse and the refusal to love the truth by those who are perishing. As such, it also introduces us to the consequence, the moral judgment of God. They consign themselves and are thus consigned to judgment. We must not lose sight of the fact the judgment here proceeds from man’s own choice. Because of its immoral indifference to the truth, God will not only let the world believe a lie, but will send a deluding influence to promote it. “A deluding influence” is literally, “a working of error or delusion.” “Working” is energeia, “working, operation, action,” but in the New Testament, always of what is supernatural.73 “Error” is plane, a “wandering, roaming.” In the New Testament it is used only figuratively of wandering from the path of truth in the sense of error, delusion, deceit, deception to which one becomes subject.74 We should contrast this with the powerful working of the Word in those who believe in 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
… Here God sends “a working of delusion” in the sense that to be misled by falsehood is the divine judgment inevitably incurred in a moral universe by those who close their eyes to the truth. But the true God is not the deliberate author of this infatuation; it is, as Paul put it in 2 Cor 4:4, “the god of this aeon” (cf. the “activity of Satan” in v 9 above) who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”75
“That they may believe what is false” (eis to + the infinitive pisteusai, “to believe”) points us to the intended result or divine purpose, that which is the product of failing to love the truth. But the text literally says, “that they might believe the lie.” As in Romans 1:25, “lie” has the article and looks at something specific. What then is the lie? Some, as Bruce, believe it is,
… the fundamental truth that God is God; it is the rejection of his self-revelation as Creator and Savior, righteous and merciful Judge of all, which leads to the worship due to him alone being offered to another, such as the “man of lawlessness.”76
While this is fundamental and lies at the root of all of man’s unbelief, the context suggests the lie refers to verse 4, the belief that the man of lawlessness is God and has the ability to meet the needs of the world (see also 1 Thes. 5:1). Certainly also, this all goes back to Satan’s original lie to Eve in claiming that by choosing to eat of the tree of good and evil, man can become like God (cf. Gen. 3:5; John 8:44).
With verse 12, the apostle takes us to the ultimate consequence of failing to love the truth so that they might be saved and avoid the lie of Satan. The NET Bible has, “and so they will all be judged,” but the Greek text continues the preceding focus with the more forceful, “in order that they all might be judged.” While Paul does not describe the nature of the judgment in view, several judgments come to mind: (1) the judgment to falling for the lie, (2) the judgments of the Tribulation, and (3) the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20).
The ultimate consequences for them will be condemnation. Failing to appropriate the truth of the gospel, they willingly choose wickedness instead. They cannot blame circumstances. Retrospect will show their own wrongly directed personal delight to be the cause of God’s adverse judgment against them (cf. 1:9). What an incentive this powerful passage is for non-Christians to turn to God before the rebellion and delusion arrive.77
But the primary focus here is seen in the word order of the Greek text. Literally, “in order that they might all be judged, those who did not believe the truth, but (alla, a conjunction of strong contrast), delighted in unrighteousness.” Thus, the focus is on the words, “who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil.” Again, we are brought face to face with the root issue of man’s unbelief. It’s man’s inherent desire to live in unrighteousness. This is expressed in “have delighted in evil.” “Delighted” is eudokeo, “to think well of, approve, be well pleased, take delight or pleasure in.” “Evil” is adikia, “wrong doing, injustice, unrighteousness, wickedness.” It was used in 2:10, “every kind of deception of wickedness.” But what is the fundamental issue or nature of man’s wrong doing or unrighteousness? As from the very beginning when Adam and Eve swallowed Satan’s big lie, is it not man’s attempt to live life independently of God and to be, as constantly tempted by Satan, to become like God himself?
Certainly one of the key points of these verses is the very sobering truth that people can so resist the truth that God finally gives them over to greater and greater delusion where they literally wander further and further away so that they believe one lie after another. Plainly, there is no walking the fence, no neutral ground that men may take—either we respond to the revelation of God in Christ and His truth as we find it in the Bible, or we will believe Satan’s lies. To love not the truth leads to rejecting the truth and ultimately to receiving Satan’s and the world’s lies.
This is a sobering thought and explains, at least in part, why people can be so easily duped into following the wildest and weirdest cults imaginable. As McGee has put it,
I have been simply amazed at some intelligent people who have sat in church, heard the gospel, rejected it, and then turned to the wildest cult imaginable. They will follow some individual who is absolutely a phony—not giving out the Word of God at all. Why? Because God says that is the way it is: When people reject the truth, they will believe the lie.
God is separating the sheep from the goats. God uses the best way in the world to do it. If people will not receive the love of the truth, then God sends them a “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” What is the “lie”?78
When people are negative to God’s truth, they become totally defenseless against the many deceptions of the devil. So in the Day of the Lord, they will be defenseless against the false claims of the lawless one (v. 4) and his perversion as they are centered in the Antichrist. As mentioned, it will be nothing more than a repeat of the same basic lie that deceived Eve in Genesis 3, only, in the man of lawlessness, that lie will be embodied in Satan’s end-time master of deceit.
Note the three steps in falling for Satan’s lies and his end-time lie:
1. Those who are perishing will fail to love the truth; they will be negative toward truth in their pursuit of the darkness or unrighteousness (vss. 10, 12).
2. As the first step of judgment, God sends a deluding influence that they might believe the lie (vs. 11). The man of lawlessness is Satan’s ultimate lie (see John 8:44 and Rev. 13:1f).
3. This leads to God’s judgments, those experienced in the Tribulation and at the Great White Throne. The reason is failure to believe the truth, but this is really a judgment for failing to love truth.
Here is a moral law of the universe as established by a holy and righteous God: God gives the wicked over to the wickedness they have chosen as declared in Romans 1:18-28; Ephesians 4:17-19; and Proverbs 5:22.
Some general lessons for verses 1-12:
1. False doctrine and ignorance of doctrine causes instability (2:2)
2. God wants us to know and understand Bible prophecy and the signs of the end times (2:3-5; Matt. 16:1-3)
3. The world will not become better and better, but worse as we move closer and closer to the Day of the Lord. We should expect this and be prepared (2:3, 7; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Pet. 3; Jude).
4. It seems Satan always has a potential man of sin in the wings ready for the removal of the restrainer.
5. Both Christ and the Holy Spirit are more powerful than Satan and we need to rest in this truth (1 John. 4:4; 2 Thes. 2:6-8).
6. If people reject the truth, the only thing left to believe is Satan’s lies and ultimately, his end time lie (2:10).
7. Miracles by themselves do not prove the truth (2:9). Then, how do we know what the truth is? By observing the man and his message according to the truth of Scripture, the Holy Bible.
69 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic media.
72 Because the prophets appear after the mention of the apostles in Ephesians 2:20 and because they are linked together in 3:5 as recipients of revelation about the church, they should to be regarded not as Old Testament prophets, but as New Testament prophets. Thus, as Jesus Himself is regarded as the chief corner stone, so the apostles and prophets themselves should be regarded as the foundation.