Satan came to Eve in the Garden of Eden with the express purpose of deceiving her.  He whispered, “Has God said you’re not to eat of any tree of the garden?  If you eat of that tree you will not die, the way God says.  If you eat of that tree you will really live!  You will be as God himself.  You will be free!”  Sadly, both Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s lies and were cast out of the garden.  And they discovered that Satan was a deceiver, and that God’s Word was true.

From that time on Satan has been active in our world, trying to deceive people to persuade them not to listen to the Word of God.  He sometimes attacks our bodies through suffering, the way he did Job.  He sometimes attacks the will by appealing to our pride, the way he attempted to do with Jesus.  But most often Satan attacks the mind with lies, the way he did Eve.  He knows that the battle for the soul is primarily won or lost in our thinking.  That’s why 2 Corinthians, the second chapter, verse 11, warns us not to let Satan “outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes,” the Bible says.

If we are going to withstand the spiritual pressures of the last days, we have got to be mentally alert.  Now we’ve been studying the second coming of Jesus Christ the last couple of weeks as it’s revealed in the book of 2 Thessalonians.  Here in the second chapter, we have an important section if we are going to be ready for the coming of Christ.  The promise of the Lord’s return motivates us to holiness, intensity, and hope.  So the nearer we come to that event the more we can anticipate Satan’s aggressive opposition to it. 

And so, today I want us to note three ways that Satan is working against the return of Christ.

I. SATAN PROMOTES ALARMING PROPHECIES.

I want you to notice, first of all, that Satan promotes alarming prophecies.

Verses 1 and 2: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not 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.”  

Now the Thessalonians were being disturbed by people who said, “Jesus returned and you missed Him!”  Satan has always delighted in alarming people with unsettling prophecies.

You go to the average Christian book store today, and just look at the titles of the books in the prophecy section.  They are so sensational that they sound like the headlines from the tabloids.  “Babylon Rebuilt,” “Ark of the Covenant Discovered,” “Vultures Gathering in Israel,” “Computer Beast in Belgium,” “The Mark of the Beast Is Here!”

Or listen to some of the media evangelists and you hear wild rumors. “The Social Security Administration has plans to stamp invisible numbers on the backs of people hands.”  “Building blocks for the next Jewish Temple have already been cut and numbered, and the blocks are stored in abandoned K-Mart buildings all across the U.S.”  “Jane Fonda’s name has the numerical equivalent of 666, the mystical number of the Antichrist.”  “Rush Limbaugh is the beast with six horns coming out of the sea,” or something.

Bizarre rumors like that circulate among prophecy buffs.  Some people naively plug in to it and are alarmed, unsettled, thinking the rapture is going to occur next week.  And they can’t think about anything else.  They are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  But the result is that people react against that and the pendulum swings in the opposite direction.  And instead of being alarmed, some Christians get apathetic.  Thinking people conclude that the whole field of Bible prophecy is nothing but a playground for fanatics, and they dismiss it all together.  Some people say, “Well, I know that Jesus is going to return someday, but I’m not going to be all that concerned about it.  He said nobody knows the day or the hour.  The Bible says He’s going to come like a thief in the night, so I’m not going to be concerned about it.”

But prophecy was given not to alarm us or to make us apathetic, but to keep us alert.

No one knows the day nor the hour, but we ought to be aware of the season of the Lord’s return.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:4 the Bible says, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.  … So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled” (vv. 4, 6).

Now there are a number of signs of Christ’s return that should keep us alert today. 

Things like upheavals in nature.  The Bible talks about the beginning of birth pangs being famines and earthquakes.  We have things like floods and natural disasters increasing.

There’s an increase of wickedness.

There’s the spread of the gospel through the whole world by radio and television.

But to me, one of the most impressive fulfillments of Bible prophecy in history is occurring in our day, and that is the regathering of the Jews in Israel.

In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the entire world.  People then scoffed when students of the Bible would say that one day the Jewish people would be returned to Palestine and become a nation again.  “Impossible,” people would say.  But in 1948 Israel was restored as a nation.  And since that time millions of Jews have returned to their homeland, just as the Bible predicted.

Listen to this passage in Amos, the 9th chapter, verses 14 and 15: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; [and] they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.  …I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God.”

 

Now the Jews have not only returned to Palestine in our generation, but they have reoccupied Jerusalem.  Remember in Luke 21, verse 24, that Jesus predicted, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” 

Now from 70 A.D. until 1967 Jerusalem has been occupied by Gentiles.  The Romans were followed by the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, the Turks, the British, and then the Jordanians.  But in the Six-Day War of June 1967, the Jews recaptured Jerusalem for the first time in 1,897 years.  Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli army in 1967, rushed to the Wailing Wall, blew a shofar, and solemnly proclaimed the beginning of the Messianic Age.

A couple of years ago, Time magazine had a feature article in the religious section entitled: “Time for a New Temple.”  It read, in part, “Traditionalist Jews hope to rebuild their sacred edifice, but a Mosque and centuries of enmity stand in the way.”  And they had a picture of the model of the proposed temple in Jerusalem.  And the article said, “Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, potentially, is the most volatile 35 acres on earth.”

You see, now Israel has become the focal point of world politics.  Ever since the Arab oil boycott in 1973 the Middle East is the focal point of the news.  Many in the West have realized the dependence on Arab oil, and many have lined up with the Arab obsession to annihilate Israel. 

But listen to Zechariah 12:3: “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. [And] all who try to move it will injure themselves.”

Now with all these prophecies being fulfilled, Christians should sense that we’re living in the season of the Lord’s return.

Jesus said, “You’re able to tell the weather.  You look at the sky at night and if it’s red you say, ‘It’s going to be a nice day tomorrow.’  You look at the sky in the morning and if it’s red and overcast you say, ‘It’s going to rain today.’  Why is it,” He said, “that you’re able to discern the signs of the weather, but you can’t discern the signs of the times?” (see Matthew 16:2-3).  Just as birds instinctively fly south when winter is coming, so Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit of God and knowledgeable about the Bible, ought to instinctively sense that we are in the season of the Lord’s return. 

Hebrews 10:25 reads: “…encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

So, we should not be alarmed, but neither should we be apathetic.  We ought to be alert.

II. SATAN EXALTS HIMSELF AS GOD.

But a second way that Satan works to counter the return of Jesus Christ is that he exalts himself as God.

Look at verse 3, where we see Satan setting himself up as a counterfeit Messiah. 

“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” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Now there are two very legitimate ways to interpret this passage.  One is to interpret it figuratively and say the man of lawlessness simply means that there’s going to be a spirit of rebellion permeate the whole world before Jesus comes back.  Some of the predictions about Jesus’ first coming were figurative, like He would reign from the throne of David.  Well, He didn’t literally sit on the throne of David, it was a spiritual reign.

The other way to interpret it is the way I’m going to interpret it, and that is to interpret it literally—that there is going to be a man, a world ruler, who is the Antichrist.  Many of the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were literal.  Prophecies such as that He would be born in Bethlehem, that He would be born of a virgin.  St. Augustine once said in regard to this passage: “I admit that the meaning of this completely escapes me.”  Now if Augustine, who was a great theologian, didn’t understand it, I doubt if I’m going to be a whole lot of help to you!  But fools rush in where wise men dare to tread, so let’s try!

Now folks, admittedly this is a heavier passage than I normally like to deal with on Sunday mornings, but I am committed to preaching to you the whole counsel of God, trying to deal with all the subjects that are covered in Scripture.  So try to stay with me as we look through a difficult passage.

I think the Scripture indicates that Satan is going to manifest himself as a diabolical world ruler. 

In Daniel 9 he is called “the ruler who is to come” (v. 26).  In Revelation 13 he’s called “the beast who is to come up out of the sea” (v. 1).  In 1 John 4 he is called the “antichrist who is coming” (v. 3).  And here in 2 Thessalonians 2 he is called “the lawless one.”

Verse 4 says, “He 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.”

Back when I was a teenager, some Christian people persuaded some Hollywood producers to make a movie about the coming antichrist.  And they projected that he would be a child of Satan.  The movie vastly sensationalized the story, but it was released on the 6th day, of the 6th month, in 1976. It was a big hit at the box office.  It was called “The Omen.”  And the fact that it, in the first week, grossed more than any movie in history up to that time indicated the interest the American people have in the coming world ruler.

The Scripture hints that the antichrist will appear in a very chaotic time in history and will pretend to be an ambassador of peace.  People will be so hungry for a charismatic leader who can restore order to the world, and stabilize the world economy, that they’ll get sucked in.  People tend to be very fickle, and a president or a leader can be riding high on the wave of popularity one day and seemingly overnight be cast aside by those same people as they scramble to follow after a new leader.

Now the antichrist is going to come establishing a new world order. 

Already we’re seeing that nationalistic pride is passé.  We are paving the way for a one-world government, a one-world religion, a one‑world economy, which will facilitate the antichrist’s rise to power. 

Revelation 13:7 says, “He was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.

Verse 16 says, “He also forced everyone … to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark” (vv. 16-17). 

The antichrist will establish a worldwide economic system, a monetary system that will be mandatory.  And when he reaches the zenith of his popularity, he sets himself up in God’s temple, desecrates the temple, claims that he is the Messiah and he is to be worshiped. Then the majority of knowledgeable Jews will reject him, and the antichrist turns on them and persecutes the Jews on an unprecedented scale.  And instead of bringing peace, he brings chaos and disorder.

In Matthew 24:21 Jesus said, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”

In 70 A.D. as many as 1 million Jews were killed when Titus overthrew Jerusalem.  Then in the 1940s six million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.  But Jesus said there’s going to come a time of persecution that will be even worse than those.  In fact, Zechariah 13:8-9 says that during the end times two-thirds of the Jewish people will die during a period of unparalleled calamity.

But look at verse 7 of our text.  It says that right now the Antichrist is restrained from taking power. 

“For 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.”  

Now what is restraining the power of the lawless one right now?  I can only think of one force that is greater than the power of Satan, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit living in Christians.  The Bible says, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  So, the Holy Spirit, living in the hearts of Christian people, is suppressing the work of Satan to a degree today.  But when the Holy Spirit is taken out of the world the Antichrist will have free reign.

Now how will the Holy Spirit be taken out of the way?

I believe that Christians are going to be raptured out of the world. 

The next event that we’re told look for in the Scripture is not the coming of the Antichrist, but the coming of Jesus. 

First Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (vv. 16-17).

Christians one day are mysteriously going to disappear.  Maybe those left behind will think that we’ve been taken away by alien forces, or that there’s some strange virus that has taken us away.  But think about that.  What hole it would leave in Cherokee if a 100 or so Christians from First Church of Christ were taken up to be with the Lord.  You would come to church on Sunday and just a hand full of you would be here!  Some would get their wish; the sermon that first Sunday would be the shortest they’ve ever heard!

But when Christians are taken out of the world someday it will leave a tremendous spiritual and moral vacuum. 

Satan and the world will be relieved to have those puritanical Christians with all their oppressive rules out of the way.

Verse 8 says, “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.  The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (vv. 8-10).

The Antichrist has three basic appeals.  First, he promises peace in a time of chaos.  Secondly, he has supernatural powers that really intrigue people. They are limited, but there is some supernatural power.  And then thirdly, no rules.  He deceives people in all kinds of evil.  Everything is permissible.

But verse 3 says the Antichrist is “doomed to destruction.”  Verse 8 says the Lord will overthrow him with the breath of his mouth when He comes.

So, the reign of the Antichrist is going to be pretty brief. 

Most students of Bible prophecy believe it’s only going to be 7 years, called in the Bible the period of “great tribulation.”  And then Jesus Christ comes back, with the Christians, in power and glory and He blows Satan away in a spiritual battle called “The Battle of Armageddon” that lasts just seconds.  And Jesus Christ then reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords!

Dr. Fisher Humphries was a professor at New Orleans Seminary who prided himself in being an excellent chess player.  But when he was at Oxford he had a chance to compete against the European National Champion in chess, and the European champion was playing thirty people at the same time.  And Dr. Humphries was devastated when he was beaten in fourteen moves.  And he said to the champion, “I can’t believe it.  You beat me in just fourteen moves!  I’ve never seen anything like it!”  And the champion smiled and said, “No, I beat you in five moves.  It just took you nine more to find it out!”

Now Satan has already been defeated by Jesus Christ at the cross and the empty tomb.  It will be made crystal clear to him when Jesus one day overthrows him with the breath of His mouth and destroys him at the splendor of His coming.

III.  SATAN SUPRESSES THE TRUTH.

But the third way that Satan counters Christ is the most relevant to us today, and that is he counters Christ by suppressing the truth.

Verse 10: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (vv. 10-12).

Our salvation is not dependent on what we believe about the Antichrist.  In fact, you can disagree with almost everything I’ve said in this sermon and you are still a Christian and you’re still saved.

Our salvation is determined, however, by what we believe about Jesus Christ.  

We believe Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God.  We believe that He died an atoning death for our sins and that He arose from the dead to prove that He’s God in the flesh.  We believe that we are saved by making Him our personal Savior and Lord, and by confessing Him and being baptized into Him.

We believe that He is the source of truth.  

He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Now Satan is doing everything within his power in these days to subvert that truth.  He will whisper, “You’re not a created being with a purpose, you’re simply a cosmic accident of evolution.”  He will say, “Jesus isn’t the unique Son of God any more than Gandhi or Mohammad are.  He’s just a good teacher.”  Satan spreads the lie that you aren’t saved by trusting Jesus as God, but that you are your own god and have unlimited potential on your own.  And there is no absolute truth, it’s all relative.  Right and wrong are determined by the individual and not by Jesus Christ.  Therefore, you are completely free to live as you please.

And having rejected the truth, God gives them over and people believe the wildest lies.  It’s incredible what people are believing today.  We have people going after astrology, numerology, Satanism, meditation, channeling, crystal gazing, psychic hotlines.  Dr. Al Moeller, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that there are 3 million Americans today who believe that they have been abducted by UFO’s.  Folks, these people are driving cars out there and coming your direction! 

Having dismissed the truth, people don’t believe nothing, they believe anything.  

And they get sucked into the wildest fantasies.  “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Dave Stone, recently retired preacher of Southeast Christian Church, one of the largest churches in our country, agreed to do an interview with a reporter from CBS News in New York leading up to the recent Presidential election.  They were preparing an hour-long documentary on the Religious Right.  The reporter was not a believer, and for 45 minutes he kept tossing questions to Dave about “Whose values?”  “How do we know that there is absolute truth?”  “How can this work for everybody?”  And when Dave would come back to the simple basics and say, “Let me tell you what we believe.  We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins.  We believe that He arose from the dead to show that He’s God in the flesh.  We believe that He is the source of absolute truth, and one day we’re going to be accountable to Him”—when Dave started talking about those things you could just see that the reporter was disinterested and he started flipping through his notes, looking for the next question.  And Dave said he was reminded of Alan Bloom’s statement in his book The Closing of the American Mind.  Bloom said, “Relativism has not opened our minds to new truths, it has closed our minds to old ones.”

There are two basic reasons that people disbelieve the simple truth.

One is pride.  It is so humbling to accept the simple revealed truth from God rather than intellectually getting it on your own.  

The second reason that people reject it is evil desires.  People don’t want to believe if it means they have to change their behavior.  But Paul teaches here that a person can resist the truth so long that he becomes hardened to it.

But Christians are to be distinctive.  We are to resist the lies of Satan and we are to love the truth and be saved by it.  

Verse 13 says, “…God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  

The Bible says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

When Columbus was sailing to America his men became panicky after so many weeks on uncharted seas that they began plotting a mutiny against Columbus to force him to turn back.  And while those plans were developing somebody spotted some debris floating on the ocean, coming from the West.  And that could only mean one thing—they were approaching land.  So, they dropped the plans of mutiny and sailed West with hope.

Satan is right now mounting a mutiny against God, saying, “There is no God.  There is no life after death.  There is no hope.”  Now God in every generation has sent some signs of the coming of Christ so that people don’t lose hope.  Maybe it’s just because the world is so pressure-packed and full of wickedness today that the signs seem to be increasing in intensity. Maybe the Lord is not going to come back in our generation.  But I rather think that He will.

But the important thing is that we be alert, that we be found believing in and living in the truth.  Somebody said, “We ought to live every day as though Jesus died yesterday, He arose from the dead today, and He’s coming back tomorrow.”  And who knows, maybe He will!