GETTING THE MESSAGE/Joy-filled courage to face the devil
Most commentators see these verses as referring to the final anti-Christ before the 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 36, the narrative moves from Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek ruler over the area of Syria and Palestine around 175 BC, to one much more powerful and evil than the wicked Antiochus.
Verses 36-39 speak of the person of anti-Christ. He “shall do as he wills.” He exalts himself above God, and speaks “astonishing” or unheard of blasphemies against God. In other words, he has no restraints. Verses 38-39 show the anti-Christ to be a man who worships the “god of fortresses” or war and offers riches and the world to those who follow him. Paul calls him the “man of lawlessness.”
Paul says the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. The mystery of godliness is the gospel of Christ recovering man from a state of ungodliness into a state of righteousness and reconciliation with God. The mystery of lawlessness is a response to the light of Christ. It is designed to usurp Christ’s kingdom and rule over the church by means of deception or persecution. It promotes sin and darkness.
Verses 40-45 give the account of the work of anti-Christ. He overwhelms all opposition and especially targets the saints of the Lord. In the last battle, he is depicted as sitting smugly in palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain, what Revelation 20 calls the “camp of the saints.” Things don’t work out as he planned though. He suddenly comes to an end.
One of the fundamental teachings of the apostles to the early churches was to desire the coming of Christ, and to prepare as if it was imminent. It is referred to as the “appearing of Christ.” His coming is a weighty thing because He comes in glory and judgment. Paul told Timothy that Christ would “judge the quick and the dead at his appearance.”
Paul reminded Titus to instruct Christians to live upright and godly lives as they await “that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Peter encouraged Christians that their faith to endure suffering would result “in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The apostles didn’t simply teach this truth as a reality, they taught Christians to aim for it, or to shape their service to Christ in light of it. When Paul was about to die, he said that he looks to the crown of glory he will receive from Christ. He said “not only to me, but all those who have loved his appearing.”
No matter how terrible tribulation may be, or how many anti-Christs may come, those who look to and long for the glory of Christ to be fully revealed will not be ashamed. Rather, they will be acknowledged by Christ before His Father.
We see how great the contrasts are between Christ and the anti-Christ. Anti-Christ is the full blown form of evil at the end. He is full of vanity, exalting himself above God. Jesus was the pattern of humility in a man. He took the form of a servant and taught His people, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
The anti-Christ worships war. He is full of malice, like the devil a murderer by nature. He has no pity or mercy. Christ is called the “Prince of Peace.” When Jesus was born, the host of heaven declared that his birth meant “peace on earth, good will to men.”
The anti-Christ offers the riches and vanity of the world to those who acknowledge him. Christ offers the riches of heaven. He doesn’t send beggars away empty. He said where your treasure is; there your heart will be also. No one will be kept out of heaven but such as love the world more than heaven.
The contrasts between anti-Christ and Christ are real. He is an opposite of Christ. Everyone faces a choice at some point in their life. They can keep on doing their will in life, or they can put their faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin and purpose to do His will at whatever the cost.
Martin Luther said, “Trusting in yourself is the dark way. As a poor sinner, trust in Christ who God says is holy and worthy. I expect my wife Katherine to be kind to me. You will find Christ friendly, one who will help you in crisis or temptation. He will give you joy-filled courage to face the world and the devil. He will never leave you. I can’t make that promise to you, but he can.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.