God's truth for today's world

Wrestling with Radical Evil Message Introduction

We’re in a message series called “Understanding the End Times.” In this series, we’re not interested in charting out exactly when and how everything is going to happen so we can pat ourselves on the back thinking that we understand everything. Rather, we want to understand the end times, the last days in which we live, so that we can live today for Jesus. The prophetic teaching in the Bible was given to encourage and guide the church in these last days.

Today, my message is entitled “Wrestling with Radical Evil.” Our news reports today are filled with evil, radical evil. I’m been alive for a while and the evil portrayed today is the worst that I have seen. Yes, I realize that there have been terrible wars and evil in the past. Yet, the type and magnitude of evil across the nations seems to me to be unprecedented. This is the world in which you and I live in 2014. How can we make sense of it? What should our response to evil be? Where is the world heading and how can we be prepared?

To introduce our topic today, I want to talk about a parable that Jesus taught called the Parable of the Weeds, found in Matthew 13. Jesus said that the kingdom of God was like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while he was sleeping, his enemy sowed weeds among the wheat. Both the wheat and weeds sprouted and grew. The owner’s servants wanted to pull out the weeds, but the owner, said no, they must both grow until the harvest.

Matthew 13:30 (NIV)  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”

Jesus explained that the wheat refers to believers and the weeds to unbelievers. The harvest is the end of the age when the kingdom of God will come in fullness. This morning, I want us to think about the weeds and the wheat, growing and maturing in the same field, the field of the world. The wheat are believers in the church who are growing in righteousness, holiness and power. Jesus is going to return for a spotless and beautiful church, full of mature believers. On the other hand, at the very same time that the church is being purified, the evil weeds are also maturing. The evil in the world will become increasingly wicked, more perverse and much more common. The maturing of the weeds and the wheat happen at the same time. So, the weeds and wheat will be in increasing spiritual warfare as the last days continue. This is not something to be discouraged about, it is part of God’s plan.

Today, we’re going to be looking at a letter written by Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Paul planted the church at Thessalonica but had to leave because of intense persecution. He wrote the letter to encourage the church to persevere in the midst of suffering and persecution. He encouraged them in their trials by describing the gathering of believers to be with Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NIV)  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. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.

This aspect of the Lord’s coming is commonly called the rapture, which means to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The coming of the Lord is the hope of every believer and can sustain us even when life is difficult. Today, we’re going to be looking at further revelation that God gives to this persecuted church in 2 Thessalonians 2 that will prepare us for what is coming in the last days.

Don’t be deceived about the day of the Lord

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (NIV)  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.

The church at Thessalonica had received a report saying that the day of the Lord had already come and they had missed out. As they were in persecution, they had no hope and were very discouraged. That is why Paul wrote to them to set things straight. What is the day of the Lord? In the Bible, the day of the Lord is the day of God coming to rescue His people and to bring judgment on the wicked. The day of the Lord, as we see in these verses is the same as the coming of Jesus Christ. The day of the Lord is the period of time at the end of the last days from the rapture of believers until the second coming of Jesus to end history. So, Paul was writing the church to explain to them how they could know that the day of the Lord had not yet come. He wrote to encourage them and to help them understand the truth.

As we saw last Sunday, a common theme of the last days is widespread deception. Here the people being deceived were not unbelievers, but believers. As the last days continues and the day of the Lord comes closer, the danger of deception will increase for every believer. As believers, the truth is that we are to expectantly await the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be a time of wonderful fulfillment of everything that we have believed in during this life. Today, we’re going to look in more detail about the events surrounding the coming of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord.

Understand God’s prophetic timetable

So today, we’re going to continue in this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 to gain a better understanding of what’s going to happen in the future. The deception of the church in Thessalonica led to discouragement and hopelessness among many. Some stopped working completely, thinking that the end of all things was at hand. A proper understanding of God’s prophetic timetable will bring encouragement and guide us in God’s purposes in these last days. So let’s look at this passage to understand God’s prophetic timetable. We will be looking at this passage in time sequence, not verse sequence.

The power of lawlessness is at work now

2 Thessalonians 2:7a (NIV)  For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work;

During the entire last days, from when Jesus ascended into heaven until now, this secret power of lawlessness is at work. What is lawlessness? Lawlessness is the lack of law and order or anarchy. Lawlessness is wickedness or radical evil. Lawlessness is really what sin is all about. Sin is doing what you want to do, irrespective of the law. When we speak of law, we would first think of the laws of our country. However, when the Bible speaks of law, it refers to the laws of God, which are absolute laws. The laws of a country are only valid if they reflect the laws of God. So, this mystery of lawlessness, empowered by Satan himself is already at work in our day and is increasing in power.

The Holy Spirit in the church restrains evil

2 Thessalonians 2:6 (NIV)  And now you know what is holding him [the lawless one] back, so that he [the lawless one] may be revealed at the proper time.

During the present time, during the last days prior to the beginning of the day of the Lord, something or someone is holding back the lawless one from being revealed. We’ll talk more about him in a minute. Paul assumes that the believers he was writing to knew what was restraining this explosion of evil in the last days. Although, the Bible does not tell us in this passage, I and many scholars believe that the power restraining lawlessness and evil in the last days is the Holy Spirit in the church.

God’s Word speaks of the church being salt and light in the world. Salt to preserve the world from the corruption and decay of sin and evil. Light to drive back the darkness of evil. So, the Holy Spirit in the church is all that is holding back a tidal wave of anarchy and lawlessness from inundating the world. How do we restrain evil? There are many ways, but the ultimate way is to lead those who are lawless to find salvation in Jesus Christ. So, what will happen as the day of the Lord begins to take place?

The rapture of the church will unleash evil

2 Thessalonians 2:7 (NIV)  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.

The one who holds this secret power of lawlessness, which I believe is the Holy Spirit in the church, will continue to hold evil will continue through the last days, until He is removed. The Holy Spirit in the church will be removed at the rapture of the church, when all believers will ascend into heaven to be Jesus. The church will at that point no longer be a restraint on lawlessness and evil will be unleashed in a magnitude never seen before. Many scholars believe that the rapture of the church will usher in a seven year period of the Great Tribulation before the return of Jesus Christ in judgment.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 (NIV)  Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [day of the Lord] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

Remember, our passage began with the church at Thessalonica alarmed because they thought they had missed the day of the Lord. God here shows them that before the final day of the Lord, two things must happen. A massive rebellion or outbreak of lawlessness must occur. Secondly, a specific man of lawlessness will be revealed. This man will be the personification of the power of lawlessness and he will be doomed to ultimate destruction. Obviously, at the time of Paul’s writing this letter and in our time today, these two events have not happened and the day of the Lord is still in the future. But much closer than it was 2000 years ago. After the rapture of the church …

The lawless one will be revealed

2 Thessalonians 2:4 (NIV)  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.

This lawless one will oppose everything of God and claim to be God Himself. He will be the exact opposite of Jesus Christ. In fact, other passages in the Bible give him the name Antichrist. Further verses go on to describe him in more detail.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 (NIV)  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. 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.

The lawless one will have supernatural, but Satanic power to work counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. He will deceive those who are unbelievers. Why do unbelievers perish? Because they refuse to love the truth of Jesus Christ and be saved. They delight in the wickedness of the lawless one. Finally …

Jesus will return and destroy the lawless one

2 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)  And 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.

Jesus Christ will appear in power and glory at the end of the tribulation and destroy the lawless, the antichrist. Jesus will bring judgment upon all unbelievers and usher in his world-wide rule during the Millennium when believers will rule and reign with him.

God has not revealed to us all the details of His prophetic timeline. Anyone who has studied prophecy seriously must be humble, realizing that there are still many unanswered questions. God has not promised to answer all our questions about the future. However, we know enough to be encouraged and live our lives for Him in these last days.

What’s the take-home message in this prophetic timeline? Evil and lawlessness is going to continue to increase. However, believers filled with the Holy Spirit are the restraining power that holds back this evil and lives as witnesses for Jesus in these last days. No matter how bad evil may get in our lives or our country, we know the end of the story. One day, Jesus will come to take us home, He will judge all evil and we will live with Him forever and ever. That’s a great end to the story, isn’t it. Even as we wrestle with increasingly radical evil, we must …

Trust in God’s protection

2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NIV)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

The Lord loves you. He chose you to be saved. The Holy Spirit lives inside of you and you believe in the truth of God’s Word. As you follow Jesus, you will not be deceived as you …

Stand firm on God’s Word

2 Thessalonians 2:14-15 (NIV)  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

We must stand firm on God’s Word. Even though many distort it and contradict it, God’s Word is the truth by which we live. We do not live by our feelings or by following the crowd, we live by God’s Word. Those who stand firm are destined to share in the glory of Jesus Christ at the end of time. Whatever you are going through, today, God wants you to …

Receive God’s encouragement

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

God wants you to be encouraged this morning and strengthened. You need strength to do the good deeds and speak the good words that God has planned for you this week. Receive God’s encouragement.

If you’re a believer here this morning, you’re a soldier of the kingdom of God. You are at war with the kingdom of darkness. In the last days, the conflict will increase in fierceness, evil will grow worse. Yet many will be won to the kingdom of God by those who stand firm to the end. God wants you to be encouraged and to be an encourager to others. Will you commit with me to stand firm on God’s Word during these last days?

Together we can see God do great things through our lives and through our church. Let your light shine, drive back the darkness, overcome evil with good.

Message Audio, Outline & Study Guide

Understanding the End Times Message Series

 

Signs of the Times (Mark 13)
The Day of the Lord in God's Timing (Joel 2)
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