God is going to send a great and strong delusion on the world. It will cause the world to believe The Lie. So declares Paul in our scripture reading today. Yes, the Greek has the definite article, The Lie, as if Paul has something specific in mind. But for us to understand what this lie is, and why God would send a strong delusion, we need to think a little bit about the context. Because today, this language, ‘God shall send a strong delusion’, is very uncomfortable to most Christian’s ears.
Not that long ago, just a few years ago, there was a article in Christianity Today about a paradigm shift in much of Christianity and particularly the Protestant world where images of God as Judge and King, and punishment are being abandoned in favor of the warm fuzzy Freudian family. Not the Father of Hebrews 12, who chastises His children for their own good, but the Freudian father who believes his children are inherently good and ‘If I'm just nice enough to them I won't warp them’, and we are projecting this image onto God, and beginning to shy away from any kind of accountability and judgment type theologies in Christianity. And some of this afflicts the Adventist church as well.
But in the context of Second Thessalonians 2, Paul has a vigorous doctrine of divine rulership and judgment. You see, the Thessalonians were one of the most persecuted groups of Christians in the whole body of Christ. For whatever reason the persecution at Thessalonica was extremely rough and rigorous and vicious, and Paul alludes to this suffering in chapter 1 of Second Thessalonians, in verse 4. “Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and afflictions which you are enduring.” And then he continues. “This is evidence,” that is, their suffering patiently is evidence “of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering, since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.”
You see, when you live in peace time and aren't called upon to suffer for your faith, you tend to want to create a God who helps massage your ego into a fashionable shape. But when you are suffering injustice after injustice and you are powerless to find a solution, now a God who intervenes and can do something about it becomes more attractive. And Paul says, the fact that you can hand that justice issue over to God that allows you to suffer patiently those injustices, that patient suffering is a testimony to that larger belief that there is a God who judges and will settle the justice issues.
And now we come to chapter 2. Not only were they suffering persecution, they were suffering doctrinal controversy. We don't have any of that in the Church today, do we? “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 1, “and our assembling to meet Him, we beg you brethern not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or word or by letter purporting to be from us to the effect that the day of the Lord has already come.” Apparently, somebody wrote some letters arguing that the second coming had already occurred and ascribed the letter to the apostles, and it caused quite a stir. And Paul now proceeds to argue, this can't have happened because there are certain things that have to happen first, and therefore, Christ cannot come because these certain things haven't happened yet.
And in particular, he focuses on this character that he calls the man of sin. Who as he says here around verse 4, opposes and exalts himself against every so-called God, and the context seems clear, this is in the church. He says there’s going to be a rebellion in the church that comes first. Since we haven't had the rebellion, Christ can't have come yet. And this rebellion in the church focuses on this man of sin, who opposes other gods and objects of worship, takes his seat in the temple of God and proclaims himself to be God. He continues, “Do you not remember that when I was with you I told you this?” So Paul prophesies a day when there's going to be a worship problem in the church, somehow on a central figure, who is dictating or otherwise manipulating worship. For my purposes, today I'm less concerned on trying to identify the man of sin than we are the bigger concept that there's going to be a rebellion in the people of God that leads them into a false form of worship.
And why is it that this happens? Well there's a mystery of lawlessness that’s already worked etc. etc., but we get to verse 9. This rebellion comes through the activity of Satan with power and pretended signs and wonders. The miraculous and supernatural things happen that help deceive people. That's part of the issue, but the bigger one is this. We keep reading in verse 10. “With all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to” do what? Notice it's not that they refused to believe the truth. It is that they refused to love it. They may well be acknowledging the truth, but they don't love it. They don't cherish it and thus be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion to make them believe The Lie. You don't love The Truth. You will believe The Lie. I wonder what this lie is. “So that all may be condemned, who did not believe,” now he ties it to belief, “the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Paul makes this curious comparison between The Lie, and The Truth, and by not loving the truth we set ourselves up to believe The Lie. In the context then, I wonder what this lie is. It seems to be something to do with this man of sin taking the authority of God and people submitting to it.
And then there is this other question. How do we explain God sending a delusion? It's easy to pass it off, “Well God permits the delusion,” but Paul does not put it in weak language like that. He says God sends it, and gives God the credit. So how do we reckon with this?
I'd like to suggest that we may get some answer from the story of Ahab in Second Chronicles, so hold your finger in Second Thessalonians and let's come back to Second Chronicles the 18th chapter, and for our gold star the same account is found in First Kings, chapter 22. Second Chronicles, chapter 18. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah is forging an alliance with Ahab, the king of Israel. Now this is after the Mount Carmel experience by a good season, and they are getting ready to go to war together. And Jehoshaphat, being a little concerned about going to war, says, “Let's inquire of Yahweh,” and he uses specifically the name of the Hebrew God. And the king of Israel gathers 4 hundred men. Prophets. Now, when was the last time we had 4 hundred prophets and Ahab? They were the prophets of Baal. And these 4 hundred prophets basically say, “Ah yes, Elohim, the gods, will bless you. You're going to win. Go on up and engage this battle.”
Now we could debate whether they’re saying God in general or the Pantheon, but they seem at the moment to avoid the Yahweh language. And so Jehoshaphat remonstrates. “Don’t we have a prophet of Yahweh here?” He knows there’s a rotten fish here. There's something wrong. And Ahab says, “Oh yeah, there’s Micaiah. I hate him ‘cause he always says bad things about me.” But to make Jehoshaphat happy, he sends the men, “Let's go get Micaiah, bring him on in.” Messenger finds Micaiah and he says, “Look, when you go in this time, say something nice, you know. Be agreeable.” Micaiah comes in. “Shall we go to war?” “Yup. The Lord says go for it, you'll win.” There must have been something beyond his reputation, because Ahab immediately comes back and says, “Stop lying to me and tell me what Yahweh says.” He knew there was something wrong. And he says, “Well, I saw the people of Israel on the hills like a sheep without a shepherd. Etc..” Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat at the end of verse 17 says, “Didn't I tell you he would say bad about me?” And Micaiah continues now in chapter 18, verse 18. “Hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and on His left, and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, the king of Israel that he may go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ One said one thing and another said another, then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all of his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You are to entice him and you shall succeed. Go forth and do so.’ Now therefore behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets and the Lord has spoken evil concerning you.”
You see, Ahab didn't want to hear Yahweh's perspective. It crossed his will. It crossed his desire. It did not help him achieve what was fashionable in his society. And because he didn't want the truth and in a sense was already deceived, God said it's time to bring this to fruition, and He commissions the lying spirit to take over and deceive him. He sends a strong delusion to Ahab, and Ahab believes it, not because he doesn't know it but because he doesn't want to hear it.
And so it is with people in the church in the last days. We must not confuse sending a delusion with making a delusion, nor with the act of deluding. But God takes credit for sending the delusion, not in order to deceive but in order to reveal who already is deceived. That when grand events happen and judgments fall, it will be unquestionable that God has not made a mistake. And so God takes credit for sending this delusion in the last days to a church who does not love the truth. And therefore, and he adds, “they have pleasure in unrighteousness.” They love sin more than they love truth. And because they are already deceived quietly, He sends a delusion that will make it baldly clear. And hence, it says, they believe the lie. But I wonder what this lie is? As I said before, it's obviously related to this whole worship of the man of sin, but I think we can get a little bit more clarification, because this strange juxtaposition of The Lie and The Truth happens only 3 places in the New Testament.
Two of the 3 are penned by Paul. Let's go to his second one in Romans 1, verse 25. Romans 1, and let's set up our bearings here. Paul is making a formal indictment of the Gentiles as to why they are lost in need of salvation, and he starts by saying, “God's wrath is revealed,” not executed, but revealed, “from Heaven against all ungodliness.” We’re in verse 18, “and against wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress The Truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them.” What is it God has shown them? Verse 20. “Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible nature, namely His eternal power and Deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that are made so they are without excuse. They knew God, but wouldn't honor Him or give thanks to Him and they became futile in their thinking.”
Let's stop for just a moment. What was it that God showed to the Gentiles about Himself? It’s right there in the text. One, He's powerful. Right? Look at all this stuff. He made it. That's some kind of power, and yet I look at all this stuff and I can't find or see God directly, so His other point was, God is invisible. His invisible nature and His eternal power. Two points. How do these Gentiles respond to this knowledge of God? Verse 23. They make idols and images. Right? Of men, beast, etc., and they worshiped them.
Question for you. If I went to one of our art professors at Southern and I said, “I want you to take this piece of marble or clay or wood, or pick your material, and I want you to make me a sculpture of something invisible.” Do we have a problem here? See, knowing God is invisible, you should've at least known you can’t make an image of Him. But Paul says that they exchanged, verse 23, a conscious choice, they exchanged the glory of God for these images. So God hands them over to the lusts of their hearts, and then we get it again. Verse 25. Because they exchanged, a volitional choice, The Truth about God for The Lie. Wonder what the lie is? Next phrase. “Worshiping and serving the creature instead of the Creator.”
You see, the great lie is believed when we elevate our judgment over God's revelation. “It doesn't make sense to me to bow down and worship something I can’t see. Let me make a little visual aid to help me out.” And what happens is we only start to obey and worship when it makes sense to me. And in so doing, ‘Me’ became the highest authority in my life. Right?
Oh, as Christians we love to generate rationale for God. Right? We don't commit adultery, ‘cause it has nasty consequences, right? That makes sense. We don’t steal. That makes sense, right? But God starts to probe another area of the life. How about 10% of your increase? That may not quiiite make such good sense. One day in 7 makes sense. Be picky about which day in 7? You follow me? If we submit to God only when it is sensible and cannot obey when it is mysterious, we believe The Lie, that I am smarter than God.
And this lie, according to Christ, John chapter 8, started not on earth, but in heaven. John, chapter 8. This is the third text where this unique contrast of The Lie and The Truth happens. Jesus has said, “If you're sinning that makes you a slave of sin,” and the leadership says, “Heh heh. We’re not slaves, we’re children of Abraham. We've never been in bondage.” He says, “If you were Abraham's children you’d act like Abraham.” and they said, “Well we’re God's child.” and He says, “Well, why are you trying to kill Me? You don't act like God.” Verse 44. Jesus now indicts them. “You are of your father the devil. Your will is to do your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with” what? “The Truth. Because there is no truth in him.” And now our English Bibles do us a disservice. Very literally, it says, “When he speaks The Lie, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies.”
This lie, that the creature is more important than the Creator started in the courts of heaven. And the way he captures Eve makes it suggestive to me that there was some event that caused a dissonance where what Lucifer perceived and what God was telling him contradicted. Cause he puts Eve in the same situation, as we'll see. And when push came to shove, Lucifer decided to go with what made sense to him instead of what God said. Don't have time to develop that fully here, but if you come back to Genesis 3, right? Serpent is more subtle than all the creatures of the field, etc. etc., and what does he say to the woman? “Did God really say that all the trees are off-limits?” What's the obvious answer. “No.” What's he trying to do? He's trying to get her to ask the question herself, “I wonder why God made this one tree off limits?” And it works. “Oh,” she says, “God told us don't eat of this tree or touch,” a little addition. Or we what? And he immediately says, “Not going to die. God’s lying to you, Eve, because He knows, if you eat of this tree, you'll move from being under His thumb to being in a collegial relationship of co-deity. You'll become like God.” Boy! Let's look at the evidence. Snake’s touching the tree, and he's not dead. Of course, God never said don't touch, but you know, when you add a little something to God's word, it can set you up for a fall. Snake might be eating the tree. If you believe Sister White’s writings, he was eating the fruit. Which is how he appears to get the power of speech. So he's eaten the fruit, and he's not dead. And then verse 6, I think it is, she looks at the tree and it says the tree looked good for food. Pleasant to the eye and desirable to make one wise. All the empirical data is telling Eve that God is wrong. And Eve has to choose. And she believed The Lie and elevated creature above Creator. And sucks Adam into that lie with her.
Wouldn't we expect then, that if Christ were tempted in all points as we, that he would face the lie and have to defeat it. And I would suggest to you that we can see this very clearly in the temptation story. What happened right before the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, immediately? He was baptized. Did God say anything at the baptism? “This is My beloved Son.” Christ gets an audible affirmation of His identity. He now gets driven into the wilderness and we’re virtually six weeks later. He doesn't exactly look like the Son of God, and I doubt that He feels like Son of God. And this beautiful being shows up in front of Him, and what’s the very first thing he challenges? What God said six weeks ago. “If You are the Son of God. Look at You, Jesus. You look awful. Look at me, I'm so beautiful. Jesus, You must be the fallen angel. I'm the Son of God.” I would suggest that the whole sensory, empirical experience of Jesus was telling Him, “God is wrong. You better trust Yourself on this one.” Do you see the significance of His answer. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Man shall not live by his perceptions and judgment, but by the word of a wiser God. And He rejects that lie.
The ultimate deception, my friends, is not a deception over the day of worship. It's not a deception over tithe paying or some other doctrine. Those are all symptoms of a deeper deception that I serve God for what it will do for me, instead of, like Job, serving God, because it's the right thing to do. And in the time of trouble, when there is no good self benefit to serving God, and we suffer like the Thessalonians, those who serve God because it makes sense to them will be deceived and fall away. The challenge then is that we be humble enough to live with mystery. I may not understand all of God's revelation, but I trust the Giver of it. And I will hang in there, even when there is no apparent self interest in it. The modern-day church has been groomed the opposite way. Don't trust God, unless you can understand. And many are being groomed to believe The Lie and to trust themselves instead of their Maker. Let us exercise trust in Him now in the little areas, because that's what will forge the trust for the big areas. Let's trust and obey.
Let's sing our closing hymn, Trust and Obey.
Hymn of Praise: #272, Give Me The Bible Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 Hymn of Response: #590, Trust and Obey
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 3/13/09