COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 2:10 “ . . . and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)
Here is one of the most sobering texts in all of Scripture. It pulls the mask from false religion, and reveals what it takes to save a soul. Much of contemporary religion stands in stark violation of the proclamation of these verses, with “the truth” having little to do with keeping the institutional wheels well oiled and productive. However the reality of this expression before us cannot be countermanded. It simply is not possible to live in violation of what it declares and be saved. No amount of human wisdom or seeming religious success can rid men of this proclamation. As with all revelations from heaven, these words are not intended to frighten us away from God, or lead us to the imagination that salvation is not possible for us. Rather, it is like a mighty heavenly trumpet blast, warning us of the manner of the Kingdom, and revealing how the “great salvation” of God is carried forward to its appointed culmination. The reigning Jesus and the ministering Holy Spirit ensure that all Divine requirements for us can be met. What we are required to have, the Lord will give. However, we must receive it – aggressively and with consistency. We are in an intensely active spiritual environment. It is one in which all individuals has no alternative but to serve a spirit superior to themselves. Either truth or delusion will be received, impacting upon the eternal destiny of the individual. The Lord leaves no doubt about the matter, clearing away the rubbish of human tradition and opinion. What we love will determine our destiny!
THOSE WHO DID NOT RECEIVE THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH
“ 10 . . . and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” This refers to the “man of sin,” or “lawless one,” NKJV whom the Lord will destroy with the magnificent glory of His coming. Whether a single global deceiver, those “many antichrists” of whom John spoke (1 John 2:18), or the “many false prophets” that “are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1), their tactic is the same: “unrighteous deception.” Other versions read, “deceivableness of unrighteousness,” KJV “deception of wickedness,” NASB and “every sort of evil that deceives.” NIV
UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION. Whatever lures people away from God, or diminishes the necessity of His salvation, is the essence of evil. On the one hand, such deception may come in the form of pleasure, fleshly indulgence, or a grasping spirit for the things of this world. On the other hand, and in the sense of our text, it comes as a religious substitute for Christ Jesus and what He comes to give. To the simple soul, such “unrighteous deception” does not appear to be of any real consequence. It may be eating a piece of fruit, like Eve (Gen 3:6), wanting to number Israel like David (1 Chron 21:1-2), or desiring to live under a system of Law like the Galatians (Gal 3:1). All deception is unrighteous, and all unrighteousness is deception. In fact, “deception” is anything that is not “the truth.”
THOSE WHO PERISH. Here is the arresting thing about our text. The great deceiver can only work among those who are perishing! He has no power over those who are living by faith (1 Pet 5:8-9). The NIV reads, “who are perishing.” That is, they are presently on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13). The wrath of God is abiding upon them (John 3:36), and they are already condemned (John 3:18). This does not speak only of people like the Samaritan woman who confronted Jesus at the well (John 4:18). It is not confined to people like Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord “cast seven demons” (Mark 16:9). Here the Spirit broadens our perspective of who is perishing. You will scarcely ever hear a reference to this passage in the average church. People who are perishing are generally considered to be those who have never made a formal confession of Jesus Christ, or been identified with a local church. Here, they are those who do not “love the truth.”
THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH. This love is something that is received: “received not . . . ” Some versions read “refused to love the truth.” NIV,NRSV This may leave the impression that we are commanded to “love the truth,” and those in question simply refused to do so. But that is not the intention of the expression at all. “The love of the truth” is something offered to men. Those in our text rejected the gift, or refused to accept it. Most versions emphasize this condition: “received not,” KJV “did not receive,” NKJV,NASB,NAU,WEBSTER,YLT “have not accepted,” NAB “would not accept.” NJB It takes obstinance and rebellion to not accept the love of the truth.
There is a certain drawing power in the Gospel of Christ: it sounds good. Jesus referred to this characteristic of the Gospel when He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Those who “know the joyful sound” (Psa 89:15), recognizing how good it is, will be given “the love of the truth.” All others are described as not receiving “the love of the truth.” Such have rejected the Gospel, stopping their ears to good news. They have refused to see themselves as sinners in the hands of an angry God. They see no real need for Christ, forgiveness, grace, or mercy. Thus God has withheld the “love of the truth” from them. That is why they have no appetite for the truth of the Gospel. That is why they demand brevity, humor, novelties, and powerless lectures. Those who receive “the love of the truth” have a certain intolerance for all misrepresentation of life. They care nothing for presentations that lull them into spiritual sleep, and anchor them to this evil world. The clear implication of this text is that deceivers lose their power over us when we love the truth. The “love of the truth” is liberating!
THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED. You will scarcely hear a reference to this fact: namely that “the love of the truth” is essential to salvation. Jesus declared the truth “makes” us free (John 8:32). He also said we are sanctified “through the truth” (John 17:17). Jesus teaches us according to “the truth” (Eph 4:21). Among other things, God implements our salvation through “the belief of the truth” (2 Thess 2:13). That there is no salvation apart from the truth is apparent. Yet, our text goes even further, associating salvation with “the love of the truth.” Where there is no appetite for the truth, salvation is not present! Where there is no preference for the truth, the person is perishing, profession notwithstanding. Where the heart can be satisfied with lesser things, the truth is not loved – and it is not loved because what God graciously offered was rejected. This is why people ignore the Scriptures. It is why they demand froth from the pulpit, and worldly wisdom from their leaders. This text will stab sleeping souls awake, showing them God will not tolerate one who does not love His truth.
GOD WILL SEND THEM STRONG DELUSION
“ 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” The people of God must wage relentless war against carnal views of God – views that so misrepresent Him that people are comfortable while they reject Him and His Son. God is loving, but not toward those who spurn Him, reject His love, and refuse to accept the love of the truth. He is not indifferent to such hardness of heart, as this text boldly proclaims.
FOR THIS REASON. Other versions read, “for this cause,” KJV “because of this,” YLT and “Therefore.” NAU There is a general notion among men that unbelief really has no penalty. Thus men delay coming to Christ, and put off living by faith, imagining that God is tolerant with their unbelief. But this is not the case at all. It is quite true, “that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom 2:4). But nowhere does the Spirit suggest that “the goodness of God” endures unbelief. See if you can find such a representation in Scripture. If you wonder how God reacts to those who reject His gift of “the love of the truth,” this text opens the matter to us. The rejection of this love moves God to do something! He is not indifferent about stubborn souls who hear good news, yet refuse to take it in. Keep in mind, this is not confined to people coming to Christ for the first time. It also applies to those who have come to Christ, yet allowed “an evil heart of unbelief” to enter into them, causing them to “depart from the living God” (Heb 3:12). This text should serve to awaken every lethargic soul.
GOD SENDS STRONG DELUSION. “God WILL send them strong delusion” – HE WILL! Other versions read, “God sends them a powerful delusion,” NIV and “God sends upon them a strong delusion.” NRSV This is not something God might do. It is something He WILL do. He will send a delusion like He did in the days of Ahab, whose death God determined. To that wicked man, God sent a “lying spirit” to persuade him to “go up and fall at Ramothgilead” (1 Kgs 22:20-22). It is the kind of delusion God sent Israel, causing their hearts to become fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes shut (Isa 6:9-10). God can even “deceive a prophet,” moving Him to destroy that prophet from among the people (Ezek 14:9). If it is true that “the deceived and the deceiver are His” (Job 12:16), then we should be not surprised that God is fully able to do this. In fact, our text boldly announces He WILL do this.
A “strong delusion” is one that cannot be resisted. No amount of human wisdom can decipher that it is a delusion. It is greater than the human intellect, and more powerful than the human will. It is the appointed means of overthrow, and ONLY receiving “the love of the truth” can save the individual from being deceived. If God sends men “strong delusion,” their is no natural force or ability that can stop the person from being deceived. And when does God do such a thing? It is when men do not receive “the love of the truth.” This is the reason why men eagerly embrace false doctrine, for Jesus said of His sheep, “a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:5). It is the “love of the truth” that serves to protect Jesus’ sheep.
It is not that God Himself brings the delusion, for He cannot lie (Tit 1:2). Rather, He employs His minister for evil, Satan, to deliver these delusions. Satan, of course, is eager to do this, and needs no exhortation to do His diabolical work. More precisely, God removes restraints from the devil, so He can do what his nature demands that he do. When this happens, men are utterly powerless to stop the devil. As surely as Job could not have healed his devil-induced boils by humanly-devised medication, so those to whom God sends “strong delusion” cannot overcome the delusion by human wisdom.
WHEN THE LIE WILL BE BELIEVED. The invincibility of the “strong delusion” sent to those who have no love or appetite for the truth is seen in these arresting words: “that they should believe the lie.” Other versions read, “so that they might believe what is false,” NASB “so that they will believe the lie,” NIV and “leading them to believe what is false.” NRSV From a practical viewpoint, the “strong delusion” actually forces those to whom it is sent to “believe the lie.” “The lie,” in this case, is an alternative to Jesus. It is an substitute for deliverance from “this present evil world” (Gal 1:4). It is the ONLY option for those not loving the truth.
Those subjected to the Gospel ought to be told these things, lest they presume upon the goodness of God, imagining their obstinance will have no effect upon Him. This perspective is also reflected in the following word to the Corinthians, who were attempting to eat at the Lord’s table and the devil’s table at the same time. “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He?” (1 Cor 10:22). Failing to receive the love of the truth provokes the Lord!
Finally, our text does not suggest that God desires men to believe a lie. It does teach us God will not allow us to determine what we believe if we reject His Gospel. Whatever you may think of “free will,” it is not able to overcome “strong delusion” sent by God.
THE PENALTY FOR NOT LOVING THE TRUTH
“ 12 . . . that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The gravity of the condition of not receiving the love of the truth now becomes even more apparent. Not only is strong delusion sent by God to the one refusing to receive the love of the truth, that delusion will result in such believing the lie. But that is not the end of the matter. Because the delusion had brought out the corruption in the ones receiving no love for the truth, they have become worthy of condemnation. God has a revealed attitude toward such people, and it is boldly announced in this text.
MAY BE CONDEMNED. Other versions read, “That they all might be damned,” KJV “in order that they all may be judged,” NASB “so that all will be condemned,” NIV The words “damned” and “condemned” strike fear into the hearts of sensitive men, and so they should. The word “judged” might appear less harsh, but it is not. It does not refer to the process of judging, but to its outcome: “judged.” The meaning of the word is, “delivered over for punishment.”
Among other things, this confirms God is not indifferent to the coldness of men. While we do not wish to set God before men as angry and looking for a reason to condemn (for that is not a proper representation of God), He must not be viewed as lovingly waiting until men who have heard His Gospel decide to turn from their wicked ways. Mark this well, God WILL condemn those who do not receive “the love of the truth.” Without elaborating on this reality, it does have startling repercussions when you consider the average church member.
It is inconceivable that a person without a dominating affection for the truth could go to heaven–where nothing but truth can be found. The Lord is a “God of truth” (Deut 32:4), Jesus is Himself “the truth” (John 14:6), the Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), and God’s Gospel is the “word of truth” (Eph 1:13). What would lead any soul to imagine they could dwell forever with the Lord, and yet have no love for the truth! Yet, this persuasion nearly dominates the churches of our land. God condemns those who do not love the truth! The only way to avoid that condemnation is to receive “the love of the truth.” What is more, it is not possible to fervently desire this love, yet experience the rejection of God.
DID NOT BELIEVE THE TRUTH. Notice, the Spirit has been speaking about loving the truth. Now He speaks of believing it. This strongly suggests truth cannot be believed if it is not loved. A love of the truth precedes the strong persuasion of its reality. God will now allow His truth to be believed by those who do not love it! Among other things, that means believing is not primarily an exercise of the intellect. As it is written, “with the heart man believes” (Rom 10:10). This, of course, puts the lie to the notion that men believe because they have been presented with confirming tangible evidence. The field of apologetics, however revered it may be, is the not soil from which believing springs forth.
When “the love of the truth” is received, it is satisfying to believe the truth. Put this to the test, and see if it is not true. When your heart delights in the truth, you will not balk at it, even when very hard things are declared. Thus, when Hezekiah was told of the Babylonian captivity that was appointed by God, he responded, “Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken” (2 Kgs 20:19). When Eli heard the difficult message God gave to Samuel – a message that announced the judgment of his own house – he replied, “It is the LORD: let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Sam 3:18). Of course, there are “exceeding great and precious promises” that are announced by the Gospel (2 Pet 1:4). Those who love the truth will find those promises easier to believe. They will not engage in endless arguments about whether or not they are for us. Instead, because they love the truth, they will believe it. Keep in mind, God does not promise salvation to those who do not love His truth!
PLEASURE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. Men’s failure to love and believe the truth is further delineated. Their rejection of “the love of the truth” is owing to their “pleasure in unrighteousness.” They actually prefer what Satan offers to what God has provided for them. They “have delighted in wickedness,” NIV which is the ONLY alternative to loving and believing the truth. By having “pleasure in unrighteousness,” the Spirit means they have approved of wrongdoing. UNLIKE Jesus, they have not “hated iniquity” (Heb 1:9; Psa 97:10). They do not see that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), or that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek 18:4,20). They are totally unaware that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa 7:11). The cloud of God’s wrath hovers over them, and they know it not.
How can such a dreadful condition exist? It is because they rejected “the love of the truth” so they could be saved. In response to their refusal, God dictated what they would believe, sending “strong delusion” to them so they WOULD believe a lie. A Sovereign God can deliver or deceive, save or condemn. The Gospel announces His preference.