"God sends them a seducing power" (2 Thess 2:11-12).

Juan Luis Caballero-June 21, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes

The second Letter to the Thessalonians contains a statement that at first sight is puzzling, but which, in reality, appears throughout Scripture, expressed in various ways: "Therefore God sends them a seducing power, that they may believe a lie, so that all who have not believed the truth, but have indulged in unrighteousness, may be condemned" (2 Thess 2:11-12). To understand it we must contextualize it and be attentive to the grammar of the original Greek.

The Letters to the Thessalonians

One of the central themes of the two Letters to the Thessalonians is that of the Parousia or Second Coming of Jesus Christ -the day of the Lord-, who will come to judge and certify the condemnation or salvation of men (1 Thess 4:13 - 5:11; 2 Thess 2:1-12). 

Paul preached for the first time in Thessalonica quickly, and the letters serve to continue with the formation and to exhort and give relief in persecutions and doubts. In both letters it is insisted that we do not know when the Parousia will be and some basic references are given: the fact that some believers have already died, without the Lord having come, does not disprove Paul's preaching; the day of the Lord has not yet come, although some say it has, because a series of events have to happen beforehand, which are briefly mentioned.

The "little apocalypse" of 2 Thessalonians

Some scholars call the passage 2 Thess 2:1-12 "little apocalypse". In fact, the motifs and terminology used there are those proper to the apocalyptic genre (cf. 4 Esdras 13:10; Mt 24:1-51; Book of Revelation). And this must be taken into account in their interpretation: we must not look for correspondences in the realities of the symbols and images used; what is described as imminent must not be transposed to the distant future; prophetic announcements that will only be understandable after they have been realized must not be translated into historical terms. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is preceded by a thanksgiving that speaks of the perseverance of the Thessalonians in the midst of persecutions and tribulations; this is, Paul says, "a sign of the righteous judgment of God" (2 Thess 1:3-5), a reality on which he then dwells, speaking of the divine retribution that awaits those who have accepted the Gospel - the reward of rest - and those who have rejected it - punishment with eternal punishment (2 Thess 1:6-10). 

After a brief prayer asking for perseverance (2 Thess 1:11-12), Paul addresses the question of the coming of the Lord, not so much to say when or how it will be as to comfort those to whom it is addressed (2 Thess 2:1-12). He then exhorts again in perseverance in the faith (2 Thess 2:13-17). From what has been said up to this point and from what follows (2 Thess 3:1-18), we can say that at the heart of the letter is the preaching and acceptance of the Gospel preached by Paul, and the consequences of rejecting it with regard to salvation.

God's righteous judgment

The Pauline expression on which we will focus is found in this immediate context: "Then the wicked one [apokalyphthesetai ho anomos] will appear, whom the Lord will exterminate with the breath of his mouth (cf. Is 11:4; Rev 19:15; see Ps 33:6) and destroy with his majestic coming [with the manifestation (radiance) of his coming: te epiphaneia tes parousias autou] (cf. 1 Cor 15:24, 26). He, by the action of Satan, will come with all power [energeian], with false signs and wonders [kai semeiois kai terasin pseudous; cf. Rev 13:13-14], and with all kinds of deception [apate; cf. Col 2:8; Eph 4:22] evil [of unrighteousness: tes adikias; cf. 1Co 13:6; Rm 2:8], directed at those who are perishing, since they did not accept the love of the truth [tes aletheias] in order to be saved. Therefore God sends them a seducing power [a force of deception: "energeian planes"; cf. Dt 29:3; Is 6:9-10; 29:10; Mt 13:12-15; Rm 11:8], so that they may believe the lie [to pseudei], so that they may be condemned [judged: krithosin; cf. Rm 2:12] all those who did not believe the truth [te aletheia; cf. Gal 5:7], but had pleasure in unrighteousness [te adikia]" (2 Thess 2:8-12). 

The exposition of these verses is carried out according to a comparison or synkrisis: the manifestation of the wicked one versus the manifestation (= parousia) of Christ (cf. 2 Tim 1:10; 4:8); the wonders worked by the power of Satan versus the wonders worked by Christ; seduction and lies versus truth; injustice versus justice; rejecting versus believing; condemnation versus salvation. 

The text is presented not as a threat to believers, but as a consolation, making them consider the fate of those who have voluntarily rejected the Gospel. It is also, therefore, an exhortation to perseverance. The tense of the verbs situates the reference to "those who are perishing" from what has already happened (it is seen from the end): that is, "those who are perishing" are those who throughout their lives have stubbornly closed themselves to the Gospel. In doing so, they have become easy prey to the power of deception that has led them away from God (Rom 1:18-32). 

God does not want neither misunderstanding nor seduction by lies. Nevertheless, he foresees it and makes it serve his designs: he manifests the sin of the heart and precipitates judgment (cf. Ex 4:21: the case of Pharaoh). This is the divine disposition: God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), but he cannot save those who voluntarily reject him. 

God takes man's freedom seriously, which does not mean that he is not lord of history or that he does not give us the help we need. Seduction does not come from God, but from Satan (cf. 2 Cor 4:4), but the unjust are guilty of this seduction because of their decisions. The way of salvation is openness to God, listening to the Gospel, acceptance of the truth, faith (cf. Mk 16:16).

The authorJuan Luis Caballero

Professor of New Testament, University of Navarra.

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