The Apostle Paul only spent three weeks in Thessalonica. While there he made good use of his time proclaiming Christ — explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. His work was not without effect as the gospel came to the Thessalonians in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. That effect continued even after Paul and his companions were torn away from the city boarding a ship by night to avoid the jealous Jews. Those who remained became an example to all the believers.
We’re not told many details of Paul’s sabbath-to-sabbath teaching in Thessalonica, but his subsequent letters do hint at some of the things he made known as he proclaimed the gospel of God to them. For example, he says: “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:4). He taught the necessity of sanctified obedience: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thess 4:1). And, like a father who exhorts, he also cautioned them against idleness: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).
In one sense those topics likely don’t come as a surprise. Suffering, sanctification, and practical obedience all have an obvious and routine place in the Christian life. But there was something else Paul taught them in those three weeks that is, maybe, unexpected — the rise of the one called “the man of sin” and the “son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3-5). Within twenty-one days Paul jumped into waters that many teachers and preachers of the Bible may not touch in years of pastoral ministry.
For the Apostle this teaching wasn’t a fleeting interest to pique vain curiosity and wild speculation. As a doctrine it’s situated in the broader subject of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together with him” (2 Thess 2:1). This gospel truth is the blessed hope we eagerly wait for (1 Thess 1:10) and serves as one of the primary ways we encourage each other in this time of sorrow and tears (1 Thess 4:13-18). While that day will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2), it will not come “unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3). The great hope of the Christian life shines brightly behind this prophetic cloud.
About this figure the Puritan Thomas Manton said: “God by his providence permits him to be, and by the doctrine of the gospel discovers his impostures to all those who have no mind to be deceived.” While uncomfortable (maybe even laughable) to some, Charles Hodge was right to point toward a historic consensus when he wrote: “The common opinion, however, among Protestants is, that the prophecies concerning Antichrist have special reference to the papacy.” This was the conviction of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and down to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It continues in the confessional statement of many Presbyterians: “There is no other head of the Church, but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, the man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.6).
Whether you align with that consensus or not, like the Thessalonians we need to receive and remember this Apostolic teaching. It has been revealed for our protection and good. It's been given so that we, in the sanctification of our minds, can be discerning about the times and avoid being deceived by the deceptions of the one whose coming is through the activity of Satan. Great as his manifold pride and self-exaltation is, he will be brought to nothing by the appearance of the Lamb and those who stood beside him in unbelief and unrighteousness will be condemned.