Some of the deepest questions we have about the mysteries of life, reality, and the destinies of men are answered in Scripture in just a few simple words. That is the power of God’s Word, that it can take the most profound mysteries and make them plain to us. One of these great mysteries is why the lost are lost. One verse in Scripture is all it takes to answer this deep question–but it might not be the verse nor the answer you expect.
If we ask the deep question, “Why do the lost perish?” we have this simply stated, two-part answer from a single verse in Scripture:
(1) “Evil . . . deceives those who are perishing,” and (2) “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Ths. 2:10 NIV).
First, we are told that evil deceives those who are perishing. Just how does evil do this, that is, deceive people? Perhaps the best-known example of how this is done is found in the familiar story of Eve being deceived in the Garden of Eden. How was she deceived? By appearances. In her heart and mind, she knew that to partake of the forbidden fruit would be to disobey God, but what her eyes saw overpowered and overruled what her heart and mind knew. This is the basic power of magic.
Magic tricks are aptly named, for they work by tricking our eyes into seeing and believing something that our mind tells us cannot be. A person cannot be sawn in half one moment and then magically appear moments later whole and unharmed. We know that. Yet we saw it happen with our own eyes.
But, of course, we did not see that happen; we only saw what appeared to be someone be sawn in two. But what we saw was an illusion, not real, not the truth. It was a deception. This can be entertaining when no one is actually harmed. When it involves a real soul being deceived unto real death for eternity, however, it ceases being a novelty and is no longer harmless entertainment but a matter of life and death.
It is of utmost importance and seriousness, therefore, that we do not let ourselves be deceived by appearances, as happened with Eve. She saw “that the (forbidden) fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye . . . took some and ate it” (Gen. 3:6 NIV).
It is no coincidence that many magic tricks are performed in dark places, for darkness helps hide the deception that our eyes might otherwise detect.
“You make darkness, and it is night, in which all the animals of the forest prowl. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away, and lay down in their dens” (Ps. 104:20-22 WEB).
When Judas went out to betray Jesus, “it was night” (Jn. 13:30).
The works of darkness, including and especially that of deception, prefer that darkness so that they can do their evil deeds without detection. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Cor. 4:4 RSV).
Paradoxically, blind minds often have open eyes of a sort. When the serpent deceived Eve, he told her a truth about the fruit when he said, “God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5 WEB). And indeed, after Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened” (v. 7).
But what they then saw with their eyes was not what they had expected to see. They had expected, in accord with the serpent’s words, that they would “be like God.” What they apparently did not realize was that they already were like God, having been made in his image. The way to be more like God certainly does not lie in disobeying him but in obeying him. By their disobedience, then, they became not more like God but less. They had it all backward. That is deception, making what is evil appear to be good.
This problem and danger has plagued the world and the church from the beginning. Ages after Adam and Eve, the church in Laodicea thought that by their deeds (Rev. 3:15) they were rich in God (Rev. 3:17). But they also were deceived to the true nature of their lives, for Jesus rebuked them through his servant John, counseling them to receive from him “eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see” (Rev. 3:18 WEB).
The problem has not changed over all this time, even down to this day. Deception is still the main power by which evil attempts to destroy human beings. “Evil deceives those who are perishing” (2 Ths. 2:10 NIV).
But notice that if this is so, that evil deceives those who are perishing, and that some are nevertheless being saved, then it must be possible not to be deceived. Satan, the great deceiver, would like to have all human beings perish by means of his deception or any other means. But God “desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 WEB). So we have these two powerful forces seeking the souls of men, one to destroy them and one to save them. But though it seems at times that the power of evil is winning and too strong to be denied, in truth there is no contest at all, for God is all-powerful and in the midst of the loss of many souls to deception, he preserves some from its dark power.
When Elijah was despondent and thought that no one was left but himself in following God, God revealed to him that he still had reserved and preserved seven thousand for himself (1 Kgs. 19:18). One way God does this is by enabling us to recognize deception by our union with Jesus Christ. Then what Scripture says of us in Christ becomes true for us, that “no advantage may be gained over us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11 WEB).
So, evil seeks to destroy all through deception, but for some this does not happen and, in fact, is not even possible. “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect–if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mk. 13:22,23 NIV).
We have been told ahead of time, therefore we are not unaware of Satan’s schemes and deceptions. We are not, but many are unaware of Satan’s deceptions and therefore fall into them. Why this is so is revealed in the second part of the foundational verse of 2 Thess. 2:10: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
Free will plays a crucial part in anyone’s perishing through deception. They refused. . . . It isn’t that they didn’t know the truth but that they did not love the truth. Knowledge of truth alone will not save a person from deception, as Eve so sadly found out. In fact, it was a desire for knowledge that was forbidden to her that proved her downfall. Eve discovered in an experiential way that what one loves determines what one will do with what one knows.
To illustrate this in yet another way, suppose you learn some unsavory facts about another person. What will your reaction be to your obtaining this knowledge? It all depends on your heart and your relationship with this other person. If that other person is someone you love, you will keep what you know to yourself, because you do not wish to embarrass or harm this other person. Your love for that person determines what you will do with what you know, for “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Ptr. 4:8 WEB). Of course, we should have this attitude anyway, even for our enemies; for we are told by God to love even our enemies.
Is this not what our God has done for us, we who were full of sin and evil, and therefore enemies of God? But in Christ, God does not hold this against us, for he loves us and love covers a multitude of sins. That is what love does.
But what if there is no love regarding something? What then? Well, if the one without love is a sinful human being, and that towards which that sinful human being has no love is the truth, then that sinful human being will perish. Why? Because there is only one way to be saved, through the love of the truth. That is how the Second Thessalonians verse ends: “They perish because they refused (free will) to love the truth and so be saved.”
Jesus is the truth and therefore the only way to be saved (Jn. 14:6). If a person will not love Jesus, the truth, then that person will not be saved. That is the truth that this verse in Thessalonians tells us. Love for the truth saves us.
But the following two verses shift the emphasis from love for the truth to believing the truth.
“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” (vs. 11,12 NIV).
Notice how verse 12 ties the two together, believing the truth and loving the truth: “. . . those who have not believed the truth but have delighted in (loved) wickedness.” They do not believe because what one loves in the heart determines what one will believe. And they delight in, love, wickedness. One who loves wickedness will not come to the light of the truth, Jesus, because truth’s light exposes the things hidden in the darkness of the human heart.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light” (Jn. 3:19-21 NIV).
In between these two verses in Thessalonians, verses 10 and 12, lies a possibly puzzling verse for some, verse 11, which says, “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.”
It might seem strange to some that God would send a delusion. Is he not truth itself? There is an incident in the Old Testament that sheds some light on this. In a heavenly council session, God asks spirit beings how he can get an evil king to act to his own undoing, and he allows the response to be recorded in his Word:
“I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you” (1 Kgs. 22:19-23 NIV).
In proceeding in this manner, God cannot be charged with any wrong. “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death. Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers” (James 1:13-16 WEB).
The evil king Ahab had already molded his life in such a way, by his choices of free will and what his heart loved, so that he desired the lie instead of truth. All God did was give him what his heart desired and what he had freely chosen. In this, he is not alone. Others who have no love for the truth but prefer a fantasy and a lie instead have been condemned to perish for this perverse preference:
“Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Is. 30:8-11 NIV).
This is the same situation as described in our Thessalonians verse. Because the people actually want to be deceived, God gives them what they want, a delusion, so that they will believe the lie instead of the truth. They are condemned not because God is evil but because they are. They have chosen the lie, so God gives them what they want. They then perish by their own hand. They have preferred the lie, which is the enemy of truth.
“Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever” (Jer. 17:4 NIV).
Free will, love, faith, truth, deception–all this is found hidden, and also revealed, in these powerful few verses from Thessalonians. I found much to reflect upon there and pray that all who read this will read that book of the Bible again for themselves and ask the Holy Spirit to open their eyes and hearts to benefit from his words there, and to see and believe and love the truth who is Jesus.