Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent: The son of destruction

Opening Sentence
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

Collect of the Day: Third Sunday of Advent
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 63, 98

Lessons: Amos 9:11-15, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17, John 5:30-47

It is a term that appears only twice in the New Testament but has become one of several terms used by self-appointed "prophecy experts" to describe the ultimate end times villain. Synonymous with "the Antichrist," "the Beast," and "the man of lawlessness" is "the son of destruction" [or "perdition," depending on your translation]. Based on the actual textual evidence, however, only the latter term, "the man of lawlessness," is truly a synonym, for Paul uses the terms interchangeably in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The only other reference to "the son of destruction" is John 17:12, a very obvious reference to Judas Iscariot, the Lord's betrayer, during Jesus' high priestly prayer. Paul's reference seems much more obscure, leading many to create imaginative scenarios whereby an evil world dictator emerges and inflicts untold suffering on the world before finally being defeated by the returning Christ.

Kept in their proper context, however, both references to "the son of destruction" bear remarkable similarities. Jesus refers to Judas as "the son of destruction" in recognition of the fact that Judas will be the only one of the Twelve who is "lost" in order "that the Scripture might be fulfilled." He will commit an act of rebellion, betraying Jesus into the hands of his enemies, setting in motion a series of events which culminate, after a period of suffering, in the vindication of Jesus and the undoing of his enemies.

The scenario John lays out in his Gospel, with Judas in the role of "the son of destruction," is much the same as that laid out by Paul in 2 Thessalonians. Here, "the son of destruction," also called "the man of lawlessness" and "the lawless one," serves the same function as Judas. He commits an act of rebellion, setting in motion a series of events which culminate, after a period of suffering, in the vindication of "the Lord Jesus" who "will kill [the lawless one] with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming" (2:8).

In both instances, "the son of destruction" plays a pivotal role in setting in motion the classic biblical scenario of "the Day of the Lord," a decisive moment in which God acts in the midst of human history, making plain the choice between good and evil, blessing and curse, life and death. It is the scenario that was first played out in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve committed an act of rebellion and set in motion the catastrophic series of events which could ultimately find resolution only in the coming of God's Anointed One.

Both John and Paul were immersed in the apocalyptic worldview of first century Judaism. They were well acquainted with the numerous Old Testament references to "the Day of the Lord." They were very intentional in connecting the events surrounding Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection with that promised decisive act of God in the midst of human history. God was, indeed, making all things new, reconciling the world to himself in Christ. But this glorious act of new creation was not yet complete. Paul is very careful to remind the Thessalonians of the tenuous time in which they were living. Just as he had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and with Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, "the son of destruction" would raise his ugly head yet again. Whenever, wherever, and however that happens, though, the victorious Son of God and Son of Man will, as he did at Calvary, decisively crush him.

(JAG)

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus