(2 Thess. 2:9-12) A deluding influence?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false…” (2 Thess. 2:11). Why would God intentionally give these people a “deluding influence,” so that they wouldn’t believe in him?

RESPONSE: The key to understanding this verse is the context. God gave them a deluding influence, because “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (v.10). In other words, this “deluding influence” only works on those who have rejected the truth. In the following verse, it states that they were judged, because they “did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (v.12). In other words, the reason they believed this deluding influence was because they were evil and took pleasure in wickedness. Even Calvinist Robert Thomas states that the reason for their judgment is their willful rejection of the truth: “Their blindness will be self-imposed because of a prior refusal to ‘love the truth and so be saved.’ …The right choice could have brought them salvation and deliverance from the lawless one’s devices, but they elected not to receive God’s salvation.”[1] Likewise, Martin comments, “God does not cause their unbelief, but he does set the stage for them to demonstrate it and thus openly earn their own condemnation. Genuine believers will not be deceived in this way (vv. 13-14).”[2]

What is the “deluding influence” (v.11)? This certainly doesn’t refer to God working to deceive people from coming to Christ. Again, the context states that the “deluding influence” is the Antichrist (v.3) and his “signs and false wonders” (v.9). Martin writes, “The phrase (energeian planēs) indicates that God sends to those who have rejected the truth a ‘work of error.’ The phrase is reminiscent of the earlier comment that the coming of the lawless one will be according to an energeian tou satana, ‘work of Satan’ (v. 9). The lawless one as an agent of deception makes any further ‘delusion’ redundant.”[3] Consequently, if people believe that this demon possessed (v.9) and horribly wicked man is actually God incarnate (v.4), then they will have fallen prey to the “deluding influence.” Those who believe in Jesus will be impervious to this deceiver.

Why does the passage make God the active agent in deluding these people? Paul uses an active verb (“God will send upon them…”) because this is a form of divine judgment for rejecting the truth in the first place.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, “2 Thessalonians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 326-327.

[2] D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 247.

[3] D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 249.