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Second Thessalonians

Man of Sin

2 Thessalonians 2

Lesson AudioA significant portion of the modern evangelical Christian’s doctrine has been invented in the last two hundred years. One of the distinguishing points of that viewpoint is its view of Revelation. Until John Darby’s time, the interpretation of this passage, though disputed (see Chrysostom below), was generally quite different than it is today. These differences will be pointed out as they occur. But first, the Scripture.

Signs Repeated

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?

(2Th 2:1-5 NASB)

Problem: false teaching

It comes as a surprise to most Christians to learn that the Scripture clearly teaches that false teachers and false prophets will arise. Indeed, we see here that it happens as early in the church as when the Apostles themselves yet lived. In this instance it appears that someone is teaching that the Day of the Lord has already happened – something which will have enormous consequences when it does arrive, and very troubling to think that you have missed it.

Paul reaffirms that the Day of the Lord – his return – is indeed a sound belief. It will come, and when it does the Christians will rise from the dead to meet their Lord. Evidently someone had a fake letter from Paul (this stuff still happens today, folks) to which someone added his own revelation. Paul makes it clear that the doctrine given should not change.

But note the way he phrases it: “Let no one … deceive you.” You cannot cheat an honest man, said St. Barnum. We let people deceive us – often because we are too lazy to search the Scriptures ourselves. We shall see how this comes.

Step 1 – the Apostasy

Apostasy means an abandonment, a desertion, a departure from the faith. We need to realize that apostasy is real, disguised (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and a great reason to study the Scriptures ourselves. But notice that it precedes the revelation of the man of sin. In short, the system of apostasy comes first, then the Man of Sin (usually identified as the Antichrist, and often as “the beast”).

That’s the first thing. But see this: this apostasy does not go off and found its own new religion. No; this apostasy takes place within the church itself, in the Temple of God.

You think not? Hear what Paul had to say about it in another area:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

(2Ti 4:3-4 NASB)

Folks, many will welcome this. By some accounts, many already have.

Step 2 – the Man of Sin

Also translated the “Man of Lawlessness”, this implies that the Man of Sin will be in our midst and then be revealed – God will make it plain who he is. The Scripture also calls him the Son of Destruction; in the original, “destruction” is also used to describe Satan as he is bound in the Abyss. The phrase means one who had a purpose, for which he is now not suited. Satan was a cherubim of light; he can no longer serve that purpose. So it will be with this man.

How are we to know this man when we see him?

  • He will oppose all other “gods” and things worthy of worship. In other words, he will claim that his system is the only one true system – all others must be false and leading to hell.
  • He will exalt himself over all others in the world. He will claim complete supremacy.
  • He will seat himself in the very throne of God – the word used hear for “seat” comes from the same Greek word which is the source of our word, “cathedral.” He sits; therefore he is the highest. He will assert his supremacy over all men.
  • He will “display himself” (the phrase could be translated “show off”) as if he were God.

You would think such a man would be unmistakable. But because this man will be seen as in the church, it will take diligence to discern him. However, we have a few clues.

The Man of Sin

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

(2Th 2:6-12 NASB)

Restraint

For the first 1800 years of the church, there was some argument – but little doubt – over the central mystery of this passage. Just what does Paul mean by “what restrains him now”? With the rise of premillennialism, however, the matter is now disputed. We shall take the modern view first.

The modern view is that the restraint is the Holy Spirit. Since we know that we are raptured at verse 1, chapter 4 of Revelation, the revealing of the man of sin (the beast, generally) comes after the church is gone from the earth. No church, no temple of the Holy Spirit.

The ancient Christians rejected this view directly; nothing could remove the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is from God. Rather, they said, it could be the grace (charisma) of the Spirit that is removed. The word for grace is also the word for gifts, so this would imply only the miraculous gifts would be removed.

The ancient church rejected this. Their argument was simply this: if Paul meant the Holy Spirit, he would have said so. There was no reason for him not to have said so – but excellent reason for him to be so mysterious about the other option.

That option is that the restraint is none other than the Roman Empire. From the pragmatic Chrysostom to the philosophical Augustine, the early church interpreted this to mean that the Roman Empire had to fall before the man of sin would be revealed. Their reasoning was simple: God had appointed the Roman Empire to be the birthplace of Christianity. Its laws and form were conducive to the spread of the Gospel. Its rulers were seen as magistrates wielding the sword of God. Its demise would be seen as a shattering blow against civilization – and the spread of the Gospel.

As we shall see, this dovetails very nicely with the Reformation view that the man of sin is none other than the Pope. There are various theories on this, especially depending upon your view of the date of the fall. The western empire fell in 473, if memory serves correctly. The last vestige of the entire empire was Constantinople, which fell in 1453. The first coincides nicely with the coming of the papacy; the second with the Reformation.

Step by Step

We see here what will happen concerning the Man of Sin:

  • He will be revealed when the restraint is removed. If this is the papacy, its great rise to power happened after the fall of the Roman Empire – but its forms were clearly visible before that. In retrospect we could see this, but at the time no one seemed to – until the fall of Rome, when the church took on much of the power and authority of the old Roman Empire.
  • He will be slain – by the breath (the word can also be translated spirit) of Christ’s mouth. Reformation scholars took this to mean that the Bible – containing the words of Christ’s mouth, his “breath” in either sense – slays the papacy by showing the world what the pope really is.
  • But his ultimate demise (his end) comes only at the appearance of Christ – and please note, this has not yet happened.
In the meanwhile, signs and wonders

There is a disturbing point here. So many of us have been through the thought that , “If only I could see one genuine miracle, my faith would be so strong.” No, your faith would cease to be faith, it would be sight. And Satan knows this as well. So he produces the counterfeit miracles in his own style – they look good, but lead away from Christ.

You might ask how this could be. We are told that God will send them a delusion – which will separate the true Christians from the false. Those who really love evil will see in this delusion the easy way to heaven. Those who really love Christ will see it as it is: fraud. God provides this delusion to separate the sheep from the goats.

Resistance

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

(2Th 2:13-17 NASB)

So what are we going to do about this? Let’s start by remembering who we are:

  • We are the chosen of God. He picked us; we didn’t pick ourselves. Therefore, we are those who are loved by God, just as an adopted baby would be loved.
  • We are those who are chosen for salvation.
    • How? By sanctification of the Spirit, not our own works.
    • How? By faith in the truth – our trust in His words.
    • How? By the preaching of the gospel.

This, then, is what apostasy throws away. See the stakes in this deception.

Remember our purpose: we are to be like Him. In this life, the imitation of Christ. In the life to come, joint heirs of the kingdom. We are like him now; we shall be like him then.

So – what are we supposed to do?

  • Stand firm. Don’t run from speaker to speaker, seeking the brilliant one who will explain all. Rather, search the Scriptures diligently, for in them you find life.
  • Hold to the traditions of the faith. The faith of your fathers is strong; it is even stronger when you make it your own.
  • In all trial, pray for comfort, hope and strength.

Tradition? It is the vote of those Christians who don’t happen to be walking the planet. It is a tower of strength when fortified with the Word of God.

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