SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANTICHRIST (from 2 Thessalonians 2)

I. CONTEXTUAL AND THEOLOGICAL INSIGHTS TO 2 THESS. 2:1-12

A. This passage is very difficult to interpret as the numerous theories throughout church history illustrate.

B. Biblical Background

1. As chapter 1 of 2 Thessalonians dealt with the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment of unbelievers, chapter 2:1-12 deals with the coming and judgment of the Anti-Christ. This is the most detailed description of this person in the NT. Paul does not use the Johannine term "Anti-Christ" (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7) but called him "the man of lawlessness" in 2 Thess. 2:3 and "the lawless one" in 2 Thess. 2:8.

2. The general background of this passage lies in the OT belief in a final confrontation between the people of God and the people of the evil one (cf. Psalm 2; 48:4-8; Ezekiel 38-39; Daniel 7; Zechariah 14). This conflict became personalized into individual leaders of both camps: God's Messiah and the Anti-Messiah (cf. Gen. 3:15; Daniel 7; Dan. 9:23-27).

3. The related passages in the NT are Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17; 21; 1 Thessalonians 4-5; 1 John 2; and Revelation 13.

4. Three time elements are involved in 2 Thess. 2:1-12.

a. current events

b. future events but preceding the Second Coming

c. future events concerning the Day of the Lord

C. It must be remembered that the whole subject of the return of Christ is presented in the Bible in a dialectical tension. On one hand, the imminent return of the Lord is balanced with several events which must happen first. One of these truths does not eliminate or contradict the other. Some examples of the predicted preliminary events would be:

1. the apostasy (cf. Matt. 24:1-13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1ff. and 2 Thess. 2:3ff)

2. the great tribulation (cf. Matt. 24:21-22, 29-31)

3. gospel preached to all nations (cf. Matt. 24:24)

4. revealing of Anti-Christ (cf. Matthew 24; 2 Thessalonians 2; and Revelation 13)

5. salvation of the full number of Gentiles and Jews (cf. Rom. 11:11-36)

 

II. NASB "the man of lawlessness is revealed"

 NKJV "the man of sin is revealed"

 NRSV "the lawless one is revealed"

 TEV "the Wicked One appears"

 NJB "the Rebel. . .has appeared"

There is a Greek manuscript problem in 2 Thess. 2:3. "lawlessness" is found in the Greek uncial manuscripts א, B, the Coptic and Armenean translations, and the Greek texts used by Origen and Marcion, according to Tertullian, while "sin" is found in manuscripts A, D, F, G. K, L, P, and the Vulgate and Syriac translations and was known by most early church fathers. "Lawlessness" (anomias) is rare in Paul's writings (cf. Rom. 4:7; 6:19; Titus 2:14) and scribes may have substituted the more familiar term "sin" (hamartias). The term "lawlessness" is also used in 2 Thess. 2:7 and 8. The UBS4 rates "lawlessness" as "almost certain" (B).

Satan is not intended as in 2 Thess. 2:9, but his yielded servant, his personal representative (a parody of Christ, cf. Rev. 13:1-8). Paul never used the term "anti-Christ," but 1 John 2:18; 4:3; and 2 John 7 (written after Paul's death) refer to the same person. In 1 John "sin" and "lawlessness" are equated (cf. 1 John 3:4).

It is possible that Paul's "man of lawlessness" is related to the Jewish apocalyptic personification of "the worthless one" (belial) into a false Messiah, a Satanically inspired world leader. The term may be used in this sense in

A. Deut. 13:13, one who leads others away from YHWH to false gods

B. 1 Sam. 2:12, one who does not know YHWH

C. Nahum 1:15, personified evil

D. Book of Jubilees 1:20, personified spirit

E. Ascension of Isaiah, 4:18

The verb is an aorist passive subjunctive. The passive voice implies an outside agent. God, not Satan, is in control of history. In God's time (2 Thess. 2:6) this parody of Christ, this human evil, this servant of Satan will be allowed to manifest himself in history (the term "reveal" was used for Christ's revelation in 2 Thess. 1:7).

The subjunctive mood does not imply that it may not occur, but confirms the ambiguous, but future, time of the revelation (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6,8).

Notice the phrases that describe this end-time person.

1. the man of lawlessness

2. the son of destruction

3. who opposes

4. who exalts himself

5. so that he takes his seat in the temple of God

6. displaying himself as God

This person not only opposes God, but tries to replace Him! The preposition "anti" originally meant "in the place of" and later came to mean "against." Both of these connotations fit this man of lawlessness. He wants power, control, and worship. The essence of the Fall, human and angelic independence, is personified (cf. Dan. 11:3,16,36).

In so many ways these descriptions characterize kings and potentates. A good example is Nero!

 

III. "so that he takes his seat in the temple of God"

This phrase in 2 Thess. 2:4 is often used by those who believe that all the eschatological events mentioned by Jesus (cf. Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 17,21) or John (cf. 1 John 2; Revelation) are future events. If so, this seems to imply a rebuilt Jewish Temple, possibly along the lines of Ezekiel 40-48 (premillennial).

Other interpreters believe that these revealed eschatological events were "soon" to take place and, therefore, must refer to historical events of the first century Mediterranean world (preterists, see John Bray, Matthew 24 Revisited).

A. Caligula putting a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem

B. the fall of Jerusalem to Titus in a.d. 70

C. Nero's and Domitian's reigns of terror and persecution of believers

Others of us see these eschatological events as referring to both past first-century events and future events. The OT prophets often took the events of their day and projected them into a future "Day of the Lord" setting. In this way the NT has a message to its own day and every succeeding period of history. We must take seriously the historical setting of the original author, but also the surprising 2000 year delay of the Second Coming.

This very specific and personal passage suggests a future personal historical fulfillment. Yet this text is also ambiguous. Notably this kind of language (i.e., "abomination of desolation," Daniel's name for this sacrilege) fits the Seleucid (Antiochus Epiphanes IV) and Roman (Titus) invasions of Jerusalem during which pagan gods were enthroned in the Temple area. This end-time figure also resembles the pride and arrogance of the kings of Babylon (Isaiah 14) and Tyre (Ezekiel 28), which possibly are types of Satanic apostasy.

This Greek term for "temple" (naos) was used for the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, though no seat was in it. The term was also employed for pagan temples where deities were enthroned. This may imply that the Jewish temple must be physically rebuilt (cf. Dan. 9:24-27), possibly following Ezekiel 40-48, but not necessarily. Remember the Jewish temple had no place to sit. It was only Greek temples (i.e., Zeus') which had a throne. If literal, this phrase could not refer to a Jewish place of worship.

Chrysostom interpreted "a temple" as a common Pauline metaphor for the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). This view sees the anti-Christ as manifesting himself in the visible church.

 

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