Characters and Themes – The Man of Lawlessness Debated


In this post we will continue our discussion of the man of Lawlessness. The purpose of this post is to give a brief synopsis of the passage and then in following posts list the arguments for and against certain propositions. But first, let us consider the passage again.

2 Thes. 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, [2] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. [3] Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. [5] Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? [6] And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. [7] For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. [8] And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false


Now, because the gist of the argument is whether this passage discusses the literal, physical Second Coming or the coming in judgment against Israel, we won’t address this specific issue at this point because determining the reference will be decided on the context of the rest of the passage. In other words, if the rest of the passage shows a first century fulfillment then we must understand the “coming” in this instance as to be referring to the coming in judgment that we recognized in Matthew 24.

But also please note the immanence of the “coming” in Paul’s writing. Even though he warns them that it hasn’t happened yet he is assures them that they will know the events that will lead to this “coming.” He also uses the term “gathering together” in conjunction with the personal, possessive “our,” as to say “our gathering together.”


The term “gathering together” is used exactly three times in the New Testament. The Greek word is “episunagoge.” We first saw this word used in the Olivet Discourse and the on other New Testament usage is found in the book of Hebrews when we are told not to avoid the “gathering together” of believers. Again, we get the word for synagogue from this word and it denotes a bringing or coming together, not a lifting up or removal. In the Old Testament we find the same concept used when God states that He would bring the children of Israel together after being dispersed to other lands, or when they were called together to hear from th elders of from Jehovah.

This should not necessarily be seen as some Rapture passage as the other uses do not denote anything similar to that, but rather the “bringing together” for fellowship and communing with God or the spreading of the Gosepl to the elect throughout the known world as it states in Matthew 24. So, even though the usage is not determinative, it cannot be used to make the case for a Rapture at all.

We saw in the Olivet Discourse that Gathering Together referenced the spread of the Gospel and the call and proclamation of the Gospel to the four corners of Heaven.


Quite often this term is used by Dispensationalist to describe the Second Coming or rapture, when the Lord is revealed from heaven. But the usage of the term is almost exclusively used to describe the coming of God in the form of judgment. This can easily be understood as to refer to the Day of the Lord against Jerusalem. This term will be discussed in greater detail in future posts.


Why I separate these two similar headings above including the addition of the phrase “to come” is because the connotation that the Day of the Lord being a past event actually helps our understanding of the present tense nature of this passage and that the Day of the Lord and the Gathering Together can not be seen as the Resurrection. Here is what I mean. If the Thessalonians actually believed that the Day of the Lord or the Gathering Together referenced the Resurrection or Rapture, why would they write a letter to Paul asking him about it? Wouldn’t they have assumed Paul would have taken part in this resurrection? So, whatever the Day of the Lord or Gathering Together may mean to the Thessalonians it can by no means be related to the resurrection.

But, if on the other hand, they were receiving correspondence stating that the Day of the Lord (judgment against Jerusalem) or Gathering Together had already occurred and they had friends or relative in Judea at the time, that would cause great concern. Either way, if the Day of the Lord did refer to the Resurrection asking Paul would have been fruitless?

Just think about it!


The Greek word “apostasia” is used here. It can mean rebellion or falling away. Most modern translations have properly identified the proper usage as “rebellion.” This is not to be seen necessarily as a spiritual falling away, but rather a social or political rebellion. It is quite probable that Paul is making the argument that the Day of the Lord’s judgment against Judea will not happen until the rebellion of the zealots has already occurred. We know this began taking place some 15 years or so after the writing of this letter.


This point is also quite often overlooked. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that THEY KNEW who was restraining this soon to come Man of Lawlessness. Whoever or whatever was restraining the Man of Lawlessness, it is quite apparent that he was contemporary to the recipients of Paul’s letter. He reminded them they they were familiar with this character. He also states that the spirit of lawlessness was already at work. This shows the beginning actions of this lawless one, but Paul reminds them that they know who is restraining him and that they should be looking for when that person is taken out of the way before assuming the Day of the Lord was close at hand.

There is no reason, despite the continued arguments from Dispensationalist, that this restrainer is the Holy Spirit. There would be no secret needing to be kept from any reader as to the identity of the restrainer is it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit. He could, without hesitation, state that the restraining is the Holy Spirit. the need for secrecy may be related to a political or religious leader and direct mention in a letter could cause grave concern.


I add this portion not because it has any direct impact on the interpretation but because of the similarity of Paul’s usage and how Jesus uses similar language regarding the Jewish leaders of the day. You may recall reading where Jesus makes mention of using certain terms and techniques to hide the truth of the “religious” and so that only those with ears to hear would understand.

In the following post we will discuss the several different propositions in determining just who this Man of Lawlessness was or is.


2 Responses to “Characters and Themes – The Man of Lawlessness Debated”

  1. 1 Yehoshuamyking

    Hi David… Excellent post!

  1. 1 PP2: References « Dave's Bible Study Group: Minneapolis

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