Characters and Themes – The Man of Lawlessness Introduced

18Apr11

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

This incredibly popular Rapture/Second Coming/Tribulation has been one passage fraught with more misunderstanding second only to the book of Revelation. This “Man of Lawlessness” is often merged with the images of the Antichrist, Beast and Prince. Is this character this mysterious Antichrist described here by Paul? How should we deal with this passage?

First let us take note of how several Dispensational theologians and commentators consider this passage in regards to it’s importance to their system.

  • “this section of verses contain truths found nowhere else in the Bible. It is key to understanding future events and it is central to this epistle.” Thomas Constable
  • “the key to the whole program of the Day of the Lord.” John Walvoord
  • “though but one passage is found bearing upon the restraining work of the Holy Spirit, the scope of the issues involved is such as to command the utmost consideration.” LS Chafer
  • Ryrie and Feinberg employ 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as one of the few passages used “to clinch the argument” for the rebuilding of the Temple

So, to the Dispensationalist, this is a vital passage in understanding the chain of events as depicted within the Dispensational model, including this needed rebuilt Temple. Like the difficulties found with the Daniel 9 passage, the Dispensationalist have once again chosen a difficult, obscure and linguistically troubled passage to be of major import and a lynch pin of sorts. But how do other notable theologians approach this passage?

  • Augustine wrote “I confess that I am entirely ignorant of what he means to say.”
  • Greek scholar Vincent omits interpreting the passage in his four volume lexical commentary: “I attempt no interpretation of this passage as a whole, which I do not understand.”
  • Renowned Greek linguist A. T. Robertson despairs because it is “in such vague form that we can hardly clear it up.”
  • Morris urges “care” in handling this “notoriously difficult passage.”
  • Bruce notes that “there are few New Testament passages which can boast such a variety of interpretations as this.”
  • Noted Dispensationalists, E. Schuyler admits that it is an “extremely puzzling passage of Scripture that has been a thorn in the flesh of many an expositor.”
  • Gary Demarest writes, “…one of the most difficult in all of Paul’s writings. It has given rise to more speculative and diverse interpretations…”

One of the clear difficulties with this passage is presented by below by PJ Cloag…

  • “there is an obscurity in the language” that “could not have been so great to those to whom the apostle wrote, for he had previously instructed his readers in the nature of the occurrence, but our ignorance of the instructions renders the passage to us enigmatical and difficult to understand”

What’s being said here is that we are given answer by Paul for a question that we do not know. It also refers to how the Thessalonians were previously given instruction on this subject, but we are not privy to that previous instruction which forces us into quite a bit of conjecture.

The language is enigmatic and obscure. there are references to characters we’ve never previously been introduced to. We also have words used that meaning can be drastically different as the result of the translations. One example of this translation issue is found in the term “apostasy,” “rebellion” or  “falling away.” Different translations use different ways to express the same Greek word which is “apostacia.”

Our natural, modern evangelical mind will drift to a decline in the Church and an apostasy of a religious nature. But a more common usage is that of a rebellion or revolt. This should be understood as an event or action that is more social and political in nature. This difficulty in translation has lead many to assume there is going to be this great apostasy in the Church before the Rapture or Second Coming. Again, the difficulty of this passage should keep the reader and student aware that any ideas should not be determinative exclusively from this passage.

Before proceeding headlong into a passage the greatest minds of the Church have struggled mightily with it would do us some good service to grasp the historical and contextual setting of this passage.

  • The letters to the Thessalonians were the first of Paul’s letters and is believed were written a few weeks apart.
  • You will note, as discussed above, that Paul appears to answer questions that we are not privy to as well as remarks regarding previous instructions on this subject that we do not have as well.
  • Paul had just spent roughly two years fleeing Jewish persecution. This becomes important as we discuss the “rebellion” and the person who could be labeled this “man of sin.” This will also help us to understand Paul’s very firm statements regarding the Jews and the Judaizers.
  • This is found in Acts 17
  • Note that there references and allusions to subject found in the Olivet Discourse. Terms like “gathered together,” “coming” and “destruction are present in both. There is also use of the term the “Day of the Lord.” There is also a description of an act that appears to allude to the “abomination of desolation.”
  • The reference to the temple does not “necessarily” dictate the need for a future Temple, but may be related to the temple standing at the time. Paul, speaking authoritatively in His canonized epistle, could have made mention of the coming destruction of the Temple (since this was clear in the Olivet Discourse) and that another Temple would follow…he doesn’t!

So, with this contextual and historical information in hand, the following post will address the potential interpretations of this difficult passage.

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