Bible Q&A: Please Explain “the Man of Sin.”

What was Paul talking about in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 when he talked about not being deceived and the coming of the Lord not occurring until certain things had taken place, including the “man of sin” placing himself in the “temple of God”?

In Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica, he talked about Christ’s return (1 Th. 4:13-5:10).  Since that time, the Christians at Thessalonica had either misunderstood what he had said or had been influenced by false teaching.

Apparently some were teaching the Thessalonians that the Lord had already returned.  Paul wanted to correct this false teaching in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:1-2).

God inspired Paul to prophesy that the Lord’s second coming could not yet have 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” (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

“Apostasy” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:12) means “falling away.”  The definite article “the”  shows that Paul has in mind a definite rebellious movement rather than speaking generally about the principle of rebelliousness.

Paul then proceeds in the following verses to describe this specific falling away from the Christian faith, the ultimate result of which he subsequently calls “the man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction” (called by various translations as “the man of sin” and “the son of perdition.”)

First, at the time Paul wrote this in the first century AD, this sinister force was yet to be revealed (v. 3).  He did say that the early stages of this apostasy was “already at work” (v. 7) during his day.  The Greek term and the tense in which it is used suggests that during Paul’s day this movement currently was working itself towards a greater goal.  It was in its infancy during Paul’s day, already operative but not yet “revealed” due to being “restrained” by a force the Thessalonians personally observed (v. 6)

Thus during Paul’s day it had not yet evolved to the point where it could be definitively identified by the early Christians.  It would come at some point after Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians.

Paul designated this rebellious movement as “the man of sin/lawlessness” because sin was the dominant force behind it.  This character, referred to in the Greek in both neutral and masculine genders (vs. 6-7), was also called “the son of destruction/perdition” (v. 3) because its end would be destruction brought about by God Himself (v. 8).

Paul also calls this opponent of God “the lawless one” because this power has no regard for God’s laws (v. 8).

This “man of lawlessness” opposes God and exalts himself against all that is genuinely sacred (v. 4).  He acts like he is religious, but his true character shows that he is evil.  What he does is actually according to the working of Satan (v. 9).

In some sense, the “man of lawlessness” will “take his seat” in the temple of God (v. 4).  Paul never referred to the temple of God as the Jewish house of worship in Jerusalem; rather, he used the term to refer to the church as a whole (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21) or as the individual Christian’s body (1 Cor. 6:19).  Thus, Paul is implying that this unholy being would be viewed as a “church” character.

The language behind the expression takes his seat in the temple of God” describes the “man of sin” as attempting to receive worship from people.  Thus, it comes as no surprise that this “son of destruction…proclaims himself to be God” (v. 4).  The verb tense in the Greek behind the verb “proclaims himself” shows that this happens continually and thus is characteristic of the “man of lawlessness.”

Thus, this person represents himself as God by either making claims that belong only to deity, receiving adoration reserved exclusively for God, or by usurping prerogatives which only God can accomplish.  He is clearly a religious figure.

The “man of sin” also uses “false signs and wonders” (pseudo-miracles) to deceive those who refuse to love the truth (vs. 9-10).  Thus, to identify the “son of perdition” one must look for a post-apostolic movement that claims to prove its authenticity by working miracles.

The “man of sin,” though having roots in the world of first-century Christianity (v. 6), would nevertheless endure in some form or another until the second coming of Christ, at which time he will be destroyed by the Lord’s word of Judgment (v. 8).  Thus, the “man of sin” cannot be some persecuting enemy from biblical times that no longer exists today.  He is still around.

Based on this biblical evidence, it is most likely the “man of lawlessness” represents the papacy of the apostate church of Rome.  Consider:

  • The Roman Catholic system and its papal dynasty was the result of a gradual apostasy from the original faith of Christianity. Paul prophesied that the falling away from the faith would be characterized by doctrines which would prove to be linked to Roman Catholicism such as celibacy, abstinence from certain foods, etc. (1 Tim. 4:1-3).  Catholicism’s many corruptions of doctrine (sprinkling for baptism, infant baptism, mass, venerating Mary, etc.) were progressively implemented.
  • The apostasy which resulted in Catholicism was barely beginning in the first century, but it would not be fully revealed until centuries later.
  • Roman Catholicism has continually shown itself to be lawless with regard to the doctrine of God throughout its history. It is said of the pope that he “doeth whatsoever he listeth [wills], even things unlawful, and is more than God.”  One Catholic writer has shown that, according to Catholicism, “tradition,” i.e., the voice of the church, is superior to the Scriptures.  This is the essence of sin.
  • The papacy opposes God, as shown by claiming to be more than God.
  • The papacy “takes their seat in the temple of God,” i.e., the church. The pope claims that Christ is the head of the church in heaven, but the pope is the head of the church on earth, in direct contradiction of Scripture (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:18)
  • The papacy opposes God, as shown by claiming to be more than God.
  • The papacy “takes their seat in the temple of God,” i.e., the church. The pope claims that Christ is the head of the church in heaven, but the pope is the head of the church on earth, in direct contradiction of Scripture (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:18)
  • It is likely that the force that “restrained” the initial revelation of corrupt Catholicism was the Roman empire itself, something which the first-century Thessalonians would have observed as Paul said (v. 6).  History shows that when the Roman empire fell in 476 AD, great power was given to the leaders of the apostate church of that day.  That caused the power of the Catholic church to increase rapidly, causing it to become a political, governmental power (which it continues to be to this day.)
  • The Roman Catholic Church has existed for centuries by now and shows no sign of ceasing to exist in any way. Thus, it will surely still be around when Christ comes again.  On that day, the word of the Lord will judge it to be false and thus bring about its destruction, exactly as Paul prophesied (v. 8).

In closing, let us examine those described in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, those “who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Let that not ever describe you and me!!

It depends on how honest we are with ourselves when we study God’s Word and apply it to ourselves.  (Luke 8:15)

For more insight into this question, I recommend Wayne Jackson’s article in the Christian Courier.  It was invaluable to me in helping me research this question.

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