II Thessalonians: Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO

THE MAN OF SIN

2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him;
2 to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand;
3 let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,
4 he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season.
7 For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.
8 And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming;
9 even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10 and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie:
12 that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
14 whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours.
16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

The day of the Lord cannot come except something come first, said Paul to the Thessalonians; but the coming of Christ to receive His own to Himself is an unheralded event. For that they must simply wait; for that they were to look and hope from day to day; which was precisely what they did. When some of their number died they were distressed, fearing that the departed ones would miss the glorious event of the Lord’s return. There could be no better evidence of their fervent, hopeful, day-by-day expectation of Christ’s coming. Their whole life was lived with reference to that. That attitude was not only not discouraged by the apostle, but it was fostered and inculcated by his teaching. That was the right outlook for Christians then, and is still so. It had a profound effect on their daily lives, their work, their zeal, their testimony. It filled them with hope and joy; it made them hold the world cheap, and its pleasures contemptible. It made them patient, forbearing, loving, [42] willing to suffer and endure, diligent in their service. For their Lord who had all power, who loved them as His very own, was coming–at what hour they knew not. So it behooved them to look for Him and to wait–serving while waiting, waiting while serving. And though the Lord did not come in their day, they lost nothing whatever, but gained much by having so expected Him. “But,” said one, “they were fooled, weren’t they?” In what way? Had the Lord deceived them? Were they disappointed? Did they lose anything? Shortly they fell asleep and passed into a happy rest in Jesus’ presence (Phil. 1:23) where, with Him, they are still awaiting that “crowning day.” People are never “fooled” when they follow Christ’s teaching. But those who did not look for Him–who for some fancied reason thought He would probably not come for a long time (“My Lord delayeth his coming,” Luke 12:45)–they were the ones that risked and lost the blessing of that promise.

Never did the apostle say, “you need not look for His coming till this or that happens.” No delays were indicated, even in those earlier days, nothing that would remove the Lord’s return beyond their natural life-time, or very many years of that. His coming “in glory,” when with His saints He comes to judge and to execute judgments on the world is another matter, for that belongs to the Day of the Lord and that is heralded by signs; but that stage of His coming which is described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 comes unannounced, even “when ye think not.”

The Day of the Lord, the day of vengeance and of wrath (from which Christ’s people are delivered, 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9, 10) is preceded by certain signs and world conditions. In 2 Thess. 2 the inspired apostle lays down a certain program, an order of events and circumstances, leading up to (and into) the Day of the Lord. Let us follow these items.

1. The “falling away must come first.” The Greek word is literally “the apostasy.” There have been errors and departures from earliest times, even some local and limited examples of apostasy. For “apostasy” is something more than mere error in doctrine: it is a renunciation of the truth, a complete abandonment of the faith, a moving off the foundation, a sweeping denial of Christ, of the Cross, of the Blood, of the Resurrection, of sin and judgment and retribution–in short of the entire gospel and of all God’s revealed word. And that not by ignorant heathendom (for one cannot “fall away” from something he has never had) nor on part of the great heedless, sinful world; but rather on part of those who have had the truth, and once professed to believe it. In that he says “the falling away,” he means not a small defection here or there, but the great, general, final falling away. That then must come first.

2. An evil power working in secret. This “falling away” is only the breaking out into the open of a secret evil force–a hidden principle of evil and rebellion against God, that worked in Paul’s time [43] already, and has been working progressively ever since. “For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.” This secret force, like a subterranean fire, has sought for a vent through all the years and centuries of the Christian era, pressing for opportunity of manifestation. Why has it not burst forth yet?

3. A Restraint, and a Restrainer. “Ye know that which restraineth,” says the apostle; and–“there is one that restraineth now.” Something holds back that evil force which is working beneath the surface of things; and not only something, but someone is restraining it. What is that something? The Thessalonians knew; we don’t. Who is that restrained? We are not told. And that opens the gate for human surmise. We will not waste time speculating. Sufficient to see that the restraining power is greater than the force of evil, for it holds it in check; and manifestly could continue to do so for ever if such were God’s purpose. And whoever that “one that restraineth” is, he has had such power through all these centuries to restrain the power of evil–and still has it, and will continue to exercise it “until he is taken out of the way.”1

4. The Man of Sin Revealed. When the lid blows off, the “mystery of lawlessness” comes forth into the open. It finds its embodiment, its manifestation, in a person, who is here called “the man of sin” (because in him the principle of sin reaches its full expression). He is “revealed” and steps upon the scene just at the right time–“in his own season.” He is called “the son of perdition,” and “the lawless one.” A number of things are said of him.

(a) He opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped.

(b) He “sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.”

(c) His “coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all the deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish.”

Truly an awe-inspiring being is this, the great final champion of evil, Satan’s man, in and through whom Satan will fully and perfectly manifest his power and character–just as Jesus was God’s Man who perfectly manifested the character of His Father.

Martin Luther in his hot conflict with the Roman Catholic machine may be excused for seeing in this the picture of the Pope; but there are not a few today who still hold that inadequate interpretation. There is enough other ground on which to condemn the evil of the Roman system, and the falseness of the pope’s claim [44] and pretension. But why labor to prove that the pope is the “man of sin” of 2 Thess. 2? The pope does not exalt himself above all that is called God and is worshipped. His very claim that he is the representative, the “Vicar of Christ,” forbids that, and compels him to exalt the One whom he professes to represent. Moreover the pope himself is a worshipper–yea, even has his “father confessor” to whom he makes confession as do all Catholics. Furthermore he does not “sit in the temple of God”–unless we admit that the Roman Church, or “Saint Peter’s” at Rome, is the temple of God–which our friends would hardly concede. A bad argument spoils a good cause. No, the “man of sin” is not the pope. He is a man, an individual–not a successive line of officials, but a single, definite human being. Who then is he? Is he the “Antichrist”? This term is used by John only, and by him only in his epistles. However it was commonly current among the first Christians, as denoting that last great evildoer. (“Ye have heard that Antichrist cometh,” 1 John 2:18.) “Antichrist” may mean either of two things: (1) anti-Christ, one opposed to Christ; (2) “in the sense of the Greek preposition “anti”–a substitute for–that is, a counterfeit Christ. Both these meanings would apply to the “man of sin.” In Old Testament prophecy, specifically in Daniel, we find the prediction of a world-ruler of the end-time, the “little horn” of Dan. 7 and Dan. 8, the wilful king of Dan. 11:36f, who is the perfect embodiment of wickedness. The description of this man tallies with that of 2 Thess., and also with that of the “Beast” of Rev. 13 and 17 so perfectly as to indicate identity of all these with the “Man of sin.”

MORE CONCERNING THE “MAN OF SIN”

The apostle has mapped out the developments that lead up to that “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Here is the order of things as Paul presents them:

1. There is a “mystery of iniquity,” already active in the apostle’s day–a secret principle of evil working under cover, progressively, ever seeking to break forth into manifestation, but held back by God’s restraint until the proper time arrives.

2. The “falling away,” the great “apostasy,” follows next.

3. Then the Man of Sin is revealed, “in his own season,” i. e. at the time predetermined. He makes his entry “according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish . . .”

4. After his brief, but terrible sway the Lord Jesus slays him with the breath of His mouth, and brings him to nought by the manifestation of His coming (literally by “the outshining of his presence.”)

Let us take up these items more particularly; but let us be assured that we are not studying cunningly devised fables, nor pursuing profitless speculations. Paul by the Holy Spirit had told the [45] new converts of Thessalonica about these things at his first short visit already (“when I was yet with you I told you these things,” 2 Thess. 2:5), and now he writes of it again and more fully. Surely there was great reason for giving them this teaching. We are not dealing here with vain and superfluous matters, but with truth, important to every church and every Christian.

Taking up the items in order, let us note–

1. The “Mystery of Iniquity” (or “of Lawlessness“). This is an evil force or principle, working secretly, in the realm of religion, threatening the faith of the church. It was working already in Paul’s day; and like a subterranean fire has sought opportunity to break forth at various times and in various places. But by Divine restraint it has been held back until the proper time for its full breaking forth.

2. The Great “Falling Away.” This will be the first, immediate result, when the Mystery of Iniquity is released. False doctrines of various sorts, heresies and sects and defections have marked the course of Christianity all along its path through the centuries past. But this is something radically different. Here we have not false teaching assailing the church, nor corruption merely in doctrine and practice, but the general “falling away” (Greek “apostasy”) of the professing body of Christendom. The word “signifies the movement of a person or a body from a position which he (or it) at one time occupied.” This is not a movement directed against the professing church, but a movement of the professing church, from off the foundation of the faith. Today we are witnessing a strong current in that direction.

3. The Man of Sin Revealed. Evidently the “falling away” prepares the way for the rise of this “Man of Sin.” The confusion and darkness and lawlessness which follows the general abandonment of the truth of God is his opportunity, and the sign for his appearance. The restraint which up to this time prevented his appearing is removed. The Man of Sin is not by any means a strange and disconnected phenomenon–he is in a sense the product of his times. Thus comes forth the Lawless One, the Son of Perdition, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders . . .” The devil’s mimicry of God’s Christ is seen in the very words that describe his appearing: like Christ he has a “coming” (Greek “parousia”–the word most often used of the Lord’s second coming); and he has an “apokalupsis,” (revelation”) for he is “revealed” in his own season. Like Christ he also comes with “all power”–Satanic power; and with signs and wonders–“lying wonders,” by which is not meant bogus miracles, nor (as the New Revision has it) “pretended miracles”--but real wonders and signs, done by Satan’s power, to authenticate his lies. (See the reality of these miracles affirmed in Matt. 24:24 and Rev. 13:13, 14.) To the dwellers on the earth this will be absolutely convincing; and especially so because it will be in line with their sinful desires. It [46] comes with “all the deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish.” Sin has ever been the most deceitful of all things (Heb. 3:13) and Satan from of old has been “the deceiver of the whole world.” (Rev. 12:9.) Here we may see him in his master-effort. (Compare Rev. 13:1-18.)

If it be asked why God would permit such an all-overwhelming delusion to come on the world–that also is answered. It is sent as a retributive judgment upon them that perish: “because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess 2:10-12.) That is a law of God’s dealing which works uniformly and everywhere. The rejection of light and truth results in darkness; and not merely negative darkness, but positive error and delusion. We may observe today that men who turn away their ears from the truth are turned unto fables. So has it ever been, and so will it be in fullest final measure when that Man of Sin comes upon the scene.

4. The end of the Lawless One will not come by the agency of man: the Lord Himself will personally execute sentence upon him. Like the “little horn” of Dan. 7 and 8; the “wilful king” (of Dan. 11:36f); and the “Beast,” and the “False Prophet” (Rev. 13 and 19:19, 20) this representative man of wickedness, is met by the Lord in Person, who shall slay him with “the breath of his mouth,” and bring him to nought “by the manifestation of his coming.” (2 Thess. 2:8; Isa. 11:4.)

* * *

From this appalling picture the apostle now turns to reassure and comfort the Christians to whom he is writing. For he would not have them think that they are in line for such things (1 Thess. 5:9, 10).

“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“The world will fall victim to Satan’s delusion because they “believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:12.) But the brethren at Thessalonica had believed the truth. The call of the gospel came to them through Paul’s preaching, they responded to it in faith and obedience. Whatever the eternal choice of God behind that, it did not interfere with the free agency of those who received, nor did it absolve from responsibility those who rejected. (God’s foreordination is like that, though we may never be able to explain it to ourselves.) The simple fact was that these were Christians, children of God; which was due, on God’s side, to the “sanctification of the Spirit” (comp. Rom. 15:16); on their side to the “belief of the truth.” And to this they had been called by the gospel. The ultimate purpose [47] of the call was that they should share the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:4.) The one thing needful is that they stand fast (Col. 1:23) and hold the traditions they had been taught by the apostles, whether by word of mouth or by epistle.2

Paul concludes with a prayer for the brethren at Thessalonica. (2 Thess. 3:16, 17.) To whom is he praying? To “the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.” This offsets the darkness of the chapter, in so far as Christians are concerned, and corrects their needless fear that they should fall subject to the wrath to come. God our Father has loved us, says Paul, and has given us eternal comfort and good hope through grace. For it is only on the foundation of God’s free, forgiving, sustaining grace that our hope and comfort can rest. And what does the apostle ask of God for these Thessalonian brethren? That He would “comfort their hearts, and establish them in every good work and word.” This prayer for them surely did not fail of its answer from God. And for us, too, who are Christ’s today, there can be such an answer. We need it. [48]

1 Some think that this must certainly be the Holy Spirit, whose dwelling is in the church. (1 Cor. 3:16.) When the church is “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17) the Spirit goes with it, and has no more any abode on the earth. That seems plausible, and may be the true explanation. But we leave the question where it was. [44]
2 This “tradition” was simply the apostle’s own direct oral teaching to these very people when he was with them. They had as yet no written word, except the epistles which Paul had written to them. We have today all the revelation of God (“the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3) in the written Word, the New Testament. The traditions condemned by the Lord Jesus were the “traditions of the elders,” the traditions of men. (Matt. 15:1-9)–teachings superadded to the written law, handed down through successive generations, and palmed off on the people as having some sort of divine authority. Of this sort are the “traditions” held and taught by the Roman doctrine today. [48]

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