Man of Lawlessness - Missing Events

Two events must occur before the “day of the Lord” can arrive - The apostasy, and the unveiling of the Man of Lawlessness – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

To Do List - Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Next, Paul explains why the “
day of the Lord” has NOT commenced. Two key events must occur first: the “apostasy” and the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.” In Thessalonica, the men who were instigating anxiety within the congregation were deceiving believers by raising false expectations about the return of Jesus - [Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash].

In the passage, the Greek verb rendered “deceive” is exapatao, which has the basic sense “deceive.” The warning parallels the opening exhortation by Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse; to “let no man deceive you.” And Paul has made this warning in the similar context of overheated prophetic expectations - (Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8).
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) - “That no one may deceive you in any respect. Because that day will not set in, except the apostasy come first, and there be revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God or any object of worship, so that he, within the sanctuary of God, will take his seat, showing himself that he is God.”
Thus, the “day of the Lord” will not commence until, “first,” the apostasy occurs, and second, the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. The syntax of the Greek clause is not clear, whether the “apostasy” precedes the “man of lawlessness” or both events are concurrent. In the literary context, most likely, Paul meant both events must transpire before the “day of the Lord” would commence.

More important than their sequence is that the “apostasy” and the “man of lawlessness” are inextricably linked. This figure will excel at propagating the very deceptions that lead Christians astray. If anything, the deceivers who were active in Thessalonica were forerunners of the ultimate and final deceiver.

The term “apostasy” translates the Greek noun apostasia, meaning, “falling away, apostasy, defection.” In both the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, apostasia is used for the defection from the true faith, and for “divorce.” It is related to the Greek verb aphistemi, meaning, “to forsake, depart, revolt, to withdraw.” - (Matthew 5:31Acts 21:21, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:12).

The idea of a final apostasy is common in the New Testament and originated with Jesus. Furthermore, in his comments from the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ he linked “lawlessness” to betrayal and apostasy:
  • (Matthew 24:10-12) – “And, then, will many be caused to stumble and will deliver up one another and will hate one another; and many false prophets will arise and deceive, many; and because of lawlessness being brought to the full, the love of the many will grew cold.
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) – “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”
This figure is given two designations, the “man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction.” The latter is used only once in the chapter. However, and possibly not coincidentally, the exact same phrase, “son of destruction,” was applied to Judas Iscariot by Jesus - (John 17:12).

The image of a man who causes “lawlessness” and “destruction” is derived from the figure of the “little horn” found in the Book of Daniel, for example:
  • (Daniel 11:31-36) – “And forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt-offering, and they shall set up the abomination that desolates. And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flattery And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods” – (See also, Daniel 7:24-25).
The “one who opposes and exalts himself on high” alludes to the preceding passage from Daniel, but it also echoes the interpretation of the vision of the ram and goat from the eighth chapter of that book:
  • (Daniel 8:25) – “And through his policy he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart.”
Both passages originally referred to Antiochus IV, the notorious ruler of the Seleucid empire who attempted to destroy the religion of Israel, the “little horn” from the “fourth beast.” He caused the “cessation of the daily sacrifice,” “desolated the sanctuary,” and installed the “abomination that desolates” on the altar of burnt offerings. In that way, he destroyed many of the “saints” of Israel - (Daniel 8:9-13, 8:21-26, 9:26-27 11:1-4, 11:31-36).

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Behind Paul’s picture is the attempt by Antiochus to destroy the religion of Israel through violent repression, and by inducing apostasy among the leadership of the Jewish nation - (“
And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flattery”). This Greek ruler banned the Mosaic Law, circumcision, and the keeping of Israel’s holy days. Additionally, he ordered copies of the Torah to be burned and installed an altar to Zeus Olympias in the Temple - (“The trespass that desolates”).

The temple of God” (ton naon tou theou). Elsewhere, Paul consistently applies the “naos” or “sanctuary” of God to the church, NOT to any building in Jerusalem or elsewhere:
  • (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) – “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” - (See also, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).
The goal of the “man of lawlessness” is to lead genuine saints to apostatize from the faith. That is why Paul warns about his appearance in the “sanctuary of God.”

Throughout the discussion, the concern of the Apostle remains focused on the spiritual well-being of the Christians at Thessalonica; to keep them safe from deceptions about the “arrival” of Jesus and the coming “day of the Lord.” Rather than providing a list of “signs” by which believers can determine the imminence of the end, instead, he has provided two missing events that prove the “day of the Lord” has not yet arrived.


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