Son of Destruction

Many Christians will apostatize when the “Lawless One,” the “Son of Destruction,” seats himself in the “sanctuary.” 

Paul explained that the “day of the Lord” will not arrive until the “apostasy” occurs and the “man of lawlessness” is unveiled, the one who will seat himself “in the sanctuary of God.” The Apostle also labeled him “the son of destruction,” but is there any significance to this double appellation?

Paul is responding to false reports that the “day of the Lord had set in.” But that cannot be so since two key events had not yet occurred - the revelation of the “man of lawlessness” and the “apostasy.”
  • (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.”


In Paul’s letters, the term “son of destruction” occurs only here. “Destruction” translates the Greek noun apôleia, meaning “destruction, ruin, loss” - (Strong’s - #G684).

The exact same term was heard on the lips of Jesus when he called Judas Iscariot the “son of destruction.” Certainly, Judas was an excellent model for the ultimate apostate. But other than his betrayal of Christ, nothing in Judas’ life parallels the predicted activities of the “man of lawlessness” – (John 17:12).

Another possibility is that the “son of destruction” refers to this malevolent figure’s final fate when he will be destroyed at the “arrival” of Jesus. That possibility comports with Paul’s description of his demise - “Whom the Lord will consume with the spirit of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of his coming.”

However, in verse 8, “destroy” translates a different Greek word, katargeô, which more correctly means “disable, disarm, bring to nothing.” And the natural sense of the genitive construction of the clause “son of destruction” is that “destruction” characterizes this figure - “destruction” defines what he is and what he does.


Paul’s scriptural source for the term is the book of Daniel, especially the passage from its eleventh chapter that describes an evil ruler of Greek descent:
  • 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; and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done” – (Daniel 11:36).

This ruler is featured in the visions of Daniel in which he is called the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” and the “contemptible person.” He originated from the “fourth beast” and “waged war against the saints and prevailed over them,” though only for the time allotted by the “Ancient of Days.”

This creature’s “war” included the desecration of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the erection of the “abomination of desolation” in the “sanctuary – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:9-13, 8:23-26, 9:26-27, 11:30-36).


This background explains Paul’s warning that this man will “take his seat in the sanctuary.” Did he mean the “son of destruction” will enter a rebuilt physical temple in Jerusalem? It is noteworthy that he uses the Greek term for the inner sanctum or naos, the “holy of holies,” and not the word for the entire temple complex.

Nowhere else does Paul express any interest in the Jerusalem Temple or say anything about a future rebuilt temple. However, he does apply the same term, the “sanctuary of God,” metaphorically to the church.

And since the topic in the present passage revolves around the “apostasy” of believers, the context makes it more likely that Paul is referring to this figure’s appearance in the church - (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).

In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the “little horn” is identified as the “king” from one of the four Greek kingdoms that succeeded the empire of Alexander the Great, the “goat with the prominent horn” that overthrew the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians.” And the same “little horn” waged war against the “saints” in the seventh chapter - (Daniel 7:21, 8:8-13, 8:21-25).

The only historical figure that meets the descriptions in Daniel’s visions is Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom that persecuted the Jewish people for over three years (168 B.C. to 165 B.C.), the allotted “season, seasons, and part of a season.”

This king’s “war” included the corruption of Jewish leaders, the banning of circumcision and other Jewish rites, the burning of the Jewish scriptures, the cessation of the sacrificial rituals in the Temple, and the erection of an altar to his god, Zeus Olympias, on the altar of burnt offerings in Jerusalem, the so-called “abomination of desolation.”

According to Daniel, the “king of fierce countenance… corrupted the holy people… and magnified himself in his heart, and caused the destruction of many.” In the Greek Septuagint version of the passage, the term rendered “destruction” is the same one used by Paul for the “son of destruction,” that is, apôleia. Most likely, considering the language and context of the passage in Thessalonians, this is his source for the term “son of destruction.”

Thus, Paul employs Daniel’s “little horn” as the model for the final deceiver who will deceive Christians with “all power and signs and lying wonders.” Just as the “little horn” caused many in Israel to fall, so this creature will cause the destruction of many men and women in the church before his own demise at the “arrival” of Jesus. He is, therefore, the “son of destruction.”



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