For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first,
and the man of lawlessness is revealed,
the son of destruction,
Who opposes and exalts himself
against every so-called god or object of worship, so that
in the temple of God,
to be God.
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?6And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.8And 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.9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
--2 Thessalonians 2:3–10
Those Opposed to the GospelPaul does not appear to know the precise circumstances that have brought about the Thessalonians’ erroneous beliefs about the day of the Lord, but in verse 3 he does suspect nefarious activity. Paul labels any teaching opposed to the eschatological message of his gospel as an effort at deception (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10; Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8). He then reasons that the day of the Lord has not yet begun, since the world has not yet experienced the “rebellion” and the “man of lawlessness,” both of which must precede the day of the Lord.
The Greek word for “rebellion”
(apostasia) occurs in the Septuagint OT and in the NT to
speak of rebellion against
God and his law
(Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 29:19; Jer. 2:19; Acts 21:21).
When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs and timing of his second coming,
Jesus responded that false messiahs and prophets would precede his return, as would tribulation against the church
Matt. 24:4–13, 23–28; Mark 13:5–13, 21–23; Luke 21:8–19).
Paul teaches elsewhere that the
"deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”
and also “times of difficulty” will be indicative of the last days (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–7; Jude 17–19). As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s instruction on such matters is likely informed by Jesus’ own eschatological teaching (cf. comments on 1 Thess. 4:15–16; 5:1).
In a similar way,
Jesus taught that one of the signs prior to his return would be the advent of
"abomination of desolation”
"holy place” of the temple
(Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14).
Jesus cites the teaching of Daniel, who prophesied
the Jerusalem temple
(Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Paul draws on this tradition as he discusses the “man of lawlessness,” who is the “son of destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3and the “lawless one” in 2 Thess. 2:8–9. The Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 57:3–4similarly speaks of the “sons of lawlessness” who are “children of destruction” (cf. John 17:12) and the “seed of lawlessness” (cf. also Ps. 88:23 LXX [English 89:22]). Following a common Semitic idiom, a “man of lawlessness” would refer to a person whose life is characterized by his opposition to God’s rule and reign.
Further descriptors are applied to
this lawless one.
He will be “revealed”
(Gk. apokalyptō; also 2 Thess. 2:6, 8), employing terminology Paul reserves most often for the activity of God in making known something hidden (e.g., Rom. 1:17–18; 8:18; Eph. 3:5).
The passive voice in verse 3 of “is revealed” makes it difficult to discern whether God is the one doing the revealing or if this is the work of an evil agent (such as Satan; cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:9–10).
The man of lawlessness both
opposes and exalts himself
over every “so-called god or object of worship.”
Paul elsewhere employs the Greek word for
“opposes” as a title for Satan,
(1 Tim. 5:14).
The only other use of the Greek word
for “exalts himself”
in Paul bears connotations of conceit (2 Cor. 12:7), as it likely does here. Paul is careful to say “every so-called god,” indicating the false deities of pagan worship. The term for “object of worship” (Gk. sebasma)
refers to pagan idols
(cf. Acts 17:23).
This man of lawlessness seeks to
the central person of worship,
beyond any other religious
objects or personages in his day.
Beyond that, the man of lawlessness exalts himself over the very worship of God Almighty. The lawless one’s efforts to receive worship result in his taking “his seat in the temple of God.” Commentators debate which temple is envisioned here, with most opting for the Jerusalem temple, though others suggest the Thessalonians would imagine an important temple in their city, and still others argue the temple is a reference to the church as
the “temple of God”
(e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). However, Paul’s reliance in this context on OT imagery and Jesus’ eschatological instruction implies that “temple of God” refers to the Jerusalem temple. This connects well with the lawless one’s action in the temple—“proclaiming himself to be God.” The man of lawlessness promotes himself in place of God Almighty as the central deity to be worshiped. That still leaves open the question of whether a future physical temple will be in play or if this is prophetically symbolic of some other coming reality (cf. more below).
Paul here draws on OT Danielic imagery
concerning a ruler
opposed to God and his people
(cf. Dan. 7:24–27; 8:23–26; 11:20–45; esp. 11:28–39).
The Danielic background is particularly striking in
comparison to the man of lawlessness in verse 4.
We read in Daniel of a king who “
shall exalt himself and magnify
himself above every god,
and shall speak astonishing things
against the God of gods,”
and “shall not pay attention to any other god,
for he shall
magnify himself above all”
In Daniel it is this king who sets up the “abomination that makes desolate” in Jerusalem (Dan. 11:31).
Other prophets also speak of
rulers calling themselves god
(e.g., Isa. 14:12–15; Ezek. 28:1–10).
Second, before Paul writes 2 Thessalonians, events have already presaged
Roman imperial opposition to Jewish worship of God.
This commentator anticipates a yet-future appearing of a human lawless one, whose manifestation amid false signs and prophecies will
precede Jesus’ return and final judgment.