2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 - The Man of Sin
Read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5
The events which will take place toward the end of our age or those which will accompany the return of our Lord have always been of the greatest interest to men throughout the ages. There have been many false notions concerning these matters. We are to study the Scriptures carefully to come to the proper understanding of those things which will certainly happen and even the time in which these various things take place.
In the second epistle which he is addressing to this church, Paul deals with the subject of Christ's return even more than he did in the first. It is a very important subject. Immediately in the first verse of this chapter he places all that he has to say to them in the framework of the "coming" of Christ and our gathering together unto Him. In other words, none of the things he will have to say about events preceding the return of Christ may ever be separated from His return. Nor is His return simply one event (historical) among others. His return will also mean our union with Him.
In Thessalonica there are all kinds of views regarding the second coming. He cautions them not to lose their spiritual and mental balance concerning this matter. They are indeed in danger of losing their mental equilibrium. They are "shaken," i.e., they are like waves of the sea regarding this subject. They are deeply troubled and disturbed. These people had believed the gospel and had made amazing progress, but they were disturbed about many things concerning the return of the Lord.
Why is this? Of course, we are not told all the things the Apostle had taught them while he was with them. However, they are now troubled by "spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us." It seems as though there were those in this church who claimed that they had received special knowledge about the matter by the "spirit." The "word" which led them astray may have come from various sources. But, when he speaks of the source of their misinformation as though it has come from an epistle which he himself had written, it is high time that the record be set straight. Quite likely he refers to the epistle which we know as his first letter to this church. Therein he had indeed spoken of the return of the Lord as being "sudden". This they had interpreted to mean "soon." This was the wrong interpretation, but we cannot blame them so much for this view because there are still many scholars who believe that Paul looked for the return of Christ during his lifetime. These Thessalonians believed that the day of His return had dawned. No, of course, Christ had not yet appeared, but the process had begun and He could now appear any minute!
This is a doctrinal matter and the Apostle is afraid that the people of this church will be, or have already been, beguiled. This would have all manner of evil consequences. They would be deceived because the immediate return of Christ is a delusion. It is, therefore, not an "innocent" error of their thinking. Their expectation of the early return could lead them to all the evils he spoke of in the first epistle. They would cease to be obedient to their calling and simply wait for his coming. He is also confident that he has not led them astray in his teaching while among them nor in the epistle which he had sent them. Others are leading them from the truth.
The Great Apostasy
Paul now tells them why Jesus will not return soon. That is the import of all that follows in this section. There are certain things which must happen before He returns and it is not a high plane of spirituality which speaks as though He could come any moment, but it is an ignoring of the clear Scriptural teaching of the things which will precede His coming. He will not come until the great apostasy has come. In a certain sense he is skipping an even earlier happening which is to take place. Christ had taught that the gospel was to be proclaimed to all nations before He would return.
The apostasy of which Paul speaks is the falling away after the gospel has come. It will, therefore, be a falling away from the gospel! There had been instances of falling away from the faith throughout Israel's history. Those pointed to the great apostasy at the end of time. But, this one is far worse and will be final. Jesus had also spoken of the same thing in Matthew 24. It will be widespread. Our Lord speaks of the fact that "many" shall stumble; that there will be "many" false prophets; and that the love of "many" shall wax cold. There have been defections from the faith throughout the ages but the "falling away" preceding the return of Christ will be much broader. This falling away hasn't happened yet, on the contrary, the church is growing, and therefore, says the Apostle, the return of Christ is not imminent.
The Antichrist — A Person
Something else will also occur before Jesus returns. The man of sin will be revealed. This is the one whom we usually call the "Antichrist." It is to be noted that Paul never uses the term "Antichrist" — only the Apostle John does. This has led to some confusion in the history of the Christian church because John does not use this name for the "eschatological Antichrist," i.e., the Antichrist at the end of time. John speaks of "Antichrists" during his time and means those who deny the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. These are the "precursors" of the Antichrist who is to come at the end of the ages, but are not this person himself. The "man of sin", of whom Paul speaks, is the man of lawlessness. He is the "son of perdition." Christ had also spoken of Judas as "the son of perdition" but a type of the great "son of perdition" who would be revealed at the last time. The sin of man reaches its lowest point in the revelation of the man of sin.
Often during the history of the church has someone been thought to be the Antichrist. It began already in Apostolic times when some were quite sure that Paul was referring to the emperor Nero. Later various other individuals were thought to be the Antichrist because of their persecution of believers. All of these attempts to identify him were proven false. There are those who identify him with Satan. This too is untrue because he is Satan's tool. Many have thought that the term "Antichrist" refers to an institution or movement. However, it is clear from Paul's description of him in this chapter that we are to think of a person. There was all manner of speculation among the Thessalonians about these matters, and believers of later date ought not to fall into the same errors again. Great harm has been done when men gave themselves over to speculation rather than to listen carefully to the Word of God.
The one of whom the Apostle is speaking has been spoken of in the book of Daniel. The prophecies of Daniel must be seen in the light of this chapter. Daniel too has been misunderstood throughout the ages.
This "man of sin" or "Antichrist" will stand in opposition to everything the Christ of God has taught. He will be "anti." Never in the history of the world has anyone been so filled with hate against everything that God has revealed. He will make use of the great apostasy which has occurred. He will drive it to its bitter conclusion. There will be no room for neutrality. He actively hates and opposes everything on which the name of God rests. He will seek to overthrow all the works of God.
The blind hatred of men for the living God and all that He commands has been experienced time and again in the history of men but never to the extent shown by the man of sin. Israel had suffered greatly during the reigns of their own godless kings and during the time of their captivity. Especially in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes had they seen how great the hatred of men for religious things can become. Yet, these were but precursors of the man of sin! The Christian church has suffered greatly during the days of the Roman emperors and, in late years, during the reigns of Hitler and Stalin, but it is not to be compared to the evils which will come upon the church during the days of the man of sin! Anyone who has identified one of the previous persecutors of the church as Antichrist has, therefore, made a huge mistake and consequently does not realize how important the return of Jesus Christ on the clouds of heaven will be!
Not only does the preposition "anti" mean that he opposes all that the Christ stands for, but it also means that he places himself "instead of" the Christ. He does not only seek to undermine and overthrow everything Christian, but usurps the place of Christ and of God. He is the false christ and the false god. Hereby is his arrogance fully displayed. He rejects the Christ and all His claims and also rejects the God who has made all things and who upholds them. He proclaims himself to be both Christ and God!
Herein we see that the sin of man has become more grievous than we could ever have imagined. The sin of man has finally given birth to the man of sin! The warnings of the Scriptures against the deadly character of sin is finally made unmistakably clear. He sits in the temple of God — in the most holy place — and there sets himself forth as God.
Can Christ Come at Any Time?
When Christ spoke of the tribulation of the last days the people of His day could not have imagined all that this involved. Difficult times have come many times. But, the days of the man of sin will be far worse than any which have been experienced before. Christ warned the church, and believers in every age ought to give due heed to the words He spoke.
These are the things, says Paul, which must come before the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The severity of the time under the rule of the man of sin is such that they do not have to wonder whether or not those times are here or have already been. Jesus had spoken of those times that "if it were possible they would even lead the elect astray." Thank God: that is not possible! However, no one will have to wonder if that time is here when it indeed comes. As no one will have to inform a person of the fact that Christ has returned because His return will be as the lightning which shines from one end of the heaven to the other, so also the coming of the man of sin will be clear to everybody.
The clear teaching of these verses is that the Christ cannot come at any time! There are several things which must happen before this great event occurs. These things still have not all happened! It sounds very pious when one says that Jesus can come any moment, but the Word is then neglected! But, it is true that He can come for any individual at any moment! The end of all things and the individual believer's home going must, however, be clearly distinguished.
A Mild Rebuke
In verse five he administers a mild rebuke to them. He is indeed very thankful for the progress which they have made in their faith and that they also live the faith which they profess. But, regarding the time of the second coming they are in error. There was no need of this. He had told them about these things while he was with them. From the words he uses it becomes evident that he had instructed them in this matter more than once. How could they then have arrived at these erroneous conclusions? They should have listened better. Neither can they claim that he has misled them in his former epistle. There is a difference between His sudden coming and His immediate coming. Yet, it is a mild rebuke. He asks them whether they remember the teaching he gave them during the short time he was with them.
Though it is a mild rebuke (they were believers for such a short time) it is nevertheless a rebuke. Questions concerning the time of Christ's return may not seem to be as important as those about election, the deity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit, but the Apostle sees the dangers of this wrong view and hastens to correct it. We are the richer now that he has given us this revelation on this important topic. No deviation from the truth of God is without danger. Sincere and obedient study of His word is required of all believers in order that the man of God may be complete.
Questions for Discussion
Why has there always been so much disagreement about the second coming of Christ? Isn't the revelation clear enough?
How can an overemphasis on the last things lead to a being "shaken from your mind"?
Has the gospel already been proclaimed to all nations? Give reasons for your answer. Is the apostasy already upon us? Men have always thought that certain happenings were a sure sign of the end-time. What do you think of this?
If we read and study the Word of God correctly are we able to tell how late it is on the clock of God? Could men do this before His first coming?
Some think that the Heidelberg Catechism is too severe in its description of the sin of man. What is your view — also in the light of this section?
Could you blame people for thinking that Nero or Hitler (or others) were indeed antichrist?
Doctrinal purity is not held in high esteem today. How does Paul view this matter?