COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 2:3b " . . . and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3a-4)
The text before us is one of the most controversial ones in all of the Bible. It has been subjected to everything from utter neglect to aggressive corruption. However, after all is said and done, the text speaks with both power and solemnity. It is not possible to read or hear it without being arrested by its warning tone. It is imperative that we take care not to gloss the text as though it had never been written. Our hearts must be impressed with the mind of the Spirit, who considered it important enough to move Paul to write it. We must guard our hearts so as not to allow the thought that we can dispense with the text as though it had never been written, or to think it to be applicable only to former generations. It is essential that we gain what we can from this revelation without being intimidated by it. Our minds may not be fully satisfied with our understanding of it. However, our hearts must come to perceive the nature and intent of the passage. It has been written to alert the saints to conditions that will exist before Jesus returns to destroy the ungodly and be glorified in the godly. As such, it cannot be unimportant. Further, if it was yet in the future for the Thessalonians, and they gained benefit from this prophecy, how could it be that succeeding generations would not gain advantage from it. If it was necessary for them to know ahead of time, why would it not be essential for following generations to know it, particularly if they were in the time of its occurrence? Admittedly, there is a sparsity of revelation on this theme. Yet this by no means indicates it is unimportant, or that much essential understanding cannot be gleaned from it. This text will show us the manner in which Jesus is governing His Kingdom. It will also reveal the devil's strategy, and how it impacts upon the church of the living God. It should destroy simplistic views of salvation and living by faith.
THE MAN OF SIN
" 2:3b . . . and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." Other versions read, "the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction," NASB "the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction," NIV
ASSOCIATED WITH THE FALLING AWAY. This is something that had not yet occurred when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. It would take place before the Lord returned in glory. Of critical importance is that this event is associated with "a falling away" from the faith. That makes it of a religious order, not a political one. I know of no place where corrupt politics are said to proceed from a decline in religion. In fact, some of the most corrupt political thrusts occurred when the church was in great purity and growth. Nor, indeed, is governmental corruption ever presented as the cause for religious decline.
This is clearly an aspect of the great apostasy or rebellion found within the church. In fact, it is the falling away itself that gives rise to this wicked personality or position. Were it not for corrupt religion, "the man of sin" could not have risen to prominence. This is an aspect of falling away that must be seen. When men "depart from the faith," a gaping hole is left for the entrance of wicked religious leaders. They enter unobtrusively because of the lethargy and spiritual smallness of those who wear the name of Christ. Already, innumerable and wicked pretenders and charlatans have risen to religious prominence because of defiled religion. Our text speaks of the primary manifestation of a corrupt religious leader.
THE MAN OF SIN. First, the prophecy is of the rise and revelation of a man, not an angel, and not the devil. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told His disciples, "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). He was speaking of the devil himself, as indicated elsewhere (John 12:31; 16:11). Satan is NOT "the man of sin" of our text. Nowhere is he referred to as a "man." He is "the prince of the power of the air," and is a "spirit," not a man (Eph 2:2). Our text refers to an offspring of Adam who, in the name of religion, is dominated by, and devoted to, sin, or iniquity, or lawlessness. It may refer to a single individual, or to an office that is perpetuated through a series of individuals. From heaven's point of view, the entire work and influence of this person of office is "sin."
BE REVEALED. While the principle of religious corruption was already at work, the champion of religious defilement had not yet been made known. The gradual departures from sound doctrine and godly living that began early in the history of the church were only preparing the way for a larger and more extensive "falling away." That would provide an appropriate environment for a dominate person or office that would formalize, solidify, and perpetuate the falling away. As Jesus was the personification of righteousness, so this person would be the embodiment of sin.
THE SON OF PERDITION. The appellation belongs to a depraved person for whom there is no hope - "made to be taken and destroyed" (2 Pet 2:12). The word "perdition" means ruin, damnable, and destruction. This every term is applied to Judas whom Jesus called, "the son of perdition" (John 17:12). It denotes one who has defected from the truth, abandoning the Lord. Satan himself is a defector, or apostate (Isa 14:12-15; Ezek 28:13-16). "The son of perdition" is sent by Satan to condemn, as Jesus was sent by God to save. All that he promotes destroys the souls of men, preparing them for condemnation. He carries out the mandate of the devil, which is "to steal, and to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10).
The Word "perdition" is used eight times in Scripture. It always refers to destruction - eternal destruction. Judas is referred to as "the son of perdition" (John 17:12). Those who are adversaries of the saints are associated with "perdition" (Phil 1:28). There are foolish and hurtful lusts connected with wanting to be rich that "drown men in . . . perdition" (1 Tim 6:9). Those who shrink back from the faith do so "unto perdition" (Heb 10:39). The day of judgment is related to "the perdition of ungodly men" (2 Pet 3:7). The dreadful "beast" of the book of Revelation which drew men from God while speaking as a lamb, will "go into perdition" (Rev 17:8,11).
Thus, "the son of perdition" may be seen as one who rises from the seed-bed of corrupt and damnable religion. He comes in the name of religion - the Christian religion - and actually perpetrates alienation from, and ignorance of, Living God. He is an imposter with the cloak of religiosity. But he is the emissary of the devil, and comes to do his work. He is not a provincial leader, but a world-wide one. He is not incidental, but one around which history is bent. He represents the very worst of all sin - religious sin. He popularizes a Christianity that justifies and excuses iniquity in the name of the Lord. He provides a seeming haven of safety for those whose hearts are corrupt and alienated from God.
HE EXALTS HIMSELF ABOVE ALL THAT IS CALLED GOD
" 4a Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped." Other versions read, "He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped," NIV "who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship," NASB Here is a religious imposter of the highest order. The idea is that this person will rise to prominence. He not only entertains reprehensible thoughts and ambitions, he brings them to pass. He makes no allowance for anyone unlike himself.
OPPOSES. One of the chief traits of this "man of sin" is that he is an opponent-an adversary. He does not come as a placid and tolerant philosopher, but as an aggressive opponent of those who live by faith. Here is a persecutor of the people of God. The irony of the situation is that he comes in the name of Christ. The deadness of the church has allowed him to rise to prominence, and now the saints suffer for it.
EXALTS HIMSELF. While Jesus embodied true humility (John 13:4-5), "the son of perdition" is the incarnation of pride and arrogance. His self-exaltation is of no ordinary sort. The idea is that "the man of sin" takes for his own those attributes and service that properly belong to Deity. What God reserves for Himself alone, the "son of perdition" arrogates to himself. The worship and service that is due God alone is thus put under the feet of this spiritual despot. Keep in mind, all of this comes to pass because of a "falling away," and is associated with religion, particularly Christianity. This is not speaking of the likes of Nero and Hitler, although they did, indeed, bear faint resemblances to such an one.
DANIEL'S DEPICTION. (Dan 7:7,19). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he spoke of these things when he was with them: "Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?" NKJV (Verse 5). While this subject is not familiar to many believers today, it was not unfamiliar to those to whom the Apostles ministered. It should not surprise us, therefore, that allusions to this prophecy are found among the holy prophets. Daniel, for example, was given extraordinary insights regarding the future. He was even given a glimpse of the day of judgment, the saints participation in it, and their inheritance of the kingdom of God (Dan 7:9-11,22).
Daniel was shown four great kingdoms, each one being likened unto a beast. Babylon was likened to a lion. The Medio-Persian empire was likened to a powerful and ruthless bear. The Grecian empire was likened to a swift and effective leopard. The Roman kingdom was represented as a fourth beast, different from the others before it. From within that kingdom sprang one said to be a "little horn" which had "eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things" (Dan 7:1-8). This parallels our text which speaks of self-exaltation. It refers to "the man of sin" in an introductory manner. Daniel sought to understand the meaning of the vision, particularly "the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others . . . of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows." He was then shown that "the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them" (Dan 7:19-21). In an elaboration of that circumstance Daniel was told a different kind of king was represented by the "little horn." He would "speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High," continuing his despotic reign for a limited period of time (Dan 7:24-25).
SHARP CONFLICT WITH CHRIST'S WORDS. The idea of a Christian person exalting himself, even to the opposition of the saints of God, sharply conflicts with the words of the Lord Jesus. Speaking to those holding the highest office in His church, He said, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve" (Luke 22:25-26). A "falling away" would produce leaders in general, and a leader in particular, who would stand in stark contrast to the Lord who bought them. Jesus would not come again until this despot had arisen, whom He Himself would destroy, casting down in a moment of time. Thereby, Jesus will openly display His superiority to all of His enemies, making them His footstool - including the arch-foe of all time.
It is most sobering to consider these things. Care must be taken not to assign a meaning to them that neutralizes their power upon the soul. The prophecy is designed to shake men free from lethargy, enabling them to be sober and alert against the encroachments of the wicked one. We also learn that Satan has his own false messiah, who leads forth in his rebellion against the most high God. We dare not underestimate Satan's strategies.
HE SITS IN THE TEMPLE OF GOD
" 4b . . . so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Here we see the nature of the "man of sin." He is not a corrupt and ruthless politician, but a subtle and influential religious man. He is not merely the head of state, but represents himself as God. Paul had warned the Ephesians elders of a defection from the faith that would come from among themselves - the eldership (Acts 20:29-30). While purported prophets of our time are calling upon men to look for a corrupt political ruler, the Spirit warns us of a spiritual one - one who takes to himself the prerogatives of God, in the name of God.
SITTING IN GOD'S TEMPLE. Other versions read, "so that he takes his seat in the temple of God," NASB "so that he sets himself up in God's temple," NIV "so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God," WEBSTER "so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down," YOUNGS and "to enthrone himself in God's sanctuary." NJB The "son of perdition" comes as the exclusive representative of God, the concentrated role that has been given to Christ Jesus. This phrase confirms the intruder will identify himself with the church, which is "the temple of God" (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). He was not placed there by God, but "sets himself up" there. He does so because of the weakness of the church - because it has fallen away from the truth, thereby giving place to the devil.
SHOWING HIMSELF THAT HE IS GOD. Other versions read, "displaying himself as being God," NASB "proclaiming himself to be God," NIV and "putting himself forward as God." BBE The idea is not that "the man of sin" says he is God, but that puts himself forward as God. He takes to himself Divine attributes, and thinks to change times and laws as though he was God (Dan 7:25).
It is generally understood that the first great fulfillment of this prophecy occurred with the elevation of the pope. With that action a new thrust of Christianity was introduced. It was one of human authority and unparalleled religious corruption. Titles such as "Lord God the Pope," "His Holiness," "Holy Father," and "Vicar of Christ," were ascribed to him, as well as infallibility when speaking on matters of faith and morality. I am not sure this exhausts the meaning of the passage before us, but at the very least, it reveals the nature of "the man of sin." In this case, the reference is to a position filled by an individual, yet perpetuated through generations.
John also spoke of such a person. "Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). The definite article "the" is proper, as used in the Greek (o` avnti,cristoj). John's message does not negate the coming of such an one, but rather declares the way is being prepared by the introduction of many representations of that spirit - people who come in the name of Christ, yet are against Him. I gather that all of the following terms refer to the same individual or office: Because he is against Christ, he is called "the antichrist." Because he is the result of, and promotes sin, he is called "the man of sin." Because he is destined for destruction, and is beyond recovery, he is "the son of perdition." Because he sprang up from another form of corruption, he is called "the little horn."
The Spirit will reveal yet more concerning this remarkable phenomenon. It is enough to remind us our greatest foes are religious ones, who come under the guise of guise of being from Christ, but are really from Satan. Whatever we may choose to believe about these things, the Spirit reveals there is a sort of champion of this kind of delusion that can only be cast down by the coming of the Lord (2 Thess 2:8). While we are not provided with all of the answers concerning this matter, we are told enough to encourage sobriety and purity.