Man of Lawlessness - Missing Events

SYNOPSIS Two events must occur before the Day of the Lord can commence – the apostasy and the unveiling of the Man of Lawlessness - 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.

By Jamie Waynick on Unsplash
By Jamie Waynick on Unsplash
The Apostle Paul begins to explain to the church at Thessalonica why the “Day of the Lord” has not commenced: Two events must occur before its onset – the “apostasy” and the “revealing of the man of lawlessness." Paul insinuates that the men behind this controversy are deceiving the Thessalonians about this future event (“Let no man cheat you”). The Greek verb for “cheat” or exapatao is used only by Paul in the New Testament and has a basic sense, “to deceive” (seeRomans 7:11, 16:18, 1 Corinthians 3:18, 11:3).

The warning by the Apostle is parallel with the opening exhortation of Jesus to his ‘Olivet Discourse’ - “Let no man deceive you.” And Christ gave it in a similar context of overheated prophetic expectations (Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8).

(2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) - “That no one may cheat you in any one respect. Because that day will not set in — except the revolt come first, and there he revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, The one who opposeth and exalteth himself on high against every one called God or an object of worship; so that he, within the sanctuary of God, shall take his seat, showeth himself forth, that he is God” (Source: The Emphasized Bible)

Paul states that the “Day of the Lord” will not commence until, “first,” the "apostasy" occurs and the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. The syntax of the Greek clause is not clear whether he means the apostasy is to precede the appearance of this malevolent figure  ("first"); however, in the immediate context, most likely he means that both events must occur before the “Day of the Lord” can arrive.

In the larger context, the "apostasy" and the "man of lawlessness" are closely connected. This man will excel at propagating the very deceptions that lead men and women astray:
  • Whose arrival will be according to an inworking of Satan, with all manner of mighty work and sign and wonders of falsehood, And with all manner of deceit of unrighteousness in them who are destroying themselves, because the love of the truth they did not welcome.
The “apostasy” translates the Greek noun, apostasia, which means “falling away, apostasy, defection.” In both the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, it is applied to defection from the true faith, and to “divorce.” It is related to the Greek verb, aphistemi, which means “to forsake, depart, revolt; to withdraw.” Elsewhere, this verb rendered “forsake,” as in “forsaking” the faith" (e.g., Matthew 5:31Acts 21:21, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:12).

The idea of an expected apostasy is common in the New Testament and, very probably, originated with Jesus. Note the following passages:
  • (Matthew 24:5) – “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray.”
  • (Matthew 24:11-12) – “And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax 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” (cp. 2 Timothy 3:1-3).
  • (2 Timothy 4:3-4) – “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
This figure is given two designations: the “man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction.” The latter is used only once in this chapter. However, and possibly not coincidentally, the exact same phrase was applied by Jesus to Judas Iscariot (John 17:12, “I kept them in thy name: those that thou gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of destruction”).

The picture of a man who causes “lawlessness” and “destruction” is based on the figure of the “little horn” from the book of Daniel. Note the following parallels, both verbal and conceptual:
  • (Daniel 7:24-25) – “And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings; he shall speak words against the Most High, and he shall wear out the saints of the Most High; and he shall think to change the times and the law.”
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) – “But in the aftertime of their kingdom, when the transgressors have filled up their measure,—there will stand up a king of mighty presence, and skillful in dissimulation; and his strength will be mighty, but not through his own strength, and, wonderfully, will he destroy and succeed and act with effect, — and he will destroy mighty ones, and the saints; and, by his cunning, will he both cause deceit to succeed in his hand, and in his own heart will he magnify himself…and against the ruler of rulers will he stand up but, without hand, shall be broken in pieces.”
  • (Daniel 11:31-32) – “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 flatteries; but the people that know their God shall be strong.”
The “one who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God” alludes to a passage found in Daniel 11:36, but the phrase also echoes Daniel 8:25. Note the following parallels:
  • (Daniel 11:36) - “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 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 the Antiochus IV or Epiphanes, a notorious ruler of the Seleucid empire who attempted to destroy the religion of Israel (reigned 175-163 B.C.). He was with the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8 and 8:9-13 and was a ruler of one of the Greek kingdoms that came from the conquests of Alexander the Great following his death. The “little horn” caused the cessation of the daily sacrifice at the Temple, desecrated the sanctuary in Jerusalem, and installed within it the “abomination that desolates” and, thereby, destroyed many of the “saints” (Daniel 8:9-13, 8:21-26, 9:26-27 11:1-4, 11:31-36).
Behind the prophetic scenario pictured by Paul is the attempt by Antiochus IV to destroy the religion of Israel through violent repression and by inducing apostasy among the leadership of the Jewish nation (“There will stand up a king of mighty presence, and skillful in dissimulation”; “And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries”).
During a three-year period, Antiochus outlawed the Mosaic Law, circumcision, and the keeping of the Sabbath. Additionally, he ordered copies of the Torah burned and installed an altar to Zeus Olympias in the Temple (the “trespass that desolates” [Daniel 8:9-13]). His persecuting activities sparked a rebellion by the Jews known to history as the Maccabean Revolt.

All this made Antiochus IV with his efforts to deceive Israel an excellent model for the “man of lawlessness” and the future “apostasy.” Several more verbal allusions from Daniel to this figure are used in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10, for example:
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10) - “And, then, shall be revealed the lawless one,—whom the Lord will consume with the Spirit of his mouth and destroy with the forth-shining of his arrival, — whose arrival will be according to an inworking of Satan, with all manner of mighty work and signs and wonders of falsehood, and with all manner of deceit of unrighteousness in them who are destroying themselves.”
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) - “There will stand up a king of mighty presence, and understanding riddles, and his strength will be mighty, but not through his own strength, and wonderfully will he destroy, and succeed and act with effect,—and will destroy saints; and by his cunning will he both cause deceit to succeed…against the ruler of rulers will he stand up, but without hand shall be broken in pieces.
The temple of God” (ton naon tou theou). Elsewhere, Paul consistently applies the “naos” or “sanctuary” of God to the church, not to a building in Jerusalem. Note the following instances:
  • (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
  • (1 Corinthians 6:19) – “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”
  • (2 Corinthians 6:16) – “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
  • (Ephesians 2:21) – “In whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
Paul will spend the next several verses explaining this “man of lawlessness” and his threat to the saints of God. Note well; throughout this chapter, Paul’s concern is focused on the spiritual well-being of the Christians at Thessalonica and keeping them safe from deception about the coming of Jesus.


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