The Son of Destruction
“Let no one deceive you in any way. 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 he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”- 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4
Having discovered that there was some confusion in the first-century Thessalonian church regarding whether the return of Christ and the final resurrection had already happened or were beginning to happen, Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to correct the misunderstanding (2:1–2). His argument, we will see, is based on the fact that several things must happen before the end comes, and these things had not yet occurred when he wrote 2 Thessalonians. In today’s passage, he begins to outline the events that will precede the Lord’s return.
We find ourselves in one of the most difficult passages of the New Testament, and the relative uncertainty we have about what Paul means in 2 Thessalonians 2 means that our conclusions can only be tentative. The first thing that must happen before Jesus returns, Paul tells us, is “the rebellion” (v. 3). The word “rebellion” translates the Greek word apostasia (from which we get our English term apostasy), which refers to the rejection of God and His truth by those who once professed to believe it. Paul here explains that there will be a falling away from the faith, but the difficulty is identifying exactly who will fall away. Some suggest that this refers to a great apostasy of the Jews, while others say it is a rebellion against God and Christ from the visible church. The latter option has been a common view in church history. For instance, John Calvin comments that the Apostle “predicts a certain general revolt of the visible Church.”
More difficult to identify is the “man of lawlessness . . . who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship so that he takes his seat in the temple of God” (vv. 3–4). It seems clear enough that Paul refers to the one identified elsewhere as “antichrist” (1 John 2:18). Paul, then, may be talking about one final leader of religious rebellion against God and Christ who will appear before the return of Jesus. We cannot be sure of this, however, because much of Paul’s language echoes Daniel 11 and the prophecy of the prince who will defile the Jerusalem temple. So, the Apostle could be talking about a figure who would try to install himself in the Jerusalem temple sometime before Jesus returns. If so, this could be a reference to the Roman general Titus’ defiling of the temple before its destruction in AD 70. But whoever this man of lawlessness is, he clearly is opposed to all that God loves.
It is important to note that regardless of whether there is one final Antichrist who comes before Jesus returns, the “spirit of antichrist” has been in the church since the first century. We are warned about this in 1 John 4:3, so we should not think that opposition to the Lord will exist only at the last day. Even now, there are some who will try to infiltrate the visible church and lead us astray. Those who would do that are following the spirit of antichrist and must be opposed.
Passages for Further Study