2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 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 as to sit in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And 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. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The Man of Sin Explained
Let’s look at this passage piece by piece. 2 Thess. 2:1 speaks of the “coming” of our Lord in judgment upon a temporal, earthly system. The Greek word used is “parousia” which is the present participle of the Greek verb “to be near”. “Parousia” literally translates as “presence” and is used throughout Greek Scriptures to indicate the coming of God in judgment upon nations. This is different from the Greek word “elthi” used in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 which indicates a literal, physical “appearing”. Thus, Paul is speaking of a different kind of coming in chapter 2 than in chapter 1. In Chapter 1 it speaks of Christ’s coming resulting in eternal destruction, while Chapter 2 speaks of Christ’s “presence” resulting in temporal destruction.
The “gathering together to Him” parallels with Matthew 24:31. The verb used is “episinigogei” which derives from the Hebrew word “synagogue”. It literally means to gather together in fellowship. From a postmillennial perspective, this “gathering together” was Christianity’s separation from Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Yet 2 Thess. 2:3 says that the coming of Christ in judgment would not happen until the “rebellion” happened and the man of sin (or lawlessness) was revealed. The “rebellion” spoken of is the Greek word “apostasia” or “apostasy”. This word was used to speak of either political or spiritual apostasy. Josephus, writing in the 1st century, spoke of the Jewish War against Rome as being an “apostasia”. Thus, this “rebellion” likely indicated the Jewish political apostasy from Rome and not necessarily a spiritual apostasy in the church as dispensationalists would read it.
According to the writings of Augustine and other church fathers, this man of sin was Nero Caesar. If this is the case, then Paul likely concealed his name here so as not to appear seditious and risk further persecution from Rome. It says in 2 Thess. 2:6 that God was “presently restraining the man of sin”. This indicates that he was alive when Paul was writing. In fact, 2 Thessalonians was written around 53 AD when Nero was a teenager. Interestingly, Claudius Caesar was in power at the time and “Claudius” means “the restrainer” in Latin. Essentially, while Claudius lived, Nero was restrained. Furthermore, 2 Thess. 2:7 indicates that the “mystery of lawlessness” was “currently working” in Paul’s time. Nero’s mother, Agrippina, was plotting at that time to murder Claudius (her husband and uncle) in order to enable her son Nero to ascend to the throne.
Next, 2 Thess. 2:4 speaks of the man of sin exalting himself above every god, which is exactly what Nero did during his reign. This was the religious essence of the Caesar Cult. It then says, “so as to sit as God in the temple of God”. The Greek phrase here is “hostei” (“so as to”) plus the infinite verb “to sit”. This indicates a purpose intended and not a purpose accomplished. For instance, this grammatical structure is used in Luke 4:29 in which the people drove Jesus to the cliff “so as to cast Him down”. It was what they intended to do but it did not happen. Likewise, Nero intended to sit in the temple of God acting as though He were God but it didn’t happen because of the Jewish War against Rome.
2 Thess. 2:9 speaks of the man of sin coming with false signs and miracles by the working of Satan. In fact, when emperors ascended to the throne in Rome, there were all sorts of false claims of miracles and signs associated with the advent of that emperor. Miracle worship was common in the Roman Empire at that time.
Finally, it says that the Lord would kill the man of sin with His judgment coming (“parousia”). Nero inexplicably went insane and committed suicide during the middle of Rome’s war against the Jews.
The essence of Paul’s prophecy concerning the man of sin was to prepare Christians in his day for the onslaught of persecution under Nero’s reign. He was explaining the events that had to take place before the great “gathering together” of Christianity would take place. This ”gathering together” would be the complete separation of Christianity from Judaism. This took place after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Jewish Christians into all the nations of the world. Thus began more fully the great gathering together of God’s elect in all the nations of the earth.
What does this mean for us as Christians today? It means that the man of sin has already come and that God has already destroyed him. It means that God wrested Christianity free from its confines in Judaism and made the gospel accessible to all the nations of the earth. It means that we have nothing to fear concerning some future antichrist, but rather we should rejoice as the gospel continues to grow and expand worldwide apart from man-made cultural constraints.