By Matthew Holst, THE CHRISTWARD COLLECTIVE; April 1st, 2016
One of the Apostle Paul’s great preoccupations in both of his letters to the church at Thessalonica is the second coming of Christ. He was not only concerned with getting the doctrine “right” but also with the great pastoral implications of such teaching. In 1 Thessalonians he writes concerning the second coming of Christ in relation to the resurrection of the dead and the gathering together of saints who are alive at that time. In 2 Thessalonians he reinforces what he had already taught at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:5) concerning the dangers of the last days, specifically with regard to the great apostasy in the church induced by the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness.
Depending on your eschatological framework, your identification of the Man of Lawlessness and his activities may differ from what I wish to offer in this post. Coming to terms with the fact that there will indeed be a Man of Lawlessness plays an important role in the life of the believer as he or she eagerly waits for the day of Christ’s coming. In days of relative peace, we must ready ourselves and forthcoming generations–especially our own children–for the days of anarchic deception that will accompany the Man of Lawlessness.
We, in the Calvinistic and Reformed church, have not done justice to the Scripture’s teaching on this matter. We often rightly respond to the “Left Behind” industry with dismay and sarcasm. In so doing, however, we have, perhaps inadvertently failed to sufficiently and soberly grasp Scripture’s teaching on this period of history which will be instrumental in bringing about a catastrophic and irreversible apostasy. Here then, are twelve biblical observations about the Man of Lawlessness (MoL) to help prepare us for that day.
1. The Man of Lawlessness will appear shortly, it seems, before the second coming of Christ. (2 Thess. 2:3).
In fact, Paul writes this is a necessary precondition to the coming of Christ. The MoL must be revealed and do his God-denying work, before Christ comes and deals with him. Paul’s application to Thessalonians “Let no one deceive you in any way…”. The second coming of our Lord will not take place until the MoL has appeared.
2. The Man of Lawlessness will have a “coming” or parousia (2 Thess. 2:9). This Spirit-breathed language sets up one of many parallels with the person, work and coming of our Lord. We should not miss this point. The Spirit, with great intention wants you to understand that there will be many parallels between the MoL and our Lord, because the MoL will set himself up as the Messiah. In other words, I believe the MoL is synonymous with the Anti-Christ, as spoken of in John’s epistles. He is the counterfeit Christ.
3. The Man of Lawlessness is just that–a man (2 Thess. 2:3). The identity of the MoL in chiurch history is widely debatable: Nero, the Pope, the Papacy, Satan…the list goes on. What seems to make most sense, given Paul’s writings and the rest of Scripture, is that a real man (almost certainly an individual not an institution) who will come exalting himself and deceiving many within the church. In this bodily appearance he will mimic the incarnation of Christ.
4. When the Man of Lawlessness comes he will bring about a “rebellion” (2 Thess 2:3). This rebellion is important to understand because it is a rebellion within the church. There will be rebellions outside of the church and persecutions of the church (Rev. 13) all the way until our Lord comes. This rebellion however, is an apostasy – apostasia in the Greek. While this can simply mean rebellion, the rest of 2 Thessalonians makes it clear the coming of the MoL will be an ecclesiastical movement, not one primarily in the world. The church of our Lord then, is the focus of the MoL.
5. The Man of Lawlessness will set himself up in the church as Paul says, in the “temple of God”. (2 Thess. 2:4). G K Beale make a strong argument in his commentary to this effect. He argues that the “temple of God” in the New Testament always refers to either Christ or the church. Clearly it makes no sense to speak of Christ in this way here, the only alternative is the church. The temple of God has particular significance as eschatological language for Christ’s dwelling in and with his people. Here then we understand that an imposter, a counterfeit Christ, a false Messiah will come and enthrone himself in the visible church.
6. The Man of Lawlessness will oppose every other object of worship (2 Thess. 2:4). What is the prerogative of Christ with regard to worship? To receive it and require it. So will the coming of the MoL be. Paul writes that he “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship”. This is the manner of the 2nd Coming of our Lord at whose name and revelation “every knew will bow, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Here then, the counterfeit Christ seeks to imitate the coming of our Lord.
7. The Man of Lawlessness is currently being restrained (2 Thess 2:6). Good news indeed, but he is only restrained for a time. Who or what restrains the MoL? In v 6 Paul writes “you know what is restraining him” and in v 7 “he who now restrains it”. Again, the interpretations of the cause of restraint are legion. Given what I have said so far I believe a twofold answer is appropriate. The who is of course Almighty God, who in his powerful providence (as he does indeed with Satan) causally restrains the MoL. The instrument God uses – the what- for his restraint, I believe, is the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world. Mark 13:10 comes into play here, it would seem.
8.The spirit of lawlessness, which is a prelude to the coming of the Man of Lawlessness, is already at work in the church. (2 Thess 2:7). Just look all around you. John says, “you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). That is to say, the spirit of anti-Christ (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7) is alive and well. False doctrine, false teachers have abounded since our Lord. They lie as their father does (John 8:44) deceiving many and leading them into condemnation. This work is of the same spirit, though distinct from the individual MoL who is to appear prior to Christ’s second coming.
9. The Man of Lawlessness will be revealed (2 Thess 2:7). Both the Greek and English testify that his revelation will be by another, that is to say, it is an act in which the MoL will be passive. He is revealed by the power of God and according to God’s plan. In other words, while he is the anti-Christ and a competitor to Christ with great and Satanic power, he is not of independent power, there being nothing independent of God. This revelation from God provides the Christian with a sure foundation upon which to stand. God is not mocked, nor is his arm made short by prevailing wickedness. As the MoL is restrained by God v 6, so too “will [he] be revealed”. He is restrained and he will be revealed by the will and authority of Almighty God.
10. The coming of The Man of Lawlessness is by the “activity of Satan, with all power and false signs and wonders” (2 Thess 2:9). How did our Lord appear at his first coming? Most certainly with all power / authority (Matt 28:18), with sigs and wonders (John 20:30-31) testifying to who he was. So will the MoL imitate our Lord at his coming, not with divine power, but Satanic power. Do not underestimate the power of Satan (read Job 1). If your faith is now bound to the miraculous, to signs and extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit’s power, take great care, Satan can do miracles too. So too will his MoL. The MoL is an emissary of Satan, perhaps Satan’s final fling at the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many will follow him into his “deception” (2 Thess 2:10)
11. Those who follow the Man of Lawlessness, will be judged in their unbelief, having a “strong delusion” sent upon them by God (2 Thess 2:11). Those that “refused to love the truth and so be saved”, those who “are perishing” will be confirmed in their unbelief by a “strong delusion” sent from God. This is an act of judgment on those who, in the church of Christ, refused to follow the truth of Christ and believe deception of the MoL. Indeed these will be days of great tribulation. We understand well, why some of John’s last words in his Revelation are “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
12. The Man of Lawlessness will be killed by the Lord Jesus and “the breath of his mouth” at his second coming. (2 Thess 2:8). The apostasy of the last days and the MoL will be brought to an end by the return of our Lord. There will be an open conflict between Christ and the MoL, with Christ the obvious victor and the MoL put to death. What that looks like is unclear though some reliable commentators even suggest a judicial execution. However it works out, the MoL will be brought to nothing, judged and condemned to hell for his terrible wickedness.
Friends, the days are spiritually perilous with the spirit of anti-Christ alive and well (1 John 2:18). They are a foretaste of what is to come with the Man of Lawlessness. Yet these are the days where we ought prepare ourselves for what is to come. The account of the “last days” of the end times are, I believe, intentionally ambiguous, so as to keep us on watch and on guard. What a great duty to ready ourselves and especially our children for such days of deception and tribulation. Perish the thought, that we should survive such days having prepared ourselves, only to see our children fall to the deception of the Man of Lawlessness!
Kim Riddlebarger The Man of Sin
Geerhardus Vos Pauline Eschatology