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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Who is the “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8?
The apocalyptic passage of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 is so dense that it raises questions for which it is difficult to provide answers. However, when we compare it to the biblical passages that provide its foundation, some elements of the prophecy appear to be clear. We will examine the main passages from which the apocalyptic imagery is taken, then we will examine possible implications of these textual connections.
1. Daniel and the Antichrist. Paul incorporates in his description of the work of the “lawless one” elements from the prophecies of Daniel. According to Daniel, out of the 10 horns of the fourth beast (Rome) comes a little horn speaking against God and attempting “to change the set times and the laws” (Dan. 7:25, NIV). This same power “exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host” and launched an attack against the heavenly sanctuary (Dan. 8:11, 13), profaning it. The “lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:8) is characterized by pride and lawlessness and is opposed to the temple of God. Daniel adds that this religious-political power will exalt himself above every god and will not respect “the God of his fathers” or “any god” (Dan. 11:37). The parallels with 2 Thessalonians 2:4 are impressive. Daniel describes a religious-political power that was to rise after the fall and division of the Roman Empire and represented apostate Christianity during the Middle Ages.
2. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Fallen Cherub. Paul indicates that the “lawless one,” “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4, NIV). Ezekiel uses the same imagery and language when writing about the fall of a cherub in heaven. This heavenly being was “on the holy mountain of God” (Eze. 28:14), but his fundamental problem was pride: “ ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god.’ . . . You think you are as wise as a god” (verse 2, NIV). Isaiah also refers to this fallen cherub. It was his plan to “ascend to the heavens,” to place his “throne above the stars of God,” and “to sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly,” on God’s temple (Isa. 14:12, 13, NIV). He even said, “I will make myself like the Most High” (verse 14, NIV). The information from Ezekiel and Isaiah is summarized by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Ezekiel and Isaiah tell us that behind God’s earthly enemies there is a spiritual power, working out his intentions to oppose God. Throughout human history Satan uses human institutions to accomplish his intentions, but his goal is to accomplish them by himself, in his own person. This is precisely what Paul describes in his apocalyptic passage.
3. Earthly and Spiritual Antichrist. By combining prophecies from these prophets, Paul describes the coming of a future earthly power who acts in opposition to God and the future coming and work of the fallen heavenly cherub. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 Paul predicts the work, revelation, and final destruction of both. The historical expression of the antichrist through the apostasy that came into the Christian church will reach universal dimensions at the end of time, when the antichrist personally will attempt to occupy God’s place on this planet. He couldn’t do it in God’s heavenly temple but will attempt to do it here on earth. In fact, the antichrist will imitate the coming of Christ. Paul describes the Second Coming as “His [Christ’s] coming [parousia]” (verse 8), and the revelation of the “lawless one” as “the coming [parousia] of the lawless one” (verse 9). Notice also that the verb “to be revealed” (apokaluptō) is used to describe the coming of both—Jesus in 2 Thessalonians 1:7; and the lawless one in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6. 8. At the end, there will be a false, satanic “coming/revelation” and the true one.
Paul is describing the work of the antichrist through a historical and religious institution, and through his own personal “coming.” In this case the “lawless one” is the historical manifestation of the antichrist during the Middle Ages, as well as the personal “coming” of the real antichrist, whom “Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth” (verse 8, NIV; cf. Isa. 14:4).