Paul didn't write the forged letter...
The letter of 2 Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul about 52 A.D., less than 20 years before the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.
The Thessalonians had received a forged letter making these claims...
In response, Paul writes to clear up some confusion regarding end-time prophecy, addressing primarily with two topics...
This passage is about the 2nd coming of Christ and the redemption of believers. Paul's reference to the man of sin is merely to correct the false teachings of the forged letter.
Paul reminds them he had already taught them...
The structure of this article...
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, . . .
. . . not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Increased persecution of Christians outside of Palestine would occur as a result of the activities of a Jewish revolutionary "messiah" who would promote aggressive rebellion against Roman rule in Jerusalem. As history demonstrates, there were such men as they and they committed the most atrocious acts; they were men of lawlessness. They use the temple as a refuge in violation of Jewish law. They fought against each other; this rebellion was not unified in the least. These efforts were doomed and resulted in the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans.
These men were working towards their ultimately unsuccessful goal of taking control of Palestine from the Romans — that day, the day of the Lord. Notice the concept of messiah is tangled up with the Jewish concept of messiah, as a mere human, a political leader who would usher in a period of peace, a utopia on earth. This was the false teaching of the forged letter.
Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?
Paul had already taught them about these things presumably when he visited them a couple of years earlier.
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.
Something or someone is preventing the appearance of this man of sin from fomenting the final rebellion against the Romans leading to the Jewish War in 66–70 A.D.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
Paul briefly mentions the Jewish messanic revolutionary but shifts to the topic he really wants to discuss; the 2nd coming of Christ and the gathering to him of the redeemed.
At his 2nd coming when He comes with glory, Christ will overthrow and destroy the lawless one. This in contrast to the salvation of the redeemed, who will be saved. The Romans presumably kill him in the war but his soul continues to exist in a hellish spiritual realm. Finally at the 2nd coming, Christ will overthrow him permanently and cast him into the lake of fire along with all the other unredeemed, the other rebels against Christ.
The wording might seem to indicate as soon as the lawless one is revealed, he is immediately overthrown. But since the lawless one is destroyed at the 2nd coming there is an intervening period of time. The lawless one will be incarcerated after death until the white throne judgment. This is in keeping with Paul's argument in chapter one in which he emphasizes the final judgment of those who persecute believers.
The false kingdom the Jews are attempting to set up is destroyed in 70 A.D.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
The man of sin came with signs, wonders, and miracles; but these were counterfeit, originating from Satan. The Jews were always looking for supernatural signs and, according to Josephus and other historians, there were many of these confirming for them that the Jewish rebellion against the Romans was from God. Some of the Jews in Jerusalem may have been fooled by this leading to their extreme suffering during the Jewish War followed by death or slavery.
For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie
Many Jews would believe the counterfeit signs, wonders, and miracles of the man of sin.
The "lie" was that the man of sin was truly the long-awaited Jewish messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule.
. . . and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
The wicked are the ones fooled by the "lie". Any Jew living at the time with any spiritual sensibility would notice the extreme violence of the Jewish revolutionaries and their blatant disregard for Jewish law — they even took up residence in the temple with their weapons. Those who support and endorse wickedness will be condemned and perish just as the man of lawlessness is doomed to destruction (verse 3).
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally Paul can discuss the 2nd coming of Christ and the gathering to him of believers.
God chose those who believe in the truth to be saved. This is in contrast to those who would believe the "lie" and those who will be condemned at the 2nd coming.
The general resurrection of all believers (Old and New Testament saints) occurs at the 2nd coming of Christ.
In the last few verses Paul has been contrasting (1) the destruction of the man of lawlessness and of the unbelievers (Jewish and Christian) who believe the lie with (2) the salvation of those who believe the truth and who are not fooled by the "lie"...
In verse 1Paul connects the two ideas of (1) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (at the 2nd coming), and (2) of our being gathered to him (the resurrection). It is reasonable to interpret this as meaning that believers are gathered to Christ (resurrected) at the 2nd coming. Notice in verse 14,Paul refers to the salvation of the believers in terms of their "sharing in the glory"; often interpreted to mean resurrection.
This all fits amillennialism perfectly with the general resurrection of all believers (Old and New Testament saints) occurring at the 2nd coming of Christ.
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
Believers must not be fooled by the "lie" about a Jewish messianic utopia but must stand firm in the truth even under persecution.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Paul wishes the persecuted believers be encouraged by this word.
Verses 3 & 4refer to the man of lawlessness who sets himself up in God's temple proclaiming himself to be God. This event would occur in 66 A.D., long before the day of the Lord, meaning, the 2nd coming of Christ.
The mention of the temple causes troubles. Several options of what the temple means (and my votes)...
So how can the man of lawlessness be a yet-future Antichrist who sets himself up in the temple before its destruction in 70 A.D.?
To understand this passage we have to identify many key phrases...
Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians that ...
The forged letter proclaimed the Jewish idea of the "day of the Lord" and claimed to be written by Paul. Even though the man of lawlessness (false Messiah) was not yet on the scene, the Jewish revolutionaries were well underway in their rebellion against the Romans.
From the time Paul wrote the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians in 52 A.D.
|The forged letter||Paul's teaching|
|Riots in 38 A.D.|
|Uprising in 46 A.D. by Jewish revolutionaries|
|Causing persecution of Christians (and Jews)|
|= the day of the Lord|
|Paul visits the Thessalonians and teaches them in 50 A.D.|
|Forged letter sent|
|Paul writes 2 Thessalonians|
|A messianic political ruler would appear on the scene||False messiahs would appear on the scene|
|To overthrow the yoke of Roman rule||Attempting to overthrow the yoke of Roman rule|
|Jewish autonomy over Palestine||They would fail|
|Jewish war 66–70 A.D.|
|Destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.|
|19+ centuries pass|
|2nd coming of Christ — the day of the Lord|
|Judgment of all enemies of Christ|
There are two days of the Lord and two men of lawlessness...
Paul first talks briefly about the forged letter so he mentions the false view. Then he switches to a longer discussion of the true view.
Here's the identity of three items for various views...
|Man of lawlessness||Temple||Day of the Lord|
|Preterism||Jewish revolutionary "messiah"||Literal temple||70 A.D.|
|Pre-mill||Future Antichrist||Rebuilt in the future||Rapture|
|(no name)||Future Antichrist||Allegorical||2nd coming of Christ|
|My view — forged letter||Jewish revolutionary "messiah"||Literal temple||Soon|
|My view — Paul taught them||n/a||n/a||2nd coming of Christ|
Why are they troubled? Because the "day of the Lord" of the forged letter was a bad thing and they were in it.
How can events in Jerusalem be bad for those in Thessonica? When the Jews overthrow the Romans and take back Palestine, the Romans will retaliate on the Jews and Christians elsewhere in the Roman Empire.
Here are some possibilities of why they were troubled (and my votes)...
There is much speculation about this topic...
Proponents of the premillennial, pre-tribulational rapture end-time scenario claim that the one who "holds back" the appearance of the man of lawlessness is the Holy Spirit residing in the church and that it is the rapture which allows the man of lawlessness to appear. This is certainly a valid interpretation of this passage, however, it's not the only way in which this passage can be interpreted.
The "one who holds it back" is referred to as "he" in the two phrases, "the one who now holds it back" and "until he is taken out of the way." The question is whether this "he" is the presence of the Holy Spirit residing in the body of Christ.
It certainly could be. But the word "he" could also refer to God himself. The phrases in question could read, "God now holds it back and will continue to do so" and "the power of lawlessness which is already at work will be allowed to increase when God is taken out of the way" (through disobedience to Him).
I reject this view: Another possibility is that Jesus in the Eucharist is taken out of the way because so many Catholics and Orthodox fall into apostasy. The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is what holds the Antichrist back. When this presence no longer occurs due to neglect then the Antichrist will finally be able to appear on the scene as Satan is released for a short time (see Revelation 20:3).
I reject this view: In the church age the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the faith life of Christians holds back the powers of Satan. Until this is taken away (through apostasy and neglect) Satan cannot deceive the nations like he will in the future time of the Antichrist. At that time many baptized Christians will completely abandon the faith.
I reject this view: Jesus in the Eucharist will be taken out of the way because so many Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran Christians will fall into apostasy (along with Christians in general) and stop celebrating the Eucharist. Paul expresses the idea of Christian apostasy in terms of the Eucharist because the Eucharist was the central celebration of the re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice which was performed in every church service.
I reject this view: When the presence of Christ in the Eucharist becomes an infrequent event the Antichrist will finally appear on the scene as Satan is released for a short time (see Revelation 20:3).
These are key verses. There are several factors Paul has in mind...
In verses 3 and 4, Paul describes events which perfectly match the historical accounts of the Jewish rebellion that occurred against the Romans. In these events there was indeed a false Messiah (as I will demonstrate) who preceded the 2nd coming of Christ (the "day of the Lord") — that day has not yet occurred. Paul doesn't specify how much time would elapse between these two events, but the 2,000-plus year interval is not a concern since the direct context has to do with correctly identifying the true nature of the "day of the Lord" and to demonstrate that it had not yet occurred. (Even the premillennialists acknowledge a time period of seven years between these events).
According to Josephus the Jewish rebellion against the Romans was starting to get intense at the time 2 Thessalonians was written.
The various phrases in these verses...
Words and phrases in verses 3 and 4:
They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. (Acts 21:21)
I suggest that the word "rebellion" refers to the events leading up to the Jewish War of 66 A.D. which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The Jewish rebels (especially the Zealots) violated the temple by using it as a military stronghold and in doing so rebelled against the law and against God (in addition to rebelling against the Romans). The rebellion consisted of:
(1) Rebellion against God
(2) Rebellion against the Romans
(3) Rebellion against each other (at the time Jerusalem was attacked by Titus there were 3 Jewish factions engaged in civil war)
Verses 3 and 4 also refer to a time of trial and apostasy which will happen for the church in the future before the 2nd coming of Christ. Paul is using the current events to foreshadow the far-future prophecies.
None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12)
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction [perdition] of ungodly men. (2 Pet 3:7) [Note that "perdition" is final judgment and destruction.]
Whoever the "man of lawlessness" is, he will be judged for his sins.
In the context it sounds a bit like the premillennial view which states that there will be a single historical person (it doesn't say "men" of lawlessness). But since this passage is linked to the temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. there are really only 3 choices (and my votes):
(1) There will be a "renewed" temple after 70 A.D. (ala premillennialism). This option is unlikely since one of the purposes of the temple is to practice the Jewish ceremonies including animal sacrifice. But this is no longer necessary since Christ came to fulfilled the law. — I vote No!
If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:17)
(2) There was a single individual before 70 A.D. who can clearly be identified (There are half a dozen people who fit this, but it is difficult to single one of them out as "the" one — but perhaps at the time it was more obvious which one was meant). — I vote Yes!
(3) There was a "spirit" of rebellious lawlessness which was influencing many Jewish revolutionaries. — I vote Yes!I propose that the man of lawlessness was either (1) Menahem, (2) Eleazar, (3) John, (3) the Zealots and their leaders, or (4) a composite of these and others. Josephus writes about them as follows (a paraphrase):
Menahem — The lower city and the temple were in the hands of the rebels who excluded their opponents (the leading Jews, chief priests and those favoring peace) from the temple but admitted the terrorists with their hidden daggers. Menahem returned to Jerusalem and became the leader of the rebellion. He killed Ananias the high priest and became an unbearable tyrant. But he was soon killed.
Eleazar — The Jews called an assembly in the temple and appointed generals for the war. Eleazar was passed over because he was suspected of tyranny. But in time he gained supreme command.
John — Once in Jerusalem, John went around inciting groups to war, portraying the Romans as weaklings. Jerusalem was now divided into two hostile factions: the enthusiasts for war and the friends of peace.
The Zealots — At last the people were ready for rebellion against the Zealots who had taken refuge in the temple of God and turned it into a fortress, making the Holy Place their headquarters. The Romans had never overstepped the limits at the temple, but those who called themselves Jews strolled freely inside the Holy Place, their hands still hot with the blood of their countryman.
John (again) and the Zealots — John, always plotting for despotic power, pretended to side with the populace but he betrayed their secrets to the Zealots. They brought down on their country the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: when sedition broke out in the city and the natural hands defiled god's sanctuary, the temple would be burned to the ground and the city taken.
Looking at how Satan proclaimed himself to be God provides a clue:
By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. (Ezek 28:18)
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." (Matthew 4:8-9)Satan desecrated the sanctuary by his sins and in the context of desiring a kingdom for himself. This is really what the Jewish rebels were doing — they were not honoring God's command to obey the Roman rule but were seeking to establish their own kingdom based on the Jewish millennial idea. This is the sense in which the rebel leaders were proclaiming themselves to be God.
The Thessalonians had received a forged letter making one or more of these claims (and my votes):
Paul is writing to assure them that the "day of the Lord" (in its true meaning) had not yet come. As evidence of this he repeats the teaching he gave them when he was with them that the coming of the "man of lawlessness" (false political Messiah) must occur prior to the "day of the Lord" (2nd coming of Christ).
Paul then goes on to discuss topics relating to those who will be alive at the time of the "man of lawlessness" so they will be able to recognize this time period. This "man of lawlessness" will perform signs, wonders and miracles to deceive people and many will believe the "lie."
But Paul explains that those who believe the "lie" will perish and be destroyed just as the "man of lawlessness" will be destroyed. However, those who are saved will resist the "lie" and will stand firm and be saved.
Two things that will occur at the 2nd coming of Christ (the "day of the Lord"):
(1) The destruction of unbelievers, and
(2) The salvation of believers
Why would the Thessalonians believe that Paul had written the forged letter?
How did Paul's response comfort the Thessalonians?
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree. (Romans 11:17)
The root of God's plan of salvation is the nation of Israel. But because the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Jewish nation as a whole was broken off. They will be grafted in when they recognize Jesus as the Messiah; when they join the Church. There will be a future time when this happens en masse.
The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel", for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus. . . . St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles", will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", in which "God may be all in all".
Notice the Jews are reconciled in the plan of God by acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, they must join the Church.
We must identify what is the "day of the Lord". In many Old Testament prophecies this phrase is used for judgment by God for wickedness, often against the nation of Israel.
The Day of the Lord
See, the day of the LORD is coming — a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger — to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. (Isaiah 13:9)
In the New Testament the phrase "day of the Lord" always refers to the 2nd coming of Christ (and His judgment of the wicked and eternal blessing for believers). [Note: this statement is based on the amillennial viewpoint.] In the context of verse one it is likely to mean the same as the phrase "the Coming of Christ" which clearly refers to the 2nd coming.
It is also important to identify the false ideas about the "day of the Lord" that the forged letter contained.
Some possible meanings (and my votes) for the day of the Lord:
These are key verses. To interpret it literally (as the premillennialists claim to do) does not require there to be a literal restored Jewish temple in the still-distant future. In this strictly literal interpretation the "man of lawlessness" does not arise in the distant future but within 15 years of the time this letter was written. In verse 4, Paul refers to the temple which is clearly a reference to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. This temple was destroyed in August 70 A.D. so the "man of lawlessness" would have come before then. Premillennialists claim that this refers to a future restored temple but this doesn't make sense because God is finished with Israel (see next paragraph). The church now takes the place of the nation of Israel (the Church = Israel) and in the church there can be no temple since Christ has sacrificed Himself once for all.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 675 — 677.
The Church's ultimate trial. Before Christ's 2nd coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.
Notice the sequence of events.
Thessalonians chapter two can provide support many different end-time viewpoints including premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism. It all depends on how we define or interpret these key phrases. I am of the opinion that there is not enough unambiguous information in this passage to derive an end-time viewpoint.