In our previous study of the chapter’s opening verses, we saw that Paul’s eschatology agrees substantially with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. In considering the Antichrist, we should note as well the correspondence between Paul and the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Remembering that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture, it may be helpful to consider the general portrait given by those prophecies as a safeguard for our interpretation of Paul’s portrait.

During Israel’s Babylonian exile, Daniel was shown a vision of beasts that symbolized four great empires in ancient history (Dan. 7:1-8). This succession of beasts led to the appearing of “one like a son of man,” who conquered and “was given dominion and glory and a kingdom…that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14). In this way, Daniel saw how wicked earthly kingdoms will rise up one after another, only to have their idolatry and violence swept away by Christ’s glorious appearing.

Reading Daniel, it might have been tempting to believe that Rome was the last of the beasts to come upon the earth. Yet the book of Revelation employs similar imagery, at one point describing “a beast rising out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1) that combines features from all four of the beasts from Daniel’s vision. Like the beasts of Daniel, Revelation’s beasts are violent rulers that destroy and oppose God’s kingdom. As a composite of Daniel’s four beasts, Revelation 13:1’s beast depicts the phenomenon of violent worldly powers that recurs throughout history and finds ultimate expression in the final days. Paul speaks of “the lawless one” who is empowered “by the activity of Satan” (2 Thess. 2:9). Revelation likewise states that the “beast” receives authority from “the dragon,” an obvious image of Satan (Rev. 13:4).

The book of Revelation was probably written over forty years after Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, accurately describing what the early Christians would endure under the regimes of Roman emperors. Like the beasts of Revelation, the emperors wielded terrible violence against the church, exhibited satanic evil, and demanded worship of themselves as gods. Through its portraits of the dragon and his beasts, Revelation accurately describes the combination of government persecution and idolatrous demands for worship that would try the faith of Christians in the years after Paul’s letter.

Revelation’s dragon and his beasts not only depicted what Christians faced in the late first century and would continue to face all through history, but also supported the futurist understanding that these events will come to an ultimate expression when the final Antichrist arises before the return of Christ. Not only does Paul summarize Revelation’s later portrait of the Antichrist, with his violent persecution and idolatrous demands, but Paul also makes it particularly clear that the final Antichrist must be taken as an individual human being in service to Satan.

Focusing on this final, ultimate, and individual Antichrist, Paul offers four descriptions. First, he is “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). In Satan’s cause, the Antichrist will rise up against the ruling rights of God as expressed in His law. Daniel 12:9-10 foretold that in the end “the wicked shall act wickedly,” and Paul indicates that the Antichrist will be their champion in flouting God’s rule. Second, the Antichrist is “the son of destruction” (v. 3). Jesus used the same description for Judas Iscariot, who alone of His twelve disciples would be lost (John 17:12). This comparison suggests that Paul’s Antichrist is doomed to hell.

Third, the Antichrist is not content with rebellion and destruction, but demands worship: he “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or worship…, proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4). In place of God, the man of lawlessness demands religious veneration for himself. The word that Paul uses for opposes (antikeimenos) is also used in 1 Timothy 5:14 to describe Satan as “the adversary” of the church. The man of lawlessness opposes true and saving faith so as to secure worship for himself. This is precisely what Roman emperors of the early church demanded, as their Christian victims would have recognized in reading the book of Revelation. More recently, imperial worship finds its analogy in the deified secular state, whether in the Communist tyrannies of the East or the Socialist democracies of the West. The spirit of antichrist demands that its subjects look to the state and its ruler for provision and deliverance rather than to God. Today’s anti-Christian politicians employ science and popular culture to push God and His rule out of society. This same historical impulse will come to a final and ultimate expression in the tribulation imposed by the Antichrist.

The fourth description shows that the Antichrist will seek not only to persecute but also to control the church from within. Paul takes up the language earlier used by Daniel and then by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse, saying that the Antichrist “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4). The question is raised as to what Paul means in saying that the Antichrist “takes his seat in the temple of God.” Dispensationalists take this statement to refer to a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, which the Antichrist will physically occupy for personal veneration. The problem with this view is that not once in all his writings does Paul use the word temple to describe a rebuilt temple structure.

A second view believes that Paul’s reference to the Antichrist seated in the temple is metaphorical. The point would be that just as one might go into the temple and physically take the place of God, the Antichrist will similarly demand worship for himself. While this is a possible interpretation, a third view makes better sense of Paul’s usual use of the word temple. Paul sometimes speaks of the individual Christian as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). But predominantly Paul refers to the temple in terms of the Christian church as a whole. The church, he says, is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” and “grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21).

With this in mind, we note that Paul’s forth statement regarding the Antichrist indicates that he will pursue his idolatrous agenda not only through government power but also from within the formal Christian church. Paul concludes: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I told you these things?” (v. 5). According to the apostle, it was important for Christians to realize the pattern at work in history and to be aware of how the great tribulation of the end will take place. Empowered by “the activity of Satan” (v. 9), the Antichrist will rebel against God by seizing both worldly power and religious authority, using them to bring tribulation on believers and gain worship for himself on Satan’s behalf. We cannot now be certain how the Antichrist will manipulate religious authority, but it is likely to involve the worldly corruption of church offices, and it will certainly involve the spread of false teaching. Christians can thus oppose him now by upholding biblical standards in the ministry, the spiritual focus of the church, and above all the defense of sound biblical doctrine.

Paul’s description of the Antichrist, who not only will appear before Christ’s return but will be represented in the spiritual warfare of every age, along with the insights that we have gained about Satan’s approach to war, points to some applications for us today. First, Christians are forewarned not to be surprised at opposition to the gospel both from the world and within the church. Contrary to postmillennial eschatology, which sees Christ returning only after a golden age in which the church has triumphed over the world in Christian faith and culture, Paul’s teaching on the Antichrist urges us to anticipate such a concentrated expression of satanic power that only the sudden appearing of Christ can save the church from destruction.

Second, since Satan aims to provoke apostasy from Christ and idolatrous worship for himself, Christians must never swerve from the gospel and an exclusive devotion to God alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Third, Christians should face every form of spiritual opposition – whether it is outward persecution or inward corruption in the church – with a joy that flows from complete confidence of victory in the soon appearing of Jesus Christ. We should make every effort to absorb what Paul and other biblical writers say, while at the same time modestly admitting that full clarity about the Antichrist is not provided to us in Scripture. But when it comes to the return of Christ, we have detailed knowledge of the sure salvation that He is coming soon to bring: He will raise the dead, gather His people, overthrow all evil and darkness, justify those who have believed His gospel and condemn unbelievers in the final judgment. And in the eternal reign that follows, “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

The issue, therefore, is not what we know about the Antichrist but where we stand with respect to Jesus Christ. Are we worshiping false gods such as money, pleasure, power, or self? However the events are moving forward to the Antichrist, Satan always seeks to lure the unwary into worshiping things over which he wields influence, rather than honoring God alone by surrendering our lives in faith through Jesus Christ. Despite all present evil and dark clouds of darkness on the horizon, the way to live in joyful security is to commit yourself in trusting service to Jesus Christ, who will come on the clouds to save all whose hearts are devoted to Him.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-10 Study Questions:

What events described in verses 3-8 does Paul see ahead in the future?

In this context, what are the characteristics of the “man of lawlessness” Paul describes?

What parallels or examples do you see in our own society of people or institutions living out the characteristics of the “man of lawlessness”?


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