BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 26
Copyright 1991, Biblical Horizons
Last month we surveyed what is meant by the abomination of desolation. We suggested that it refers to sacrilegious acts performed by the religious leaders of Israel, captained by their High Priest, right in front of God’s face in the Temple. Later studies in this series will provide evidence for this interpretation, and will survey the numerous times the abomination of desolation occurred in the Old Testament, before returning to a detailed study of the events prophesied in the New Testament. This time we complete our introduction by surveying 2 Thessalonians 2. We shall see that the Man of Sin in that passage is most likely the High Priest of Israel.
2:1. Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him. This could refer to the final coming of Jesus at the end of the world, or to His soon coming to render judgment on Jerusalem. There was a "gathering" that took place right after the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:29-31), and so this verse could be referring to that event. In that case, the verses that follow predict something that will happen right before this gathering. On the other hand, this verse may refer to the Last Advent, as the preceding context in chapter 1 seems to indicate. Whichever is the case, the verses that follow deal with something that is in the near future in Paul’s day, something that must take place before the AD 70 advent, and thus also before the Final Advent.
2. That you may not be quickly shaken from your mind or be disturbed either by a spirit or a word or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is upon us. Every Lord’s Day is a day of the Lord, but that clearly is not what Paul has in mind. In the Old Testament, God’s times of national judgment were called days of the Lord, and so the A.D. 70 Advent was a day of the Lord. Of course, the Final Advent is also a day of the Lord, the climactic one. The Thessalonians were looking for a near day of the Lord, an idea they must have gotten from Paul’s teaching. Accordingly, this verse almost certainly is referring to the A.D. 70 Advent, which Paul tells them is near but not as near as certain false teachers have led them to believe. In my opinion, this understanding of verse 2 settles the question of which Advent verse 1 refers to.
3. Let no man in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy [of many believers, Matt. 24:10] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. The next verse makes it clear that this is the apostate High Priest, prince of the Temple, no longer a man of God’s law but a man of lawlessness, no longer a son of Abraham but a son of destruction.
4. Who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God and every object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, displaying himself as being God. The High Priest had opposed Christ and God, and thus had opposed the true meaning of all the worship objects in the Temple. "The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses," Matthew 23:2. Those who reject God make themselves God, Genesis 3.
6. And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. The Church and her evangelism in Palestine created fence-sitters who were restraining apostate Judaism. An example is Gamaliel, Acts 5:33-42. Perhaps the falling away of so many early Christians into the Judaizing heresy would release the Man of Sin.
My own best guess is that the restrainer is the presence of believers in Jerusalem, whose presence kept Sodom from being destroyed. Their captain was James.
7. For the mystery of lawlessness [the apostate Judaizing counterfeit of the Pauline Gospel Mystery] is already at work; only he who restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. The Church would be removed from Jerusalem before her destruction; also possibly this means that the fence-sitters like Gamaliel would either be converted to Christianity or would be "converted" to a whole-hearted adoption of apostate Judaism, and in either event would stop restraining. Josephus records that the Zealots and Edomites slew one such restrainer, Zechariah the son of Berechiah or Baruch, in fulfillment perhaps of Matthew 23:35. After the removal of this restrainer, all hell broke loose. See Josephus, Jewish War 4:5:4. Since Jesus had mentioned this man by name, possibly it is he who is particularly referred to here, as one they "know."
My own best guess, however, is that it is James who is referred to. James was martyred in A.D. 62 by a particularly wicked High Priest, Ananus, who was immediately deposed. He was succeeded by Jesus the son of Damneus, who was succeeded by Jesus the son of Gamaliel. Presiding over all these acting high priests, however, was the retired but still active Ananias, the same Ananias whom Paul rebuked in Acts 23:3. This corrupt man presided over everything in the Temple like a spider. Shortly after James’s murder the Temple of Herod was finally completed. If there is anyone who is a likely candidate for Man of Sin, or at least the first person to occupy that position, it is Ananias. You can read about him briefly in Josephus’s Antiquities 20:9, where the martyrdom of James is also recounted. (I might add that according to Luenemann’s commentary on Thessalonians, which is part of Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament, an expositor named Harduin suggested that Ananias was the Man of Sin; Meyer’s Commentary, vol. 7, p. 614.)
8. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and nullify by the appearance of His coming. The "breath of His mouth" might refer to Gospel preaching, which slew apostate Israel, as Chilton points out in his liturgical remarks throughout Days of Vengeance. But the Greek verb translated "consume" is used for Divine destructive fire in Luke 9:54 and in the Greek Old Testament. My believe is that this verse pictures Jesus as the True Dragon, of whom Satan is the counterfeit (compare Job 41). We can correlate this with the outpouring of fire on Jerusalem in the book of Revelation.
The "appearance of His coming" refers to Daniel 7:13 and to Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 26:64, that the High Priest would "see" (discern) the Son of Man "come" to the Father to receive His Kingdom. When the fact of that "coming" become apparent ("appears"), the Jews will be without excuse, and will be destroyed. Note: the "coming" is not the Second Coming, nor is it a "coming in wrath upon Jerusalem," but is the event predicted in Daniel 7:13 and shown in Revelation 5. Christ came to the Father at the ascension, and this was "shown" to Israel for 40 years. When Israel rejected this "second chance," they were destroyed. Jesus’ entrance into the heavenly Temple "nullified" the earthly high priesthood and the earthly Temple.
Ananias was slain by Zealots in A.D. 66. Those who followed him enthroned in the Temple were equally bad. The whole company of them was brought to an end in A.D. 70.
9. The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan [the High Priest as son of Satan, not of Abraham; "You are of your father, the Devil," John 8:44], with all power and signs and false wonders [see Chilton and Josephus on the situation in Jerusalem just before the end].
10. And with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. [This clearly describes the situation of apostate Judaism.]
11. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false. [Compare Romans 1:21-32 and 1 Kings 22:19-23.]
12. In order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness.
When the Veil of the Temple was rent, the mystery locked up in the Holy Places was revealed. Parallel to this, the mystery of evil, the counterfeit of the gospel mystery, was also released (Zechariah 5:8; Revelation 17). Initially, many Jews accepted the gospel, but then under the influence of the mystery of lawlessness, many apostatized into the Judaizing counterfeit. Between the years AD 30 and 70, the mystery of lawlessness gained momentum, until it drew forth an Antichrist, the Man of lawlessness, who "incarnated" the mystery of iniquity. Parallel to this social development of wickedness was the continuing building of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was completed in A.D. 64. (Parallel to the development of wickedness and of the false Temple was the development of the true Church and Temple of God during this period.) The statement that this Man sat in the Temple, passing judgments on God Himself (on Christ and His followers), indicates that the focus and concentration-point of this phenomenon was in the High Priest, who was the head of Judaism and thus also of the Judaizers.
It was the preaching of the gospel and the presence of believers in Jerusalem that restrained the mystery of iniquity from reaching a climax (Gen. 18:22-33; Rom. 9:29; Rev. 11:8). I believe that the removal of that restraint happened initially with the martyrdom of James, and was worked out as the faithful Jewish Christians were massacred by the Jews and Judaizers during the next few years, immediately preceding the investiture of Jerusalem (see Revelation 7:3-8; 11:3-13; 14:1-4, 12-20; 15:2-4). Revelation 11:3-13 shows that the death of some Christian witnesses caused many Jews to convert, and I believe it is this event that Romans 11 prophesies. This multitude of new believers were massacred in Revelation 14, joining their Savior "outside the city." This massacre of Christians was the climactic abomination of desolation. At this time, when the Zealots were butchering people right and left, other Christians fled the city (Matt. 24:15-21). By driving the Christians from the city, the Jews and Judaizers drove the presence of God from their midst, leaving the city desolate. The blood of the martyrs of Revelation 14 was poured out on the city in Revelation 16 and was drunk by the Harlot in Revelation 17:3-6.
Thus, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that the world-shaking events they were expecting were not going to happen immediately, but over the next couple of decades they would watch them unfold.