William J. Stewart
Something that stands out about Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica is that he mentions the coming of the Lord in every chapter. Check it out (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-17; 5:2-10, 23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2:1-3, 3:5). The apostle wanted these young Christians to be focused on and prepared for the Lord’s return.
Paul spoke about the second coming as though it were an imminent thing. He did not, nor could he say when it would happen, but he acknowledged the possibility that it could be within his lifetime.
Understand, there were a few things that needed to be accomplished first. Jesus said the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed in that generation (Matthew 24:1-2, 34-35), and the gospel would be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14) before that. In Colossians 1:23, Paul borrows the same language used by Jesus in Mark 16:15, as he affirmed the gospel “was preached to every creature under heaven.” Scholars tend to peg the letter to the Colossians between 58-62 AD.
In 70 AD, the temple fell to the Romans, and thus all that Jesus said had to happen before His return had come to pass.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Holy Spirit had Paul add one more thing which needed to take place. He wrote:
…for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thes 2:3-4)
Before the Lord’s return, there would be a falling away, an apostasy. Of course this would seem to fit well in the years leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction (see Matthew 24:4-5, 10-12). But Paul also spoke of “the man of sin” being revealed. Who is that, and when did (or will) that take place?
There’s no shortage of speculation about the man of sin. Some have thought it is Satan himself, the Jewish zealots, a Roman ruler (ie. Nero), the Antichrist, the Pope, etc.. So, who is the man of sin?
The man of sin is said to be the son of perdition. This is a title which was applied to Judas (John 17:12). This phrase tells us something about the character and the eternal end of the man of sin. Perdition means ruin, loss, destruction, death or waste.
The man of sin opposes God. He or they are antichrist. Now, don’t misunderstand. The Biblical use of that term has nothing to do with an evil world power or leader, but simply means against Christ. Anyone who is not for Christ is against Christ (Mark 12:30).
The man of sin also exalts himself above God. God is not #1 in his life, he is. He doesn’t worship the LORD, but is an adherent to the religion of MEism and perpetually bows at the altar of self.
In fact, Paul says the man of sin sits as God in the temple of God. This could be the Roman invasion of the temple in Jerusalem, but that really isn’t the temple of God anymore. The heart of the Christian is where God’s temple is now. So let me ask you a question, Who reigns in your heart? The man of sin won’t choose to have God reign in his life, but will be the ruler of his own heart.
So, who is the man of sin? Rather than it being a particular person, may I suggest it is representative of the mindset of a group of people—those who have departed from the Lord. That may not as elaborate as Satan, Jewish zealots, Nero, the Hollywood version of the Antichrist, the Pope or other explanations that have been given, but it fits the context without the need for guesswork. Our task is to be honest with the text, not to develop a dramatic interpretation.
Some may argue for a singular person on the basis of the text reading “man of sin” rather than men of sin. In both Ephesians 2:15 and 4:13, the word “man” is used to refer to a group rather than a single individual. Notice:
…having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace… (Ephesians 2:15)
…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of Man, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13)
Let us not be the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposes God and exalts himself, keeping the throne of our lives for ourselves and not the Lord. Rather, let us serve the Lord faithfully, always ready for the coming of our Lord; for we do not know the time of His coming.