Apostasy and the Man of Lawlessness

SYNOPSIS - Two events must occur before the Day of the Lord – The apostasy and the arrival of the Man of Lawlessness2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

Storm Clouds - Photo by Nahil Naseer on Unsplash
Next, the Apostle Paul explained to the Thessalonians why the “Day of the Lord” had NOT yet commenced. Two main events must occur first – The “apostasy” and the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness, the Son of Destruction.” In Thessalonica, the men fomenting anxiety among church members were deceiving the church about the future - (“Let no man deceive you”). - [Storm Clouds Toronoto - Photo by Nahil Naseer on Unsplash].

The Greek verb rendered “cheat” or “deceive” is exapatao, which is used only by Paul in the New Testament. It has a basic sense of “deceive.” His warning parallels the opening exhortation by Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse’ - “Let no man deceive you” - And Paul gave this warning in a similar context - Overheated prophetic expectations - (Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8).
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) - “That no one may cheat you in any one respect. Because that day will not set in— except the revolt come first and there he revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, The one who opposeth and exalteth himself on high against every one called God or an object of worship; so that he, within the sanctuary of God, shall take his seat, showeth himself forth that he is God” - (The Emphasized Bible).
The “day of the Lord” will not commence until, “first,” the apostasy occurs, and second, the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. The syntax of the Greek clause is not clear whether the “apostasy” will precede the “man of lawlessness” or both events will be concurrent. In the literary context, most likely Paul means that both events must transpire before the “day of the Lord” will commence.

The “apostasy” and the “man of lawlessness” are linked - This man will excel at propagating the very deceptions that lead Christians astray. If anything, the deceivers who were active in Thessalonica were forerunners of this ultimate and final deceiver:
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9) - “Whose arrival will be according to an inworking of Satan, with all manner of mighty work and sign and wonders of falsehood, And with all manner of deceit of unrighteousness in them who are destroying themselves, because the love of the truth they did not welcome.”
The term “apostasy” translates the Greek noun apostasia, meaning, “falling away, apostasy, defection.” In both the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, it is applied to defection from the true faith, and to “divorce.”

Apostasia is related to the Greek verb aphistemi, which means “to forsake, depart, revolt - To withdraw.” Elsewhere, it is used for “forsake,” as in “forsaking” the faith - (Matthew 5:31, Acts 21:21, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:12).

The idea of a final apostasy is common in the New Testament and, very probably, originated with Jesus. Note the following passages:
  • (Matthew 24:5) – “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray.”
  • (Matthew 24:11-12) – “And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) – “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (Compare - 2 Timothy 3:1-3).
This figure is given two designations - The “man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction.” The latter is used only once in the chapter. However, and possibly not coincidentally, the exact same phrase was applied by Jesus to Judas Iscariot - (John 17:12 - “I kept them in thy name: those that thou gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of destruction”).

The image of a man who causes “lawlessness” and “destruction” is derived from the figure of the “little horn” in the book of Daniel. Note the following parallels:
  • (Daniel 7:24-25) – “And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings; he shall speak words against the Most-High and he shall wear out the saints - and he shall think to change the times and the law.”
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) – “But in the aftertime of their kingdom, when the transgressors have filled up their measure,—there will stand up a king of mighty presence and skillful in dissimulation; and his strength will be mighty, but not through his own strength, and wonderfully will he destroy and succeed and act with effect,— and he will destroy mighty ones and the saints; and by his cunning will he both cause deceit to succeed in his hand, and in his own heart will he magnify himself…and against the ruler of rulers will he stand up but, without hand shall be broken in pieces.”
  • (Daniel 11:31-32) – “And forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt-offering, and they shall set up the abomination that desolates. And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries.”
The “one who opposes and exalts himself on high” alludes to a passage from the eleventh chapter of Daniel, but also echoes the interpretation of the vision of the Ram and Goat from the eighth chapter. Note the following parallels:
  • (Daniel 11:36) - “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods.”
  • (Daniel 8:25) – “And through his policy he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart.”
Both passages referred originally to Antiochus IV, a notorious ruler of the Seleucid empire who attempted to destroy the religion of Israel - (Reigned: 175-163 B.C.). He was the “little horn” from the “fourth beast” and a ruler of one of the four Greek kingdoms that formed after the death of Alexander the Great.

Antiochus IV caused the “cessation of the daily sacrifice,” “desolated the sanctuary,” and installed the “abomination that desolates” on the altar of burnt offerings in Jerusalem. In this way, he destroyed many of the “saints” of Israel - (Daniel 8:9-13, 8:21-26, 9:26-27 11:1-4, 11:31-36).
Behind Paul’s picture is the attempt by Antiochus IV to destroy the religion of Israel through violent repression, and by inducing apostasy among the leadership of the Jewish nation - (“And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries”).
During a three-year period, this Greek ruler banned the Mosaic Law, circumcision, and the keeping of Israel’s holy days. Additionally, he ordered copies of the Torah to be burned and installed an altar to Zeus Olympias in the Temple - (“The trespass that desolates”). His attempt to destroy the faith of Israel made him an excellent model for the “man of lawlessness” and the future “apostasy” – (Daniel 8:9-13).

The temple of God” (ton naon tou theou). Elsewhere, Paul consistently applies the “naos” or “sanctuary” of God to the church, NOT to a building in Jerusalem. Note the following:
  • (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
  • (1 Corinthians 6:19) – “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”
  • (2 Corinthians 6:16) – “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
  • (Ephesians 2:21) – “In whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
The goal of the “Man of Lawlessness” will be to lead genuine saints into apostatizing from the faith. That is why Paul warns about his appearance in the “sanctuary of God.”

Next, Paul will describe how this malevolent man will be revealed, and at the appropriate time – The logical outworking of the “mystery of lawlessness” that has been working surreptitiously in human history to prepare the “arrival” of the “Son of Destruction.”

Throughout this discussion, the concern of the Apostle has remained focused on the spiritual well-being of the Christians at Thessalonica – To keep them safe from deceptions about the “arrival” of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord.”


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