Two terms, scarcely found in the Scriptures, receive much attention in current end-time interpretive systems---‘The Antichrist’ and ‘The Man of Sin’; literally, ‘the man, the lawless’. The first is a term found only in 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3 and 2 John 7). The second, is found only in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The most common concept is that the antichrist and the man of sin are the same individual. In addition, many believe he will be some super human malignancy who shall rise to power in the time right before the end and shall demand the worship of all mankind. In the book, The Late Great Planet Earth, the writer Hal Lindsey says concerning the antichrist, "He will have a magnetic personality, be personally attractive, and a powerful speaker. He will be able to mesmerize an audience with his oratory. The Antichrist will deify himself…He will proclaim himself to be God. He will demand that he be worshipped" (pp. 108-109). He also says, "There would be no earthly advantage in being alive when the Antichrist rules. We believe that Christians will not be around to watch the debacle brought about by the cruelest dictator of all time" (pp. 112-113). Hence, in popular premillennial theory, the antichrist is said to appear after the supposed removal of all the Christians from the earth.
1 and 2 John
Contrary to the claims of men like Hal Lindsey and other denominational writers who claim with certainty that the end is coming soon, the inspired apostle John had a completely different view of the "antichrist".
- The antichrist isn’t a single individual, rather John said, "even now many antichrists have arisen" (1 John 2:18). The antichrist doesn’t appear at the end of time, rather, many existed in the first century. The antichrist is not a superhuman individual or an incarnation of the devil, rather, they were ordinary people (2:19).
- An antichrist is simply anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). Hence, Jews and Gentiles who rejected the claim that Jesus was the Messiah were "antichrist". Modern day groups who reject the deity of Jesus, that Jesus is divine just like the Father, such as the Jehovah Witnesses are "antichrist". Groups who believe in the Jesus-only doctrine, that is that Jesus is the only member of the Godhead and that there isn’t a distinct Father or Holy Spirit, are also "antichrist". People who claim that Jesus was a good man, a wonderful teacher, but not God—are also "antichrist".
- "And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist" (1 John 4:3). In this context, one is "antichrist" when they deny the incarnation, that is, that Jesus (God) came to this earth and dwelt in a human body (1 John 4:2; John 1:14). "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 7). In addition, notice that such antichrists are existing while Christians are on this earth. The term "antichrist", simply means an opponent of the Messiah, one who is opposed to the truth concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. While there would be those who claimed to be the Messiah (false Messiahs, Matthew 24:5, 24), the false teachers that John described didn’t claim to be the Messiah. Most Premillennialists argue that the antichrist will present himself as the savior of the world.
2 Thessalonians 2
"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the day of the Lord, verse 2) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes the exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God….And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 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" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).
- Most Premillennialists equate the "man of lawlessness" with the antichrists which John speaks of, but the Bible never says they are one and the same, while the Premillennialists have a supposed future world dictator arising after all the Christians have been supposedly removed from the earth. But note where Paul places this man of lawlessness. The man of lawlessness is part of an apostasy which will hit the church, an apostasy that happens while Christians are living on the earth. In the first letter Paul makes it clear that Christians will be on the face of the earth when the "day of the Lord" happens (1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:2), yet the man of lawlessness appears before this day happens.
- This man of lawlessness cannot be a single individual, for he would appear some time after the time of the apostles (the apostasy which would produce him was already active when Paul wrote this letter, 2:7), and continue to exist until the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Therefore the man of lawlessness must refer to a succession of individuals who all occupy the same position or office.
- The expression "man of lawlessness" doesn’t necessary refer to someone who is an atheist. "Lawlessness" simply refers to someone who refuses to submit themselves to the law of God (1 John 3:4). In fact, Jesus labels very religious people, professed believers who didn’t obey Him as being lawless (Matthew 7:21-23).
- The term "son of perdition" doesn’t mean that this is a personification of evil or the devil incarnated. But the phrase is elsewhere used in the Bible in reference to ordinary human beings (John 17:12; Ephesians 2:1-3).
- The individual is inherently linked with the coming apostasy. In other passages Paul talks about this same apostasy and gives us some specific details. Elders would abuse their power and try to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30). People would be teaching various food laws and advocating mandatory celibacy (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Members would no longer listen to sound doctrine but would rather listen to doctrines that are easy on the ears (2 Timothy 4:2-4). People who advocate the appearance of a definite Antichrist right before the end fail to realize that the apostasy that Paul spoke about hit the church centuries ago and resulted in Roman Catholicism. Paul specifically said that the man of lawlessness would be produced by this apostasy.
- "Who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2:4).
Some say that the temple of God under consideration is the temple that existed in Jerusalem. But that temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. Some argue for a rebuilt temple near the time when Jesus would come back, but that temple was part of an inferior system, a covenant that could never forgive sin (Hebrews 8:6-9:4). The temple of God in the New Testament is the church (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). Hence this was an apostasy that happened within Christianity and this man of lawlessness is a professed Christian. Since the falling away has already taken place centuries ago, then we must conclude that the man of sin is not one person (since he will still exist when Christ comes), but a succession of individuals all occupying the same position. In addition, seeing that Catholicism has taught and still teaches the false doctrines mentioned in 1Timothy 4:1-3, it seems clear that the man of lawlessness refers to the Popes of the Catholic Church. The popes have called themselves by titles as great or greater than those of God. The following title has been used, "Our Lord God the Pope, another God on earth—doeth whatsoever he listeth, even things unlawful, and is more than God". "The Pope can do all things God can do". Pope Leo XIII said of himself a little more than a century ago (1890), "The supreme teacher in the Church is the Roman Pontiff. Union of minds therefore requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission of will to the church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself". And in 1894 he declared: "We hold the place of Almighty God on earth". As late as April 30th, 1922, Pope Pius XI, declared, "You know that I am the Holy Father, the representative of God on earth, the Vicar of Christ, which means I am God on earth". The early reformers, such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox all believed that this section of Scripture referred to the Pope.
- Some argue that the restraining influence in verse 6 is the Holy Spirit. The idea is that when all the Christians are removed from the earth (the false doctrine of the rapture), that the Holy Spirit will be removed at the same time, and then the Antichrist will appear. But notice the context of 2 Thessalonians 2. The man of lawlessness is revealed while Christians are still on the face of the earth, for it happens before the day of the Lord. The restraining power which prevented a bishop from assuming universal claim over the church was the Roman Empire. The papacy could not reach the pinnacle of its power while Rome had all power. During the first three hundred years of the history of Christianity it was a persecuted illegal religion. This fact hindered any power hungry bishop from assuming a lot of authority. When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Roman church became all-powerful.
- The papacy is called the "lawless one", because it refuses to be in subjection to the law of God. In fact, they claim that their communications are equal with Scripture and they often override and negate clear Biblical commands (1 Timothy 3:2).
- The phrase "false wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9), refers to signs and wonders which are fakes. The Catholic Church leans on claims of supposed miracles. Every time a dead man is proclaimed a "saint", there must be evidence brought forth that he or she did at least two miracles. The shrines associated with Catholicism attract thousands of pilgrims, many of whom go away and claiming to be healed. The various claimed miraculous appearances of the virgin Mary. We read about Catholics who have spontaneously bleeding wounds in the places where Christ was wounded on the cross. We are told that the bread and fruit of the vine miraculously change into the very flesh and blood of Christ during the mass.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/ (503) 644-9017