A Commentary by John Stott

2 Thessalonians 2:3b-5. a). The leader of the rebellion (continued).

Several details of these verses (Mk.13:14; cf. Mt.24:15-16) are important.

1). Matthew’s text adds the explanatory phrase ‘spoken of through the prophet Daniel’; indeed the injunction to the reader to understand is probably encouraging him to read and reapply Daniel’s prophecy.

2). Matthew’s reference to the abomination is in the neuter (which is grammatically correct), but Mark’s participle ‘standing’ is masculine, which suggests that he expected the sacrilege to be committed by a person.

3). Matthew replaces Mark’s ‘standing where it does not belong’ with ‘standing in the holy place’, alluding to the temple.

To what ‘abomination’ was Jesus referring? Some commentators wonder if he had the mad emperor Gaius (Caligula) in mind. Only about ten years later (in AD 40), claiming the worship of all his subjects and angered by what he saw as Jewish disloyalty, he gave instructions for a large statue or image of himself to be erected in the temple. His order was never carried out, however. For when huge numbers of Jews protested in horror, the diplomatic interventions of Petronius, governor of Syria, and of King Herod Agrippa I, prevailed on the emperor to withdraw the order. He was then himself assassinated in AD 41.

It is much more likely that Jesus was referring to the Jewish war of AD 66-70. He had many times predicted God’s coming judgment on the Jewish nation, and had clearly warned them of the destruction of the temple (E.g. Mt.24:1-2; Mk.13:1-2; Lk.19:41ff.; 21:5-6). Luke certainly understood that the abomination of desolation related to the Roman siege of Jerusalem (Lk.21:20-24). As for the temple, it was profaned first by Jewish zealots during the war and then by the Roman army in AD 70, who carried their ensigns (which bore the emperor’s image) into the temple courts and then proceeded to offer sacrifices to them.

We come now to the apostle Paul. It is possible that he had Caligula’s crazy scheme at the back of his mind, since only ten years had passed since his death and it must have been well remembered. But the emperor’s plan had been frustrated. So Paul knew that Daniel’s prophecies were still partially unfulfilled. In consequence, he repeated them, borrowing phraseology from Daniel as he did so, and at the same time universalizing them. If we are right in suggesting that sitting in God’s temple (2:4) is a symbol of arrogance and even blasphemy, rather than a specific reference to Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, then the rest of the picture Paul paints is of a rebellion which is global rather than local, and of an Antichrist who is more an eschatological than a contemporary figure.

As the emperor cult developed, it became ever more clearly a form of Antichrist, as Christians were commanded to substitute the words *kyrios Kaisar* (‘Caesar is Lord’) for their basic Christian confession *kyrios Jesus* (‘Jesus is Lord’). Augustus had been the first emperor to claim divinity and solicit worship. Later, Nero’s combination of personal vanity and hostility to Christians made him an object of great dislike and fear. But it was Domitian, who became emperor in AD81 and demanded to be worshipped as *Dominus et Deus*, who persecuted those who denied him the divine homage he coveted. It was almost certainly during his reign that John was banished to Patmos and wrote the Revelation. The most satisfactory explanation of the two ‘beasts’, which appear in Revelation 13 as allies of the dragon (the devil), is that both represent the Roman Empire under Domitian, the monster emerging from the sea symbolizing its persecuting power and the monster emerging from the earth (later called ‘the false prophet’) symbolizing the emperor cult.

One other use of the Antichrist motif needs to be mentioned before we leave the New Testament references. This occurs in John’s letters. He is the only New Testament author who employs the word ‘Antichrist’. He also assumes that his readers are familiar with the expectation of his coming: ‘you have heard that the antichrist is coming’. But then he boldly reinterprets the coming of Antichrist in terms of the contemporary activity of false teachers; ‘even now many antichrists have come’ (1 Jn.2:18). What facilitates their identification is their denial of the incarnation. For ‘Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist’ (1 Jn.2:22). Twice more John uses the word, insisting that anybody who ‘does not acknowledge Jesus’, especially who does not ‘acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh’, is ‘the deceiver and the antichrist’ (1 Jn. 4:3; 2 Jn.7).

Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:3b-5. a). The leader of the rebellion (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.