A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:4-12. 2). Paul’s teaching about the rebellion of Antichrist.
In this paragraph the apostle goes on to elaborate some details of the rebellion – in particular its leader (3b-5), its outbreak (6-8a) and its dynamics (8b-12).
a). The leader of the rebellion (2:3b-5).
In verses 3b and 4 the apostle introduces the chief rebel, the leader of the rebellion, by four names or titles, each with the definite article either supplied or assumed. One might render them ‘the Antinomian’ (* the man of lawlessness*, uncompromisingly hostile to the rule of law), ‘the Doomed’ (*the man doomed to destruction*, literally ‘the son of destruction’, a Hebraism meaning that his destiny is ruin), ‘the Enemy’ (*who will oppose…everything that is called God…*, being committed to godlessness) and ‘the Climber’ (who *will…exalt himself over…God*, in blatant self-aggrandisement). It seems to be the first and the last two of these which Paul emphasizes. They characterize Antichrist in relation to God and the law, and declare him to be implacably opposed to both.
First, there will be his opposition to law. Paul calls him both ‘the man of lawlessness’ (3) and ‘the lawless one’ (8). Presumably this means that he will be defiant of all law, both the moral law (asserting that there are no such things as moral absolutes) and the civil law (advocating anarchy in the name of freedom). Antichrist will be the ultimate antinomian. Jesus himself predicted that, in the future ‘Because of the increase of wickedness [*anomia*, ‘lawlessness’], the love of most will grow cold’ (Mt.24:12).
Secondly, there will be his opposition to God. Verse 4: *He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God*. All commentators have been puzzled by the mention of God’s temple. Is it a reference to the temple in Jerusalem, or to the church, or to neither? Although, before its destruction in AD 70, there were several desecrations of the Jerusalem temple, yet it would seem a gross anachronism to make Jerusalem (even if it had a temple) the centre of Antichrist’s global movement. Alternatively, Paul may be referring to the church, for he several times described it as the temple in which God dwells (E.g. Eph.2:21), and may be indicating that Antichrist will infiltrate and capture Christendom. Yet it is doubtful if the Thessalonians would have picked up this allusion. I think I.H.Marshall is right: ‘No specific temple is in mind, but the motif of sitting in the temple and claiming to be God is used to express the opposition of evil to God.’ In addition, *sets himself up* means ‘takes his seat’ (RSV) or ‘enthrones himself’ (REB). It has overtones of brazen effrontery. ‘To sit’, writes Ernest Best,
‘…is to display the minimum of respect and to make the maximum claim to deity, for God sits; it is not to sit alongside other gods in a pantheon but to take a unique place’. Antichrist will thus dethrone God in order to enthrone himself. He will even commit the ultimate blasphemy of *proclaiming himself to be God*, the verb *apodeiknymi* being often used to denote ‘the proclamation of a sovereign on his accession’. Having set himself against every object of worship, he will demand for himself the worship which he has forbidden to everybody and everything else.
Here, then, are the two principle targets of Antichrists venom. Yet God and law, religion and ethics, are the two essential ingredients of culture, which act as a glue to bond a community together, and are therefore two authorities which humankind have normally recognized. To oppose them is to undermine the foundations of society. More than that, Antichrist’s godlessness and lawlessness will go beyond a denial of these basic authorities to a demand that worship and obedience be given to him alone. Not anarchy, but totalitarianism is his goal.
But who is he? Who will he be? Is there any possibility that we, nineteen and a half centuries after Paul was writing, can positively identify the person he had in mind? We will be wise, for at least two reasons, to approach the interpretative task with humility. The first reason is that, as the text indicates, Paul had taught the Thessalonians about the man of lawlessness by word of mouth. Consequently, he introduces him without explanation and sees no need to repeat what he has already taught them. ‘You remember…you know…’, he writes (5-6).So there was a background knowledge common to Paul and the Thessalonians which we do not share. The result, writes Dr. Leon Morris, is that ‘This passage is probably the most obscure and difficult in the whole of the Pauline writings and the many gaps in our knowledge have given rise to extravagant speculations.’
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:4-12. 2). Paul’s teaching about the rebellion of Antichrist (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.