A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:3b-5. a). The leader of the rebellion (continued).
This brings us to the second need for humility. Church history is littered with incautious, self-confident but mistaken attempts to find in Paul’s text a reference to some contemporary person and event. Let this be a warning to us to be more cautious and tentative than some others have been. At the same time, we have no liberty to abandon the task as hopeless, for 2 Thessalonians 2 is an important part of Scripture, which has been written and preserved for the church’s instruction.
The fundamental theme of opposition to God has a long history, and the New Testament references to Antichrist have an Old Testament background. Although the Old Testament contains some imprecise allusions to Babylonian creation myth, in which the chaos monster Tiamat struggles against the god Marduk, it is in the Garden of Eden that we are first made aware of human beings seduced by the devil into defying God. The prophets detected this arrogant spirit in the surrounding pagan emperors, so that in two passages their ambition to rival or replace God is deliberately portrayed in language which echoes Genesis 3. The King of Babylon fell because he said in his heart ‘I will ascend to heaven;…I will sit enthroned…I will make myself like the Most High’ (Is.14:13-14), while the ruler of Tyre dared to say: ‘I am a god [or God]; I sit on the throne of a god [or God]…’ (Ezk.28:2).
It was during the second century BC, however, that the most notable embodiment of rebellion against God and his people took place. The Syrian King Antiochus IV, known as Epiphanes, was guilty of appalling desecrations of the temple in Jerusalem. In 169 BC he presumed to enter the Holy of Holies, and the following year he erected an altar to Zeus on the altar of burnt offering, probably placed a statue of Zeus over it, and sacrificed a pig on it. This was the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ (Mt.24:15; Mk.13:14), ‘desolating sacrilege’ (RSV) or ‘The Awful Horror’ (GNB) which is referred to historically in the First book of the Maccabees (1 Macc.1:54ff.) and prophetically in the Book of Daniel (Dn. 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Antiochus Epiphanes can be recognized without difficulty in Daniel as the King who is represented as a ‘little horn’. He had ‘a mouth that spoke boastfully’, and in the interpretation of Daniel’s dream which follows, it is said that ‘he will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints’ (Dn.7:8, 25). In a later vision Antiochus Epiphanes is called ‘the king of the North’ who invades the south, violates the temple fortress, abolishes the daily sacrifice, and sets up the abomination that causes desolation (Dn.11:28-31). Indeed, ‘the king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods’ (Dn.11:36). Since phraseology from these prophecies was picked up both by Jesus (in his Olivet discourse) and by Paul (in 2 Thess.2), Antiochus Epiphanes became a prototype of Antichrist.
The Jews saw another example of ‘the abomination of desolation’ in the Roman general Pompey, who in 63 BC defeated their nation, captured Jerusalem and desecrated the temple by intruding into the Holy of Holies. The so-called *Psalms of Solomon*, which were written soon afterwards, refer to him as ‘the sinner’ and ‘the lawless one’.
Jesus himself was evidently clear that Daniel’s prophecy had not been completely fulfilled either in Antiochus Epiphanes or in Pompey, but awaited a further fulfilment. For he repeated or confirmed the prophecy: ‘When you see “the abomination that causes desolation” standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.’ (Mk.13:14; cf. Mt.24:15-16). Several details of this verse are important.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:3b-5. a). The leader of the rebellion (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.