First I’d like to thank you for your teaching and answers on the Evidence for Christianity website. You helped me in understanding some parts of the scriptures that troubled me. I have had paranoid schizophrenia for several years and I can easily get fearful of the future. I can feel that I could be easily mislead, although the leadership group in our church do a good job in keeping a sound doctrine and theology.
Perhaps it is because of my mental illness that the passage 2Thess 2:1-12 still seems quite scary to me, and it’s hard to find reliable sources to understand it. The apostle Paul wrote this to calm down the Thessalonians, but I’m not in the 1st century. When I tried to understand it by myself, I could understand it only partly. I could see that this “Man of Lawlessness” appears in the church (“temple of God” = church), it comes after a “falling away form the faith”, but I thought it might come in the unknown future, which assumption was frightening. I could find for myself in this passage that this “Man of Lawlessness” would not say he was God, that would be too easy a trick to spot. He would “display himself like God”, meaning two things to me (1) just like Satan he will outwardly disguise himself to be of the light, (2) so gaining attention and some privileges, power, service and treatment that only belong to God. But I was afraid that our church was in the most danger because why would Satan attack those who are lost, for the lost to become “even more lost?” That didn’t make sense to me. So I was afraid that some misleading person would arise in our church, maybe in my lifetime, or later. And then I found this article by Wayne Johnson that calmed me down, because it says the “Man of Lawlessness” has already come in the form of the Roman Catholic papacy. But I’d like to ask for your opinion. What do you say, is that article reliable enough? I think some details seem to be incorrect but the bulk of the message seems to me right. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/677-who-is-pauls-man-of-sin
If you think it’s incorrect, what is your interpretation of 2Thess 2:1-12? If you’d answered this before, please can you just provide a link.
What seemed to me surely incorrect in the above is the identification of papacy with the little horn in Daniel. At least you identify it as Domitian, and I think it aligns fine with history. Then some of my thoughts: I’m not sure that the statement “whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth and eliminate with the manifestation of his coming” means the End of Time and a prophesy that papacy will continue in some form till the Judgement day. I think the “breath of his mouth” is the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22), and the phrase “manifestation of his coming” has the greek parousia that can mean more like appearance and presence (“coming” may not be the best translation), So the “manifestation of his coming” (“manifestation of his appearance/presence”) may mean the revelation of the real faith by the community and unity of real believers to the apostate people (community of believers can be related to the presence of Christ, Mt 18:20) It can become more evident and manifest at a point in history, and this will substantially undermine the dominance of false christian religion in our world. One could interpret 2Thess 2:8 that the Holy Spirit and the church will contend against a movement like Roman Catholicism that usurps godly privileges and exalts humans is a dead religion. The real life in Christ exposes what is dead, so this can mean the words “destroy” and “eliminate” in 2Thess 2:8. Is it too far fetched and fancy what I propose here?
Thanks for writing. I have skimmed this article. It is pretty standard fare for the mainstream Church of Christ–a bit divisive in calling out those he does not agree with, but his analysis stays close to the text and is fairly reasonable. There is a strong tendency within Protestantism to make the Roman Catholic Church be the whipping-boy of true Christianity. I believe that this is generally misplaced. We should criticize ourselves and call ourselves to more Christ-like behavior rather than use a convenient target such as the Roman church.
Let me make a general comment before I talk about this passage. To me, a person with your diagnosis needs to be very careful not to become overly focused on these kinds of questions. Getting fixated on end-time questions is a problem that many if not most schizophrenics who are believers struggle with. I want to strongly admonish you to not let yourself become overly concerned about these matters. Those with a particular weakness need to be aware of this weakness and actively fight against getting caught up in this weakness. In times like these, with the Covid-19 virus pandemic, people who normally can become obsessed with end-time prophecies can be even more prone to become unbalanced in this area. I see this happening at my web site with the questions coming in. To me, the passage from Thessalonians which is most appropriate for you is 2 Thess 2:1 “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us–whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter–asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Please accept my admonition to not let yourself become obsessed with end-time questions. I say this in a spirit of love and compassion, I hope.
Paul then goes on to assure the Thessalonians that the final day of the Lord still lay in the future for them.
Now, to the passages. I believe that the most likely interpretation of these passages in 2 Thess 2:1-12 is that it refers to the power of Rome and its kings which were soon to break out in massive attack on the church. The emperors set themselves us as God. Domitian demanded to be addressed as “My Lord God, Domitian.” (in the 90s AD) This fits 2 Thessalonians 2:4 quite well. Paul tells us that this secret power is “already at work.” (v. 7). This cannot apply to the Roman Catholic Church, with its massive hierarchy and its popes. There was nothing even remotely like a pope before the fifth century with Leo. Arguably, the papacy really began with Gregory in the sixth century. This is debatable (when the papacy was established), but it was certainly hundreds of years after the letter of 2 Thessalonians was written. This letter was written to people for who what Paul said was becoming important during the lifetime of the recipients of the letter. This is a good reason to conclude that the principle intent was a prophecy about Rome, not the Roman church and the papacy.
This fellow in the mainstream CoC points out that this power (Rome? the papacy?) will be destroyed by the splendor of his coming according to the prophecy. I will agree that this statement argues slightly against my conclusion, but I believe the arguments against this being the papacy are stronger. If I go to Revelation 17:1-18 which is certainly about Rome and its emperors, and certainly not about the papacy, then my conclusion comes close to being certain, but I need to practice humility in such things, of course and say this seems likely to me. The fact is that in both the Old and the New Testament the Day of the Lord or the coming of the Lord is a reference to a number of comings, such as the destruction of Ephraim by Assyria or the destruction of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, or the destruction of Babylon by Cyrus, or the coming of Jesus in his ministry or the coming of the Holy Spirit with power in Acts 2 or the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This coming does not need to be the final coming at the end of times.
Here is the deal. No one can “prove” what this prophecy is a reference to. Therefore, I conclude that God, who is in control, does not feel it is an essential that we as modern Christians know absolutely for sure who it is a reference to. If it were that important, God would have made it more clear. Besides, for you and I, 1 Thess 2:1-12 refers to something in the past in any case, so we do not need to become disturbed by this prophecy of Paul. If this were not about something that was going to take place fairly soon (for example Revelation 1:1), then there would have been no need for Paul to write to the Thessalonians about it (which is another argument that this refers to Nero or Domitian, not the papacy, by the way).
No matter what, I want to take you back to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. Your question is a good one, but the relevancy of answering this question to you and I here in the 21st century is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, so I urge you to not get overly concerned.
In finishing, I want to take you to Matthew 24. Here Jesus is prophesying about two different events–the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24;1-21), but also about his final return at the end of time (Matthew 24:26-51). [Aside: the person from the mainstream CoC you were reading denies that anything important happened in AD 70 in the sense of a coming of God, but he is proved wrong in this by Matthew 24 and Daniel 9. God comes at different times and in different ways and attempting to put this into a neat, clean box is a mistake] Notice Matthew 24:4-7 where Jesus tells these early followers not to be alarmed, even by the surrounding of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome. He also tells them not to get caught up into claims about different comings (24:26-28). I urge you to consider Jesus’ attempts to get us to rely on him and to not get overly focused on such things. Then there is Matthew 25, the whole chapter, in which Jesus tells us that all that really matters is that we be ready at any time. Here is my little philosophy on this. We need to do two things. First, we need to be ready so that Jesus can come back at any time and we will be ready. But we also need to be prepared that he does not come back until well after we die. We need to be prepared both for the short term and for the long term. If we do both, then we have no reason to fear or to become obsessed about end times.
Here is some relevant material on the Book of Revelation I have written. Book of Revelation Notes
I suggest you look in particular at the material on Rev 1:1-7, and on Revelation 13 and 17. There you will find good reason to believe that, most likely, the Man of Lawlessness is a Roman emperor or emperors.
I hope this helps.