Two events must occur before the “Day of the Lord” – The apostasy and the unveiling of the Man of Lawlessness – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
Next, Paul explained why the “Day of the Lord” had NOT commenced. Two key events must occur first – the “apostasy” and the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.” In Thessalonica, the men who were spreading false information about the coming of Jesus were deceiving believers by raising false expectations about the nearness of that day.
Paul’s warning about being “deceived” parallels the opening exhortation of Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse – “Let no man deceive you.” And the Apostle made this warning in the similar context of overheated prophetic expectations – (Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8).
- (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) – “That no one may deceive you in any respect. Because that day will not set in, except the apostasy come first, and there be revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God or any object of worship, so that he, within the sanctuary of God, will take his seat, showing himself that he is God.”
The “Day of the Lord” will not commence until, “first,” the apostasy occurs, and second, the “man of lawlessness” is revealed. The syntax of the Greek clause could mean that the “apostasy” will precede the “man of lawlessness,” or that both events will be concurrent. In this context, most likely, Paul meant that both events must transpire before the “Day of the Lord.”
More importantly, here, the “apostasy” and the arrival of the “man of lawlessness” are inextricably linked. He will excel at propagating the very deceptions that lead Christians astray. And most certainly, the deceivers who were active in Thessalonica were forerunners of that ultimate deceiver.
The term “apostasy” translates the Greek noun apostasia, meaning, “falling away, apostasy, defection.” In both the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, it refers to defection from the true faith, and is related to the Greek verb with the meaning “forsake, depart, revolt, to withdraw” – (Matthew 5:31, Acts 21:21, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:12).
The expectation of the final apostasy is common in the New Testament and originated with Jesus. Furthermore, in his comments from the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ he linked “lawlessness” to the apostasy:
- (Matthew 24:10-12) – “And, then, will many be caused to stumble and will deliver up one another and will hate one another; and many false prophets will arise and deceive, many; and because of lawlessness being brought to the full, the love of the many will grew cold.”
- (1 Timothy 4:1) – “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”
This deceptive figure is given two designations – the “man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction.” The latter is used only once in the chapter. However, and possibly not coincidentally, the exact same phrase, “son of destruction,” was applied by Jesus to Judas Iscariot – (John 17:12).
The image of a man who causes “lawlessness” and “destruction” is derived from the figure of the “little horn” in the Book of Daniel:
- (Daniel 11:31-36) – “And forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt-offering, and they shall set up the abomination that desolates. And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flattery… And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods” – (See also, Daniel 7:24-25).
In Thessalonians, the “one who opposes and exalts himself on high” alludes to the preceding passage from Daniel, but it also echoes the interpretation of the vision of the ram and goat by Daniel from the eighth chapter of his book:
- (Daniel 8:25) – “And through his policy, he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand, and he shall magnify himself in his heart.”
Originally, both passages referred to Antiochus IV, the notorious ruler of the Seleucid empire who attempted to destroy the religion of Israel. He caused the “cessation of the daily sacrifice,” “desolated the sanctuary,” and installed the “abomination that desolates” on the altar of burnt offerings. In that way, he destroyed many of the “saints” of Israel – (Daniel 8:9-13, 8:21-26, 9:26-27 11:1-4, 11:31-36).
Behind Paul’s portrait is the attempt by Antiochus to destroy the religion of Israel by inducing apostasy among the leadership of the Jewish nation – (“And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flattery”). This malevolent king banned the Mosaic Law, circumcision, and the keeping of Israel’s holy days. Additionally, he ordered copies of the Torah burned and installed an altar to Zeus Olympias in the Temple – (“The trespass that desolates”).
“The temple of God” (ton naon tou theou). Elsewhere in his letters, Paul consistently applies the “naos” or “sanctuary” of God to the church, and NOT to any building in Jerusalem or elsewhere. For example–:
- (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) – “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” – (See also, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).
The goal of the “man of lawlessness” will be to lead genuine saints to depart from the faith, which is why Paul warned of future his appearance in the “sanctuary of God.”
Throughout the discussion, Paul’s concern is focused on the spiritual well-being of the Christians at Thessalonica. His goal is to keep them safe from deliberate disinformation about the “arrival” of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord.” And rather than provide a list of “signs” by which believers can determine the timing of that day, he has provided two missing events that prove it has not yet arrived.