Many Christians will apostatize when the “Lawless One,” the “Son of Destruction,” seats himself in the “sanctuary.”
As Paul explained, the “Day of the Lord” will not arrive until the “apostasy” occurs and the “man of lawlessness” is unveiled. He will take his seat “in the sanctuary of God” and oppose “all that is called god.” In addition to the “lawless one,” the Apostle labeled him “the son of destruction.” Is there significance in this double appellation or is it for stylistic purposes?
In his letter, Paul was responding to false reports that the “Day of the Lord had set in.” But that could not be so since two key prophetic events had not occurred – the revelation of the “man of lawlessness” and the “apostasy.”
- (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.”
In Paul’s epistles, the term occurs only here. “Destruction” translates the Greek noun apôleia, meaning “destruction, ruin, loss.” The exact same term was heard on the lips of Jesus when he called Judas Iscariot the “son of destruction.” Certainly, Judas was an excellent model for the ultimate apostate of the “last days,” but other than his betrayal of Christ, nothing in his life paralleled the predicted activities of the “man of lawlessness” – (John 17:12).
Another possibility is that “son of destruction” refers to this malevolent figure’s final fate when he will be destroyed at the “arrival” of Jesus. That possibility comports with Paul’s description of his demise, “whom the Lord will consume with the spirit of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of his coming.” But in verse 8, “destroy” translates a different Greek word, katargeô, which more correctly means “disable, disarm, bring to nothing.”
More importantly, the natural sense of the genitive construction in the clause “son of destruction” is that “destruction” characterizes this figure – “destruction” defines what he is and/or does; in this case, the destruction of as many saints as possible.
Paul’s scriptural source for the “son of destruction” is the Book of Daniel, especially the passage from its eleventh chapter describing an evil ruler of Greek descent:
- “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, and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done” – (Daniel 11:36).
This ruler is featured in the visions from the last half of Daniel, where he is called variously, the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” and the “contemptible person.” He originated from the “fourth beast” and “waged war against the saints and prevailed over them,” though only for the time allotted by the “Ancient of Days.” His “war” included the desecration of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the erection of the “abomination of desolation” in the “sanctuary” – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:9-13, 8:23-26, 9:26-27, 11:30-36).
That background explains Paul’s warning that this future figure will “take his seat in the sanctuary.” Did he mean the “son of destruction” will enter a rebuilt physical temple in Jerusalem? It is noteworthy that he used the Greek term for the inner sanctum or naos, the “holy of holies,” and not the word for the entire temple complex.
Nowhere else does Paul express any interest in the Jerusalem Temple or say anything about any future rebuilt temple. However, he does apply the same term, the “sanctuary of God,” metaphorically to the church. And since the topic in the present passage revolves around the “apostasy” of believers, the context makes it more likely that Paul was referring to this figure’s appearance in the church – (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).
In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the “little horn” was identified as the “king” from one of the four Greek kingdoms that succeeded the empire carved out by Alexander the Great, the “goat with the prominent horn” that overthrew the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians.” This is the same “little horn” that waged war against the “saints” in the seventh chapter – (Daniel 7:21, 8:8-13, 8:21-25).
The only known historical figure that fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy was Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom that persecuted the Jewish people for over three years (168 B.C. to 165 B.C.), the allotted “season, seasons, and part of a season.” His “war” included the corruption of Jewish leaders, the banning of circumcision and other Jewish rites, the burning of the Jewish scriptures, the cessation of the sacrificial rituals in the Temple, and the erection of an altar to his god, Zeus Olympias, on the altar of burnt offerings, the so-called “abomination of desolation.”
According to Daniel, this “king of fierce countenance… corrupted the holy people… and magnified himself in his heart, and caused the destruction of many.” In the Greek Septuagint version of Daniel, the term rendered “destruction” is the same one used by Paul for the “son of destruction,” apôleia. Most likely, considering the language and context of the passage in Thessalonians, this was his source of the term “son of destruction.” Thus, Paul employed Daniel’s “little horn” as the model for the final deceiver whose plan will be to deceive Christians and others by “lying signs and wonders.” Just as the “little horn” caused many in Israel to fall, this creature likewise will cause destruction in the church before his own demise at the “arrival” of Jesus. He is, therefore, the “son of destruction.”