The Apostle Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2 mentions a mystery figure whose appearance is one of the signs to be given prior to Christ’s second coming, the Man of Sin. Prior to discussing a few possibilities as to his identity, let’s first consider what scripture says about him from 2 Thessalonians 2.
- Christ’s second coming will be shortly AFTER the Man of Sin is revealed. (v2-3)
- This man’s appearance coincides with a falling away. (v3)
- The Man of Sin is also called the “son of perdition”, and “that Wicked.”
- He opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God (possibly including false gods of other religions). (v4)
- He sits in the temple of God shewing himself that he is God. (v4)
- He will be revealed. (v6-8)
- Christ will personally consume him at His second coming. (v8)
- This man works through the power of Satan, with lying wonders (false miracles). (v9-10)
- He has a following. (v10)
Scripture says many very specific things about this man in similar fashion to other leaders prophesied of before their time (Cyrus king of Persia, Alexander the Great, Antiochus, etc). While some may be inclined to spiritualize this character into a general moral lesson, we should not be surprised that God is foretelling us of a literal man who will dwell on the Earth, for He has done so through His prophets many times in the past. Let’s consider the various options:
The False version of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
This is the opinion I held when I first began studying God’s word. Because of the overwhelming popularity of erroneous eschatological concepts found in Dispensationalism and popularized by the Left Behind series of novels, sometimes we go to the ditch on the opposite side of the road and claim the Bible does not give us ANY prophetic word about events to come on Earth. This simply is not true, but because of today’s far out concepts of the “Antichrist” (a title never given to one particular man in Scripture, but many men), I felt safe in this option. The Man of Sin then becomes the caricature of Jesus or even the influence of the Devil in the hearts of men today.
The problems with this option are that 1) The Man of Sin is depicted as a literal man, very much destroyed by Jesus at His second coming, 2) He is revealed and deceives people, giving him literal, not metaphorical qualities, and 3) He works miracles. So my former opinion doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
There were many men named Herod in the Bible, all part of the ruling Edomite family in Judea: Herod the Great, Herod the Tetrarch (Antipas), Herod Agrippa I, and Herod Agrippa II. In Acts, Herod (Agrippa I) gave an oration so impressive that the people claimed it was the words of a god, and not of a man. At hearing this, Herod gave not God the glory and God smote him with a worm infection, causing his death. This should come as no surprise to a Bible reader – God dealt with Nebuchadnezzar for a similar infraction. Also, Antiochus Epiphanes likely died from a similar worm infestation. One of God’s attributes is consistency!
So, does Herod’s death in Acts 12 fulfill this prophesy? No, here’s why: Herod died in Acts 12. However, Paul didn’t plant the church in Thessalonica to whom he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians until Acts 16. In other words, Herod was long dead by the time Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians.
General Titus, or Some Other First Century Leader
Some folks place the significance of 2 Thessalonians 2 at AD 70, rather than Jesus’ second coming. This is incorrect, largely because neither the city of Thessalonica nor the believers therein were affected by Titus’ siege in AD 70. Also, Paul promised God would avenge persecuted believers in this coming of Christ in chapter 1 of 2 Thess, something which did in no way occur in the siege. These believers were persecuted by their own brethren, not Jews in Jerusalem.
But as to this option, there isn’t any evidence that a first century leader such as Titus occupied the temple, performed lying wonders, and was destroyed by fire. Further, Titus was prophesied of in Daniel (the price, whose people destroyed the city) as a tool of God’s vengeance, not a persecuter of Christians.
A Reincarnated or Resurrected Judas or Antiochus Epiphanes
Another opinion of the Man of Sin is that he will be Judas Iscariot or Antiochus Epiphanes back from the dead. Why, you might ask? Simple: Two of the terms used to describe the Man of Sin are terms used in the first century to describe Judas and Antiochus. Judas Iscariot was called the son of perdition by Jesus before His mock trial and crucifixion, when he prophesied of Judas’ betrayal of Him. As far as Antiochus, he was called “That Wicked” by Jews because of his tyrannical oppression of Jews as ruler of Greece. For he literally banned the worship of God and circumcision. Further, during his occupation of Jerusalem he erected an image of Jupiter in the Temple of God and offered swine upon the altar. This heinous act was prophesied of in Daniel as the abomination that makes desolate or the abomination of desolation (a clue Jesus later gave his disciples about when to flee Jerusalem prior to it’s judgment*).
However, it is very unlikely that the Man of Sin will be either a literally resurrected Judas or Antiochus. First of all, reincarnation is not biblical but fiction. As it is written, it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment. We don’t live twice! At death, we end up one of two places, paradise or torment. Second, God never tells us He will resurrect our enemies. This is also fiction, for the above cited reason.
It is common in scripture for something future to be called by the title of something which is past, so we might have understanding. For example, both Egypt and Sodom are used in a symbolic sense in Revelation. Also in Revelation, the name of a former wicked foe, Gog King of Magog, is used in reference to a king roused by Satan after his loosing at the end of time. Is this literally the Gog of old? No – but he is a king in like manner. This is similar to how John the Baptist was “Elijah who should come” though he was not literally Elijah.
Paul calls him the son of perdition, indicating his wickedness but also possibly revealing a clue that the Man of Sin, like Judas, is a betrayer. What about the term “That Wicked’? Perhaps this Man of Sin will be a persecuting, occupying ruler as was Antiochus Epiphanes. We don’t ultimately know, but there could be significance in these two titles in this regard. This man could act in similar manner as both Judas and Antiochus.
The Pope of Rome
This has been the basic view of the majority of historic Baptist writings I have consulted, and for good reason. It takes little imagination to look at the Papal history and see how Popes have claimed the power of God and deceived many, all the while using their authority to persecute detractors even unto death. I mean no offense to my Roman Catholic friends, but this is just historical fact.
However, the reason I personally don’t believe Paul’s Man of Sin has reference to the Pope is that the text under consideration is speaking of a man in specific, not an office in general. In other words, a literal man will rise up, deceive folks, and be destroyed by Christ at His coming. This seems to be consistent with other prophesies in scripture of kings and wicked foes. I will add, if this IS a prophesy of the Pope, it would likely have it’s ultimate fulfillment in the final or last Pope.
A Literal Man Who Rises to Power in Earth’s Final Days
This is my current view of the Man of Sin. I believe the prophesy of him is far too specific to be anything less than a deceptive man who rises to power at the end of time, deceives multitudes, in some sense occupies the Temple of God, and is personally destroyed at Christ’s second coming.
However, being unfulfilled as of the writing of this post, most of the questions one could have about him remain unanswered. Guess what? That’s the way it should be! Remember, Paul said he would be REVEALED prior to Jesus second coming! That means, at present, the Man of Sin is indeed CONCEALED. As far as his identity, lineage, religion, or form of power, we simply do not know yet.
You might be asking, “How can he sit in the Temple of God, if the Temple was destroyed in AD 70?” That’s a good question with one of at least two possible answers.
1) The Temple will be rebuilt by Jews in Israel. It is no secret that many desire this at present. The fulfillment of this prophesy could have something to do with that much disputed piece of land in the Middle East, Jerusalem.
To leave what is certain and use our imaginations for a moment, do not most Christians expect Jesus to return to Earth and rule the world from Jerusalem? Indeed they do, despite the consistent message of the Bible being a simultaneous resurrection of the just and unjust at the public appearance of Christ on the last day, ending in the destruction of the world by fire (John 5, Matthew 25, 2 Peter 3). If Satan were to raise up a false Christ with lying wonders and send him to Jerusalem claiming to be Jesus, the world would flock to him. This is one possibility
2) The Temple referenced in 2 Thessalonians is the Church. Do a concordance search of the term Temple of God in the New Testament. In Paul’s Epistles, he largely refers to the Church.
Were this the Temple of which Paul wrote and in which the Man of Sin will sit, he will likely be a fake Disciple of Jesus who rises from within the ranks of Christendom and deceives followers of Christ, even receiving worship.
Is the Man of Sin Synonymous With Gog?
Revelation 20 depicts a wicked king, roused by Satan AFTER his loosing but directly prior to Jesus’ second coming. This king is referred to as Gog, a reference back to a epic foe of Israel in Ezekiel 38. Gog was his name, Magog was his land. After being “loosed for a little season,” Satan instigates a time of fighting and war against the beloved city and the camp of the saints, led by “Gog and Magog.” In the midst of the trouble, Jesus returns and fire from heaven falls upon Gog, consuming him.
Because of the similarities between the Man of Sin and Gog (end of time, power, destroyed by Jesus, etc.), some believe these two are one in the same. This is a real possibility, though we cannot say for certain. Gog may very well be the Man of Sin, or there could be two wicked foes (one political and one religious) to be destroyed at Jesus’ coming.
OK, What’s The Point?
The point is to be watchful and not be deceived. This is a real enemy. One who will deceive many men. Yet fortunately, he will be revealed – meaning when the time comes we will know! God has told us of these things in advance so we, like the Israelites of old, can be ready to stand in the evil day. Further, as we see these things begin to come to pass in the world, we ought to look up for our redemption draweth nigh! >
May we be found soberly watching and waiting for Him till that day. Even so Lord Jesus, come quickly!
*In Matthew’s report of the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus forewarned His disciples of the coming judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70, He referred back to the Abomination of Desolation as being something to happen once again. Luke’s version is a bit different, informing them that when they see armies surround the city, the desolation is nigh. This alerted them when to leave Jerusalem so as to not be caught in the siege.
Originally published June 2015