The passage of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 provides important details about a figure known as the “man of lawlessness.” This mysterious person will have a significant role in end times events according to biblical prophecy. By examining the Scripture closely, we can gain insight into who this individual might be and what he will do.
The Context of 2 Thessalonians
First, some background about the book of 2 Thessalonians. It was written by the apostle Paul as a follow-up letter to the church in Thessalonica. In his first letter to them, Paul had taught extensively about the second coming of Christ and the events surrounding it (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). Apparently, the Thessalonians had become unsettled by some false teaching that the day of the Lord had already come. To address this confusion, Paul wrote this second letter to encourage them and provide additional details about the end times.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, Paul urges them not to be quickly shaken from their mind or alarmed by any “spirit” or “spoken word” or “letter seeming to be from us.” He reminds them that certain events must take place before Christ’s return. Then in verses 3-12 he outlines a key end times figure who will precede and oppose the coming of the Lord.
The Identity of the Man of Lawlessness
So who is this “man of lawlessness” described in 2 Thessalonians 2? Let’s walk through what Paul reveals about him:
- He is called the “man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction” (v. 3) – This labels him as a person who rejects God’s law and promotes evil.
- He “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” (v. 4) – He will oppose both God and all forms of religion.
- He “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4) – He will rule from a position of religious authority and claim equality with God.
- He uses power, signs and false wonders to deceive (v. 9-10) – He will perform counterfeit miracles to mislead people.
- He will come in connection with the working of Satan, with “all power and false signs and wonders” (v. 9) – His actions will be empowered by Satan.
Based on these descriptions, Bible scholars have proposed several possibilities about the man of lawlessness:
- He could be a secular political leader who promotes lawlessness, self-exaltation, and rebellion against God.
- He could be a religious leader associated with the temple in Jerusalem who proclaims Himself as God.
- He could be another name for the Antichrist– a powerful world ruler under Satan’s influence who will oppose Christ.
- He could be a “spirit” of lawlessness embodied in political systems and leaders through history who defy God’s ways.
There is no definitive consensus on his precise identity. But this passage gives us a portrait of what the man of lawlessness will be like – an arrogant ruler and/or deceptive religious leader who operates under Satan’s power to oppose God and mislead people.
The Man of Lawlessness and End Times Timing
In addition to describing this figure, 2 Thessalonians 2 provides timing details related to his arrival on the world stage. It states several things must happen first before he is revealed:
- The rebellion or apostasy comes first (v. 3)
- The removal of the restraint must take place (v. 6-7) – implying the restraint currently holds him back
- The lawless one will be revealed, but Jesus will slay him at His coming (v. 8)
So the man of lawlessness will not be revealed until the One who restrains him (generally thought to be the Holy Spirit) is removed. Additionally, verses 1-2 clarify that Christ’s coming will not happen until after the man of lawlessness appears and does his work.
Based on this sequence, the revealing of the lawless one appears to coincide with end times events like the beginning of the Tribulation. His rise will signal deceit, persecution, apostasy, and hardship on the earth as Satan’s power operates through him. But in the end, he will be overthrown when Christ returns.
The Present Restraint on the Man of Lawlessness
An important part of this passage is the mention of a restraining force that currently holds back the man of lawlessness (v. 6-7). Paul writes that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” but “he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.”
Bible scholars offer different views on what this restraining influence represents:
- The restraining force is the Holy Spirit working through the Church.
- It is human government ordained by God to maintain order.
- It is Michael the archangel who protects Israel.
- It is God’s general restraint of evil in the world.
But a common thread is that the removal of this restraint will allow the lawless one to be revealed. And it signals the beginning of unrestrained evil, deception, and persecution as the end times approach.
Purpose of This Revelation in 2 Thessalonians
Why did Paul include these details about the man of lawlessness in his letter? What purpose did it serve for the Thessalonians and for us today?
For the Thessalonians, Paul wanted to reassure them that “the day of the Lord has not come” (2 Thess. 2:2) since the man of lawlessness had not yet been revealed. The events he described would precede Christ’s return so they could reject any false teaching that it had already happened.
For all believers, this passage offers several key lessons:
- It encourages watchfulness for the increasing influence of evil leading up to Christ’s return.
- It inspires perseverance through end times tribulation and persecution.
- It promises that evil will be ultimately conquered when Christ defeats the lawless one.
Paul wanted to stir up vigilance and persevering hope despite growing wickedness. Christ will have the final victory!
Conclusion on the Man of Lawlessness
The figure known as the “man of lawlessness” has provoked much discussion about his identity and the exact timing of his arrival. But the clearest message from 2 Thessalonians 2 is that a time of increasing evil and deception will precede Christ’s return. Lawlessness, rebellion, apostasy and persecution will escalate as Satan’s power operates unrestrained for a season. We must stay alert, cling to truth, and persevere in hope that Jesus will overcome every evil work when He comes in glory!