And now we come to the challenging passage, the one I have been warning you about. Who is the man of sin? What temple are we talking about? Who is the one who prevents this from happening? Good questions all.
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:1–12)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul pleads with the Thessalonians in the name of the Lord’s coming (v. 1), that they not be unsettled through thinking that the final events were happening right then (v. 2). The day of Christ will not come unless the man of sin comes first (v. 3). This man of sin will set himself up in the Temple as God (v. 4). Paul had already explained all this to them (v. 5). Some mysterious power is holding this lawless one back (vv. 6-7). Then the lawless one will be revealed in order to be destroyed by the Final Coming of Christ (v. 8). He will be destroyed despite his ability to work miracles (v. 9). Those who love the truth will be saved in the truth, and those who love the lie will be damned in the lie (vv. 10-12).
The description here appears to include the Final Coming of Christ, which is still in our future. The coming of the Lord (parousia) could be His coming in judgment on Jerusalem, except that the phrase “our gathering to him” is used. And the man of sin who exalts himself as God will be consumed by the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth and destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s coming. All this certainly sounds like the final eschaton.
But then what is the temple of God here? The Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. So if the man of sin set himself up there, then these events would be in the distant past and not a description of the Final Coming. This is one of the reasons why dispensationalists argue that the Temple must be rebuilt. Another argument is that the Temple is the Christian church, and that this false teacher who claims to be God is something like a wicked pope.
A BASIC PATTERN
Realize that Paul is telling the Thessalonians not to think that these events are right on top of them (v. 2). Don’t be unsettled, he says. A number of other things need to happen first. There needs to be an apostasy, a falling away first (v. 3). There needs to be a miracle-working false teacher (v. 9), one who claims to be God (v. 4). He needs to be enthroned in the Temple (v. 4).
At the same time, Paul argues that the spirit of all such things is already at work in his day (v. 7). He says that there is an unnamed external power that is restraining the outbreak of this lawless one (vv. 6-7). He says that the mystery of iniquity is already at work (v. 7), and is pushing against that which restrains it.
So here is my understanding of all this (the third option in the previous message). The events that happened just a decade or so before this, when Caligula attempted to set up a statue of himself in the Temple, was the kind of thing Paul was talking about, but was not the event itself. It was the spirit that was already at work, but was not the final convulsion of mankind’s sin. That is yet in our future, and Paul teaches us that it will run along the same lines. The advance of the kingdom of God is all part of the same long war. It is a protracted conflict, and it is all the same conflict. We are two thousand years after this prediction from Paul, but when Jesus preached to the spirits who were rebellious at the time of Noah (1 Pet. 3:19-20), He was 2400 years after the Flood. And it was all still relevant.
History is a river, not a string of ponds.
The issues are therefore perennial, and they come down to every man and every woman, every boy and every girl. Those who have their pleasure in unrighteousness, and who reject the truth because they did not love it, are going to be sent something that lines up with what they love and hate. This passage says that God will send them a strong delusion so that they should believe a lie. And why is this? It is because they loved the lie. It is because they did not love the truth. Salvation is a function of loving the truth. Damnation is a function of loving a lie, preeminently the lies you tell yourself. Self-deception is the prince of all deception, and so God sends all such a strong delusion. The wrath of God is seen in this, when God gives people over to what they have loved all along.
And the one who causes delusions to evaporate is a preached Christ. And He is a preached Christ only because He is a crucified Christ, and a buried Christ, and a risen Christ. He is the truth, and He is preached. Do you love Him? If not, then the strong delusion is already resting upon you. If so, then you are loving the truth, by which you are saved.