Who is the Man of Sin?
Text: 2 Thess. 2:1-12
Thesis: To examine the identity of the man of sin in an effort to learn his bearing upon
the second-coming of Jesus.
(1) Leon Morris wrote: “This passage is probably the most obscure and difficult in the whole of the Pauline writings and the many gaps in our knowledge have given rise to extravagant speculations” (TNTC, p. 125).
(2) Let us examine this difficult passage and attempt to understand this passage correctly.
I. The Text:
A. In vv. 1-2, Paul refers to the false notion held by some of the Thessalonians that the Second-Coming had already occurred.
1. The context clearly demonstrates that the Second-Coming is under discussion and the fact that Paul is correcting the view of the Thessalonians demonstrates that they were thinking of the Second-Coming as something more than just being “at hand.”
2. The reason that they were thinking this way is because (a) false teacher(s) had taught them this through false prophecies, communications, and letters that were passed off as if from Paul.
B. In vv. 3-13, Paul responds to the false notion by reminding the Thessalonians that certain things must precede the Second-Coming (the implication being that those things had not already occurred).
1. Basically, there are 3 things mentioned that must take place before the Second-Coming:
a. First, the restraint must be removed in order to permit the other two.
b. Second, the falling away must occur.
c. Third, the man of sin must be revealed.
2. Let us attempt to identify all 3 by first identifying the man of sin. Various views include:
a. The Anti-Christ of Premillennialism
(1) First, the man of sin is not to be equated with the anti-Christs in 1 John 2:18 because the anti-Christs are those who denied and are denying the deity of Jesus (1 John 2:22).
(2) Second, the doctrine of premillennialism is contrary to the Biblical view of the end of times.
(3) Therefore, the man of sin cannot be the anti-Christ of premillennialism.
b. A Roman Emperor or the Line of Emperors
(1) It is true that many emperors viewed themselves as a god and demanded worship (e.g., “Nearly a decade before this letter, Gaius Caligula had tried to set up his image in the Jerusalem temple, nearly sparking a revolt” [Keener]).
(2) However, verse 8 clearly indicates that the man of sin would be destroyed at the Second-Coming and the Roman Empire ceased to be in A.D. 476 and the Lord has not yet returned.
(3) Therefore, the man of sin cannot be a Roman Emperor or the line of Roman Emperors.
c. The Papacy
(1) Martin Luther, who would obviously have an agenda, was the first to advocate this view and it became quite popular for many years.
(2) Admittedly, this is an attractive view.
(3) However, Paul seems to speak of an evil that will climax just before the Second-Coming and then be destroyed by Him at His coming (vv. 8-10).
(4) Further, what relevance would the RCC have to first-century readers?
(5) While it would be unwise to rule out this interpretation completely, this view does, however, seem unlikely.
(1) Yes, Satan would embody the descriptions in the text, but verse 9 seems to rule this out as a consideration because the man of sin is to be differentiated from Satan.
(2) Therefore, the man of sin is not Satan, but an agent of Satan.
e. Evil Personified
(1) This view would have all evil forces (e.g., false religions, atheistic forces and all similar forces) being personified as the man of sin.
(2) This view seems to fit better with all the facts than any of the others, but any view should be recognized as being very subjective.
3. What about the falling away?
a. Obviously, one’s view concerning the identity of the man of sin will dictate one’s view of the falling away.
b. E.g., those who see the man of sin as the papacy will see the falling away in terms of people falling away from the true church into the RCC, which would have made sense in the dark ages, but what about during the Reformation and Restoration movements?
c. Note: “In intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature, this word group (i.e., ‘the falling away’) was used sometimes to refer to a great period of religious unfaithfulness just before the age to come” (Weatherly 249).
d. If this is correct, then it would be comparable to the loosing of Satan in Revelation 20:8-10 in which we are told that things will get worse before the Lord’s return.
4. What is the restrain that must be taken away?
a. Again, one’s view concerning the identity of the man of sin and/or the falling away will dictate one’s view of the restraint.
b. E.g., those who see the man of sin as the papacy generally view the restraint as the Roman Empire, which would have prevented the church from becoming the organized RCC, but this “falling away” was already occurring with the Roman Empire being in existence.
c. Possibly, the restraint is to be connected with Revelation 20:8-10 (i.e., the loosing of Satan) with the meaning that the restraint is the binding of Satan for a period of time before he will be loosed.
5. Let us now outline the events of 2 Thess. 2:1-12:
a. The Second-Coming will be preceded by a falling away and a revelation of the man of sin after the restraint is removed.
b. The man of sin, in accordance with Satan, will oppose Christianity and attempt to lead many astray with false lies.
c. The man of sin will ultimately be defeated at the Second-Coming (Note: “Not even an action on his part is necessary. It is enough for [Jesus] to manifest Himself to render the Man of Lawlessness powerless [Morris, NICNT, p. 231).
d. Those who are led astray will also share in the man of sin’s defeat.
II. The Application:
A. The Lord is returning one day.
B. In the meantime, forces are working against Him to lead people astray.
C. When the Lord does return, on which side will you be, the winning or the losing?
(1) Although, this may be a difficult passage, the overall message is simple: Jesus is coming back and only those are follow Him will share in the victory!
(2) Are you following Jesus?