Concerning the passages detailing the man of sin and son of perdition: It is safe to say that most of Protestant Christianity (whatever that may mean) believes that the man of sin and son of perishing represent the Popes and the arising of the Roman Catholic Church. Although I suspect that the prophecy of Paul might lead to a conclusion or two along that line — a man is not and never will constitute a worldwide movement. And should we conclude that “man” may stand for more than one, and may mean “men,” it still cannot represent what is suggested by most of the commentators who align to these theories. All is never one, several, or even just some. Catholicism as a whole and popery in part or whole, could not have meant a thing to the Thessalonian church as both were yet two centuries beyond them. And although certainly an end product of the rebellion of the early churches, it could not be the endÂ product being suggested by the apostle, at least as I would understand things. However, noting that, it is certainly product to the processes about which he had made this warning. And there is nothing in history to date which makes any better allusion to that.
I am not intentionally trying to be murky or contradictory; and I hope to explain the why in the next few sentences. In my opinion, it is the process that was being addressed by the apostle, not the products that may have come out of it. The product of any form of rebellion and godlessness is always the same. As J. W. Shepherd once ably noted “A principle was at work that would set aside God’s order and establish one of its own in its stead.”
The scripture states “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.
“The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
When anyone “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” it means he has usurped the authority of Almighty God. He stands in place of God, and has claimed rights above idolatry and false worship as well as the true. He has made laws and judgments where he has no right and no authority — for that authority resides alone with God. To append or repeal the authority of God requires a greater authority than God — and there is no such thing. So any departure from the given instructions and laws is rebellion and sets its author or perpetrator as seeming to be above God. That is an unenviable and damning position for anyone in any time. God is worshiped because he has given to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” When someone offers that they can improve on any aspect of that, no matter how seemingly insignificant, it places them in “the Temple of God, being set forth as God.” It does not require an actual location, a presence or a robed spectacle in a building made with hands. It suggests a spiritual allocation. Spiritual things have spiritual meanings. “He sets himself forth as God.” The apostle did not give them (or us) a date, a street address or a description of some ceremony. Satan, the adversary, who always remains unobserved, is behind such things then just as he is now. He doesn’t take out an ad in the papers. He doesn’t need to.
Do you suppose the apostle was suggesting to the Thessalonians that they would be able to see Satan or the Son of Lawlessness parading by one fine day; or that they would see him pass in person as his attendants and train entered into some temple? Was the apostle warning of an actual physical offspring? Do you suppose that his suggestion is that the man of sin would come into the house wearing a robe and a crown while slinging false doctrines and changing water to wine?
God also does the most of what he does without observation. The warning to the Christians in Thessalonica was to be Watchmen, on the lookout for any departures within their assemblies, where the word of God would be discounted for something else, by men claiming the authority of God. The threat was imminent. In time a man or some group of men would arise out of the departures who would set themselves up as the proven authority of God, claiming inspiration and a sole proprietorship to the truth. If you claim the authority of any of the apostles does that not imply that you actually possess the authority of God?
Therefore, I would suggest that the Thessalonians were being warned of rebellion in the House of God, coming out right in front of their very own eyes; out of the leaders of the church, and which would be restrained only for a time by an apostle (Paul himself) and by those who would still honor God’s Word. I don’t feel compelled to be any more specific than that. That situation and the restraining force would soon meet its end, and when it did wholesale departures would take place. Is that not what happened?
Those departures would aim to set men in place of God. I have already written about the scriptures pointing to such things and have posted articles that identify exactly those types of departures well prior to the end of the first century. And that those exact things did in fact lead over time to the apostasy of Rome and to a host of other departures is undeniable. Brent’s postulation is correct and it certainly fits the record of prophesy; but it cannot eliminate this one from consideration. So pick one or be host to both or perhaps to some variation that also fits the text. However, you should know this. Both of these opinions end with the exact same result: the assemblies became corrupted and the word of God became less known and less honored. Recall that the outcome to those who would fall prey to this rebellion was that “they received not the truth, that they might be saved.”
They would have accepted something else from someone who did not have the authority of God to the loss of their souls; and they knew the truth as it had been given directly from the apostle of God. Paul warned many times against being lulled into complacency by such things. That should have the ring of familiarity to it even now.