Who is the Antichrist/Man of Lawlessness/Son of Perdition? #104
Happy Easter-Eve, friends! Whether you celebrate Easter or not, do allow me to prod and urge you to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this Sunday – and EVERY Sunday! Our celebration in many churches will be muted in the sense that we won’t physically be together, but I have resolved to make my proclamation of the resurrection louder than ever, and I hope you join me! We’ve even ‘decorated’ outside this year, for perhaps the first time ever. Not with bunnies and eggs, but with messages about the resurrection, and I’m planning on giving away as many resurrection books as I possibly can tomorrow and Saturday to those that walk by our house. (We live in a very walky neighborhood.)
Shoutout to Pradeep Kumar who left an interesting comment on the Biblereadingpodcast.com site yesterday: Comment: Dear sir Please explain what’s end times and how can we save ourselves from this Dire consequences. Thanking you
Pradeep – I have good news for you! Today we are indeed talking about the end times and salvation from its dire consequences through Jesus, the savior and deliverer. Our focus passage today is mostly based on yesterday’s reading, which was split into a two parter, as I am endeavoring now more than ever to keep episodes just under 30 minutes a day as often as possible. That said, one of our readings today, 2nd Thessalonians 3, seems to echo back to 2nd Thessalonians 2, so that is something to consider.
3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen and guard you from the evil one2 Thessalonians 3:3
Our Bible readings for today include Leviticus 15, which is on bodily discharges, and is a chapter I would not at all be able to read through in sixth grade without losing it. And also, Psalms 18, Proverbs 29 and the aforementioned 2 Thessalonians 3 passage. I’m cheating a bit, hope that’s ok, but the focus question is mostly derived from yesterday’s reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:
3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.5 Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I used to tell you about this? 6 And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth and so be saved.2 Thessalonians 2:3-10
So – to quickly summarize yesterday, Paul is telling the Thessalonians church (and us, by extension) that, though they may have heard about rumors that Jesus had come back, to not be alarmed, because He hasn’t returned (at the time of Paul’s writing) and that TWO very noticable and important things would have to happen BEFORE Jesus returned. Those two things are the apostasy/rebellion we discussed yesterday, and the revealing of the Man of Lawlessness that we will discuss today. Before we discuss more about this individual, let’s talk a little about one practical implication of what Paul is saying here. One way to read this passage is to say that, there’s no way whatsoever that Jesus’ return is imminent – could happen at any moment – because the apostasy hasn’t happened and the lawless man hasn’t been revealed. The problem with that statement is that Jesus taught His return would be a bit of a surprise – even to believers – and that we wouldn’t know when it would be. The possibility exists that the man of lawlessness has indeed been revealed (I doubt he will have an M.O.L. tattoo on his forehead), and the apostasy that Paul has spoken of might have happened, or be happening. The western church has seen a remarkable amount of professing believers turn away in the last decade or so – could that be the apostasy? I don’t think so, but it COULD be.
My favorite theologian, Wayne Grudem, addresses this issue by quoting a number of Bible passages that declare the seeming imminence of the return of Jesus, and then
The end of all things is at hand. (1 Peter 4:7)Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1104–1105.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and all the works that are upon it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
The time is near. (Rev. 1:3)
Behold, I am coming soon. (Rev. 22:7)
Behold, I am coming soon bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done. (Rev. 22:12)
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)
What shall we say to these passages? If there were no passages in the New Testament about signs that would precede Christ’s return, we would probably conclude from the passages just quoted that Jesus could come at any moment. In this sense, we can say that Christ’s return is imminent.7 It would seem to blunt the force of the commands to be ready and to watch if there was a reason to think that Christ would not come soon….
Except for the spectacular signs in the heavens, it is unlikely but possible that these signs have already been fulfilled. Moreover, the only sign that seems certainly not to have occurred, the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, could occur within the space of a few minutes, and therefore it seems appropriate to say that Christ could now return at any hour of the day or night. It is therefore unlikely but certainly possible that Christ could return at any time.
But does this position do justice to the warnings that we should be ready and that Christ is coming at a time we do not expect? Is it possible to be ready for something that we think unlikely to happen in the near future? Certainly it is. Everyone who wears a seatbelt when driving, or purchases auto insurance, gets ready for an event he or she thinks to be unlikely.23 In a similar way it seems possible to take seriously the warnings that Jesus could come when we are not expecting him, and nonetheless to say that the signs preceding his coming will probably yet occur in the future.
This position has positive spiritual benefits as we seek to live the Christian life in the midst of a rapidly changing world. In the ebb and flow of world history, we see from time to time events that could be the final fulfillment of some of these signs. They happen, and then they fade away. During the blackest days of World War II, it seemed very likely that Hitler was the antichrist. During times of persecution against the church, it can seem more likely that Christians are in the middle of the great tribulation. When we hear of earthquakes and famines and wars, it makes us wonder if the coming of Christ might not be near. Then these events fade into the background and world leaders pass off the scene, and the tide of events leading to the end of the age seems to have receded for a time.
Then once again a new wave of events will break on the world scene, and once again our expectation of Christ’s return is increased. With each successive “wave” of events, we do not know which one will be the last. And this is good, because God does not intend us to know. He simply wants us to continue to long for Christ’s return and to expect that it could occur at any time. It is spiritually unhealthy for us to say that we know that these signs have not occurred, and it seems to stretch the bounds of credible interpretation to say that we know that these signs have occurred. But it seems to fit exactly in the middle of the New Testament approach toward Christ’s return to say that we do not know with certainty if these events have occurred. Responsible exegesis, an expectation of Christ’s sudden return, and a measure of humility in our understanding, are all three preserved in this position.
I wholeheartedly agree with Grudem. It does not appear that the events foretold in Scripture to happen before the return of Jesus have happened, but I could be mistaken, and Jesus commanded us to be alert, ready, and working according to the Master’s will, so that He would bless us when He returns, so that is what I want to be about the business of doing.
Let’s talk about the Man of Lawlessness. Who in the world is this referring to? As Grudem mentioned, many guesses have been made over the years as to who this individual is: Hitler, Napoleon, Nero, Nicolae Carpathia, and many others. Thus far, all of those guesses have been mostly wrong, but John does tell us that there will be many antichrists in 1st John 2:18. Let’s go back to Grudem for more on the Man of Lawlessness/Antichrist:
Many attempts have been made throughout history to identify the man of lawlessness (the “antichrist”) with historical figures who had great authority and brought havoc and devastation among people on the earth. The ancient Roman emperors Nero and Domitian, both of whom severely persecuted Christians, were thought by many to be the antichrist. (Many Roman emperors, including these two, claimed deity for themselves and demanded to be worshiped.) In more recent times Adolf Hitler was commonly thought to be the antichrist, as was Joseph Stalin. On the other hand, many Protestants since the Reformation, especially those who were persecuted by the Catholic Church, have thought that one or another of the popes was the antichrist.Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1103.
But all of these identifications have proved false,21 and it is likely that a yet worse “man of lawlessness” will arise on the world scene and bring unparalleled suffering and persecution, only to be destroyed by Jesus when he comes again. But the evil perpetrated by many of these other rulers has been so great that, at least while they were in power, it would have been difficult to be certain that the “man of lawlessness” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2 has not yet appeared.
I agree with Grudem in linking the Man of Lawlessness with the Antichrist. There is a fair amount of debate about this whole topic, so I will attempt to steer a middle course, and avoid big claims here. That said, I believe that the Man of Lawlessness is the individual that Daniel speaks of in Daniel 7-8
Near the end of their kingdoms,Daniel 8:23-26
when the rebels have reached
the full measure of their sin,
a ruthless king, skilled in intrigue,
will come to the throne.
24 His power will be great,
but it will not be his own.
He will cause outrageous destruction
and succeed in whatever he does.
He will destroy the powerful
along with the holy people.
25 He will cause deceit to prosper
through his cunning and by his influence,
and in his own mind he will exalt himself.
He will destroy many in a time of peace;
he will even stand against the Prince of princes.
Yet he will be broken—not by human hands.
26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings
that has been told is true.
Now you are to seal up the vision
because it refers to many days in the future.” 27 I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was greatly disturbed by the vision and could not understand it.
I think, in a very real sense, that the ‘little horn’ in Daniel 8 is a reference to the real life ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, but in the same dual-fulfillment sense of prophecy we see in Isaiah 7-9, this little horn will be MOST fulfilled in a future ruler that will be the ultimate antichrist. This ruler seems to be again referenced in Daniel 9, and also by Jesus in Matthew 24:
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), 16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house, 18 and a man in the field must not go back to get his coat. 19 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! 20 Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great distress, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again. 22 Unless those days were cut short, no one would be saved. But those days will be cut short because of the elect. 23 “If anyone tells you then, ‘See, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note: I have told you in advance. 26 So if they tell you, ‘See, he’s in the wilderness!’ don’t go out; or, ‘See, he’s in the storerooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.Matthew 24:15-27
This passage seems to indicate that there might be more than one of these active antichrists, with perhaps one of them being specifically the one spoken of in 2nd Thessalonians and Daniel, and other books. Revelation, as you might expect, also speaks of this individual, and – like Daniel, Matthew 24, 1st John and other books that speak about the man of lawlessness/Beast/antichrist, seems to indicate that there might be several active antichrists:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”Revelation 13
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
So, after reading all of that, I am sure things are just as clear as mud for you. Do keep in mind that this is the Bible READING podcast, and not the Bible ANSWERS podcast, or the Bible KNOW IT ALL Podcast. I’m sort of kidding, but ultimately, as we discussed earlier this week – some of these deep mysteries of the Bible about eschatology are NOT meant to be known yet, no matter how hard we try. I believe they will become progressively clearer to the church and believers alive during the generation of Christ’s return, because that will be important information to them at the time, but it hasn’t been super important for the church in the past few hundred years to know the answers to all of these questions, because they weren’t the generation that would live to see the return of Jesus. I believe the nearer we get to that generation, the clearer it will be. So many people have asked me, including my own kids, if the coronavirus pandemic now means the return of Jesus is closer. I tell them – maybe. Probably not, but maybe, and that I have an eyebrow raised and my Bible radar turned up to a higher than normal level of alert.
WHO is the Man of Lawlessness/Antichrist? I don’t know. He will be powerful. He will be a man of guile and intelligence. He will have great power and an ability to deceive. It appears that He will be empowered by Satan, and have the ability to stand against the archangel Michael in terms of power. He will wage war on true followers of Jesus – the saints – and He will have great success, for a time, in that war. So – back to Pradeep’s question at the beginning: How can we save ourselves from this dire situation? And the humbling and scary answer is – WE CAN’T. We don’t have the power to stand up against the enemies of the last days. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. For those who are in Christ – saved by grace through faith, having believed in their heart that Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead, and CONFESSED/PROFESSED those things with their words – true Christians will be delivered and saved BY GOD and by the COMING OF CHRIST. See here in Daniel 7:
21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.Daniel 7:21-22
Ultimately deliverance comes from the Ancient of Days and His power. But – we are not without weapons of our warfare, which are mighty in God, says Paul, to the pulling down of strongholds. Among those weapons is the fact that true followers of Jesus are washed in His sacrifice, and thus the enemy has no hold on them, or no ability to eternally wound them. We also have the earth-shaking power of our testimony and proclamation of the Gospel:
10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.Revelation 12:10-11
Look to Jesus and be saved, all the earth and rest in His salvation and His power and His soon return, in which all who have trusted in Him will not be put to shame, but will be delivered and redeemed forever!