2 Thessalonians 2 states specifically that the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, will be revealed in the end times.
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 NASB
This begs the question: At what point in time will the Antichrist be revealed and in what circumstances? Please follow along closely as we discover what Scripture tells us regarding the revealing of the Antichrist.
Details of Antichrist’s Revealing
There are a few key items surrounding the revealing of the Antichrist. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 says, “For it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” What will not come? The day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Unless what? Unless the apostasy comes first. And the man of lawlessness is revealed.
So what is “the day of the Lord” and what is “the apostasy”?
When Paul uses the expression “the day of the Lord,” we must understand that Biblically speaking this can refer to the very last day of this present evil age, or it can mean a very brief period of time – where God enters into judgments with this world. Here in 2 Thessalonians 2, “the day of the Lord” means the day of Christ’s second coming and our gathering together with Him.
In the previous verse, when Paul says “has come,” it conveys the idea that the day of the Lord has already occurred or is presently occurring. But Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians that this is not the case. He is telling them that certain things must take place before that day of the Lord. The apostasy being one of them.
What is an apostasy? In Greek, the word “apostasy” can mean either a religious or political “falling away” from a previously held position, i.e. a defection. In the New Testament, it is used in the sense of a religious departure from truth (Matthew 24:11; Acts 21:21; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 6:6). Other words used to describe apostasy could include abandon, depart, fall away, and mislead.
Here in 2 Thessalonians 2, apostasy means a religious falling away that occurs along with, or even just before, the revealing of the Antichrist. And it’s not just an apostasy, but the apostasy. Paul describes both “the apostasy” and “the man of lawlessness” using a definite article – the. This means that, although there will be many apostasies and lawless men, these are unique. Since they are just before Christ’s return, it probably means they are significant and the final ones.
So, two things will happen before Christ’s Second Coming – the apostasy and the man of lawlessness being revealed. Are these two things related? When do they occur? In order to answer these, we must understand what it means when it says the Antichrist “exalts himself” and “takes his seat in the temple of God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
What Kind of Seat?
Does the Antichrist take a literal seat in a literal temple? In the Old Testament, there was a “mercy-seat” in the Jewish temple. It was the place on the top of the arc of the covenant, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled one day a year. (Exodus 25:17-22; Leviticus 16:1-2) That mercy-seat is altogether different from the seat described here. (See What is the mercy-seat? by GotQuestions.)
In Greek, the idea of “seat” can mean ‘the position to exercise authority or rule.’ It’s a similar idea in the Old Testament.
But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly…I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:13-14 NASB
Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods.” Ezekiel 28:1-2
“Seat” does not necessarily mean a literal one for sitting, i.e. a throne. It is best understood as a position of authority. This is the case in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as well. The Antichrist takes a position of authority.
Notice it says he “displays” himself as something in this seat. He positions himself in the temple of God and displays himself as being God – in a position that only God should rightfully have. This should be of no surprise to us though. In the Greek language, “anti” not only means “against,” but also “in the place of”, i.e. substitute, the Antichrist.
What Kind of Temple?
In what temple does the Antichrist take his seat and display himself as God? Is it a literal temple? A church building? Or is it a symbolic place?
Let’s look at the word “temple” in the New Testament. The same Greek word (ναὸς – naos) is used to refer to several different things:
- The literal Jewish temple – “…which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” Matthew 23:17
- Jesus – “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.” Matthew 26:61
- Individual believer – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…” 1 Corinthians 6:19
- The entire church as God’s people – “Do you not know that you (plural) are a temple (ναὸς) of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
So which one is this temple in 2 Thessalonians 2? The context is critical for determining the meaning. In the letters to the Thessalonians, Paul is concerned for the church being deceived and falling away. He is reminding the church of a “mystery of lawlessness” that “is already at work.”
“Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,….” 2 Thessalonians 2:8-11a NASB
Paul says “they will believe what is false” (vs 11). Who will believe what is false? People who “did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (vs 10) will believe what is false. And where are these people? Where are people most likely to receive the love of the truth to be saved? It is not in the world, nor is it in the Jewish temple. It is in the midst of the church. (4th definition – “you are a temple of God” where “the spirit of God dwells in you.”) The temple that the Antichrist takes his seat in is the visible church.
The Mystery of Iniquity
How can this be? If the temple is the church, how can the Antichrist place himself in authority there?
Both John and Paul recognized deception was already at work in the church – as a precursor to the Antichrist. Read the following three verses.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18 NASB
…which you have learned is coming and is even already now in the world. 1 John 4:3
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7 NASB
The deceivers were not who they claimed to be. The same will be true of the Antichrist. He will come with “all power and false signs and wonders” (vs 9) and all deception. He will (initially) appear to be advancing and promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ! However, he does this only for his own purpose of advancing himself. What greater slap in Jesus’ face could Satan attempt to pull off than to use Christ’s own name and His church to establish submission to the Antichrist?
You might wonder how this could possibly happen. The Antichrist succeeds with his deception in the church because his ways are that of the “mystery of iniquity.” The “mystery of iniquity” was explained three and a half centuries ago by Thomas Manton, the great Puritan pastor and prolific writer, in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians:
“What is the mystery of iniquity? I answer – The design of usurping Christ’s kingdom, and his dignities and prerogatives over the church, to countenance the kingdom of sin and darkness, under the mask of piety and religion. Surely it is something, quite contrary to the gospel, which is the ‘mystery of godliness.’ 1 Timothy 3:16. So that this mystery is such a course and state design as doth frustrate the true end and purpose of the gospel, and yet carried on under a pretense of advancing and promoting it.”
Is this happening even now? Think about what is currently taking place in the church. The visible church is consumed with being seeker-friendly, growing huge numbers, having grand experiences, embracing cultural issues, etc. The modern evangelical church is currently steeped in apostasy, and this is evident from some rather sobering statistics taken from Ligonier/Lifeway survey!!!
It is becoming obvious that the actual love and proclamation of the truth is secondary and even disappearing in the visible church. What Thomas Manton detailed about the mystery of iniquity and that which is contrary to the gospel, is clearly in the visible church today! It is increasing at an unprecedented rate and in great deception! We should not be amazed when one person ends up being the centerpiece of a widespread final apostasy.
This line of thinking may be a surprise to some readers who think the Antichrist will come as an obvious evil world-wide rule, like a Hitler. But that will not be where and how the Antichrist first appears. Initially, his role will be religious and seamless.
Others believe that the Antichrist is revealed when he takes a seat in a literal temple in Jerusalem at the midpoint of the tribulation. They think this is the abomination of desolation spoken of Daniel 9:27 & Matthew 24:15. But the first part of Daniel 9:27 says “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.'” This would be at the beginning of the tribulation. If he’s made a covenant with Israel, wouldn’t he be revealed at this time? Or at least wouldn’t there be some indication that a world leader is emerging at this time and not in the middle of the tribulation?
In order for the Antichrist to take his seat in the temple, God removes His restraint and allows it. God is holding it all back until His perfect timing. After the Antichrist takes his seat in the temple, he takes on his role as the Beast (Rev. 13). As the world ruler, he will be allowed to elicit an overwhelming allegiance – which truly only belongs to God Himself.
But none of this is a surprise. Jesus spoke of this regarding the end times the first time He came.
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance.” Matthew 24:24-25 NASB
Though there are many warnings about deception, there are also many promises for true saints. Those who wish to remain faithful to Jesus Christ will be put to the test no doubt. But he who endures to the end – shall be saved (Matthew 24:13)!
For More on the Book of Revelation & End Times
Five Reasons Why Revelation is Hard to Understand
When was the Book of Revelation Written?
The Beast from the Sea Part 1 – Seven Heads
The Beast from the Sea Part 2 – Ten Horns
End Time Events: A Brief Overview
War on Israel – Ezekiel 38
The Church’s New Agenda
Will Christians Know Who the Antichrist Will Be?