Part of the end time speculation is the rise of a world ruler. Many believe that this individual will first step on the world’s stage as a hero. Then he will show himself to be an evil villain. This world ruler is thought to be “the Antichrist” and “the Man of Sin” described in the Bible.
Christians across denominational lines anticipate the soon arrival of this individual. As the belief goes, this adversary will arise shortly before the return of Christ. Many prophecy teachers connect “the Antichrist” with “the Man of Sin”. For good measure, they lump in the “beast of the sea” mentioned in Revelation chapter 13.
Antichrist(s) – of the Bible
John, the Apostle, is the only one who uses the expression “antichrist”. John used the phrase just five times in four different verses. These are the ONLY scriptures that mention “antichrist”:
- 1 John 2:18 (KJV) “ye have heard that antichrist shall come.”
- 1 John 2:18 (KJV) ” even now are there many antichrists.“
- 1 John 2:22 (KJV) “He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
- 1 John 4:3 (KJV) ” this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
- 2 John 1:7 (KJV) “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
What is interesting is that the use of the definite article (the) is not used in the King James Version (KJV) but it is in other translations such as the ESV, NIV, ASV, NRSV, and NASB. Also note the indefinite and plural use of the term “antichrists” in I John 2:18. Also of critical importance was the sense that “antichrist” was already in the world during John’s day. In fact, John warned these early Christians of an “antichrist” spirit that was deceiving many believers.
The challenge that we are faced with is that determine whether John had an individual “antichrist” in mind when he penned 1st and 2nd John. However, the reality is that Johns’ words have been taken to suggest an individual “antichrist” that has yet to appear on the world stage.
Common Beliefs Today
What I have found when discussing this subject is that the definite article “the” leads many Christians to anticipate an individual “antichrist.” This belief has led to many to label historical figures such as Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, the Pope and others as “the antichrist”. Unfortunately, this belief has not died.
On the other side of the argument are those that focus on the verse declaring that there were “many antichrists” that are already in the world in John’s day. Thus “antichrist” is an attitude or spirit that was opposed to Christ in either individuals or governmental/religious systems. Some of the Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin identified the Roman Catholic Church popes as “the antichrist.” Which view provides the strongest evidence? A single individual “antichrist” or many “antichrists”.
The Man of Sin
Ok, then what about “the man of sin” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3? Many believe that this “man” is “the antichrist.” What does Scripture reveal about this individual? The Bible first mentions his perverse character. He is a man of “lawlessness” who has no regard for God’s laws. This “man of sin” was a “son of perdition” that was born for destruction.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 (KJV) – 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;
2 Thessalonians 2:4 (KJV) – Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
This “man of sin” opposes and exalts himself about all that is called God and above all that is worshiped (2 Thess 2:4). He sits in the temple and shows himself that he is God! Now whomever this individual was Paul wrote that he was being restrained during Paul’s day. This fact is important and if often overlooked. In fact, the Thessalonian Christians of the 1st century A.D. knew what was restraining him.
When Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, the second and final Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. Paul never suggested that this event would occur centuries later in a future rebuilt Temple. How could he as the 2nd Temple was still standing?
What’s clear is that the Christians in Thessalonica were expecting the revealing of the “man of sin” in their lifetimes. In fact, some of these Christians were worried that the “day of the Lord” had already come! Also, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24) matches up with Paul’s prophetic words here. Both speak of the same set of events, use similar language, and convey a strong sense of imminence.
The Identity of the Man of Sin – Clues From History
There are many views as to the identity of the “man of sin”. One view is that the “man of sin” is one particular individual who will arise with great power and deceive many just before the return of Jesus Christ. This view links the “man of sin” with “the antichrist” of 1 John 2:18. This view is held by most Baptists, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals.
Another view is that the “man of sin” is a series of individuals. Possibly a successive line of men with the same general character. This view links the “man of sin” with the Roman papacy. Many Protestants view the papacy as the “man of sin“ due to the persecution they received at the hands of the Roman papacy.
There’s more than one way to view this “man of sin”. Is there any connection between Roman history and what scripture tells us about the “man of sin”? Well, history records that the Jewish rebellion against Rome and apostasy from the faith was already underway in the early 60s. It reached its climax in the Jewish-Roman War of A.D. 66 – 70. The wording indicates that Paul’s “man of sin” was someone who sat in the Temple that was standing when Paul was writing 2nd Thessalonians.
He could have been (take your pick) Nero, Titus, a Zealot leader; the corrupt chief high priest, or a Christian Zealot. All except Nero physically entered the Temple. Though Paul never calls him “Antichrist”,‘ John, the Apostle, tells us that there were many “antichrists” at work at that time (1 Jn. 2:18; 4:3). Of course this “man of sin” was one of them. But he was also someone who had to come on the scene before the Lord’s return in A.D. 70 and before the Temple was destroyed.
2 Thessalonians 2:5-8 (KJV) – 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 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:
The Thessalonians knew the “man of sin” was being restrained at the time Paul wrote the letter of 2 Thessalonians. The Thessalonians also knew what was restraining this “man of sin.” The “mystery of iniquity” was already at work during Paul’s’ day. The man of sins lawless influence was already spreading but at the same time it was hidden (still a mystery). The “man of sin” would be revealed when the restraining force was removed.
The Thessalonians Knew the “Man of Sin” Was Being Restrained at the Time Paul Wrote the Letter of 2nd Thessalonians!
Throughout the history of the Church, there has been endless speculation regarding the identity of this restrainer. However, we do know this restraining force was active when Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians. It was holding back a “man of sin” alive at that time. This fact is a time indicator and should answer the question of when. Some have suggested that the “who” was Nero or the Roman government, which held back Jewish persecution of the early Jewish Christians. Futurists say it’s the gospel, the Church, the Holy Spirit, or an angel. But if any of these is what was meant, why did the writer use such veiled language? None of these things is ever portrayed in Scripture as restraining lawlessness or being removed from the world.
One thing that is certain is the decisive nature of the “man of sins” defeat. He will be consumed and destroyed by the Lord. Also, His end would be similar to that of those who know not God and don’t obey the gospel of Christ. This defeat of the “man of sin” will happen at the “coming of the Lord”. The Lord will destroy the “man of sin” with the brightness of His coming!
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 (KJV) – 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
The coming of the “man of sin” will be according to the working of Satan. His coming will be “with all power and signs and lying wonders”. The “man of sin” will deceive many who are perishing.
This article is obviously not an exhaustive study on the subject of the “man of sin”. What I believe the scriptures reveal is that the phrase “Antichrist” is applied by John to those in his day who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. And I believe this definition of “antichrist” still applies to Christ deniers of our day! Whether John had in mind, an individual that would appear later is not certain.
The “man of sin” described by Paul appears to be an individual who was being “restrained” during Paul’s’ day. The “man of sin” would be revealed in the future to those 1st century Christians. If the Christians in Thessalonica knew what was restraining the “man of sin” doesn’t it make sense that they would have known the identity of this individual?
As with many prophetic passages, there has been a lot of foolish speculation. In every generation, attempts have been made to identify the “man of sin“ and “the antichrist.” In the 20th century alone, from Kaiser to Hitler to Sadaam Hussein, etc. Many prophecy teachers have spoken, confident in their identification, only in time to be proven wrong.
What’s important and necessary is that we be ready for whatever comes. It doesn’t matter whether the “man of sin” and “the antichrist” proves to be specific individual(s) or whether they are indeed a series of individuals we must live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. Only then can we be confident that we are in the right relationship with the Lord. When we are “in Christ” we won’t likely be deceived by any individual or false system that might come our way.