“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-7).
Who is this “man of lawlessness?” Some suggest he is a false prophet. Others think he is a emperor or some other political ruler. Still others are convinced Paul is talking about a future head-of-church. There are those in each of these camps who are not shy about naming specific names as candidates for the infamous one.
There are those who are obsessed with nailing down his explicit identity, as if their salvation depended on it. Others are concerned not so much with naming the suspect but just love a good discussion, or more accurately, argument about hypothetical situations and mysterious identities.
In all of our talk about the man of lawlessness, let’s not miss the point. Paul wants the Christians at Thessalonica to look forward to the return of the Lord. He doesn’t want them being unsettled, alarmed, or deceived by those who claim to have had a word from the Lord telling them that it’s already over and they have missed out. In 1 Thessalonians Paul consoles a church that is so eager for the Lord’s immediate return they are discouraged by the wait. In 2 Thessalonians Paul has to address the false notion that Jesus has already come.
The death, burial, resurrection, and return of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. Paul warns the church to be alert. They must not allow themselves to be unsettled or fooled by those who would take away the gospel and thereby take away their hope. Christian faith is anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be patient! Be hopeful! Be ready!
Jesus is coming again, but first, the man of lawlessness will be revealed. He will be exposed at the proper time, when he is no longer being held back. Who is he? Maybe the better questions are: what is he like and what does he do? To answer we need to look closely at words like “lawlessness,” “doomed,” and “rebellion.” We should consider his opposition to the worship of anything except himself. He wants to be exalted, the center of attention. He wants to be on the throne and will oppose anything that gets in his way.
Whoever this “man of lawlessness” may be, we do not need to become so preoccupied with naming him that we miss the intended teaching of the passage – don’t lose your foundation, Jesus is coming! And maybe the best way for us to prepare for His coming is to consider whether anyone would ever nominate any of us as candidates for “man of lawlessness.” Are we fairly described as lawless rebels? Are we seen as contrarians, always looking for something or someone to oppose? Are we comfortable as long as we are the center of attention but insecure when the spotlight shines on another?
The throne belongs to God. If we are to be ready for Jesus to come, we better climb down from the throne, worship God and God alone, and encourage rather than oppose others as they worship Him.