Many have speculated about the identity of the man of lawlessness. Some have suggested that he will be a specific individual who will rise to power in the end times (the “Antichrist” with a capital “A”), while others have seen him as a symbolic representation of the forces of evil that will oppose God in the last days. In either case, let’s not speculate and look only at what God has told us about the man of lawlessness…

How Scripture answers "Who is the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3)?"

The man of lawlessness1 is presumably, but not necessarily, a personification of lawlessness3 (e.g. sin7). Therefore, some have understood the “man of lawlessness” to be Satan himself. However, it could also be simply describing anyone that does Satan’s bidding4, such as Jesus’ reference to Judas9, or what John refers to as an antichrist5.

Was the man of lawlessness an actual person? There’s no way to know for certain. Many want to conclude this because it supports their idea of an “Antichrist”, but the Bible makes no such assertion. We do know the Thessalonians were given more specifics about this “man of lawlessness” when he was with them in person2, and if this was an actual person, it would make sense why Paul didn’t want to go further with any documentation. Additionally, Paul described him as one that “takes his seat in the temple of God”1 and if that’s understood literally, it would obviously be someone and something they would have experienced. This also bears striking similarity to Jesus’ warning regarding who He referred to as “the abomination of desolation”6.

Whether this “man of lawlessness” was a literal man in their day or was (and is still) a representation of the ever-increasing spread of sin and affront to God’s authority, two things are certain. First, it’s not a question that can be fully answered while staying within the authority of God’s word. Second, the fact still remains for Christians today that many antichrists exist5,6, men of lawlessness1,2,3 in their own right, looking to do the bidding of Satan4,9. We are to resist their influence4,6,8 and look to Jesus’ triumphant return1,3,6 when He defeats Satan once and for all3. This is exactly the same as what those in the first century were instructed to do4,6,8.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

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 destruction, 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.

Don’t be deceived by anyone by any means, since that day [the Lord’s return] will not come before the rebellion and the man of lawlessness is revealed.  He is the son of destruction who opposes and exalts himself against any so-called god or idol and will take his seat in the temple of God and proclaim himself as God.

Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica sometime before for the First Jewish-Roman War when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  He is assuring them that “the day of the Lord” has not come yet (vs 2), and won’t before two things happen: “the rebellion” and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (vs 3). This seems to be an abbreviated explanation since Paul had already told them about “these things” in person (vs 5).

More broadly, the Thessalonians in particular were being told by false teachers that Jesus had already returned and were afraid that they had somehow missed it and that those Christians they knew that had died would not be raised anew (1 Th 4:13ff).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul reminds them that Jesus will not return in final judgment (e.g. “that day”) before they witness the “man of lawlessness” is revealed in all of his wicked ways.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Paul is telling them things pertaining to “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs 1) that he had already told them when he had been with them face-to-face2.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.

Have you forgotten what I [Paul] told you when I was with you? You already know what’s holding him [man of lawlessness] back until the proper time.

Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica sometime before for the First Jewish-Roman War when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  He is assuring them that “the day of the Lord” has not come yet (vs 2), and won’t before two things happen: “the rebellion” and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (vs 3).

More broadly, the Thessalonians in particular were being told by false teachers that Jesus had already returned and were afraid that they had somehow missed it and that those Christians they knew that had died would not be raised anew (1 Th 4:13ff).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul had already told them about the man of lawlessness1 in person, and reminds them that he’s being restrained (presumably by God/the Holy Spirit?) and won’t be revealed until an appointed 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, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but its personification will be revealed when the one restraining it is out of the way. Then he [man of lawlessness] will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth at his coming.

Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica sometime before for the First Jewish-Roman War when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  Between Paul’s first and second letters, it appears the people had begun to believe some teaching that Jesus had already returned (vss 1-2).  He is assuring them that “the day of the Lord” has not come yet, and won’t before two things happen: “the rebellion” and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (vs 3).

The reference here to Jesus conquering by the “breath of his mouth” would be understood as His words. Isaiah said, “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” (Is 11:4)

Scripture-block application to this question

Even though the man of lawlessness1 hasn’t been revealed yet, the “lawlessness” that he is about is already present. However, Jesus will conquer him in the end with His words that He speaks in judgment.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

The lawless one’s coming is thanks to Satan’s wicked deception and activity demonstrated with power and false signs.  His followers are perishing since they refuse to love the truth, which would save them.

Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica sometime before for the First Jewish-Roman War when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  He is assuring them that “the day of the Lord” has not come yet (vs 2), and won’t before two things happen: “the rebellion” and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (vs 3).

More broadly, the Thessalonians in particular were being told by false teachers that Jesus had already returned and were afraid that they had somehow missed it and that those Christians they knew that had died would not be raised anew (1 Th 4:13ff).

Scripture-block application to this question

The man of lawlessness1 is by the direction/authority of Satan and will serve to [further] deceive all those who refuse God (e.g. other antichrists5) and will die the second death as a result.

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

The liar is the antichrist – anyone that denies Jesus is the Christ by denying the Father and the Son.

The Apostle John is writing to Christians to remain steadfast.

Scripture-block application to this question

John defines an “antichrist” as anyone that denies (or is agains) God and Christ.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

John further describes “the antichrist” as not just one individual, but in fact many and they are not to come in future but have already come (2:18, 4:3). He also essentially repeats this definition he gives here (2:22) again in his second letter (2 Jn 1:7).

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Then you’ll be delivered to persecution and death, being hated by all nations for wearing My name. At that time, many will fall away [from the faith], betraying and hating one another, and false teachers will lead many astray. Since sin will increase, the love of many will grow cold. However, the one that perseveres to the end will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed to all men everywhere, after which the end will come.

This chapter, along with the next (chapter 25), constitutes a discussion between Jesus and his disciples sometimes referred to as the “Olivet Discourse.” Matthew is the only gospel writer to record the second half (chapter 25), while shorter versions of the first half can be found in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 17:20-27 & 21:5-36.

Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2).  Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3). Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5)

Taking this backdrop and chapters 24 & 25 together it is clear Jesus is addressing God’s judgment on both the nation of Israel and His final judgment on all mankind. We can further contextualize this discussion by looking at other instances when God, through a prophet, would pronounce judgment on a nation. When we read Amos or Hosea regarding Israel’s judgment, Isaiah or Jeremiah regarding Judah’s judgment, or Obadiah regarding Edom’s judgment, we read about not only God’s judgment on that nation (a near-term “day of the Lord”) but also His eventual judgment on all mankind (a longer-term final “day of the Lord”). In fact, often the prophet (e.g. God) will go back and forth between near-term judgment events and long-term judgment events.

This is the same with Jesus and how He speaks about God’s judgment in chapter 24. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return (vs 3). Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD).  He then speaks primarily about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), before concluding with three parables and describing what the final “day of the Lord” will look like.

Detail of the sequencing of Jesus’ prophecy re: a near-term “day of the Lord” and the final “day of the Lord”:

  • 24:4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
  • 24:15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD).
  • 24:29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment.
  • vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
  • 24:35-44 – The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).
  • 24:45-25:30 – Three parables about being ready for His coming because we don’t know when it will be:
    • 24:45-51 – The “faithful and wise servant”
    • 25:1-13 – The “ten virgins”
    • 25:14-30 – The “talents”
  • 25:31-46 – Description of how it will be on that final “day of the Lord”. A good portion of this is repeated by Jesus in a different setting in Luke 17:20-27.
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus speaks of a time when “lawlessness” (e.g. sin7) will increase with the rise of “many false prophets.” This will cause many to fall away, since only “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

After this description of the mounting of sin, persecution, and turmoil among the faithful taking place during the “latter days” or “last days” (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:1-3, etc.) and preceding God’s final judgment (the “great day of the Lord”), Jesus shifts (vs 15) to describe more of the very specific and imminent judgment on the Israel with the destruction of the temple. He goes on to tell His audience that they will “see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (vs 15) and He advises them to flee Jerusalem when that happens (vss 17-22).

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

Continuing in or practicing sin is lawlessness, therefore sin is lawlessness.

The Apostle John’s letter to the “twelve tribes of the dispersion” (vs 1) – twelve tribes clearly figuratively as the letter addresses Christians as a whole (not just Jewish Christians). John is stating the case for fellow believers to continue in the love of God, here reminding them of the contrast between those that practice sin and those that have accepted Jesus and been cleansed of their sin.
Scripture-block application to this question

Sin = lawlessness

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

God’s grace appeared, bringing salvation for all people and training us to renounce sin and its passions.  As a result, we live godly, righteous lives, controlling ourselves in the present age and waiting for the appearing of the glory God – Jesus Christ, our hope.  He gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness, purifying us as a people for His own possession and eagerly doing good.

Paul is writing to a young preacher, Titus.  He provides instructions regarding many of the other roles in the congregation including pastors/elders and deacons in chapter one. He continues to give instruction regarding behavior to certain segments/groups within the church: older men (2:2), older women (2:3), younger women (2:4), younger men (2:6), and finally slaves (2:9).  With all of these, their behavior is to be exhibited as would “accord with sound doctrine” (1:9, 2:1, 2:10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus, through His sacrifice, has bought or redeemed those that obey Him “from all lawlessness”.

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
I [Jesus] am coming to you [God the Father] so will no longer be in the world with them [apostles]. Keep them in your word which you have given Me, so they will be one as we are one. I kept them in fellowship with you and not one was lost except the son of destruction, that Scripture would be fulfilled.

Jesus’ prayer before His crucifixion and ascension to Heaven.

Not reference of a specific passage of fulfillment is mentioned, but several would apply. It would certainly refer to those passages referring to the betrayal of Jesus such as Psalms 41:9, 69:25, and 109:8. But without a specific citation from Jesus, there is nothing precluding the broader events surrounding the Father’s offering of His only begotten Son.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus refers to Judas Iscariot the “son of destruction”.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The “son of destruction” in the ESV is also translated “son of perdition” in KJV, NKVJ, NASB translations, which connects it with “son of lawlessness”1.

Leave your comment below…

…and if you’re wondering more about what we’re doing and why, here are some links we hope can help explain it (and maybe even get you excited about contributing):

what do you think?

related to 'Who is the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3)?'

lend your own study to the discussion

PUBLIC COMMENT POLICY: While your email is required, it will not be posted publically.
All comments are vetted for potential spam before being published, but will not be restricted otherwise.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments