Revealing The Man Of Sin
The first four verses of 2 Thes. Ch. 2 are another example of Paul's long-winded, run-on sentences. It's difficult to understand those verses when they are translated in a word-by-word manner as most translations do.
The historical context is that the Thessalonians were under persecution and there were those claiming that the persecution was a sign of the eminent coming (parousias) of Christ. Paul's response is to tell them not to be mentally shaken or frightened by speeches or writings claiming those things. The beginning of verse three is a parenthetic emphasis on verse 2, and the phrase, "That day shall not come" is an insertion by the translators to show that what follows is linked to beginning of the chapter. When you take the warnings, enumerations, and interjections out, it's like this:
"Concerning the coming of Christ, first the falling away must come and the man of sin be revealed."
The phrase "falling away" translates apostasia. The word apostasia, from which we get our word apostasy, only occurs twice in the NT. The other place is in Acts 21:21 where the word is applied to Paul. He was accused of teaching "forsaking (apostasia) the Law of Moses." In the LXX it is used in regard to a political rebel and religiously to indicate those that forsake God (Jer 2:19). In Joshua 22:22 it is used to refer to rebellion against God. That gives a better understanding, I think. Apostasia refers to a rebel who forsakes God and substitutes man in God's place.
So, these two ideas are linked -- apostasy and the man of sin. Because the word apostasia is a noun, it is possible that it should read, "first the rebel, the man of sin, must appear and be uncovered," indicating a single event rather than two separate events. This is justifiable, I think, because the words translated "there come" (erchomai) and "be revealed" (apokalupto) are similar in meaning. Paul uses apokalupto in Romans 1:18 to refer to the wrath of God. It is a word that literally means, "take the cover off." Erchomai is interesting in that it can mean either come or go. Its literal sense is of two things that pass by each other and thus can be used of something that approaches or something that departs. In this context, it clearly refers to something that approaches, which is to say, comes into view.
Alternately, it could be that the coming of the "man of sin" is a separate event associated with rebellion against God. The "man of sin" becomes possible because of the apostasy, in other words. Either way, we have to look at the "man of sin" to understand the conditions Paul is describing.
The characteristics of the "man of sin" are enumerated in verses three and four. He is:
* Perdition's son
* Opposes God
* Exalts himself above what is called God
* Exalts himself above objects of worship
* Sits in the temple of God
* Claims that he is God
Most of the list of items is obvious, but two things stand out to me and should be looked at closely.
First is the "son of perdition." In the Bible, to say that someone is a son may refer either to biological heritage, or, it may refer to spiritual condition. Jesus referred to the Pharisees as "son's of the devil" (John 8:24) because they believed and taught lies and hypocrisy. In Rom 8:14-15, Paul uses the idea of being a son to refer to all of those that have faith in Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the idea here in 2 Th is likely the same. The "man of sin" is filled with the spirit of destruction (apoleia) and this does not have anything to do with his biological heritage.
The controversial and questionable part is the idea that the "man of sin" will "sit in the temple of God." A tradition has built up around this idea that creates the image of "The Antichrist" who will be a person who will sit down in a physical, rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. I don�t think that idea is necessary from this text in 2 Th alone.
There are two different words translated as temple in the English NT, heiron and naos. The two words are slightly different in meaning, but are generally used interchangeably. The word heiron refers to a sacred place and seems to always be associated with a building or shrine of some type. The word naos means a dwelling and is used to refer to the actual place in a temple where the god resides. In the case of the Jewish Temple naos would be more applicable to the Holy of Holies, or inner court, while heiron applies to the whole temple complex usually.
What is important, I think, is that a naos does not have to be a building at all. When Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19) the word translated temple is naos. We understand that Jesus was referring to Himself and not the physical building. This is a clear use of naos for something other than a physical building.
The idea that God dwells in a place other than a building became part of the earliest Christian doctrine. In John 14 Jesus tells His disciples that He and The Father will make an abode in them. This is a different word that means residence, but it is the same idea as the naos of God. You see the same again in 1 Pe 2:5 ("Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house") and in 1 Pe 4:17 where the Church is described as the house (oikos) of God. This is a common theme among the earliest Christians, especially among gentile Christians who could not enter into the physical temple. There was no need for a physical dwelling for God, or a need to go there, because He now resides in the heart of man through the Holy Spirit.
The idea of believers as the temple of God is also expressed by Paul in his epistles. For example, 1 Cor 3:16 is, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" The same idea is in 1 Co. 6:19, 2 Co 6:16, and Eph 2:21. This leads me to believe that Paul is expressing the same idea in 2 Th 2:4. In that case, there is no need for the "man of sin" to sit in a physical building. The temple that Paul speaks of is the heart of man, a dwelling place of the spirit, or the Church as a whole. In that case, what Paul is saying in 2 Th is that there will come a time when the Church turns away from God, and is taken over by false teaching. Alternately, he can simply be saying there will be a time when man has rejected God altogether, proclaimed man as God, and become indwelt by another spirit.
That still leaves the question of who the "man of sin" refers to. It could be a single person, someone who will come and take over or destroy the Church, setting himself up as God. However, it doesn't have to be any one person. We sometimes use the singular to represent a type. Although this verse (4) and the succeeding verses speak of a man in a singular sense, it can be thought of as a generic "mankind" and does not have to be any one particular individual. Consider "man of sin" to be a representation of all the characteristics expressed in Paul's list. The "falling away and revealing of the man of sin" can then be understood as a time when a humanistic, man-centered doctrine overtakes the "temple of God." Or, it would be man declaring himself to be as God as the fulfillment of the coming of Christ.
We sometimes forget that ancient people were very religious. They rarely denied the existence of divine beings, although we would say they worshiped false gods and idols. Nevertheless, it is only in the modern age where the idea of rational man is the end-all of the universe and a widespread denial of any need to rely on God. To me, that attitude is the very same thing as the "man of sin" sitting in the temple of God and proclaiming man to be God. It also parallels Paul's teaching in Romans ch. 1.
This is my understanding. The true coming of Christ will be when all the evil that results from man's attempt to eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil so that we may be as gods is fully uncovered and exposed as folly. When there are no more options to try, no more human centered philosophies to expose as false, no more reliance on hypocritical religiosity as a means of salvation, and man has reached the point of self-destruction due to his folly, then the "man of sin" will have been fully revealed. Then God can say, "See, I told you so." At that day, we will truly be gathered together in Jesus, no longer seeking another way.