This is now the sixteenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:
In the last post we turned to a discussion of the man of lawlessness spoken of in II Thessalonians 2. This is a two-part study in which we are considering the relevance to the first-century Church of Paul’s prediction of a coming man of lawlessness and a rebellion to the first-century Church. We’re also considering the identity of this man of sin.
F. The Man of Lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2) [Part 2]
Regarding the identity of the man of lawlessness, also known as the “man of sin” and the “son of perdition,” there has been no end of speculation in history. Aside from 20th and 21st century figures, and various Catholic Popes, more than one 1st century personality has also been tagged as the man of lawlessness. Not all Preterists assume that the man of lawlessness and the beast of Revelation are one and the same. One reason for this is because of the language used in II Thess. 2:4, which says that the man of lawlessness “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.” Nero, who is generally regarded within Preterism as the beast of Revelation, certainly proclaimed himself to be God, but some question whether he was the man of sin because he is not known to have physically entered into the Jerusalem temple.
On the other hand, some have interpreted the phrase “temple of God” to refer to the Church (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-22) rather than to any physical temple. In other words, the man of lawlessness would attempt to usurp the place of God as the object of supreme worship within the Church. This Nero did, of course, but this alone perhaps isn’t proof that Paul wasn’t referring to a physical temple. He could just as well have been referring to the physical temple which still stood in his day, that is, except for one other point of truth. God had already rejected that temple as His own. As Jesus said, “See, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). Keeping this statement by Jesus in mind, why would God then refer to the Jerusalem temple as the “temple of God”? This interpretation then, of a spiritual temple rather than a physical one, has solid ground to stand upon. Kurt Simmons points out that similar language to that used by Paul is used in the Old Testament, as in this instance regarding the prince of Tyre: “Thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas…’” (Ezekiel 28:2).
Dispensationalism is surely wrong in saying that Paul had in mind a physical temple which, in our time, has not yet been rebuilt. For one thing, the Thessalonian believers had the ability to know from Jesus’ own prophecies that the temple they were acquainted with would be destroyed in their generation (Matthew 23:29-24:1, 24:3, 24:34; Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:5-33, etc.). How strange it would have been for them to consider that this temple would later be replaced for the purpose of granting a momentary seat to a lawless individual, one whom they didn’t need to be concerned about because he was generations away from appearing. Also, as noted earlier, any future temple which may still be rebuilt for the purpose of resuming Old Covenant sacrifices would in no sense be God’s temple, but would be the ultimate symbol of apostasy and an outright rejection of Christ. It’s a tragedy that many believers today are passionate about seeing such a project come to pass in modern Israel, even to the point of sending millions of dollars to see it happen.
Nero does seem to have been the candidate of choice, though, among many early church writers, as the man of lawlessness spoken of by Paul. Aside from Victorino and Augustine, Chrysostom (347-407 AD) also wrote: “‘For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.’ He speaks here of Nero… But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it” (Kurt Simmons  , 2009). Lactantius (260-330 AD), embracing the viewpoint that by “temple of God” Paul was referring to the Church, said that Nero became enraged by the “faithful and steadfast temple of the Lord” built through the evangelism of Peter, Paul, and the early Church. So Nero “sprung forward to raze the heavenly temple and destroy the true faith” (emphasis added).
Aside from Claudius, the emperor who preceded Nero, another figure who has been suggested as the restrainer is Ananus, the high priest who opposed the Zealot-led rebellion against Rome. He is seen to have restrained the Zealots as long as he was in his position. Within a couple months from the time he was removed from his position and replaced by Phannias, who was one of the Zealots’ own men, the Zealots and the Idumeans together slaughtered 12,000 Jews who would not join their cause. Around the same time, they also caused the temple to “overflow with blood” in one particular civil war in which 8,500 were killed in one night. This view either regards the Zealots as a corporate “lawless one,” or their leader, John of Gischala, as the man of lawlessness.
As will be seen in the final section, John led a faction in Jerusalem during the Roman/Jewish War which occupied the Jerusalem temple and turned it into a military fortress. John personally melted down the sacred temple vessels and dishes, poured out the wine and oil which was meant to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and caused the Jews to become drunk from the wine. His behavior provoked Josephus to exclaim that Jerusalem was more worthy of judgment than Sodom ever was, and that such madness was the true cause of the people’s destruction. This was terrible sacrilege from the standpoint of Judaism, of course, but the temple ceremonies were invalid in God’s eyes anyway because Christ had already gone to the cross. This view of Ananus as the restrainer and John and/or the Zealots as the “man of sin” seems highly unlikely, though, for the simple reason that there is no record of John or any of the other zealots claiming to be God. John also fails as the candidate for the man of lawlessness, in any case, because he survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and instead spent the rest of his life in a Roman prison. The true lawless one, Paul said, would be killed by the appearance of Christ’s coming in vengeance (II Thess. 1:8): “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” (II Thess. 2:8). Of this language, James Stuart Russell said:
In this significant expression we have a note of the time when the man of sin is destined to perish, marked with singular exactitude. It is the coming of the Lord, the Parousia, which is to be the signal of his destruction; yet not the full splendour of that event so much as the first appearance or dawn of it. Alford (after Bengel) very properly points out that the rendering ‘brightness of his coming’ should be ‘the appearance of his coming,’ and he quotes the sublime expression of Milton, —‘far off His coming shone.’ Bengel, with fine discrimination, remarks, ‘Here the appearance of His coming, or, at all events, the first glimmerings of His coming, are prior to the coming itself.’ This evidently implies that the man of sin was destined to perish, not in the full blaze of the Parousia, but at its first dawn or beginning. Now what do we actually find? Remembering how the Parousia is connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, we find that the death of Nero preceded the event. It took place in June A.D. 68, in the very midst of the Jewish war which ended in the capture and destruction of the city and the temple. It might therefore be justly said that ‘the appearance, or dawn, of the Parousia was the signal for the tyrant’s destruction (Todd Dennis , 2009).
David Lowman (2009 ) points out that the Greek word for the phrase “gathered together,” episunagoge, used in II Thess. 2:1, appears three times in the New Testament:  in Matthew 24:31 (“…and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”),  here in this passage,  and in Hebrews 10:25 (“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”). In each of these cases the term denotes the fellowship of believers or the gathering of the Church in terms of the spread of the gospel. Lowman notes that, where this term was used in the Olivet Discourse, it was the fall of the temple and Jerusalem that enabled the gospel to be released apart from infringement by Jewish authorities. It also accomplished the official separation of Christians and Jews in the eyes of the Roman world.
Before this gathering to Christ was to occur, there was one more event, not yet discussed in any detail, that Paul said had to happen first. There had to be a rebellion. David Lowman again comments:
The Greek word “apostasia” is used here. It can mean rebellion or falling away. Most modern translations have properly identified the proper usage as “rebellion.” This is not to be seen necessarily as a spiritual falling away, but rather a social or political rebellion. It is quite probable that Paul is making the argument that the Day of the Lord’s judgment against Judea will not happen until the rebellion of the zealots has already occurred. We know this began taking place some 15 years or so after the writing of this letter (David Lowman , 2009).
The Jewish rebellion against the Romans played a large role in ensuring that Jerusalem would be crushed. This and other related historical events will be examined in the following section.
 Dispensationalists often assert that the restrainer (II Thess. 2:6-7) is the Holy Spirit, who will be taken out of the way when the Rapture snatches away the Church before a future Tribulation. This creates a dilemma, though, because Dispensationalism also says that there will be a revival during the 7-year Tribulation Period led by 144,000 Jewish evangelists. It’s impossible that such a spiritual harvest, or any salvation at all, could be accomplished without the work of the Holy Spirit.
 It can be argued, though, that a different form of the same root (Greek) word is used several more times in other instances.
 Whether or not this interpretation is accepted, such infringement is certainly in view in I Thessalonians 2:14-16, where Paul says the Jews “oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”
 Some full preterists believe that this “gathering together” was a physical resurrection of Old Testament saints as well as the faithful who had died in Christ up until that point, as a parallel to Revelation 14:13 and Revelation 20:4-6.
2 thoughts on “PP16: The Man of Lawlessness (II Thess. 2) Part 2”
Regarding the idea of Jesus’ coming in judgment in 70 AD, which was alluded to in this post, please see the following posts if you haven’t already:
Regarding the question of whether Paul was referring to a physical temple or the Church when he spoke of “the temple of God” (II Thessalonians 2:4), PJ Miller pointed to the following quote on her well-read blog site, which I thought was very enlightening:
Here’s PJ Miller’s article where I found the above quote: