The Man of Sin and the Lord’s Appearing
Jesus did not want his disciples to be deceived in their earnest desire for his coming by the many false Christs and false prophets that would rise up before he would come in his Kingdom glory. Jesus knew these impostors would succeed in deceiving many.
When Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, his disciples were dismayed. They wanted to know when these things would happen, and they immediately connected it with his coming and the end of the age in which they lived.
Jesus’ first concern, though, was not about the details, but about his disciples. He did not want them to be deceived in their earnest desire for his coming by the many false Christs and false prophets that would rise up before he would come in his Kingdom glory. Jesus knew these impostors would succeed in deceiving “many” (see vv. 11, 23-25).
Why so many impostors? Would they emerge because of the concentration of evil and frightening events swirling around them—warfare, famines, pandemics (pestilence), earthquakes (vv. 6-7)? And these events were only going to be “the beginning of sorrows.” Literally, these would be the “birth pangs” of the new heavens and earth, the new order of things, God’s Kingdom on earth. Whatever the exact cause, the truth of Jesus’ prophecy is echoed in the NT:
Consider especially Paul’s words to the elders from Ephesus:
What is particularly poignant about Paul’s message is the depth of his love for these brethren that he had taught that they might remain true to the Faith. He pleaded with them with tears not to be deceived and caught up in this betrayal of the true gospel that was coming after he was off the scene.
Jesus’ first concern was about his disciples. He did not want them to be deceived.
What comes next is worse. Jesus’ disciples were to be delivered over to grievous tribulation and death, and be hated by all nations for his name’s sake (Matt 24:9). So bad are these circumstances, that his disciples would stumble because of these things and “many” will fall away (the meaning of the word “offended”).
Worse, men will hate those who remain faithful and begin to betray their own brethren to the authorities (cf. Luke 21:12-13,16- 17). No wonder that in such evil times Jesus says the “love of many will grow cold!” (Matt 24:12). It is hard to understand how this level of treachery could reach within the ecclesias and even into their own families. Jesus’ warning helps us here:
We know from history that the Jewish persecution and hatred of the followers of Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. Their hatred for Jesus’ disciples matched their hatred of their Master (Matt 10:24-25), and this hatred would divide friends and families asunder.
What we may not fully appreciate is that the Christians were also hated in the Roman world. The success of their preaching brought them into conflict with the gods worshipped by the Romans. The persecutions that arose in certain periods from the Romans was not quite the same as the ferocious, extended Jewish persecution the disciples experienced before AD 70, but it was always there underneath the surface.
Christians were also hated in the Roman world.
Yet, amazingly, during this same period of time, says Jesus, despite persecution, the gospel of the Kingdom would be successfully preached in all the world! Only then would the end come.
When would all these things happen? The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
In Matthew 24:2, Jesus is clearly talking about the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The question his disciples ask clearly indicates they felt this would be in their lifetime. The destruction of the Temple most certainly did happen.
So also, the terrible persecution of those who preached the gospel especially among the Jewish people. But Jesus connects all this with his actual coming (see vv. 27, 30):
We know Jesus didn’t return in the first century, so are these signs also meant for us too in some way? I believe Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 can help us find a possible answer to our question.
2 THESSALONIANS 2
Paul explicitly connects what he is writing with “the coming of our Lord” and “our gathering together to him” (v. 1). Let’s take a look at what he writes. We find first that Paul has the exact same concern Jesus had: Don’t be deceived!
We’ve already seen the NT passages that address this theme, especially his emotional appeal to the Ephesian elders. What Paul now adds is, frankly, even more troubling: “That Day will not come unless the falling away comes first.”
Our word for apostasy is taken from the Greek for “falling away,” but the meaning is more simple than this complicated word may imply; the word simply means a turning away. Paul is warning that powerful forces were going to be at work among the brethren to turn brothers and sisters away from the gospel they were taught to a different gospel.
About a decade earlier Paul was already confronting the beginnings of this phenomenon:
But why? Why would God allow this? Because God always allows His people the opportunity to show what they really believe in their hearts. In Acts 20, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that some from their own ecclesia would arise teaching distorted ideas to draw away disciples after them. If we don’t truly value the gospel of our salvation, then we will not hold fast to it, and we will be easily enticed by another gospel more in line with what we think is right or want to believe.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 are very sobering words:
The final piece of the picture being put before us in 2 Thess 2:3 is found in the revealing of the “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness”. This one is lawless, proud, bringing destruction (“perdition”), the very opposite of our Master who was righteous, humble, and brought salvation.
There are two things that should deeply concern us about this man of sin. First that he is called the “son of perdition” and second, when this is supposed to happen. Consider first the “son of perdition”. Read slowly and carefully what Jesus says in his prayer for his disciples John 17:12:
Do you see what is so troubling? Judas, one of Jesus’ very own inner circle of disciples, is called the “son of perdition.” There can be only one conclusion to draw from Paul’s usage of the same term: This “man of lawlessness” who will betray the community of true disciples, must arise from within Jesus’ own disciples, just like Judas.
Whether this refers to one individual or a group (perhaps it is both), is less important than that this destructive force that utilizes lying and deception and evil will come out of those who hold the true gospel, not from the outside.
From Paul’s writings, we discover there actually was such a man in the first century who claimed apostolic authority. He used his position of respect among the Christian elders in Jerusalem to subvert the gospel, to pull the Christians back to the authority of the Jewish law and their rituals.
And, as a baptized believer, he may well have had Holy Spirit power to do miracles that he could use to enhance his position and seduce the brethren! Ponder what these passages tell us:
Putting together these passages, we are confronted with an emerging opposition first to Peter, then Paul, and to the gospel they preached among the Gentiles. Notice in the first quote that “those of the circumcision” had seats within the Jerusalem council of elders.
Around 14 years later when Paul had to defend his work among the Gentiles, “certain men” came from this group on the Jerusalem council seeking to correct the doctrinal errors of Paul and Barnabas. The men are identified as belonging to “the sect of the Pharisees who believed.”
When Paul re-tells this incident in his letter to the brethren in Galatia, he uses much stronger language: These men are “false brethren secretly brought in” to bring the Gentiles back to Mosaic bondage. Even Peter was affected a little later by “certain men from James.”
And, finally, around AD 55, Paul now writes to the Corinthians about “false apostles,” men claiming apostolic authority (likely after James is killed and a void is left on the Jerusalem council), with one specific adversary at the center of all this evil work, an adversary with the ability to demonstrate Holy Spirit gifts to cement his “apostolic” authority.
Now the second piece of the puzzle: When was all this to happen?
You can readily see from the passages quoted that Paul saw this evil work already afoot in his days: “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” (2 Thess 2:7).
Remember his passionate appeal to the Ephesians? Paul himself was going to do everything in his power to restrain this evil force within the Christian community. But he also knew it would come to full flower after he was taken away. Yet, the Lord Jesus was going to destroy this force and all involved at his actual coming:
While the Jewish power that sought to undermine and overthrow the work of Paul and the true apostles was effectively destroyed in the overthrow of Jerusalem in AD 70, Jesus didn’t come then. What, then, does this mean for us?
Will you be seduced to leave the gospel of our Salvation?
That Christianity was seduced by the spiritualizing forces that arose in early Christianity, which ultimately gave birth to the Catholic Church, we can see in history. There is no doubt either that this power, ironically, reigned over the kings of the earth for around 1000 years from AD 500 to AD 1500.
But what about the world now? Will you be seduced to leave the gospel of our Salvation? Does this really fit our days?
WHEN WILL THESE THINGS HAPPEN?
What does seem to be true is that this prophecy had a fulfillment in the first century. But, since Jesus has not returned, this prophecy must also have a fulfillment in the Last Days. If this is so, then we need to prepare ourselves for troubling times.
First: At this present moment, despite all the noise of wars and conflicts and pandemics, there is an unsettling quietness, like the “lull before a storm”. Perhaps we are beginning to feel a little bit that our Master has “delayed his coming?” If we haven’t felt this yet, we will, as this is the very condition
Jesus spoke about in his parables in Matthew 24 and 25:
Second: Remember how Jesus said the gospel must be preached in all the world before he comes?
It struck me very forcefully recently when I was thinking about our brethren in Afghanistan. How and when did the gospel get preached in that country?
I then looked at a map on the ACBM website that showed all the areas where the CBMs have been working. I was stunned when I realized that the only community of people who hold the truth of the original gospel, the Christadelphians, have been driven for over 70 years to carry that gospel into all nations!
I was privileged to have met and been personally encouraged by some of the pioneers of this work (Bre. Harry Whittaker and Alfred Norris). Bro. Alan Eyre also compiled stories of the 20th-century work in his Protesters books. We’ve seen the gospel spread to Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Western & Eastern Europe, Pakistan, India, China, Japan, and SE Asia. This prophecy is being fulfilled.
Third: A falling away produced by the changing of the gospel to make it more in line with current humanistic ideas and thinking. Surely not! But the prophecy clearly lays out that just such a thing must happen and it must arise from within, from among those today who hold the true gospel. I believe this force is already at work in our midst.
Finally: A system that fits the details of Paul’s prophecy? I don’t know. I guess we will have to wait and see! Despite the present “lull” we are moving toward a world filled with great stress through wars, famines, pandemics, and earthquakes. In the midst of this, there will be a falling away from the true gospel, brothers and sisters led astray by good words and fair speeches from those capable of deceiving the hearts of the simple (cf. Rom 16:17-18).
The important question we must address is what must we do to survive this time?
This is the antidote to this time of confusion and deception. Paul emphasized the same antidote to those in Ephesus:
This is what we need to hold on to with an unyielding grip to endure until the end. The antidote to the hateful behaviors that will arise among us? It is the very one our Master gave when he shared bread and wine with his beloved disciples:
This is the defining characteristic of Jesus’ true disciples, their love for one another. This is the life to which we have been called, and for which we give our God thanks at our Master’s table. This will overcome all the forces of evil that may be arrayed against us.
an Francisco Peninsula Ecclesia, CA
The temple has yet to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. That’s an important sign that was left out of this article.