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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.
By TED SLEEPER
Read Time: 12 minutes
Matthew 24 Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (v. 2).

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:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2 Pet 2:1-2).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1).
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (2 John 1:7).

Consider especially Paul’s words to the elders from Ephesus:

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse (i.e. twisted, distorted) things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:29-32).

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:

But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles….Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:17-18, 21-22).

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):

For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt 24:24-27)

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:

“I marvel that you are turning away (different word, similar meaning) so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert (twist, distort) the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-7).

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:

God is going to deliberately provide a strong delusion for those who “did not believe the truth.”

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:

“While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

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:

Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:1-3).
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” … And when they (Paul & Barnabas) had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:1-2, 4-5).
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me (Acts 15).
And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Gal 2:1-5).
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:12-14).

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:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. (2 Thess 2:8).
Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints. (2 Thess 1:6-10).

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:

If that evil servant says in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of. (Matt 24:48-50).
But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. (Matt 25:5).

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?

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught. (2 Thess 2:15).

This is the antidote to this time of confusion and deception. Paul emphasized the same antidote to those in Ephesus:

“I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you and inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32).

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 My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:12- 14).

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.

Ted Sleeper,
an Francisco Peninsula Ecclesia, CA

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John
9 months ago

The temple has yet to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. That’s an important sign that was left out of this article.

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