The following post is the product of research I did upon 2 Thessalonians 2:3.  The question I sought to shed light upon was the identity of the “man of sin” or more literally “lawlessness” that is mentioned in the passage.  The recent talk of Rapture and the End of Days led me to believe this would be a relevant, if only peripheral post.

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Christian eschatology came to the forefront of media attention in 1995 with the release of Left Behind, a fictional story of the end times written by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.  The twelfth and final book in the series was released in March 2004 with sales for the entire series exceeding 63 million copies.[1]  While the series was a work of fiction, based upon Jenkins and LaHaye’s interpretation of biblical eschatology, mainly the events of Revelation, it did generate a firestorm of debate, both inside and outside the church.  The debates were new to many non-Christians, and in many instances professing Christians, who were not familiar with the complex topic of biblical eschatology.  Yet, the newness of the topic did little to suppress intensity with which one approached the topic, whether favorable or unfavorable.  To those well versed in end time prophecies and themes, the books were no less controversial, unmasking the variances of interpretation that exist for many biblical passages that speak to end times.[2]

One such passage of Scripture that has long been a topic of debate is 2 Thessalonians 2:3.  Writing the believers at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul states, “Let no one deceive you in anyway.  For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”  Interpreters have sparred for centuries concerning a variety of topics from this verse.  To which day was Paul referring when he says “that day?”  What does he mean by “rebellion?”  Who is the man of lawlessness?  These are just a few of the questions that have been entertained over the years, and the latter will be the subject of the present study.

In the quest to find the man of lawlessness’ identity, there will first be an examination of the second Thessalonian epistle’s content and context.  Next, there will be an examination of the phrases “man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction.”  Attention will then be directed towards the various theories that have been proposed through the years.  To conclude, the evidence will be weighed and considered in the hopes of producing an acceptable, more importantly biblical, conclusion.

The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians

Thessalonica was truly a jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire socially, historically, and militarily.  Reconstructing the town of Therma, Cassander, son of Antipater, established the city in 315 B.C. given it the name of his bride, Thessaloniki.  Thessaloniki was the daughter of Philip of Macedonia, making her the half-sister of Alexander the Great.  In 168 B.C., Thessalonica came under Roman control.  The city would flourish as a trade city and military outpost.  The Via Egnatia, a road stretching from the Adriatic Sea to Byzantium, passed through Thessalonica adding to its already lucrative position as a port city.  No doubt, large numbers of Jewish and Gentile merchants were attracted to the city’s central location along the Via Egnatia, as well as the benefits of its commercial success.[3]  The presence of a synagogue indicates a Jewish presence in the city, harmonizing with Luke’s account in Acts 17, though the size of the contingent is speculative since as few as ten Jews in a city could establish a synagogue.  Add to these advantages Rome’s interest in the city as a military port, and Thessalonica was surely viewed as a productive mission field by the Apostle Paul.

The second epistle in the New Testament addressed to the church at Thessalonica was written by the Apostle Paul, presumably during his extended tenure at Corinth.  There is some debate as to the authorship of the letter.  Conservative commentators favor Pauline authorship noting the consistency of style and grammar with the other writings of the apostle.  However, detractors point to the epistle as a forgery due to its striking similarity to 1 Thessalonians.  The witness of the early church fathers, namely Polycarp, Ignatius, and Justin, favor the Pauline theory of authorship.[4]  The addressees of the letter were the members of the Thessalonican church established by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-4).  The date of the writing is once again a topic of dispute among commentators, but the majority of those who accept Pauline authorship date approximate the epistle was written AD 50-52.[5]  Ryrie maintains that any date must be approximated, but that the writing of the second epistle was within weeks, perhaps only a few months from the writing of the first.[6]

The Content of Second Thessalonians

The content of the second epistle are very similar in nature to the first epistle, yet there appears to be more clarification given concerning certain eschatological events, namely the return of the Lord.  After Paul’s customary salutation and thanksgiving for the Thessalonican believers, the apostle moves to console those who are experiencing harsh persecution.  The apostle’s discourse focuses upon the return of the Lord Jesus with a host of angels, and the vengeance of God upon those who persecute His people.  The punishment is described as everlasting destruction and a removal from God’s presence (2 Thess. 1:9).  Marshall notes that the severity of the maltreatment is reflected in the intense language used by Paul in 1:5-12.[7]

The second chapter addresses the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, a topic the apostle covered in his first epistle to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 4:13-18).  According to Paul’s address in the chapter, some were preaching that the Lord Jesus had already returned.  This news presumably came to the attention of the Thessalonians by an erroneous writing credited to Paul and his associates (2 Thes. 2:2).  This teaching upon the parousi,a of Jesus, or His coming, is the center piece of the second chapter, and Paul refutes the false teachers claim the parousi,a has already occurred by telling the Thessalonians that before Jesus’ return, certain events would need to be fulfilled (2 Thes. 2:3).  He reminds them of his previous teachings on the matter (2 Thes. 2:5), and encourages them not to be discouraged because God is faithful and will bless them for their steadfastness (2 Thes. 2:13-17).

After requesting prayer for their evangelistic efforts and a word of encouragement for the Thessalonians to open chapter 3, Paul and his colleagues turn attention to a more practical problem in the church.  It appears that some members of the church were living a life of ease at the expense of others (2 Thes. 3:11-12).  Paul reminds the believers of his own work ethic among them, as well as that of fellow-laborers (2 Thes. 3:8-10).  With a final encouragement not to grow weary doing good works (2 Thes. 3:13) and a last warning to confront sin among themselves with the purpose of restoration (2 Thes. 3:14-15), Paul closes his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Before the day of the Lord’s appearing, Paul declares that an apostasy must take place.  There is a variety of speculation concerning this apostasy.  The AV renders the Greek term avpostasi,a as “a falling away.”  Modern translations interpret the word as “apostasy” (NASB) and “rebellion” (ESV).  Morris argues that “rebellion” is perhaps the proper term for this passage because the word was sometimes used of political and military rebellions.  Morris’ position is one that does not see the avpostasi,a as a spiritual rebellion of the Church against God, but “as setting oneself in active opposition to God.”[8]

The Context of Second Thessalonians

There appear to be three key issues that prompted Paul to write another letter to the Thessalonian believers so quickly after his initial epistle.  These issues are (1) the persecution of the believers at Thessalonica; (2) the misinformation circulating concerning the Lord’s return; and (3) the poor work ethic of some in the city.  The third matter is only peripherally related to the issue at hand, so it will not be addressed.  The persecution Paul discusses in chapter 1 is relevant to the current study in that Paul makes mention of the Lord’s parousi,a in 1:7.  With persecution rolling through the Thessalonian church, Paul is prompted to write another letter to the believers, shortly after his initial letter.  In relation to the Thessalonians’ suffering, Paul encourages them with the coming of the Lord Jesus.  His coming will be one of retribution upon the wicked and relief from suffering for the righteous.[9]

To the current discussion, the events of chapter two are the most pertinent, especially since it encapsulates the introduction of “the man of lawlessness.”  Witherington views chapter two as Paul’s rebuttal to the false teachers, with verses 1-2 constituting the apostle’s key points and verses 3-12 as the argument proper.[10]  Paul’s central theme appears to be instilling hope in the persecuted believers in Thessalonica.  He accomplishes this task by first encouraging them that the Lord had not yet returned, and next, he tells them of the events that must come to pass before “that day” can arrive.  Paul describes the much debated avpostasi,a must occur and then the unveiling of the “Man of Lawlessness.”  With the foundation firm on the content and context of the epistle, it is time to scrutinize the mysterious entity from verse three.

Scriptural Descriptors of the Man of Lawlessness

There is conceivably hundreds, perhaps thousands, of varying interpretations for the “man of lawlessness.”  In an attempt to wade through the various discussions and come to a quick, yet thoughtful conclusion as to his identity, this study will seek to briefly examine the various texts that are often attributed to the “man of lawlessness.”  This will require moving outside the boundaries of 2 Thessalonians; however, the exercise will provide a framework upon which all evidence can be fitted to accurately identify him.

Second Thessalonians

According to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the man of lawlessness’ revelation to the world will coincide with the avpostasi,a.  In addition, chronologically, these two events will precede the Day of the Lord.  Whether these events are to be interpreted as consecutive is a topic of debate.  Marshall argues that Paul is not presenting two consecutive events, but rather has one complex event in mind.[11]  Apart from the chronological problems of this verse, another difficulty lies in the unique nature of the wording.  ~O avnqrwpoj th/j avvnomi,aj is a phrase that is exclusive to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and as such comparing its usage is impossible.  A textual variant does exist, that renders the phrase o` avqrwpos th/j a`marti,aj, which conveys the AV translation “man of sin,” yet it too would be a unique reading.  From the textual evidence, it appears that avvnomi,aj is the more likely reading.

Despite the obscurity of the phrase, other clues are given in chapter two concerning this man.  He is called “the son of destruction,” which commentators say speaks to his ultimate judgment at the hands of God.  Morris notes that the phrase is a Hebrew idiom that signifies “the Man of Lawlessness will certainly be lost.”[12]  It is used one other time in Scripture as a reference to Judas Iscariot (John 17:12).  He is further described as one who will abolish all other forms of religion for the sole purpose of declaring himself a god (2 Thes. 2:4).

At the time of writing, Paul affirms the man of lawlessness is being restrained by something or someone.  There is an inherent ambiguity in the biblical restrainer because at first mention, a neuter participle kate,con (it that restrains) is used, while the second uses a masculine participle kate,con (he who restrains).  From Paul’s words in verses 5-6, the opinion of most commentators is that the Thessalonians knew specifically the identity of the restrainer from previous teachings they had received from the Apostle.  To further complicate the matter, Paul states “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thes. 2:7).  If musth,rion holds the same connotations in this passage as in Colossians 1:26, and the evidence suggests that it does, then the iniquity Paul speaks of will be hid from men’s eyes until God reveals it, just as the church was hidden from the eyes of men.[13]  Regardless of the unanswered questions that surround the man of lawlessness, Kreitzer asserts that the main thrust of the 2 Thessalonians passages is to place the lawless one “within a temporal framework.”[14]

Two other important aspects concerning the man of lawlessness is the source of his power and his final destruction.  Paul says the coming of the lawless one will be “by the activity of Satan” (2 Thes. 2:9), and the apostle stresses he will perform great signs and wonders that will deceive many people.  In verse 2:8, Paul gives a glimpse of great hope by stating that the Wicked One will be destroyed by the coming of Christ.  The imagery is interesting stating that Jesus will kill the lawless one with the “breath of his mouth.”  Commentators see this as a parallel to Revelation 19:15, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,”[15]


The final six chapters of Daniel’s book are heavy with the prophetic word.  Daniel’s emphasis was upon the great dynasties of the world.  Some of Daniel’s prophecies come to pass several centuries after his death (i.e., Antiochus Epiphanes), but there are many more that have yet to reach fulfillment.  Those prophecies focus upon the last days and an oppressive and demonic world leader that resembles Paul’s man of lawlessness.  Most commentators associate the man of lawlessness’ actions in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 with the events of Daniel 11:36.  Daniel states, “And the king shall do as he wills.  He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. . .”  The ideas of both passages are so neatly mirrored; one wonders if Paul had this passage in his mental image as he was inspired to pen his letter to the Thessalonians.  Daniel speaks of the abomination that makes desolate in 11:31.  Many believe Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C. when he desecrated the Jewish temple by sacrificing swine in the Holy of Holies.  However, there is a future aspect to the prophecy because not every detail was fulfilled with Antiochus or any other historical figure.

Gospel of Matthew

In Matthew 24:15, Jesus warns of the time when Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled.  The Lord says, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”  Christ’s focus is upon the Great Tribulation that would later be detailed by the Apostle John in the Revelation.  The words of Christ do not deal directly with the man of lawlessness, yet there is a connection between the two pericopes.  Matthew 24:24 warns of the false Christs that will come and perform signs and wonders to deceive the people.[16]  This is analogous with Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.


As an apocalyptic piece of literature focused predominantly upon the end times, Revelation has the potential to speak volumes on the topic of biblical eschatology.  It has the potential because how one approaches the book will determine the amount of ore than can be chiseled from its depths.  Searching for parallels in Revelation with our key verse of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, one notes Revelation 13 and John’s description of the first Beast that came from the sea.  John describes the Beast, “And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.  And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” (Revelation 13:2).  This descriptor of the first Beast corresponds with Paul’s description from 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and Christ’s words in Matthew 24:24.  There are many more parallels that can be drawn from John’s Revelation account with 2 Thessalonians, Daniel, and Matthew; however, the examples cited serve to show a linkage between the prophecies and shed light upon the lawless one’s identity.

Various Interpretations Concerning the Man of Lawlessness

The Scriptural record appears to be plenteous with information surrounding the man of lawlessness; however, there has been a great variety of theories concerning his identity through the centuries.  The selections have been physical and spiritual, historical and futuristic.  Following is a brief compilation of the various hypotheses concerning the identity of the man of lawlessness.  Some of the positions are outdated with few adherents today, while others are both historical and popular.

Judas Iscariot

The speculation regarding Judas Iscariot as the man of lawlessness stems from the usage of “son of destruction” (2 Thes. 2:3).  Judas Iscariot has become a candidate as the man of lawlessness for some because of the phrase, “son of destruction.”  Moody Bible Institute graduate and prolific writer of the early twentieth century, Arthur W. Pink, advocated this position and he is not without his supporters today.[17]

The problem with this position is two-fold.  First, Judas Iscariot committed suicide as it is recorded in Matthew 27:5.  Apart from the rare instances of resurrection miracles in the Old and New Testaments, no one has returned to life.  Some circumvent this problem by stating that only the spirit of Judas will be upon the man of lawlessness.  The second problem is a product of the hermeneutic applied to arrive at this conclusion.  Pink and those who support his position put too much weight upon the word “perdition.”  They miss the meaning of the word and phrase, which means “one who is doomed.”[18]  From most reports, “son of destruction” looks to be a Hebrew idiom that signifies one who is destined for eternal judgment.[19]  While this implies that Judas Iscariot and the Lawless One will share a similar fate, it does not mandate they be the same person, either physically or spiritually.


In what is perhaps a minority view, some look to Satan as the man of lawlessness that will be revealed before the coming of Christ.  This is perhaps the least feasible of all views due to the clarity of 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and Revelation 13:2, which state the lawless one will receive power from Satan to perform signs and wonders.  Support for this view is wanting, leading one to question whether it has ever held any significant sway.[20]

Roman Emperor

Some commentators do associate the description of the lawless one with Caligula, Nero, or other of the Roman emperors, most especially the emperors of the first century and later those who would strongly persecute the church.  For example, Caligula ordered prayers be offered to him as the supreme god and wished to set up his statue in the temple of Jerusalem.”[21]  Proponents of this position often fall into the vein of preterism in their eschalotogical beliefs.  Preterist view most, if not all, scriptural prophecy concerning the end times as fulfilled within the first century after Christ’s birth.

In some recent Preterist works, Nero has supplanted Caligula as the lawless one.[22]  They document his life and show the similarities Nero shares with those revealed as characteristic of the man of lawlessness in Scripture.  His life was certainly one of cruel intent and persecution, making him a favorite target of such speculation.  In any event, such an interpretation of Scripture calls for the close of the Christian canon prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  There are historicists, opponents to preterist, who hold to a pre-AD 70 writing of Revelation, so such a conclusion does not immediately cast one into the preterist fold

In regards to this position, it is feasible that a Roman emperor in mental image of the New Testament writers, specifically John and Paul, as they described the man of lawlessness.  This would not be out of step with other biblical prophecies, namely that of Daniel and Antiochus Epiphanes, that had an immediate fulfillment, but still pointed towards a future event.  One key flaw in this position is that no Roman emperor completely fulfilled the prophecies attributed to the man of lawlessness.  Caligula did demand to be worshipped as a god, yet he never committed the abomination of desolation in the Jerusalem temple.  Nero’s life was one that appeared controlled by evil intent, arguably with an almost satanic power behind him, yet there was never a complete fulfillment of biblical prophecy during his life.


The majority view among conservative and fundamental commentators is that the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians is none other than the future Antichrist.  The designation of antichrist only appears in Scripture five times, all in the epistles of John (1 John 2:18–twice, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).  The term itself has two possible meanings, and each appears to be utilized by John.  In the Greek the word is a combination of the prefix avnti, and the title Cristo,j.  The application of the prefix avnti can give antichrist two separate connotations, not fully separate and distinction from one another in meaning, but distanced enough to offer a variable nuance to the usage.  The prefix can carry the idea of opposition, which serves to show the function of the antichrist in this world—to oppose the true Christ.  The second meaning for avnti as observed by Benware, states, “The same preposition [avnti] can convey the idea of “in place of” or being a substitute.  That would also hold true for the Antichrist, since it seems that he will be Satan’s substitute messiah.”[23]

The application of these meanings hinges upon one’s acceptance of the Beast from Revelation 13, as well as the Little Horn from Daniel 7 and the Man of Lawlessness from 2 Thessalonians, being the same person.  Commentators stress the parallels that exist between vivid descriptors given in these passages.  Benware further points out that each of the colorful descriptions used of the Antichrist gives us a clearer understanding of this enigmatic figure.  The “man of lawlessness” reference emphasizes his wickedness and his rebellion against the laws of God, while little horn points to his political power.[24]

Although many commentators agree that the man of lawless is the Antichrist, or Beast as he is labeled in Revelation, there is a variance as to his identity.  The Scriptures designate him as a man, and most conservative commentators agree with this assessment, though there is debate as to whether he will be Jew or Gentile.  Some view the Antichrist not as a person, but as a political or religious system, since this appears to be the essence of his power as revealed in Revelation 13.  To hold such a view discounts the personal, human descriptors that are assigned to the Antichrist in the Bible.  This view is still popular among a large group today, who believe the Papacy and Roman Catholicism to be the Antichrist detailed in Scripture.[25]


Weighing the various evidence that has been uncovered from the biblical record and also weigh the argument from the multiple commentators that have tackled this particular topic through the centuries, this author concludes that the “man of lawlessness” from Thessalonians 2:3 is the future Antichrist.  Confined by the boundaries established by Scripture, one can know the works of the Antichrist, his eventual manifestation, and his future, yet positive identification is impossible because God did not reveal it to us in Scripture.  To this author, the Antichrist stands as the reasonable identity of the lawless one because (1) the parallels between Daniel 11, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 13 appear to speak of the same person; (2) a belief in the literal fulfillment of biblical prophecy; and (3) an adherence to a hermeneutic that does not allow for “superadded” meaning or a sensus plenior to the text of Scripture.

While the topic is certainly of interest to many people, caution should be taken in handling Scripture.  Our desire to know more is neither a license to deal dishonestly nor disrespectfully with the Word of God.  As Paul admonished Timothy, “to rightly divide the word of truth,” so should we in our eschatological research and endeavors.

The thousands of volumes that have been written addressing biblical eschatology demonstrates the complexity of the issue.  If the Lord tarries, there will no doubt be thousands more volumes addressing the cryptic issues that surround the End Times and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  While some may view eschatology as a futile enterprise due to its subject matter, it is a key doctrine in the Christians life because it discusses the end of things, or more specifically humanity’s end.  Knowing the destination affects how we conduct ourselves on the journey, hence eschatology’s significance.

[1] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Final Novel in Evangelical Christian Series Is a Best Seller Before Going on Sale,” (accessed April 9, 2010) and NA, “The Official Left Behind Series Site,” (accessed April 9, 2010).

[2] Stephen Travis, “Has Real Hope Been Left Behind?” =general&id=166&PHPSESSID=8ad757ca16cf2787c16b37cc03b3b1ce (accessed April 9, 2010).

[3] Charles C. Ryrie, First and Second Thessalonians, (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1959), 8.  Ryrie estimates the population of the city at 200,000.  This figure places him in the minority with other commentators, whom estimate the actual figure was somewhat closer to 65,000.

[4] Henry Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 17.  Morris points out the irony that 2 Thessalonians is doubted as Pauline due to its impeccable and obvious Pauline terminology and style.

[5] Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 9-15.  Witherington discusses the major views of 2 Thessalonians authorship and date of writing.

[6] Ryrie, 13.

[7] I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians,  The New Century Bible Commentary, ( London:  Marshall Morgan & Scott Publications, 1983), 23.

[8] Morris, 218-219.

[9] Ryrie, 94-95.

[10] Witherington III, 206.

[11] Marshall, 188.  Marshall states, “The RSV rendering makes it clear that first refers to the relation of both events to the day of the Lord.”  While he may be correct in his assessment, he does not clarify how Paul’s viewing both events a single complex event precludes them occurring consecutively as they are presented.

[12] Morris, 222.

[13] Lewis Grant Randal, “The Mystery of Iniquity in Its Historical Aspects,” Bibliotheca Sacra 91, no. 363 (July 1934).  Randal views the mystery as partially fulfilled in Satan’s historical opposition to God.  He maintains there is still a future, unfulfilled aspect.

[14] Larry J. Kreitzer, “Eschatology II:  Paul,” in The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament, (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2004), 342-343.

[15] J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1973), 564.

[16] Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy:  A Comprehensive Approach, (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1995), 149.

[17] Arthur W. Pink, “The Antichrist Will Be Judas Iscariot,” awpink001.html (accessed April 20, 2010).  See also, Terry Watkins, “The Gospel of Judas,” http://www.av1611. org /judas.html (accessed April 20, 2010).

[18] John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies:  37 Crucial Prophecies That Affect You Today, (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing Company, 1991), 260.

[19] Morris, 222.

[20] See Wayne Jackson, “A Study of Paul’s ‘Man of Sin’” Christian Courier.Com, (accessed April 22, 2010).

[21] Suetonius, Caligula, 22:33.  See also Josephus, Antiquities, 18:8.

[22] Kenneth Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, (Irving, TX:  Dominion Press, 1989), 3-21.  Gentry lists five “musts” that he deems necessary for the interpretation for the book of Revelation.  He lists, (1) the name-number 666 must be “that of a man” at the exclusion of demonic beings, philosophical ideas, political movements; (2) this man must be some one of an evil nature; (3) he must be someone of great authority, a political figure; (4) the name-number must be a contemporary of John; and (5) the name must be someone relevant to the first century Christians in the seven churches of Asia Minor. Gentry constrains the interpretative rules in such a manner that his conclusions can be the only conclusions.  [italics mine]

[23] Benware, 249.

[24] Ibid, 249-250.

[25] See Jackson, “A Study of Paul’s “Man of Sin.”  Jackson is one who advocates the Papacy as the antichrist.