Category: Pauline Epistles


Paul’s teaching in the first half of the chapter dealt with marriage and divorce.  He closed out his discussion by addressing husbands and wives with unsaved spouses.  Moving on to a new thought, but with that context in mind, Paul shifts to address the idea of contentment.  There were some among the Corinthian believers who were not happy in their present state.  There were married members who wished to be single, single members who wished to be married and even slaves who longed to be freed.

This section is a pause in the overall thought of marriage and singleness, but one that addresses the root of the problem that had taken over the hearts o the believers in Corinth.  The underlying problem in Corinth was one of contentment.  People were simply unhappy with where they were in life, whether married or single, and seeking to change their circumstances.

The Corinthians failed to realize what many of us today fail to realize – our circumstances are not as important as our obedience to God.  The priority of life must be living a life of faith that trust completely in Almighty God and is obedient to His Will in all things.  Paul even tells Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).  So join this morning as we examine this passage and struggle with the idea of contentment and the struggle each of us must endure to live contented lives.

I.        Teachings Concerning Our Enjoyment in the Christian Life (v. 17)

A.       Individual Application—“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.”

1.        Priority of Application—“But as God”—This section is the application portion of what Paul has been previously teaching as I have mentioned.  Paul can teach whole Scripture, but unless there is an application of those teachings it means very little.

Pastors can preach the truth of the Gospel and the Christian life, but unless you make it a priority to live this truth when you leave church this afternoon it accomplishes nothing.  The amazement of pastors and Christian leaders, and I speak from a decade of experience, is not that sinners do not come to church or even the various acts that sinners commit.  No, the shock comes from professed Christians who darken the doors of churches yet never change anything in their lives.

2.        Providence of Assignment—“God hath distributed” and “as the Lord hath called”—You are not in a position in your life that God has not allowed to come.  If you are in the face of trial, God has allowed it to come to you for a purpose.  In the midst of trials, God is seeking to prepare you for what lies ahead. It may be a more difficult task or it may be as a counselor to one who will be facing a similar trial.  God has a plan for your life and your priority should be discovering that plan and preparing for it each and every day.

3.        Particulars of Appointment—“as the Lord hath called, so let him walk”— This is a very important lesson for every one of us to remember.  Do not despise how God called you and when God called you.  My wife and I have very different testimonies and ways in which we came to know the Lord.  She was raised in a Christian home and came to know God at a very early age.  Many of the temptations and sins that I struggled with before becoming a Christian, my wife has never known.  Why did God place me where he placed me and why did He put my wife in her situation?  I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know now that I am a follower of Jesus Christ my command is clear—be like Jesus.

God called me early in life from a Christian home—be like Jesus.  God called me from a life of horrible sin—be like Jesus.  I came to know Christ at a very late age—be like Jesus.  However you came to know Christ, the command is still the same—be like Jesus.

B.        Universal Application—“And ordain I in all churches.”—Paul is not giving an isolated teaching.  He is declaring the apostle’s doctrine, therefore the Lord’s doctrine to Corinth.  This was the expectation in every church that he Apostle Paul established.  This is the expectation of every Bible-following church in existence today.

II.       Teaching Concerning Our Ethnicity in the Christian Life (vv. 18-20)

A.       Our State at Salvation (v. 18)—“Is any man called being circumcised?  Let him not become uncircumcised.  Is any called in uncircumcision?  Let him not be circumcised.”—People have a tendency to focus upon the outward, even when we know the reality of the spiritual life is on the inside.  Paul’s charge here is that it does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile because those outward signs mean nothing in comparison to true conversion.

B.        Our Command to Sanctification (v. 19)—“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.”—This is where the rubber meets the road in this particular discussion.  Circumcision, that most sacred rite of the Jews, means nothing in the great spiritual reality of Christianity.

What is Paul truly saying here?  Was every circumcised Jew a true follower of God?  The answer is no.  Is every one that is baptized a true Christian?  The answer is no.  If these outward signs are not an indicator, how can we separate the false professors from the true possessors of the Holy Spirit. Luckily, Paul gives us the answer by saying one who keeps the commandments of God is the true follower.

It did not matter if one was Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, male or female, black or white, etc.  None of these things mattered.  All that matters is are you following the commandments of God?  Have you believed on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you repented of your sins to God and accepted His gift of eternal life through His Son?  Are you living a life

C.       Our Calling to Vocation (v. 20)—“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”—If God called you to dig ditches, be the best ditch digger you can be for the glory of Christ.  Did He call you to be a supervisor, CEO?  Be the best that you can be for the cause of Christ.

What this is NOT is a statement supporting a caste system such as some religions follow.  Paul even says, if you can improve your condition and situation by all means do so, but do if you cannot, be content with where you are and serve the Lord.

III.      Teachings Concerning Our Economics in the Christian Life (vv. 21-24)

A.       Reaction to Our Economy—“Art thou called being a servant?  Care not for it:  but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.”—The gospel is the medicine we need to make it through situations that are less than ideal.  We cannot relate to the concept of slavery in our present day United States, but it was a reality for many nearly 150 years ago and is still a reality for some around the world.

Slavery, lower class, poor, down-trodden, etc.  It does not matter what categories we use because the message of Scripture is still the same.  Our reaction in the face of such things should be obedience to Christ.  Wherever you find yourself, obey Christ.  But some will say, “Pastor, my situation isn’t the best.”  You need to obey Christ.  “Pastor, you do not know what hardships I have in my life.”  True, but you are still to obey Christ.  Our circumstances should not determine our contentment.

I know this flies in the face of what the world teaches you because worldly wisdom says your circumstances determine your happiness.  It says you cannot be poor and content.  You cannot face tragedy and have joy.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, you are correct, there is no contentment in poverty or trials, but neither will you find it in riches or success.

Sinner, you are never going to be content outside of Christ.  You will never have enough material and money.  You will never have an inherent joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and you can stand justified before the Great Judge in the last days.  Saints, your reaction to your present state is a very telling fruit of your Christian life.

B.       Reality of Our Economy—“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman:  likewise also he that is called being free, is Christ’s servant.”— If the gospel is the dose of medicine one needs to perform menial jobs and endure bad situations, then the gospel is also the antidote needed to combat pride in highly desired jobs.  It sounds like a paradox, but Christ frees the slave and enslaves the free.  Simply put, the ground is level a the foot of the Cross.  There is neither bond nor free, male or female, Jew or Gentile.  There is only sinners saved by the wonderful grace of God.

C.       Rate of Our Economy—“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”—Salvation is free, but it is not without cost.  A farm boy ran home one day to his father and exclaimed, “Daddy, they gave us free milk at school!”  His father patted him on the head and reminded him, “Someone had to milk the cow.”  Salvation did not cost us anything, but there is still a value attached to it.  Paul states it both positively and negatively in this verse.

1.       Bought with a Price – This statement takes the Corinthians mind back to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Salvation is free to the world, but costly to Christ.  He gave Himself for the Church and it is through His death, burial, and resurrection that we can gather today in the power of the Spirit.

2.       Be not ye the servants of men—This is a spiritual charge for the Corinthians not to be under the subjection.  MacArthur says Paul is warning us against becoming slaves to the ways of the man, the world, and the flesh.

John MacArthur—“That is the slavery into which many of the Corinthian believers had fallen, the slavery that caused their divisions and strife and their immaturity and immorality. . . God allows us to be where we are and to stay where we are for a purpose. Conversion is not the signal for a person to leave his social condition, his marriage or his singleness, his human master, or his other circumstances. We are to leave sin and anything that encourages sin; but otherwise we are to stay where we are until God moves us.”

D.     Rejoinder to Our Economy—“Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”—This final phrase is a reminder that Paul has given twice before.  If God will move you, trust in Him and move.  However, if God has called you to stay, be content where He has placed you and seek to serve God to the best of your ability.

There are some very exclusive clubs around the world if you take the time to look for them.  I found a few clubs with some very odd entry requirements.  Here are a few of them:

  • Goldfish Club – Group started in 1942 for servicemen that have crashed landed into water and survived.
  • The Silky Club – For membership, one must catch a bonefish using a fly reel, take a 30 meter (98.4 feet) dive from a cliff, and then kiss a silky shark in its natural habitat.
  • Cordon Rouge Club – Members must be invited and also have accomplished a great exploratory feat such as climbing Mt. Everest, reaching the South Pole, or sailing solo around the globe.

These groups may sound silly or adventurous, perhaps even dangerous, but they highlight a very important aspect of many groups—qualifications for admission.  There are certainly other groups, honors, and institutions that come to mind when we think of qualifications for admissions.  Young people often think of colleges when you speak of admissions, while adults tend to think of organizations, usually job related to which they do or should belong.

I remember a few years ago when I was preparing for college that I had made a list of things I needed to complete.  I had to go through the whole admissions process—submitting test scores, transcripts, and all the paper work that goes along with the application process.  I had to endure interviews.  I had to write essays.  There was so much to do that I had to make lists of documents, requirements, and tests that I needed because each college admissions requirements were different.

In this particular portion of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a problem in the Corinthian church that follows along this line of reasoning.  The Corinthians had lists of things they believed to be important such as wisdom, wealth, and influence.  They foolishly thought God had a list as well and it looked strikingly similar to their list!  As we explored their foolishness previously, we discovered they were wrong.  They didn’t grasp the purpose, the person, or the power of the Cross!

  • They replaced Christ with human wisdom
  • They replaced the Cross with their own ability
  • They replace Grace with worldly status

It is a very prideful statement for us to say we know the mind of God.  We know nothing more about God than He reveals to us in His Word.  All the knowledge we have of God has come from God.  In the verses before us this morning, God shows the Corinthians just how wrong they were in that line of thinking.  He wants us to know that human pride has no place in His plans.  So this morning, we are going to look at how God destroys human pride.  How does God insure that there is never a question of His greatness and work in the lives of men?

I.             The Fact is Stated (v. 26)

A.            Their Position “For you see your calling, brethren,” – Paul is using the Corinthians as the perfect example of what he is saying.  He reminds them to think of themselves when God called them.  The “calling” here refers to this position in the world when they heard the Gospel.  There were not that many educated among them or noble.  If you remember, Corinth did not have nobility as some of the other cities because it had been destroyed and resettled by Romans.  The Apostle is in effect holding up a mirror to the believers and asking, “What do you see?”  If they were honest, the majority of them were ordinary men and women saved by the grace of God.  They were ordinary, but made extraordinary by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

B.            God’s Preference “not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” – I know many people would look at such a statement and not find it very flattering.  God takes the weak over the strong, the forgotten over the famous, and the nobodies over the some bodies.  There are no exclusions in the kingdom of God, the Gospel is to “whosoever.”  Yet, it tells us here that human pride keeps many from responding to those sweet words of life, but God is not discouraged.  God’s purposes are not prevented because the prideful reject His precious gift of eternal life.  No!  God takes those the world chooses last and saves them to the uttermost.  God takes those that the world deems as useless and makes them useful.  God takes the broken, the addicted, the dirty, and immoral and He remakes them into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

II.            The Reason Given (vv. 26-29)

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

A.            God’s Illumination – The Countess of Huntingdon said that she thanked God for the letter M in the word many.  If God has said “not any” instead of “not many” it would have excluded her.  There will always be those of wealth and power that will come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  The early church had its Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus, and Erastus, and through the ages there have been many others; however, as John Philips points out, the rank and file of the church through the ages has been made of fishermen, slaves, freedmen, and artisans.  The Sanhedrin mocked the apostles because they thought them to be “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13).  Though the ages, God has delighted in using the nobodies to accomplish great things.

1.            He does not call many sophisticated people – “not many wise after the flesh” – Sir Isaac Newton rocked the world in which he lived with his works, founding mathematical schools still used today and scientific theories that are the foundations of modern physics.  Newton was also a devout follower of Jesus Christ.  Yet, not many such as Newton answer God’s call to salvation.

2.            He does not call many self-sufficient people – Perhaps the greatest illustration of self-sufficient is David of the OT.  He was a mighty man of warrior, a proficient leader, and yet one who trusted in God’s direction for his life.  From the time he faced Goliath until he drew his final breath – David’s self-sufficiency paled in comparison to God’s amazing grace.

3.            He does not call many society people – There are few Queen Victorias and Count Zinzendorfs in the church’s history, but they do exist.

B.            God’s Illustration

1.            He does call the foolish to confound the wise – The wisest counselor David had was a man by the name of Ahithophel.  Unfortunately, Ahithophel was also a vengeful man and when Absalom rebelled, he turned his back upon David.  While fleeing from the Jerusalem, David prayed for God to make the “counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”  God answered that prayer by using the foolishness of Absalom.

2.            He does call the feeble – Read Exodus 2:1-6, with a special emphasis upon 2:6.  All it took for God to overthrow the power of Egypt and free His people from bondage was the cry from a baby.

3.            He does call the failures – Our text says God takes the “base things” of this world.  This literally means without family or descent.  He has chosen those with no family or friends, no illustrious lineage, no powerful kinsmen.  He has chosen those things which are despised, literally things “counted as nothing.”  He takes those with no fame or fortune.  He has chosen the things which are not to bring to nought the things that are.”  The phrase here is in the Greek subjective.  It signifies things that men regard as nothing, non-existent, non-entities.  God has chosen things with no face and no form.

        • Left-handed man (Judges 3:21)
        • Ox-goad (Judges 3:310
        • Feeble woman (Judges 4:4)
        • Nail (Judges 4:21)
        • Millstone (Judges 9:53)
        • Pitcher, Lamp, and Trumpet (Judges 7:20)
        • Jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:16)
        • Sling and Stone (1 Samuel 17:49)
        • Little maid (2 Kings 5:1-3)
        • Insomnia (Esther 6:1)

He used snowflakes to halt the armies of Napolean and Hitler, altering the history of Europe.  He used a miner’s son in Martin Luther, a shepherd’s son in Ulrich Zwingli to change the world during the Reformation.  D.L. Moody was an uneducated shoe salesman and William Carey the missionary was a cobbler.  God can take the base and make it great.  God can take nothing and make it something.

III.        The Purpose Explained (vv. 30-31)

“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

A.            Relationship to Christ – “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus”

B.            Resources in Christ – “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”

1.            Wisdom Transforms Our Minds – Instead of relying upon our own minds, we can draw upon the infinite wisdom made available to us in Jesus Christ.  He is the embodiment of True Wisdom.  All others, even the wise Solomon, pale in comparison to Christ’s omniscient wisdom.

2.            Righteousness Transforms Our Morals – The world’s standards of right and wrong are relative, cultural, and accommodating.  The world calls wrong right and right wrong.  God’s standards are absolute, universal, and inflexible—based upon His absolute holiness.

3.            Sanctification Transforms Our Motives – The Greek word for “holiness” means to set apart for God.  It stands for the kind of life that belongs to those who are separated from the world around it.  Righteousness has to do with our standing, while sanctification has to do with our state.  Righteousness meets the demands of the Law; sanctification meets the demands of the Lord.  Righteousness is imputed by Christ; sanctification is implemented by the Holy Spirit.

4.            Redemption Transforms Our Members – While we have redeemed souls, we do not yet have our redemption bodies.  Our present bodies remain susceptible to disease, death, and decay and, all too often, are the instruments for carrying out our sinful desires, just as they are the instruments for carrying out the will of God.  However, there will be a final redemption that will transform us wholly into the image of Christ and eradicate the sin stain that is now upon us.  The Apostle John put it the most eloquently when he said, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jo 3:2 KJV).

Protagoras (490 BC – 420 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, is credited with the saying, “Man is the measure of all things.”  Though this sounds like a very new and humanistic statement, Protagoras spoke these words over four hundred years before the birth of Jesus.  The modern mind mistakenly believes that opposition to God is a new force in the world.  However, human wisdom has always been at enmity with God.

  • It was human wisdom in the Garden of Eden that trusted the false promises of the serpent over the commands of God.
  • It was human wisdom that turned a deaf ear to the preaching of Noah of a coming judgment.
  • It was human wisdom that sought to build a tower to the heavens and challenge God.
  • It was human wisdom that trusted in the army of Egypt over the power of God against the Assyrians (see Paul’s quote of Isaiah 29:14 in verse 19, as well as Isaiah 30:1-3)
  • It was human reason that took the Prince of Heaven and nailed Him to a cross because Jesus came in humility rather than power.
  • It is human wisdom today that rejects God in favor of self and secularism.

Atheism has always been alive and well in the world since Adam and Eve first bore children.  Agnosticism, the doubting of a supreme power but the lack of conviction to deny it, is nothing new in the world of men.  No dear friends, human wisdom has reared its ugly and deceitful head for almost as long as there have been humans in this world.  Though the secular world would have you believe that we have improved through the centuries and learned so much as a result of this progression—we are still lacking in the one area it all matters, which is the application.

I want to focus our thoughts on the Wisdom and Power of God from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.  This focus will show the superiority of God’s wisdom and power by noting the failure of human wisdom and power.  Though it promises great rewards to anyone who will embrace it, human wisdom is severely lacking in the matters which are most important.  Namely, human wisdom lacks an understanding of God’s purposes and the power of God as revealed by Scripture.  It is incapable of understanding God and His plans.  It is incapable of understanding the Savior and His works.  It is incapable of understanding the Christian and his or her power.

I.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Comprehending the Purpose of the Cross (vv. 18-20)

A.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s past sin—According to Paul’s words in verse 18, there are two groups in the world—the saved and the perishing.  Human wisdom is incapable of comprehending the purpose of the Cross because it cannot grasp man’s sinful state.  Sin and its continuation through the human race is an observable fact.  There is no need to teach a child to get angry, covet, or even lie.  Unlike batteries with many products you buy, children come with sin included because of their human nature.  The sin nature was passed down from the parents, as it has been since Adam and Eve.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom 5:12 KJV)

Man fell from perfection to sin and it continues to this day.  Human wisdom does not comprehend the fallen state of man, even though the evidence surrounds us on a daily basis.  The news is filled with stories covering the evils of this world, yet man continues to turn a blind eye toward a sinful nature.  They give a collective shoulder shrug to the atrocities of humanity, saying we do not truly know why people do the things they do.  I can tell you quite plainly this morning.  Man sins because man is born with a sinful nature.  God has revealed this tragic history to us in His Word, but human reason refuses to accept God’s Word.  If man cannot accept he is a sinner, he cannot comprehend the purpose of the Cross.  A preacher once said that, “You have to get people lost before you can get them saved.”  While not eloquent, it is 100% correct and to the point.  If there is no realization of sin, then the concept of a Savior is lost.

B.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s present slavery—If man does not understand his past sin, it comes as no surprise that he does not understanding his present bondage.  Sin enslaves humanity under its dreadful power.  It is a dangerous to belong to such a master because sin brings about only death.  In speaking of sins payday, Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom 6:23a).  The flesh will tell you pleasure is the only result of sin.  If this were the truth of the matter, what need would there be for salvation.  The pleasures of sin last only for a season (Heb 11:25).

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:6 KJV)

C.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s future sentence—If sin is in your past, denial in your present, then only death awaits you in the future.  Human wisdom will keep you focused upon human elements.  Human wisdom will tell you to mind the things of the flesh and give no thought to your future or to spiritual matters.  Paul tells us as much in Romans.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5 KJV)

You can keep your attention and affection on the things of this world, but you will be in for a great surprise when you stand face to face with the Great Judge of the Universe.  All the time, effort, and energy you invested in this world will be for naught as you look ahead into eternity.  All those hours you worked in neglect of your spiritual exercise will come back to your mind.  All of the lost opportunities to hear the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus will flood your thoughts.  And finally, the fear and reality of God’s everlasting wrath, unleashed in the Lake of Fire, will be with you for all of eternity.

What is at stake in the battle of God’s Wisdom versus Human Wisdom—your past, present, and future!   Can you come to terms with God’s revelation of who we are as sinful creatures, born with a nature that is opposed to God?  Have we asked ourselves the serious question, who am I serving this day?  And lastly, do you know your future?  Where are you going when you draw your last breath here on this earth?  Is it secure in Jesus Christ, assured by the Holy Spirit inside of you?

A final aspect I must point out here is that man’s failure in his own salvation is not only inherent in human wisdom, but it is determined by God.  These verses (19, 20d) speak to man frailty and God’s superiority.  These verses say plainly that man’s wisdom fails because God wills it to fail.

II.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Conceding to the Person of the Cross (vv. 21-23)

A.  It will not concede to a suffering Savior—The stumbling block that Paul talks about in this verse is directed toward the Jews.  Paul, as a Jew, understood the expectations that were upon the Messiah.  Under the yoke of Roman oppression, the Jews were awaiting the day when God’s Messiah would arrive and re-establish the throne of David and rule for all eternity.  They expected a conquering Messiah, one who would bring to bear all the powers of the Almighty and destroy the enemies of God.

What did they get?–A baby born in a manger in an unknown barn in Bethlehem.  Jesus was raised in the town of Nazareth, his human father a carpenter by trade.  Already this story is running contrary to nearly every Jew’s expectation of their Messiah.  It is further complicated when Jesus spoke of love and forgiveness for one’s enemies.  He taught of “turning the other cheek” and “rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.”  No, no, no.  This is all wrong in the mind of the Jews!  You are not to love your enemy, but punish them!  You give nothing to Caesar!  There were numerous other problems, but those suffice to show that the Messiah of God was not what the Jews were looking for nor wanted.

B.  It will not concede to a resurrected Savior—What was a stumbling block to the Jews, was folly to the Greeks.  The idea of resurrection was silly to the Greeks, who by this time had cast aside their old mythologies in favor of philosophy and more sophisticated mythologies.  They could accept a humble Son of God, but you entered into the realm of ridiculous asserting that a man could be raised from the dead.  It was inexplicable by anything the Greeks accepted as wise.  Their human reason prevented them from accepting that a god would allow himself to be sacrificed in such a shameful manner as crucifixion.  And if the thought of a god dying for the sins of humanity was not foolish enough, to imply he rose from the dead was just the pinnacle of absurdity.

C.  It will not concede to a reigning Savior—At the root of the stumbling block and folly is the issue of pride.  The Jews and Greeks both, though for very different reasons, rejected the Messiah.  In the grand scheme of redemption, it does not matter how you reject the Savior, but only that you did reject the Savior.

The pride issue rears its head in every generation and rests at the heart of many sins.  It was pride that caused the downfall of Lucifer.  Pride has destroyed both princes and paupers.  It rest deceptively at the heart of all men and women and has a way of asserting itself often.  I dare say the greatest hindrance to salvation is human pride!

It is a pride that tells a man or woman they do not need a savior.  It is human pride that tells one they have all the time in the world before they have to deal with this eternity “stuff.”  It is pride that rests in the heart of men that tells them they can be good enough or work hard enough to earn the favor of God.  And dear friends, it is pride that will send many to a fiery hell this morning.

Human wisdom will keep you from declaring Jesus the Lord of your life.  It will twist and turn the Word of God to conform to whatever lifestyle you wish to lead.  If you want to live immorally, human wisdom can make it happen.  You want to be a drunkard or drug addict, human wisdom can twist and turn just the right amount with the Word of God to make it okay.  If you do not wish to serve in the local church, evangelize the lost, attend church regularly, or murder an unborn innocent, human wisdom is there to serve you.

But, if you want to be a Christian, human wisdom is not going to do anything for you.  If you want to be a Christian, you have to set aside the pride.  You have to confess that you cannot work into God’s grace.  You cannot reason yourself into God’s good graces.  You have to take the Word of God and you have to believe its testimony of Jesus as the Christ of God.  You have to take this precious Word of Life and read, study, but most importantly you have to live it.  This isn’t you working for your salvation.  This is you living the Spirit-filled life God said you will live if you belong to Him.  Human wisdom cannot explain, but the evidence is clearly there for all to see.

III.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Connecting to the Power of the Cross (vv. 24-25)

A.  Connecting to the Plans of the Father—Human wisdom is at enmity with the wisdom of God.  In most cases, the picture of God that is constructed with the human mind is little more than a sinful human with super powers.  This assumes they even bother to believe in something beyond this physical existence.  Even more tragic are those who turn to the God of the Bible with human wisdom and human expectations placed upon the Almighty.  They like to invoke the verses of Scripture that make them feel good about what is happening the in the world around them such as Romans 8:28.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 KJV)

But, even as they give lip service to the idea of God the Father as the Sovereign God, they deny Him with their rejection of His Word.  This hypocrisy at one time was predominant outside of the Church, but in this age, we have accepted a watered-down, non-biblical view of God and put the stamp of Christianity upon it.

One can pray they will one day set aside human wisdom and embrace the biblical Father and His Word; however, the current trend appears to be going in the opposite direction.  People are not becoming more spiritual; they are becoming more humanistic.  If you cannot preface your doctrine with the statement, “The Word of God says . . .” then you are adopting human wisdom.  God help us all if it continues to prevail in the American Church with little to no opposition from the pulpits and pews.

B.  Connecting to the Blood of the Savior—To reject the wisdom of God is to reject the Savior of God.  To know God is to know Christ, and to know Christ is to know the Father.  God’s plan of redemption was not through the agency of human wisdom, but the shed blood of Christ upon Calvary’s Cross.  Human wisdom does not embrace this concept, calling it foolishness, yet it is only through the shed blood of Christ that God forgives the lost sinner.  Human wisdom adds sacraments and works, but this is not the plan of God.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon That Memorable Night on Exodus 12 and 13, said, “It must save alone. Put anything with the Blood of Christ, and you are lost; trust to anything else with it, and you perish.”

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1Co 1:17 KJV)

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Mat 26:28 KJV)

C.  Connecting to the Power of the Spirit—There is much talk about feeling the presence of God and knowing that God is with us at all times.  This is a product of the Spirit of God within us.  Human wisdom cannot help us possess the Spirit, only knowing Jesus as Savior and the Christ of God is sufficient.  This means we have accept God’s wisdom above our own, God’s plan of salvation as the only one, and only then can we say we are never alone because God is with us.  Only then can we say we possess the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27 KJV)

Following is the beginning to a study I have started with my congregation at Grace Bible Church.  I will be preaching through the epistle in the weeks to come.  I plan to post those completed sermon notes and thoughts on this blog in the hopes that it will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not attend Grace Bible Church in Gloucester, Virginia.  I will note sources as I use them, but just in case I miss any documentation my key sources will be the following list of books, which will be supplemented with various theological journals as I progress through the series.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987.

Garland, David E.  1 Corinthians.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein, editors.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic Publishing, 2003.

Thiselton, Anthony C.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians.  The New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.

Author

Apostle Paul (1:1)

Audience

Corinthian Believers (1:2)

Purpose and Date of Writing

The epistle was written approximately AD 54 while Paul was at Ephesus.  Paul’s purpose is multifaceted, yet generally speaking, the letter addresses the application of progressive sanctification in a carnal world.  Or to frame it as a question, how can spiritual people live and thrive in a hostile and carnal world?

Corinth—City

  • The foundation of ancient Corinth is dated circa 900 BC.
  • After a rebellion, Rome destroyed the city in 146 BC.
  • Julius Caesar re-colonized the city in 44 BC.  It is this Roman colony that will be the backdrop for the Apostle Paul’s visit to Corinth.
  • With its key location on the Corinthian Isthmus, the city quickly flourished to become a commercial and political powerhouse in the region.
    • It controlled over-land trade between Italy and Asia.
    • The city bridged the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
    • Corinth was the home of the Isthmusian Games (an athletic contest second only to the ancient Olympics).

Commentator Gordon Fee says, “Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” 

Corinth—People

  • The city was re-colonized by Roman “freedmen” and tradesmen.
  • There was no landed aristocracy in Corinth since it was previously destroyed by Roman forces in 146 BC.
  • Due to the cities commercial success, the rich became the unofficial nobles in the city.
  • Evidence shows that while the city was located in Greece, practices were dominantly Roman at their core.

The people of Corinth had a famous reputation in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, it was not a virtuous reputation.  The Greek writer Aristophanes (446  – 386 BC) coined the term korinthiazo [kori,qiazw] or “to act a Corinthian” which meant to commit fornication.

Corinth—Religion

  • 2ND century traveler Pausanias describes Corinth as having 26 “sacred places” referring to temples, groves, and possibly synagogues.
  • The Roman/Greek pantheon was extremely popular in the city with temples to Apollo (wisdom), Poseidon (sea), and Asclepius (healing).  A large temple to Aphrodite also rested upon the mount known as the Acrocorinth, but there is debate as to whether it was still in use during Paul’s visit to the city.
  • Since Corinth acted as a bridge between East and West, it was a melting pot for beliefs from both regions.  The mystic religions of Egypt and the Far East found their way into the city, as well as the Roman Imperial cult (emperor worship).

How is 1 Corinthians Relevant for the 21ST Century?

  • Status inconsistency – great division between rich and poor
  • Religious Pluralism—many religions claiming to hold the “truth”
  • Cosmopolitan immigration and commercial trade—culture wars
  • Priority in market forces in business and rhetoric—money was king
  • Emphasis on recognition and perception of honor and shame within a socially constructed world—spin doctoring in the ancient world

I was recently seated in the foyer of a local business waiting for my wife.  I take it upon myself to attempt to do something constructive while I am waiting such as playing Angry Birds or resisting the urge to play Angry Birds.  On this particular day, playing won out over resisting, so I found myself seated in an inconspicuous corner of the foyer, out of the way and unnoticed by those around me.

Safely out of the way and ignored, I was free to mind my own business and play my game.  My ninja-like abilities to hide must be greater than I ever imagined because two workers soon began having a conversation near me.  I was startled at first, thinking one of them was talking to me.  It turns out the two employees were oblivious to my presence or worse yet, apathetic.

Once the usual pleasantries were out of the way, the workers began to discuss their jobs.  I have to stress at this point that I was not ease-dropping on these individuals.  I was merely sitting in close proximity to them as they had their conversation.  In truth, I was conflicted as to whether staying put or awkwardly slipping away was the right course of action.  I tried to tune them out.  It worked for the most part, but I did come away with a few impressions.

  • Both seemed to dislike their jobs
  • Both seemed to dislike their co-workers
  • Both seemed to question their supervisor’s motives and parentage

They spoke of much more, yet I was able to block it out and focus on my game.  To protect the innocent and the business in question, I will not disclose names.  The point of this post is not to bash the business or the workers.  I also feel the need to point out that I did not listen to this conversation in context, nor did I try to piece together a psycho-analysis for these two employees.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard two disgruntled workers venting to one another.  Okay, I feel now that I have put in the right amount of disclaimers, on to the rest of the post!

My wife soon arrived and I forgot about the conversation as I spent time with my family.  It was not until we were traveling home that the day’s events came back to me.  It came back to me because my wife and I were having an “adult” conversation with one another in our mini-van (adult conversation is anything that does not involve a Disney or Nickelodeon character).  As we are having this discussion, my son chimes in with his four year old expert opinion on the matter.  Even though I had personally strapped him into a car seat and was well aware he and his sister were directly behind us in the van, I had forgotten they were there as I talked with my wife.

My initial thought was to review the conversation.  Did I say something bad?  Were we talking about a topic that was going to take me hours to explain at home?  My wife and I are so careful to shield our children from the wrong influences, and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes we may err too far to the side of caution.  But, we know that once that innocence and wonder of childhood is lost, there is not going back.  Did I just ruin years of protecting him with a thoughtless word?

Neither my wife nor I have a coarse tongue.  Though my childhood was steeped in profanities from adults and children alike, it is not a habit that fit in with my commitment to Christ, so after great growing pains in the grace of my Lord, I left it behind.  However, when it comes to the tongue, vulgarity is not the only issue.

Does my tone or humor offend and become a hindrance to the Gospel.  Am I overly critical of my wife, my children, or my congregation?  My humor tends to lean toward sarcasm and satire, but is it creating a barrier between me and those around me?

Former pastors and teachers have told me for years to guard my tongue.  I have even preached from my own pulpit on the benefit of guarding the tongue and the dangers of a loose tongue.  James is right on target when he says, “But the tongue no man can tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8).  The Apostle Peter was also concerned about the tongue, urging believers, “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10).

As I thought about my words and searched the Bible for answers, I came across Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).  The term corrupt means something that is putrid and of no use.  It carries with it the imagery of rotting fish or fruit.  For anyone that has had the displeasure of being assaulted with such odors, the meaning is clear.

So be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Do not let your speech be reminiscent of rotting fish.  You never know when a portly shepherd with ninja-like abilities is hiding in a corner!

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.

– – – – – –

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]

Daniel

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.

Revelation

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.

Satan

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.

Antichrist

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]

Conclusion

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,” http://www.leftbehind.com/01_products/browse.asp?section=Books (accessed April 9, 2010) and NA, “The Official Left Behind Series Site,” http://www.leftbehind.com/01_products/browse.asp?section=Books (accessed April 9, 2010).

[2] Stephen Travis, “Has Real Hope Been Left Behind?” http://www.met-uk.org/met/article.php?cat =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,” http://www.biblebelievers.com/ 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, http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/677-a-study-of-pauls-man-of-sin (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.