There were many people in Paul’s time, like today, who wanted to lead others away from Christ instead of toward Christ. Examples of this were the Jews, whose persecution caused Paul to leave the newly established church at Thessalonica prematurely in Acts chapter 17. Other persecutions of Paul included those that he suffered at Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium (2 Timothy 3:11), even to the point of being beaten (2 Corinthian 11:24, Acts 14:19 and 23:10). It is no wonder that Paul understood as he was writing the book of 2 Thessalonians that there would be those false teachers in the world who wanted to help others lose their souls in order to advance their own agendas. It is in 2 Thessalonians that Paul first references the “man of lawnessness,” and the identity of this wicked person has been debated for centuries. By looking at history, there is only one explanation, I believe, as to who the “man of lawnessness” or the “man of sin” is, and that is the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
WHAT WAS THE CHURCH AT THESSALONICA?
In the book of Acts, the apostle Luke records how Paul established the church of Christ at Thessalonica during his second missionary journey. "And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:2-4).
Thessalonica was located in the Roman province of Macedonia, which was in Northern Greece. The church at Thessalonica was mostly made up of Gentiles. This church was established by Paul around 50 A.D. Paul had received a good report of the status of this church from Timothy, who had stayed behind in Thessalonica while Paul fled first to Berea, then to Corinth to evade Jewish persecution. Paul spoke very highly of the church at Thessalonica, which can be seen from 1 Thessalonians 1:2 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3, as well as in other parts of the Bible. The church at Thessalonica had many positive attributes that helped the congregation there be excellent servants of God. “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7).
According to I Thessalonians 1:3, the church at Thessalonica possessed three positive attributes. One positive attribute that the church at Thessalonica possessed was that they were a “working church.” Paul speaks of the church at Thessalonica in this way in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;”. This church must have done many good works in order for Paul to speak of them so highly. Many churches of Christ today can learn from the example set by the church at Thessalonica.
The congregation at Thessalonica was also busy winning souls for the Lord. “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing” (I Thessalonians 1:8). This verse shows how the Thessalonians worked to spread the Gospel to different places.
Finally, they were a congregation that suffered much persecution just as Paul did. Paul acknowledged this in I Thessalonians 1:6 when he said, “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:”. The new Christians in Thessalonica would have stood out among their peers from not participating in idolatry and not taking part in the many holidays and celebrations that revolved around the idols that their family and friends worshipped.
WHAT DID PAUL SAY ABOUT THE MAN OF SIN?
While writing his letter to the congregation of the church of Christ at Thessalonica, Paul had evidently heard that there were those false teachers among them who were teaching that the Second Coming of Christ had already happened. “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). According to Wayne Jackson’s article on the “Man of Sin,” those in the church of Christ who follow the “AD 70 Doctrine” use 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 to show their reasoning that the Second Coming of Christ had happened unnoticed by all who remained on the earth. Otherwise, they erroneously state, the false teachers among the congregation at Thessalonica would not have been listened to at all. Of course, Paul discredits the “AD 70 theorists” with God’s Word in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 by saying, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”. McGarvey and Pendleton’s commentary on 2 Thessalonians states that the “man of sin” as mentioned by Paul is synonymous with the “antichrist” mentioned by the apostle, John, in 1 John 2:18; “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”
In 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2, verses 4-12, Paul further describes the “man of sin” in this way,
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
It appears that the Man of Sin had specific traits that set him apart from those who were teaching falsely in Paul’s day. In the next chapter, we will look at each trait of the Man of Sin, or the Man of Lawlessness in more detail.
WHO COULD THE ‘MAN OF LAWNESSNESS BE?
The first trait that described the “man of lawnessness” or the “man of sin” is that he would be revealed after a “falling away” would occur as described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Since there was no major falling away at the time that Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, then this event would occur later. The “falling away” had also not occurred during the time that the other apostles did their writings which show the event grew to the point that the “man of sin” was revealed after their time. The Roman Catholic Church, began to slowly emerge after all of the apostles had left the earth, and grow over time into the large following that it is today. The Roman Catholic Church is definitely a religious group that has “fallen away” from the true church that Christ began.
The next trait that Paul uses to describe the “man of sin” is that he will exalt himself above God. Certainly, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, exalts himself above God. He believes himself to be God, and requires his followers to believe the same. Followers of Catholicism worship the Pope as if he were God. If the Pope has an opinion on any issue, his followers take notice. They reverence him as a god, and many Catholics choose to ignore the fact that the Pope is merely a human being and not perfect.
An example of how the Pope exalts himself as greater than God comes from a speech he gave on December 27th, 2017. In this speech, the Pope stated that Jesus most likely had to “beg forgiveness of his parents’” when he left them at the age of 12 in Jerusalem to teach and listen to the teachers in the synagogue. He asserted that it would be correct to assume that Jesus asked his parents forgiveness, even though the Bible does not say he did this. This statement obviously shows that the Pope believes that he is the final authority on what to believe about God, Jesus and any subject in the Bible. Speaking against God in this way shows that the Pope is wrong in his thinking, and capable of sin. That is why the Man of Sin is called the “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) which also means destruction.
Another trait that Paul gave to the Man of Sin is that he will sit in the temple of God and say that he is God. Once again, the Pope exalts himself above God and all others by stating that he is God here on the earth. He is so worshiped by his followers that he is allowed to live an extravagant lifestyle in a huge structure known as the Vatican in Rome, where he is served like a King. His followers worship him by bowing down in his presence and kissing his ring in reverence to him.
Finally, in contrast to Jesus Himself and the apostles, who could do acts that were actual miracles, the Pope has false “miracles” attributed to him by his followers, which solidify in their minds their false belief in him being God. Some attest that the Pope healed them of their illnesses after he had touched them or “blessed” them, although the Pope states that if he could perform miracles, he would choose to be able to heal sick children. The Pope does profess to do a miracle when he gives the Eucharist. In the ceremony known as the Eucharist, the bread and wine is believed by Catholics to transform into the actual body and blood of Christ when the Pope blesses it. This shows that the Pope is believed to be able to perform miracles.
The ability to perform miracles was only given to the apostles and upon those whom the Apostles laid their hands to impart miraculous abilities. Acts Chapter 2 talks about how the apostles were given miraculous abilities after being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Miraculous abilities were also passed on to others, such as Cornelius and his household later in Acts chapter 10 as they were baptized with miraculous baptism of the Holy Spirit to prove to the Jews that the Gentiles could receive salvation. The purpose of miracles was so that the apostles could convince others to convert and become baptized into Christ. The purpose was to prove that the Word being preached is from God. “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:20).” Those who saw these miracles performed by the apostles could learn God’s Word from the Apostles and those upon whom the Apostles laid their hands to impart miraculous abilities. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:3-4).
Instead of getting God’s instructions for living a faithful life in parts from those who had miraculous abilities (I Corinthians 13:8-9), all of God’s Word could be found in one place and in one book once the revelation was completed (I Corinthians 13:10). “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (I Corinthians 13:8-10). The content of the Bible was given to its writers through the inspiration of God, and it contains everything we need to know in order to go to Heaven! “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (II Timothy 3:15-17). These verses show that the Pope has no ability to perform miracles, since this ability went out with the apostles and those who upon whom they laid their hands to impart miraculous abilities, and the miracles are no longer needed because we have the Bible. They have fulfilled their purpose.
In conclusion, the Pope fits all of the traits that Paul gave to the Man of Lawlessness, or the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians. He exalts himself above God and others, and he professes to do miracles in a time when no one can do miracles. The act of exalting oneself is proof that the person is not a follower of Christ, as neither Christ nor the apostles would exalt themselves over others. Both Christ and the apostles stressed the importance of serving others rather than themselves (John 13:4-17; Matthew 20:26; Galatians 5:13). He speaks and gives rules as if He were God, often saying things that are against God’s Word. The man of sin and those who follow him are not faithful in the sight of God and they will soon reap punishment for their actions. May we all strive to never follow the false doctrine of man, but always work to follow the wonderful doctrine of Christ! “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
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