Who Is the Man of Sin?

In this blog I want to continue an earlier article on eschatology, and talk about the famed ‘man of sin’ that is described in 2nd Thessalonians chapter 2.  In my last blog I discussed the identify of the antichrist and pointed out that the bible really doesn’t say too much about that character, and that the only passage of Scripture that actually talks about the antichrist by name indicates that it was already present in John’s day when he wrote about it. In that earlier blog I had referred to this ‘Man of Sin’ and so I thought I’d talk about that a bit more.    

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, in chapter 2, he seems to be addressing a concern that the church had about missing the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Evidently, a belief must have taken hold among the believers there that they had somehow missed out on Jesus’ return. Paul reminds them that they had gone over these things when he had been with them, and he tells them again that Jesus will not return until some events will have occurred; one, is a falling away from the faith, and the second is the man of sin being revealed. Then, Paul kind of adds a third event by suggesting that the man of sin will not be revealed until whatever it is that is restraining it is taken out of the way.  

So, the order of events that Paul gives us is

1. A falling away or apostasy.

2. The removal of some restraining power.

3. The revelation of the man of sin. 

4. Our gathering together to Jesus, which I believe to be the Rapture of the church. 

Now, let me quickly dispense with the widely-held notion that the restraining power that’s holding back the man of sin is the church. Many believe that when the church is raptured the Man of Sin will be able to come into power. However, this is one possibility that we can easily rule out because Paul specifically said that the coming of Jesus and our gathering to Him will not occur until after the man of sin is revealed. Therefore, the church is still present when the man of sin is revealed. So, one thing we can know for sure is that the church is not the restraining power that’s taken out of the way.    

Alright, so what does all of this mean? And, who is this man of sin?

Well, let me begin by saying that I don’t really know. I have some thoughts, but I’m not going to be dogmatic. But, I’ll mention this; the Reformers had an interesting theory, and l can’t say that they’re wrong. Let me describe to you how people like Martin Luther saw this passage. 

First, it’s interesting to note that Paul only gives vague details of what he’s talking about, and only reminds his readers that they should’ve remembered this. So, why be so vague? Why not just re-describe everything in detail?

Well, the Reformers thought that the restraining power may have been the Roman government, which Paul believed was going to fall.  But, where did Paul get that notion? Well, from the book of Daniel.

You may recall that Daniel had a vision of four beasts recorded for us in Daniel 7. The fourth beast was different from the other three beasts and was described as “exceedingly dreadful” with teeth of iron and nails of bronze. Now, Daniel is told that the four beasts that he had seen represented four kings or kingdoms that would arise. Almost universally, scholars understand these four kingdoms to be the Babylonian kingdom, the Media-Persian Empire, the Grecian Kingdom and finally the Roman Empire.

As Daniel is watching this fourth beast he notes that the beast is slain and destroyed by fire (vs. 11). Now, if this is indeed the Roman Kingdom, then we have what amounts to be a description and prediction of its demise. And as the Roman Empire appears to be dying, horns rise from it and a little horn in particular rises, which really catches Daniel’s attention. It’s this little horn that the Reformers thought to be the same person that Paul called the man of sin in 2nd Thessalonians 2.     

If Paul understood that this fourth beast was the Roman empire, and since the Roman Empire was still in power in Paul’s lifetime, then he would have known that Christ’s return was not imminent because the prophecy hadn’t yet been fulfilled. In other words, the prophecy predicted the fall of Rome, which hadn’t happened yet in Paul’s day.  He would have known that before Jesus returned, Rome would’ve had to first fall and then this dark figure would rise from it.  

It’s for this reason that Paul may have been vague in his letter. If he was describing the fall of Rome and his letter fell into the wrong hands, then he may have endangered his readers. This could explain why he was purposely vague.

But, who did Paul believe was the man of sin? Well, it’s hard to say for certain what Paul believed. He may not have known at all who it was, but only that something or someone was going to rise from fallen Rome.

The early Reformers, however, had a theory, all of which occurred after Paul’s death. When Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman empire from the west to Constantinople in the East, a power vacuum of sorts developed in the West. The bishop in Rome, who had already by that time become more influential than the other bishops, seemed to rise to fill in this gap. Bishop Leo famously rode out to meet the Huns in 452 AD, and convince them not to attack Rome. A few years later, in similar fashion, Leo turned the Barbarians away from Rome. These acts seem to establish and solidify the power of the bishops of Rome – soon to be called the Popes.

Eventually, the Popes became the power that filled the vacancy in the West by the absent Roman government. As history illustrates, however, the power of the Popes was not always a good thing. In time, many of them became corrupt and abusive with their power. By the time Luther came on the scene the Roman papacy had fallen into great apostasy, and were known to even have persecuted many believers. The papacy had earned a reputation for a violent and bloody persecution of any voice that challenged it. Groups like the Albigensians, Waldensians, and the Cathars would find themselves in the cross hairs of the Church. Now, admittedly, some of these people had some unorthodox views, but to say that they weren’t followers of Jesus may say too much.  Jan Huss and the Hussites were also persecuted and killed, and John Wycliffe suffered much harm by the Church because of his beliefs.       

The Reformers believed that the office of the papacy was the Man of Sin that had risen from the ashes of the Roman Empire, was seated in the temple of God – the church – and had declared war against the saints of God.       

Now, as I’ve pointed out, I won’t be dogmatic and say that the Reformers got it right. However, I can’t say that they’re wrong either. There’s a lot about what I’ve just described that fits neatly into what had been prophesied. 

Some believe that the Roman empire will someday be revived and from it the man of sin will come. However, there’s nothing about Daniel’s vision or Paul’s teaching to suggest that that’s what’s going to happen. That would be an interpretation of necessity, not an exegetical one.   

If the Reformers were right then one could believe that the Rapture of the church could happen at any time. If they got it wrong and we’re still waiting for the fulfillment, then Christ’s return can’t happen just yet. We would need to first see a great falling away, the rise of the little horn, and the persecution of the saints of God before the rapture could ever happen.        

So, what are your thoughts?  Has the man of sin been revealed yet, or are we still waiting for it? Could the Rapture happen at any moment, or do some things need to occur first? Leave your comments below. I’d be interested in knowing what you’re thinking.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 36 years.





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