2 Thessalonians 2:4 talks about the man of lawlessness, "who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." (ESV, emphasis mine)

What is Paul referring to by "the temple of God"? If it was the one in Jerusalem, did this already have a fulfillment? Since it seems a mostly Gentile church in Macedonia would not be very concerned with the temple in Jerusalem, my inclination is to think Paul has in mind something else; but other ideas such as the church as God's temple or the temple in heaven do not seem to fit well either (though, of course, I'm open to good arguments that it is any of these). Any ideas?

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According to Vincent's Word Studies:

Temple of God

According to some, a figure of the Christian Church.
Others, the temple of Jerusalem.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible defends the first reading:

The phrase "the temple of God" is several times used with reference to the Christian church, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Revelation 3:12.


The context of the phrase is:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.—2nd Thessalonians 2:1-2 (ESV)

Paul is trying to correct a misconception1 that the "day of the Lord" had already occurred. Paul says it hasn't. Unfortunately, that doesn't help us determine he was referring to something other than the temple that was destroyed in 70 CE since letter was written in the 52-54 CE range.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.—2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 (ESV)

Paul gives a list of things that will happen first:

  1. Rebellion comes
  2. The man of lawlessness (or "sin") is revealed

Neither of these things pin down which sense of "Temple of God" is meant. From a preterist perspective, the rebellion coming first conforms well with the Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE. But the second has problems as the best candidate seems to be the future emperor Titus. According to Wikipedia:

Destroying the Temple was not among Titus' goals, possibly due in large part to the massive expansions done by Herod the Great mere decades earlier. Most likely, Titus had wanted to seize it and transform it into a temple, dedicated to the Roman Emperor and to the Roman pantheon. But the fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, in the beginning of August, and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city.

It would seem that the Second Temple was destroyed by the legions before an Emperor could "[take] his seat in the temple of God". However, the prophesy might have been fulfilled by one of the Jewish rebel leaders, Simon bar Giora for instance, who controlled the temple during the revolt.

Finally, we read this mysterious explanation:

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.—2nd Thessalonians 2:5-6 (ESV)

We don't know what Paul taught them outside of the basic gospel message, but we do read in Acts:

But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”—Acts 17:5-7 (ESV)

So the church Paul was writing to was largely Gentile and in conflict with the local Jews and the Roman authorities. It's possible, they identified Paul's words with the larger conflict between Rome and Jerusalem, which threatened to engulf the infant church. It does seem that the prime purpose of the two letters was to remain faithful in the face of persecutions:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.—2nd Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)

Summary

We can't know which temple Paul had in mind, but it seems to have been either the Second Temple that had not yet been destroyed or a metaphor for the church. In either case, Jesus is depicted as seeing through the deception and being revealed as victorious in history.


1. We don't know if they received a letter falsely claiming to be from Paul or or if Paul is warning against a potential false letter in the future. He can't be referring to 1st Thessalonians as that letter that the day is not yet: "For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."—1st Thessalonians 5:2 (ESV)

  • It's written as "Paul is trying to correct a misconception1 that the "day of the Lord" had already occurred." Let's keep in mind Joel 2:31, Malachi 4:5, that the first great day of the Lord was the coming and death on the cross, and the second when Jesus returns from above. That's why he points it out as "the day of the Lord has come.—2nd". – Decrypted Mar 28 '16 at 21:06

What is the temple that Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians 2:4?

It is the same temple as in 1 Corinthians 3:16

Berean Study Bible

Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

In the Greek, this word for temple in both verses is naos. Naos is the Christian believer.

1Co 6:19 - Or do you not know that your body is a temple G3485 of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Strong's Concordance G3485

metaph. the spiritual temple consisting of the saints of all ages joined together by and in Christ

The Christian battle is against Satan trying to make himself God in our temples.

  • when you recognize that mammon is not the Syriac 'money' but the Hebrew 'believing ones', this is made even more clear. You cannot serve god and self. – Bob Jones Aug 7 at 21:16

I think the key is again 1:7 paul speaks of waiting until Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels which is Still a future event paul waits for and since verse 2:1 is again about that gathering together with Christ (and his mighty angels) this can only be a future event when talking about the temple and the man of sin, the falling away is based on those who are decieved into believing Jesus comes Before these 2 events, (pre trib rapture) also a letter had Not been written since paul says: not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come..

Paul says Not to be SOON shaken or alarmed - which means in the future from pauls letter - as if either a Spirit or some men or if someone would delivery you a letter that Seems to be from us.... paul is touching multiple bases as why these men in the Future should Not believe if Any of these 3 reason come about in the future telling them That day of gathering had occured. Since paul still waits and ask us to wait with him until a coming of Christ with his mighty angel (7) when Christ will be glorified (10) hasnt happened yet.... if some spirit shows up paul says dont believe it, if some man shows up paul says dont believe it and if a letter from paul shows up paul says dont believe it - none of these happened and paul is just making sure they know what Must happen first before that day can take place.....

As for the falling away, those who believe Christ comes before the tribulation period are those who lose faith and fall away (pre trib rapture) we see paul waits for the tribulation rapture when all eye's will see him coming on the clouds (rev 1:7) the men in Acts are told Jesus will return coming on the clouds coming in the same manner as he left (Being Seen) not a bunch of people just disappearing - the fathful servant is rewarded when the master comes and finds him doin Gods will But... when the master is delayed (pre trib Jesus doesnt show) he can stay the coruse or Fall away and then the tribulation Jesus shows and catches him Not watching and hes cut to pieces, again its because he was decieved into thinking Jesus came before the man of sin sits in the temple, the same for the 10 virgins - they were decieved into believing Jesus comes before the tribulation and some fall away.... this is why we are also told in 2 peter 2:3-4 knowing this First.. 1st.... that there shall come in the last days (last 7 years) scoffers who say - where is the promise of his coming - the world has been told that this promise is the pre trib rapture and when that doesnt happen the scoffers come out..... then believers fall away and the man of sin comes and then tribulation Jesus comes and they are left and cut to pieces because they became unwise.

And Jesus wasnt wrong when he told the disciples that not one stone would be left upon another - this cant be the wailing wall and the temple was in the city of david anyway, we are waiting for the jews to realize that this wailing wall cant be the temple wall but was the roman fort wall, once they find out the truth then they can build a new temple

Paul would have to be referring to the 2nd temple. If a third temple is ever built it would not be the "temple of God", as Paul refers to it. It would merely be a replica. A third temple, from the Christian point of view, would represent and overthrow of the New Covenant and a return to the Mosaic era. An era a limited access to God. (disclosure, I do embrace Preterism.)

  • Hi Mike! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. You might take the tour if you have not already to get an idea of what constitutes a thorough answer. Can you show your point from the text? – Jack Oct 23 at 3:06

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