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2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ISV

Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for it will not come unless the rebellion takes place first and the man of sin, who is destined for destruction, is revealed. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship. As a result, he seats himself in the sanctuary of God and himself declares that he is God.

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Paul himself declares elsewhere that the Christian community is the temple of God. Speaking to the Corinthian church; "Do you not know that you [plural] are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you [plural]?" (1 Corinthians ch3 v16, RSV).

The logic seems to be that the community is metaphorically called a building (v9), this building is occupied by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is God. So the community is "a building occupied by a god", which is the definition of a temple.

So if a man is able to secure for himself aa dominant and controlling position in the visible church, then he can be said to have "taken his seat in God's temple".

"So-called god" is the same thing as "object of worship". Anything that people worship that isn't the Lord. Because he is the true God and they are not. This man is claiming the uniqueness of worship that belongs to the Lord.

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Two words to consider both separately and as they join:

"antichrist" e.g.1 John 2:22 and 2 John 7[antichristos]

"false christs" e.g. Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22[pseudochristoi]

1 John 2:22

"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son."

The person who takes on the authority of denying Jesus is the Christ has taken a position. He speaks as one who should be listened to. But he does not submit to Christ and his authority, Matt 28:18. He mimics Christ who has "all authority".

"All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." Matthew 28:18

Matthew 24:24

"For false christs and fase prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible,even the elect."

Performing great signs is what God did in e.g. 10 plagues, crossing Red sea and giving manna. A false christ that mimics great signs to pretend that they are God, is trying to stand in God's place. i.e. pretending that the sanctuary belongs to them.

From "Synonyms" by Richard Trench:

"The antichristos denies that there is a Christ; the pseudochristos affirms himself to be the Christ. Both alike make war against the Christ of God, and would set themselves, though under different pretences , on the throne of his glory."

Richard Trench "Synonyms" gives a thorough look at these words and concludes that in his last manifestation the "Antichrist " will be a "Pseudochrist" as well as it gathers "up into itself, and to reconcile for one last assault against the truth, all anterior and subordinate forms of error".

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There are actually two questions here:

  1. "so-called god"

The phrase, "so-called god" simply indicates that whatever is called a "god' is not a god at all (see Acts 19:26), ie, a false god. {I need not point out the learned readership on this site that there are many many false gods; some are made like physical idols and others are ambitions placed ahead of the true worship of God, etc.]

  1. "temple of God"

The operative noun involved 2 Thess 2:4 is ναός (= temple or shrine) which is used in several distinct senses in the NT

  • the church of God, as per 1 Cor 3:16, 17, Eph 2:21, etc
  • Jesus' body, as per John 2:19-21
  • the body of a Christian as per 1 Cor 6:19, 20,
  • the temple in heaven as per Rev 14:15, 15:6, etc
  • temples generally as per Acts 17:24
  • the temple in Jerusalem as per Matt 23:17, etc

Thus, we must settle which of these is intended in 2 Thess 2:4? That is, in which of these "temples" is the man of lawlessness inhabiting and showing himself equal to God? All of the above can be immediately eliminated except the following:

  • the church - the most likely contender because it is here that the man of lawlessness/sin infiltrates as a false god
  • the temple in Jerusalem - this is the preferred option by some preterists; but the main problem is that no man of sin ever sat in the temple. The Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome and has never been rebuilt.

Therefore, since Paul prophecy of apostacy in the church appears to be predicting a time when the man of sin will set himself up within the so-called Christian church and declare himself God.

Just how this is or will be fulfilled is another matter, but that is what Paul appears to be saying.

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"3 let not any one deceive you in any manner, because -- if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed -- the son of the destruction, 4 who is opposing and is raising himself up above all called God or worshipped, so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down, shewing himself off that he is God -- [the day doth not come]." (2 Thess. 2:3-4, YLT)

The phrase "above all called God or worshipped" is confined to those who call themseleves "god" or who were worshipped as being "god." It does not mean there were other gods than our Father in heaven.

Some question which sanctuary is meant in 2 Thess. 2:4. As the spiritual temple of the body of Christ, which is made up of the living stones of each member (1 Pet. 2:5) was growing as the earthly temple was diminishing and ready to pass away (Heb. 8:13), then both the spiritual temple and the earthly temple co-existed during that time of transition before the old earthly temple was destroyed. So, the context of the scriptures has to rule the meaning.

2 Thess. 2:4 speaks of the earthly temple as that is the only way the lawless one would be able to sit and show himself as God in the sanctuary. The meaning of “lawless one” must also be taken in context as one who is acting outside the law, that is one who should have known the Mosaic law, but disobeyed it. That sets the context clearly within the time frame of the existence still of that earthly temple and the Mosiac covenant before its destruction in AD 70.

The books of both first and second Thessalonians was written to the Thessalonians who lived in the first century AD.

“Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ:” (2 Thess. 1:1, YLT)

Both books were written approx. 50-51 AD during Paul’s second missionary journey when both Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) accompanied him. (1)

It is very arrogant of us to think or say that what God’s word said would happen never happened or has not yet happened because we do not know the actual historical events. When we are looking back in time from a distance of 2,000 years, and without much record of the history of the rulers and governors of Judea under the ancient Roman empire, we cannot know what has not been recorded by men.

From Josephus, Wars, Bk II, Chap. 1.1 :

“1. NOW the necessity which Archelaus was under of taking a journey to Rome was the occasion of new disturbances; for when he had mourned for his father seven days, (1) and had given a very expensive funeral feast to the multitude, (which custom is the occasion of poverty to many of the Jews, because they are forced to feast the multitude; for if any one omits it, he is not esteemed an holy person), he put on a white garment, and went up to the temple, where the people accosted him with various acclamations. He also spake kindly to the multitude, from an elevated seat, and a throne of gold, and returned them thanks for the zeal they had shewn about his father’s funeral, and the submission they had made to him, as if he were already settled in the kingdom:” (2)

This type of show of power or rule by sitting on a throne of gold in the temple area – the sanctuary – had already happened prior to the writing of the book of 2 Thess. And, although Herod Archelaus did not call himself “God”, he certainly had sat in the temple to assume rule over Jerusalem and Judea as king. He fully expected to succeed his father and be named king by Caesar. Who then is to say that a later ruler did not rise up after Archelaus’ model that did the same as he had and more?

Upon Herod the Great’s death, Caesar Augustus divided the rule of Judea among Herod’s family, appointing Archelaus as ethnarch over Judea proper, and his brothers Antipas and Philip as tetrarch’s over other outlying areas, and their aunt Salome – Herod’s sister – was given rule as toparch over certain places.

From Judea and Galilee After Herod the Great:

“The end result was that none of Herod’s heirs received the title “king.” Instead, three of his sons and his sister were allotted territories to rule with lesser titles. Archelaus received Judea, which also included the areas of Idumea to the south and Samaria to the north. Archelaus was called ethnarch, or ruler of a people, and fittingly his portion was largest. Antipas received Galilee and Peraea and was called tetrarch, or ruler over a fourth. Philip was also called tetrarch and ruled the regions of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Panias in the northeast. Salome I, the sister of Herod, was referred to as toparch, or ruler of a place, as she was given cities and their surrounding areas in the Gaza region and just north of Jericho, including Jabneh, Ashdod, Phasaelis. This “Herodian Tetrarchy” as it is often called due to the splitting into fourths, only lasted until 6 AD when Rome took direct rule over the Judea region and made it a province of the Empire.” (3)

It was Herod’s son, Agrippa I who made the speech at Caesarea where the people glorified him as a god, and because he did not refuse that worship and claim of the people, he was struck down with abdominal pains and died of worms (Acts 12:20-23). This tendency for rulers of Judea to make or accept these grandiose claims had happened before. So, who are we to say that God’s word did not come true before that temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70?

After the death of Herod’s sons and sister, their territory was absorbed officially back into the Judean province, and eventually under the rule of Herod’s great-grandson, Agrippa II. Agrippa II grew up with Claudius in Rome, and Claudius favored Agrippa II with rule over the entire province of Judea. It was Agrippa II, at times called King Agrippa by the Jews, who heard Paul at his trial in Rome (Acts 25:13-23). Agrippa II remained loyal to Rome, and ruled about 44 years. (3)

Claudius acted to keep peace in the region by allowing the Jews to appoint their high-priest and administer the temple and its funds.(4) Many believe that Paul referred to Claudius as “he who restrains” or “is keeping down” in 2 Thess. 2:6, although I might argue for Agrippa II as the restrainer. The point to note is that Paul said the Thessalonians knew who this was!

“5 Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you? 6 and now, what is keeping down ye have known, for his being revealed in his own time,” (2 Thess. 2:5-6, YLT)

Paul did not write the name of the man was was restraining, nor did Paul write the name of the lawless one in the letter. But, he stated that he had already told them who these men were. So, the Thessalonians knew the name of these men when this book was written in about 50-51 AD. That means that the lawless one who would enter into the temple and act as God, and claim to be God was living in 50-51 AD.

It was under Gessius Florus’ rule as Procurator that the revolt in Judea began, because of Florus’ cruelty and tyranny.(5) (6) There was such confusion and disorder during the revolt that there is very little recorded history from secular sources of what specific people may have done or said in the temple in Jerusalem during that time. Just because secular records of this time are not available to us today does not mean that God’s word is wrong.

What we can know from God’s word is that the lawless one would sit in that earthly temple in Jerusalem and act as God, and claim to be God; and therefore we can conclude that the lawless one would have to have been a Jew, accepted by other Jews to be able to sit in that earthly temple; and therefore was living before that temple was destroyed. We are not told any information about which specific person that was. We are told (2 Thess. 2:8) and can be assured that God destroyed him in AD 70 when that earthly temple was destroyed, just as he had earlier destroyed Agrippa I.

Notes:

  1. Dating Thessalonians - DatingTheNewTestament

  2. Archelaus - Jospehus Wars

  3. Herodian rulers - here

  4. Claudius - here

  5. Gessius Florus - here

  6. Josephus, Wars, Bk 2, Chap. 14-15. - here

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