"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.
Dating Thessalonians - DatingTheNewTestament
Archelaus - Jospehus Wars
Herodian rulers - here
Claudius - here
Gessius Florus - here
Josephus, Wars, Bk 2, Chap. 14-15. - here