The man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10)

In any discussion of the end-times in the Bible, the conversation will eventually touch on the antichrist. The speculation about the antichrist is often wild and unbridled, conjuring up images and activities that are completely foreign to any biblical text, but in those situations where the speculation is sober and biblically based, attention will turn to 2 Thessalonians 2 and the passage about “the man of lawlessness.” The man of lawlessness represents the clearest and most explicit teaching about the antichrist in all of Paul’s writing, and therefore deserves serious consideration when discussing the antichrist at the end of the age.

In my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama, I cover 2 Thessalonians 2 in depth, along with other eschatological Scriptures that highlight biblical manifestations of the antichrist, so this article is not about my thoughts, because they are expressed there. Rather, this post is about the thoughts of Herman Ridderbos, a Dutch biblical scholar, and are taken from his magnificent work, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Ridderbos carefully exegetes this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 and gives clear and helpful guidelines for how to understand this evil person who will appear at the very end of the age. I have selected quotes from his writing below that I think are most insightful and helpful in any study of the man of lawlessness. A careful reading of these quotes will give you a solid understanding of the biblical antichrist.

“The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness.” (RMB: It is noteworthy that Paul concentrates all this evil in a single man.) “Furthermore, it is certainly indicated in the denotation “the man of lawlessness” that this man is not merely a pre-eminently godless individual, but that in him the humanity hostile to God comes to a definitive, eschatological revelation.” (p. 514)

Also, “just as Paul places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second ‘man,’ as the great representatives of two orders of men, so the figure of ‘the man of lawlessness’ is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ.” “The coming of ‘the man of lawlessness,’ just as that of Christ, is called a παρουσία. It is marked by all manner of power, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past.” (p. 514) “The man of sin (lawlessness) is the last and highest revelation of man (humanity) inimical to God, the human adversary of the man Jesus Christ, in whom the divine kingdom and the divine work has become flesh and blood. The divine antithesis between God and Satan that dominates history is decided on the human plane in those (two individuals) who as ‘the man’ represent salvation and destruction.” (p. 515) (RMB: Consider the parallel in 1 Samuel 17 when David, the coming king of Israel, fights Goliath, the champion of the enemies of Israel. Each represents their people, such that, as the champion fares in the battle, so go the people. David, as a type of Christ, vanquishes Goliath, who is a type of the antichrist. At the end of the age, the ultimate representatives will face one another, and the man of lawlessness (antichrist) will be finally vanquished by the returning Jesus Christ. That’s Ridderbos’ picture here.)

“As Christ is a person, but at the same time one with all who believe in Him and are under His sovereignty, so the antichrist is not only a godless individual, but a concentration of godlessness that already goes forth before him and which joins all who follow at his appearance him into unity with him. (He is now restrained because at his appearance unbelief, lawlessness, and godlessness will attempt to set themselves as an organic unity over against God and Christ.” (p. 516) “Paul does not stop with an ‘it,’ with an idea, or with a force, but the organic and corporate unity of human life finds its bearer and representative, as in Adam and Christ, so also in the antichrist, in a specific person. The antichrist would be no antichrist if he were not the personal concentration point of lawlessness, if he were not the man of lawlessness.” (p. 516)

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