Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10 – “Christ Kills the Man of Lawlessness”

Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10 – “Christ Kills the Man of Lawlessness”

Sermon for Sunday, July 9th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Dan 11:36-39 ESV] 36 “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. 37 He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. 39 He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price.

New Testament reading:

[1Jo 2:18-25 ESV] 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us–eternal life.

Gospel reading:

[Mar 13:14-23 ESV] 14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Scripture Reading:

Give attention to the word of God from 2 Thess chapter 2, verses 3 – 10.

[2Th 2:3-10 ESV] 3 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, 4 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. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.


Last week we saw that the “day of the Lord” cannot come until after two things occur: (1) a great rebellion or apostasy AND (2) the coming of the “man of lawlessness.”

That “day of the Lord” which Christians are to look forward to is

– the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him.”

– it is when “he (Christ) comes to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”

– it is when the afflicted Christians are “granted relief.”

– and it is when “the Lord Jesus Christ is REVEALED from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

We looked last week at the rebellion, the apostasy. This week we’ll be looking more in depth at the “man of lawlessness.” We’ll look the “Characteristics of the Man of Lawlessness” and the “Candidates” for who the Man of Lawlessness is before concluding with the scriptural truth that “Christ Kills the Man of Lawlessness.”

I. Characteristics of the Man of Lawlessness

First, let us look at the characteristic of the man of lawlessness.

A. The Son of Destruction

The man of lawlessness is the son of destruction. He does not build up, but he tears down. In a similarly way he could be called a Son of Satan, by whom he does false signs and wonders with wicked deception. There is no good in him, he is a son of destruction.

B. Exalts himself

Then, the man of lawlessness “exalts himself.”

He wants to be worshipped. He wants to have all of the power, all of the prestige, all of the popularity over both God and “so-callled gods,” perhaps referring to false idols or rulers like the Egyptian Kings and Roman emperors who call themselves gods.

There seems to be reference here to Daniel 11 where it speaks of a king who “shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods.”

C. Proclaims himself to be God

Then, another characteristic of the man of lawlessness is that he “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

This is not necessarily referring to the actual temple in Jerusalem. Paul in fact typically uses the term “temple” in a figurative sense. You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And there is Paul’s say that household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, grows into a holy TEMPLE in the Lord.

So this phrase, that the man of lawlessness “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” is perhaps repetitive. It is saying the same thing in two ways. “Taking his seat in the temple of God” meaning “proclaiming himself to be God.”

Summary of characteristics:

All of these characteristics of the man of lawlessness are opposite of the characteristics of Christ. They are ANTI-Christ. So it is that that “the man of lawlessness” is considered by many to be the very “anti-Christ” mentioned in John’s epistles.

Let us note some of these polar opposites of Christ and anti-Christ

Jesus Christ created the world. John says “All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus Christ CREATES. The Anti-Christ destroys.

Jesus came to serve. “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” But the Anti-Christ, the man of lawlessness, comes to exalt himself.

Jesus Christ was God himself and told the truth when he said “I and the Father are one.” But the Anti-Christ LIES proclaiming himself to be God when he is nothing but a man.

Christ fulfills the law of God. The man of lawlessness opposes the Law of God.

So we see that the man of lawlessness is opposite, against, anti, Christ in all that he does. He opposes all worship of God.

So who is he? Who is the man of lawlessness?

II. Candidates for the Man of Lawlessness

There are a number of candidates who have been argued for vigorously.

When it comes to these eschatology or “end times” studies, theologians tend to form paradigms or schemes in which to understand all of the passages in the Bible. Three of these schemes are Preterism, Historicism, and Futurism.

The preterists think that prophecies have been fulfilled in the past. They believe that the Scriptures speak of a “man of lawlessness” who lived in the very time of the New Testament. So, preterists have variously proposed the man of lawlessness to be Caesar Nero, or Emperor Titus, or a Jewish leader named John of Gischala.

Undoubtedly these candidates for the “man of lawlessness” were not “great guys.” Nero was notorious as an evil and corrupt Roman ruler who likely persecuted the Christians. Some believe that the “number of the beast” 666 in the Book of Revelation is in reference to his name; the value of the characters being added up to that number. And, people have pointed out that a textual variant in early copies of the Book of Revelation says not 666 but 616, which equals Nero’s name if spelled another way.

Then there is Titus who actually destroyed Jerusalem and literally sat in the temple. Nero never had that distinction.

There there is John of Gischala, a leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans who entered the temple and attempted to set himself up as ruler of Jerusalem.

These are the candidates of the preterists.

Then there is Historicism which looks to figures throughout history who seem to be the “man of lawlessness.” Popular answers have long been Muhammed (or Islam itself) or the Popes of Rome.

Again, certainly Islam was (and is) a great enemy of the church of Jesus Christ. And the Papacy has had no shortage of corruption and false doctrine. So it was the Popes of Rome which the Protestant Reformers especially identified as the anti-Christ. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others declared that the office of the Pope itself is the anti-Christ, the man of lawlessness. And, among other reasons, they pointed to the fact that the Pope calls himself “the Vicar of Christ,” the one who is there “instead of Christ.” And this, to the ears of the Reformers, sounded a lot like the one who “takes his seat in the temple of God.” And so in both Lutheran and Reformed confessional documents, the office of the papacy (not a specific pope, but all of them collectively) is called the anti-christ, or at least, “an anti-Christ.”

The Lutherans said in the Book of Concord “the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and oppose himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power. … This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this.”

And the original Westminster Confession, of the Presbyterians, also said: “there is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” (WCF 25.6)

But you should know that in our American version of the confession, modified in 1789, that statement is removed. And, well, to jump ahead in our discussion, the 1789 revision is a good revision because, while there are many who are opposed to Christ, we (in my opinion) don’t seem to be able to specifically identify the single man known as “the man of lawlessness.”

Well, then, there are also school of the Futurists. They believe that the “man of lawlessness” is yet to come, at the end.

And, then there is another group that should be mentioned briefly called the Idealists who think the end-times information in the Scripture applies to various scenarios through history past and the future yet to come.

So I now want to offer up my own analysis of the question “who is the man of lawlessness?” I’ve given away my answer some already. The answer is … I don’t know.

And there are a couple reasons why I’m unable to embrace various proposals that have come before us.

First, these approaches are “eisegesis.” We love these terms in seminary. Exegesis and eisegesis. When we preach, or teach, or think at all as Christians, we are to take knowledge FROM the Word of God. It comes out of God’s word. That is Exegesis. But when something from the outside of Scripture is forced upon us that is eisegesis; that which is put into. So it is that neither Nero, Titus, John of Gischala, Muhammed, or the Pope of Rome, nor anyone else is explicitly identified in the Scriptures as the man of lawlessness even if each fit in certain ways. Those candidates are not even named anywhere in the Bible for any reason.

Then, there is a second reason I’m not convinced on any of these candidates. The text tells us that the “man of lawlessness will be REVEALED.”

If he has been REVEALED, then why don’t we know who he is?

Logically, it is POSSIBLE that he was revealed to first century Christians. But, if so, he seems to have been quickly forgotten and the church soon did not know who he was. And now through the centuries there has been debate on his identity.

Nero fits particularly well, and may be a shadow of that antichrist who is to come and be revealed in the last days. And many of elements of the Scriptural account fit fairly well in the first century preterism paradigm. But if we go back to 1 Thessalonians we see that on the “day of the Lord” and at the coming of the Lord there is also the resurrection. “The dead in Christ will rise first.” These things are yet to be. And so it appears to me that final “man of lawlessness” revealed before the coming of the Lord is yet to come in the future.

Matthew Henry well says “At the second coming of Christ all the saints will be gathered together to him; and this mention of the gathering of the saints together unto Christ at his coming shows that the apostle speaks of Christ’s coming to judgment day, and not of his coming to destroy Jerusalem.”

But whoever the “man of lawlessness” is, and whenever he comes, the central truth of our passage is that Christians need not worry for Christ Kills the Man of Lawlessness.

III. Christ Kills the Man of Lawlessness.

Before the man of lawlessness is “revealed” he is “restrained.” And the question of this restrainer is almost as hotly debated as the question of who the man of lawlessness is. And for each supposition of the latter, there is a matching restrainer.

So Nero’s restrainer is the previous emperor Claudius keeping him from the throne.

Others flip that script and identify the Roman empire itself as the restrainer, the antichrist being the Papacy.

Others say the restrainer is an angel.

Again, from the Scriptures alone, we don’t know the answer.

Paul seems to have told the Thessalonians in person. He writes “And you know what is restraining him now.” But he doesn’t tell us.

Yet we do know that nothing is done without the Lord. So in some sense at least, the Lord himself (perhaps primarily the Holy Spirit) is the restrainer.

But it is Christ who puts an end to the man of lawlessness.

“the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

So Christians are not to fear. Christ is far superior to anti-Christ. It is not a dualistic battle of equals, but rather a quick victory for Christ who kills the man of lawlessness merely by opening his mouth.

In the book of Revelation, those who follow the beast are killed “by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse.”

No doubt there is great power in the word of God, spoken forth from Christ. But here in 2 Thessalonians we see that the mere preparation for speaking — the opening of the mouth – is sufficient to defeat the lawless one.

We are to avoid the evil one, Satan. And we are to avoid the “man of lawlessness” whom he empowers. We might not know who this is in particular, but as John says in his letters there are many anti-Christs. So we should be on guard against them all. Especially should we be on guard in these days against those who usurp the power and place of the Lord, claiming to have powers which only He truly has.

Consider the times we have recently gone through. The models of virus transmission and death rates during the pandemic were presented from scientists through the government with divine-like pretensions, telling us that if we only do as they say then we will be safe. All of these claims turned out to be hogwash.

We know that our safety is not in man. Our safety is in the Lord. We should never let another take that place.

Paul’s underlying message, his ultimate message, is one of comfort and one of hope in Jesus Christ.

Where is that hope?

We’ve already seen that it is in the coming of Christ and the gathering of the saints to him. This event has not been missed.

And there is hope in Christ’s strength. Christ will kill the anti-christ with total ease. What appears difficult to us, is of no trouble to him. He merely opens his mouth upon his arrival and his breath kills the man of lawlessness.

There is analogy in the relationship of children to their parents. Something can be so difficult for a child, but they need not fear, for superhero mom or superhero dad is there. They can reach up to the top shelf. They can pick up the heavy object. They can unlock the door.

So we are to be comforted by God. We don’t know the time of these events which will come like a thief in the night. But we have some warning of things which must occur before Christ’s return and the final gathering together and resurrection to eternal life. And even though these events –the great apostasy and the coming of the man of lawlessness – are by the work of Satan, even so, Christ shall triumph.

This message is replete in our hymns:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Christ shall have dominion over land and sea.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.

Christ shall kill the man of lawlessness, and his righteous law shall forever be. Praise be the Lord.