I have been studying prophecy a great deal these past few weeks and I have learned a great deal about things I had no idea I would end up studying. One of the things I’ve learned is that, if we want to understand the deeper meaning behind a prophet’s writings, we need to view his words through the lens of Scripture. In other words, we have to set aside our material eyes and look through our spiritual eyes so we can see the spiritual meg or lesson that is being addressed. When we do this, we may find that a certain prophecy we once thought predicted one thing is actually warning us of another. This is one of the reasons the Jews missed seeing who Christ was: they had misunderstood prophecy. And today, I believe many Christians may have done the same thing where ‘the man of lawlessness’ is concerned. We have assumed that we are looking for a single figure we call ‘The Antichrist’ when we should be looking at ourselves — each of us, individually.I am going to make this a two-part post. This post is intended for those who need help understanding the Scriptures and the spiritual principles behind them. The next post will help illustrate how these principles work in our material world. So, let’s start with 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2: more specifically, let’s start with these verses from Chapter 2:
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the [a]apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above [b]every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
There is a lot of meaning conveyed in these few words, but the specific idea I want to tackle here is the notion of lawlessness. There was a time when I believed — as many Christians today still believe — that this passage points to the coming of the figure we call ‘The Antichrist.’ But then I started to actually read and study Scripture for myself, and I found that what Scripture actually says seems to contradict the idea of a single person called ‘The Antichrist.’ In fact, the word, ‘antichrist,’ is only mentioned four times in the entire Bible, and all four mentions are in the letters of John. What’s more, if you read these four mentions about ‘antichrist,’ they seem to be telling us we are not looking for a single person, but rather, we are to understand it as a spirit: a condition of one’s heart which is reflected in our words and deeds (you can find these four passages here).
When I discovered this, I started wondering whether we may have lost a little of the finer understanding of Scripture in translating the original Greek to English. This lead me to consult an interlinear Bible: a Bible that shows the original Greek and gives the literal translations of the Greek words. You can find an interlinear translation of 2 Thess 2:3-4 here. To help those who do not understand Greek, you can click on each word in this interlinear translation and it will give you a definition in the right hand margin. When you click on the word ‘anthrõpos’ (man), you will find that it can mean and is used in Scripture to refer to the spiritual frame of the inner man: or, in other words, the heart of the individual. Likewise, we find that the word ‘anomia’ (lawlessness) means the violation of the law.
Now, Scripturally speaking, the ‘law’ referred to here is God’s law, so violation of this law is sin. But, if we are going to fully understand what Paul is trying to tell us in 2 Thess 2:3-4, a greater understanding of God’s law is called for here. We are not talking about the strict reading of the letter of the Ten Commandments, or even the strict reading of the letter of the law under the fuller Mosaic Law, or Levitical Code. Incorporated in both the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses is the notion of a ‘spirit’ to the law. One of the best known examples might be Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, where He expanded the concept of adultery from just being unfaithful to your spouse to any form of lust or sexual relations outside of marriage. The idea of this ‘spirit’ in the law is supported elsewhere in Scripture. There is a passage where Christ is chastising the Pharisees because they have so construed the letter of the law that they precluded doing good if it meant working on the Sabbath.
When you put these two together, the man (being understood as the condition of a person’s inner self) and the ‘spirit’ of the law, there is an apparent agreement with the message John was trying to convey in his use of the term ‘antichrist.’ Now, for those who do not know Scripture, this connection may not be readily understood — until you understand that Christ proclaimed Himself to be the fulfillment of the law. In other words, Christ is the law, so denying Him is denying the law (i.e. the ultimate act of lawlessness). So, with this understanding, how might we read 2 Thess 2:3-4 so that it better conveys this message? Well, without trying to re-write Scripture, or put words in the mouths of God’s prophets, I would suggest that it may mean something along these lines:
3 That we should not let anyone deceive us, for it will not happen until a great rebellion or turning away from God comes first, revealing the inner heart of lawlessness in many people: individuals who are aligned with the one who desires the destruction of God’s law and order.
Now, before I go any further, let me acknowledge a possible objection to my argument that I anticipate many who have read Scripture may make. There will be many who will point to 2 Thess 2:4 as evidence that we are looking for a single individual because 2 Thes 2:4 says this man of lawlessness will sit in the temple of God and put himself forward as being God. To those people, I would remind you that Paul wrote under the New Covenant. The veil had been torn and the Temple is now the individual heart of man. If we understand that Paul is speaking of the temple in these terms — as the heart of every individual — then 2 Thess 2:4 flows seamlessly from the interpretation I just explained — and with John’s explanation of antichrist. In fact, keeping with my argument, we could understand 2 Thess 2:3-4 this way:
3 That we should not let anyone deceive us, for it will not happen until a great rebellion or turning away from God comes first, revealing the inner heart of lawlessness in many people: individuals who are aligned with the one who desires the destruction of God’s law and order. 4 Who places himself opposite of and presents himself as the alternative to every so-called god or object of worship, so that — in his own heart — he puts himself in the place of God and calls himself his own god.
Now, I understand that this will be difficult for many to accept because it goes against everything they have been taught. However, there is nothing inconsistent in this understanding: when we look at 2 Thess 2:3-4 in this way, it not only agrees internally, but also with the four mentions of antichrist in John’s letters as well as with the general theme of rebellion against God that runs throughout the entire Bible.
We do not have the authority to decide what is right and what is wrong for ourselves. God decides what is right from what is wrong. That is why He gave us His law. When any of us decides in our heart that we will reject God’s law and do what we decide is right, we become the man of lawlessness and align ourselves with — place ourselves in service to — the one who desires the destruction of God’s law and order.