THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS PROBLEM

PMT 2013-041 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

DifficultA PostmillennialismToday reader recently wrote and asked how postmillennialism can be true in light of such passages as 2 Thessalonians 2 regarding the Man of Lawlessness. He stated: “The biggest problem I’ve had with postmillennialism is the falling away: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thes 2:3).” Certainly for an eschatological to be true it must be able to account for all passages in Scripture. And postmillennialism can explain this passage of evil foreboding. Let us see how!

The Problem of the Passage

Before I study the passage, however, I think it is important to note the exceptional difficulty associated with Paul’s statement. It is important that we note this difficulty because so many “prophecy experts,” televangelists, and so forth throw around this text that one might think it is a simple passage that presents a clear picture. Let us note just a few observations regarding its difficulty then show how important this difficult and confusing passage is to the dispensational system.

Augustine, perhaps the greatest of the early church fathers and still a great influence today, writes regarding a certain portion of the passage: “I confess that I am entirely ignorant of what he means to say.” New Testament Greek scholar Marvin Vincent omits interpreting the passage in his four volume lexical commentary: “I attempt no interpretation of this passage as a whole, which I do not understand.” Renowned Greek linguist A. T. Robertson despairs of the task of interpreting this passage because it is “in such vague form that we can hardly clear it up.”

In our own day, Leon Morris urges “care” in handling this “notoriously difficult passage.” F. F. Bruce notes that “there are few New Testament passages which can boast such a variety of interpretations as this.” Ernest Best mentions that much in the passage is “exceptionally difficult.” 1 Even some dispensationalists admit that it is an “extremely puzzling passage of Scripture that has been a thorn in the flesh of many an expositor.” 2


Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (by Ken Gentry)
Technical studies on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, the great tribulation, Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Revelation.

Purchase one of these weekly and all your life problems will be solved, or if not solved, at least forgotten while you are making your purchase.


The Abuse of the Problem

Sadly, this exceedingly difficult prophecy serves as a key text for dispensationalism. Note the following comments by dispensationalists.

  • Constable observes that “this section of verses contain truths found nowhere else in the Bible. It is key to understanding future events and it is central to this epistle.”
  • According to Walvoord, the man of lawlessness revealed here is “the key to the whole program of the Day of the Lord.”
  • Of 2 Thessalonians 2 Chafer notes: “though but one passage is found bearing upon the restraining work of the Holy Spirit, the scope of the issues involved is such as to command the utmost consideration.”
  • Ryrie and Feinberg employ 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as one of the few passages used “to clinch the argument” for the rebuilding of the temple.3

Studies in Eschatology” (4 CDs) Four lectures by Ken Gentry
This four lecture series was given in Vancouver, Washington. It provides both a critique of dispensationalism, as well as positive studies of postmillennialism in the Psalms and Revelation. This provides helpful comparative insights into eschatological pessimism and optimism.
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Because of its enormous difficulties, 2 Thessalonians 2 generates lively debate in eschatological studies. The pessimistic eschatologies of amillennialism, premillennialism, and dispensationalism frequently employ this passage as evidence of worsening world conditions leading up to the final apostasy. In his chapter “Postmillennialism and the Spiritual View,” amillennialist Lloyd-Jones points to 2 Thessalonians 2 against postmillennialism: “There will be an intense period of tribulation at the end of this period.” 4 When setting forth objections against postmillennialism, amillennialist Hoekema makes but a cursory reference to this passage in a mere two sentences, confident that it offers a self-evident refutation of postmillennialism.5 Though this is a perplexing passage requiring caution, data in it at least remove it as an objection to postmillennialism.

How shall we interpret this Man of Lawlessness? What role does he play in the eschatological debate? To find out, join me in my next study!


Notes

  1. Augustine is cited in Alford, The Greek New Testament, 2:82. Marvin Vincent, Word Studies, 4:67. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, 4:51. Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 213. F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, 309. Ernest Best, First and Second Epistles to Thessalonians, 274.
  2. E. Schuyler English, Rethinking the Rapture, 72.
  3. Thomas L. Constable, “2 Thessalonians,” BKC, 2:717. John F. Walvoord, PKH, 493. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 6:85. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, 151. See also: Charles Lee Feinberg, “The Jew After the Rapture,” in Feinberg, Prophecy and the Seventies, 181.
  4. D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things, 225
  5. Anthony Hoekema, Bible and the Future, 178. See also: Herman Hanko, “An Exegetical Refutation of Postmillennialism,” 26.
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6 thoughts on “THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS PROBLEM

  1. Harold December 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Reading Josephus and other historians of the first Century A.D. illuminates passages like this.

  2. Matt Shown June 24, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Seeking to understand Preterism. How would one answer or describe the relationship (or lack thereof) between 2 Thessalonians 2 and 1 Thessalonians 4. “parousia” is used there to describe the Resurrection and consummation. If that is the case then this text seems to be fit at the end of history. Any books/sermons/resources on this? I have not seen much preteristic teaching on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Thanks!

  3. Kenneth Gentry June 29, 2015 at 7:43 am

    We must recognize biblical words can be used in different senses. Jesus talks about passing from death to life in John 5:24ff, applying it both to spiritual and physical resurrection. Parousia is a common Greek word that means “presence, arrival” It is used in Scripture of people arriving on the scene, such as Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17), Titus (2 Cor 7:6), and Paul (Phil 1:26).

    Perhaps I will have to give an exposition of 1 Thess 4.

  4. Patricia Watkins June 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    To Matt Shown,

    Personally, I am finally comfortably sure of the identity of this man of lawlessness and his restrainer, at least to my own satisfaction, after reading a couple comments on another website that jogged my thinking on this passage.

    Based on Josephus’ accounts paired with scripture, I believe the restrainer to be the high priest Ananias (before whom Paul was at one time on trial in Acts), and the man of lawlessness to be the radical would-be Messiah named Menahem/Manahem, who had his opponent Ananias (the restrainer) killed, and then presented himself as King of the Jews in Jerusalem’s temple in AD 66. He was destroyed almost immediately thereafter by Eleazar and his followers, since the very brightness of Manahem’s coming (not Christ’s coming) provoked a jealous response from Eleazar, who had no intention of letting such a common upstart fill the much-coveted “messiah” position over Israel. So, both Manahem and the brightness of his own coming were snuffed out together.

  5. Matt Shown June 29, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Will look more into that. Any resources to help me understand 2 Thess. 2 from a Preterist perspective?

    I would enjoy hearing that exposition.

  6. Kenneth Gentry June 30, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I have an extensive study in my book “Perilous Times.”

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