MAN OF LAWLESSNESS IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT

PMT 2013-042 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Paul at athensIn my previous blog I began a brief analysis of one of Paul’s most difficult passage. I noted widespread statements by church fathers and contemporary scholars confessing its difficulty. Then I noted that despite this, dispensationalism employs this passage as one of its foundations for its distinctive temple-theology. A theology built on difficult passages is not a stable system.

In this article I will begin a study analyzing the text itself. But before I do that, I will offer a few words regarding:

Paul’s Historical Setting

When Paul visits Thessalonica he preaches to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah (Ac 17:1–3). Though some Jews believe him, others explode in mob action against the Christian message (17:4–5). They drag “some of the brethren to the rulers of the city” complaining: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king — Jesus” (17:6–7). After taking security from Jason and the others, the civil rulers let them go (17:9). This allows Paul to depart safely to Berea. The Jews are not so easily quieted, however, for “when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds” (17:13). This results in Paul’s immediate departure to Athens (17:14–15).


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This explains the strong language against the Jews in the Thessalonian epistles, and helps uncover some of the more subtle concerns therein. In his first epistle he writes: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1Th  2:14–16).

This Jewish context is important for grasping the situation Paul confronts. Interestingly, he alludes to the Olivet Discourse throughout. The Olivet Discourse prophesies the destruction of the temple and the judgment of the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Mt 23:35 –24:2; Lk 19:41–44; cf. Ac 17:3; 18:5).1

Paul’s Present Concern

2 Thessalonians 2:1–2. Paul’s reference “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2Th 2:1) is the crux interpretum of this passage. Paul here refers to the AD 70 judgment on the Jews — the very judgment Christ emphasizes in the first portion of his Olivet Discourse, John focuses on in the Book of Revelation, and other writers consider in several other Scriptural passages.2

Though Paul speaks of the second advent just a few verses before (1:10), he is not dealing with that issue here. In 2 Thessalonians 1:10 he even employs a different word for the coming of Christ (elthe) from what he uses in 2:1 (parousia). In chapter 1 the second advent brings “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (1:9); here this coming results in temporal “destruction” (2:8). There the second advent includes “his mighty angels” (1:7); here the temporal judgment mentions nothing about these angels (2:1–12). Thus, the second advent provides an eternal resolution to their suffering; the AD 70 Day of the Lord affords temporal resolution (cf. Rev 6:10).

Furthermore, the “gathering together to Him” Paul mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 seems to reflect Matthew 24:31. The word translated “gather together” here is episunagoge. Its cognate verb form is found in Matthew 24:31, where Christ ties the gathering to “this generation” (Mt 24:34). It signifies the elect’s calling into Christ by means of the trumpeting in of the archetypical Great Jubilee (cf. 2Th 1:11; 2:14).3 Here it functions the same way. With the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Christians will henceforth be “gathered together” in a separate and distinct “assembly” (episunagoge; the church is called a sunagoge in Jas 2:2). After the temple’s destruction God will no longer tolerate going up to the temple to worship (it will be impossible!), as Christians frequently do prior to AD 70.4


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Paul consoles them by denying the false report that “the day of Christ had come” (2Th 2:2). Apparently, the very reason for this epistle, which Paul writes so soon after the first one, is because some unscrupulous deceivers are forging letters from him. In them they are claiming charismatic insights into eschatological concerns. In his earlier letter he corrects their grief over loved ones who die in the Lord, as if this would preclude their sharing in the resurrection (1Th 4:13–17). Now new eschatological deceptions are troubling the young church (2Th 2:1–3a): some believe that the Day of the Lord had come5 and, consequently, they quit working (2Th 3:6–12).

The word “trouble” (throeo; 2:2) is in the present infinitive form, signifying a continued state of agitation. This is the same word Christ uses in the Olivet Discourse (Mk 13:7; Mt 24:6). And he uses it in a similar theological context: one warning of deception and trouble regarding the coming of the Day of Christ (Mk 13:5–7). And its present form shows that he is speaking of present problems the Christians are suffering.

In my next study I will show how Paul refers the Man of Lawlessness to contemporary issues his friends were facing. Stay tuned.


Notes

  1. Sydney Page attempts to draw the parallel with Revelation 20, comparing the restraint and deception of Satan and the flaming coming of Christ there with the deception, restraint, and coming here. (“Revelation 20 and Pauline Eschatology,” JETS 23:1 [March 1980]: 31–44.)
  2. For an excellent analysis of such texts see: Peter W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, passim.
  3. J. M. Kik, An Eschatology of Victory, 144–150. David Chilton, The Great Tribulation, 25–28.
  4. Ac 1:4; 1:8; 18:21; 20:16; 24:11. Even in this early post-commission Christianity, believers continued to gravitate toward the Jews: engaging in Jewish worship observances (Ac 2:1ff.; 21:26; 24:11), focusing on and radiating their ministry from Jerusalem (Ac 2–5), frequenting the temple (Ac 2:46; 3:1ff.; 4:1; 5:21ff.; 21:26; 26:21), and attending the synagogues (13:5, 14; 14:1; 15:21; 17:1ff.; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19; 24:12; 26:11).
  5. Greek: enesteken.  A. M. G. Stephenson, “On the meaning of enesteken he hemera tou kuriou in 2 Thessalonians 2:2.” Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geshichte der altchristlichen Literatur 102, 442–451. BAGD, 337. See: Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 215. Note the agreement among the following translations: NASB, NKJV, NEB, TEV, Moffatt’s New Translation, Weymouth, Williams, Beck.
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13 thoughts on “MAN OF LAWLESSNESS IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT

  1. Joseph Grant Bradberry December 20, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Thanks for these posts…

  2. Patricia Watkins December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    This II Thess. 2 “…gathering together to him …” I understand to be the same one Jacob refers to in Genesis 49:10 when he speaks of Shiloh and says that “….unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Since this is a prophecy related to his sons and their progeny in the “last days” (Gen 49:1), my understanding from this and other references is that Israel, (the twelve tribes – Acts 26:6-7), is to experience a bodily resurrection in 70 AD at Christ’s coming. Both a temporal and an eternal judgement occurred at the same event. We now await the Lord’s third advent some time in our future.

  3. Kenneth Gentry December 22, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Israel experience a “bodily resurrection in 70 AD” when Israel’s capital and temple were destroyed?

  4. Patricia Watkins December 23, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Yes, at Pentecost 70 AD to be exact. Just before the 5 month period of intensified carnage and demonic activity. In addition to the biblical references, there is no other way to account for the discrepancy in the body count of Jerusalem’s 70 AD siege that Ussher lists in his Annals of the World. If I read his figures correctly, some approximate 1,265,700 are missing and unaccounted for. I can understand some difference, given the tumultuous time, but – almost one and a third million Jewish people missing?? That’s some serious scribal error going on.

    The two judgements of Israel, both eternal and temporal are mentioned in Rev. 11:18 – the “time of the dead to be judged” and also “to bring to corruption those who corrupt the earth.”
    This is why Rev. 10:7 mentions “…glad tidings…” are going to be fulfilled at the time the seventh trumpet is about to sound, as well as mentioning the Rev. 11:18 destruction of the corrupters when the seventh trumpet has actually sounded.
    This is why you have two sickles being used in Rev. 14. – the first one to reap the earth, (the resurrection), and the second one which follows that gathers the fully ripe grapes for crushing in God’s winepress of wrath (Titus’s siege period).

    So what indicates that only the house of Israel in involved in this bodily resurrection?

    I have already indicated the reference in Acts 26:6-7 to the twelve tribes who hoped to arrive at the resurrection, as promised by God to their fathers.

    Daniel’s 12:1-2 prophecy states that “thy people” (Daniel’s) shall be delivered – those that are found written in the book – and that “many (not all of humanity who has died since creation) of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

    Daniel’s final closing verse speaks prophetically of his own participation in this 70 AD resurrection. The phrase “stand in thy lot at the end of the days” harks back to the division of the land of Canaan to the children of Israel by “lot”. Except this is the spiritual Canaan under discussion, and Daniel will stand before the Son of Man in his lot – his inheritance of a resurrected body. By the way, this 1335 th day in Daniel 12:12 IS the resurrection day in 70 AD. This is the blessing of Daniel 12:12. If you agree with Josephus that the beginning of the war of the Jews with Rome dated from the Eleazar-led cessation of the twice-daily sacrifice for Rome and the emperor in the fall of 66 AD, then you can count 1290 days until Titus and his forces (the abomination that makes desolate) shows up just before Passover, and the remaining 45 days that end with the 1335 th day coincides with Pentecost in 70 AD. It fits in with God’s typology of the three required harvest feast celebrations for Israel in Deut. 16:16. (3 harvest feasts = 3 resurrection events) The many saints in Matthew 27:52-53 being raised from the dead are equal to the barley sheaf offering at Passover. The 70 AD resurrection of the house of Israel is equal to the wheat harvest firstfruits offering at Pentecost, (which incidentally included 2 leavened loaves, or, in other words, it pictured the unjust – or the tares – also being included in the harvest). We are now awaiting a resurrection which, according to the pattern, will occur sometime in our future at the time the feast of tabernacles (or ingathering) would have taken place. This is why Zechariah 14:16-19 specifically mentions ONLY the feast of tabernacles to be remembered after the 70 AD siege prophecy of v. 1& 2 All 3 of these are bodily resurrections. Sorry, full-preterists. One reason Christ tells the disciples to “look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” is that he was speaking of his own nation at the time, and the resurrection (harvest) soon to come in 70 AD. Note: the wheat harvest consisted of ONE type of crop. (i.e. the house of Israel) but the feast of ingathering featured MANY types of harvested crops. (i.e. the members of the various Gentile nations).

    Ezekiel 37 and the prophecy of the restoration of the dry bones to life is originally a prediction of a figurative resurrection, but I take it also for a literal one to be fulfilled in the last days of the Jewish age. “…These bones are the whole house of Israel…” If Peter states in Acts 3:24 that “…all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.”, then Ezekiel is also included as one who foretold of the “time of restitution of all things.” (v. 21)

    Rev. 20:13 says that “the sea gave up the dead which were in it…” If you understand that the “sea” is not referring here to the ocean itself, but to Gentile lands (as in Isaiah 60:5), then this verse tells you that God is resurrecting the house of Israel’s dead from all the foreign Gentile lands to which they had been scattered in the various dispersions. That is why in Rev. 21:1 “there was no more sea.” (i.e. no more class distinction between Jew and Gentile in God’s perspective – he looks at the globe as a homogeneous whole) This substitution of “waters” for Gentiles is already used in Revelation 17:15 when defining the waters that the whore sits upon as “…peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” So, the “inhabiters of the earth and sea” in Rev. 12:12 is really defining those who live in the land of Israel, and those who live in the Gentile nations. Nobody lives in the ocean, and it isn’t referring to the devil wreaking havoc on the shark and whale populations in this verse, either.

    May I take just a moment to express my gratitude for your book Before Jerusalem Fell. It was the main reason for kickstarting my preterist studies, which has transformed my view of the entire canon of scripture. My BJU dispensationalism has been scrapped in it’s entirety. Blessings, Dr. Gentry.

  5. Kenneth Gentry December 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

    I am sorry to say it, but you have a bizarre view built on scant evidence. The numbers that are missing after Jerusalem is destroyed can be accounted for by death, flight into the wilderness, and more. Besides the Jews were the ones being judged, not resurrected. You have an even greater problem in account for 1.2 million resurrected people unmentioned in historical records.

    In Rev 11:18 “the time for the dead to be judged” is the time for the answer to the prayer in Rev 6:9-11: the martyred Christians (“the dead”) will be vindicated (“judged”). And once again, the Jews are being judged, not blessed with resurrection.

    Regarding the two sickles in Rev 14, one is the reaping of the harvest of the gospel in bringing about conversions; the other is the judgment of Israel in God’s winepress.

    Daniel 12 is talking about Daniel’s people (the Jews), not humanity at large. And your admission of Eze 37 being figurative but that you take it as literal is rather confused.

    I must disagree with virtually everything you write. But I urge you to keep studying!

  6. Patricia Watkins December 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    The discrepancy in the body count in Jerusalem at 70 AD is an intriguing one for which I would welcome an explanation. If we have an estimate of how many were enclosed in the city at Passover in 70 AD, and we know how many dead and captive were accounted for when the city was taken, (subtracting those that managed to escape the Zealots and flee to the Romans during the siege), the numbers should tally. They don’t. Not by a long shot.

    Actually my 1.2 million discrepancy estimate is conservative. Ussher’s editor on p. 882 of the Annals claims a 2 million unaccounted for in the city after the destruction of Jerusalem. He says that 3 million were present at Passover. The figures I gave are based on a more conservative number of 2,700,000 present, since that was the number present at the 66 AD Passover census by Cestius Gallus for Nero. (p. 872 – Annals) There is a catalog on p. 882 compiled by a Justus Lipsius from Josephus’ records of those Jews who perished during the seven years of war. Some of those on the list are post-70 AD, such as those who died at Masada, so they aren’t included in this equation. The remainder of those on this list, naturally, would never have made it to the required Passover feast in 70 AD, so they are subtracted from the 2,700,000 who would have been present. That leaves an estimate of 2,462,700 present at the Passover in Jerusalem in 70 AD. (This is really subtracting more than necessary, since many of these would not have been included in the 66 AD Passover census either, but I will err on the conservative side again.) Josephus claims a 1,100,000 dead in the city at the end of the siege, and 97,000 taken captive. Subtract that 1,197,000 from those 2,462,700, and the bottom line is an unaccounted-for 1,265,700. Of course, a few of these are those who managed to escape to the Romans past the Zealot forces, but as tightly confined as the city was at that point, it cannot account for that massive an amount. I guess it depends on how much value you want to place on the 66 census record and Josephus’s accuracy.

    As far as my Daniel 12 comment is concerned, I agree, it does concern Daniel’s people, the Jews. That was my point. The resurrection mentioned in Daniel 12:2 is for them, not humanity at large.

    Are you trying to say with your comment on Ezekiel 37 that a prophecy must have either a figurative or a literal fulfillment, but never both? Just want to be sure I understand you.

  7. Kenneth Gentry December 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    You are putting WAY too much weight on Usher’s body count. Remember: he wasn’t there.

  8. Mark May 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Please correct my very limited understanding of Greek, but I thought that when “parousia” was used, it is talking about Christ’s second coming (bodily return). I believe you mentioned in a more recent blog post that Jesus mostly avoided using this word in the first section of the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24:4-35) where He is talking about His metaphorical coming to destroy Jerusalem. Thus, in verse 30, the word “erchomenon” is used to describe the Son of Man “coming” in the clouds. So as I’m trying to follow the way that you’re contrasting 2 Thessalonians 1:10 with 2:1-2, the Greek words being used for “coming” appear to be backwards to me. I’m not trying to question your interpretation, but it seems to me that we would expect Paul to use “parousia” in chapter 1 to depict Christ coming to bring “everlasting destruction” of the wicked and “eternal resolution” for the believers and the word, “elthe” in chapter 2 to describe the “temporal” destruction/resolution (at least based on the way Jesus used these two terms in Matthew 24). How should I properly understand the difference between these two words for “coming”?

  9. Kenneth Gentry May 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Perceptive note! Thanks for reading and interacting.

    Actually the Greek word parousia is a broad term that can, and often does, apply to the Second Advent. However, as with most Greek terms it has other uses, since it is drawn from common Greek language. For instance, we find parousia in 1 Cor 16:17 where it refers to the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus; in 2 Cor 7:6 where it speaks of the coming of Titus, and in Phil 2:12 where it speaks of Paul’s presence.

    Thus, we have to depend on context for its lexical significance in any given usage. If contextual clues show it being distinguished from other terms, it may push us in a particular direction.

    Keep studying!

  10. Mark May 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for the response. I should have been more clear about my current understanding of the word, “parousia.” I did know that it is a broader term (much like our own word for “coming”), but I had thought that whenever it was applied to Jesus in a future tense it was talking about His Second Advent. I also realize that “parousia” is a noun, an event, in this case a “coming.” Whereas “elthe” is a verb meaning to “come” or “go.”

    Again, it just seems strange to me that Paul inverts the usages of these words in the two contexts (70 AD and Second Advent) with how Jesus uses them in Matthew 24, especially since 2 Thessalonians 1 and 2 seem to parallel the Olivet Discourse to a degree. But is this not a big deal? Is it only significant to note that Jesus and Paul switch terms when transitioning from one context to the other? Or do “parousia” and “elthe” have different connotations that are important to consider here? I’m just trying to figure out how the original audiences would have been able to understand “coming” in Matthew 24:30 and especially 2 Thessalonians 2:1 as metaphorical or figurative.

  11. Kenneth Gentry May 6, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Again, I believe we must recognize that both Jesus and Paul are using common terms that have no specific, narrow meanings, and which are therefore applicable in different situations. Therefore, it is inconsequential which term they use for which event. The significant point seems to be that to insure the hearer/reader recognizes a transition, a different term is used. It would be quite confusing to have a transition without any semantic markers to alert the hearer/reader.

    Besides, the Gospels were almost certainly WRITTEN after 2 Thessalonians, which is one of Paul’s earliest epistles. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, whereas the Gospels are written in Greek. So it is not like Paul was sitting down with the scroll of Matthew while he wrote his letter to the Thessalonians.

  12. Mark May 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Thank you for the clarification and for your patience with me.

  13. Kenneth Gentry May 6, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I hope this is helpful. Thanks for bearing along with me.

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