Part six of the Come Lord Jesus series on the final return of Christ at the end of time. Today, Have We Confused Antichrist and the Man of Sin?
It is common to equate antichrist of John’s writings with Paul’s man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians. Some writers bounce back and forth between the two as if antichrist was a pronoun for the man of sin. It seems to me to be an error that contributes to confusion concerning the return of Jesus and the end of time. Have we Confused Antichrist and the Man of Sin?
Let us first consider a portion of the single text concerning the man of lawlessness:
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, 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. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4).
People in Thessalonica were convinced that Jesus had already returned. Obviously, they feared that they had missed out on His glory. They were shaken and alarmed by this conclusion, which, it turns out, was errant. The reason for their error was straightforward: The man of lawlessness had to appear first. Only then would Jesus return. Paul had already discussed the man of lawlessness with the Thessalonians, as evidenced by his comment in verse 5. They had forgotten his words and had been deceived.
Many commentators, dating back at least as far as Chrysostom on the fourth century, held that this person, the man of sin or man of lawlessness, was the antichrist. But their conclusions overlook certain critical points of difference.
Man of Sin: One or Many?
Paul points to a single individual as the man of lawlessness while John’s antichrist is many. Paul speaks of an evil personage described as “the man,” who is “the son,” who “exalts himself,” and takes “his seat,” and proclaims “himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4). But John says of the antichrist that “many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). He speaks of them in a plural way (1 John 2:19). Not so with the man of lawlessness. He is presented as a single being or construct.
There is a single “spirit of the antichrist” in 1 John 4:3, but that spirit exists in many different liars (c.f. vs. 22). The single, individual man of lawlessness does not fit neatly with the idea of many antichrists.
Man of Sin: The Mission
The desire of the man of lawlessness is for his personal aggrandizement. He exalts himself. The antichrists are busy denying Christ. They wish to dethrone the Savior, but John says nothing about them elevating themselves. The spirit of antichrist is a belief system that denies that Jesus is from God and is the divine Son of God.
Man of Sin: The Timing
The man of lawlessness arises with a great apostasy or falling away (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Scholars believe, and the Bible supports the idea, that 2 Thessalonians was written in the early second half of the first century (maybe 52 -55 AD). In the mind of most scholars, the Johannine epistles were written in the last decade of the first century, but some would place the writing as early as the ’60s. What great apostasy occurred during this time? The timing is critical. The man of lawlessness is linked to a great falling away, yet none is reported Biblically or in secular writings during this period. He cannot be antichrist.
Consider this outline from the West Walker church of Christ.