This is my commentary on II Thes 2:3ff and particularly the Man of Sin.
Before the day of Christ comes,
1. There will be a falling away from Christianity (v3)
2. A specific evil individual will arise (v3)
3. He is doomed to eternal punishment (v3)
4. He opposes God (v4)
5. He exalts himself above every religion (v4)
6. He will set himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God (v5)
7. He already existed in Paul’s day (v6)
8. God was restraining him (v6)
9. The Man of Sin will be revealed at the proper time (v6)
10. The Man of Sin and his power was already evident (v7)
11. The one restraining would restrain until the Man of Sin was taken away (v7)
12. After the Man of Sin is removed, he subsequently will be revealed (v8)
13. The Man of Sin was present in Paul’s day, but he will be destroyed at the coming of Christ (v8)
14. The Man of Sin is backed by the full power of Satan (v9, cp Rev 13:2-8)
15. The Man of Sin works Satanic miracles (v9, cp Acts 16:16, Ex 7:11, 22, 8:7, I Sa 28:11-14)
16. The Man of Sin will work every sort of evil which will work to deceive those that are perishing (v10)
The narrative is clear that there will be a falling away from Christianity before Christ comes. Part and parcel of this falling away will be the rise of the Man of Sin (v3), a specific individual. There are, however, two very puzzling features of Paul’s description
1. The Man of Sin was active at the time of Paul’s writing (v6), but he would also be present at the end of the world (v8). How could a man be present in Paul’s day and also thousands of years later when Jesus comes again?
2. Who or what was restraining, and who or what was to be taken out of the way?
The Man of Sin is the same guy that John calls “the Beast” in Rev 13:1-8. I arrive at that conclusion because the Beast and the Man of Sin correspond in the following points. Like the Man of Sin the Beast
3. Is doomed to eternal punishment (Rev 19:20)
4. Opposes God (Rev 13:6)
5. Exalts himself above every religion (Rev 13:8)
6. Will set himself up in [Jerusalem] proclaiming himself to be God (Rev 11:8-10, 13:15, Zech 14:1-2)
13. Will be destroyed at the coming of Christ (Rev 19:20)
14. The Beast is backed by the full power of Satan (Rev 13:2-8)
15. The Beast works Satanic miracles (Rev 13:12, 16:13)
16. The Beast will work every sort of evil which will work to deceive those that are perishing (Rev 13:7-8)
So the Beast and the Man of Sin are the same man, but the Beast is present when the Lord returns (Rev 19:19). Therefore, we can establish the presence of the Man of Sin at the end of the world. He is the Beast that is captured and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire when Christ comes (Rev 19:20). That satisfies part of Paul’s prophecy about the Man of Sin being destroyed by the breath of Christ’s mouth and the brightness of His coming, but what about the part where “the mystery of iniquity doeth already work” (II Thes 2:7)? Lets look at what Rev 19:20 specifically says regarding the Beast. That will give us a big clue. When Jesus comes, the Beast “is taken”, not killed, but captured. He is summarily judged and cast ALIVE into the Lake of Fire (v20). In no place in the scenario does the Man of Sin die, but God REQUIRES that every man die once and AFTER that, the Judgment (Heb 9:27). We do NOT see the Man of Sin fitting God’s required pattern. He is taken alive, judged and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire. He did not meet God’s requirement of dying before the Judgment in the scenario described in Rev 19 or anywhere else in the Bible. He is a man (Rev 13:18), but he did not die at the end of the world before he was judged. Therefore, in order for God to be true, he died earlier and thereafter rose from the dead to appear at the end of the world. Since Satan had the power of death (Heb 2:14), we should not be surprised that he could raise someone to life (cp. I Sam 28:14). John assures us that one is coming that is the antithesis of Christ (I Jn 2:18–the ultimate Antichrist that is still to come, not the ones that were present in John’s day). Like Jesus rose from the dead to the glory of His heavenly Father, the Man of Sin will rise from the dead to the glory of the Devil. Like Jesus’ ministry lasted for 3 1/2 years, the reign of the Man of Sin will last 3 1/2 years (42 months–Rev 13:5), but I digress.
Since the Beast/Man of Sin is to rise from the dead, he could be anybody, for every man is appointed once to die (Heb 9:27). We could find him anywhere in history, including some individual from Paul’s day. In fact, there was a notorious man in Paul’s day that put Paul to death and shortly thereafter, this man himself died of a fatal sword wound. That man was Nero. His name, Nero Ceasar (Heb: Kaiser Neron), equates to 666 in both the Greek and Hebrew gematria. There were prophetic expectations among some of the early brethren that this man would rise from the dead (see footnote 1). Their expectation was based on the Beast coming up from the bottomless pit (Rev 17:8) and the Sibylline Oracles (see footnote 2) that teach that Nero would rise from the dead (see footnote 3), return from beyond the Euphrates leading an army of the Persians and destroy Rome (see footnote 4). The Bible also agrees that an army of the Kings of the East will invade the West (Rev 16:12) and says the Beast/Man of Sin allied with 10 kings will destroy the city of seven mountains (Rev 17:9, 12–i.e. Rome).
It appears to me that Paul corrects the error among the Thessalonians that Christ would return in their lifetime (II Thes 2:1-2) by pointing out that before Christ came there would be a falling away (v3). Because there had to be a falling away, the coming of Christ could not be in Paul’s time, for in Paul’s day the Way was growing rapidly (e.g. Acts 19:26). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that before Christ comes, the Man of Sin must arise (v3) and subvert the world by deceptive miracles and lying claims (v4, 9). The Man of Sin that would do this was already present, but God provided one of the beings in His service that restrained the Man of Sin until the Man of Sin was taken out of the way by death. After the Man of Sin is taken out of the way by death, he will return at the end of the world. Revelation calls this resurrected man, the Beast (Rev 13:18), and says he had received the deadly stroke from the sword, but then lives (Rev 13:3). He gains control over the whole world; even the saints are given into his hand (Rev 13:7). Very early in his career, he will destroy Rome (Rev 17-18), and he will thereafter proceed against the rest of the world (Rev 13:7, 19:19). In the process he will destroy a 1/3rd part of men (Rev 9:18). The Beast that destroys Rome comes up from the bottomless pit.(Rev 17:8). Since he comes up from the same place (the abyss–Rom 17:8) that Jesus came from when He arose (the abyss–Rom 10:7), the conclusion is that the Man of Sin is to arise from the dead, just like Jesus did. If you look at all the terms describing the Man of Sin and the Beast, Nero fits, or can fit, every one of them. He would have to rise from the dead. His name equates to 666. He lived in Paul’s day. Besides the Bible description, his identity is supported by the ancient Sybils. There were also first century Christians who believed that Nero would rise from the dead. Nero is the most plausible solution to the problem of the identity of the Man of Sin in II Thes 2:3. If you give the Sybils any credit, as the early brethren did, they make it all but certain.
1. “They believe that he who was the first persecutor should also be the last persecutor…[and] imagine that Nero is to appear hereafter as the forerunner of the devil, when he will come to lay waste to the earth and overthrow mankind”, Lactantius (ca. AD 320), Early Christian Fathers, Vol 7, p 302.
2. The Sibylline Oracles are obviously prophetic in nature and harmonize with the Bible. Justin Martyr (1st century) wrote to the pagans and said, “You may in part easily learn the right religion from the ancient Sibyl. For, by some kind of powerful inspiration, she teaches you. Through her oracular predictions, she teaches truths that seem to be similar to the teaching of the prophets” (Justin Martyr, ECF, Vol 1, p288). Lactantius says, “The Sibyl had foretold in advance that the miracle [feeding of the 5000] would take place, whose verses are related to this effect: ‘With five loaves at the same time, and with two fishes, He will satisfy five thousand men in the wilderness.” . . . And again, another says, ‘He will walk on the waves. He will release men from disease. He will raise the dead and drive away many pains. And from the bread of one pouch, there will be a satisfying of men’. Being refuted by these testimonies, some are accustomed to fall back on the claims that these poems were not written by the Sibyls, but were invented and composed by our own writers, instead. However, he who has read Cicera, Varro, and other ancient writers will assuredly not think this. For, they make mention of the Erythraean and the other Sibys, from whose books we bring forth these examples. And those authors died before the birth of Christ according to the flesh.” (Lactantius Vol 7, p116).
3. “There will come to pass in the last time about the waning of the moon a war which will throw the world into confusion and be deceptive in guile. A man who is a matricide [killed his mother] will come from the ends of the earth in flight and devising penetrating schemes in his mind. He will destroy every land and conquer all and consider all things more wisely than all men. He will immediately seize the one because of whom he himself perished [See Rev 17-18 where the Beast/Nero destroys Rome, but if he had perished, he obviously will live again if he seizes the one that caused him to perish]. He will destroy many men and great rulers, and he will set fire to all men as no one else ever did.” (Oracles 5:361-374; OTP 1:401-402.) Quoted in part in Lactantius (Early Christian Fathers, Vol 7, p302).
4. For there shall come a Persian on thy dale,
And like hail shall he all the land destroy,
And artful men, with blood and corpses. . . .
By sacred altars one of barbarous mind,
Strong, full of blood and raging senselessly,
130 With countless numbers rushing to destruction.
And then shalt thou, in cities very rich,
Be very weary. Falling on the earth
All Asia shall wail on account of gifts
Crowning her head with which she was by thee
135 Delighted. But, as he himself obtained
The Persian land by lot, he shall make war
And killing every man destroy all life,
So that there shall remain for wretched mortals
A third part. But with nimble leap shall he
140 Himself speed from the West, and all the land
Besiege and waste. But when he shall possess
The height of power and odious reverence [see Rev 13:7, 15],
He shall come, wishing to destroy the city
Even of the blessed [Jerusalem, see Zech 14:1-2, and Rev 11:1-10, esp v8]. And a certain king
145 Sent forth from God against him shall destroy [see Rev 19:19-21]
All mighty kings and bravest men. And thus
Shall judgement by the Immortal come to men.
Book V 125-147 Nero redivivus quote
5. More quotes from Sibyls on Nero.
Hellas, thrice wretched shall the poets weep,
When one from Italy [Nero] shall smite the neck
Of the isthmus [Isthmus of Corinth, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isthmus_of_Corinth], mighty king of mighty Rome [Nero],
A man made equal to God, whom, they say,
190 Zeus himself and the august Hera bore
He, courting by his voice all-musical
Applause for his sweet Songs, shall put to death
With his own wretched mother [Nero] many men.
From Babylon shall flee the fearful lord
195 And shameless whom all mortals and best men
Abhor; for he slew many and laid hands
Upon the womb; against his wives he sinned
And of men stained with blood had he been formed.
Sibylline Oracles, Book V, Lines 186-209
“Then Beliar will come from the Sebastinoi [i.e., the line of Augustus] and he will raise up the height of mountains, he will raise up the sea, the great fiery sun and shining moon, and he will raise up the dead. . . . But he will, indeed, also lead men astray, and he will lead astray many faithful, chosen Hebrews, and also other lawless men who have not yet listened to the word of God. (Sibylline Oracles 3:63-70; OTP 1:363.)
“One who has fifty as an initial [N for Nero] will be commander, a terrible snake, breathing out grievous war, who one day will lay hands on his own family and slay them, and throw every-thing into confusion, athlete, charioteer, murderer, one who dares ten thousand things. He will also cut the mountain between two seas [Isthmus of Corinth] and defile it with gore. But even when he disappears he will be destructive. Then he will return declaring himself equal to God. But he will prove that he is not. Three princes after him will perish at each other’s hands.” [Galba, Otho, Vitellius—symbolic of the three kings plucked up by the Antichrist?] (Oracles 5:28-35; OTP 1:393.)
“a savage-minded man, much-bloodied, raving nonsense, with a full host numerous as sand, to bring destruction on you.” (Oracles 5:96; OTP 1:395.)
“a terrible and shameless prince whom all mortals and noble men despise. For he destroyed many men and laid hands on the womb. (Oracles 5:143- 145; OTP 1:396.)
“There will come to pass in the last time about the waning of the moon a war which will throw the world into confusion and be deceptive in guile. A man who is a matricide will come from the ends of the earth in flight and devising penetrating schemes in his mind. He will destroy every land and conquer all and consider all things more wisely than all men. He will immediately seize the one because of whom he himself perished. He will destroy many men and great rulers, and he will set fire to all men as no one else ever did. Through zeal he will raise up those who were crouched in fear. There will come upon men a great war from the West. Blood will flow up to the bank of deep-eddying rivers. Wrath will drip in the plains of Macedonia, an alliance to the people horn the West, but destruction for the king.” (Oracles 5:361-374; OTP 1:401-402.)
“making himself equal to God.” (Oracles 12:79, 81, 86; OTP 14-47.)