“Let no one deceive you by any means, for the Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
The day under consideration is the return of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10). Jesus’ return was not imminent, regardless of what some might have thought and said.
Paul had told them that an apostasy would occur (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:5; see also Acts 20:28-29; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Such had not yet occurred. Therefore, Jesus’ return could not be imminent.
Connected with this apostasy is the man of sin, the son of perdition. “The man of sin” seems to be an idiom of the sinfulness of this man [Jesus is called “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). A wise man is called “a man of knowledge” (Proverbs 24:5)]. “The son of perdition” may refer to his end [Judas is so called (John 17:12). Also consider what awaits the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7)], or his nature (cf. Matthew 23:15).
They should not be disturbed by these reports. No one knows when he will return (1 Thessalonians 5:1; Matthew 24:36). Jesus warned us that it may be a long time (Matthew 24:28; 25:5; 25:14, 19).
“Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
The man of sin exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped. He is exalted above various false gods, and opposes them (e.g.emperors and emperor worship).
He sits in the temple of God. The temple of God is the church (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5). This is not referring to someone or something outside of Christendom (This does not refer to Muhammad or some atheistic leader).
He presents himself as God. Perhaps, he usurps God’s authority. Perhaps, he receives honor which belongs only to God.
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
Paul had already told them of this falling away. Therefore they should have known that Jesus return was not imminent.
“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).
Paul had provided them with certain information that we are not provided. They knew the identity of the restrainer (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-ff).
There are two common views concerning the identity of the restrainer. Most look back at the history and understand the restrainer to be the Roman Empire. James Burton Coffman comments, “This… would explain why Paul spoke so guardedly of its ‘being taken out of the way’… the Roman government was the principle authority of the age in which Paul wrote; and, as long as there was a strong central government in Rome, the spiritual empire of the papists was unable to fully develop.” (Coffman, Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus & Philemon, pp. 94-95). Some believe that the restrainer is Paul (cf. Acts 20:29-30). David Lipscomb comments, “Taking the Roman Catholic hierarchy as the development of the man of sin, as I am sure it is, it will be seen that this mystery of lawlessness developed into the ‘man of sin’ only after several hundred years’ growth. But the principle was at work in the days of Paul and developed into activity soon after he was taken out of the way and grew into the great Romish hierarchy” (Lipscomb, A Commentary on The New Testament Epistles 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1& 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p. 99). The text uses both neuter and masculine words for the restrainer. I believe that this best fits the Roman empire and its emperor.
I do believe that the papal system is in view which grew out of the eldership. I can think of nothing which better fits. (However, the point of this article is not about the identity of the man of sin. It is about why so many would be deceived.)
This system, which was then at work (cf. 2 John 9-10), would become fully revealed, and would continue until the Lord’s return. Longevity of a system or doctrine does not guarantee that the system or doctrine is pleasing to God. Gamaliel was wrong in this (cf. Acts 5:33-38).
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all powers, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that the should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
The man of sin is deceitful, like Satan. Leon Crouch comments, “The word ‘lying’ evidently describes all three of the nouns: powers, signs, and wonders” (Crouch, Commentary on 1+2 Thessalonians, p.126). David Hubbard comments, “In the Greek, ‘lying’ seems to apply to all three” ( David Hubbard quote by Coffman, p. 96).
However, the real reason many would be deceived is due to the heart. They “did not receive the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10; cf. John 23:12; Psalm 19:10-11; Proverbs 2:1-5; Matthew 4:4; 5:6). They “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12; cf. Isaiah 30:10, 66:3-4; John 3:19; 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
It is not essential that we know with 100% certainty the identity of the man of sin; but, it is essential that we have the right kind of heart. We need to honestly ask ourselves – “Do we really want the truth? Or, do we simply want to hear what we want to hear?” Many want religion, but they want it on their terms. Thus, they are easily deceived, when what they hear is what they want to hear.
Does God really send lies to us? No (James 1:13). However, there is a Biblical idiom that represent God as actively doing something, when He actually only allows it (e.g. Jeremiah 6:13-14 cf. 4:10; Job 1:12 cf. 1:21). God will let us hear what we want to hear. The key to discerning doctrine is a will to do His will (John 7:17).