Paul’s Portrait of the Man of Sin
2 Thessalonians 2:9–10 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
Here the apostle Paul will begin to detail the activity of antichrist and gives a vivid picture of his person and work. Paul’s portrait of antichrist is seen in his satanic nature, the signs associated with his activity, the deceptive nature of his power, and the victims who fall prey to his schemes.
The Nature Of The Antichrist
If there is one way to describe the agenda of Satan it would be his opposition to God (2.4). However that blasphemous disposition is expressed and manifested tangibly in the activity of the antichrist. These are coextensive realities. What Satan desires will become what antichrist desires and what the antichrist does is what Satan would do. This is the counterfeit of the true Christ of God who only did what He saw and heard the Father doing (cf. John 5.19ff.). Like the Father and the Son, antichrist will seek to conform to the sinister will of his father the Devil. And like Jesus Christ who performed His work under the direct influence and power of the Holy Spirit of God, antichrist will draw from the power of Satan himself (cf. Rev. 13.4). This activity therefore can be seen in the following ways— his Opposition to God, his pursuit of sovereignty (seen in the Babylonian world system), and his persecution of the Church.
Paul has already talked about antichrist’s blasphemous opposition to God as a kind of pseudo-Zion so that, like Satan, antichrist will seek the place of ultimate spiritual supremacy represented by the imagery of temple and mountain in Scripture (cf. 2.4; Is. 14.13-14; Rev. 16.16). This is what is probably at the root of the temple theme in 2.4, where antichrist will seek to set up his image so that all will worship him. This is the antithesis of God’s own image in man in the Garden where mankind was to populate God’s image throughout the world as Adam and Eve were to take dominion of the planet as a kingdom of priests to God (cf. Ex. 19.6; Rev.5.9-10). This desire for absolute spiritual sovereignty will be expressed in the final world system that Scripture conceives of as a Neo-Babylon (cf. Rev. 17-18). A familiar state power and enemy of God’s people that illustrates its germane connection to God’s archenemy, Satan, the ancient serpent who is the world deceiving-devil (cf. Rev. 12.9; 1 John 5.19).
This activity is also seen in antichrist’s persecution of the Church. He who made war in heaven (Rev. 12.7f.) will energize the man of sin to make war with the saints on earth in the attempt to destroy God’s temple (cf. Rev. 13.6-7; 1 Cor. 3.17). All persecution, even today, is ultimately owing to a spirit of antichrist, motivated by the Satan who is the archenemy of God’s Son the messianic Seed as well as the “seed” who are found in Him through faith, which is the Church. The nature of the man of sin therefore will be to oppose God, to usurp His authority and persecute His people.
The Sings Of The Antichrist
The activity of the man of sin is also here specifically described with the language of “signs and wonders” (σημείοις καὶ... τέρασιν). This of course is part of his desire for ultimate supremacy. Through these “signs” and “wonders”, antichrist will bring the whole world under his destructive deception, so much so, that they will worship his image and pledge allegiance to the “beast”, the antichrist. The most in-depth passage on this very issue is Revelation 13 where the “sings” that are being done through the second “beast” i.e. the “false prophet” (cf. Rev. 16.13; 19.20; 20.10). Revelation gives us both the content as well as the purpose of these “signs”:
Revelation 13:11–15 11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. 15 And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
The “lamb” like character of this “beast” mingled with his speech as a “dragon” illustrates his deceptive character as well as the pseudo-Christ role he occupies. But in reality he is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mt. 7.15). G.K. Beale reminds us of the far-reaching implications of the imagery here:
“The image of a wolf in lamb’s clothing suggests a traitor within the fold of the church. Though the beast professes to represent the truth and appears harmless as a lamb, his inner Satanic nature is revealed through his speaking with the authority of the dragon, reflecting the alluring, deceptive speech of Satan, the dragon, that led to the sin of Adam and Eve (cf. 12:9).” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 708.).
The “sings” which attend the antichrist and are performed by the false prophet are indicative of a counterfeit apostolic “ministry” meant to mirror Christ and His apostles (cf. Acts see, Beale, Revelation (1999). 709). Just as the apostles are empowered by the resurrection of their Lord and Master, the false prophet will seek to use some sort of pseudo-resurrection claim as the basis of his authority and power so that all will worship the beast. As to the precise nature of this infamous ‘fatal wound’ (v.12), we may never know. However the results are clear. This apparent resurrection or an apparent “coming back to life” will be a primary means of deception. This false resurrection will be the occasion of the false signs and wonders consisting of everything from fire from heaven (ironically, the very thing that will inevitably destroy the beast, Rev. 20.9b), and a speaking image, and those who are on the earth will be deceived into making an image of the beast so as to worship him (v.14).
These false signs will also be a means to continue the persecution of the church, “it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (v.15). The language here is reminiscent of Daniel and the image of Nebuchadnezzar who demanded the worship of his image upon pain of death (cf. Dan. 3.8-12). Daniel’s friends become, in Biblical Theology, tribulation martyrs who reveal that God keeps his people in the midst of the fire and is with them to the end so that they need not love their lives unto death but trust God’s deliverance (Dan. 3.16-18). This episode in Daniel will be a source of comfort for tribulation saints that God does not abandon His people and will vindicate them no matter what happens to them, whether through life or through death we will ultimately be left untouched by the fire of the evil one (cf. Dan. 3.27; 1 John 5.18).
The original readers of Revelation also understood the reality of this in the worship of the imperial cult of Rome and the worship of Caesar as a god; this cultic practice of forced state worship will return with global proportions only this time by worshipping the man of sin and his image and accept his mark of identification (cf. Rev. 13.16-18). There is no telling what level of demonic manifestations will come with the rise of antichrist, the false prophet and the signs and wonders spoken of by Paul and John; to what degree technology will play a role in all of is anyone’s guess. Yet, what is certain is that the purpose of this end-time activity is to bring people under deception and destruction.
The Deception Of The Antichrist
Another hallmark of antichrist’s activity is what Paul calls, “all the deception of wickedness” (ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας). This shows us that in the setting out of his signs and wonders, worship of antichrist will be achieved through the illusion that a person is really serving themselves in serving the beast. That only makes perfect sense of course if we think of the beast and his close association with the state and more importantly the world system (Babylon). If buying and selling will be prohibited or even impossible without identifying with the world system of the end it is not hard to imagine people even viewing that worshiping the beast is a moral obligation. Of course this is the way Satan has always operated, through morality through thinking that a person is actually being good, moral, wise, spiritual and civil all the while walking according “the power of the air” (cf. Eph. 2.2).
Recently, the world saw how people could easily be swept along in this kind of deception with the rise of ISIS. In fact, people from all over the world were ready to pledge their allegiance to some would be Caliphate in Syria based on what it promised them spiritually and economically. In fact, in small Middle Eastern towns near Syria and Iraq, villagers could not operate freely in society without swearing allegiance to their leader Abu Bakr Al Bagdadi. Many Muslims moved to Syria, young women flew to the Middle East even from America against their family’s wishes in order to support the Jihad and in hope of establishing the Islamic State. In the name of honor, God, righteousness and truth, people believed a lie. This is but a microcosm of what the final end time world leader will do, “with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders.” If people were ready to die for a raving lunatic in the desert, a mad dictator in Germany, crazy cult leaders in jungles of Jonestown South America; can we even begin to imagine a world where God’s restraint is removed and the world is literally subjected to the full force of Satanic deception such that your very livelihood is at stake? It is not hard to imagine such blind ambition fueling the end time system. It is not surprising that this end-time system is described particularly as an economic system of ‘buying and selling’ and ability to engage the open market (cf. Rev. 18.11ff.).
Notice however, that the antichrist’s deception is literally couched in the language of “wickedness” (ἀδικίας). When Babylon falls, the angel in Revelation 14 decries her immorality as that key characteristic of her antichrist nature. A world under antichrist will also therefore unleash unparalleled wickedness on earth. Jesus said as the days of Noah were and as the days of Lot in Sodom were (Lk. 17.26ff.), so will it be when He returns. That was a world comfortable in its violence, comfortable with its immorality and comfortable with its lifestyle and industry. In a word, it was a world comfortable with its “wickedness.” Sodom and Gomorrah is an interesting parallel that can shed great light into what the world is heading towards. But it is not just the rank immorality of the city that should alert us. It is also how pervasive and socially or culturally acceptable the wickedness of Sodom was. The text of Genesis specifically says, that the mob outside of Lot’s house consisted of men both “young and old” and “from every quarter” of the city (Gen. 19.4).
In today’s cultural climate, it has become nearly impossible to hold to real Christian principles without being forced out and alienated by society and popular culture. Take a stand on the truth of Jesus Christ and you will be accused of being intolerant, bigoted and hateful. In recent news it has been reported and exposed that Chase Bank has now begun terminating accounts with people who are too politically conservative! What will it look like for conservatives and Christians when all major banks start adopting this kind of censorship and discrimination?
To make matters even worse, one of the things G.K. Beale points out in his commentary on Revelation is that the deception coming from antichrist and the false prophet will find representation in the visible Church. The primary way this will happened is through theological compromise (cf. Dan. 11.30-37). What Daniel speaks about in terms of covenantal hypocrisy is probably paralleled here in 2 Th. 2.3 and the coming apostasy, which was also spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24.24.
In terms of the immorality of Babylon, the system of the man of lawlessness, I was reminded of what we are talking about here when we recently received in the mail the latest parenting magazine by Parent Magazine, the February 2019 addition, which featured on the cover of the magazine as their featured ‘parents’ two homosexual men and their adopted children- two young boys. More and more the Church sees herself surrounded by the men of Sodom, and more and more we find people even in the visible Church making the most ridiculous accommodations for a lifestyle that is in total opposition to God. To make matters worse, even at the common grace level more and more so called social conservatives are revising their identities calling themselves ‘fiscal conservatives but social libertarians’ which simply means they do not want to be found arguing about marriage, family and abortion or who you ‘get in bed with.’ As small and insignificant as some of these things may seem to most, I believe they only feed into the overarching antichrist spirit that is in the world already, a spirit of “deception” and “wickedness.”
The Victims Of The Antichrist
The victims of the antichrist really begins with the end of the last phrase, “those who perish” (τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις). To some degree of course, we need to understand that the victims of antichrist in a real sense are no victims at all since they reject the truth themselves, “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” (ἀνθʼ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς). As Revelation will spell out, not only do the victims of antichrist not “receive” (δέχομαι) the love of the truth, they receive the mark of the antichrist, the beast so as to pledge allegiance to his lordship and world system (Rev. 13.16-18). Instead of standing in awe of God, fearing and loving God and His Christ (cf. Rev. 14.7), the God-hating victims of the antichrist will love and marvel after Satan and the beast:
Revelation 13:3–4 3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”
But the truth tells us the complete opposite of this. In fact, the truth reminds us that the invincible ruler is really Christ who is King of kings to whom God has given all authority in heaven and on earth (cf. Mt. 28.19f.). The “truth” (τῆς ἀληθείας) Paul speaks of here is the “truth” of the gospel because it is only the gospel that leads a person unto salvation. Paul reminds us elsewhere that those who do not receive the truth, those for whom the gospel is “veiled” are being deceived by the “god of this age”:
2 Corinthians 4:3–4 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Consequently, and as it relates to the Church, we should be careful to notice that in the very indictment of the unbelieving world Paul gives us the key to our own perseverance and hope represented by the phrase, “the love of the truth” (τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας). This is how we can overcome antichrist; loving the truth. Notice however that knowing the truth is not enough, being exposed to the truth, being raised in the truth, even sharing the truth is not enough; we must be affectionately connected to the truth. We must have a love affair with the truth. When we love the truth we will see the truth. We will see the truth of antichrist, the truth about Babylon, and the truth about how the world even now to the degree that it departs from the truth of the gospel is a lie leading people to an everlasting destruction. The depth of Satan’s deception is in the fact that just as they say, “peace and safety then sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Th. 5.). Just as they think they can drink of the cup of wickedness and immorality with impunity, they will drink of the cup of God’s terrible wrath and learn the proverb, “God is not mocked,” whatever a man sows that he will reap.
John gives us the final picture of the fate of the victims of the beast:
Revelation 14:9–12 9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.