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APOSTLE PAUL’S PASTORAL ADVICE ABOUT ARRIVAL OF ANTICHRIST IS SUDDENLY A MOST TIMELY INDICATION OF “THE ESCHATON”

“Christians should have anticipated the mass falling away from classical Christian doctrine and values now evident in contemporary society pointed to the eschaton.”

By Thomas Horn


No one likes waiting. Patience, persistence, and perseverance are not popular words. They convey capricious craving, laborious longing, and unrequited love. While Augustine advised, “Patience is the companion of wisdom,”[i] waiting is always proportionately difficult to the object of one’s passion. How much more intense is the longing when waiting for one of infinite worth?

Christians live in the tension of what is called the “already, but n­ot yet” paradigm. This refers to the idea that Christ inaugurated the kingdom at the first advent but it will not be fully realized until the second at the eschaton. Gordon Fee writes, “The theological framework of the entire New Testament is eschatological.”[ii] Thus, there is a tension inherent in the Christian worldview that eclipses all the yearnings of adolescence. It is the groaning of creation itself (Rom 8:22). Christians eagerly anticipate the Parousia, which is the transliteration of Greek word which means “presence” or “coming.” In New Testament theology, it is often used generally to include all of the events involving the second coming of Christ.[iii] Yet we are told that before this restoration of all things there will be an apostasy and the rise of a man of lawlessness, the infamous Antichrist. Thus, it is really not so surprising that sincere Christians have been predicting and even identifying the antichrist throughout history.

The concept of antichrist traces back to Israelite history where Israel as the chosen people of God were threatened or opposed by a pernicious pagan kings. For example, concerning the Babylonian king, Isaiah writes, “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north” (Is 14:13). Ezekiel paints a similar portrait of the King of Tyre (28:2) and King Gog of Magog (38–39). While some believe these speak of Satan himself, these passages are also applied directly to a man as well. This suggests a satanic indwelling reminiscent of Judas in Luke 22:3. This self-proclaimed apotheosis is also found in the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and 8. Even more, it is seen in Daniel 11:36–37. Antiochus IV Epiphanes who desecrated the second temple typifies the eschatological figure, and the infamous “abomination of desolation” is seemingly spoken of as a still future event by Jesus (Mt 24:15). This deified tyrant figure appears in the New Testament in Paul’s description of the “man of sin” who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thes 2:3–4). In John’s Apocalypse, he is the beast from the abyss whose image is idolatrously worshipped (13:1–18). In Mark 13:22, Jesus warns near the time of His return that false Christs (pseudochristoi) and false prophets (pseudoprophētai) will deceive people by doing signs and wonders (cf. Matt 7:15; 24:11, 23–24). All of these texts form a composite picture from which scholars and expositors have formed a model of who this is and how he might manifest. Historically, the majority of interpreters including many Catholic scholars have seen the earmarks of Rome in these prophetic Scriptures as thoroughly outlined in the international bestseller Petrus Romanus: The Finals Pope is Here (FREE IN COLLECTION HERE).

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The Greek term antichristos can be taken two ways as “opponent of Christ” or as “false Christ.” This is due to the twofold meaning of the prefix “anti.” It can mean “against” or “instead of.”[iv] It is only used explicitly in 1 John 2:18.22; 4:3; 2 John 7, and in other apocryphal Christian literature. If we look to John’s epistles, we see that “antichrist” is defined as “he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn 2:22b). This meets the “against” sense of the prefix “anti.” Yet, John also seems to distinguish between a single Antichrist “who shall come” and a plural “now are there many antichrists” (1 Jn 2:18). Leon Morris offers, “Perhaps we should bear in mind that John refers to ‘the spirit of the antichrist’ as well as ‘the Antichrist’ (thus using both neuter and masculine); indeed, he refers to ‘many antichrists’ in whom that spirit finds expression (1 John 4:3; 2:18).”[v] Thus, it seems judicious to be flexible in one’s view. Even so, in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul’s use of: 1) “man of sin”; 2) “son of perdition”; 3) “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God”; and 4) “whose coming is after the working of Satan” points to a single individual. Accordingly, special attention should be given to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church. Due to Paul’s description of a “man” and because Jesus is described as defeating an individual (cf. 2 Th 2:8; Re 19:20), it seems best to understand the general term “antichrist” culminating with an ultimate incarnation, “the Antichrist,” just prior to the parousia. What we see in the Thessalonian letters is that Paul is shepherding a flock acutely experiencing that eschatological tension.

It seems that Paul taught the fledgling Thessalonian congregation a good deal about eschatology. Nevertheless, because some believers had died since Paul had been there, members of the fledgling church feared the deceased would miss out. Paul assured them that at the coming of Christ, the parousia, the dead would rise first and go to meet the Lord. Then the living believers would be caught up in clouds and both would remain with the Lord forever (1 Thes 4:13–18). This famous “rapture” passage is connected to the day of the Lord a few lines later in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Paradoxically, 1 Thessalonians 5 anticipates the very error that 2 Thessalonians addresses. Paul had told them, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Th 5:4). Even so, this is exactly what they thought had occurred a short while later albeit due to an intentional deception.

In the second letter, Paul is correcting a dangerous and cruel teaching that the realization of the kingdom was underway to the exclusion of the Church he founded and dearly loves. Paul’s thanksgiving in 2 Thessalonians (1:3–12), similar to that in 1 Thessalonians, extols their characteristic loyalty in suffering and their example to others. The problem is that some believed that “the day of the Lord” had already occurred. Even worse, the lie was perpetrated under Paul’s name (2 Thes 2:2). The main text discussed here (2:1–12) is the substantive doctrinal basis for Paul’s correction.

Paul’s solution to their fear is that “for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. The “falling away” can also be rendered as “rebellion” from the Greek apostasia and could predict a mass departure within the Church from solid theology and classical Christian doctrine. This is certainly a defendable position, as one cannot “fall away” or rebel against something as an outsider (rebellion necessarily occurs from within). On the other hand there are those who believe the term apostasia means a “departure” in the sense of the “rapture”—the church being gathered bodily and departing the earth before the start of Great Tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist.

The second sign is much more enigmatic and occurs when Paul mentions the man of sin who is revealed, “the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Th 2:3–4). This man of sin or alternately “man of lawlessness” is widely considered to be the Antichrist or the Beast from the abyss in the book of Revelation (Revelation 13, 17). There is debate on whether these two signs, the apostasy and coming of antichrist, are separate or contingent events. Some scholars read it as an apostasy and revealing of antichrist, while others see the apostasy led by the antichrist or vice versa. As with all exegesis, what is essential to interpreting the Thessalonian letter is what Paul had in mind. Clearly, Paul seems to reference the prophecy of Daniel. Specifically, the little horn (Dan 7:8; 8:9) and the willful king (11:36).

The parallels between Daniel’s prophecy and Paul’s teaching in vv.3–4 are obvious. Daniel wrote of a king who would “do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods” (Dn 11:36). While Daniel’s predictions find some fulfillment in Antiochus IV, many scholars see a pivot point at verse 36 where Daniel shifts to the end-time Antichrist. For instance, Stephen Miller contends, “Exegetical necessity requires that 11:36–45 be applied to someone other than Antiochus IV. The context indicates that the ruler now in view will live in the last days, immediately prior to the coming of the Lord.”[vi] Daniel also predicts, “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up” (Da 8:23) which places him at the eschaton.[vii] This blasphemous event also seems to be in focus in Daniel 12:11. However, in the final analysis, Jesus makes the decisive call on this issue.

What essentially locks the futurist interpretation in for evangelicals is what Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place” (Mt 24:15; underline added). This was, of course, long after the demonically inspired deeds of Antiochus IV, and yet Jesus speaks of Daniel’s prophecy as a future event. While it is demonstrable by textual comparison that Paul was informed of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:15,[viii] we can infer this had not occurred to the Thessalonians. How much of Jesus’ eschatology Paul’s Thessalonian readers would be aware of is a matter of speculation, but it is clear that Paul meant for them to understand there would be an appearance of an end-time individual with an apotheosis ambition preceding and forecasting Christ’s return.

Another important exegetical issue is what Paul intended by “temple of God.” Amillennial supercessionists, like Beale and historicists like Calvin, argue for a non-literal meaning where Paul is metaphorically referring to the church. Beale argues, “The same phrase, God’s temple, is found nine other times in the New Testament outside of 2 Thessalonians, and it almost always refers either to Christ or the church.”[ix] From the same line of reasoning, Calvin views it exclusively as the pope.[x] While many of the popes were seen by Catholic and evangelical fathers as prophetic types of the final antichrist and false prophet, John wrote in the first century that many antichrists had already come (1 John 2:18). It seems that in 2 Thessalonians, Paul is necessarily referring to a final manifestation directly signaling the day of the Lord sitting in the only “temple of God” known to his readers, the one in Jerusalem. Paul’s readers obviously did not have the New Testament.

While Beale, Calvin, and other strict historicists can rightly argue from later Pauline theology that the Christian is a temple, this is the exegetical fallacy of presumptuously imposing developed New Testament theology onto a very early context. The New Testament did not exist and Paul is speaking instructively and pastorally. He is correcting an error, not speaking mystically. There is nothing in 1 or 2 Thessalonians which would lead Paul’s readers to think what Beale and Calvin prefer. The temple was not a symbol in this early context. If anything, the background from Daniel and Antiochus IV would be in their minds and they would most certainly envision the temple in Jerusalem. If theological presuppositions are laid aside, it seems clear that Paul meant for his readers to understand the then-extant temple in Jerusalem and not the metaphorical Church.

Paul then discusses some particulars about this man of lawlessness: 1) he is currently restrained (2:6–7); 2) he will be killed by Christ (2:8); 3) he is empowered to perform signs by Satan (2:9); and 4) his followers face fearsome judgment (2:10–12); but what demands immediate attention is the “mystery of iniquity.” He uses the word mystery in 2:7 because he understands the antichrist prophecy from Daniel as beginning to be fulfilled in a mysterious manner not clearly anticipated by Daniel. Although Daniel wrote that the ultimate antichrist appears in full force for all to see, now Paul sees that, while this devil has not yet come as he will at the eschaton, he is nonetheless already at work in the early Church through his diabolical deceivers, the false prophets. As far as antichrist, many interpreters conflate the two meanings of “anti” into a figure who poses as Christ while initially clandestinely opposing God in allegiance with Satan.

The man of lawlessness is “whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Th 2:8b). This is a quote from Isaiah, “with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Is 11:4b). Daniel also predicts, “he shall be broken but by no [human] hand” (8:25b). Perhaps Paul also had the Armageddon scenarios from Zechariah 14:12 and Ezekiel 39:4 in mind with this statement. Of course, there is a direct parallel of this end-time face-off written by John a few decades after Paul’s letter (Rev 19:15–20). In line with his pastoral intent, Paul’s readers would be comforted to know that the man of sin’s reign of terror would be short lived. However, as for them then, so with us today, confidence should not lead to complacency, the text speaks to the future revealing of this figure that will be empowered by Satan to perform deceptive miracles. Jesus was emphatic, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Mt 24:24; underline added; emphasis added). This is a call for Christians to be vigilant and discerning.

The parousia of the antichrist, “is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thes 2:9). The word rendered “working” is from the Greek energeian and it is always used of supernatural activity in the New Testament (Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 14:3; 15:12; Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:4).[xi] This supernatural “working” has a parallel in Revelation 13:2 where the great red dragon empowers the beast. It also appears this beast is not alone but accompanied by a magic-working compatriot. Paul and his readers were not influenced by the naturalistic philosophy of our day. Accordingly, he did not likely mean the signs and wonders will be mere parlor tricks or illusions, but rather genuine, paranormal phenomena. The purpose of the supernatural acts is to deceive but the works themselves are very real. It seems God allows this manifestation of supernatural power as a means to execute judgment on the unbelieving world.

The “strong delusion,” from the Greek energeian planes, is highly controversial because it arguably implies that God intentionally deceives. However, Paul wanted his readers to understand that it is ultimately self-imposed because they refuse the truth. God is not deceiving innocents and it is not without precedent. In the Hebrew Bible, God punished people with a “perverse spirit” (Is 19:14) and intoxication, “but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink” (Is 29:9). The Jews believed this was because the other nations chose to turn away from Yahweh and only Israel accepted his law.[xii] God also sent a deceiving spirit to apostate King Ahab that his plans might fail (1 Kgs 22:22). Here, a similar idea is expressed in that those “who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12b) are given a “strong delusion” from God so that they believe what is false. It is also implied by the parable of the sower (Mk 4:15 ff.) as wells as in Romans where Paul writes, “God gave them over…” (Ro 1:24, 26). From the flow of Paul’s argument here, it seems likely that Paul had the Antichrist’s claim to deity in mind with “what is false.” The final Antichrist will be irresistible to the unbelieving world and this is their due judgment.

There are some important lessons for the contemporary church to be gleaned from 2 Thessalonians. Paul stated clearly that the mystery of iniquity was already at work (2:7). This seems to infer that since his time, the spirit of antichrist has been working to deceive not only the worldly culture but also the church. Accordingly, Christians should have anticipated the mass falling away from classical Christian doctrine and values now evident in contemporary society. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics alike have increasingly deviated from biblical Christianity to espouse heretical notions like Dominionism, the Prosperity Movement, and Dual Covenant Theology (wherein Jews do not need to accept Jesus as Messiah). Similarly equated with the coming of the False Prophet and Antichrist is Ecumenical Modernism, which has witnessed Anglicans and evangelicals reuniting with Rome and even the development among major mainline curiosities like the ELCA[xiii] and PCUSA[xiv] to not only accept unbiblical marriage unions but to endorse same-sex clergy. John MacArthur has argued this represents God’s judgment on our nation in line with Romans 1:18–32.[xv] John Piper points out that these denominations are knowingly leading people to hell (1 Cor 6:9).[xvi] Then there is the attack of the “new” atheists like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Does all of this represent impetus of the great apostasy? It seems the church is on the very edge of destruction and yet Christianity is spreading like wildfire in China.[xvii] This too could represent the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)?

This of course begs the question about Petrus Romanus (who, according to the Prophecy of the Popes, pastures his sheep until these things are finished and the City of Seven Hills will be destroyed): “Is he the end time’s false prophet or even perhaps the Antichrist?” It seems clear to Catholics and Evangelicals that the City of Seven Hills is Rome and to many of them that it is Mystery Babylon as well. But when we turn to the parallel passages in the Book of Revelation we find not one but two beasts described. Both are apocalyptic symbols for antichristian forces and/or persons empowered by Satan. The first beast, commonly referred to as the “Antichrist,” is from the abyss, and the second beast, the one from the earth, is usually called the “false prophet” (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).[xviii] In Daniel’s prophecy, there is a cryptic reference to a ram with two horns, one larger than the other: “…a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last” (Daniel 8:3). In Revelation, we see something similar. The land beast or false prophet “had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11), showing that although he appears as a Christian leader, his message is deceptive and satanic.

This prophetic tradition appears to be more ancient than many are aware. Some scholars think John is drawing on the Leviathan and Behemoth monsters for the sea and land beast images from the intertestamental pseudepigrapha, 1 Enoch 60:9–10:

And I besought the other angel that he should show me the might of those monsters, how they were parted on one day and cast, the one into the abysses of the sea, and the other unto the dry land of the wilderness. And he said to me: “Thou son of man, herein thou dost seek to know what is hidden.”[xix]

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Scholars of apocalyptic literature also argue the second beast, the false prophet, represents false religion in general, but we contend here that it is counterfeit Christianity specifically. The false prophet’s mission is to convince human beings to worship the Antichrist and he is empowered to do so through overt supernatural signs and wonders. It is here that John’s Apocalypse supplies a sharper image than what we saw in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which was nearly forty years prior. In Revelation, we read that it is the second beast that “doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Rev 13:13). With this in mind, we consider Paul’s teaching that his “coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders”(2 Th 2:9). When viewed together, it seems that it is likely the false prophet figure that instigates the Antichrist’s arrival. According to the respected academic source, Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times, “If the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet comprise the satanic trinity, the false prophet serves as the demonic counterpart to the Holy Spirit.”[xx]

Peter Goodgame has argued convincingly that the Roman prince seen in Daniel 9:27 who sets up the Abomination of Desolation is the false prophet rather than the Antichrist.[xxi] He cites Revelation 13:14 in which the false prophet “deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live” (emphasis added), and Daniel 11:31 which prophecies, “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate” (underline added; emphasis added). These passages clearly show it is the confederates of the Antichrist who set up the desolating image. Goodgame also argues that because Daniel refers to the Antichrist as a king (Hebrew melek ) in 7:24, 8:23 and 11:21–35, it seems unlikely that he would call him a prince (Hebrew nagiyd) in 9:26–27. We can safely assume he is Roman by the phrase, “And the people of the prince who is to come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (v. 26; underline added) which necessarily refers to the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The implications to the prophecy of Petrus Romanus are self-evident too. In line with Daniel 9:27’s prediction of a covenant for one week, Goodgame argues this infers that a pope will broker an agreement over Jerusalem.

This final seven-year period will begin when the future Roman prince “confirms a covenant” that will involve the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. This researcher has been led to the belief it highly likely that this future Roman prince will be the False Prophet of Bible prophecy, and that he may indeed be a leader of the Roman Catholic Church. It is clear from Scripture that the False Prophet will be a powerful and well-respected global spiritual leader, and there is none more powerful or more respected in religious matters than the Roman Catholic Pope.[xxii]

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[i] ThinkExist.com, last accessed January 13, 2011, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/patience_is_the_companion_of_wisdom/14659.html.

[ii] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 145.

[iii]Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1249.

[iv] L. J. Lietaert Peerbolte, “Antichrist,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd extensively rev. ed. K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst (Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 62.

[v]Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary Volume 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 129.

[vi] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel Volume 18, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 305.

[vii] H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things (New York: A.C. Armstrong & Son, 1904), 49.

[viii] Paul’s use of “labor pains” in 1 Thes 5:3 cf. Mt. 24:8; “thief in the night” 1 Thes 5:2 cf. Mt 24:43–44; the apostasy is seen in Mt. 24:9–11; Richard N. Longenecker, “The Nature of Paul’s Early Eschatology,” New Testament Studies 31 (1985), 91.

[ix] G. K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, 207.

[x]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: 2 Thessalonians, electronic ed. (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), 2 Th 2:4.

[xi] “In 2 Thess 2:9, 11 (→ also 2) use of the word underlines the demonic power of Satan and the πλάνη caused by him.” Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Translation of: Exegetisches Worterbuch Zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1993), 1:453.

[xii]Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 2 Th 2:10.

[xiii] “ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans,” ELCA News Service, last accessed December 08, 2011, http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4253.

[xiv] Eric Marrapodi, “First Openly Gay Pastor Ordained in the PCUSA Speaks,” CNN News, October 10, 2011, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/10/first-openly-gay-pastor-ordained-in-the-pcusa-speaks/.

[xv] John MacArthur, “When God Abandons a Nation,” Grace to You, August 20, 2006, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-314.

[xvi] John Piper, “The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality,” Desiring God, August 19, 2009, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-tornado-the-lutherans-and-homosexuality.

[xvii]Lauren Green, “Christianity in China,” Fox News, January 20, 2011, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/01/20/christianity-china/.

[xviii] Also see Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; and 1 John 4:1.

[xix]Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. Robert Henry Charles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 2:224–225.

[xx]J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate, Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2007), 63.

[xxi] Peter Goodgame, “The Biblical False Prophet,” RedMoonRising, last accessed November 11, 2011, http://www.redmoonrising.com/21Defense/biblicalFP.htm.

[xxii] Ibid.

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