I did some spade work in relation to an assignment my Thessalonians/Corinthians class did for today. The following are PowerPoint slides for class discussion today, going through much of the evidence and doing the exegetical process. Very difficult question! Hard to know the answer!
2 Thessalonians 2:4
Interpretive Question: What does it mean for the man of lawlessness “to sit in the temple of God, showing himself to be divine”?
I. Preliminary Look at Immediate Context
a. Thessalonians 2 seems to deal with events prior to the Day of the Lord.
b. This man of lawlessness would appear before the Day and do whatever this verse is talking about.
II. Broader Literary Context
a. 1:7-10 speaks of the “revelation” of Jesus from heaven with his angels, when he will come and visit judgment on those who trouble the Thessalonians.
b. So we observe 1) a context of Jesus’ return to earth in judgment and 2) an apparent expectation that it will happen while the audience is alive.
c. 2 Thessalonians 2 then goes on to speak of the parousia, arrival of the Lord… apparently the same event.
d. Chapter 2 thus would seem to be about events that Paul expects to take place within the audience’s lifetime.
e. The “Day of the Lord” would seem to be another way of referring to the same judgment.
III. Genre and Critical Issues
a. Some argue that 2 Thessalonians is pseudonymous, perhaps meant to balance out the immanent expectation of 1 Thessalonians.
b. If so, we can ask how much later than Paul it would have been written, something to keep in mind.
IV. Historical-Cultural Background
A. Intertextual Evidence
1. The “Day of the Lord” evokes Old Testament imagery of a day of visitation when God judges some group (e.g., Amos 5:18). There the judgment is more local or epochal. In 2 Thess. more universal.
2. Daniel 11:36--in reference to Antiochus Epiphanes, who “will exalt himself over every god.”
B. Other texts by Paul
1. The parousia for Paul refers to Jesus’ return in salvation and judgment. “Gathering together” in 2 Thess. 2:1 would seem to refer to the same event as 1 Thess. 4:17.
2. The idea that the “letter as through us” might refer to 1 Thessalonians seems incredible. Paul elsewhere says nothing about this “man of lawlessness” or any such action in a temple.
3. Temple in Paul
a. 1 Corinthians 3:16--“You are the temple of God.”
b. 1 Corinthians 6:19--“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
C. Contemporary Literature
1. The rest of the New Testament
a. Mark 13/Matthew 24--“When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be”--AD70, possibly end times as well
b. Luke 21—Jerusalem surrounded by armies--AD70
c. Revelation 13 and 17
Beast from the sea and beast from the land have some similarities. Beast from the sea makes war on the saints and takes imagery from Nero. Beast from the land performs wonders. No mention of temple in Revelation.
2. Outside the New Testament
Ascension of Isaiah 4:2-12 (2nd cent.)
"After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descent from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother: who himself (even) this king, will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered into his hands.
"This ruler in the form of that king will come and there will come and there will come with him all the powers of this world, and they will hearken unto him in all that he desires. And at his word the sun will rise at night and he will make the moon to appear at the sixth hour. And all that he hath desired he will do in the world: he will do and speak like the Beloved and he will say: 'I am God and before me there has been none.'
"And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they will sacrifice to him and they will serve him saying: "This is God and beside him there is no other.” And the greater number of those who shall have been associated together in order to receive the Beloved, he will turn aside after him. And there will be the power of his miracles in every city and region. And he will set up his image before him in every city. And he shall bear sway three years and seven months and twenty-seven days."
D. Other Historical Evidence
1. Temple echoes?
a. Desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes (167BC)
b. Entrance into Holy of Holies by Pompey (63BC)
c. Desired desecration by Caligula (40BC)
2. Contemporary Events of Interest
a. Martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome (AD60’s)
b. Jewish Revolt against Rome (AD66-73)
c. Destruction of the Temple (AD70)
V. Immediate Literary Context
Vs. 1— “concerning the arrival of Lord and our gathering”
context of parousia, meeting him in air
Vs. 2– “Day of Lord has come”
Sure seems like some situation must be prompting… too many potential sources of such a belief involved. Could it be over-enthusiasm for Christ’s return? Nero’s persecution? Of Paul? Of Roman Christians or Peter? The revolt?
Vs. 3—“apostasy” and “man of lawlessness”
Apostasy—Acts 21:21: “turning away from Moses”; Jeremiah 2:19—turning away from God; 1 Macc. 2:15—the apostasy as the forced Hellenization of Israel; Seems most likely to refer to Jews or Christians turning from God.
Vs. 4—opposes everything being called God
Evokes images of Antiochus, Caligula. Not obviously a Jew, although how otherwise would he be part of a turning away? Turning away seems to be in the direction of the man of lawlessness, so probably not Jewish revolt.
“sits in the temple to show he is divine”
Everything thus far has seemed literal—real parousia, real gathering, real individual opposing God, real turning away. So probably should take temple literally. The temple was standing at the time, so probably pre-AD70.
So likely resonances:
a. apostasy—like the turn away from God at the time of the Maccabees, turn toward the Romans?
b. man of lawlessness—like Antiochus or Caligula (if a specific person was in view, Nero is the best suggestion)
c. sets himself in the temple—like the desecration of Antiochus or Caligula, but in person like Pompey
d. signs and wonders will accompany
Similarities to Mark 13/Matthew 24, possible blurring of contemporary events with end time events
Expectation of desecration of temple by political figure, perhaps literal originally, metaphorical now?