Antichrist: His Revelation, Pride, and Destruction
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:4, 6-8
Antichrist: His Revelation, Pride, and Destruction
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:4-8.
Last week, we got into the topic of the Day of the Lord and the Rapture. The Thessalonians had been misled to believe that the Day of the Lord had arrived, and Paul needed to correct that false teaching. In doing so, he argued that the Day of the Lord cannot be here because it must be preceded by “the falling away,” which I interpreted to be a large-scale end times apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin. Those two events must precede the Day of the Lord. They haven’t happened yet, so the Day of the Lord is not here.
But that brief mention of “the man of sin” leads Paul into a discussion about the antichrist and the Tribulation period. So, for at least the next two weeks, we will discuss what Paul has to say on those topics.
My title today is “Antichrist: His Revelation, Pride, and Destruction.” Let’s read the passage, and then we will pray (2 Thess 2:1-12).
Antichrist: His Revelation, Pride, and Destruction. As much as possible, I want to follow Paul’s flow of thought in this passage, so we will start by talking about Antichrist’s pride. Then, we will discuss his revelation; and finally, his destruction.
I. His Pride (v. 4)
What He Does
First, Antichrist opposes all other religions. According to v. 4, he opposes “all that is called God or that is worshipped.”
A common emphasis is how Antichrist will oppose Christianity. Another emphasis is how he will oppose the Jews. But according to this passage, not only will he oppose Christianity and the Jews; he will oppose all other religions!
Second, Antichrist exalts himself as God. Verse 4 says, “he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” Talk about selfish ambition! What is going on here?
Well, in order to understand this verse, you really have to study the prophecies of Daniel. Turn with me to Daniel 9. We referenced this passage briefly last week (Daniel 9:27).
Again, we don’t have time to develop the context of this passage this morning, but the “he” in Daniel 9:27 is a reference to the antichrist. Antichrist is revealed when he makes a seven-year peace treaty (or, “covenant”) with the nation of Israel. No doubt he will be hailed as one of history’s greatest diplomats for accomplishing this feat, and he will surely be thought of as a “friend of Israel.” But it’s all just a show, because “in the middle of the week” (3 ½ years into the Tribulation), he breaks his covenant with Israel, “brings an end to sacrifice and offering,” and sets up the abomination that causes desolation. (That’s the idea. This abominable act of idolatry leads to destruction and misery.)
Daniel mentions the abomination of desolation again in Daniel 12:11. He says, “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days”–3 ½ years–there that time period is again!
So what is this “abomination of desolation,” and who sets it up? Daniel helps answer that question in chapter 11. So turn with me there. Daniel 11 is an incredible chapter filled with prophecies about things that actually took place hundreds of years later during the intertestamental period. It’s a stunning proof of the trustworthiness of Scripture. Let’s pick up with v. 21 (Dan 11:21). This verse begins Daniel’s description of a historical figure named Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek king who ruled in the region of Palestine about 170 years before the birth of Christ. Now drop down to v. 31 (v. 31).
So somewhere around December 4, 167 B.C., Antiochus set up an altar of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple. Then, about ten days later, he defiled the altar, probably offering a pig upon it. If you know anything about dietary laws in the Old Testament, you know a pig was an unclean animal, so this would have been a total disgrace! In fact, this act caused such outrage that some of the righteous Jews led by a family of priests called the Maccabees rose up, opposed Antiochus, and ultimately defeated him. Daniel prophesies that that would occur in vv. 32-35 (vv. 32-35).
These verses refer to the faithful Jews who stood against Antiochus and as a result suffered persecution and martyrdom. Daniel 11:35 says that God allowed this, “to refine them, purify them, and make them white,” which reminds me of John’s description of the Tribulation saints in the book of Revelation. These brave Jews would suffer until “the time of the end,” which, in Daniel 11:35 seems to refer to the end of Antiochus’s reign. (Jesus also used this same phrase in the Olivet Discourse to refer to the end of the Tribulation.)
So what does Antiochus Epiphanes have to do with the antichrist? Well, do remember how last week, when we talked about the Day of the Lord, I said that sometimes an Old Testament prophet would prophesy a judgment in his day that also prefigured a larger, future judgment? That same thing happens with Daniel’s predictions about the abomination of desolation. When did the abomination take place? December 4, 167 B.C. We know that from history. You can read about it in 1-2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha (which aren’t inspired, but do give us an historical account of the event).
But the abomination that took place in 167 B.C. also typifies an even more significant event that will take place at the mid-point of the Tribulation, and that end-times abomination is what Daniel is referring to in Daniel 9:27 and 12:11.
How do we know that? Well, first, Antiochus never made a seven-year peace treaty with Israel, which is the context in Daniel 9:27, 12:11. Second, Jesus clearly understood Daniel’s abomination of desolation prophesy to be referring to something future. We know that because he cites it in Matthew 24:15 during a discussion of end-times events. He says, “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Hopefully you remember that from Pastor Kit’s study of the Olivet Discourse.)
Also, although Daniel 11:21-35 is clearly about Antiochus, there seems to be a shift that takes place in v. 36. As you read the following verses, it becomes pretty clear that this is no longer about Antiochus 1) because not all of the descriptions in those verses fit what we know about Antiochus’s career, and 2) because the events of Daniel 11 are followed immediately by a time of trouble unlike any in history and then some resurrections in Daniel 12:1-3. So clearly, at some point at the end of Daniel 11, Daniel goes from talking about events that took place in the 100s B.C. to talking about end times events. Listen to what he says in 11:36-37 and see if this reminds you of what Paul says about Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 (Dan 11:36-37). That is almost exactly what Paul says about Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, and Daniel even calls this period a time of “wrath,” which coincides with what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 about Christians not being appointed to wrath!
Now, I know that’s a lot to take in, but let’s see if we can pull it all together. Antiochus Epiphanes is a type of the antichrist. The first abomination of desolation took place in A.D. 167 B.C. when Antiochus set up an altar of Zeus and offered a pig on the altar. This abomination is described in Daniel 11:31. However, this first abomination also prefigures an ultimate abomination, which will take place at the midpoint of the Tribulation, in which Antichrist will set up his throne in the temple and declare himself to be God. This ultimate abomination is described in Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Mat 24:15; 2 Thess 2:4. Does that all make sense?
Now, here is something that we have not yet discussed but that is pretty prominent in all of those passages. In order for Antichrist to defile the temple, there has to be what? A temple! And so turning back to 2 Thessalonians 2, when Paul says that Antichrist “sits as God in the temple of God,” what temple would the Thessalonians have immediately thought of? The Jerusalem temple! And that identification fits the descriptions that we find in Daniel and the Olivet Discourse, as well. Of course, what’s the problem with that identification? The temple was destroyed in A.D. 70! It no longer exists! Which is why many dispensationalists believe that the temple will be rebuilt prior to these events taking place. Are there any questions about that?
So we’ve discussed what Antichrist does in this verse. But next, whom is he like?
II. Whom He Is Like
The most obvious answer to this question, we have discussed already; Antichrist is like Antiochus Epiphanes. But there are other answers to that question that I think I ought to mention.
First, Antichrist is like Caesar (and other wicked kings). In order to consolidate power, the Roman emperor Octavian (the “Caesar Augustus” who ruled at the time of Christ’s birth) declared Julius Caesar, his adoptive father, a god. Of course, that would make Octavian what? He literally called himself, the “son of a god.” And at his death, Rome officially recognized him as a god like his father. Don’t you think it’s ironic that all of this was taking place literally at the same time the real Son of God was walking the face of the earth?
Second, Antichrist is like Satan. There is a fascinating parallel between 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Ezekiel 28. In that passage, Ezekiel is pronouncing judgment on the king of Tyre. However, similar to the Day of the Lord passages and Daniel 11, Ezekiel 28 seems to go beyond descriptions of a mere man. Later on in the passage, the king is referred to as a cherub, and it says that he was in the Garden of Eden. That’s why many Bible scholars have interpreted Ezekiel 28 as referring not only to an earthy king, but also to Satan himself. It says in Ezekiel 28:2, “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God: ‘Because your heart is lifted up, and you say, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the midst of the seas,’ yet you are a man, and not a god, though you set your heart as the heart of a god….’” And twice more in the chapter, Ezekiel refers to the king’s claim to be a god.
Now, why do I bring this all up? Because in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, we see that the coming of the antichrist is “according to the working of Satan.” And in fact, the only reason why Antichrist has not been revealed before now is that God is restraining Satan’s efforts to produce him. (We’ll see that in vv. 6-7.) That said, it shouldn’t surprise us that Antichrist, in his incredible pride, reflects his father the devil. Between him, the false prophet, and Satan, they make up the unholy Trinity, rivaling Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So we’ve discussed the pride of Antichrist. Next, let’s discuss his revelation.
III. His Revelation (vv. 6-8)
The first thing I want you to see about Antichrist’s revelation is that Satan is ready. Like I said, v. 9 says that the coming of Antichrist is “according to the working of Satan.” So Satan produces him. But then v. 7 also tells us that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” but that it is being held back at this time by some mysterious Restrainer.
We’ll talk more about that Restrainer in just a minute, but first, what is “the mystery of lawlessness”? That is a reference to what John calls the spirit of Antichrist. 1 John 4:3 says, “[E]very spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” The “spirit of Antichrist” is already here!
But Paul’s emphasis in 2 Thessalonians 2 is that “the spirit of Antichrist” is also characterized by an antinomian attitude that casts off God’s rules and says, “I’m king of my life. I’ll do what I want. And I will not submit to anybody–not even God.” Is that spirit alive and well in our world? Of course it is!
I caught this line from a popular song in a store the the other day (as a musician, I am plagued with the inability to totally ignore lyrics): “Now that you know this is my life, I won’t be told what’s supposed to be right.” That’s lawlessness! That’s exactly the kind of thing Paul is talking about!
When we put these details together with what Paul says in vv. 6-7 about the one who is restraining, we get a picture of Satan, at work in the world today, trying to reveal his man, but constantly being held back. Satan is ready.
The second thing I want you to see about Antichrist’s revelation is that God is restraining (vv. 6-7).
Now, admittedly, Paul’s reference to the restrainer here is somewhat vague. He even refers to it almost like a force (“what is restraining”) in v. 6 and then as a person (“He who now restrains”) in v. 7. Who or what could this possibly be?
Well, as you can probably guess, many ideas have been suggested. Some people say it is the Holy Spirit, some people say it is the emperor, some people say it is Satan, some people say it is Michael the archangel, some people say it is Paul!
What I can say for sure is that many of those suggestions don’t make any sense for one simple reason: who is the one who is being restrained, according to the passage? (Satan) And who is the only one with the power to restrain Satan? (God)
Some interpreters have suggested that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, since “spirit” is a neuter noun in Greek, but the Spirit is sometimes referred to with the masculine pronoun, in order to emphasize the fact that He is a person. That would seem to explain the reference to a “what” in v. 6 and a “who” in v. 7.
The problem that many people have with that identification is they say, “In what sense could the Spirit be removed? Isn’t He omnipresent?” Dispensationalists have an answer for that! Yes, the Spirit is omnipresent! But that didn’t keep Jesus from saying that after His death, the Spirit would “come” because Jesus would “send” Him. John 16:7 says, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
The Spirit has always been at work in the world, but He came in a special way at Pentecost. He was sent to indwell believers and will continued to do so throughout the church age. So if this Restrainer is the Holy Spirit, perhaps his removal has to do with the end of that age and the removal of Christians from earth at the Rapture. It’s a difficult passage, for sure, but I think that is the best explanation.
Just as a side note, it’s interesting that Paul says in v. 5, “Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” And then he prefaces his discussion of the Restrainer in v. 6 by saying, “And you know what is now restraining.” Some Bible teachers have quipped that maybe if the Thessalonians didn’t have such good memories, Paul would have been clearer in what he said! But the point there for us is that these were important topics that Paul intended the Thessalonians to be able to understand, so we should seek an understanding of them, too.
And the takeaway from this entire discussion of the restrainer is that for the time being, God is restraining Satan and his plan to unleash the antichrist.
The last thing I want you to see about the revelation of the Antichrist is that his revelation awaits the proper time (v. 6).
The commentator D. Edmond Hiebert said about this phrase, “Just as there was a ‘fulness of the time’ for the manifestation of Christ”–Galatians 4:4: “But when the fulness of time had come”– “So there will be a ‘proper time’ when the man of sin will be revealed. The development of evil is under God’s control.” What an amazing thought! I’ll talk about that more in my conclusion.
And so, we have seen the pride of Antichrist and the revelation of Antichrist, but now at last, let’s look at the destruction of Antichrist.
IV. His Destruction (v. 8)
Think about this: Antichrist will play God and act all big and tough–that is, until the real Jesus shows up! Have you ever seen a movie or a show where someone is impersonating someone else, and then the person they are impersonating walks in? That’s what I think of when I read v. 8.
And let me tell you, despite all his Satanic power, Antichrist will be no match for the Son of God. Verse 8 says that Christ will consume him with the breath of his mouth. What is that talking about?
When John describes the Second Coming in Revelation 19, he says that he sees a sharp sword issuing from Jesus’ mouth. Also, Isaiah 11:4 says this about Jesus: “But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.” The idea seems to be that the only weapon Jesus will need is His voice. Psalm 33: 6 reminds us of the power of God’s voice. It says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” He who created the world with a word will destroy the man of sin with a word.
Not only that, but He will also abolish Antichrist’s government. The word translated “destroy” in v. 8 literally means “to abolish.” One commentator says that word “has the basic meaning ‘to render idle or inoperative, to reduce to inactivity.’” The most powerful and extensive empire the world has ever known will be very short lived. Three-and-a-half years. And then Jesus returns in blinding glory to set up His kingdom, which will last for a thousand years and then on into eternity! How trite the reign of Antichrist is when compared to that of Jesus!
To wrap it all up, what can you take away from today’s lesson? I hope that this lesson leads you to worship. Worship God for His great power over the forces of evil. I want you to consider three truths from this passage about how God interacts with evil. These truths should inspire you to worship.
1. God Is Restraining Evil.
When we see the wickedness all around us, one of the lies we can believe is that it’s not as bad as it looks. But according to this and other passages, it’s actually worse! Why? Because behind the external, surface-level manifestations of sin, Satan is at work, giving energy to various movements and seeking to work out his plan. Not only that, but he would have done so long ago had it not been for God’s actively restraining him! You think this world is bad as it is–just imagine what it would be like if God removed His restraints upon the forces of evil! This world would literally tear itself apart. And that is part of what is going to happen during the Tribulation.
So as bad as it is, you and I should be thankful for God’s restraining hand. And as well, we should recognize that God has a unique plan for this window in history, and our part in that plan is to make disciples for His name. So let’s be faithful and not miss our opportunity!
2. God Will Allow Evil.
God does allow evil. He has ever since the fall of Satan and of Adam and Eve in the Garden. But we learned in this passage that there is a sense in which God is restraining evil in this age. But there will come a day in which “He who now restrains is taken out of the way” so that evil can have its day. Why? Why would God allow that? Is it because He is getting tired and He just can’t stand the pressure, so that finally, the dam breaks and evil stampedes over top of Him? No, no, and a thousand times, no! Evil will never have the upper hand over God! God is sovereign over the forces of evil, and He allows evil only to accomplish His plan!
So what is God’s plan in allowing Antichrist be revealed? That leads us to point number three in regards to God and evil.
3. God Will Destroy Evil.
Verse 8 says that Christ will destroy Antichrist when He comes! God has a plan to judge evil!
I loved this quote from a commentator that I came across this week. He said, “He [God] knows how to control its [evil’s] activity, till the time shall come when its full manifestation will best subserve its overthrow and judgment.” Isn’t that just a powerful statement? God’s plan in allowing evil is ultimately to overthrow and to judge it.
So no, God is not threatened by evil. In fact, Satan, even at his best, can do nothing but play into Christ’s hand. That thought should give us great confidence and should cause us to praise our Lord.