Gary responds to a listener question regarding the “man of lawlessness” spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2.

In his description of the man of lawlessness, Paul makes it clear that he had a contemporary figure in mind. First, he tells the Thessalonians that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7).

Second, the Thessalonians knew what was presently restraining the man of lawlessness: “And you know what restrains him now” (2:6). Paul does not write, “You know what will restrain him.” In addition, Paul affirms that “only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way” (2:7). While there is a great deal of speculation on the identity of the restrainer, from these time-text passages we know that he was restraining in Paul’s day. Without ever being able to identify the man of lawlessness we can conclude that he appeared and disappeared in the first century.

It is highly unlikely, if we take the futurist position, that the restrainer could have been active in Paul’s day and throughout history, since the restraint was only necessary when the man of lawlessness was alive. If the man of lawlessness was not alive when Paul wrote, then why did he clearly state that the Thessalonians knew what and who was restraining the man of lawlessness? Benjamin B. Warfield summarizes this section of 2 Thessalonians 2 for us:

The withholding power is already present. Although the Man of Sin is not yet revealed, as a mystery his essential “lawlessness” is already working—“only until the present restrainer be removed from the midst.” He expects him to sit in the “temple of God,” which perhaps most naturally refers to the literal temple in Jerusalem, although the Apostle knew that the out-pouring of God’s wrath on the Jews was close at hand (I Thess. ii. 16). And if we compare the description which the Apostle gives of him with our Lord’s address on the Mount of Olives (Mt. xxiv), to which, as we have already hinted, Paul makes obvious allusion, it becomes at once in the highest degree probable that in the words, “he exalteth himself against all that is called God, or is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the sanctuary of God showing himself that he is God,” Paul can have nothing else in view than what our Lord described as “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Mt. xxiv. 15); and this our Lord connects immediately with the beleaguering of Jerusalem (cf. Luke xxi. 20).[1]

Third, the Thessalonians thought that the day of the Lord had come. Paul exhorts his readers: Do not be “quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess. 2:2).

Paul was not correcting a belief of the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was “near” or “at hand,” as some translations have it (e.g., KJV and ASV). If so, Paul would have been contradicting himself and the rest of the New Testament since they state that the day of the Lord was near (e.g., Rom. 13:12; James 5:8; Rev. 1:1, 3). “All the Apostles believed that the day was near (1 Cor. xv. 51; James v. 8, 9; 1 Pet. iv. 7; 1 John ii. 18; Rev. xxii. 20), and their watchword was ‘Maranatha,’ ‘the Lord is near.’”[2] Those who hold a futurist perspective understand the implications of what Paul writes concerning the nearness of the day of the Lord. This is why a number of them force the text to read “is near” instead of the more accurate “is present.” The Greek word translated “is present” is found in six places in the New Testament in addition to 2 Thessalonians 2:2. In each case, “present” and not “near” is the best translation (Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 3:22; 7:26; Gal. 1:4; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 9:9. “Is near,” therefore, is not in keeping with the meaning of the word.

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Gary responds to a listener question regarding the “man of lawlessness” spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2. The listener agrees that the biblical definition of “antichrist” does not refer to the Roman Catholic papacy, but wonders if it might fit Paul’s man of sin (or lawlessness) in 2 Thessalonians 2.

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[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Prophecies of St. Paul,” Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1968), 472.

[2] F. W. Farrar, Texts Explained or Helps to Understand the New Testament (Cleveland, OH: F.M. Barton, 1899), 178.