The Man of Sin Sitting in the Temple of God

2 Thessalonians 2:4 – a statement about the Man of Sin – is no easy verse to interpret: “He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship.  He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (NLT).  There are various explanations of what it means that the Man of Sin will sit in God’s temple.  Below is a brief summary along with an interpretation I favor.

The preterist view is that 2 Thessalonians 2:4 has already happened in the first century A.D. Jerusalem temple.  The dispensational view is that Paul is referring to a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem where the Man of Sin takes a seat.  Another interpretation is that “temple of God” could also be “temple of a god” since pagan temples in Greco-Roman cities were common in the first century.  I don’t believe these views are in line with what Paul is saying.  First, in the context of verse 4 Paul is talking about Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, so it doesn’t make sense to say with the preterist that this happened in the first century.  Second, since Jesus is the final temple of God and God’s people are his temple, we shouldn’t expect a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (as the dispensationalists say).  Finally, “temple of a god” makes some sense, but I’m not convinced the Greek text is best translated that way.

One view I’m sympathetic with is that “temple” is Paul’s reference to the church.  He does, in a redemptive-historical way, call the church the temple quite often in his epistles.  Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say the Man of Sin will claim or take some kind  of authority in the church.

A view that I favor even a more is that “temple” is symbolic since Paul is here speaking in apocalyptic terms.  For example, in this text (2 Thes. 2:1-12) Paul is talking about “the day of the Lord” and uses terms like revelation, mystery, breath of Jesus’ mouth, and signs and wonders.  In other words “taking his seat in the temple of God” means the Man of Sin will assume some position of great authority as if he’s god (although he certainly is not!).  Anthony Hoekema put it this way:

“The expression [‘take his seat in the temple of God’] is probably best understood as an apocalyptic description of the usurpation of the honor and worship which is properly rendered only to God.”

Herman Ridderbos spoke in a similar way:

“One must not…fail to appreciate the apocalyptic character of the delineation.  That which is still hidden, which as future event is still incapable of description, is denoted with the help of available notions borrowed from the present.  To sit in the temple is a divine attribute, the arrogating to oneself of divine honor.  No conclusions are to be drawn from that for the time and place in which the man of sin will make his appearance.”

Again, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 is a hard text.  But I don’t think the preterist or dispensational views do it justice, nor do they align well with other texts.  The temple of God could in this verse be a reference to the church.  That makes some sense.  But for me (and I could be wrong!), it makes the most biblical sense to say that the temple of God is a symbolic way to describe the future Man of Sin taking upon himself divine honor and authority in satanic opposition to God.

One thing that we can all joyfully and confidently agree on is that Jesus will easily, absolutely, and definitively defeat the Man of Sin.  It’ll be no contest!  “The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thes. 2:8 NLT).

The above quotes are found in Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (p.160) and Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 520).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Antichrist(s)

This is an excellent, balanced, and biblical resource on an often misunderstood teaching of Scripture: The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist. I marked the following paragraphs (among many others) that are worth sharing:

“The biblical writers do indeed foretell of Antichrist, but the images found in Scripture are markedly different from those of either ‘The Omen’ or the ‘Left Behind’ novels.  The fact that end-times speculation and sensationalism has trumped sound biblical exegesis is surely the reason this is the case.  Too often people don’t know what’s in their Bibles but can recount in great detail the plot of the most recent Christian novel.  Christians are quite familiar with the frightening images created by Hollywood but often remain ill-informed about the church’s reflection on this important doctrine.  This is most unfortunate and creates a climate in which Antichrist speculation occurs apart from serious reflection upon the teaching of the biblical text.”

“…According to New Testament writers, Antichrist is a past, present, and future foe.  As the supreme mimic of Christ, Antichrist will stage his own death, resurrection, and second coming.  The apostles faced him.  The martyrs faced him.  We must face him.  And in the one final outburst of satanic evil right before the end of time, Antichrist will make one last dramatic appearance before going to his doom.”

“Therefore, since Antichrist has already come, remains with us today, and will come again, understanding the tension between the already and the not yet is the key to understanding what the doctrine of Antichrist actually entails, and understanding this tension enables us to know how we are to combat him.”

Kim Riddlebarger, Man of Sin, p. 35-36.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The ‘God is Dead’ Dude

 Most of us have heard the phrase, “God is dead,” and we’ve probably even heard some say we’re living in the age wherein that mindset is prevalent.  Though many enemies of the gospel have said similar things throughout history, the penman of ‘God is dead’ is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900).  I’ve read parts of Nietzsche before, including selections from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, and Twilight of the Idols.  Nietzsche is an animal as far as writing goes; you don’t just read it and “get it.”  It takes time and patience – and the help of excellent books like The Shadow of the Antichrist (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) by Stephen Williams.

I agree with Carl Trueman’s assessment of this book: “Williams offers both an exposition and response to Nietzsche which combines trenchant criticism with appropriate acknowledgment of the fact that Christians have much to learn from careful reflection on this most insightful of anti-Christian polemicists” (from the WTS bookstore site). 

In case you’re interested, here’s the context of the infamous ‘God is dead’ phrase.

“The madman – haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’  Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter.  ‘Has he been lost, then?’ asked one.  ‘Did he lose his way like a child?’ asked another.  ‘Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to the sea? Emigrated?’  Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other.  The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.  ‘Where is God?’ he cried; ‘I’ll tell you!  We have killed him – you and I!  We are his murderers.  …Hasn’t it got colder?  Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? …Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God?  Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposition? – Gods, too, decompose!  God is dead!  God remains dead!  And we have killed him!'”

Later the madman goes into churches singing aeternam deo and singing “What then are these churches now if not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”  (Williams, p. 118-119).

This selection comes from Nietzsche’s Gay Science (“gay” as in the older meaning of the word): God is dead, the tomb is the church, and Nietzsche (labeled himself) the antichrist.  If you’ve read some Nietzsche, and want a great book that wrestles with Nietzsche written from a thoughtful Christian perspective, grab William’s Shadow of the Antichrist.  It isn’t a quick, light read, but Williams interacts with those who influenced Nietzsche (‘Dionysus,’ Schopenhauer and Wagner for example) as well as others who help illumine the study of Nietzsche (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Dostoyevsky, among others) to give the reader a pretty thorough picture of the “God is dead” penman.

shane lems

sunnyside wa