“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”
Do you accept glory from one another but not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
To some who read the Scriptures but rejected Him in His own day Jesus said:
“I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him….”
O men of this world—not the next…
The Apostle John warned us:
“For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–comes not from the Father but from the world….”
And the great 17th c. Lutheran theologian John Gerhard should indeed get our attention when he says..:
“The more diligently we exercise ourselves with God’s Word and contemplate it with true devotion, the more powerful the Spirit will become within us to subdue the flesh with its lusts….”
May that be us, for Jesus said that at the very end of the world, the love of many will grow cold.
Even as He spoke about how His chosen ones would be saved, He also rhetorically asked: “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?…”
The danger is real.
As one Scriptural commentator put it: “When people think about the end of the world, it often seems they are ready to believe any rumor that comes along.” (Kuske)
Sadly, perhaps that has something to do with why Christians tend to get all riled up with talk of the End Times, the Last Days, or, to get technical, “eschatology”.
Back in the Apostle’s Paul’s day, this certainly was the case in Thessalonica – people were saying that “that the day of the Lord” – that is, His second coming – “[had] already come”!
The interest has continued through the ages… Just fifteen years ago, the Left Behind books were all the rage in the evangelical Christian world, selling millions and millions of copies…
When I was in high school, hardly any of the kids my age at church wanted to do the Bible studies that were offered – unless, of course, we were talking about the book of Revelation…
Nothing seems to be quite as exciting as reading our Bible side by side with the news, and seeing God’s plans unveiled before our eyes in current events!
Speculation about how God’s warnings relate to current events and politics abound…
Though, what can we really know?
Well, we certainly know—unlike the confused Thessalonians—that even if the “Last Days” have been upon us since after Jesus’ glorious Ascension into Heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts
…our Lord’s Second coming…the Final Judgement… has not occurred yet!
But what about one of these “End Times” characters mentioned in our text for today?: “The Man of Lawlessness.”
What do you think about him? And what do you think of this “great rebellion”—or great “apostasy”—that he is associated with?
Historically, the figure of the “Man of Lawlessness,” (sometimes also called the “Man of Sin”) has been associated with the “spirt of the Antichrist” spoken about in the book of I John.[i]
And the spirit of Antichrist has also been identified with the false Christs Jesus warned us about (Matthew 24:24) as well as, sometimes, the great beast and prostitute—otherwise known as “Babylon”—from Revelation 13:1-10 and chapters 17 and 18.[ii]
So just what are we speaking about here?
Is this Man of Lawlessness a great, charismatic political leader?
Or something else?
Years ago, after the Fall of Communism, while the Western world was still celebrating, the then-preacher of the Lutheran Hour, Wallace Schultz, warned about how even though the tyrannical Beast of Revelation 13:1-10 had indeed been wounded as predicted, it would rise again.
World communism had been explicitly anti-Christian in its approach, but, though defeated, this persecuting Beast would not be denied in its thirst for the blood of the saints.
Is this what the Apostle Paul had in mind when speaking of the “Man of Lawlessness”? Well, Pastor Schultz did not say that…
Rather, he would go on to suggest, in line with many a Christian commentator down through the ages, that this Beast was a political animal that would work to destroy the church from without….
But you see, he would have help in those efforts from the second Beast mentioned in Revelation 13:11-18 (check it out)… a more religiously-oriented beast.
This is the beast who would be associated with the Man of Lawlessness… who clearly is an influential leader who presumes to take the place of Christ…
What does our passage from today say again?:
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness[a] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
One notes that “God’s temple” is also identified as the “body of Christ” or believers by the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 3:16, see also I Peter 2:5), and this is where the man of lawlessness works. This would suggest that the rebellion will take place in the church.
This man will, in some sense, proclaim himself to be God, “exalt[ing] himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped”.
That word “worshipped” can be translated as “honored” which would imply that this man also sets himself above other authorities that God has established, like parents or a nation’s leaders, for example (see Boniface the VIII)…
He, not they, is the one who counts… and what he says goes.
“My word.” He will say. “Not their word”. “Not His word.”
Or maybe, He won’t be so direct. If he’s smart, and he must be, he’ll just try to even things out a bit…:
“Scripture? Unfortunately, that ancient book isn’t clear at all… but I can help!”
Apostasy, or rebellion, indeed….
Well, God had warned us here, in this book by Paul,
That at one point he would be set loose….
Now surely, one possible interpretation of the Man of Lawlessness is that that this man will claim, in some sense, both the realms of politics and religion for himself.
Perhaps he could start as a political leader than then end up exalt[ing] himself over everything that is called God or is honored…
That said, I submit that something a bit more subtle is going on here…
In the Middle Ages, the papacy of the Roman Catholic church begin to increasingly be associated with the Man of Lawlessness, or the Spirit of Antichrist.
In those days, this was not hard for many more sensitive believers to imagine, given the corruption found within the papacy as well as the claims of the Popes to be able to rule and judge the Kings of the earth.
These men and those supporting them said that Jesus’ talking about “two swords” in the upper room where the Last Supper was held meant that the Pope wielded both:
the sword of the word of God…
and the sword that earthly rulers used to promote justice and keep order in the world.
With the 16th c. church reformer Martin Luther, matters are taken to an altogether different level
…as the Roman church led by the Pope condemned the doctrine of justification that Luther taught, essentially insisting that Christians could not have confidence that they were Christians…
That is, those who were in good standing with God, at peace with Him….
And so… we read in one of the Lutheran Confessions:
“The marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers… [Paul] is not speaking about heathen kings, but about someone ruling in the Church” (TR 39).
Luther, for his part, said: “God’s temple is not the description for a pile of stones, but for the holy Christendom (I Co 3[:17], in which [the Antichrist] is to reign” (AE 40:232).
For Luther then, the primary element of the Man of Lawlessness, or Antichrist, was that he would undermine the Christian religion from within….
As Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” those who follow in his train “masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14,15).[iii]
If that sounds extreme I note that many more traditional Roman Catholics are now returning to this line of thought…
Even as thousands and maybe millions of Christians have died rather than render an offering to an idol…
Worship involving the Roman Catholic Church’s highest authorities has just recently taken place involving the statue of an Amazonian fertility goddess, Pachamama.
In plain view for all to see!
Offerings to, and prostration before, that statue or, let’s be blunt—idol—were also involved in that worship.[iv]
No apologies forthcoming.
So what is going on?
Why would anyone want to seize the reigns and move the church away from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Of course, even the observant world-ling can learn that from Christ have come untold blessings.
Contrary to ancient Greece, Rome, and others, we have known:
- A good and salutary distinction between religious observance and worldly government
- Increased concern for children, women, and the practice of slavery… and marriage involving a woman’s consent.
- Laws against sexual slavery.
- The changing of laws surrounding abortion, infanticide, and child abuse… even child sexual abuse.
- From God’s impartiality, forbearance, and sanctification, we get worldly notions of equality, tolerance, and progress….
- As one man puts it: “the positive forms of secularism and relgious liberty that have been enjoyed in America grew out of the specifics of Christianity…”
And, of course, there is much, much more!
Jesus does not only rescue us from sin, death, and the devil, clearly the most important things!
He also has begun to change the world!
As I like to say, “Thank God Jesus is God!”
So the church doesn’t need to cave to—must not cave to—the Zeitgeist, or “Spirit of the Age”.
It needs to serve its Wonderful and Gracious Master – to repent and be bold about the faith!
It has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the Bible and the great impact that book has had…
And yet, we increasingly see this kind of wobbliness….
Why does the world and its Beast rage against the church?
Why, in part, because it often simply does what it does because the church invites it to do so!
Those in the church, those claiming to speak for the God who reveals Himself, pave the way for the world…
The Spirit of Antichrist is alive and well.
In the last sermon I did here, I spoke about how people “do violence to the simple and humble words of truth and love spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”
Yes, even in the Church.
They will downplay God’s law. Downplay God’s rule. Flee as far as they can from words like “Master” and “Servant”…. They will downplay the Gospel as well….
They might not even want to do this, but perhaps they have the overwhelming feeling that they experience more genuine love from people in the world than Christians….
While Christians might express “concern” for them, trying to assist them in how to live (code: “trying to control their behavior”) they know that those Christians
…however gentle they might try to be about this, don’t really “like” them for who they are.
Like the world does!
Look – I get it. No one wants to be suffocated by:
- people who police you,
- people whose highest goal seems to be to try to get you to do what they want,
- and who seem obsessed with trying to use hard and soft power to affect your behavior
I do have children.
That said, there is a reason why the Bible not only says:
“a gentle tongue can break a bone,” and “Wounds from a friend can be trusted”
“…rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you….”
Because there are good ways to help deeply wounded Christians struggling in their faith, …and because there are certain ways those wounded Christians are to grow….
Can persons say they are Christians, when really, they are just legalists?
Meaning they insist
“we are saved by God’s law” or
“in order to be a Christian you must do what I say, or what we’ve decided”?
Yes. This was Luther’s fight.
Wave that kind of thought before the eyes of the world…. And see what happens.
The world, at war with Christ and intoxicated with their own notions of brotherhood, liberty, and equality, is eager to see all Christians as legalists and tyrants.
What business do you have questioning my belief in God?…
It doesn’t matter how kind, gentle, and tender they might be…those Christians are mean!
Should there be any question then, about how the Spirit of Antichrist will be working in the church today?
He won’t be concerned about God’s commands, but the world’s….
What are the signs of Antichrist’s spirit today?
One should not, at least initially, expect Political Tyranny with an Iron Fist….
One should rather expect Soft Tyranny over the word of God…
Claiming the authority to interpret it and insist that where you put a period, God puts a comma….
Hence a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church critical of its actions explains how the recent Amazon Synod is being used as a tool to change the Church and create “a new kind of religion, even.”
- Baptism? Not necessary for communion!
- Evangelism? Well, the church is really about dialogue!
- Statues of Amazonian fertility goddesses? This will build bridges![v]
To say anything more would be to be what? Some kind of colonialist right?
But none of this should surprise us.
For Rome has functioned this way for a very long time…
Note this relatively recent quote from a well-known “conservative” Roman Catholic apologist.
“It’s also possible for a person to die in God’s friendship even if the person didn’t consciously know God during life. Someone could, through no fault of their own, be unaware of God or not have ever been given sufficient evidence that they concluded God is true, through no fault of their own, and if they otherwise cooperated with his grace, then God won’t hold their ignorance of him against them. So, it’s possible for an atheist to be saved, it’s still through Jesus Christ and through God’s grace, but they can still die not knowing God and still be on their way to heaven as long as they otherwise cooperated with his grace.”[vi]
Do you see what is happening here?
Who really needs Jesus? A Creator even?
At least in the here and now?
Sadly, the glory and honor of Christ’s full and free redemption, bought and paid for the world, is denied in a myriad of ways….
Clearly, Rome’s apologists today would really, really not like an old verse from “Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word”:
Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son.
As the Apostle John wrote, already in Paul’s day “many antichrists have come” (I John 2:18)….
It might make us uncomfortable too
…but realize that the church must always “be on the alert and prepare for the battle of its very existence”.
One has said:
“The history of Christianity records regular clashes between Christ and opposing godless cultures.”
Again, sadly, Christ’s Church, His shameful bride, is often itself a cause and catalyst of the godlessness in the cultures themselves.
We need to repent.
And yet, we don’t need to be afraid. “We live with the comfort that, in the end, Christ and His followers will be victorious.”
What will defeat Satan and the Spirit of Antichrist?
Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.
He has been crucified and risen for you – go in that peace and confidence!
For as Christ crushes Satan’s head…
So does His church…
[i] No well-known commentator from church history that I am aware of has rejected the association of the “Man of Lawlessness” with the Antichrist the Apostle John says is coming.
[ii] Interestingly, some of the earliest Church Fathers believed the Antichrist would be a successor to the Roman Empire (Lutheran Study Bible).
[iii] Is this true today? The 20th c. theologian Werner Elert said (in Last Things, 1974, CPH) that
“The church was often decimated by external persecutions; but these never seriously threatened its existence. The satanic character of that last great peril consists, rather, in a development within the church, namely, the proclamation that a human being has God’s dominion in the human sphere, in the claim that a human being has the presence of Christ.”
I am guessing that Elert here was concerned not that pastors in God’s church might fulfill their callings in accordance with God’s will, binding and loosing sins as Christ instructs – but rather that they would seize the reigns and move the church away from the saving Gospel….
[iv] First in the Vatican gardens and then later in a Vatican church. See this article for more on this incident: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2019/liberalism-and-idolatry-go-hand-in-hand
“St. Athanasius, writing in his History of the Arians, a text which Newman painstakingly edited, even takes the introduction of idols into churches in the fourth-century Egyptian persecution to be the worst possible wickedness: ‘When was ever such iniquity heard of? when was such an evil deed ever perpetrated, even in times of persecution? They were heathens who persecuted formerly; but they did not bring their idols into the Churches. … This is a new piece of iniquity. It is not simply persecution, but more than persecution, it is a prelude and preparation for the coming of Antichrist.’”
From the Catholic News Agency:
Vatican spokesmen have said that [the statures] represent “life,” and are not religious symbols, but some journalists and commentators have raised questions about the origins of the symbols, and whether they were religious symbols of Amazonian indigenous groups.
Paolo Ruffini, head of the Vatican’s communications office, said last week that “fundamentally, it represents life. And enough. I believe to try and see pagan symbols or to see… evil, it is not,” he said, adding that “it represents life through a woman.”
He equated the image to that of a tree, saying “a tree is a sacred symbol.”
[v] “Pope Francis identifies the controversial statues used in the Synod as “Pachamama,” the Incan fertility goddess.” https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/full-transcript-of-the-popes-comments-on-pagan-pachamama-statues
[vi] James Akin – not Pope Francis – around 2008. As one commenting on this comment said: “This is justification by works alone, without faith, and contrary to Scripture.” An excellent case can be made that this kind of *explicit* teaching is now 56 years old, and the developments leading up to that certainly took place long before this…