by Geerhardus Vos
"The Man of Sin," also called "The Son of Perdition," "The Lawless One," is an eschatological person described by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:1–12. In ordinary eschatological parlance he bears the name Antichrist, and in the First and Second Epistles of John this name occurs. So far as we are able to ascertain, Antichrist is not a Pauline term, although the possibility must be reckoned with, that Paul may have been acquainted with it and simply not used it. Even the Johannine Apocalypse, with all its abundance of eschatological imagery, does not employ it. What lies back of 2 Thess. in early Christian literature or tradition, whether written or unwritten, does not know "the Antichrist" as a formal title. Going back still farther to the pre-Christian literature of the apocryphal or pseudepigraphical kind or to the Old Testament, we still look in vain for the later so familiar technical term.
To say that the name Antichrist is scarce in or absent from early documents by no means implies that the real person or the real thing called by other names but resembling to a larger or smaller extent the conception, is equally non-existent in that period. Paul himself is a striking example for the fact that a reality-complex of great religious or historical moment can exist for considerable time prior to its finding significant, unifying designation in the theological and eschatological vocabulary. The time-distance between Thessalonians and the Johannine Epistles is scarcely long enough to permit the working out of such an extra-important and far-reaching complex of ideas. Whatever may be true of the sudden emergence of names, whole blocks of religious thought with all their psychological associations are not so suddenly upheaved. John certainly deals with it as something not then first made known to his readers, but avowedly familiar, and the same manner of introducing it is seen in Thessalonians. The attention called to it was for an eminently practical purpose, viz. to warn against the delusion, as though the day of the Lord had already arrived. But for correcting that the simplest reference to a well-established eschatological program would have been sufficient. When instead of this the Apostle launches out into a somewhat detailed exposition of the entire subject, it becomes difficult to escape from the impression that Paul took a certain personal delight in drawing the figure at full length. And what he says seems to be derived from a fixed fund of knowledge. In the pre-Pauline tradition of the N.T. there is but one thing that could throw light on this. We refer to the phrase of our Lord in the great eschatological discourse βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, translated in the English text by "abomination of desolation": "When, therefore, ye see the abomination of desolation, spoken of through Daniel, the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that reads understand)." The Daniel-context refers proximately to a desecration of the sanctuary in Jerusalem expected, it seems, from the sacrilegious hand of Antiochus Epiphanes. That Jesus shaped the matter in his mind after the same fashion is plain; only he projects the horrible event from the past in which it had once taken place into a future beyond his own point of speaking. The monstrous concept is neither by Daniel nor by Jesus clothed directly in the form of a personal antagonist to God; in this respect the technical terms of the Antichrist-tradition do not yet appear, but as ominous shades they hover already in the background. In our later treatment of the prophecy we shall endeavor to make clear that the same phenomenon observable in Paul and with Jesus already characterizes the representation in Daniel. Already there things are spoken of and not explained; there lies a world of not unknowable, and yet only half-known mystery beyond what is disclosed. Thus we are enabled to draw through the line from Paul to Jesus and from Jesus to Daniel and from Daniel to something already an object of knowledge, be it as yet only vague, to an older generation. This continuity is of great value to all Christian scholars who seek to deal with the Antichrist-subject. At bottom it furnishes the main scriptural justification for dealing with the subject on a typical basis. The modern mind may scorn this as one more instance of the unscientific, "rabbinical" treatment of the Old Testament by the New. Whatever maltreatment may be charged, it is a comfort to know that the crime was committed before by both Jesus and Paul.
Some have thought that evidence of an older Antichrist-tradition could be discovered in the name Beliar occurring repeatedly in the O.T. There is in itself nothing objectionable in tracing such connections. Were Beliar actually connected with the Antichrist-genealogy, this would prove his origins to be exceedingly ancient. In the only passage where Paul introduces the name, 2 Cor. 6:15, Beliar is naught else but a duplicate name for Satan. The whole meaning centers in the ethical exhortation that righteousness and iniquity and light and darkness can have no more communion with each other than Christ can have with Beliar. Examining the Old Testament we find that Beliar nowhere appears as a name directly given to a person, but always in the company of prefixes for the purpose of attaching to the persons or things referred to an evil connotation. Thus we read of "sons," "children," "daughters," "men," even of "brooks" of Belial, Deut. 13:3; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 1:16; 2:12; 10:27; 25:17, 25; 30:22; 2 Sam. 16:7; 23:6; 1 Ki. 21:10, 13; 2 Chron. 13:7.
Surmises and speculations about this O.T. Beliar are somewhat precarious precisely because of his appearance in a composite indirect form. Undeniably there hides behind these phrases a real demonic name which largely must have gone out of use, being replaced by Satan or some such name. It had ceased to perform further service than that of a term of opprobrium, varying according to the intent with which it was hurled at somebody in mere desire to tease or with the more serious purpose of inflicting real harm through an assumed magical force inhering in it. It is plain that Beliar is not in canonical Scripture a precursor or duplication of Antichrist.
But Beliar has not been allowed to rest in his O.T. oblivion. His name reëmerges in the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings and through the methods applied by the religionsgeschichtliche school has from there been thrown back into the olden times and that with a much more pronounced Antichrist-physiognomy than was his before. This school makes its great principle the substantial identity and continuity of all Oriental, especially Babylonian, religion. Much material concerning Beliar in the non-Canonical literature and in the earlier unwritten tradition is freely dated back into hoary antiquity, and thus a quite novel Antichrist-tradition is constructed.
The modern writer who has done most in this line of throwing back the late post-Christian material into a large pre-Christian tradition-reservoir is Bousset. Following the ideas of Gunkel a.o. Bousset assumes that the conception of a Great Adversary is very ancient.5 Its ultimate origins are traced back to the ur-Babylonian myth of the contest between Marduk and the Chaos-dragon. Through anthropomorphisation of this primeval myth arose the figure of a human opponent of God, used by Satan as his instrument. Then this again was changed into the image of a Jewish pseudo-Messiah. At a still later point of development the pseudo-Messiah became a political oppressor arising from the sphere of paganism. This is an abnormally long development, but Bousset thinks this feature need not tell against the hypothesis, because tradition in the eschatological sphere, and particularly so in the Antichrist-sphere, has always borne a rigid character enduring like a once set block of concrete. Therefore, in his opinion, the existence of the much earlier can be proven from even its sporadic emergence in certain beliefs at later points. Another observation is supposed to lend help to the same effect. It is believed that the material was largely transmitted through secret oral tradition, not in written form such as would be accessible to a greater number of readers.
It does not lie within our plan to criticize these views in any large way. The Antichrist-complex, it is true, forms part of them, but they comprise much more that is not of our direct concern. As to the fixity of the tradition, a single glance at the series of transformations which Bousset believes it through the course of the ages to have undergone is certainly not adapted to impress us with its alleged rigidity. And, so far as the manipulation of the material by Bousset and his followers is concerned this bears all the bad features of extreme arbitrariness. There is constant unwarranted combination and equation of names and features lying not only decades but ages apart, and a persistent effort to supply the lacking intermediate links from unevidenced hidden strands of popular belief. Furthermore, denying to the patristic writers the capacity of producing such things, even through an over-heated imagination, does injustice to their mentality, as though they had been entirely sterile in the power of eschatological production. It hardly agrees with what we know of some of them. Papias certainly was not under-endowed with fecundity in this line. Nor should one overlook the stupendous proportions this hypothesis has assumed, covering with its wings almost the whole compass of what is called sacred history. Both Gunkel and Bousset are driven to assume that this sinister tradition of the Arch-enemy is older than the Messianic tradition. The Antichrist has here eaten the young Christ-child after some such fashion as the Christian Apocalypse depicts in one of its visions.
We must not, however, let such observations turn us aside from our proximate purpose, which is to examine the alleged precedents of the Antichrist-concept in the Apocalyptic writings and their backward projection from thence into the pre-Christian literature. The following may fairly illustrate the method by which the results are obtained. In the Ezra-Apocalypse (4 Ezr.), a work dating according to Schürer a.o. from about 81–96 A.D., a realistic description of a human monster is given, in connection with which, however, the name Beliar does not appear. It is different in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs, usually dated from the first Christian century. Here Beliar is actually introduced. The references are as follows: Test. Rub., 4: "whoredom brings upon a man the derision of Beliar and of men"; Sim. 5: "whoredom separates from God and drives to Belial"; Lev. 19: "the choice lies between the darkness and the light, the works of God and the works of Beliar"; Dan. 4: "when the soul is continually worried, the Lord departs from it, and Beliar obtains dominion"; Napht. 2: "the alternative rule of conduct for man is either a law of the Lord or a law of Beliar"; Iss. 6: "his descendants will leave the commandments of the Lord and cleave to Beliar"; Zeb. 9: "God will deliver all captive men from Beliar"; Jos. 20: "after Joseph's bones have been brought up to Canaan, God will be in light with the Israelites, and Beliar will be in darkness with the Egyptians"; Benj. 3: "the spirits of Beliar incite to every kind of wickedness and oppression."
It seems clear that there is nothing in the passages cited compelling to think of an Antichrist figure differentiated from Satan. All that is said admits of easy derivation from the influence of the latter. And negatively the absence of the eschatological element is difficult to account for, if Beliar in those former times passed as a technical name for Antichrist. Still another writing bearing on the problem is the so-called Ascensio Isaiae, particularly in its later part, Chaps. vi–xi, apparently of Christian origin, whilst the preceding Chaps. i–v seem to be of Jewish provenience. The Jewish section is somewhat indefinitely dated after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. In iv. 2 occur these words: "And after the consummation has arrived, the Angel Berial, that great King of the world, over which he rules since it exists, will descend from his firmament, in the form of a wicked human matricidal king; he is the king of this world …; this angel Berial, in the form of the said kingdom, will come and together with him will come all the powers of this world, and they will obey him in whatsoever things he shall desire." This passage does not form part of the central section of the Jewish core of the book. As standing in the text, it contains clear references to the rôle played by Nero in the Antichrist-expectation, and consequently must be later than the time at which Nero could have been expected to return as a supernatural figure, either from the Orient, still alive, or from Hades through a resurrection. On the other hand, his being called a wicked angel, the ruler of this world, having his habitation in the air, and the chief of the powers of this world, all this closely identifies him in character with Satan. There are things here scarcely predicable of Nero. Bousset, recognizing this, suggests that the Nero-references are a later insertion. This, it must be admitted, makes the passage harmonious within itself, but at the same time dispenses of the necessity to think of an Antichrist-Beliar. What is said of Beliar as to his being the king of this world is identical with what Paul affirms of Satan.
In the Book of Jubilees we find ourselves according to the best critical judgment, in the first century of the Christian era. Beliar appears in i. 20 under the strangely deformed name "Belchor." God is invoked, that He may create in his people a right mind, and that the spirit of Belchor may not dominate them, so as to enable him to accuse the people before God. The last-mentioned thought plainly reminds us of the O.T. conception of Satan as "the adversary," the one who slanders and opposes man in the judgment. The second place where the figure appears (here in the ordinary form "Beliar") is xv. 33; of the apostate, heretical, antinomian Israelites it is predicted that in the excess of their wickedness they will abandon the rite of circumcision, and leave their children such as they were born. It needs no pointing out that Beliar is here entirely void of eschatological associations. The statement would fit far better into the scheme of Friedländer, to be considered presently, according to whom Beliar is the head of a Jewish-Gnostic, antinomian heresy.
We now come to the one context in the Apocalyptic literature, where the distinction between Satan and Beliar seems to be clearly drawn, each being invested with his own attributes and functions. This is the prophecy in Orac. Sib. iii. 46 ff. In this, according to Bousset one of the oldest ingredients of the document, the prophet (or quasi-prophetess) declares: "But when Rome shall rule over Egypt also … then the greatest kingdom of the Immortal King will appear to mankind … thereupon from among the Sebastēnoi will come Beliar and will cause high mountains to rise up, and will cause the sea to be silent, the fiery great sun and the shining moon, and also will cause the dead to be raised, and perform many signs among men. But no consummation will there be in him, only leading astray; and so he will cause many men to err, both believing and elect Hebrews and likewise other lawless men, which never yet heard the speech of God. But when thereupon the threatenings of the great God approach and a power of fire comes to the land through the water wave and burns Beliar and all overbearing men, who have yielded faith to him, then the entire world will be ruled under the hand of one woman and obey her in all things … when the ether-inhabiting God rolls up the heavens, as the scroll of a book is rolled up … when no longer will exist the shining balls of the lights of heaven, neither night, nor morning, no longer many days of care, no longer spring nor winter, likewise neither summer nor autumn. And then the judgment of the great God will appear in that momentous time when all this has come to pass." Not a few elements in this description remind of N.T. eschatological items, and the possibility cannot be a priori denied that these may be older than the N.T. both in their written form and in the tradition lying farther back. Absolutely complete and clear, to be sure, even here the distinction between Beliar and Satan is not: in fact Satan has no place in the whole prophecy: the conflict is purely between Beliar and the "great God." We are not told in so many words that Beliar is or will be a man; the fact of his being burnt with his human followers does not compel that assumption. His coming "from the Sebastēnoi" speaks somewhat in favor of human nature on either interpretation usually given to this strange phrase, which according to some designates the Samaritans (from the name of their city "Sebaste"), according to others is connected with "sebastos," a predicate of the Roman world-rulers. We must at this point agree with Bousset in his opinion that heterogeneous elements mingle in this strange composition. While the final stupendous world-upheaving events are ascribed to the intervention of the great ether-inhabiting God, yet certain preliminary things named in the line of nature-catastrophes scarcely fall within the power of a mere man however supernaturally endowed. The trait of the error-spreading activity of Beliar reminds vividly of the same element in the description of 2 Thess., although with Paul it is more stressed and elaborated. The idea of seduction in belief has some basis in the O.T. references to Belial. For the feature of the reign of the woman there is no point of contact in N.T. eschatology, for what the Apocalypse of John contains in this line is of a different nature. Here in the prophecy of the Sibyl an actual female ruler is meant.
This recurrence upon the Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphical literature to discover the antecedents of the Antichrist figure does not carry much convincing force. Of course, it cannot a priori be denied that an amount of superstitious folklore was current in Jewish circles before the Pauline Epistles were written. Only that these current beliefs of such gross and rudimentary form were the source from which the N.T. Antichrist doctrine was drawn and from which it can be satisfactorily explained is hard to believe. A writer like Cheyne seems to have felt this, when by the application of a far more radical method he seeks to identify Belial with the Babylonian "Belili." On the other hand Hommel asserts that the Babylonians borrowed their Belili from the Western Shemites.
A second, and widely different attempt to supply the Antichrist-concept with an extra-biblical origin is connected with the name of Friedländer. This scholar, a liberalizing Jew of wide learning, has worked out the hypothesis that there existed from comparatively early (pre-N.T.) times a specifically Jewish type of Gnosticism. The days are past in which Gnosticism was supposed to be of heretical-Christian origin. Students find many references in ancient Jewish lore to a sect or party called "Minim." It was at one time customary to identify these Minim with Jewish-Christians. Friedländer gives the term a far wider and differently-oriented significance. He goes so far as to exclude the Jewish-Christians from its range altogether. The Minim are in Friedländer's opinion a product of the Alexandrian-Jewish philosophy which had Philo for its chief exponent. Their tendency, religiously considered, lay in the direction of antinomianism. What Friedländer quotes from his sources as bearing out the equation Belial-Antichrist is of a decidedly legalistic complexion. It is this uniformizing point of view that enables the writer to give the figure of his Antichrist such a large and comprehensive range. But, and this is our chief criticism of the hypothesis, into the figure of the Man-of-Sin drawn by Paul the construction will not fit. In Thessalonians the Antichrist appears far different and far worse than merely "antinomian." Even from an orthodox-Jewish point of view laxness in the legalistic mode of life or a degree of (conscious or only unconscious) infidelity to the law, tending through allegorizing to apostasy, could scarcely ever have produced the features of the Apostle's lurid description. It must be admitted, however, and in this respect Friedländer has called attention to a sometimes neglected element, that through the second half of Paul's prophecy in Thessalonians in what is predicted of the great error-produced and error-producing activity of the Enemy there runs an "antinomian" strain. In the first half the aggressive formidable traits are more in evidence. But on the whole Paul's relation to "antinomianism" as gatherable from his Epistles was of a far different, in certain respects even opposite, nature than that implied in Friedländer's construction. To the Judaizers Paul appeared as himself the great "antinomian"; had Paul had the sin of antinomianism specifically in mind when penning his great prophecy, he could hardly have been so entirely oblivious of the slanderous way in which it had been used by his enemies to defame himself as not to indicate by a single word his own interest in the matter.
Since then no clearly traceable and safe road leads back into the past to discover the Man-of-Sin except that via the prophecy of Daniel, we must now, in greater detail examine what are the points or features through which certain Danielic characterizations have become incorporated into the Pauline prophecy without meaning to suggest by this that the scattered elements in Daniel furnish a complete account, either as to substance or form, of all the outstanding features in Thessalonians. "The mouth speaking great things" Dan. 7:8, 20, is a striking pre-analogy to all the blasphemy with which the Apostle in advance charges the Man-of-Sin. Thess. vs. 4 "he that oppposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or is worshipped; so as to sit in the temple of God setting himself forth as God" reminds of vs. 24 in the same chapter of Daniel. The "doing according to his will" and "magnifying himself" Dan. 8:4 finds its echo in the trait of anti-divine overbearing, which has so vividly set its impress upon the Pauline description. The "little horn," that came out of one of the four "notable horns," into which the "great horn" of the goat was broken, likewise proceeds to blasphemous acts, so far even as to take away from the Prince of the Host the most sacred religious apparatus, and to cast down the place of the sanctuary (Dan. 8:14), and bears a striking likeness to the Apostle's description in Thessalonians. "The abomination that makes desolate" above commented upon (Dan. 11:31), is entirely in line with the features named. Closely corresponding to Thess. vs. 4 is Dan. 11:36, "he shall do according to his will and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god and speak marvellous things against the God of gods," anticipating the realistic description of Thess. It must be acknowledged, that the Danielic vision and the Pauline apocalypse cannot be so laid one over the other as a transparent paper is laid over a map in clear colors, so as to be able to trace for every detail a clear corresponding double underneath. With much likeness there is much unlikeness, or rather much lacking in close resemblance. There may be no exact resemblance in the behavior of the pagan tyrants to Antichrist's setting himself in the temple of God as a self-deifier, but as between type and antitype the correspondence is close enough. The only aspect in regard to which a somewhat pervasive difference remains lies in this that the element of perversion of revealed truth, so striking in Paul, remains in Daniel more or less in abeyance. But this is what one might a priori expect from an Old Testament visionary delineation.
In all these respects the latter part of Daniel is steeped in the colors not of the supernatural only, but the figures arising and walking across the scene of its visions are supernormal, gigantic, colossal shapes. The absolute, the unsurpassable, the excess of blasphemous behavior are written in large letters on the face of these exponents of unique wickedness to come. Nor need doubt be entertained as to the personal condensation which these bulks of evil receive in the process of forecasting the evil fortunes of the people of God. It is true, the complete unification imparted to the godless movement in Thessalonians, wherein Antichrist is made to stand out as a living sculptured personality, is in Daniel not yet attained. The storm-clouds have not that far opened their gaps to let him step forth as the personal spirit of the tempest. It should be remembered, however, that the ideas of the massal and of the individual, of the power in the abstract and its wielder in the concrete are not always sharply distinguished in such types of apocalyptic representation. This does not mean that the personal equation is ignored or ever entirely left in the background. That a wicked and oppressive and blasphemous world-power employs a king of the same characteristics is simply taken for granted. Let us notice, how, after the description of the beasts in Dan. 7:1–8, which is adapted to make us think of kingdoms merely, the interpreter says (vs. 17): "These great beasts which are four, are four Kings." Hence also one is quite warranted to think in the theophany of the "One like unto a man (son-of-man)" of an actual single being and not merely, as nowadays so many would like to have us do, of a mere symbol of the kingdom of God. This interchange between power and head of the power regularly returns throughout the visions and their interpretations. In 8:10–12 things are predicated of "the little horn" conceivable of some individual only; the noun "horn" is feminine, and the feminine verbs of the sentences agree with this; in 8:22–26 the first king of Greece is represented by the shaggy goat, and also by the great horn between his eyes; here at first the forms are feminine, but in vs. 23 "a king" is said to stand up, because, in accordance with this, the wickedness is brought to a climax through a concrete person. So it is represented in 7:8 ff., where the fourth beast resolves itself into ten horns. Of the little horn, coming up from among these, it is said, that it had eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. Because of the supernatural coloring of this description it has been assumed that a vision of the personal Antichrist must be contained in it, the more so since the description immediately precedes the episode of the judgment, vss. 9–14. In the interpretation of the vision given by "one of them that stood by" the same close conjunction between the fierceness of the prosecution inflicted upon the saints and the judgment is noticeable; here likewise the picture given of the horn rising from the ten partakes of supernormal features: he speaks words against the Most High, vs. 25. To be sure, here this element is not so strongly stressed and by themselves the words might be understood of some human political force or its representative king. He "changes times and the law." But the vision of the judgment and the dominion of the saints following thereupon is again no less steeped in eschatological colors than the one standing at the close of the original revelation itself, vs. 14.
In Chap. 8:10 similar phenomena present themselves. In some respects even stronger terms are used in the description of the doings of the "little horn" (here growing out of the four horns of the ram) as in the preceding account: "it waxed great, even to the host of heaven, and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled upon them." Here, be it noted, we seem to be in the midst of the fortunes and afflictions of the Syrian war, and time-reckonings as to duration of the oppression are given; moreover, the account issues not into a scene of absolute consummation; the goal set is rather the cleansing of the sanctuary, which is in accordance with the fact that the wickedness of the tyrant had culminated in the sacrilege done to the holy places and things. None the less in the subjoined interpretation a king of fierce countenance appears, understanding dark riddles, mighty, but not by his own power, causing craft to prosper in his hand, magnifying himself in his heart, broken in the end without hand. In 11:36 ff, the king is described as doing according to his will, exalting himself and magnifying himself above every god, speaking marvellous things against the God of gods, not even regarding the god of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor any god, magnifying himself above all. In reading this we cannot help feeling strongly that such terms would not be naturally applied to any average human enemy, however much in the hysteria of excited religious patriotism the physiognomy of such a tyrant might tend to acquire a sort of supernatural monstrosity. It has been assumed that where these phenomena emerge the Apocalypse makes a sudden leap of vision out of its forecasts of politico-historical setting, into the remoteness of the absolute end, so as to bring upon the scene the actual individual Antichrist. In order to make this to a certain extent intelligible we should have to fall back upon the law, not unfamiliar in the exposition of prophecy, of the foreshortening towards the end of the prophetic perspective. Even in regard to the most striking passages in Chap. 11 and Chap. 12, where the injection of the idea of the resurrection proves that the seer deals with downright eschatological values there is no clean escape from this, because in 12:1 the words "and at that time" mark, as it were, the hopping-off point for this flight out of the nearer present into the rarer atmosphere of the end. The view referred to is in some ways attractive. It yields a direct, realistic picture in the O.T. Scriptures of the veritable Antichrist without need of recurring upon the intermediate process of typical prefiguration. What is taught in literal terms about the Antichrist in the N.T. thus acquires a direct continuity with the O.T. predictions. This avoids abrupt, violent breaks in the development of the idea. True, it keeps the eschatological Antichrist closely entangled with personages or events of contemporary history. A suggestion has been offered to obviate at least part of this difficulty. Much has been theorized in the last decades concerning the ancient existence in several quarters of the ancient world of a fixed body of eschatological lore, in which, among other ingredients, also the figure of a personal supreme wicked power held its place. Revelation transferred the features of monstrosity that had gathered around this "Antichrist"-complex to any malign enemy of the nearer or more remote crisis, thus serving the double purpose of adding to what was previously known of this mysterious person and of rendering its central significance applicable to the practical needs of the time being.
But where are we to look within the Old Testament for a body of belief or revelation substantial enough to have created a fixed nomenclature of the character thus postulated? Were it a matter of eschatology in general, it might be more feasible to trace back the later beliefs to earlier beginnings, to which the later elaborations could attach themselves. But it is quite a different thing to assume such a process with regard to the figure of an individual Antichrist, even if discounting the etymology, we were to confine ourselves to the general idea of a supreme impersonation of malignity and hostility. In that field the stream of folklore derived from ancient sources flows but scantily, or even trickles down to nothing, so that at last we are driven back upon the dire dragon contending with Marduk in the ancient Babylonian cosmogony. From Daniel to these ur-Shemitic myths there is a far cry, and in the territory spanned there would remain little enough of continuity from span to span to be of much importance.
The "Gog (and Magog," or "from Magog")-prophecy in Ezekiel might at first sight seem to afford some help here. Closely looked at, it presents rather a parallel of somewhat older date than, strictly speaking, a precedent of the Danielic vision. The prophecy of Ezekiel differs from the description in Daniel first through its warlike complexion and next through the absence of the directly Godward, blasphemic element; it also, however, falls out of the frame of the ordinary prophetic threatenings against the enemies of Israel, present or future, through the stupendousness of its proportions. Still this is a matter of degree rather than of principial difference. It has one feature not common to ordinary threatening prophecy: the attack of Gog and of his hordes is distinctly described as occurring after a period of rest and felicity enjoyed by the people of God subsequently to a previous redemption and return to their land, Chap. 38:7–12, 14. Even this also, however (the second attack on a world-wide scale and the gigantic victory over the assembled hordes), has its preformation in the earlier prophecy, notably so in Isaiah 24–27 and Micah 4:2 and its context. In these earlier texts it proves more or less difficult to establish beyond doubt the particular point in question, viz. the time of succedence of the second all-comprehensive attack. Attention is called to such earlier utterances as Ezek. 38:17. The chronological definition of the great events as belonging to "the latter days," 38:16 is not of itself sufficient to mark the piece as consummatorily-eschatological, for, as observed in a previous connection, the phrase named has in the prophetic perspective a movable position. It is not so much something in the content of the Ezekiel-prophecy, that secures it its prominence in O.T. eschatology, but rather something added to and brought into it from the New Testament, viz. the reproduction of it in Rev. 20:7–10, where the context allows of no other than the reference to the absolute issue of events.
After all, what we are chiefly concerned with are the antecedents in the earlier Scriptures of the Pauline Antichrist pericope. So far as this is concerned, it is plain at a single glance, that Paul is not to any large extent dependent upon the Ezekielian source, for in the one feature in which the latter might seem to go beyond Daniel, through the mention of a specific name, and the summing up in it of the entire complex of the final enmity, Paul has not availed himself of this, but confined himself to qualitatively descriptive designations, a trait entirely in keeping with the un-military, un-political tenor of the Pauline prophecy. And, on the other hand, it is in Daniel that the general tone and atmosphere of the pictures and visions are more unearthly and transcendental, so that no one need wonder at finding precisely in these respects the O.T. and N.T. epochal prophecies intentionally and intimately connected. Though Ezekiel may furnish us with the interesting names of Gog and Magog, it is Daniel who unrolls for us the scroll of the resurrection, something in the wake of which, with or without interval, the final consummation must ensue.
That Paul in 2 Thess. 2 is dependent on Daniel hardly requires pointing out. The "falling away" (apparently a technical apocalyptic term) of vs. 3 reminds strongly of Dan. 11:32 ff.; 11:39; the predestinarian strain in Dan. 11, 12 finds its reflection in 2 Thess. 2:11–13. Particularly the anti-religious, blasphemous trait in the description of the enemy must have been copied after Daniel: "He opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sits in the temple of God setting himself forth as God"; cp. Dan. 5:20–23; 7:20, 21; 8:11; 11:31; 36–40 with 2 Thess. 2:4.
But, however striking these prophetic antecedents and literary dependencies may seem, the chief question remains how Paul for himself conceived of this mysterious power. First of all its personality, while not explicitly affirmed, is throughout assumed. It is true, the collective, abstract movement connected with his appearance, teaches that more than a single powerful person is involved. But most assuredly a personal leader of the movement, and that a human personality is suggested. The easiest way to prove this might at first sight seem to point to the phrases "the man of sin," "the son of perdition," were it not for the commonness of the idiom to prefix "son" or "man" to a certain attribute or characteristic in order to mark the person meant as the supreme manifestation or exponent of the quality spoken of. In such a case "son" would not necessarily determine the species of the person referred to; a superhuman, demonic leader of the forces of sin and the issues of perdition it could be properly called "man" or "son" of that with which he is identified, cp. Jno. 17:12 (of Judas) "the son of perdition." This idiomatic way of speaking does not even exclude Satan from the field of possibilities. And there are not a few features in the description reminding vividly of the nature and ways of Satan, that supreme antagonist of God. Nevertheless the whole tenor of the passage implies that a visible historically conditioned episode, playing in the clear light of human history, is thought of. Besides this, we are explicitly told in vs. 9 that his "coming is according to the working of Satan." What is according to Satan's working cannot be identical with Satan himself. On the other hand, for an evil superhuman spirit under Satan, the stage set and the drama unrolled, if once placed in the historic sphere, would seem almost with necessity to require the visible interposition of him who is chief in the kingdom of evil, in association with that of the intermediate, be it superhuman, demonic agent. We may take for granted, then, that the Antichrist will be a human person. Into this view also best fit the developments and events connected with his appearance and activity. That his whole figure is steeped as it were, in the atmosphere of the supernatural, cannot alter anything in this respect. He certainly stands at a far remove from the purely-naturalistically human; wonders and signs are attributed to him, vs. 9; the "lying wonders," are not characterized by the attribute "lying" as inherently false, spurious, of mere fictitious make-up; they are so called because they go with the propaganda of error as the revelation-miracles accompany the proclamation of the Gospel-truth, The supernatural environment is truly present; only it serves the sinister purpose of accrediting the Satanic instead of the Divine. This close conjunction between the supernatural and the Man-of-Sin has led certain writers to the extreme view, that the conjunction is of a hypostatic character, "Antichrist" appearing and acting as a veritable Messiah-Satan incarnate. Such a view is rendered impossible, not merely by its monstrous nature, but even antecedently through the inherent, subordinationistic function of the Messiahship as such. Who sets himself up as a Messiah, thereby, at least ostensibly, recognizes that there is One higher than himself. To the "Man-of-Sin" Paul ascribes the denial and abnegation of every other superior divine power. He deifies Himself in the most absolute sense; the Antichrist-idea and the Messianic idea are at this point mutually exclusive. Antichrist might choose to operate by means of a Messiah under him, as his instrument, himself he cannot pretend to be the Messiah, because that would involve abdication of his pretension to being God. When Jesus in the third temptation is offered a Satanically controlled Messiahship, through accepting which He would have to transfer His Messianic allegiance from God to the Tempter, the principle just stated is clearly brought out; the new relation proposed is instantly recognized as an idolatrous one, and for that, if for no other reason, repudiated. What Satan there suggested was nothing less than that he himself should figure as God and Jesus as his Messiah. One who receives worship and dispenses power over all the kingdoms of the world is, conceptually, equal to God; he who accepts such power in feof can be nothing else than inferior to God in office. Had Jesus reacted upon this truly blasphemous suggestion, He would have been an equally subordinated agent as He was in reality; only the relationship would have existed between Him and the false god, and thus partaken of illusoriness instead of reality from beginning to end. According to Paul's description the Man-of-Sin stands at the extreme opposite to this: he is one for whom to present himself as Messiah would have meant to disavow himself. If the two cases, that of the temptation and that in Thessalonians are perforce to be compared, we shall have to say that they agree in the extreme unholy pretensions displayed in both (exclusive claim to deity), but differ in the rôles postulated in each case for Jesus as Messiah-Apostate and the future Man-of-Sin. In both Satan subject to the true God aspires to deity; in the Gospel he endeavors to carry this out by means of the prostituted Messiahship (under himself) of Jesus; with this method, at least so far as the explicit statements of Paul lead us to infer, he will dispense in the future. His own claims will lie in the sphere of the divine, not of the Messianic.
On the grounds thus generally formulated we feel bound to reject the one concrete form in which the Messianic construction of the Antichrist-idea has been worked out. It has been suggested that the Apostle conceived of the coming Man-of-Sin as the pseudo-Messiah of the Jews, about to set himself up sooner or later as the abnegator and repudiator of Jesus, the Christian Messiah, and as on principle opposing the latter by his whole activity. According to this view the Antichrist meant for Paul, at the date of 2 Thess., the person whom the Jews would recognize as their Messiah, and who would in reality be the supreme embodiment of the spirit of disobedience and unbelief with regard to the true Christian Gospel as centered in the Messiahship of Jesus. The figure would stand for the Satanic corruption and prostitution of the Jewish Messianic hope. From the circumstances under which the Epistle was written, it is believed, the entire situation is easily explainable. Direct opposition and persecution the Apostle had, up to that time, experienced from the Jews only. Where the Gentile population had molested him, it had done so at the instigation of the Jewish populace. Precisely at Thessalonica the latter had happened during Paul's preaching in that city; likewise in Corinth, whence our Epistle was written, the same enmity had confronted him. Both First and Second Thess. speak of the Jews in the terms of strongest malediction. When "the mystery of iniquity" is said to be "already at work" (vs. 7), this, we are told, is most naturally understood of the enmity of the Jews even then plotting in secret for Paul's destruction. At bottom this enmity, while ostensibly confined to Jesus and his Apostle, was disobedience to God, and would therefore issue into downright apostasy with such open manifestations of godlessness and blasphemy as are subsequently depicted. It is even believed, that the blasphemous claims of the "Lawless One," opposing and exalting himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped, so as to sit in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God (vs. 4), can be explained on the principle of the Messiah's being the absolute representative of God, whence falsely claiming Messiahship amounts to falsely laying claim to divine honor and worship. The very fact of the enthronization in the temple at Jerusalem proves, we are told, that none other than a pseudo-Messiah of the Jews can be thought of, because by resorting to that place he recognizes the sanctuary as the habitation of God. The pseudo-prophecy mentioned in vs. 9 is likewise believed to favor this solution of the problem. The two features combined of usurped power and false prophecy are especially supposed to prove that the malign enemy must be a Jew, whilst elsewhere, when a pagan potentate impersonates the Antichrist (as in the Johannine Apocalypse) the false prophecy appears as a separate movement, working in connection with, but not identical with, the antichristian principle in its highest potency. Still further, on the view under discussion Paul anticipated that the Jewish pseudo-Messiah would attempt to overthrow the Roman Empire, and seek to establish a universal (not "universalistic") Jewish kingdom. Finally, on this interpretation the technical terms "the restrainer" (ὁ κατέχων masc.) and "the restraint" (τὸ κατέχον neut.) are supposed naturally to refer to the Roman power and the Emperor. By the Roman authority Paul had been more than once protected from the machinations and persecutions of the Jews, so that he could easily think of it as restraining for the present the fiercest and final flaring up of the Jews' hostility against the cause of Christ represented by himself.
When the Jewish-pseudo-Messiah-Antichrist theory is thus concretely put before us, we immediately begin to feel how impossible its implications are. It is not necessary now to dwell upon the fact that, if actually ascribed to Paul after such a bald fashion, it would most certainly fall under the rubric of mistaken and therefore unfulfilled (perhaps one should say unfulfillable) prophecy. What has most given popular support to it is the name "Antichrist" itself, reminding as it does of "the Christ," who is antagonized or opposed not only, but in very fact supplanted through usurpation of his office. But it ought to be remembered at the outset, that the word "Antichrist," or the predicate "Antichristian" do not belong to the Pauline vocabulary. They are Johannine terms within the New Testament. And further, even where they occur in the Epistles of John, it is by no means certain that the preposition "anti" is meant to bear the pointed meaning of "in the place of." In the passages in John's Epistles the sense "Opponent of Christ" appears perfectly plain and natural. Still it is far from impossible that in the popular mind the distinction between one who antagonizes Christ and one who seeks to supplant Christ was not always sharply felt. Of course, the supplanting involves the antagonizing, but the reverse does not hold true, because there are other modes of antagonizing than by ursurpation of the enemy's office. All we may attempt to affirm here is the larger generic conception, and then, proceeding from this, to seek to discover what elements, if any, and of what precise nature, enter of the more particularized conception, so as to ascertain whether the sense "in the place of" for "anti" unmistakably appears.
For the sake of precision a distinction should be drawn between the two concepts of a pseudo-Jewish Messiah, and that of an Arch-enemy of God, who, without meaning to exhibit himself as a Jewish Messiah, or professedly being recognized as such, none the less adopts or imitates certain methods put into practice by the genuine Christian Messiah, always, however, keeping his inner spiritual mentality and attitude, together with those of his followers, outside of the focus of the Messianic subordination to God. That the semblance of Messianic method and procedure will not be lacking may be safely affirmed a priori. After all, since we are here dealing with two supreme world-organizing forces, both operating on the same immense scale, there must needs be points and surfaces, where, formally considered, they will touch and in result of this to some extent resemble each other. The same wide folds of cosmical drapery are thrown over both; no wonder that, as they stride in gigantic shape over the field of prophecy and world-history, the impression is created that rivalry in the pursuit of the same supreme goal animates the onward march of each. There is a largeness in the construction of programme, that inevitably puts them in parallelism. Thus an "apokalypsis" is ascribed to the Man-of-Sin, vs. 6: "to the end that he may be revealed in his own season; vs. 8: "and then shall be revealed "the Lawless One"; in vs. 9 we read of his "parousia": "whose parousia is according to the working of Satan with all powers and signs and lying wonders." His whole manner of working is described in terms that compel us to think of something parallel to the Gospel propaganda carried on by the servants of the true Christ. All these things, however, though apparently confirming the theory of pseudo-Jewish-Messiahship, fall short in the one vital respect: they neither imply, nor, taken together with vs. 4, permit of the consciousness or recognition or pretense of Messianic subordination to the supreme God. The Man-of-Sin is bent upon, and driven by Satan into reproducing and exploiting for his wicked ends certain grandiose concomitants of the Christ-epiphany, but is unable to sum these up under the supreme category of Messiahship, for the simple reason that such would defeat his innermost, and public, aim of absolute emancipation from all that is divine or quasi-divine. If a term be wanted to mark off sharply the one frame of mind and method of working from the other, it may be defined as that of "plagiarizing" certain exceedingly effective Messianic methods, and making the most of these, whilst all the time taking care lest they should be construed by his followers in such a way as would frustrate his un-Messianic, nay directly contra-Messianic intent. In reality no two things could be more opposite than this openly irreligious, antichristian state of mind, and the profoundly religious subordination, bordering upon self-effacement of Jesus to God. The plagiarisms adopted are in their very complexion but tools towards the setting up of an openly professed un-Messianic program, a program not only void objectively, but meant to be void of all Christian religious acknowledgments and aspirations. The Man-of-Sin is the irreligious and anti-religious and anti-Messianic subject par excellence.
It must be admitted, that among the patristic writers, from Irenaeus onward, the Antichrist appears not unfrequently as a Jew. The tracing back of his genealogy to the tribe of Dan is an instance of this. To Bousset this furnishes sufficient reason for declaring it part of the alleged ancient pre-Christian doctrine concerning the Man-of-Sin in Jewish writings or traditions, lost to us but still accessible to the Church Fathers. The tribe of Dan came under consideration by reason of what is related concerning it in Gen. 49:16, 17: "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel; Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, biting the horse's heels so that his rider shall fall backward." According to Deut. 32:22, "Dan is a lion's whelp, leaping from Bashan," viz., a rival or enemy of the Messianic tribe of Judah. Jer. 8:16 depicts, how the snorting of the enemy's horses shall be heard from Dan, and the whole land tremble at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones. Lev. 24:10, 11 was likewise called into requisition, because the man who blasphemed "the name" is there said to have been the son of a Danite woman. There was still further the fact, that, according to Jud. 18:30, 31, the Danites had from early times practised idolatry, and that, later on, Dan had become one of the two centers of bull-worship introduced by Jeroboam. But probably the main motive for this patristic judification of the Man-of-Sin lay (apart from the Apocalypse), in what Paul prophesies concerning his setting up his throne in the temple, which many could not conceive on any other basis than that of his affiliation with the Jewish religion. There is no reason to believe that for all this there was any other ground than allegorizing exegesis.
The above takes issue with the view that Paul, or as is asserted the author of 2 Thess., ascribed to the Man-of-Sin a Jewish provenience and modelled him after the image of the false Jewish Messiah. Another illustration of "zeitgeschichtliche" interpretation is afforded by the opposite view, that his is a pagan figure embodying in itself the wicked essence of paganism carried to its utmost intensity, and directed with intensest malignity against the true God and his people. Both Daniel and the Johannine Apocalypse contain much that, at least as a phase in the history of Antichristianism, seems to favor this. When, however, thus narrowed down to its "zeitgeschichtliche" interpretation, the process from which Paul expected the end of the world becomes no more than a piece of the drama of Roman imperial persecution inflicted upon Jew and Christian and in its far-reaching import long since discredited. In its most popular form it is believed to have attached itself to the at one time current belief, that Nero, the arch-persecutor would, notwithstanding his disappearance from the scene by flight or death, soon return, and then, with the help of Satan, through supernatural influences and activities, set up a new phase of his wicked reign, conducted with an unparalleled virulence of Antichristian persecution. This view has been ascribed to the writer of 2 Thess. and the Apocalypse, both of which on that view being denied to the cononical writers under whose names they stand. Considering only the question of dating, it is plain that the Apostle Paul could have had on such a theory nothing to do with the writing of 2 Thess. The piece thus interpreted presupposes the death of Nero, which happened 68 A.D. And although the same charge of anachronism could not be brought against the (allegedly composite) Apocalypse, yet here the phantastic and in many respects conflicting scenes, derived, it is held, from the most various, to a large extent mythical, sources, would deprive the last book in our N.T. Canon, at least in its visionary part, of well-nigh all religious value. With the application of this hypothesis to the Book of Revelation we have here nothing to do, because we desire to keep strictly within the limits of the Pauline Eschatology. 2 Thess. particularly, as a unicum in the Pauline Epistles in its teaching on the last things, deserves to be treated by itself with undistracted attention. Only after the contents of it shall have been ascertained, so far as this is possible, does the law of the "analogia fidei" demand of the student that he shall endeavor to correlate and harmonize the one with the other.
Modern criticism has not always kept sufficiently in mind this methodical principle. Starting with the Neronian form of the Antichrist theory, too rashly forced upon the Apocalypse of John, it has caused the little prophecy of Paul to become darkened and dwarfed by the huge shadows of its larger companion. Under the obsession that the Nero story must be the chief source of ancient Christian occupation with and dread of the last things, it was regarded a self-understood maxim, that Paul's "Man-of-Sin" was cradled in the same circle of superstition. The Tübingen school lent to this Romanization (or rather Neronization) the aid of its prestige. Such champions of Hegelian N.T. Criticism as Kern, F. C. Baur, Hilgenfeld and many others strenuously advocated it from the first. The pictures of both Chaps. 13 and 17 of the Apocalypse were explained on this basis of the Nero-return-belief. In the former context it is related that one of the seven heads of "the beast" was smitten unto death, and his death-stroke healed, and that after this the beast received authority from the dragon, and acted and was worshipped after an Antichrist-fashion. The famous number of the beast is given as 666, and as lending support to the theory, the opinion arose that this number was the result of addition of the number-values of the Hebrew characters composing the name "Neron Kesar." In Chap. 17 it is related that the seven-headed and ten-horned beast upon which the woman sits: was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition, and again, that he was and is not and shall come (πάρεσται). Further, that the seven heads are seven kings, of which the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come, that the seventh, when come, must continue a little while, and that thereupon the beast will appear as the eighth, it being added that the beast is also of the seven. The seven kings are on this theory identified with the seven first Roman Emperors, among which Nero holds the fifth place. This piece, then, it is believed, was written after Nero's death, under the sixth Emperor, and it embodies the expectation that after a brief reign of his next two successors Nero will return from the dead in the rôle of Antichrist.
We have given a brief survey of these several attempts in order to make plain how unfeasible it is to fit into the lock of 2 Thess. 2 the key of the Johannine Apocalypse. These are two, not one, prophecies, and each has the right to be exegeted on its own merits and within its own context. There is absolutely nothing in Paul's description of the Man-of-Sin to remind of Nero. True, the Man-of-Sin has his parousia, and, combining with this the idea of a double parousia ("second coming") of Christ, an intimation might be found in the introduction of this term to the effect that the Man-of-Sin will likewise appear twice, first in his historical emergence, and afterwards, having withdrawn from the scene, be it through death or through flight to the Orient, in a highly demonic, supernaturalized form, to play out his complete anti-Christian rôle. Surely a weak support to hang the overrash identification of the happenings in 2 Thess. and in Revelation on. This formal distinction between "first advent" and "second advent," so familiar to us, had not at that time been drawn, at least it had not acquired any such fixed meaning as to become of itself suggestive of a duplication of the Neronic appearance. If Jesus' epiphany was one only, and that a future one, then the chronologically-innocent use of the term "parousia" could never suggest the idea of a Nero revenant, far less of a Nero redivivus. Moreover Nero had been the great persecutor of the Christians, and precisely to this character of persecutor he owed his eschatological reputation. In Thessalonians his activity lies fundamentally in the sphere of religious and moral seduction. He proceeds, not by applying violence, but through estranging and leading astray his followers from the truth of the Gospel. Of political organization and activity, though in reality the antecedents of the Antichrist tradition made it difficult to dissociate him wholly from this, nothing is said by the Apostle in so many words. The theme is, as it were, lifted above this plane by the general tenor of Paul's teaching which was wont to seize upon large principles of religious development, either for good or for evil.
This latter feature of Paul's treatment of the great enemy is plainly reflected in the names "Man-of-Sin," or, according to a much adopted variant reading, "Man-of-Unrighteousness" and the "Lawless One." As has been observed above, these are Hebrew idioms; they designate one in whom sin and unrighteousness have become concentrated, yet not so as to make him entirely identical with Satan in Paul's conception. The words had acquired peculiar associations ever since the time of the Syrian crisis foretold in the prophecy of Daniel. It has been suggested, that "ἀποστασία," vs. 3 "the falling away" is likewise meant as a proper name to be coordinated with the others, so as to represent the Enemy as "Apostasy Incarnate." That later patristic writers have made this formal identification (so Chrys. and Thdt.) proves nothing for Paul's intent here. The change of the word into a proper name was probably favored by the occasional rendering of Belial by "Apostasis," and the consequent identification of Belial with Antichrist. While for Paul this usage cannot be substantiated, the immediate injection of the idea in the prophecy from the very outset proves the importance attached to it. The blasphemy against God constitutes to the Apostle the supreme wickedness. The self-deification, so elaborately set forth in vs. 4, is felt as the inmost sinfulness in the sin of the Man-of-Sin. The transition from vs. 3 to vs. 4, by means of the mere article strikingly brings out the nexus of thought: precisely because he goes to the non plus ultra of sin, he deserves fully the name "Man-of-Sin," and the doom announced by "Son-of-Perdition." Among the terrible things reserved for the proximity of the end, the most terrible to Paul's mind, is this negation of God in his very existence, this wilful insult to the divine majesty. In it the very foundations of religion are shaken. The "sitting in the temple of God" only sums up in one terse image that unholiest offense offered to the Holiest of Beings. Nor is this self-deification conceived as a purely passive attitude; it energetically asserts itself against all deity as such, pretended or true. The participle ἀποδεικνύντα implies the thought of intensified, positive assault upon God: deeds, not mere assertions, are meant by it. In this, as in every other strand of his teaching, Paul shows himself thoroughly theocentric.
In order still somewhat further to determine the character in which the Apostle represents this impersonation of wickedness, it will be conducive to raise the question, what inner connection there is between the "apostasy," this moral and religious débacle on the grandest of scales and the appearing and activity of the "Lawless One" up to its catastrophic finale at the end. The "Man-of-Sin" is not without more identical with the apostasy, which rather like an ominous cloud of blackest darkness, enwraps his appearance. The "falling away" is one of the attending phenomena in the infernal outbreak, but not entirely identical with the latter's explosion. It has, if only in a premonitory way, its sure connection with the arrival of the Enemy. The "Man-of-Sin" has his hand in fanning the flame to its fierceness as a world-conflagration. Such is the explicit affirmation of vss. 9–12. But the reverse relationship can be affirmed with equal warrant. In vs. 3, the sequence indicates that the apostasy comes first, and that on the waves of its tempest the Wicked One is lifted up and carried on to his ultimate destination. One might even infer, that not merely the falling in upon itself of the fabric of the world of evil, but likewise the first beginnings of its ominous origin, are due to him. The highly enigmatic words of vs. 7: "The mystery of lawlessness does already work," whatever in the concrete they refer to, certainly leave with us the impression of some preliminary, gradual, secret activity behind the scene, as it were, of what is impending. The "Lawless One" comes when the moment is ripe for placing himself at the head of a movement that has already gained impetus not without his initiative. Of course, such a movement stands from the outset under the influence of that same superhuman power, that will also bring the Man-of-Sin into the open. The two not merely follow each other in time, but are also internally connected through the Satanic influences working back of each. On the other hand, according to vss. 9–12 the appearance of the "Anomos" becomes the occasion for a more widely extended and systematically organized apostasy. He deceives those that are being lost (i.e. condemned to and on the way towards perdition). God through him sends them a working of error, so that they believe a lie. His deceptive and misleading methods lead to a culmination of that doom, which through the interaction of unbelief at the beginning, and the punitive hardening of God has been made inevitable. The whole representation reminds vividly of what is narrated in Exodus concerning Jehovah's dealing with Pharaoh. The phrase "not having received the love of the truth," seems to indicate, that not merely through neglect of the truth in the abstract, but that with a pointed antagonism to God the apostates have disdained his manifestation of love which formed the central substance of "the truth" revealed and offered to them in the Gospel, and which tended to their salvation. The excessive sinfulness of this attitude towards the gospel appears from the extreme reaction it provokes on God's part: "for this cause God sends them a working of error, that they should believe a lie." Vss. 10–12 show that the self-deification of the "Lawless One" is not something confined to his own conviction; through the spirit of error sent from God, they are made to believe "τὸ ψεῦδος" "the lie," that is the fundamental, all-comprehensive lie, that follows in its totality from the setting up of himself as God by the "Man-of-Sin," for as in God and his position of deity the entire world and system of truth are founded, even so from the self-deifying spurious God, the counterpart of this, a world of "lying," is inseparable.
While thus sketching in broad strokes the immoral and irreligious character of this opponent of God and Christ, the Apostle has furnished neither the Thessalonians nor us with detailed, concrete information such as we, no less than they, might pardonably crave. Even the milieu from which all these terrible phenomena will in occurring detach themselves is not clearly designated. Besides this also stands unanswered the more concrete question, whence and how the personal head of this wickedness will enter upon the scene of his activities. Being a man, will he be born as a man, and at a point of ripeness assume his public rôle? Or are we perhaps to assume, that, like the whole manner of his activity, so the mode of his origin will be supernatural? If the latter, can we avoid the idea of a relative preëxistence spent in some mysterious hidden sphere, after some such manner as the Jews pictured to themselves the antecedent state of the Messiah previous to his public appearance? Will the termination of his career, described in words from Isaiah 11:4, be after the manner of "slaying," preserving the personal identity of the enemy slain, or after the manner of annihilation. The words ἀναλίσκειν and καταργεῖσθαι do not necessarily carry the latter implication, but, at any rate, they emphasize both the instantaneousness and the finality of the act: "whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his parousia." The enquiry as to the proximate environment of his arising, whether Jewish or Gentile, savors overmuch of the narrowly-zeitgeschichtlich framing of the problem. It is, of course, easy to argue: if not Jewish, then Pagan. But this does not necessarily follow. In the foregoing discussion we have not aimed at the exclusion of Jewish nationality per se, but only argued against the possibility of Jewish Messiahship; these two are different things. In the same way we have not sought either to affirm or to deny the pagan provenience of the Man-of-Sin. His person is so closely wrapped up with the idea of "the apostasy," and the latter is so generally associated in the New Testament with the Christian Church, that naturally in this connection also our first thought would be of a birth from the womb of an unfaithful Church, profoundly alienated from the rectitude of the true faith. The milieu seems to be one to which the distinction between Jew and Gentile has become indifferent, a milieu dereligionized in principle. Still more interesting and to popular inquisitiveness more attractive, appears the enquiry as to how the Antichrist shall come into the world. It must be conceded that such an air of supernaturalness, not to say superearthliness, envelopes the figure, that to think of a mysterious origin seems scarcely avoidable. Still his generic humanity remains beyond question, for, apart from the titles examined above, the very sharpness of the antithesis between him and God, the stress on the criminality of his pretense of being God, place him in the category of the creature beyond all shadow of doubt. It is not, however, plausible so to stress his historical emergence as to make him and his work a mere stage, by the side of other preceding stages, in the unfolding of the plan of God. As to a possible preëxistence, not merely as antedating the publicity of his appearance on the scene of activity, but likewise in regard to his entrance into the world, there is in the manner of his portraiture not a little that leads to thinking of this. Finally on the problem of his ultimate disposal it were presumptuous to risk a decisive conclusion. The Apocalypse itself tells nothing more of the Arch-deceiver, the devil, than that he was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet, and eternal torment is inflicted upon them, the same lake of fire into which Death and Hades were cast, and which is called "the second death," 20:6, 14. According to some exegetes this "second death" is equivalent to annihilation.
But these problems, already sufficiently obscure to deter the exegete from framing any definite, positive answer, even do not yet constitute the most cryptic part of the prophecy. Strange to say, the latter is found in the practical momentary bearing of Paul's words on the needs of his readers. In vss. 5–7, to be sure, the main purport of the discourse is not quite so opaque as the significance of the single parts and their mutual relations to one another. Their obvious purpose is none other than still further to restrain the Thessalonians in their over-eagerness and excitability with regard to the imminent, or perhaps even in their opinion at that very moment transpiring, advent of the Lord, while yet at the same time detracting nothing from the central value and high seriousness attaching to the matter in itself. The words are intended to compose and lead back to patience the readers in envisaging the realities of the parousia, both in their terrifying and in their comforting aspect. There is still delay, before the supreme event transpires; a certain process of hidden preparation must run its course; this process is called the ἐνεργε͂ισθαι. Together with the delay organically involved in this, there is also exercised a more positive κατέχειν "restraint," from which the person exercising it derives the semi-technical name ὁ κατέχων, "the restrainer," or τὸ κατέχον, that which restrains, in the neuter gender, vs. 6. The reason given for this is that the Man-of-Sin may he revealed in his own (proper) season, and not before that. Consequently the "restrainer" or "restraint" must be removed, "ἐκ μέσου γιγνέσθαι," whereupon straightway (τότε) the Lawless One shall be revealed, and whatever the prophecy has foretold concerning him go into fulfilment. Paul further ascribes to his readers a certain degree of knowledge formerly possessed concerning some of these things, partly derived from his previous presence with them, and a previous knowledge relating not to any peripheral matters, but to the very core of the Man-of-Sin's behavior. Now, at the time of his writing the second letter, he declares them possessed of additional knowledge as touching the "mystery of lawlessness" and the restraint retarding it. This, briefly stated, and with abstaining as much as possible from prejudicial exegesis, is the gist of what the crucial verses in question contain.
It will be observed that the several points named are not entirely independent from one another. That the "working" and the "restraining" mutually determine each other lies on the surface. But how is the mystery working? And where are we to look for the restraint that is being exercised? If the "νῦν," "now" in vs. 6 were to be construed, as is often done, with the increased knowledge of the readers, as differing from a previously relative ignorance, the inference would be plain, that at the time of writing the mystery was to a large extent solved for the Thessalonians. If they "knew" (οἴδατε) about the restraining power, then a fortiori they must have been likewise informed as regards the mystery of lawlessness held back by it. On this construction, however, the question inevitably obtrudes itself in which way such additional information had reached the Thessalonians. Not through the first letter, for in that no trace of it is to be discovered. Nor in the intervening time after the sending of 1 Thess., for Paul himself warns the readers against lending credence to communications concerning the presence of the day of the Lord, that reached them under the pretense of coming from him. It will be necessary, therefore, to abandon this construction, although the sequence of the words does not forbid it, and a natural contrast found between the words "when I was still with you," coupled with the verb "I told you these things" and the word νῦν lend a degree of plausibility to it: "then I told" and "now ye know." The other interpretation joins the "νῦν" to the participle κατέχον (in vs. 7 κατέχων). This would mean that they were informed about the power that was "now" holding back the outbreak of the ultimate wickedness, and, according to the γάρ at the opening of vs. 7, were informed likewise, through some initiation into secret happenings about the furtherance of the mystery of iniquity. The word "now," thus interpreted links the present knowledge of the Apostle and the Thessalonians to the absolute end of things, so far as the appearance of the Man-of-Sin can be said to precede the latter without further intervening developments at least on a large eschatological scale. Such a prospect overbridging ages is not an unknown thing in Biblical prophecy; the "now" of the reader and the "then" of the consummation not seldom stretch out hands towards one another over vast intermediate spaces. What causes unusual trouble lies not in that but in the fact that the point of departure for that long span is not for us determinable, although it was so for Paul and the readers of the Epistle. Still another difficulty should not be overlooked. The locating of the "restrainer" or "restraint," and the locating of the Antichristian center of wickedness are usually held to determine one the other on the principle of oppositeness. Where the Man-of-Sin is sought in Judaism, there the restraint or restrainer are sought within the pagan, particularly Roman, sphere. And the contrary view also has not been without advocates, viz. that the Enemy was expected from the Roman side, and the power of restraint somehow placed in Judaism. As to the latter view, the disproportionateness of the two factors is too obvious to deserve serious consideration. As to the former, the obstacles besetting the theory of Jewish provenience have been sufficiently brought out in an earlier connection. Where Judaism is entirely eliminated from the construction, and yet the "zeitgeschichtliche" principle upheld, as is the case with the Neronian hypothesis, it becomes necessary to place Antichrist and Restrainer within the same circle, one being e.g. one Emperor, the other his predecessor on the throne. The objection to this lies in the sharp antithetical character Paul seems to ascribe to the two principles. They are so diverse and antagonistic, that whence the one proceeds it is unnatural to look for the other. How could a relatively better Emperor restrain, or hold back the supremely iniquitous future Enemy, or even seriously hold back the increasing work of the "mystery of iniquity," when in the latter, as we are given to understand, the Satanic principles are making ready for their final assault upon the people of God? How could the temporary successor of Nero, with all the imperial might back of him, prevail for a moment against the onslaught of Nero returning, when the latter was being equipped and propelled by the Evil One himself? Truly, we move here among mysteries within mysteries!
A peculiar view worked out by Von Hofmann may lay claim to a brief notice. It is based on a representation in Daniel as to the successive powers contending against the people of Israel, and the relation of their activity one to the other. It need not be again pointed out, that in the vision of Daniel there is a higher super-terrestrial background to the contest the prophet is made to witness in the political devolutions of power. In Chap. 10 the supernatural person appearing to Daniel affirms to have been withstood by another supernatural power, called the Prince of the kingdom of Persia. This lasted for a certain length of time, after the lapse of which Michael, one of the chief Princes (also called "your Prince," i.e., the patron-Prince of Israel in vs. 21) came to help him, vs. 13, to confirm and strengthen him, 11:1. According to this representation the world-power has its Prince, and Israel has its Prince in the world of superhuman Spirits, and between these fierce, protracted combats are going on for supremacy on an immense, though invisible, field of battle. Thus, besides the Prince of Israel, there is another, who declares, that, after having spoken to the prophet, he will return to the fight against the Prince of Persia. But, when abandoning this further encounter, he goes away, the Prince of Greece will appear on the scene to renew the attack. Von Hofmann thinks that here we have something resembling in general outlines the situation of 2 Thessalonians. The three features of a withstanding of the demonic head of the world-power, of a removal or departure of the one that withstands, and of the immediate appearance after this of a more godless Antagonist of Israel's cause, here meet together. In view of this coincidence between the two prophecies one might, at least hypothetically, be tempted to assume that Paul likewise understood by the κατέχον and κατέχων something supernatural and far superior to all the might of Rome. If this be tentatively accepted, it throws at least some light on one subject otherwise entirely veiled in darkness. None the less the fact remains, that it is impossible for us to form concrete conceptions of how the restraint of the mystery takes place, how its power is organized, whether there is a direct retarding influence brought to bear upon the "Lawless One," or perhaps he is only indirectly affected in his movements by means of the influences brought to bear upon his victims.
One of the objections raised against the genuineness (Pauline origin) of 2 Thess., is that the Apostle, who expected according to Rom. 11:25 the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles and the salvation of all Israel, and regarded this momentous epoch as a precursor of the end, cannot, in direct contradiction to that, have made the end dependent on such an apostasy as is here predicted. The answer to this is that the coming in of the Gentiles does not preclude the falling away again from the Gentiles of considerable groups. The apostasy of the end had become too much a fixed factor in eschatology long before Paul, than that Paul could have simply ignored it or mapped out a program in which there was absolutely no room reserved for it. Even our Lord had distinctly predicted it. And in Rom. 11:20 ff. it is hinted at as a possibility. In Daniel likewise it is an important ingredient closely interwoven with the typical Antichristian vision of the prophet. Dan. 11:32.
In what has been said in this concluding section of our enquiry there has entered much that of necessity remains highly problematical, and will only cease to be so in the same degree that the vision hastens on to the end. 2 Thess. belongs among the many prophecies, whose best and final exegete will be the eschatological fulfilment, and in regard to which it behooves the saints to exercise a peculiar kind of eschatological patience.
The idea of the Antichrist in general and that of the apostasy in particular ought to warn us, although this may not have been the proximate purpose of Paul, not to take for granted an uninterrupted progress of the cause of Christ through all ages on toward the end. As the reign of the truth will be gradually extended, so the power of evil will gather force towards the end. The making all things right and new in the world depend not on gradual amelioration but on the final interposition of God.
From The Pauline Eschatology, by Geerhardus Vos.