Identifying “the Man of Lawlessness”
“The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with.”—2 THESSALONIANS 2:8.
1, 2. Why is it vital that we identify the man of lawlessness?
WE LIVE in an era of lawlessness. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Everywhere there is fear of lawless predators and the threat they present to our person and property. Yet, there is a far more insidious lawless element that has been at work for many centuries. In the Bible it is called “the man of lawlessness.”
2 It is vital that we identify this man of lawlessness. Why? Because he is intent on undermining our good standing with God and our hope of eternal life. How? By getting us to abandon the truth and to believe falsehoods in its place, thus diverting us from worshiping God “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) It is evident from his actions that this particular lawless element opposes God and his purposes, as well as his dedicated people.
3. How does the Bible call our attention to the lawless one?
3 The Bible tells of this man of lawlessness at 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Inspired by God’s spirit, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let no one seduce you in any manner, because [Jehovah’s day of destruction of this wicked system] will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed.” Here Paul prophesied that apostasy would develop and a man of lawlessness would appear before this system’s end. In fact, Paul stated in 2Th 2 verse 7: “The mystery of this lawlessness is already at work.” So in the first century, this lawless one had begun to manifest himself.
The Lawless Man’s Origin
4. Who is the originator and backer of the man of lawlessness?
4 Who originated and supports this man of lawlessness? Paul answers: “The lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10) So Satan is the father and sustainer of the man of lawlessness. And just as Satan is opposed to Jehovah, His purposes, and His people, so is the man of lawlessness, whether he realizes it or not.
5. What fate awaits the lawless one and those who follow him?
5 Those who go along with the man of lawlessness will suffer the same fate as he does—destruction: “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with . . . and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence.” (2 Thessalonians 2:8) That time for the destruction of the man of lawlessness and his supporters (“those who are perishing”) will come shortly “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction.”—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
6. What further information does Paul give about the lawless one?
6 Paul further describes this lawless one, saying: “He is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called ‘god’ or an object of reverence, so that he sits down in the temple of The God, publicly showing himself to be a god.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4) So Paul warns that Satan would raise up a lawless one, a false object of reverence, who would even put himself above God’s law.
Identifying the Lawless One
7. Why do we conclude that Paul was not talking about one individual, and what does the man of lawlessness stand for?
7 Was Paul speaking of a single individual? No, for he states that this “man” was evident in Paul’s day and would continue in existence until Jehovah destroyed him at this system’s end. Thus, he has existed for many centuries. Obviously, no literal man has lived that long. So the expression “man of lawlessness” must stand for a body, or class, of people.
8. Who is the man of lawlessness, and what are some identifying features?
8 Who are they? The evidence shows that they are the body of proud, ambitious clergymen of Christendom, who over the centuries have set themselves up as a law unto themselves. This can be seen by the fact that there are thousands of different religions and sects in Christendom, each with its clergy, yet each conflicting with the others in some aspect of doctrine or practice. This divided state is a clear evidence that they do not follow God’s law. They cannot be from God. (Compare Micah 2:12; Mark 3:24; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:10.) What all these religions have in common is that they do not hold fast to the Bible’s teachings, having violated the rule: “Do not go beyond the things that are written.”—1 Corinthians 4:6; see also Matthew 15:3, 9, 14.
9. What unscriptural beliefs has the lawless one substituted for Bible truths?
9 Thus, this lawless one is a composite person: the religious clergy of Christendom. All of them, whether popes, priests, patriarchs, or Protestant preachers, share responsibility for the religious sins of Christendom. They have exchanged the truths of God for pagan lies, teaching such unscriptural doctrines as immortality of the human soul, hellfire, purgatory, and Trinity. They are like the religious leaders to whom Jesus said: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. . . . He is a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Their practices also expose them as lawless, for they participate in activities that violate God’s laws. To such ones Jesus says: “Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matthew 7:21-23.
10. What relationship has the lawless one had with political rulers?
10 History shows that those in this man of lawlessness class have displayed such pride and arrogance that they have actually dictated to rulers of the world. Under the pretext of the doctrine of ‘the divine right of kings,’ the clergy have claimed to be the essential intermediary between the rulers and God. They have crowned and dethroned kings and emperors and have been able to turn the masses for or against rulers. In effect, they have said, as did the Jewish chief priests who rejected Jesus: “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Yet, Jesus clearly taught: “My kingdom is no part of this world.”—John 18:36.
11. How have the clergy elevated themselves?
11 To elevate themselves even more above the common people, this lawless class has adopted different garb, usually black. Further, they have adorned themselves with all kinds of imposing regalia, together with crowns, crosses, and miters. (Compare Matthew 23:5, 6.) But Jesus and his followers had no such garb; they dressed as did the common people. The clergy have also taken to themselves titles such as “Father,” “Holy Father,” “Reverend,” “Most Reverend,” “His Excellency,” and “His Eminence,” which add to their ‘lifting themselves over everyone.’ Yet, Jesus taught regarding religious titles: “Do not call anyone your father on earth.” (Matthew 23:9) Similarly, Elihu, in rebutting Job’s hypocritical comforters, said: “Let me not, please, show partiality to a man; and on an earthling man I shall not bestow a title.”—Job 32:21.
12. Whom did Paul say the clergy were actually serving?
12 When Paul back in his day stated that the man of lawlessness had already begun his activity, he also said concerning those who reflect that one’s lawless attitude: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness. But their end shall be according to their works.”—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
Rebellion Against True Worship
13. What is the apostasy Paul foretold?
13 Paul said that this man of lawlessness would develop along with apostasy. In fact, the first clue Paul gave as to the identity of this lawless class is that “the day of Jehovah [when Jehovah destroys this wicked system of things] . . . will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” (2 Thessalonians 2:2, 3) But what is meant by “apostasy”? In this context, it does not mean just a lapse or a falling away due to spiritual weakness. The Greek word here used for “apostasy” meant, among other things, a “defection” or a “revolt.” Several translations render it as “rebellion.” William Barclay’s version states: “That day cannot come until the Great Rebellion has taken place.” The Jerusalem Bible calls it “the Great Revolt.” Therefore, in the context of what Paul is discussing, “apostasy” means a revolt against true worship.
14. When did the apostasy begin to develop in earnest?
14 How did this apostasy, this rebellion, develop? At 2 Thessalonians 2:6, Paul wrote, regarding his day, about “the thing that acts as a restraint” on the lawless one. What was that? It was the restraining force of the apostles. Their presence, with their powerful gifts bestowed by holy spirit, prevented apostasy from then becoming an epidemic. (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:28) But when the apostles had died, by about the end of the first century, the restraining brakes were removed.
Unscriptural Clergy Class Develops
15. What arrangement was established by Jesus for the Christian congregation?
15 The congregation that Jesus established developed during the first century under the guidance of elders (overseers) and ministerial servants. (Matthew 20:25-27; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) These were drawn from the congregation. They were capable spiritual men with no special theological training, just as Jesus had no such training. Indeed, his opponents wondered: “How does this man have a knowledge of letters, when he has not studied at the schools?” (John 7:15) And concerning the apostles, the religious rulers observed the same: “Now when they beheld the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary, they got to wondering. And they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.”—Acts 4:13.
16. How did the apostasy cause a deviation from the first-century Christian pattern for congregation organization?
16 However, the apostasy brought in concepts derived from the Jewish clergy and eventually from pagan Rome’s religious setup. As time went by and the turning away from true faith took place, an unscriptural clergy class developed. A crowned pope began ruling over a college of cardinals, who in turn were drawn from hundreds of bishops and archbishops, who in turn were promoted from seminary-trained priests. Thus, not long after the first century, a mystic clergy class took over in Christendom. This class was not patterned after the first-century Christian elders and ministerial servants but was patterned after pagan religious systems.
17. When, especially, was the lawless one’s power solidified?
17 As early as the third century C.E., ordinary believers had been relegated to the second-class status of laity. The apostate man of lawlessness gradually assumed the reins of power. This power was solidified during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, especially after the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. Then Church and State became welded together. Thus, the man of lawlessness—the clergy of Christendom—became a centuries-long line of apostates in revolt against the true God, Jehovah. The laws and arrangements that they have followed are their own and not God’s.
18. What blasphemous pagan teachings did the lawless one adopt?
18 The developing man of lawlessness also borrowed pagan teachings. For example, a mysterious, incomprehensible Trinitarian god was substituted for the One who says: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory.” “I am Jehovah, and there is no one else. With the exception of me there is no God.” (Isaiah 42:8; 45:5) This substituting of human, even pagan, concepts for God’s truths was expanded to include a further blasphemy: the veneration of the Bible’s humble Mary as Christendom’s “Mother of God.” Thus, the promoters of such false teachings, the clergy class, became the rankest of “the weeds” sown by Satan to try to choke out the fine seed sown by Christ.—Matthew 13:36-39.
19. How has Christendom fragmented down through the centuries, but what was perpetuated?
19 As schisms and rifts took place, Christendom fragmented into hundreds of religions and sects. But each new religion or sect, with few exceptions, retained its clergy-laity division. Thus, the man of lawlessness class has been perpetuated down to this day. And it still continues to set itself up above the common people with its distinctive garb and high-sounding titles. Clearly, Paul did not exaggerate when he said that the man of lawlessness class would glorify itself and elevate itself to a godlike position.
20. How does a Catholic source describe the pope?
20 An example of such glorification is that of the papacy of Rome. An ecclesiastical dictionary by Lucio Ferraris, published in Italy, describes the pope as “of such dignity and highness that he is not simply a man but, as it were, God, and the Vicar of God.” His crown is a triple crown “as king of heaven, of earth and of hell.” The same dictionary continues: “The pope is, as it were, God on earth, the only prince of the faithful of Christ, the greatest king of all kings.” It adds: “The pope can sometimes counteract the divine law.” Also, The New Catholic Dictionary states of the pope: “His ambassadors have precedence over other members of the diplomatic body.”
21. Contrast the actions of the pope with those of Peter and an angel.
21 Unlike the disciples of Jesus, the pope often wears very elaborate garb and welcomes the adulation of humans. The pope allows people to bow to him, kiss his ring, and carry him on their shoulders in a special chair. What vanity popes have displayed over the centuries! A contrast indeed to the humble simplicity of Peter, who said to Cornelius, the Roman army officer who knelt at Peter’s feet to do obeisance to him: “Stand up, . . . I am only a man after all”! (Acts 10:25, 26, the Catholic Jerusalem Bible) And what a contrast to the angel who gave the apostle John the Revelation! John tried to bow down worshipfully to that angel, but the angel declared: “Be careful! Do not do that! All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who are prophets and of those who are observing the words of this scroll. Worship God.”—Revelation 22:8, 9.
22. By what Scriptural rule may the lawless one be identified?
22 Is this appraisal of the clergy class too strong? We can determine this by applying the rule that Jesus gave to identify false prophets: “By their fruits you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15, 16) What, then, has been the fruitage of the clergy over the centuries and in our own 20th century? What will be the fate of this man of lawlessness, and who will share that fate? What responsibility do those who truly fear God have in regard to this lawless one? The following articles will discuss these points.
Questions for Review:
□ What is the man of lawlessness, and when did it become manifest?
□ How does the Bible identify the author of this lawless class?
□ How have the clergy elevated themselves above the people?
□ What apostate teachings and practices were developed by the clergy?
□ How does the attitude of popes contrast with that of Peter and an angel?
[Picture on page 14]
The apostle Peter, unlike the popes, did not allow a human to do obeisance to him