The Man of Lawlessness

 Theme Text– '[The day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who exalts himself above every god, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God. 2Thess 2-4 NASB.

1) According to Paul, what would be the end result of the Great Apostasy he had predicted?
[The day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy [falling away from the faith] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God. 2Thessalonians 2-4 NASB.
Here Paul is elaborating an Old Testament prophecy (Daniel 11:31-37) that starts with 'His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation'.

  • In 533 AD Roman Emperor Justinian decreed the Bishop of Rome as the Head of Christianity. His armed forces under General Belisarius attacked Rome in 536 AD and defeated the Ostrogoths who had opposed the Papacy. By 539 AD Belisarius had conquered the Ostrogoth capital of Ravenna thereby routing all challenges to the Papacy’s authority.
  • This institution of the Papacy [not individual Popes, but rather the institution itself] is essentially the abomination that causes desolation that Prophet Daniel predicted.
  • Christ is supposed to be the sole Head of the spiritual temple fortress that is the Church (1Cor 3:16, Eph 2:19-21). But as foretold 1000 years ahead of time, the Roman armed forces removed Christ and set up the Papacy in his place as the abomination that desolates the true faith.
  • This Man of Lawlessness is popularly known as the Anti-Christ (Greek anti means in place of). No wonder the Papal office holds the title ‘Vicar of Christ’ – i.e. the one who rules in place of Christ.

2) What was wrong with this?

  • The true Church is compared to a chaste virgin bride waiting for her bridegroom Jesus to return to setup his kingdom (2Cor 11:2, Rev 22:17). But the Catholic Church didn't want to wait, and instead chose to unite herself with earthly kings to establish her own kingdom. That's why she is compared to a great harlot who committed immoral acts with the kings of the earth (Rev 17:1-2).
  • ‘The pontiff...trod on the necks of Kings, made and unmade sovereigns, disposed of states and kingdoms, and, as the great vicegerent of the Almighty on earth...reigned over heads of other sovereigns.’ - Adolphe Thiers & Edward E. Bowen, ‘The Campaigns Of Napoleon'.
  • Even kings were demanded to kiss the Pope’s great toe as the Papacy owned Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.’

3) What were the abominable things that were brought into Christianity by the Papacy?

  • Rituals and ceremonies replaced the simple preaching of the gospel.
  • Mary worship was promoted to make Christianity palatable to the pagan masses that were converting to Christendom but still had a strong urge for goddess worship.
  • Holy water, saint relics, amulets, the rosary – things like these substituted the simple hope of salvation by proclaiming one’s faith in Christ.
  • As predicted by Paul and Daniel, the Papacy prohibited priests from marrying, and forbade meat-eating on Fridays (Dan 11:37, 2Tim4:3-4).
  • Pagan temples were converted into churches, heathen idols intact and renamed as Christian saints.
  • The previously pagan Roman Emperor's title Pontifex Maximus - ’Religious Ruler-in-chief’ (the Head of all the Pagan priests) - was bestowed on the Bishop of Rome.
  • The ex-Pagan Roman emperors had claimed to possess the ‘Keys of Janus and Cybele'. The Popes pulled a similar stunt on the ‘Keys of St. Peter’. And with absolutely no historical support, they started claiming Apostle Peter to have been the first Bishop of Rome.

4) How did the Anti-Christ deal with those who dared to speak against the Catholic hierarchy?
Jesus Christ (Luke 3:14) - ‘Do violence to no man’.
Pope Innocent III (1198 AD) - 'Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with Church dogma must be burned without pity’.

  • The Inquisition - 'a group of institutions within the judicial system of the Roman Catholic Church whose aim is to combat heresy.' (Source: Wikipedia).
  • Pope Innocent IV's Papal Bull Ad extirpanda of 1252 explicitly authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics. By 1256 inquisitors were given absolution if they used instruments of torture. (Source: Wikipedia).
  • Thousands were killed as part of these trials where church officials acted as judge and jury.
  • Many were tortured until they recanted their ‘heretical’ positions. Torture practices included flaying of skin, cutting off body parts, burning alive at the stake and thrown to wild animals.

5) How long did the rule of the Anti-Christ last? Did the Bible predict its time duration?
Napoleon Bonaparte's French armies imprisoned Pope Pius VI in 1798 AD, and dragged him out of Rome. The Pope died in a French prison in 1799 AD. Since then, the Papacy has never held any real authority or political power over nations. As we saw earlier, the Papacy came to absolute political power in 539 AD. So the rule of the Anti-Christ lasted for 1,260 years (539-1799 AD). Interestingly the Bible predicted this in multiple places:

  • He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time - Daniel 7:25 NASB.
  • There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him - Rev 13:5 NASB.As the NASB bible’s footnote for Daniel 7:25 indicates, ‘a time, times and half a time’ is a Hebrew phrase that means 'a year, two years and half a year'. Essentially it means 3.5 years.

Since a biblical month is 30 days (Gen 7:11, 8:3-4), a year = 360 days. So 3.5 years: 3.5 x 360 = 1,260 days. This matches with Rev 13:5’s forty-two months as well: 42 x 30 = 1,260 days. And in prophetic language, a day means a year (Ezekiel 4:5-6). Thus those 1,260 days essentially represent the 1,260 years of the rule of the Papacy!

6) Was the Anti-Christ identified at any point during these centuries?
The Protestant Reformation movement of the 16th century unanimously identified the Papacy as the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ predicted by the Apostles.

  • 'Martin Luther (1483-1546): We here are of the conviction that the Papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist.'
  • John Wesley 'Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms' (1509-1564): 'He [the Papacy] is the Man of Sin. And he is, too, properly styled the Son of Perdition, as he has caused the death of numberless multitudes, both of his opposers and followers... He it is...that exalteth himself above all that is called God..claiming the highest power and honour...claiming the prerogatives which belong to God alone.' 
  • John Calvin 'Institutes' (1509-1564): 'Some think us too severe when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist. But they bring the same charge of presumption against Paul himself, I shall show that (Paul's words in 2Thessalonians 2-4) are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy.' 

7) If that’s the case, why are present-day Protestants waiting for a future Anti-Christ?
In the 1500's, the Papacy commissioned Jesuits to develop new interpretations of biblical prophecies to counter the Reformation Protestants who had identified the Papacy as the Anti-Christ.

  • Jesuits spearheaded the Counter-Reformation movement using two counter-interpretations of the same prophecies - Futurism and Preterism, both devised to shift the Reformation’s identification of the Antichrist away from the Papacy and out of the Middle Ages. So in the late 1500’s, Jesuits Francisco Ribera & Cardinal Robert Bellarmine promoted Futurism (Anti-Christ would arise only in the far future) and Jesuit Luis de Alcasar developed Preterism (Anti-Christ was Nero way back in 70 AD!).
  • For a long time, only Catholics followed these interpretations. Other Christians continued to proclaim the Papacy as the Anti-Christ based on the Protestant Historicism interpretation method.
  • But during the last two centuries, other Christian denominations have gradually started following the Catholic futurist interpretation. People have forgotten church history and why the Protestants had originally come out of the Catholic Church.

8) What happened to the true Church during these times?

  • The true Church might seem to have disappeared off the map during the times of the Anti-Christ. But as predicted in the Bible, it was actually nourished and taken care of in the wilderness i.e. simple and unassuming, never mainstream to be documented in historical records.
  • Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days - Rev 12:6 NASB. (Note the same 1,260 years here).
  • And not only was the real Church nourished in biblical truth, but the faithful followers also endured the Anti-Christ's persecution and fearlessly proclaimed the true gospel among many.
  • Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days - Daniel 11:33 NASB.

Other biblical prophecies too confirm that the Anti-Christ would have the power to oppress the Lord’s holy people (Dan 7:21, Rev 17:6). As predicted, the Papacy subjected them to death and imprisonment.

Read Next: Daughters of Babylon

Scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Scriptures indicated NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.