Son of Destruction
Many saints will apostatize when the Lawless One, the Son of Destruction, seats himself in the sanctuary of God. As the Apostle Paul explains to the Thessalonians, the “Day of the Lord” will not arrive until the “Apostasy” occurs and the “Man of Lawlessness” is unveiled, the one who will seat himself “in the sanctuary of God.” Paul also labels him “the Son of Destruction,” but is there any additional significance to this second designation?
In his letters, the phrase, “Son of Destruction,” occurs only here. The English noun “destruction” translates the Greek term apôleia, meaning, “destruction, ruin, loss” - (Strong’s - #G684).
The exact same term is found on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John where he calls Judas Iscariot the “son of destruction.” Certainly, Judas is an excellent model for the ultimate apostate. But other than his betrayal of Christ, nothing in his life parallels the predicted activities of Paul’s “Lawlessness One” – (John 17:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
Another possibility is that the phrase refers to this man’s final fate when he is destroyed at the “arrival” of Jesus. That possibility comports with Paul’s description of his demise - “Whom the Lord will consume with the spirit of his mouth and DESTROY with the brightness of his coming.”
However, in verse 8, the English term “destroy” translates a different Greek word, katargeô, and the latter more correctly means “disable, disarm, bring to nothing.” And the natural sense of the genitive construction in the clause “son of destruction” is that “destruction” characterizes this figure - “destruction” defines WHAT HE DOES.
Paul’s scriptural source for the term is the Book of Daniel, especially the passage in its eleventh chapter describing an evil ruler of Greek descent:
- “And the king shall do according to his will, and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done” – (Daniel 11:36).
This ruler is prominent in Daniel’s several visions where he is called variously the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” and the “contemptible person.” He originates from the “fourth beast” and “wages war against the saints and prevails over them,” though only for the time allotted by the “Ancient of Days.”
This creature’s “war” includes the desecration of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the erection of the “Abomination of Desolation” in the “sanctuary” – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:9-13, 8:23-26, 9:26-27, 11:30-36).
IN THE SANCTUARY
This background explains Paul’s warning that the “Lawless One” will “take his seat in the sanctuary.” Does he mean he will enter a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem? It is noteworthy that Paul uses the Greek term for the inner sanctum or naos, the “holy of holies,” not the word for the entire Temple complex.
Nowhere else does Paul express any interest in the Jerusalem Temple or say anything about a future rebuilt Jerusalem temple. However, he does apply the same term, the “sanctuary of God,” metaphorically to the church or “body of Christ.”
And since the topic in the present passage revolves around the coming “Apostasy,” the context makes it more likely that Paul is referring to the unveiling of this figure in the church, the “assembly of Jesus Christ” - (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).
In Chapter 8 of Daniel, the “little horn” is a “king” from one of the four Greek kingdoms that succeeded the empire of Alexander the Great, the same “little horn” that wages war against the “saints” in the seventh chapter - (Daniel 7:21, 8:8-13, 8:21-25).
The only historical figure that meets the descriptions in Daniel’s visions is Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom that persecuted the Jewish people for over three years (168 B.C. to 165 B.C.), the allotted “season, seasons, and part of a season.”
That king’s “war” included the corruption of Jewish leaders, the banning of Jewish religious rites, the burning of the scriptures, the cessation of the sacrificial rituals, and the erection of an altar to his god, Zeus Olympias, on the altar of burnt offerings in Jerusalem, the so-called “Abomination of Desolation.”
And according to the Book of Daniel, this “king of fierce countenance… corrupted the holy people… and magnified himself in his heart, and caused the destruction of many.”
In the Greek Septuagint version of the passage in Daniel, the term rendered “destruction” is the same word used by Paul for the “Son of DESTRUCTION,” that is, apôleia. Most likely, considering the language and context of the passage in Thessalonians, this is his source for the term, the “Son of Destruction.”
Thus, Paul employs Daniel’s “little horn” as the model for the final deceiver who will arise in the church in the satanic attempt to deceive followers of Jesus and cause their abandonment of the true faith, using “all power and signs and lying wonders” to do so.
Just as the “little horn” caused many in Israel to fall, so this creature will cause the destruction of many men and women in the church before his own demise at the “arrival” of Jesus. He is, therefore, appropriately described as the “Son of Destruction.”