16 February 2023

Seated in the Sanctuary


Jesus will not “arrive” on the “day of the Lord” until two events occur - the “apostasy” and the “revelation of the Man of Lawlessness,” and they are inextricably linked. Not only will this figure cause many to apostatize, but his unveiling will take place “in the sanctuary of God” where he will “sit down.”

Based on the Apostle's usage elsewhere, more than likely, this does not predict the appearance of this malevolent figure in the temple in old Jerusalem, but rather his presence IN THE CHURCH OF GOD where he will perform lying signs and wonders to deceive those who do not welcome the love of the truth.

Paul's concern in the passage is with the church and the deceptive voices that are troubling some of its members. Nowhere in the larger context does he express any interest in Israel, the city of Jerusalem, or its temple.

In Thessalonica, a false report is circulating that claims the “day of the Lord has set in.” The Greek verb indicates the belief that this event has “commenced” already.  Paul responds by pointing to two prophetic events that must occur before that day arrives:

  • (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) - “That day will not set in, except, first, the apostasy comes, and there be revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God or any object of worship, so that he, within the sanctuary of God, will sit down, showing himself that he is God.”

REVEALED


The Greek term rendered “revealed” translates the verb apocalypt├┤, meaning “unveiled, disclosed, revealed.” It is related to the noun apocalypt├┤, the term from which the English word “revelation” is derived.

It denotes the disclosure of something that was previously hidden, an idea that fits the context. This man will not appear until the “mystery of lawlessness” has finished preparing the way, “and then the lawless one will be revealed” - (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

The clause “he will sit down in the sanctuary” corresponds to the verb “revealed” - his “seating” will mean his “revelation” when his identity will be unveiled, at least for those with “eyes to see.”

The sentence tells us when and where this figure will be unveiled. That does not mean he will be an unknown figure prior to this time, but that his identification as the “Man of Lawlessness” will remain hidden until he places himself squarely in the “sanctuary of God.”

His “revelation” will be the Satanic counterpart to the “revelation of Jesus” described in the first and second chapters of the letter. At the end of the age, Jesus will be “revealed from heaven” accompanied by angels and mighty displays of power. But prior to his “arrival,” the “Man of Lawlessness will be revealed” when he “sits down” in God’s house - (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, 2:8-9).

The passage in the first chapter anticipates the discussion in the second. When Jesus is “revealed from heaven,” not only will he vindicate his saints, but he will also “render vengeance on them that know not God, and on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” And the latter will include the “Lawless One.”

THE SANCTUARY


What determines vindication or condemnation when Jesus “arrives” is obedience or disobedience to his “gospel.” This corresponds to the exhortation at the end of the second chapter to “stand fast” in the “traditions” taught by Paul and the apostles. Doing so is necessary for avoiding apostasy and “everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord.”

This does not mean the “Lawless One” will arrive in the sky in some spectacular cosmic display. Instead, he will appear “in the sanctuary.” Yet, on some level, his public unveiling mimics the “revelation of Jesus from heaven.” Just as Jesus will arrive with angels and in “flaming fire,” so the “Lawless One” will arrive with “lying signs and wonders.”

The Greek phrase rendered “sanctuary of God” occurs five times in Paul’s letters (ton naon tou theou). Naos means “sanctuary,” and in biblical Greek, it refers to the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle or Temple, but not to the entire Temple complex (Greek, hieron).

The Apostle applies the term to the church and Christians four times in his letters to the Corinthians, and once in Ephesians he uses naos by itself for the church, the “holy sanctuary to the Lord”- (1 Corinthians 3:16, 3:17, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).

The scriptural source for the “Man of Lawlessness” is the book of Daniel, the malevolent persecutor of the Jewish people known as the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” and the “contemptible person.”

This ruler “exalted himself above every god and spoke marvelous things against the God of gods.” He waged “war against the saints,” causing many in Israel to abandon the faith, desecrated the “sanctuary” by erecting the “abomination that desolates,” and banned the daily burnt offering. All this made him the perfect model for Paul’s “Lawless One” – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:9-13, 8:23-26, 9:26-27, 11:30-36).

DECEPTION AND APOSTASY


The “Man of Lawlessness” is linked to the coming “apostasy.” This word translates the Greek term apostasia or “defection, apostasy, falling away, departure, abandonment.” Consistently in Scripture, it refers to the abandonment of the true faith.

The purpose of this deceiver is to cause believers to depart from the faith. He will be energized by Satan with “all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth.”

And not coincidentally, these words echo Christ’s warning that “false prophets” and “false messiahs” will appear who employ “great signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, the elect” – (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, Matthew 24:24).

The “Lawless One” will “sit down in the sanctuary.” This points to his imitation of Jesus. “Sit down” translates the Greek verb kathiz├┤, the same verb used each time the New Testament quotes Psalm 110:1 where Yahweh says to his Messiah, “sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” - (Matthew 22:44, Acts 2:34-36, 7:55).

As he seats himself in the “sanctuary,” this figure will oppose God and present himself as if he is divine, or perhaps more likely, as an alternative messiah, “another Jesus.”

That he seats himself demonstrates his presumptuousness. In the ancient Tabernacle, only the high priest entered the “holy of holies” once each year and stood before the “mercy seat,” and he NEVERsat down.” The only one who is ever said to have “sat down” in God’s house was (and is) Jesus of Nazareth following his ascension.

In this context, and considering Paul’s usage elsewhere, very probably the description “sanctuary of God” refers to the church. Thus, the passage warns the disciples of Jesus to watch for the rise of this deceiver from within their own ranks. He will counterfeit the true Christ and so lead many astray.