The Man of Sin


Kurt Simmons

 Futurists have long believed that II Thessalonians “man of sin” is an arch-evil world leader who will appear before the world’s end.  Preterists maintain that this individual appeared once for all on the world scene centuries ago.  In this article we want to solve the riddle of the “man of sin” and the events described by St. Paul 

“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thess. 2:1-12).

Four issues rise from this passage:  1) What is the “falling away;” 2) who is the “man of sin;” 3) who and/or what restrained him; and 4) who would be destroyed?  Examination of these will show that St. Paul’s man of sin was Nero Caesar and the events he described culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  We will take these in reverse order in which they appear.

The Objects of Christ’s Wrath

 The first thing we should note is that the coming of Christ and day of the Lord would result in the destruction of those who “received not a love of the truth.” Thus, the coming of Christ in wrath was in wrath upon a specific people.  This is an unmistakable reference to the Jews.   

In his first epistle, Paul mentions that the Thessalonians had “received the word in much affliction” (I Thess. 1:6).  He says that they had “become followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (I Thess. 2:14-16).  Here is specific reference to the wrath that was to come upon the Jews for crucifying the Lord and persecuting the church.  This is the same wrath described in Paul’s second epistle.  Although Paul indicates the Thessalonians had suffered from their own countrymen, it is clear the Jews were ultimately responsible. 

In Acts, we learn that the Jews of Thessalonica set the whole city in an uproar, assaulted the house of Jason, and brought him and others forcibly before the city rulers (Acts 17:1-9). The brethren then sent Paul and Silas by night unto Berea, but the Jews of Thessalonica were so strident in their opposition to the gospel that they followed Paul there and stirred up the people of Berea also (Acts 17:10-13).  Paul was thus forced to depart to Athens, and it is from there that he wrote his epistles to the Thessalonians by the hand of Timothy.  It is in this context that Paul thus writes “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:6-8).  The gospels also make abundantly clear that the day of the Lord would come upon the Jews (Matt. 3:11, 12; 8:12; 10:23; 16:27, 28; 21:33-46; 22:7; 23:34-39; 24; Mk. 13; 14:62; Lk. 19:41-44; 20:16; 21; etc.).  Luke sums it up well when he says, “For there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people” (Lk. 21:23).   This does not mean Christ’s coming was confined to Judea and the Jews, for the whole Roman world came under wrath (recall the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream).  However, it does identify the time of Christ’s coming, linking it to “that generation.”

He Who Lets

The time for fulfillment of these things was definitely fixed by the Lord, saying, “This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Lk. 21:32; cf. Matt. 24:34).  However, as St. Paul indicates, the “falling away” and “man of sin” had first to come upon the scene.  This could not occur until “what withholdeth” and “he who now letteth” was taken “out of the way” (II Thess. 2:6, 7).  This has long been recognized as referring to Claudius Caesar and the restraining power of the religio licita.  Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) was among the earliest to comment that the restraining power of the Roman state is alluded to by Paul in these verses, saying “What obstacle is there but the Roman state.”[1]  This is echoed by several patristic writers.  Victorinus, in his commentary on the Apocalypse, states:   

“And after many plagues completed in the world, in the end he says that a beast ascended from the abyss…that is, of the Romans.  Moreover that he was in the kingdom of the Romans, and that he was among the Caesars.  The Apostle Paul also bears witness, for he says to the Thessalonians: Let him who now restraineth restrain, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall appear the Wicked One, even he whose coming is after the working of Satan, with signs an lying wonders.’  And that they might know that he should come who then was the prince, he adds: ‘He already endeavours after the secret of mischief’ – that is, the mischief which he is about to do he strives to do secretly; but he is not raised up by his own power, nor by that of his father, but by command of God.”[2]

Victorinus here connects the “beast” from the abyss with the Roman empire and the “Wicked One” with the one who was prince when Paul wrote (Nero), and would follow his father (Claudius) to the throne. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) is even more explicit:

 “Some think that these words refer to the Roman empire, and that the apostle Paul did not wish to write more explicitly, lest he should incur a charge of calumny against the Roman empire, in wishing ill to it when men hoped that it was to be everlasting.  So in the words: ‘For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work’ he referred to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as those of Antichrist.”[3] 

 The late Canon of Westminster, F.W. Farrar, wrote:  

St. Paul, when he wrote from Corinth to the Thessalonians, had indeed seen in the fabric of Roman polity, and in Claudius, its reigning representative, the “check” and the “checker” which must be removed before the coming of the Lord.”[4]   

J. Stuart Russell, in his classic work on the Parousia of Christ, states  

“At that time Nero was not yet ‘manifested;’ his true character was not discovered; he had not yet succeeded to the Empire.  Claudius, his step-father, lived, and stood in the way of the son of Agrippina.  But that hindrance was soon removed.  In less than a year, probably, after this epistle was received by the Thessalonians, Claudius was ‘taken out of the way,’ a victim to the deadly practice of the infamous Agrippina; her son also, according to Suetonius, being accessory to the deed.”[5]   

Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. is among modern writers reaching the same conclusion:  

Apparently something is presently (ca. A.D. 52) ‘restraining’ the Man of Lawlessness: ‘you know what is restrining [katechon; present participle], that he may be revealed in his own time’ (2:6).  This strongly suggests the preterist understanding of the whole passage.  The Thessalonians themselves know what is presently restraining the Man of Lawlessness; in fact the Man of Lawlessness is alive and waiting to be ‘revealed.’  This implies that for the time-being Christians can expect some protection from the Roman government.  The Roman laws regarding religio licita are currently in Christianity’s favor, whole considered a sect of Judaism and before the malevolent Nero ascends the throne.[6]

A final consideration worth noting is that the Greek “ha katechon” (“he who lets”) may be rendered in Latin “qui claudit.”  The similarity of claudit and Claudius has led many to conclude that Paul cryptically referred to Claudius Caesar by this allusion in a manner similar to St. John’s reference to Nero by the number six hundred threescore and six.[7] 

Beginning with Tiberius, the Jews were under intense imperial disfavor, which continued through the reigns of Caligula and Claudius.  Claudius restrained the Jews from persecuting the church, extending it the protection of law under the religio licita, even banishing the Jews from Rome for rioting because of “Chrestus.”[8]   As long as Claudius was at the head of Rome, the Jews were prevented to openly persecute the church.  However, Claudius was taken out of the way when he was poisoned by his wife, Agrippina, Nero’s mother.  This brought Nero to the throne, opening the way for the Jews back into imperial favor; Nero’s wife, Poppaea, was a Jewish proselyte.  The antichristian movement (“mystery of iniquity”) that had thus been hidden and repressed under Claudius was loosed and revealed under Nero.[9] 

Man of Sin

Tradition among primitive Christians identified St. Paul’s “man of sin” with St. John’s “antichrist” and Revelation’s “beast,” many holding that these were references to Nero.  Victorinus and Augustine we already heard from, above.  In his fourth homily on II Thessalonians, St. Chrysostom (A.D. 347 to 407) states,  

"For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." He speaks here of Nero... But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it.”[10]

Lactantius (A.D. 260-330) writes: 

“And while Nero reigned, the Apostle Peter came to Rome, and, through the power of God committed unto him, wrought certain miracles, and, by turning many to the rue religion, built up a faithful and stedfast temple unto the Lord.  When Nero heard of those things, and observed that not only in Rome, but in every other place, a great multitude revolted daily from the worship of idols, and , condemning their old ways, went over to the new religion, he, an execrable and pernicious tyrant, sprung forward to raze the heavenly temple and destroy the true faith.  He it was who first persecuted the servants of God; he crucified Peter, and slew Paul; nor did he escape with impunity; for God looked on the affliction of His people; and therefore the tyrant, bereaved of authority, and precipitated from the height of empire, suddenly disappeared, and even the a burial-place of that noxious wild beast was nowhere to be seen.[11]

Reference to Nero as a “noxious, wild beast” is generally understood to be an allusion to the beast of Revelation; reference to Nero’s attempt to raze the temple of God (the church), to Thessalonians’ “man of sin” taking his seat in the temple of God.  Sulpicius Severus (A.D. 360-420) makes similar comments: 

“In the meanwhile Nero, now hateful even to himself from a consciousness of his crimes, disappears from among men, leaving it uncertain whether or not he had laid violent hands upon himself: certainly his body was never found. It was accordingly believed that, even if he did put an end to himself with a sword, his wound was cured, and his life preserved, according to that which was written regarding him,-"And his mortal wound was healed," -to be sent forth again near the end of the world, in order that he may practice the mystery of iniquity.”[12]

Although Sulpicius Severus erroneously concludes that Nero’s life was somehow wondrously preserved and would appear again at the world’s end, he correctly identified Nero with the “beast” and “man of sin” (cf. Rev. 13:3; II Thess. 2:7).  Other evidence that Nero was the “man of sin” will be discussed below. 

The Falling Away

During the Reformation, many believed that the “man of sin” was the pope and the “falling away” spoke to Catholicism’s corrupt forms of worship and doctrine.  However, few scholars can be found who take this seriously today.  The present tense of the verbs indicates that the “mystery of iniquity” was already at work, and he who “now letteth” would let until taken out of the way (II Thess. 2:6, 7).  This can hardly describe the papacy, which did not grow up until centuries later.  Instead, the better view is that Paul is describing the full and final rejection of Christ by the Jews through their participation in the persecution under Nero and apostasy from the church and a return to Judaism.   This is the crux of Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy prophetic weeks (viz., 490 yrs) which would end in the destruction of the city and temple (Dan. 9:24-27).[13]  It was also spelled out at length by the prophet Isaiah.  First, Isaiah describes God’s anger and contempt for the Jews’ idolatrous devotion to the temple: 

“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest?  For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Isa. 66: 1, 2).

Then, he shows his abhorrence for the continuing temple cultus, which stood in denial of Christ’s substitutionary death and atoning sacrifice: 

“He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.  Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.  I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not (Isa. 66:3, 4).

Next, Isaiah speaks to the persecution of Christians by unbelieving Jews and the promise of Christ’s coming: 

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed (Isa. 66: 5).

And finally, Christ’s coming in wrath to destroy the city and nation: 

“A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, as voice of the Lord that rendereth recompence to his enemies…For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire” (Isa. 66: 5, 15).

Here is explicit reference to the coming of the Lord to destroy his enemies in the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, predictions repeated by Christ in his Olivet discourse (Matt. 24, 25; Mk. 13; Lk. 21).[14]  This would come, as suggested by the Hebrew writer, after forty-years, like their fathers’ in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7-4:11; cf. Num. 14:34).  The church’s persecution and apostasy from the faith by a return to the temple cultus is the dominate theme of the epistle to the Hebrews and attests to the fact the apostasy Paul spoke of was then underway.  The writer is at pains to demonstrate the provisional nature of the temple service and Christ’s imminent return to put his enemies beneath is feet by destruction of the city and nation, warning his readers from apostasy by returning to Judaism:   

“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries…For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come and will not tarry.  Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.  But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:26, 27, 37-39).


St. Paul’s “mystery of iniquity” and “man of sin” spoke to the apostasy of the Jewish nation by its full and final rejection of Christ and persecution of Christians under Nero.  The restraining power of Claudius was taken out of the way when he was poisoned by Nero’s mother, Agrippina.  Nero then came to the throne and was revealed as the “man of sin,” setting the stage for the final drama in God’s eschatological purpose, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

[1] Tertullian, Concerning the Resurrection of the Flesh, XXIV; cf. Apology, XXXII.

[2] Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ad 11:7; Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 354; emphasis added.

[3] Augustine, City of God, XX, xix; cf., Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, xxv-xxviii; Lactanius, Divine Inst. VII, xxv; emphasis added

[4] F.W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (1891, Columbian Publishing Co, NY), p. 13; cf. The Life and Work of St. Paul, Excursus XIX, (1879, Cassell and Co. ed), p. 726.

[5] J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia (1887, London, T. Fisher Unwin; republished 1983, 1999 by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI), pp. 182, 183.

[6]   Kenneth L. Gentry Jr, Perilous Times (1999, CMP), p. 104-106 (emphasis in original).


[7]   F.W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, Excursus XIX, (1879, Cassell and Co. ed), p. 727; Darkness and Dawn (1891), pp 73, 74; .Kenneth L. Gentry Jr, Perilous Times (1999, CMP), p. 104-106.

[8] Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Claudius, XXV, 4. Cf. Acts 18:2.

[9]The correspondence between II Thess. 2:1-12 and Rev. 20:1-11 suggests that the binding of the dragon in Rev. 20:1-11 refers to Claudius’ reign and the loosing of the dragon to the persecution under Nero; the reign of the martyrs answers to those that had fallen asleep in I Thess. 4:13-18.  See Kurt M. Simmons, The Consummation of the Ages (2003, Bimillennial Preterist Assoc.), pp. 362-388.

[10] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on II Thess., Nicene-Post Nicene Fathers,  Vol. XXIII; emphasis added.

[11] Lactantius, Of the Manner in which the Persecutors Died, Chpt. II; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 302; cf. Divine Institutes, VII, xvii; emphasis added.

[12] Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, II, xxviii-xxix; emphasis added.

[13] "And when did this happen? When were prophecies completely done away with?...Daniel makes it clear that he is not talking about the destruction of the temple under Antiochus but the subsequent destruction under Pompey, Vespasian, and Titus." St. John Chrysostom, Fifth Homily Against the Jews.


[14] St. Stephen quoted Isaiah in this place (Acts 7:49)  when accused of teaching that Jesus would come and destroy the temple (Acts 6:13, 14), to show that he was merely teaching what the nation’s acknowledged prophets had said all along.

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