1. If the man of lawlessness represents a pronounced escalation of evil and apostasy, is there any way for us to identify it? Can we look back at some point in the first century (or afterward) and say this is what Paul was talking about? Are Paul’s words even meant to be taken that way?
2. We certainly find in several texts the idea that the church was going to be threatened from within by false teachers and destructive doctrines (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Timothy 4:1ff; 2 Peter 2:1ff; Jude, etc.). Of special significance is the testimony of John. His writings are the latest writing of the New Testament and were probably written after the deaths of the other apostles. He writes about 40 years after Paul. He speaks of the antichrist and antichrists (1 John 2:18, 2:22; 2 1:7). In 1 John 4:3, it is “the spirit of the antichrist.” This last text moves us away from looking for any specific person and more toward an attitude or mindset that characterized the apostasy so that the spirit of the antichrist sounds a lot like Paul’s man of lawlessness.
3. We know John is writing to refute Gnosticism. That’s a generic name for a philosophy that held that anything material was inherently evil. For that reason, gnostics denied the incarnation. They either said Jesus merely appeared to be human (but was in fact a phantom), or He was not really divine. Either way, these were not the opinions of people in the world but in the church. They were disciples who in the name of Christ, denied Christ (see 1 John 2:18-19; 2 John v. 7ff).
4. Not coincidentally, this was all coming to a head as the apostles and miraculous gifts were phasing out. Maybe this offers us some possibilities for a starting point in thinking about what was restraining the man of lawlessness. Maybe.
5. While gnosticism has continued down to the present time in various forms, I’m not sure we’re to see it see it as exclusively embodying apostasy and lawlessness down through the centuries because it would also involve whatever was done by people in the name of Christ, that denied Christ (see Matthew 7:16-23). And perhaps it suggests that rather than view these things as isolated incidents, we should view them as connected “in accordance with how Satan works” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). However it should be worked out and view, Christ will bring it all to an end when He returns!
1. Perhaps in conjunction with “the secret power of lawlessness” that was already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7), the disciples had been disturbed by rumors to the effect that the return of Jesus had already taken place. Paul assures them this is not the case by speaking of two things which must happen before the return of Jesus: 1) the apostasy, which would escalate into an even greater destructiveness in 2) the man of lawlessness. At some point after that, Jesus would return and put things right.
2. There was a restraining force, (which the Thessalonians knew about – v. 5-7), which kept the situation from being worse than it was. The Thessalonians were living in that time and didn’t need to worry about the return of Jesus happening until things progressed considerably past the point of where they were.
3. All of this may (understandably) seem quite unsatisfactory to us, but we must keep in mind that though the letter was not written to us—it was written to some disciples in the first century and since there is no III Thessalonians, it’s not out of place to assume it answered their questions.