Part seven of the Come Lord Jesus series on the final return of Christ at the end of time.
Is it possible to know who the Man of Lawlessness is? Can we point to someone with certainty and shout, “There he is!” Can We Identify the Man of Lawlessness? It’s not that easy. I suspect the Thessalonians had an idea because Paul hints at their knowledge in 2 Thessalonians 2:5, 6: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.” Paul previously taught about the Man of Lawlessness and, so importantly, what was restraining him. The specifics of that teaching are lost to history. We could be confident that God would ensure their existence today if we needed to know those things.
We still come back to the question: Can We Identify the Man of Lawlessness?
Let’s take an abbreviated review of what we discussed last time.
- The Man of Lawlessness comes from within the church.
- His mission is self-centered and narcissistic.
- He surrounds himself with an aura of spiritual grandeur and glory.
- His appearance is associated with a great rebellion against the God of Heaven.
We can rule out certain people and groups of people. This is not antichrist, although he may possess some of the characteristics of antichrist. This is not a geopolitical leader. This is not Mohammed. This is not a first-century persona, probably not even a second-century person.
This is a person who arises out of the church and ascends to a position of leadership. He takes his place in the temple of God and draws glory to himself while being associated with rebellion against truth.
Can We Identify the Man of Lawlessness with The Papacy?
Protestants once viewed the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church as the Man of Lawlessness. Many of his official titles suggest he is little more than a shepherd of the flock, but who can watch him stand before the adoring masses in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican and not think that he is drawing glory to himself? His title includes “Vicar of Christ.” The Roman Catholic online dictionary, newadvent.org says of Vicar of Christ: “A title of the pope implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honour and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ.” (This is not the churches of Christ of Romans 16:16 and the present day.)
The papacy did arise out of the church. Likely, church elders’ progression to bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope began during the first-century, although it would not show until years later. His acceptance of great adoration from the masses and even accepting a kiss on the foot from the faithful point to his desire for honor. An examination of Catholic teaching through the ages clearly shows a departure from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1 – 4).
Can We Identify the Man of Lawlessness with The Papacy? Not So Fast!
The Catholic Church has done great harm to the faith of millions. But we should tread carefully and slowly before dogmatically declaring the Pope as the man of lawlessness. While nothing strongly argues against it, and many things seem to point in the Vatican’s direction, we should be careful.
Is it possible that history will bring forth a better candidate in the future? Could some protestant, evangelical leader arise and cause even more harm? That’s not difficult to imagine.
Do We Need to Identify the Man of Lawlessness?
Paul did not see the need to be more specific either when he was with the Thessalonians or when he wrote to them in 2 Thessalonians. The only reason he wrote what he did was to correct the error that Jesus had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:1 – 3). We must individually be anchored in truth. Knowledge of truth comes only from a knowledge of God’s word. Paul’s admonition was not to figure out who the Man of Lawlessness was/is/will be. Paul said, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Let us remain firm in the knowledge that Jesus is coming for His people. Let us not be distracted by fantastic ideas or notions that cannot be thoroughly known. Stand in the truth God has given us, and we will be just fine.