Useful Prophetic Teaching

The Man of Lawlessness
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We have gained fresh confirmation of the prophetic word. Pray attend to that word; it shines like a lamp within a darksome spot, till the Day dawns and the daystar rises within your hearts.—2 Peter 1:19, Moffatt

David Rice

The fundamental doctrines of Scripture are supplemented by an array of prophetic teachings that have given insight to the saints throughout the Gospel age. Notable among these are the prophecies of Daniel. Those prophecies reached so far into the future from Daniel’s day that even he could not understand the visions he recorded. They were for a later time. But when due, “the wise [would] understand” (Daniel 12:10). We have lived into that time, and the church reasonably well understands those prophecies—at least those who heed the advice of Peter and “pay attention” to them “as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”

Daniel’s Predictions

One of the prominent features of Daniel’s prophecy was the rise of a large, persecuting force that would “speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Daniel 7:25).

The identification of this great persecutor is clearly a point of interest to the saints, so that they (a) can avoid participation with it in any sense, (b) be wary of its deceptions, (c) flee its persecuting power, and (d) encourage others in the narrow way to do the same.

The identification of that great persecutor is not a mystery to brethren of the Bible Student Movement. It is the Roman Catholic Church. In Volume two of Studies in the Scriptures, Chapter IX entitled “The Man of Sin—Antichrist” is devoted to this persecutor. There, in ninety-five pages, is an excellent dissertation about this system from the history of its persecutions of the saints, onward to its demise as prophesied in the Scriptures.

Volume Three of Studies in the Scriptures, Chapter III entitled “Days of Waiting for the Kingdom, Daniel 12,” spends thirty-five pages explaining that the duration of Papal persecution is designated in the Scriptures as 1,260 years, from 539 A.D. until 1799 A.D. If any of our readers do not have access to these chapters, please contact the Pastoral Bible Institute to secure and read them.

In those pages you will find an excellent explanation about the meaning of three periods of time mentioned in Daniel’s prophecies: 1,260, 1,290, and 1,335 years. The first takes us to the close of the Papacy’s power to persecute, the second to the time when the prophecies of Daniel would spawn a movement among Christians to look forward to the Second Advent of Christ, and the third pointing to the beginning of Christ’s Second Presence, in the year 1874 A.D.

From 29 A.D., which began our Lord’s ministry during his First Presence, forty years later leads us to the Jewish year during which Jerusalem was stormed by the Romans and the Jewish temple burned. Similarly, forty years from the beginning of our Lord’s Second Presence in 1874 leads to the opening in 1914 of a “Time of Trouble” unprecedented in world history. In that year World War I began, to be followed in 1939 with the even more devastating World War II. The decades following those two wars saw the break-up of the large colonial powers, capped off with the fragmenting of the Soviet Union. Armageddon still looms in the years to come.

Mystery, Babylon the Great

The great persecutor of the saints, the Roman Catholic Church, has been identified by Protestants for centuries. In Revelation 17 it is depicted as a harlot “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6). The symbol “harlot” is an allusion to the fact that she was unfaithful to Christ and joined with the kings of the earth to obtain temporal power. Upon her forehead was the name “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of Harlots and Abominations of the earth.” A glance back to the dark ages reveals her infamous intolerance, her persecution of conscientious opponents, and with her debauchery in the highest ranks. All of this justifies the label.

This apostate woman reigned from a location of “seven mountains” (verse 9), and is “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). Papacy ruled from Rome, the city of seven hills, and at the height of her power, she dominated the kings of nominally “Christian” Europe.

The Man of Sin

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul spoke of the Lord’s return as the time when the saints who slept in death would rise to their reward. In 2 Thessalonians chapter two Paul took up the theme of the Second Advent again, this time to assure brethren that the time for the return of Christ was still many years in the future. “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” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4).

In verse five Paul reminded them that he had spoken about this during his visit, and verse eight, drawn from Daniel 7:26, shows that Paul’s thoughts about this man of sin had a foundation in the prophecies of Daniel, particularly those in chapter seven.

Daniel Chapter Seven

Chapter seven of Daniel is one of the easier ones to understand. It begins the second half of the book of Daniel, which contains four dreams and visions that Daniel received. [By contrast, the first six chapters of Daniel record historical experiences, including Daniel’s explanation of dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar.]

The first of these four was a dream about four beasts that rose out of the sea. The beasts represent four earthly empires permitted to rule the world of the Bible lands (Daniel 7:1,17). The first empire was the one then ruling—Babylon —and the next two would be Medo-Persia and Greece (Daniel 8:20,21). The fourth was destined to be “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly”—that applies to Rome, mightier than its predecessors (Daniel 7:7).

Then verse eight says that on that beast, among the ten horns—that represent various nations the Roman empire ruled—another horn would rise up, becoming stouter than the others and dominant. It would have eyes purporting great wisdom, and a mouth speaking arrogant and blasphemous things (Daniel 7:8, compare Revelation 13:5,6). This system “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment [Rotherham: justice, or vindication] was given to the saints of the most High; and the time [later] came that the saints possessed the Kingdom” (Daniel 7:21,22).

It is not hard to see what Paul would glean from this prophecy. He could know from this that in the latter days of the Roman Empire a system would rise from Rome, grow to political power and dominance, persecute the saints of God for a lengthy period, at last be judged, lose its authority, and subsequently be consumed and destroyed (Daniel 7:26).

The prophecies of Daniel 8:11,12, and Daniel 11:31-35, suggested to Paul that this persecuting power would come through a religious apostasy from the Christian faith. This agrees with the warnings of Jesus, in some of his parables, about such a development (Matthew 13:25, 32,33).

Clearly, Paul searched and studied the prophecies closely, and if we value them as Paul did, we will do likewise. Putting all of this together in his sanctified mind, Paul wrote this to the Thessalonians: “And you know what restrains him [the Roman Empire] now, so that in his time he may be revealed [the apostasy sprouting forth in authority and manifesting itself]. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work [among the Christian community]; only he [it, the Roman Empire] who now restrains will do so until he [it] is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming [presence]; that is, the one [the persecutor] whose presence is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-9, NASB with marginal notes).

So it happened. When the persecutions of Pagan Rome upon Christians ceased, about the time Constantine conquered Rome, bishops and authorities within the church aspired to his favor. At the Council of Nicea a few years later in 325 A.D. the apostate doctrine of the Trinity took hold. By 533 A.D. the Bishop of Rome was accorded the general oversight of all the Christian churches by Emperor Justinian. By 538 A.D. the Pope (the Bishop of Rome) was accorded political jurisdiction in Rome. The following year, 539 A.D., his rivals the Ostrogoths (who were of Arian persuasion) were vanquished at their capital Ravenna. Papacy was now an established political authority.

1260 years later, in 1799, Pope Pius VI died in Valence, France, as a prisoner of Napoleon, having been apprehended in Rome a year earlier. Napoleon would not allow the election of a successor, so for a time Papacy was broken. Papacy would recover a little, elect a new pope some months later under allied protection, regain some status, and aspire to higher things. But she would never again be a force among kings to rule the world and persecute the saints of God. The 1260 years of prophecy had closed.

Man of Lawlessness

In the King James translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, we find the expression “man of sin.” It is the only place in the Bible that this expression appears and it has become a popular expression among many Christian people.

However, newer translations render this phrase differently, “man of lawlessness.” Among these are the NASB, NIV, Rotherham, Marshall’s Interlinear, and the New World translation. The Kingdom Interlinear reads “man of the lawlessness.” The RVIC (available at www.Heraldmag.org) has “man of lawlessness,” as does “The Greek New Testament,” edited by Aland, Black, Martini, Metzger, and Wikgren (Second Edition, United Bible Societies).

The difference is not a matter of translation. It is a manuscript difference. In the better manuscripts, used in the newer translations, the original Greek word is anomias, “lawlessness,” rather than amartias, “sin.” One can readily see the difference comparing Marshall’s Greek text (where anomias appears) with the Wilson Emphatic Diaglott Greek text (where amartias appears).

By comparing these two words, we see that it is not merely a slip of the pen. The two words are not so similar that one is easily mistaken for the other. Someone has made a change—and judging by the weight of manuscript evidence, the original anomias has been changed in some cases to amartias. Perhaps this appeared as an innocent clarifying change by some scribe who supposed “sin” to be a more apt and pointed description than the more amorphous “lawlessness.”

However, it is better to retain the original word, “lawlessness,” that Paul chose to use. For whatever reason, he used it repeatedly in this passage. The NASB shows this better than the King James version, where it is hidden. Verse seven in the NASB reads “mystery of lawlessness,” and verse eight “lawless one.”

In these two verses there does not appear to be a dispute between manuscripts. In these two cases it is a matter of translation. The Greek in verse seven is anomias, and in verse eight anomos, which supports the NASB rendering. But why did Paul choose this word, “lawlessness”?

The answer partly comes from Daniel 7:25. That text says this persecuting system would “think to change times and laws” at will. He would set his own terms, and not be bound by respectable practice—thus “lawless.” The word for “laws” in the Septuagint in this text is nomon. To prefix this with an “a” that negates the word, and changes the word into a descriptive noun, is to use the word anomias—“lawlessness.” In other words, Paul’s choice of the word “lawlessness” matches the description expressed in Daniel 7:25 about this persecuting system.

Daniel 11:36

Another reason for Paul’s use of this word comes from Daniel 11. We noted earlier that in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul referred back to Daniel 7:26. The text in 2 Thessalonians says Christ would “consume ... and destroy” the lawless one, while the text in Daniel says “they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it.”{FOOTNOTE: The words in the Septuagint Greek and those in 2 Thessalonians do not match—the link would be tighter if they did.} There is also such a comparison between 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Daniel 11:36.

2 Thessalonians 2:4 says, “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he ... sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.{FOOTNOTE: The words “as God” omitted here by ellipses are not supported in the Greek.}

Daniel 11:36 says, “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 shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.”

This comparison shows that Paul identified Daniel 11:36 with the persecutor of the saints, for Paul used the thoughts of Daniel 11:36 to describe the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.{FOOTNOTE: Daniel 11:36 is sometimes supposed to refer to Napoleon, but most Protestant interpreters who see Papacy as the great persecutor see Papacy through verse 39, as do we. Then, as described in verse 40, the king of the south pushed at Papal Europe. That refers to the Ottoman Empire which pushed deeply into Europe and threatened for a long time, beginning about the time of the Reformation. The “king of the north” that overwhelmed Papal lands is Napoleon who swept over Europe in successive campaigns. Here the prophecy begins the connection with Napoleon.}

There is also a connection of words between Daniel 11:36, and Daniel 12:6 that shows the same thing. Daniel 11:36 says this persecutor would “speak monstrous things against the God of gods” (NASB). Daniel 12:6 says, “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders,” and the angel replies until the 1,260 years were complete (verse 7, NASB).{FOOTNOTE: The angel says “time, times, and half a time”—which is regularly understood as 1,260 days, fulfilled on a year-for-a-day basis, 1,260 years of Papal persecution.}

 The word “monstrous” in Daniel 11:36 is Strong’s #6381, pala. The word “wonders” in Daniel 12:6 is Strong’s #6382, pele, “from #6381.” The monstrous things of 11:36 are the wonders of 12:6, that endure until the close of the 1,260 years.

For all these reasons, we conclude that Daniel 11:36 describes the great persecutor of the saints, that we know as Papacy. “The king shall do according to his will” expresses the same thought as Daniel 7:25; Papacy would “change times and laws,” doing whatever it wished, as a consequence of its power and audacity. In this sense it was “lawless.”

“Man”

Recognizing that Daniel 11:36 refers to the great persecutor also suggests why Paul used the term “man of lawlessness.” The word “man” has misled many Christians to suppose the prediction would be fulfilled by a single human leader who would personally deceive the world and do many incredible things that defy reason.

Paul used that word because Daniel 11:36 refers to the persecutor as “the king”—which is normally a man. Why does the prophecy do this? Because this prophecy, like so many others in the Old Testament, refers directly to a literal fulfillment in ancient times as a small example of a larger and more important fulfillment to come later. The prophecy speaks literally of Antiochus Epiphanes, the great persecutor of the Jewish people who desecrated their temple and stopped the daily sacrifice, by force of arms (see Daniel 11:31). He was a man.

What was terrible then was done under the direction of a single man, “the king” who did according to his will, lawlessly. What is terrible during the Gospel age is much more enduring, lasting 1,260 years, beyond the scope of a single person to fulfill. The great “horn” of Daniel 7:8, the “man of lawlessness” drawn by Paul from Daniel 11:36, is too large, powerful, and enduring, to refer to an individual. It is fulfilled by Papacy as an institution. In the main fulfillment of this prophecy, this “man” is an institution, the Papacy, which worked its will over the Christian world for centuries.{FOOTNOTE: There is even another fulfillment of Daniel 11:31-36, namely Pagan Rome, which, like Antiochus Epiphanes before, used the force of arms to stop the daily sacrifice in the temple, and in this case even destroyed the temple itself. Compare Daniel 11:31, Matthew 24:15, and Luke 21:20 for this level of meaning.}

Revelation 13

Chapter 13 of Revelation depicts Papacy as the successor of Pagan Rome (the “great red dragon” of chapter 12). In chapter 13 Papacy is shown as the amalgamation of the empires that preceded it. It is like a Leopard, Bear, Lion, and had ten horns. These are all symbols which describe the four empires in Daniel chapter seven.

Revelation 13:5 refers to a mouth speaking blasphemies, and the forty-two months of prophetic time during which this endured. Forty-two months is equivalent to three-and-a-half years, which makes this period equivalent to the expression “time, times [two], and an half” (Daniel 12:7; 7:25; Revelation 12:14). In other words, the persecuting institution of Revelation 13:5 is the same one prophesied in the book of Daniel.

A month in prophecy is thirty days, so forty-two months would be 1,260 days. This is exactly the number reported in Revelation 11:3 and 12:6, texts that refer to the same period. These prophecies were all fulfilled by a period of 1,260 years, from 539 A.D. to 1799 A.D., which is the backbone of prophecy leading to the second advent of Christ.{FOOTNOTE: The Second Advent came in 1874 at the end of the 1,335 days of Daniel 12:12—compare Luke 12:36, 37; Revelation 3:20.}

Understanding who is the great persecutor of the saints during the Gospel age was helpful for those who endured that persecution. It taught them to avoid the sins of that system, its spirit, and even flee the sword it wielded. Renowned is the flight of the woman (the church) of Revelation 12 into the wilderness for 1,260 years, and the flight of Waldenses and others into secluded valleys to seek refuge from the wrath of Papacy during the darker periods of this age. The wilderness abode of Elijah during the drought of three-and-a-half years was typical of all this.

Not Imperative—But Helpful

To pierce the meaning of these prophecies was not imperative to the saints for a standing in Christ. But it was helpful in their practical life. Thus Revelation 13:18 says, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding [in spiritual things] count the number of the beast [Papacy] ... six hundred sixty-six.” In other words, recognize in this system the mark of sin, apostasy, infidelity, and corruption—denoted by the triple six.{FOOTNOTE: Some note that the Latin letters in the Papal crown sum to this number. This is an engaging and specific link. Irenaeus (ca. 180 A.D.) observed that the numerical value of Lateinos, which is the ancient Greek word for Rome, is 666 (in this case the sum of 30, 1, 300, 5, 10, 50, 70, 200). But probably the degradation marked by the triple six is the essence of the matter. Compare Daniel 3:1, where the image in the plains of Dura measured 60 x 6 cubits, thus 66, probably a picture of the “image of the beast” from Revelation chapter 13.}

We should also notice the words of our Lord about recognizing this desolating system: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet ... whoso readeth, let him understand” (Matthew 24:15).

We also find a warning about the persecutor in Proverbs: “My son, attend unto my wisdom ... That thou mayest regard discretion ... For the lips of a strange woman [the harlot of Revelation 17] drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death: her steps take hold on hell [sheol]” (Proverbs 5:1-5). It is wise for us to attend to these various words of warning, as many of the elect have done for centuries.