The Man of Sin
In his second letter to the Thessalonians the apostle Paul shows that two circumstances must precede the second presence of our Lord: (1) a great falling away from the original, apostolic faith; and (2) the appearance of the Man of Sin, the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3). No interpretation of our Lord's second advent should be seriously considered which fails to identify these two events. Having proven that our Lord has already returned, we now proceed to show that the Man of Sin has indeed come, fulfilling every detail of the prophetic description.
Let us first note, however, the disharmony between this prophecy and some current views. Some claim that the Lord Jesus first comes secretly to take his saintsand then the Man of Sin appears. An examination of an error made in the early church is instructive on this point. Recognizing that Christ was to come invisibly, as a thief (1 Thess. 5:4, Rev. 16:15), some believers in Paul's day concluded that Jesus was already present and that the resurrection of the dead in Christ had, therefore, occurred (2 Thess. 2:1-2, 2 Tim. 2:18). In order to correct this mistake, Paul found it necessary to advise that they "be not soon shaken in mind that the day of the Lord is present [Greek, enistemi]. 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." 2 Thessalonians 2:2,3 Compare with the Revised Standard Version. Notice, the invisible presence of Christ is preceded, not followed, by the revealment of the Antichrist. Also verses 1 and 3 teach that the Man of Sin precedes two things: (1) "The coming of our Lord"; and (2) "our gathering together unto him." This eliminates the possibility of Christians being taken to heaven before the Man of Sin is revealed.
It should be observed further, that Paul did not attempt to correct their error by asking if they had seen Jesus with their literal eyes, or had heard a literal trumpet with their ears, or had seen large numbers of Christians suddenly disappear. Had such arguments been appropriate, Paul would certainly have employed them. The concept of the invisible presence was correct: the Day of the Lord would steal quietly upon the world and many would be overtaken by it unawares (1 Thess. 5:2-4). The mistake of believers in that day was not in regard to what they should expect, but when. Looking forward with great eagerness to the return of Christ, as the fruition of all their hopes, they were prone to accept uncritically any teaching to the effect that their longed for Lord was present, or near at hand.
Mystery of Iniquity
Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 again. In verses 7 and 8 Paul call the "Man of Sin" the "Mystery of Iniquity" and says that "it," not "he," already is a work in his day. This could not be a literal man. He would be nearly two thousand years old now. Why did Paul call the "Man of Sin" the "Mystery of Iniquity"? Remember the beautiful mystery Paul showed in (Eph. 5:30-32, Col. 1:26-27 and 1 Cor. 12:12-28). Christ is "not one member but many." Just as the human body is a union of many members, so the church is the body of Christ. Paul's lesson of contrast is clear. Just as there is a mystery class of righteous or justified believers who compose Christ, so there is a mystery class of iniquity (evil workers) who comprise Antichrist. Paul's use of the phrases, "Man of Sin" and Mystery of Iniquity" in verses 7 and 8 prove they are one and the same.
Origin of the Man of Sin
To trace the origin of the Man of Sin, we must begin in Paul's own day. Writing to the church at Thessalonica, he warned them, saying, "For the Mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [Greek, restrains] will let [Greek, restrain], until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed." 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8 Compare with the Revised Standard Version. In the ambitions of leaders to be "lords over God's heritage" (1 Pet. 5:3), and in the desire of some to avoid the path of sacrifice which Jesus ordained. the Antichrist principle found fertile soil. When the Roman Emperor, the restraining one, ceased his opposition to Christianity, this spirit of worldly ambition blossomed rapidly into the Papacy. "As ye have heard that [the] Antichrist shall come," wrote the Apostle John, "even now are there many antichrists." 1 John 2:18 Pointing out that the spirit of Antichrist was already at work, he proceeded in the remainder of the chapter to advise how to escape its influence when it did come.
That there was a great "falling away" from true Christian faith during the early centuries of the Gospel Era, no Protestant will deny. Pompous rituals and elaborate ceremonies replaced the simple preaching of the Gospel. Salvation was sought no longer through the blood of Christ alone, but from holy water, relics of saints, medals and amulets, the rosary and the intercession of Mary. Multitudes flocked to converted heathen temples to pray to and adore the very same idols which the Pagans had worshipped a short time before. The names of the statues were simply changed form those of Pagan gods and heroes to the names of Christian martyrs and saints. The Roman Emperor, who as Pontifex Maximus ("Chief Religious Ruler"), had been the head of all the Pagan priests, vacated his office in favor of the Bishop o Rome, the new Pontifex Maximus. Whereas the Roman emperors had claimed to possess the Keys of Janus and Cybele, the new supreme pontiffs, dressed in the same costume as their forerunners, claimed possession of the Keys of St. Peter and attempted to prove that the Apostle Peter had once been the Bishop of Rome,; something completely unsubstantiated by history
This Man of Sin, growing out of the apostasy, as foreseen by Paul, exalted "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 2:4 The temples to which Paul refers is not a literal building, but the Church of God, for he elsewhere declares, "Ye are the temple of the Living God." 2 Corinthians 6:16 The self-exaltation of the bishops of Rome in the temple (church) of God was extravagant beyond measure. Applying divine prerogatives to themselves, they claimed that every human being must be subject to their authority. "The pope holds the place of the true God," declared Pope Innocent III (A.D. 1198-1216). The Lateran Council (A.D. 1123) acclaimed the pope as "Prince of the Universe." St. Bernard (A.D. 1090-1153) wrote that "none except God is like the pope, either in heaven or on earth." And Pope Nicholas (A.D. 858-867) boasted that Constantine had "conferred the appellation of God on the pope, who, therefore, being God, cannot be judged by man. Astounding as these false claims are, they deceived the whole Christian world during most of Papacy's dark reign (Rev. 13:5, 6). Only a faithful few escaped their baneful influence and remained loyal to their true Lord and Head. And be it noted that the Greek prefix "anti" signifies not merely "against" or "opposing," but also "instead, in the place of." (See Strong's or Vine's) Thus, Antichrist is not simply an opponent of our Lord and his truth, but as impostor, a usurper of his position. Attributing the purest motives to the popes, the Papacy would still be the Antichrist; for claiming to be the "Vicar of Christ" on earth and supreme "Head of the Church," each pope in turn has applied the Messianic promises and appellations of Scripture to himself. Even kings were required to kiss the pope's great toe, in supposed fulfillment of Psalm 2:12, "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry."
The SystemNot Individuals
We are not, of course, stating that any one pope was the Antichrist, must less that every Catholic or pope is a man of sin. What we are saying is that the Man of Sin, the Antichrist, the "Mystery of Iniquity" is the Papal system. It is not an individual.
Antichrist in Other Prophecies
There is general agreement that the "little horn" on the fourth beast of Daniel 7 and the leopard beast of Revelation 13 are symbolic of Antichrist. Whether these picture a literal Man of Sin or a system is the question. Some feel the four beasts of Daniel 7 represent four governments. The fourth beast is the Roman Empire and the "little horn" on this beast symbolizes a single individual who is the Man of Sin. Yet they claim the leopard beast of Revelation 13 pictures not a government, but a personal Man of Sin and the ten horns picture ten governments that support this worldwide dictator.
Here we are confronted with a basic violation of Scriptural interpretation. When the bible identifies a symbol, then we are on shaky ground to give that symbol a different meaning. Daniel, Chapter 7, clearly states that beasts represent governments and it lists the governments: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome. By what logic are the beasts of Revelation symbolic of an individual when beasts in Daniel are admittedly governments? Also, is it not inconsistent to claim the "little horn" in Daniel is a man, whereas the horns of Revelation are governments? Consistency requires a uniform application of the beasts and horns in both Daniel and Revelation. The justification for this reversal of interpretation is the claim that the leopard beast of Revelation 13 is referred to by a personal pronoun "he"; whereas the government beasts of Daniel are not. This simply is not valid. In Daniel 7:19, 20, the fourth beast, which all agree represents the Roman Empire, is referred to by the personal pronoun "his." In Daniel 8:3-7 the beasts picturing Medo-Persia and Greece are continually referred to by the personal pronouns "he" and "him."
Daniel Chapter 7
Several facts concerning the "little horn" prove that Antichrist is a system and not an individual. Daniel 7:25 reveals that the "little horn wears out the saints of the most high." And this presents a dilemma if a personal antichrist wears out the saints during a future "seven-year tribulation." If as some claim the true church is taken to heaven before the "tribulation," who are "the saints of the most high" that are persecuted by the Man of Sin? They reply that these are the "tribulation saints" of Revelation 7 and not the saints or church of Christ who are taken before the tribulation. They add that the "tribulation saints" will be in the kingdom, but have no part in reigning with Christ in His kingdom. This, they say, is reserved exclusively for the church of Christ.
With this the future literal Man of Sin concept crumbles. In Daniel 7:13=14, Christ is brought before the Heavenly Father and given the kingdom. In Daniel 7:18 and 22, "The saints of the most high," the same saints that are persecuted by the "little horn," the Man of Sin, are also given the kingdom. Remember, only Christ and his church reign in His kingdom. Therefore, "the saints of the most high" in Daniel 7 are not the "tribulation saints," but the Church of Christ who reigns with Christ. This also gives us the time element of the Man of Sin. The "little horn" persecutes these saints, consequently, the "little horn," the Man of Sin, is revealed before either the Day of Christ when the saints are resurrected or the tribulation occurs.
Daniel 7:25 shatters the whole "seven-year tribulation" concept. Daniel 7:25 reveals "the saints of the most high" are worn out by the "little horn" for a period of a "time, times, and a half times," which most agree refers to 3½ years or 1260 days. We have already seen that the saints persecuted by the Man of Sin are the church who reign with Christ and not the tribulation saints. Therefore, the church is persecuted for 1260 days. Consequently the 1260-day period occurs before the great tribulation and is not part of the tribulation.
What and when is this 1260-day period? The Bible is its own interpreter. That is, the Lord has put into the Bible certain rules for interpreting symbols, parables, time prophecies, etc. If we ignore these basic Scriptural rules then our understanding of scripture will be confused. The Scriptural rule for interpreting time prophecy is found in Ezekiel 4:1-8. Here we are given a 390-day period and in verse 6 of Ezekiel 4 we read, "I have appointed thee each day for a year." By this divinely provided rule of interpretation, 390 days equals 390 years. Therefore, all agree that the seventy week (7 weeks x 7 days = 490 days) of Daniel 9:24-29 refer to 490 years and not 490 days. This is based on the day-equals-a year key provided in Ezekiel 4:6. Why then do some make an exception to the 1260 days of Daniel and revelation and insist on a literal period of 1260 days? According to the Lord's rule in Ezekiel 4:6, a day for a year, this would be a 1260-year period. Many students of prophecy apply this to the period between A.D. 539 and 1799. In 539 A.D. the last of the three horns (civil powers) that stood in the way of the Pope of Rome being recognized as the civil ruler of Rome was removed (Dan. 7:8). Remember, horns in prophecy consistently picture civil or governmental powers. The pope was already acknowledged as the supreme religious ruler of the empire. This year 539 A.D. marks the beginning of papacy's (the "little horn") civil power. For 1260 years papacy, the Man of Sin, ruthlessly persecuted the true church (Dan. 7:25) until papacy's persecuting power was broken by Napoleon imprisoning the pope in 1799. This persecution had reached its ultimate in the so-called Holy Inquisition. Established by Pope Innocent III in 1204 A.D., it was applied with unimaginable cruelty in every country and the so-called "holy office" of the Inquisition continued the carnage until the armies of Napoleon put an end to its work. Whole villages and towns were indiscriminately slaughtered on the theory that "God will know his own." Tens of thousands were burned alive at the stake, while countless others were subjected to torture by the most hideous inventions. Aside from the more spectacular crimes of the Inquisition proper, the steady, relentless crushing of individuals over many centuries certainly presents an appalling scene. No wonder the prophet Daniel was alarmed! Daniel 7:28 Napoleon's imprisoning of the pope and his death in 1799 ended one of the most bloody periods in history, the 1260-year's persecution of the saints by Papacy.
The Scriptures do not speak of a "seven-year tribulation" nor do they speak of two back to back 1260-day periods. The following citations are the only places in the Bible which mention the 1260 days: Daniel 7:25;12:7; Revelation 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5. Each agrees with Daniel 7:25. The holy people (saints means holy ones) of Daniel 12:7; the holy city (identified in Rev. 12:2 as the bride of Christ) of Revelation 11:2, the woman (symbolic of Church, 2 Cor. 11:2) of Revelation 12:6, 14; the saints in Revelation 13:5, 7 all show the Church of Christ is persecuted for 1260 days by Antichrist. And the Bible rule for time prophecy is a day for a year (Ezek. 4:6). During the 1260 years of Papacy's persecution of the Church, God's two witnesses (Rev. 11:3 the Old and New Testaments) witnessed in sackcloththe dead language of Latin.
Earmarks of Antichrist
Daniel 7:25 delineates four characteristics by which the Man of Sin can be identified. "And he  shall peak great words against the most High, and  shall wear out the saints of the most High, and  think to change times  and laws."
We have already considered the first two points: the preposterous words by which popes claimed to be "as God" and the wearing out of the true Church by papacy. Papacy did indeed "change times." Unwilling to await the unfolding of God's plan, papacy changed the time of Christ's Kingdom. It declared the reign of Christ had already begun and applied scriptures relating to the Millennial glory of Christ to the unchallenged dominion of the popes up until 1799. (Douay Bible, First Edition, footnote on Rev. 20:2) Another example of Papacy's attempting to "change times" is in their changing of the calendar.
Did papacy change laws? The precepts and commandments of God meant little. By the claimed right of issuing "dispensations" the popes frequently set aside the moral law. Murder of heretics was called praiseworthy, subjects were encouraged to rebel, oaths and contracts were canceled and torture was declared to be an "act of faith." Spying, intrigue, perjury and theft were pronounced virtuous deeds when performed in the service of the church. Not content, moreover, in dispensing with divine laws, the popes were always ready to create new ones if convenience so required. Clerical celibacy was prescribed, meat was forbidden for centuries on Fridays, ecclesiastical taxes were levied and liberties of the people were frequently curtailed.
Indeed, the four earmarks of the Man of Sin given in Daniel 7:25 have been fulfilled in the infamous reign of papacy, especially up to 1799. This is why Martin Luther and the other Reformers identified the papal system as Antichrist. The Man of Sin already has been revealed, therefore, there remains no objection that the Lord is now present (2 Thess. 2:3).
With the combined weight of the testimony of prophecies of our Lord's return before us, we may have as full a confidence of his presence as those who were his personal eyewitnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration at his first advent (2 Pet. 1:16-18).
In fact, our confidence in Jesus' return is "more sure" based on prophecies
We have also a more sure word of prophecy, Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, As a light that shineth in a dark place, Until the day dawn and the day star Arise in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19
The watchers, the children of light, see the day dawning and their Day Star, Jesus, arising on the horizon while the world still sleeps. This blessed knowledge so strengthens and energizes their hearts that they are sanctified in a way they could not be otherwise. He has kept his promise, He has come again.
They see the foregleams of the Sun of Righteousness which will eventually rise with "healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:2) to bless the groaning creation. With joy they realize that they will also be with him as,
Then shall the righteous shine forth As the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43