- Beware the Man of Lawlessness
- Has the Man of Lawlessness Fooled You?
- How to Protect Yourself from Being Fooled.
- How to Identify the Man of Lawlessness.
- Why Does Jehovah Allow a Man of Lawlessness?
It may surprise you to learn that the Apostle Paul was considered an apostate. Upon his return to Jerusalem, the brothers told him about “how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to follow the customary practices.” – Acts 21:20, 21
Remarkably, these thousands of believers were apparently Christianized Jews who were still clinging to traditions based in the Mosaic law code. Thus, they were scandalized by rumors that Paul was converting pagans without instructing them to follow Jewish customs.[i]
“Apostasy” means a standing away or abandonment of something. So in the generic sense of the word, it was entirely true that Paul was an apostate from the law of Moses for he no longer practiced it nor taught it. He had left it behind, abandoned for something far better: the law of the Christ. Nevertheless, in an ill-fated attempt to avoid stumbling, the older men of Jerusalem got Paul to engage in ceremonial cleansing.[ii]
Was Paul’s apostasy a sin?
Some actions are always sinful, such as murder and lying. Not so, apostasy. For it to constitute sin, it must be a standing away from Jehovah and Jesus. Paul was standing away from the Law of Moses because Jesus had replaced it with something better. Paul was being obedient to Christ and therefore, his apostasy from Moses was no sin. Likewise, an apostasy from the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not automatically constitute sin any more than Paul’s apostasy from the Law of Moses did.
This is not how the average JW would view things however. Apostasy carries a bad stench when used against a fellow Christian. Its use surpasses critical reasoning and creates a visceral reaction, instantly branding the accused as someone who is untouchable. We are taught to feel this way, because we are convinced through a flood of published articles and reinforcing platform rhetoric that we are the one true faith and everyone else will die the second death at Armageddon; which incidentally is just around the corner. Anyone who questions any of our teachings is like a cancer that must be removed before it infects the body of the congregation.
While worrying so much about individual apostates, are we ‘straining out the gnat while swallowing down the camel”? Have we ourselves become the blind guides Jesus warned about? – Mt 23:24
Beware of the Man of Lawlessness
In our theme text, Paul warns the Thessalonians of a great apostasy already in the making in his day, referring to a “man of lawlessness”. Would it make sense for us to presume that the man of lawlessness proclaims himself as such? Does he stand on a pedestal and cry out, “I am an apostate! Follow me and be saved!”? Or is he one of the ministers of righteousness Paul warned the Corinthians about at 2 Corinthians 11:13-15? Those men transformed themselves into apostles (sent ones) from Christ, but they were really ministers of Satan.
Like Satan, the man of lawlessness hides his true nature, assuming a deceptive façade. One of his favorite tactics is to point the finger at others, identifying them as the “man of lawlessness” so that we won’t look too closely at the one doing the pointing. Often, he will point at a counterpart—a confederate “man of lawlessness”—making the deception all the more potent.
There are those who believe the man of lawlessness is a literal man. [iii] This idea can be easily dismissed even after a casual reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Vs. 6 indicates that the man of lawlessness was to be revealed when the thing acting as a restraint in Paul’s day was gone. Vs. 7 shows that the lawlessness was already at work in Paul’s day. Vs. 8 indicates the lawless one will exist at the time of Christ’s presence. The events of those verses 7 and 8 span 2,000 years! Paul was warning the Thessalonians about a present danger that would manifest itself to a greater degree in their near future, but would continue to exist right down to the time of Christ’s return. Therefore, he saw a very real danger for them; a danger of being misled from their righteous course by this lawless one. We today are no more immune to these deceptions than were our first century counterparts.
During the time of the apostles, the man of lawlessness was restrained. The apostles had been chosen by Christ himself and their gifts of the spirit were further evidence of their divine appointment. Under those circumstances, anyone who dared contradict would surely fail. However, with their passing, it was no longer clear whom Christ had appointed. If someone were to claim divine appointment, it would not be so easy to prove otherwise. The man of lawlessness does not come with a sign on his forehead declaring his true intentions. He comes dressed as a sheep, a true believer, a follower of Christ. He is a humble servant dressed in the garb of righteousness and light. (Mt 7:15; 2 Co 11:13-15) His actions and teachings are convincing because they are “in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 NIV
Has the Man of Lawlessness Fooled You?
The first person the man of lawlessness fools is himself. Like the angel that became Satan the Devil, he starts out believing in the righteousness of his cause. This self-delusion convinces him that he is doing something right. He has to truly believe his own delusions to be convincing to others. The best liars always end up believing their own lies and burying any awareness of the real truth deep in the basement of the mind.
If he can do such a good job of fooling himself, how are we to know whether he has fooled us? Are you even now following the teachings of the man of lawlessness? If you ask this question of a Christian in any of the hundreds of Christian denominations and sects on earth today, do you think you’ll ever get one who says, “Yes, but I’m okay with being deceived”? We all believe we have the truth.
So how are any of us to know?
Paul gave us the key in the final words of his revelation to the Thessalonians.
How to Protect Yourself from Being Fooled
“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Those that are taken in by the man of lawlessness perish not because they refuse the truth, but because they refuse to love it. What matters isn’t having the truth—for who has the whole truth anyway? What matters is whether we love truth. Love is never apathetic nor complacent. Love is the great motivator. So we can protect ourselves from the man of lawlessness not by employing some technique, but by adopting a state of both mind and heart. As easy as this may sound, it is unexpectedly hard.
“The truth shall set you free”, Jesus said. (John 8:32) We all want to be free, but the kind of freedom Jesus speaks of—the best kind of freedom—comes at a price. It is a price of no consequence if we sincerely love truth, but if we love other things more, the price may be more than we’re willing to pay. (Mt 13:45, 46)
The sad reality is that the great majority of us do not want to pay the price. We don’t really want this kind of freedom.
The Israelites were never so free as during the time of the judges, yet they threw it all away to have a human king rule over them.[iv] They wanted someone else to take responsibility for them. Nothing has changed. While rejecting God’s rule, humans are all too willing to embrace the rule of man. We quickly learn that self-rule is hard. Living by principles is hard. It takes too much work and all the onus is on the individual. If we get it wrong, we have no one to blame but ourselves. So we willingly give it up, surrendering our free will to another. This gives us an illusion—a disastrous one as it turns out—that we are going to be okay on Judgment Day, because we can tell Jesus that we were “just following orders”.
To be fair to all of us—myself included—we have all been born under a veil of indoctrination. The people we trusted most, our parents, misled us. They did this unwittingly, for they were likewise misled by their parents, and so on down the line. Nevertheless, that paternal bond of trust was utilized by the man of lawlessness to get us to accept falsehood as truth and place it in that part of the mind where beliefs become facts that are never scrutinized.
Jesus said there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. (Luke 12:2) Sooner or later, the man of lawlessness trips up. When he does, we will get a feeling of disquiet. If we have any love for truth at all, distant alarms deep in the brain will sound. However, such is the power of our life-long indoctrination that they will likely be stilled. We will fall back on one of the prefabricated excuses the man of lawlessness uses to explain away his failures. If we persist in our doubts and make them public, he has another effective tool to silence us: persecution. He will threaten something we hold dear, our good name for instance, or our relationship with family and friends.
Love is like a living thing. It is never static. It can and should grow; but it can also wither away. When we first come to see that things we believed were true and from God are in fact falsehoods of human origin, we will likely enter into a state of self-denial. We will make excuses for our leaders, remarking that they are only human and humans make mistakes. We may also be reluctant to investigate further for fear (albeit unconscious in nature) of what we might learn. Depending on the intensity of our love for truth, these tactics will do for a while, but there will come a day when the errors have piled too high and the inconsistencies accumulated are just too many. Knowing that honest men making mistakes are prone to correct them when others point them out, we will realize that something darker and more deliberate is at work. For the man of lawlessness does not respond well to criticism nor correction. He lashes out and punishes those who would presume to set him straight. (Luke 6:10, 11) In that moment, he shows his true colors. The pride motivating him shows through the cloak of righteousness he wears. He is revealed as one loving the lie, a child of the Devil. (John 8:44)
On that day, if we truly love truth, we will reach a crossroads. We will be confronted with possibly the hardest choice we have ever faced. Let us make no mistake: This is a life-and-death choice. Those who refuse to love the truth are those who perish. (2 Th 2:10)
How to Identify the Man of Lawlessness
You can’t very well ask the leadership of your religion if they are the man of lawlessness. Will they answer, “Yes, I am he!”? Unlikely. What they are far more likely to do is to point to “powerful works” such as the worldwide growth of your religion, its sheer number of members, or the zeal and good works that its followers are known for—all to convince you that you are in the one true faith. When a chronic liar gets caught in the lie, he often weaves a more complex lie to cover it up, piling excuse upon excuse in an ever more desperate effort to exonerate himself. Likewise, the man of lawlessness uses “lying signs” to convince his followers that he deserves their devotion, and when the signs are shown to be false, he weaves still more elaborate signs and uses excuses to minimize his past failures. If you expose an inveterate liar, he will use anger and threats to get you to shut up. Failing that, he will attempt to shift focus away from himself by discrediting you; attacking your own character. Likewise, the man of lawlessness uses “every unrighteous deception” to support his claim to power.
The man of lawlessness does not slink around in dark alleys. He is a public figure. In fact, he loves the limelight. “He sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.” (2 Thess. 2:4) What does that mean? The temple of God is the Christian congregation. (1 Co 3:16, 17) The man of lawlessness claims to be Christian. More, he sits in the temple. When you come before the king, you never sit. Those who sit are those who preside, those who judge, those given authority by the king to sit in his presence. The man of lawlessness is presumptuous in that he takes for himself a position of authority. By sitting in the temple, he ‘publicly shows himself to be a god’.
Who rules over the Christian congregation, the temple of God? Who presumes to judge? Who demands absolute obedience to his instructions, to the point that questioning his teachings is taken as questioning God?
The Greek word for worship is proskuneó. It means, “to go down on one’s knees, to do obeisance, to worship.” These all describe the act of submission. If you obey someone’s commands, are you not submitting to him? The man of lawlessness tells us to do things. What he wants, indeed, what he demands is our obedience; our submission. He will tell us we are really obeying God by obeying him, but if God’s commands differ from his, he will demand us to disregard God’s commands in favor of his. Oh, sure, he’ll use excuses. He’ll tell us to be patient, waiting for God to make the needed adjustments. He’ll accuse us of “running ahead” if we want to obey God now instead of waiting for the go-ahead from the man of lawlessness, but in the end, we will end up worshipping (submitting to and obeying) the false god who is the man of man of lawlessness sitting in God’s temple, the Christian congregation.
It is not for any man to point out the man of lawlessness to you. In fact, if someone comes to you and points to another as the man of lawlessness, look to the one pointing. Paul was not inspired to reveal who the man of lawlessness was. It is for each of us to make that determination for ourselves. We have all we need. We start by loving truth more than life itself. We look for someone who puts his own law above God’s, for disregarding God’s law is the type of lawlessness Paul was referring to. We look for someone acting as a god, seated in self-assumed authority in God’s temple, the Christian congregation. The rest is up to us.
Why Does Jehovah Allow a Man of Lawlessness?
Why would Jehovah tolerate such a man in his temple? What purpose does he serve? Why has he been permitted to exist for so many centuries? The answer to all these questions is most encouraging and will be explored in a future article.
[i] The belief that the first century Christian congregation was closer to the truth of Christianity than we are is refuted by this incident in Paul’s life. They were as hampered by their traditions as we are.
[ii] Jehovah’s Witnesses are erroneously taught that these older men comprised a first century governing body which acted as God’s appointed channel of communication for all congregations at that time. The ill-fated outcome of their appeasement strategy indicates anything but guidance by holy spirit. True, it was prophesied that Paul would preach before kings, and the outcome of this plan was to take him all the way to Caesar, yet God does not test by evil things (Ja 1:13) so it is more likely that Christ knew that the disinclination of the many Christianized Jews to fully abandon the Law would lead to this outcome. For a detailed discussion showing from Scripture that there was no governing body in the first century, see A First Century Governing Body—Examining the Basis.
[iii] The Apostle John warns of the antichrist at 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7. Whether this is the same as the man of lawlessness that Paul speaks of is a question for another article.
[iv] 1 Samuel 8:19; see also “They Asked for a King”.