Man of sin, first century
When the leaders of the Jews sought to contain the new
movement led by Jesus of Nazareth, they used every subtle form of attack they
were capable of. When these failed, they had to fall back on crude methods which
involved using all the organized powers of religion and state to get him
With Jesus himself out of the way they next found that the
hard facts of his resurrection, and of the transformation it wrought in his
apostles, showed their problem to be still unsolved.
Now open persecution only seemed to make the movement prosper
more than ever. But the old resources of craft and cunning were not used up
completely. And so a deliberate attempt was made to wreck the new "sect" from
within. Nowhere is this stated categorically in the New Testament, but the
implication of numerous passages is very persuasive:
Galatia: To the Galatians Paul speaks of "false brethren" who
had secretly infiltrated the churches, so as to enslave again (to the Law) those
who had been made free by Paul's own preaching (Gal 2:4,5). These agents had
apparently been planted in the brotherhood, so as to work slowly and steadily
either to draw believers back to the Law or, failing that, at least to create
internal dissensions that would weaken the whole community and thus its appeal
to others. Even Peter was practically won over to this philosophy (vv
It soon became obvious that Paul -- intelligent and resolute
-- posed the greatest single obstacle to their "satanic" objectives. And so the
person and the claims and the worth of this great apostle to the Gentiles must
be attacked also, as part of the overall plan of these subversives.
Corinth: In Corinth these enemies had some considerable
success, in characterizing Paul as weak and contemptible as to his physical
qualities (2Co 10:9,10; 11:6). By contrast, the leader of the subversives,
called "Satan" by Paul himself, continues to present himself as polished and
personable and wise and authoritative -- the natural candidate to replace Paul
as the leader of the ecclesias (2Co 11:22,23)! Such a sustained campaign of
character assassination called forth from Paul the unusual expedient of a
prolonged self-defense (2Co 11:13 to 12:12).
Jerusalem: Even in Jerusalem lies were being systematically
spread about Paul, that he was teaching all Jews to forsake Moses and all the
customs (Acts 21:20,21). While not true as to particulars, it had just enough
plausibility to be accepted by gullible new converts. The faceless men who
sought to pervert Paul's work and keep the first-century ecclesia in bondage to
the Temple and the priests had evidently been diligently at work in Jerusalem
practically from the beginning. (It could not have been Paul's open enemies
among the Pharisees and Sadducees who told such lies, since their stories would
have had no chance of being believed. This campaign was plainly carried on
secretly, by whisper and innuendo, in the midst of the ecclesias.)
Rome: From Rome Paul wrote to the Philippians (Phi 1:15-17) of
those who preached out of envy and strife, trying to add additional affliction
to the bondage Paul was already suffering. It is clear that certain "believers"
were finding malicious pleasure in preaching the gospel with some special
emphasis, probably -- because their work would only be another source of worry
and vexation to Paul. Such were fulfilling the serpent's role, by good words and
fair speeches deceiving the simple (Rom 16:17,18).
Other hints of the same organized subversion are to be found
Eph 4:14: "the sleight of men" (a phrase used for deliberate cheating at games),
"and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive";
It is plain, then, that there was a subversive, "Satanic"
element at work in the ecclesia of Paul's day: a group (with perhaps a
formidable leader) who professed faith in Christ, but whose hidden agenda called
for a "return to Moses." This group (and its leader?) claimed apostolic
authority that was rightly the province of Paul and the twelve, and they worked
within the ecclesia, or the spiritual "temple of God" (2Th 2:4), being accepted
as believers in good standing. It might be assumed that either some of their
number actually had Holy Spirit gifts ("all power and signs and lying wonders"
-- v 9), or else deceived the simple-hearted into thinking they did. They
systematically and subtly taught the "lie", that men could be justified only by
keeping the law of Moses.
Col 2:4: "lest any man should beguile you with enticing words" -- another plain
allusion to the serpent in the garden.
Titus 1:14: Titus was warned not to give "heed to Jewish fables... that turn
from the truth", preached by the deceivers of the "circumcision" group (see also
1Ti 4:1,2: Timothy was likewise warned of false teachers ("seducing spirits",
Paul called them), speaking hypocritical lies, and fostering undue concern for
Hebrews: The entire letter is a learned and reasoned attempt to forestall drift
back to the Mosaic institutions and the synagogue system, a drift encouraged by
this organized call of opposition in the very
It is reasonable to suppose that Paul actually had his eye on
some apostasy current in his own time, and which had already shown its hostile
attitude toward him in very effective fashion (v 7). Otherwise, it becomes very
difficult to explain the immediacy and seriousness with which he describes the
"man of sin." These Jewish pseudo-Christians, along with their leader "Satan"
(Paul's "thorn in the flesh?"), were imposters; while professing the gospel,
they had not really "received the love of the truth" but instead "had pleasure
in (promoting) unrighteousness" (vv 10,12). Paul was using every ounce of his
faith and energy to hinder this destructive work (v 6), but Paul would not
always be with them: when he would at last pass from the scene, the Judaizers
might be expected to flourish almost without restraint (v 7).
Therefore the same Paul who hoped and prayed for the return of
Christ in his own lifetime (consider 1Th 4:15, for example) could also expect
that the Lord when he appeared would overthrow and destroy this wicked pretender
(2Th 2:8; cp 1:6-10). That Christ did not return during Paul's day or even
during the final years of the first century is no reflection on Paul's faith or
understanding: what else should he have done except look for his Lord's coming?
And the fact is, that the first-century "man of sin" (and his adherents) will be
destroyed by Christ at his coming -- being raised from the dead to stand before
the judgment seat.
There have been many forerunners, or advance messengers of the
- Cain, the originator of religious war, who slew his righteous brother (Gen
4:4-8), when Cain's religious deception had been uncovered.
- Lamech, who
boasted himself even against God -- so great was his power, or so he thought
- Nimrod, the first great "world-ruler", who began the history of
Babylonian power (Gen 10:8-10).
- Balaam, the false prophet who for material
gain seduced God's people into immorality; the "anti-Moses", so to speak (Num
31:17; 2Pe 2:15; Rev 2:14).
- Goliath -- the "man of sin", closely associated
with the number six, the representative terrorist, the "anti-David", who opposed
God's Anointed (1Sa 17).
- Antiochus Epiphanes, the devastator of the
Sanctuary of God.
- Nero, the great first-century persecutor of the
Christians, certainly regarded as "anti-Christ" by those who suffered under his
- Mohammed, the "false prophet", a deceiver and "Satan-adversary" in his
own right, even though hostile toward the Catholic