When Paul penned his first epistle to the Christians in Thessalonica, he had spoken of the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff). Some of these brethren assumed that the Second Coming was imminent and so became inactive. In this letter, the apostle urges them to return to faithfulness, for the Master’s return would not occur until “the falling away come first” (2:3). Paul went on to speak of “the man of sin” who would evolve from this apostasy. His arrogant ways are described and his fate is foretold — he will be destroyed by the Christ at the time of His coming (vv. 3-8).
This context has been the subject of great controversy. Who is this man of sin who so opposes the cause of righteousness? Some have argued that it was the ancient Jewish state. Others have claimed that it was pagan Rome. Yet others have identified the power with some ambiguous principle of evil. We believe that two forceful points can be made which will help put the issue into focus. First, neither Judaism nor pagan Rome can be described as a “falling away.” The context addresses some movement that is an apostasy from Christianity. Moreover, neither Judaism nor pagan Rome exists today (and thus will not be extant at the time of Christ’s return). Second, the “principle of evil” theory is much too vague for the specific descriptives of the language here employed.
We believe that the most reasonable view is that this context is a prophecy of a great apostasy from primitive Christianity (already in progress at the time Paul wrote (v. 7) that would result eventually in that movement known as Catholicism. For a while this developing movement was restrained by pagan Rome, but when Rome fell (A.D. 476), the politico/ ecclesiastical force of Catholicism burst into full power. The fact that this power viciously persecuted the cause of Christ is a matter of historical record. The descriptives strikingly fit the papal dynasty.
If one believes that this approach is reasonable, we would suggest a couple of notes. Underline the phrase “the falling away,” and then observe: Corrupted form of Christianity. The “man of sin” might be identified as: Papal dynasty. Mark the expression “that which restraineth” and perhaps comment: Pagan Rome. For a thorough study of this topic, see our book, Revelation – Jesus Christ’s Final Message of Hope, Stockton, CA: Courier Publications, 2004, Appendix II.