You are hereThe Man of Lawlessness, part three: The Destruction of the Antichrist
The Man of Lawlessness, part three: The Destruction of the Antichrist
This is part three—to start at the beginning go here: http://planetpreterist.com/content/man-lawlessness-part-one
In 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 Paul discusses the revelation and then destruction of the Antichrist.
8. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
9. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.
The lawless one would be revealed only when whatever was restraining the evil forces that would work through him was taken out of the way. Just as Jesus would be revealed at his Second Coming, verse 8 (Gr. parousia; cf. 2 Thess. 1:7), so too would the man of lawlessness be revealed at his own coming, verse 9 (Gr. parousia). Wanamaker refers to the Antichrist’s parody of Jesus’ parousia as “the anti-parousia.”43 I believe the parallel between the two parousiai goes even further. Titus’ AD 70 invasion of the Holy Land from Egypt (cf. Dan. 11:40-45) was his second coming to the Holy Land, his first coming being in conjunction with his father in AD 67. Unlike Jesus’ Second Coming, which resulted in salvation (Heb. 9:28), the second coming of Titus resulted in desolation; he would be allowed to prosper until God’s wrath against Israel was accomplished (Dan. 11:36; 12:7; cf. 9:27).
The second advent of Titus was the revelation of the man of lawlessness; it would lead to the destruction of the Antichrist spirit working through him (2 Thess. 2:8). At first there appears to be a problem with saying Titus was the man of lawlessness, seeing as Titus was not killed in AD 70. Second Thessalonians 2:8 says that Jesus’ parousia would “destroy” the lawless one. If Titus was the man of lawlessness, how is it he was not killed at Jesus’ parousia? Discussing the word “destroy” (Gr. katargeō) in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (“whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming”), Vine writes:
lit. to reduce to inactivity (kata, down, argos, inactive) . . . In this and similar words no loss of being is implied, but loss of well being . . . [Thus,] the Man of Sin is reduced to inactivity by the manifestation of the Lord’s Parousia with His people.44
The Greek word for “destroy” here does not necessarily entail physical destruction. The parousia of Jesus, “the manifestation of his presence” (2 Thess. 2:8 YLT), did not kill Titus; rather, it rendered useless the demonic forces working through him. This is similar to how Jesus’ death on the cross did not put an end to Satan’s existence, it destroyed his power: “inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same that through death He might destroy [Gr. katargeō] him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
Satan was not destroyed in terms of ceasing to exist at the cross; rather, he was neutralized, his spiritual authority destroyed (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 John 3:8). Vine writes the following on this: “Katargeō = to render inactive, or useless, as the barren fig tree did the ground it occupied, Luke 13:7, and as the death of Christ makes ineffective, prospectively, the power of the Devil, Hebrews 2:14.”45 In a similar manner to how Satan’s position of authority was destroyed at the cross, so the man of lawlessness had his dominion taken away at the parousia, as God’s people inherited the kingdom of God (cf. Dan. 7:24-27).
As I have said previously, ultimately the Antichrist was not Titus but the demonic spirit working through Titus—the demonic prince to come (Dan. 9:26), the spirit of Antichrist (1 John 4:3), the beast from the abyss (Rev. 11:7; 17:8). It was this demonic spirit, not Titus (nor the Roman Empire!), that was cast into the lake of fire at the AD 70 coming of God (Dan 7:11, 21-22; Rev. 19:11-21). With this in mind, it is not correct to refer to Titus as the Antichrist after AD 70, as the Antichrist spirit working through Titus was destroyed by Jesus’ parousia in the autumn of AD 70. According to Paul, the demonic rulers of the pre-AD 70 age would be “coming to nothing” (katargeō, 1 Cor. 2:6) at Christ’s Second Coming (cf. Rom. 16:20). This is shown in Daniel 2 (vv. 34-35 and 44-45) where the glorious human statue collapses at once. This is shown again in Daniel 7 where the authority of the four beasts is stripped (at once) and given to God’s people (vv. 11-12, 17-27). This was to happen at the time of the defeat of the little eleventh horn (Titus). See here on the identity of the little horn http://www.theos.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=3203. This happened the AD 70 destruction of those who were morally destroying the land of Israel—it was the time when the kingdoms of this world fully became the kingdom of God (Rev. 11:15-18).
LYING SIGNS AND WONDERS
Second Thessalonians 2:9 says that the coming of the man of lawlessness would be “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.” The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that Titus’ AD 70 second coming to the Holy Land was indeed attended by demonic signs and wonders as well as oracles and prophecies. He said that when the Flavians gained the Roman throne, it made believers out of the Romans as to the reality of these signs: “mysterious prophecies were already circulating, and . . . portents and oracles promised Vespasian and his sons the purple [i.e., the throne]; but it was only after the rise of the Flavians that we Romans believed in such stories.”46
F. F. Bruce makes a very interesting observation in terms of what kinds of lying signs and wonders might be expected to accompany the coming of the man of lawlessness:
What form these seductive displays take is not said. In Rev 13:13 the false prophet persuades people to worship the beast by making fire come down from heaven, but if the elect are to be led astray, something more in the nature of healing miracles might be expected. However, it is not the elect who are led astray in the present context, but those who are on the way to perdition, whose unbelief had made them gullible.47 (emphasis mine)
In light of Bruce’s comments, consider the healing miracles that Suetonius records Vespasian to have performed at the end of AD 69 and beginning of AD 70 (the exact time that Titus was preparing for his second coming to Judea):
Vespasian, still rather bewildered in his new role of Emperor, felt a certain lack of authority and impressiveness; yet both these attributes were granted him. As he sat on the Tribunal [in Alexandria, Egypt], two labourers, one blind the other lame, approached together, begging to be healed. Apparently the god Serapis had promised them in a dream that if Vespasian would consent to spit in the blind man’s eyes, and touch the lame man’s leg with his heel, both would be made well. Vespasian had so little faith in his curative powers that he showed great reluctance in doing as he was asked; but his friends persuaded him to try them, in the presence of a large audience too—and the charm worked.48
What I find fascinating about these miracles Vespasian performed is that they exactly mimic the signs that Jesus said attested to the fact that he was the Christ:
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk . . . .
Interestingly, Vespasian’s spitting on the eyes to heal the blind closely mimics the method Jesus used to heal the blind (Mark 8:23). Just as miraculous signs attested to the authority of the Christ, so too did they attest to the (demonic) authority of the Antichrist (cf. Rev. 13:4-7).
Tacitus also documents the miracles of Vespasian during this period. His version of events is essentially the same as Suetonius’, but instead of a lame man Tacitus records that it was a man with a withered hand who was healed (yet another of the signs that Jesus performed, cf. Matt. 12:10-12):
In the course of the months [of early AD 70] which Vespasian spent at Alexandria [Egypt], waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon [so he could set sail for Rome to assume his position as Emperor], many miracles occurred. These seemed to be indications that Vespasian enjoyed heaven’s blessing and that the gods showed a certain leaning towards him. Among the lower classes at Alexandria was a blind man whom everybody knew as such. One day this fellow threw himself at Vespasian’s feet, imploring him with groans to heal his blindness. He had been told to make this request by Serapis, the favorite god of a nation much addicted to strange beliefs. He asked that it might please the emperor to anoint his cheeks and eyeballs with the water of his mouth. A second petitioner, who suffered from a withered hand, pleaded his case too, also on the advice of Serapis: would Caesar tread upon him with the imperial foot? At first Vespasian laughed at them and refused. When the two insisted, he hesitated . . . Vespasian felt that his destiny gave him the key to every door and that nothing now defied belief. With smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.
To everyone’s surprise (especially Vespasian’s!) he was suddenly performing miracles. Tacitus continues his description of these events:
This deepened Vespasian’s desire to visit the holy house of Serapis, for he wished to consult the god on matters of state. He had everyone else excluded from the temple, and went in alone, fixing his mind on the deity. Happening to glance round, he caught sight of a leading Egyptian named Basilides standing behind him. Now he knew that this man was detained by illness far from Alexandria at a place several days’ journey distant. He inquired of those he met whether he had been seen in the city. Finally he sent off a party on horse, and ascertained that at the relevant time he had been eighty miles away. Thereupon he guessed that it was the god whom he had seen and that the reply to his query lay in the meaning of the name Basilides.49
Vespasian sought to validate that what happened at the temple of Sarapis was truly a sign from the god. A hardheaded military man, not a miracle-working mystic, Vespasian wanted to be certain he was not being taken in by some trick. The sign Vespasian was given related to the name “Basilides,” which means the “king’s son.”50 This was most likely a reference to Vespasian’s son Titus; he would be the key to monumental events that were about to happen (cf. Dan. 7:23-25). As I mentioned earlier, Sarapis was the “foreign god” that would help the king of the North in his assault on the Holy Land (Dan. 11:39).
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT VESPASIAN WAS THE ANTICHRIST?
If not for the fact that Suetonius and Tacitus were non-Christian historians, scholars might easily have accused them of putting a messianic spin on the signs and wonders that accompanied Vespasian’s accession to the Roman throne. Given the impressive miracles that Vespasian was working, it would be easy to mistake him for the Antichrist. Second Thessalonians 2:9, however, says that although the coming of the man of lawlessness would be attended by satanic “power, signs, and lying wonders,” it does not say he would necessarily be the one performing the signs. As a case in point, Revelation 13 states that it is not the Antichrist, the beast from the sea (v. 1), performing the miracles but rather his accomplice, the beast from the land (v. 11). That is not to say that Vespasian was the land-beast, however. (I discuss the sea and land beast in volume 2 of this work.) Tacitus writes that Vespasian performed “many miracles” during the winter of AD 69/70; thus, a number of other satanic signs and wonders must have accompanied the Flavian rise to power.
While Vespasian, the tenth ruler of Daniel’s fourth kingdom (Dan. 2:42-45; 7:7), was the one who would be on the throne at the time of the coming of God’s kingdom, it was the little eleventh horn (Titus) through whom the Antichrist spirit would work (Dan. 7:7-12, 21-22). It was Titus who would wage war against Daniel’s people for three-and-a-half years (Dan. 7:23-27; 12:7; cf. Rev. 13:5-7), not Vespasian, who waged war against Daniel’s people for only two-and-a-half years. In mid-AD 69, Titus was given sole authority over Syria (the domain of the king of the North); he was the ruler who would invade the Holy Land from Egypt (cf. Dan. 11:43-45). Vespasian stayed in Egypt waiting for favorable winds so he could sail back to Rome. Thus it was revealed in the spring of AD 70 that Titus was the evil ruler who would attack God’s holy mountain (Dan. 11:45) and demand worship in the Temple (Dan. 11:36-37; 2 Thess. 2:4).
THE PAROUSIA OF TITUS
Again, the time when Vespasian was performing his miracles exactly fits the time requirement of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “The coming [Gr. parousia] of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all power, signs, and lying wonders.” Vespasian was performing his miracles at the time of Titus’ parousia, the time that Titus was preparing to invade the Holy Land a second time to finish his destruction of the Jewish nation.
Titus’ second advent took place at the Passover in early spring of AD 70. Josephus records that a sign accompanied Titus’ parousia which involved the pool of Siloam, a site associated with one of Jesus’ miracles (John 9:7). In an address to the Jews of Jerusalem, Josephus says the following on this:
Vespasian as a result of his war against us, mounted the throne; while for Titus, as you know, the springs flow more copiously, the very spring which had dried up for you. Before his coming [Gr. parousia], as you know, Siloam and all the springs outside the town were failing, so that water had to be brought by the amphora; whereas now they flow so freely for your enemies as to suffice not only for themselves and their beasts, but even for gardens. The same miracle you saw happened once before at the capture of the city, when the Babylonians . . . marched against it, captured and burnt both the city and the sanctuary, although the Jews of that generation, I imagine, were surely guilty of no such impiety as yours.51
Josephus, in an attempt to convince the people of Jerusalem to capitulate to Rome, was arguing that God was actually on the side of the Romans. He was partially right; God would allow the Antichrist to prosper (Dan. 11:36) until God’s wrath was fully poured out on the desolate Israel (Dan. 9:26-27; cf. Matt. 22:1-7). The signs that accompanied Titus’ parousia are remarkably similar to those that Isaiah prophesied would accompany the Lord’s coming:
Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
Messianic-style miracles accompanied Titus’ parousia—the blind seeing, the lame walking, and waters bursting forth in dry places. Titus’ second coming also brought with it the vengeance and recompense of God. In an ironic reversal, however, this resulted not in salvation for Israel but in destruction (Is. 35:4; cf. Luke 21:20-32).
SUMMARY OF THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS
The man of sin/lawlessness would be the one opposed to all that is or claims to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). As such, he would be opposed to Jesus, against (anti) the Christ. The man of lawlessness was the Antichrist, the evil ruler who was to come at the end of the age, shortly before the Second Advent (2 Thess. 2:8; cf. Dan. 7:21-22; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 19:11-21). In providing a timeline for the day of the Lord and the parousia, Paul said that just two events had to occur: the apostasia (the Great Revolt of the Jews) and the subsequent revelation of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3; cf. Dan. 11:40, 12:11).
The lawless one would capture the Temple and seek to exalt himself above all that is called God (2 Thess. 2:4). This would happen on the ultimate day of the Lord, the time when Jerusalem and its Temple would be captured and destroyed (cf. Dan. 9:26-27; Zeph. 1). In his discussion of the man of lawlessness, Paul is drawing from the king of the North of Daniel 11:36-45. The king of the North is similarly described as the one who would exalt himself above every god (vv. 36-37) and lead the attack on God’s holy mountain (the Temple) on the ultimate day of the Lord (vv. 40-45).
This was the time of the great tribulation and resurrection (Dan. 12:1-13; cf. 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 1:3-10). These events were fulfilled at the time of Titus’ attack and capture of the Temple at AD 70. At this time Titus exalted himself above all that is called God as he received the worship and sacrifice of his troops. Interestingly enough, these events took place during Titus’ second invasion of the Holy Land, his second coming.
The parousia of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:9) would take place shortly before the parousia of the Christ (2 Thess. 2:1, 8). The spirit of Antichrist that had worked through Titus, the man of lawlessness, would be destroyed by Jesus’ Second Advent in AD 70 (2 Thess. 2:8). This demonic spirit was reduced to nothing at this time and cast into the lake of fire (cf. Dan. 7:7-11; Rev. 19:11-21). It is thus not technically correct to refer to Titus as the Antichrist beyond AD 70. The man Titus would go on to become the eleventh Caesar (the little eleventh horn eventually became a big eleventh horn, so to speak). The man who was known as “the wicked Titus” by the Jews became known as the “delight and darling of the human race” by the Romans. I believe this extreme difference in perception was at least partially attributable to the AD 70 destruction of the Antichrist spirit that had worked through Titus. This is not to say that Titus became a saint after AD 70, but merely that the powerful forces of evil which had been working through him were destroyed by the coming of the Lord’s presence at AD 70: “And then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of his presence” (2 Thess. 2:8 YLT).
Lastly, Suetonius gives the following summary of some of the many talents of Titus:
He had a distinguished appearance, which was such that there was no less authority in it than charm; he had exceptional strength, even though he was not tall and had a stomach that was a little too prominent; and he had a unique memory and an ability to learn virtually all the arts of war and peace. He was very skilful in the use of weapons and in riding; at pleading or in composing poetry in Latin and in Greek he was sharp and fluent, even to the point of composing on the spot; nor was he without knowledge of music, since he sang and played the lyre in a pleasing and skillful manner.52
On the outside, the man of lawlessness was a sophisticated and cultured man. Satan rarely comes as a dragon; more often than not, he comes as an angel of light (2 Cor. 2:11:14; cf. Rev. 13:11).
THE DEATH OF TITUS
The Romans had been concerned that Titus, because of his ruthless reputation, would be an evil emperor; as it turned out, this was not the case. Of Titus, Suetonius writes, “It was even thought and prophesied quite openly that he would be a second Nero . . . So soon as everyone realized that here was no monster of vice but an exceptionally noble character, public opinion had not fault to find with him.”53 This would seem to indicate a fairly significant change in the behavior of Titus.
Even so, Titus’ reign as emperor (AD 79-81) was a short one (two years and two months) and full of catastrophe, as Suetonius records: “Titus’ reign was marked by a series of dreadful catastrophes—an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Campania, a fire at Rome which burned for three days and nights, and one of the worst outbreaks of plague that had ever been known.”54 As one might expect, God’s displeasure seemed to accompany Titus’ reign. The Bible states that “if any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17, NASB). Although Paul wrote this in the context of believers being the temple of God, it can also be applied to the one who destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. Keeping this in mind (as well as the fact that the voice of God can be mistaken for thunder; cf. John 12:28-29) consider the events surrounding the death of Titus:
At the close of the Games he [Titus] wept publicly; and then set off for Sabine territory in a gloomy mood because a victim had escaped when he was about to sacrifice it, and because thunder had sounded from a clear sky. He collapsed with fever at the first posting station, and on his way from the place in a litter, is said to have drawn back the curtains, gazed up at the sky, and complained bitterly that life was being undeservedly taken from him—since only a single sin lay on his conscience. What that was he did not reveal, and it was difficult to guess what he meant, and he did not disclose it at the time . . . .55
I believe that the thunder “from a clear sky” was the voice of God telling Titus that his time was up. Titus’ protestation to heaven and his subsequent unexpected death lends credence to this proposition.
The one thing about which Titus felt guilty has led to a good deal of speculation by historians. Although Suetonius cites some who believed Titus was referring to his affair with his brother’s wife, he doubted that was the answer. (Suetonius believed that Domitian’s wife would have bragged about it if it were true!)56 Some believed that Domitian had poisoned Titus (cf. 2 Esd. 12:22-28) and that Titus’ one regret was that he had not eliminated Domitian. Some who are more romantic in their thinking have proposed that Titus’ one regret was never marrying the love of his life, the Jewish queen Bernice.
What the one sin was that weighed on Titus’ conscience, we cannot be sure. Of all his transgressions, the one that should have weighed most heavily on Titus as he came face-to-face with the Almighty was his desolation of the Temple and shattering of God’s old covenant people. Despite the fact that these events were prophesied in Scripture (Dan. 9:26-27; 11:36; 12:7), woe to the one who willingly participated in them (cf. Matt. 26:24).
Duncan McKenzie, The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination (Xulon, 2009), 360-371.
43. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 258.
44. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, with Their Precise Meanings for English Readers (pp. 5-6, under the word “abolish”) in An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.
45. W. E. Vine with C. F. Hogg, Vine’s Expository Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 191.
46. Tacitus, The Histories, 1,10, trans. Kenneth Wellesley, 27.
47. F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 173.
48. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, rev. ed. Vespasian, 7, trans. Robert Graves (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 284.
49. Tacitus, The Histories, 1, 10, trans. Kenneth Wellesley, 263-264.
50. Kenneth Wellesley, Tacitus: The Histories, 264, footnote 2.
51. Josephus, The Jewish War, 5, 9, 4, trans. Gaalya Cornfeld, 385-386.
52. Suetonius, The Flavian Emperors: A Historical Commentary, The Deified Titus 3, trans. Robert Milns, Brian Jones, and Robert Milns (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2002), 23.
53. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, rev. ed. Titus, 7, trans. Robert Graves, 295.
54. Ibid., Titus 8, 296.
55. Ibid., Titus 10, 297-298.
56. Ibid., Titus 10, 298.