In a previous post “Scripture is Tradition“, we responded to the claim that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 sets up a Holy Tradition governed by the Roman Catholic church. We examined the works of the early church to demonstrate that it did not believe that there was any authority other than the Word of God found in scripture. In this post we examine all of 2 Thessalonians 2—not just verse 15—in its context.
The Great Apostasy
1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken from your state of mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a spoken message or by a letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come. 3Do not let anyone deceive you by any means, because that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above everything called God or every object of worship, so that he sits down in the sanctuary of God, displaying himself—that he is God. 5Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6And you know what is holding him back now, so that he will be revealed when his time comes. 7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work, only the one now holding it back will do so until he is out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by the spirit from his mouth and put an end to him by the appearance of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is a result of the activity of the Adversary with all kinds of power and counterfeit signs and wonders, 10and with every kind of unrighteous deception for those who are destroying themselves because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11And because of this God sends them a deluding influence so that they believe a lie, 12with the result that all who have not believed the truth, but took pleasure in unrighteousness, will be condemned.
A completely different picture emerges, a great apostasy. The reason we are to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” is because the man of lawlessness (or sin) was soon coming to subvert the apostolic message. Not only is verse 15…
15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that you were taught, whether by spoken message or letter from us.
…not about Holy Tradition within the Roman Catholic church, but it appears to be a warning to resist against the coming apostasy of the church.
In our four part series on non-speculative scripturally-sourced and historically-documented eschatology, we identified the Whore of Babylon as the city of Rome when and where Roman Catholicism arose, the 10, 3, and little horns of Daniel and Revelation as Roman dioceses, Petrine Seats, and Papal Roman Catholicism (respectively), and the beast and his image as Papal Roman Catholicism and the bread of the Roman Eucharist (respectively). Thus we identified Papal Roman Catholicism as the source of the church’s apostasy, starting in the late 4th century
So the question is, do the signs given in 2 Thessalonians match the signs given in Revelation. If they do not, we may have a serious problem—with the interpretation. If they do, we also have a serious problem—this time with Roman Catholicism.
In verse 3, we see two things: apostasy must come to the church and it must come before The Day of the Lord (v3). In “No Early Evidence for Roman Catholic Doctrine“, we identified that apostasy as many innovations coinciding with the rise in Roman Catholicism in the late 4th century:
“…papal and Roman primacy, papal infallibility, priestly celibacy, elevation of virginity and fasting over marriage, Mariology (immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, assumption of Mary, Mother of the Church), kneeling on the Lord’s Day, incense, candles, relics and images, baptismal regeneration, intercession of the saints, the title of Pontifex Maximus, ex communicare replaced by ex civitate, taking up the civil sword to persecute and kill the faithful, civil taxes flowing through the Bishops and priestly wealth acquisition, and the eucharistic alterations: the alteration of the liturgical order, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, eucharistic adoration, communion on the tongue, the liturgical mixing of water with wine, the church holidays (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday).”
In no other time before this was there such an explosion of apostasy—the abandonment of the true church of Christ—towards novelties. Thus, we can easily spot the point in history when the great errors were introduced.
Man of Lawlessness
But who is this “man of lawlessness”? We are given seven signs, most of which are fulfilled in the previously documented signs of the Image of the Beast (the bread of the Roman Eucharist).
The first sign is lawlessness or being full of sin. While this is fulfilled in many ways, it is most clearly fulfilled in the Image of the Beast and its mark, the corruption of early Christianity’s Eucharistic liturgy, the corruption of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, and the idolatrous worship of the bread in the Roman Eucharist. It is also fulfilled in the the lawlessness that issues out of the mouths of its Popes.
The second sign is the “son of destruction” (v3). We can quickly conclude that ‘destruction’ is a figure-of-speech for Satan and the false church is Satan’s ‘son’, but we need not do so since destruction so easily applies literally without appealing to subjective figures-of-speech. For 1,260 years, the Roman Catholic church—at the behest of its Popes—took the civil power of the sword and used it to persecute Christians, banishing, torturing, and/or murdering them and destroying their possessions and writings for rejecting Rome’s false doctrines (including and especially worship of the bread of the Eucharist).
The third sign is that he exalts himself above everything called God (v4). The Pope’s title is the Vicar of Christ, the highest of earthly authorities. He claims as his own—on behalf of the whole Church—the very power to speak authoritatively on and express the very Word of God. To falsely claim to speak for the highest God Almighty is to exalt himself above everything named God. To be Catholic, the church must submit to the will of the Pope, thus the whole church exalts itself above the One and True God.
The fourth sign is that he sits down in the sanctuary of God (v4). The Catholic Church is made up of sanctuaries and the Pope is its leader. His authority is called his chair, upon which he sits, and he presides over the whole congregation and every sanctuary. The Church even claims authority over all Christians, not just Roman Catholics.
The fifth sign is that he displays counterfeit signs and wonders (v9). Signs and wonders have followed the Roman Catholic Church since it has risen, including the Eucharistic miracles, miracles performed by its Saints—including many of its Popes—and the Marian apparitions.
The sixth sign is that he deceives by way of strong delusions (v10-11). As cited above, the list of Roman Catholic innovations is long indeed. Yet, it is simply a point of historical fact that the Roman Catholic Church has dominated all of Christianity. Though Jesus warned that “narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”, Roman Catholicism has proven extremely attractive. It has succeeded in the largest and strongest deception in human history. We will examine this further in the section “Followers” below.
The seventh sign is that he will not be destroyed until Christ comes (v8). Thus are we are told, with no ambiguity, that the apostasy—once it starts—will not end until Christ returns for the Day of Final Judgment. This final sign shows us that nothing will prevail against and destroy the Roman Catholic Church until Jesus himself does so. It cannot refer to any past entity, say, the Roman Empire, since the Roman Empire is no more. This is why sola scriptura (Protestantism) and sola ecclesia (Roman Catholicism) are such critical issues. The only way to prevail against the Man of Lawlessness is to “stand firm and hold on to the traditions that you were taught” until Christ returns.
We are told just two things about the followers of the man of lawlessness.
The first is that they will take pleasure in his deceptions (v12). The reason Roman Catholicism is so large is because so many people embrace it with joy, reveling in its glory. Among converts to Roman Catholicism is the very strong sense that they are coming home. Their elation can be felt. Converts to Roman Catholicism do not believe Jesus really meant that few would find the way that leads to life. They think that huge numbers of people throughout history and the future will find the way that leads to life, more so than any other religion or denomination, perhaps even all of them combined. This certainly has mass appeal.
And yet, the second thing we are told is that they are condemned (v12). What separates the Mark of the Beast, received by the worship of the Beast’s image, is the it comes with a specific condemnation. And so we identify the condemnation of following the man of lawlessness with the condemnation found with worshiping the Beast’s image, because one cannot be Roman Catholic without participating in the Roman Sacrifice of the Mass. Thus all true Catholics stand condemned by receiving the mark.
Thessalonians also speaks of a restraining power holding back the apostasy from starting, but it was prophesied that it would only continue for a time (v8) upon which the man of lawlessness would rise. As noted above, once risen, the man of lawlessness remains until Christ returns for the Day of Final Judgment. Paul did not know precisely when the Man of Lawlessness would rise, but he thought it might be soon enough that he had to warn the church to cling to scripture, lest they be swept away by its deceptions.
Thessalonians also identifies the restraining power as both a thing and a person (v6,8). I would suggest that this refers to the true church and its members, which would successfully hold back apostasy until the late 4th century, when it lost and was forced to retreat to the wilderness for 1,260 years during the era of civil persecution by Roman Catholicism.
In a previous post we showed that the early church viewed its written scriptures—including what had been written of the spoken word referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:15—as the sole Word of God, itself complete and permanent. In its wider context, we can see that the reason Paul instructed the Thessalonians to cling to tradition was because soon would come a great apostasy that would challenge every belief they held. The only way to resist this would be to stand firm in their tradition. And this is precisely what the remnant of the church—though small in number—did, continually resisting the Roman Catholic innovations.
The signs of the Man of Lawlessness are a bit more general (less specific) than the ones in Revelation, but we have no trouble applying them. There was no need for contortions of words, tortured grammatical analysis, or speculative hypotheticals. The signs fit precisely, albeit in a less satisfying manner due to their more general phrasing. Moreover, the signs comfortably fit both the Papacy and the whole of the Roman Catholic Church, such that I cannot tell if the “Man of Lawlessness” is the Papacy, the Roman Catholic Church, or both. In any case, if we apply the heuristic that it should be ever harder, not easier, to make more signs fit the more signs you add, then we pass this test quite easily.
Long has the true church interpreted 2 Thessalonians 2 to refer to the Great Apostasy. During the 16th century Catholic Counter-Reformation, Luis de Alcazar—a Jesuit—created Preterism and Francisco Ribera—also a Jesuit—created Futurism. In what is a great source of irony, most Protestants have since joyfully embraced many of these deceptions and no longer identify Roman Catholicism as the source of apostasy. Most have abandoned the clear fulfillment of the signs and instead identify the Man of Lawlessness with some indefinable future person, leaving the given signs uninterpreted. Some run to Roman Catholicism, no longer seeing any reason to resist its pull.
 The Day of the Lord is when Jesus Christ returns for the Final Day of Judgment.
 Meyer’s NT Commentary, 2 Thessalonians 2: “The restraining power, on which Paul thought, must accordingly have been so constituted that it can be brought under a twofold form of description, and be represented both as a thing and as a person.”
 But, like all forms of idolatry, this can be repented.