It is written:
“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 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, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12)
In our studies of the “man of sin,” we have learned the following:
1. The man of sin would arise within the church (suggesting that this would be some kind of religious power);
2. The man of sin would be characterized by an apostasy from God and His Word;
3. The man of sin would be somehow connected to Rome;
4. The man of sin was already starting to work in the first century, and would continue till the Second Coming of Christ;
5. The man of sin would be an entire power structure within the church, and not necessarily one individual.
Now, Paul had told the Thessalonians that there was some kind of restraining power keeping the man of sin at bay, and that he had told them more about these matters.
Did they write about the restraining power?
Yes they did.
Consider these words from one early Christian:
“Chrysostom (Commenting On 2 Thessalonians 2:7)-“One may naturally inquire what is that which restrains the man of lawlessness, and in addition, why Paul expresses it so obscurely. What then is it that holds back, that is, that hinders the revealing of, the Antichrist? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman Empire. I agree with the latter position. Why? Because if Paul meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts, hold back the Antichrist. If not, he should have come by now, if his coming was to occur with the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit; for they have long since ceased….But because Paul said this of the Roman Empire, he merely touched the topic, understandably speaking covertly and darkly. For he had no need to create unnecessary enemies and useless dangers.…(Homilies on 2 Thessalonians 4. [NPNF 1 13:388-89*.])
Now, Chrysostom says that in his day, there were some who taught that the restraining power on the man of sin was the “grace of the Spirit,” a reference to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. So, why didn’t Chrysostom accept this interpretation? Very simply, if the restraining power on the man of sin was miraculous gifts of the Spirit, then the man of sin should have appeared long before the time of Chrysostom, since the miraculous gifts had long since ceased by his time (the late second century A.D.)!
Clearly, the Holy Spirit was not the restraining power.
What was the other traditional belief regarding the restraining power of the man of sin?
According to Chrysostom, the restraining power was the Roman Empire.
And, Chrysostom is not alone. The church fathers provide powerful support to the Roman Empire being the restraining power.
Ladd has pointed out:
“The traditional view has been that the restraining principle is the Roman empire and the restrainer the emperor.1907 This view, or a modification of it, fits best into the Pauline theology.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology Of The New Testament, 605-606 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Another author provides more detail:
“This point is of great importance. Paul distinctly tells us that he knew, and that the Thessalonians knew, what that hindrance was, and that it was then in existence. The early Church, through the writings of the Fathers, tells us what it knew upon the subject, and with remarkable unanimity affirms that this “let,” or hindrance, was the Roman empire as governed by the Caesars; that while the Caesars held imperial power, it was impossible for the predicted antichrist to arise, and that on the fall of the Caesars he would arise. Here we have a point on which Paul affirms the existence of knowledge in the Christian Church. The early Church knew, he says, what this hindrance was. The early Church tells us what it did know upon the subject, and no one in these days can be in a position to contradict its testimony as to what Paul had, by word of mouth only, told the Thessalonians….What then was the view of the early Church? Look at the words of Tertullian. Quoting Thessalonians, he says: “Now ye know what detaineth that he might be revealed in his time, for the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder until he be taken out of the way. What obstacle is there but the Roman state; the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce antichrist…that the beast antichrist, with his false prophet, may wage war on the Church of God?” In his magnificent “Apology,” addressed to the rulers of the Roman empire, Tertullian says that the Christian Church — not himself, mark, but the Christian Church — prayed for the emperors, and for the stability of the empire of Rome, because they knew “that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth — in fact, the very end of all things, threatening dreadful woes — was ONLY RETARDED by the continued existence of the Roman empire. Read the words of Chrysostom in his “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians”: “One may first naturally inquire what is that which withholdeth, and after that would know why Paul expresses this so obscurely. . ‘he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.’ That is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come; and naturally, for as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will readily exalt himself; but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of men and of God. For as the kingdoms before this were destroyed, that of the Medes by the Babylonians, that of the Babylonians by the Persians, that of the Persians by the Macedonians, that of the Macedonians by the Romans, so will this be by antichrist, and he by Christ.” Then, accounting for Paul’s reserve in alluding to this point he adds: “Because he says this of the Roman empire, he naturally only glanced at it and spoke covertly, for he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities and useless dangers. For if he had said that, after a little while, the Roman empire would be dissolved, they would now immediately have even overwhelmed him as a pestilent person, and all the faithful as living and warring to this end.” From Irenaeus, who lived close to apostolic times, down to Chrysostom and Jerome, the Fathers taught that the power withholding the manifestation of the “man of sin” was the Roman empire as governed by the Caesars. The Fathers therefore belong to the historic, and not to the futurist school of interpretation; for futurists imagine that the hindrance to the manifestation of the man of sin is still in existence, though the Caesars have long since passed away.” (Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism And The Reformation: From The Standpoint Of Prophecy, 1644-1671 (Kindle Edition))
The testimony from the early church fathers is clear that the “restraining power,” which was was keeping back the man of sin, was the Roman Empire.
Therefore, the fall of the Roman Empire (which began to take place in 476 A.D.) would herald the arrival of the “man of sin.”
With this mind, we are now able to see clearly what the “man of sin” was.
Which religious power:
1. Arose within the church;
2. Would be an apostasy from Christ and His Word;
3. Was prophesied to be connected with the nation of Rome;
4. Already existed in the first century, yet would continue till the Second Coming;
5. Was an entire power structure within the church;
6. Was being restrained by the Roman Empire;
7. Would come to full power when the Roman Empire was removed?
Only one power structure fits all of these Biblical and historical criteria: the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church.