The Oxford edition of the King James Bible contains a dedicatory introduction praising King James for his support and zeal in commissioning this translation of the Bible. In the third paragraph of the ‘dedicatory epistle’ King James is commended for his zeal in aiding the spread of the English Bible and by doing so it is said that he “hath given such a blow unto that man of sin”.

The phrase, “man of sin”, is taken from 2 Thessalonians 2, a chapter which warns about a wholesale apostasy from the Truth. Clearly, 1611 Protestant theologians saw this phrase as referring to the Papacy which had actively opposed the spread of the Scriptures in the common tongue.

From the very earliest centuries after the epistle was written, this “man of sin” was linked with symbolic prophecies in Daniel and Revelation and described a religious system which would grow out of the first century ecclesia and finally be destroyed by Christ at his coming. History has verified the correctness of this interpretation by pointing the finger at the succession of men who occupied (and still occupy) the papal throne in Rome.

Through the research of a number of brethren we can see that this view was held and taught by our brethren and other protester groups throughout history.

1 Brother Ron Abel—The Man of Sin (Christadelphian Scripture Study Service 1974)

This book contains a timeline from 1100 AD showing groups of independent Bible students like the Waldenses and men like Wycliff and Isaac Newton who understood the Roman Catholic system to be the “man of sin”.

2 Brother Alan Eyre—Brethren in Christ (Christadelphian Scripture Study Service 1982)

Brother Eyre, among other things, gives a detailed quotation from William Tyndale showing his view to be identical to the traditional Christadelphian view of identifying the Catholic Church as the ‘man of sin’.

3 Brother Joseph Banta—The Apocalypse: A Background Study (Don Styles 1985)

He quotes some early Bible students who identified Rome as the apostasy including the twelfth century Albigenses.

4 Brother Jonathan Burke—Historical Quotations (Unpublished 2002)

This internet resource contains hundreds of early references showing that the early believers saw the man of sin/Antichrist as a religious system existing during the time of the Roman Empire. These historic references go back as far as Tertullian 190AD.

This preponderance of consistent references from historical expositors indicate that people who were contemporary with this religious system of iniquity were able to pinpoint the fulfilment of Paul’s words with little hesitation. Such an overwhelming number of references surely should make us stop and think before we rush in with some modern alternative view.

A Practical Theory

There are practical ramifications to correctly understanding the true definition of the “man of sin” and the related apocalyptic visions.

We are told to keep “the sayings of the prophecy” (Rev 22:7) and to “keep those things which are written therein” (Rev 1:3). The Apocalypse was specifically given to “show” the saints things which would occur (Rev 1:1).

How have we as a community “kept” the things written within? How have we understood the things “shown” by God unto his servants? It is only feasible to understand these words in light of the writings of our earlier brethren in such works as Eureka, Thirteen Lectures, etc, which have reminded us that we are a separate people who must remain separate from the false teaching promulgated by the “man of sin” system—the Roman Catholic Church.

The Futuristic View

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church felt the ‘heat’ in regards to their identification as the “man of sin”. Particularly as more and more people were gaining access to the Bible and studying the word for themselves. In the year 1528 a Jesuit priest by the name of Ribera published the futuristic view of the “Antichrist”. This interpretation sees the rise of an individual dictatorial character called the ‘Antichrist’ who rules the world for a 31/2 year period during which he persecutes the true believers.

Amazingly, this view has spread to become the dominant view in Christian theology today. In the modern era writers like Hal Lindsay (The Late Great Planet Earth—Bantam Books 1973) and others made this view popular. I quite clearly remember visiting Christian bookshops ten years or so ago and seeing many best selling books based upon this futurist theory. Some books claimed that bar codes and computers were the mark of the beast. Other books identified people like Henry Kissinger or the United Nations as possible Antichrist candidates. Christian rock songs contained titles like Don’t Mess With the Beast and video clips showed futuristic type men in black persecuting true believers.

The futuristic “man of sin” theory has also found expression within the brotherhood. It is claimed that these interpretations are not designed to replace the traditional continuous historical view but can be seen as ‘secondary applications’. None of the futuristic works reviewed to date have met the burden of proof required to validly claim ‘secondary application’ status.

I believe the proponents of these views are not wise in publishing these ideas. The ‘secondary applications’ are based upon highly speculative ‘typology’. For example great slabs of the book of Judges are used to reconstruct details of future events. How do speculative views like this help the brotherhood “keep the sayings of the prophecy” or to “read and understand” the things contained within, if they divert attention away from the central identification and meaning of the “man of sin”?

By taking attention away from the intended “man of sin” they could be unwittingly watering down the warning and thus “taking away from the words of this prophecy”—something we need to be very careful about (Rev 22:19).

The Antichrist/Man of Sin Identified

The “man of sin” warning is found in 2 Thessalonians 2. The Antichrist warnings are found only in John’s letters. As we shall see, there is a definite link between these warnings, as they refer to one and the same thing.

John’s words are primarily a warning against false doctrine, in particular wrong doctrine regarding the nature and mission of Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:3 “…every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come and even now already is in the world.”

2 Thessalonians 2 also warns of a false religious system and warns that its seeds were taking root in the early Ecclesia (v7 “for the mystery of iniquity doth already work”).

The erroneous view that Christ did “not come in the flesh” was the seed of what would develop into Trinitarian theology. This doctrine continued to grow within the early church/ecclesia until it was codified in the Nicene creed of 325AD. This concept is the base doctrine of false Christianity, in particular the Roman Catholic Church. Paul’s use of “mystery” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 identifies the doctrine with the Catholic Church which refers to the unprovable and incomprehensible doctrine as the ‘blessed mystery’.

This system of mystery was identified in Revelation 17 and 18 as a woman/city which presided over the kings of the earth, reigning from a seven-hilled dominion in all her iniquity. From John’s perspective, when he recorded this prophecy, the only city which matched such a description was, of course, Rome.

Although Rome has lost the imperial power that she once wielded, today her influence is a spiritual one. The ‘ROMAN Catholic Church’, which is still based within that city, will oppose Christ when he returns. It will meet the same fate as that described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2—utter destruction by fire and sword.

In 1 John 2:18 we read this—“as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists”. Here we find a very interesting mix between singular and plural. The prediction concerning the rise of Antichrist current in the first century was in fact fulfilled by a system of Antichrists.

John says that ye have heard that Antichrist should come. How had John and his contemporaries heard such a thing? Obviously, they knew from such chapters as 2 Thessalonians 2 (the “man of sin”). The early believers understood “Antichrist” to refer to the rise of heresy and false doctrine. The reality of such was constantly referred to by Paul.

So on one hand Antichrist is singular—a system—but made up of many—plural. A system which promulgated wrong views regarding Jesus Christ and consisting of many adherents. We saw in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 the warning of a wholesale apostasy (“a falling away”), or departing from the truth. John also refers to this defection in 1 John 2:19—“They went out from us…they were not all of us”. John also gives us another identifying characteristic of this apostasy in 2 John 7 where he writes—“many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist”.

Deception is our key link between John’s “Antichrist” and Paul’s “man of sin” (2 Thess 2:2 “let no man deceive you”) and Revelation’s “woman”’ (ch 18:23 “for by her sorceries were all nations deceived”).

A Progressive System

By parallelism Paul equates “the man of sin” with the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:3,7). Since the “mystery of iniquity” was already at work, clearly the “man of sin” was already visible in Paul’s day (v7). As we have seen, this antichristian influence was comprised of many individual Antichrists and this was fast shaping up to develop into a massive force which would eventually be destroyed by Christ at his coming some 2000 years later (2:8).

Contextually this man of sin is a religious system that was hindered from fully developing by the presence of pagan Rome. Once this restraining influence was removed, there was nothing holding back the pretensions of evil men. Within the space of several hundred years the pre-eminence of the Roman bishop was evident and soon this centre was the heart of apostasy and the “man of sin” came to represent a succession of men who claimed to be God’s representatives on earth—the papacy.

One other identifying clue found in this chapter is in verse7, which says that this “man of sin” is sitting in the “temple of God” and “shewing himself that he is God”. In 1870 pope Pius 1 proclaimed the blasphemous doctrine of Papal Infallibility. The church claims to forgive sins and refers to the office of pope as ‘vicar of God’ (‘instead of God’). St Peter’s, the Roman headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, is referred to in Papal terminology as the ‘temple of God’, just as 2 Thessalonians 2 predicts.

Strong Delusions

As a separate community, true and faithful exposition should scream to us the warning, “Come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4). Our earlier brethren of previous years have laboured to provide a wonderful heritage of logical and Scriptural interpretation of these predictions. They have constantly warned the brotherhood of the deception and dangers of church ideas, doctrines and philosophies.

Remember that one of the key characteristics of this system was that of deception.

2 Thessalonians 2

verse 3 “Let no man deceive you”

verse 10 “with all deceivableness”

verse 11 “strong delusion” (Gk deception)

The result of such deception is that “many will believe a lie”. The term “lie” takes our minds back to Eden. The first lie—“thou shalt not surely die”—spawned the false doctrines of the apostasy. Note, too, that the majority of religious people in the earth would be deceived.

This leads on to a very serious warning in chapter 2:15—“hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle”.

As Christadelphians we have a wonderful heritage in our understanding of who the “man of sin” is. It has stood the test of time and is clearly as relevant to us today as it was to previous generations. Let us focus on the real enemy God has warned us about and ensure that we are not deceived by ensuring that the love of the Truth is the hallmark of our lives.