The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: M

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Man of sin, first century

When the leaders of the Jews sought to contain the new movement led by Jesus of Nazareth, they used every subtle form of attack they were capable of. When these failed, they had to fall back on crude methods which involved using all the organized powers of religion and state to get him crucified.

With Jesus himself out of the way they next found that the hard facts of his resurrection, and of the transformation it wrought in his apostles, showed their problem to be still unsolved.

Now open persecution only seemed to make the movement prosper more than ever. But the old resources of craft and cunning were not used up completely. And so a deliberate attempt was made to wreck the new "sect" from within. Nowhere is this stated categorically in the New Testament, but the implication of numerous passages is very persuasive:

Galatia: To the Galatians Paul speaks of "false brethren" who had secretly infiltrated the churches, so as to enslave again (to the Law) those who had been made free by Paul's own preaching (Gal 2:4,5). These agents had apparently been planted in the brotherhood, so as to work slowly and steadily either to draw believers back to the Law or, failing that, at least to create internal dissensions that would weaken the whole community and thus its appeal to others. Even Peter was practically won over to this philosophy (vv 11-14).

It soon became obvious that Paul -- intelligent and resolute -- posed the greatest single obstacle to their "satanic" objectives. And so the person and the claims and the worth of this great apostle to the Gentiles must be attacked also, as part of the overall plan of these subversives.

Corinth: In Corinth these enemies had some considerable success, in characterizing Paul as weak and contemptible as to his physical qualities (2Co 10:9,10; 11:6). By contrast, the leader of the subversives, called "Satan" by Paul himself, continues to present himself as polished and personable and wise and authoritative -- the natural candidate to replace Paul as the leader of the ecclesias (2Co 11:22,23)! Such a sustained campaign of character assassination called forth from Paul the unusual expedient of a prolonged self-defense (2Co 11:13 to 12:12).

Jerusalem: Even in Jerusalem lies were being systematically spread about Paul, that he was teaching all Jews to forsake Moses and all the customs (Acts 21:20,21). While not true as to particulars, it had just enough plausibility to be accepted by gullible new converts. The faceless men who sought to pervert Paul's work and keep the first-century ecclesia in bondage to the Temple and the priests had evidently been diligently at work in Jerusalem practically from the beginning. (It could not have been Paul's open enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees who told such lies, since their stories would have had no chance of being believed. This campaign was plainly carried on secretly, by whisper and innuendo, in the midst of the ecclesias.)

Rome: From Rome Paul wrote to the Philippians (Phi 1:15-17) of those who preached out of envy and strife, trying to add additional affliction to the bondage Paul was already suffering. It is clear that certain "believers" were finding malicious pleasure in preaching the gospel with some special emphasis, probably -- because their work would only be another source of worry and vexation to Paul. Such were fulfilling the serpent's role, by good words and fair speeches deceiving the simple (Rom 16:17,18).

Other hints of the same organized subversion are to be found in:

Eph 4:14: "the sleight of men" (a phrase used for deliberate cheating at games), "and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive";

Col 2:4: "lest any man should beguile you with enticing words" -- another plain allusion to the serpent in the garden.

Titus 1:14: Titus was warned not to give "heed to Jewish fables... that turn from the truth", preached by the deceivers of the "circumcision" group (see also vv 4,9,10).

1Ti 4:1,2: Timothy was likewise warned of false teachers ("seducing spirits", Paul called them), speaking hypocritical lies, and fostering undue concern for dietary matters.

Hebrews: The entire letter is a learned and reasoned attempt to forestall drift back to the Mosaic institutions and the synagogue system, a drift encouraged by this organized call of opposition in the very brotherhood.
It is plain, then, that there was a subversive, "Satanic" element at work in the ecclesia of Paul's day: a group (with perhaps a formidable leader) who professed faith in Christ, but whose hidden agenda called for a "return to Moses." This group (and its leader?) claimed apostolic authority that was rightly the province of Paul and the twelve, and they worked within the ecclesia, or the spiritual "temple of God" (2Th 2:4), being accepted as believers in good standing. It might be assumed that either some of their number actually had Holy Spirit gifts ("all power and signs and lying wonders" -- v 9), or else deceived the simple-hearted into thinking they did. They systematically and subtly taught the "lie", that men could be justified only by keeping the law of Moses.

It is reasonable to suppose that Paul actually had his eye on some apostasy current in his own time, and which had already shown its hostile attitude toward him in very effective fashion (v 7). Otherwise, it becomes very difficult to explain the immediacy and seriousness with which he describes the "man of sin." These Jewish pseudo-Christians, along with their leader "Satan" (Paul's "thorn in the flesh?"), were imposters; while professing the gospel, they had not really "received the love of the truth" but instead "had pleasure in (promoting) unrighteousness" (vv 10,12). Paul was using every ounce of his faith and energy to hinder this destructive work (v 6), but Paul would not always be with them: when he would at last pass from the scene, the Judaizers might be expected to flourish almost without restraint (v 7).

Therefore the same Paul who hoped and prayed for the return of Christ in his own lifetime (consider 1Th 4:15, for example) could also expect that the Lord when he appeared would overthrow and destroy this wicked pretender (2Th 2:8; cp 1:6-10). That Christ did not return during Paul's day or even during the final years of the first century is no reflection on Paul's faith or understanding: what else should he have done except look for his Lord's coming? And the fact is, that the first-century "man of sin" (and his adherents) will be destroyed by Christ at his coming -- being raised from the dead to stand before the judgment seat.


There have been many forerunners, or advance messengers of the Anti-Christ:

  1. Cain, the originator of religious war, who slew his righteous brother (Gen 4:4-8), when Cain's religious deception had been uncovered.
  2. Lamech, who boasted himself even against God -- so great was his power, or so he thought (Gen 4:23)!
  3. Nimrod, the first great "world-ruler", who began the history of Babylonian power (Gen 10:8-10).
  4. Balaam, the false prophet who for material gain seduced God's people into immorality; the "anti-Moses", so to speak (Num 31:17; 2Pe 2:15; Rev 2:14).
  5. Goliath -- the "man of sin", closely associated with the number six, the representative terrorist, the "anti-David", who opposed God's Anointed (1Sa 17).
  6. Antiochus Epiphanes, the devastator of the Sanctuary of God.
  7. Nero, the great first-century persecutor of the Christians, certainly regarded as "anti-Christ" by those who suffered under his rule.
  8. Mohammed, the "false prophet", a deceiver and "Satan-adversary" in his own right, even though hostile toward the Catholic Church.
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