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Man of Sin? 2Thes.2 #1

All about this prophecy of Paul's falling away


                        Ralph Woodrow


"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ, and by our gathering together unto him... Let no man
deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except
there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be
revealed... and now ye know what witholdeth that he might be
revealed in his time... only he who now letteth will let, until
he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be
revealed" (2 Thess.2:1-8).

Has the man of sin been revealed yet? During World War I, some
believed the Kaiser would be the dreaded man of sin, the
Antichrist. A few years later it was Joseph Stalin. When the New
Deal came into power in the United States, some thought Franklin
Roosevelt was at least the forerunner of Antichrist. And then, of
course, there was Mussolini and Hitler. Of the two, Mussolini was
probably the favorite. A book published in 1940 asked the
question: "Is Mussolini the Antichrist?" and the writer answered:
"He may be. I know of no reason why he should not fit the
description of this terrible man of sin... He is evidently an
atheist." Another writer was more positive in his claims. He said
that Mussolini had fulfilled 49 prophecies concerning Antichrist
Others have thought the Antichrist will be Nimrod, Nero, or a
Roman Emperor resurrected from the dead. Some believe it will be
Judas Iscariot. After comparing John 17:12 with 2 Thess.2:3, one
writer says: "Judas, then, will be the Antichrist." Or, as
another put it: "Antichrist will be Judas come to earth again!" 

Some believe that Antichrist will be assassinated and that Satan
will raise him from the dead. A widely known preacher writes:
"The Bible tells how, right in the middle of his rise to power,
Antichrist will be assassinated. The devil will then make his big
move. He will raise Antichrist from the dead in an attempt to
reproduce the Holy Trinity."

Actually, it would take several pages to give an account of the
various ideas that are held today concerning Antichrist. But the
common concept is that he will be an atheistic "superman",
an individual who will come to world-wide political power and
prominence during the last years of this age. This is the
FUTURIST interpretation.

In contrast to the futurist interpretation is what we will call
the FULFILLED interpretation. Those who hold this view believe
that the prophecies concerning the man of sin or Antichrist have
found their fulfillment in the PAPACY - the succession of Popes
that rose to power in Rome following the fall of the Roman
Empire. To some, this interpretation will appear too ridiculous
to even consider, and it will be cast aside immediately. But
before such actions are taken, surely the evidence for this
position should be carefully examined. As we shall notice in more
detail later, such noted men as Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin,
Knox, Zwingli, Tyndale, Foxe, Newton, and Wesley all believed
that the prophecies of the man of sin had found their fulfillment
in the Roman Papacy. Should we not at least inquire why these men
held this view? Who invented the futurist interpretation? And for
what purpose? When all the evidence is in, we do not believe the
fulfilled interpretation will appear as absurd as some may have

Looking again now at Paul's prophecy regarding the man of sin, we
read these words: "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with
you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth
that he [the man of sin] might be revealed in his time. For the
mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth
[restrains] will let [restrain], until he be taken out of the
way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed" (2 Thess.2:5-8). The
word "let" in this passage is simply an old English word meaning
to hinder or restrain. In this case, the reference is to
something that was hindering or restraining the appearance of the
man of sin.

We notice from the wording of this passage that whatever was
restraining the man of sin from being revealed was not some
thing that was unknown or obscure. Paul KNEW what it was. He
mentioned that the Christians at Thessalonica KNEW what it was.
There was no guess work about it. However, when writing
concerning this restraint, we notice that Paul was careful not to
mention it by name, but simply reminded them of what he taught
when he had been present with them.
What was it that was restraining or hindering the man of sin from
being revealed? According to the teachings that were handed down
by word of mouth to the Christians of the early centuries, it was
the ROMAN EMPIRE under the Caesars, the fall of which would bring
on the man of sin. When Christians were accused of holding this
belief, they did not deny it. Their reply was that they believed
the Empire would fall, but that they did not desire it, for its
fall would bring on the Antichrist who would inflict greater
persecution against them than they had suffered under pagan Rome.
Lactantius, for example, said: "Beseech the God of heaven that
the Roman State might be preserved, lest, more speedily than we
suppose, that hateful tyrant should come."
Justin Martyr in his Apologies to the pagan Roman rulers stated
that the Christians understanding of the time caused them to pray
for the continuance of the restraining Roman Empire, lest the
dreaded times of Antichrist, expected to follow upon its fall,
should overtake them in their day. 
Hippalytus believed the breaking up of the fourth Empire, Rome,
would bring on the Antichrist who would persecute the saints.
In his comments on 2 Thess.2, Tertullian pointed out that the
Roman State was the restraining "obstacle" which, by being broken
up would make way for Antichrist. "What is the restraining power?
What but the Roman State, the breaking up of which, by being
scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon [its
own ruins]?"
Cyril of Jerusalem, in the fourth century, speaking of the
prophecy under consideration said: "This, the predicted
Antichrist, will come, when the times of the Roman Empire shall
be fulfilled... Ten kings of the Romans shall arise together...
Among these the eleventh is Antichrist, who, by magical and
wicked artifices, shall seize the Roman power."
Jerome, noted bishop and translator, stated: "He[ Paul] shows
that that which restrains is the Roman Empire; for unless it
shall have been destroyed, and taken out of the midst, according
to the prophet Daniel, Antichrist will not come before that."
Commenting further on 2 Thess.2, he stated that "unless the Roman
Empire be first desolated and Antichrist precede, Christ shall
not come....Let us therefore say what all ecclesiastical writers
have delivered to us, that when the Roman Empire is destroyed,
ten kings will divide the Roman world among themselves, and then
will be revealed the man of sin."
Ambrose also mentioned that the Roman Empire was that which was
standing in the way of the appearance of Antichrist and that
"after the failing or decay of the Roman Empire, Antichrist would
Chrysostom stated: "One may naturally enquire, What is that which
withholdeth?" He answered that it was the Roman Empire and that
"when the Roman Empire is taken out of the way, then he
[Antichrist] shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear
of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but
when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor
to seize upon the government both of man and of God." He spoke
also of how the four empires of Daniel 7 each followed the others
in succession, so the fall of Rome would be followed by
AntiChrist. "As Rome succeeded Greece, so Antichrist is to
succeed Rome."

We see, then, that the testimony of the early church fathers was
that the Roman Empire was that which was standing in the way of
the man of sin being revealed and that its fall would bring on
the Antichrist. That this was the belief of the Christians in the
early centuries is well known by any who have looked into it. The
Expositor's Bible Commentary, for example, says: "There is no
reason to doubt that those fathers of the church are right who
identified it with the Empire of Rome and its sovereign head."

Let us briefly notice what some of the other commentators have
said along this line. "We have the consenting testimony of the
early fathers", says Elliott, "from Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.), the
disciple of the disciple of St.John, down to Chrysostom (347-407)
and Jerome (331-420) to the effect that it was understood to be
the Imperial power ruling and residing at Rome."
After many pages of carefully documented proof for his statement,
Froom says that the "letting" or restraining power impeding the
development of the "man of sin" was interpreted in the early
church as the Roman Empire.

1. Jerome, Commentaria, Bk. 5, chapter 25.
2. Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, p. 463.
3. Porcelli, The Antichrist-His Portrait and History, p.49. 4.
Newton, p. 463.
5. Chrysostom, Homilies, pp. 388, 389.
6. Denny, Commentary on Thessalonians, p.325. 7. Elliott, Horae
Apocalyticae, Bk. 3, p.92.
8. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1, p. 150.

Guinness says: "The early writings of the fathers tell us with
remarkable unanimity that this 'let' or hindrance was the Roman
Empire as governed by the Caesars; and that on the fall of the
Caesars, he [the man of sin] would arise."

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that the power which was
universally believed by the Christians to be that which was
retarding the revelation of the Antichrist was the Roman Empire?
Clarke's Commentary states that the united testimony of the
church leaders of those first centuries was that the restraint
which was to be removed was the Roman Empire.
"The Christian Church in general, all over the world at that
time, regarded the then existing Roman Empire of the Caesars as
the obstacle of which St.Paul had spoken as 'letting' or 
'hindering' the appearance of Antichrist upon the scene of the

Is it necessary to say more? We think the evidence is clear.
Understanding that it was the Roman Empire that was to be removed
before the man of sin would come to power, we can now understand
why Paul did not come right out and call the hindrance by name.
To teach that "eternal Rome" could fall from power could have
brought the early Christians into immediate conflict with the
leaders and people of the Empire within which they lived.
Especially careful would Paul be in writing to the Christians at
Thessalonica, for when he had been there with them, unbelieving
Jews had stirred up trouble by saying that Christians were doing
things "contrary to the decrees of Caesar" and that they believed
in "another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). So when writing to the
Thessalonian believers, he found it wise to simply remind them of
what he had taught when he had been present with them.
Jerome said that Paul believed the restraint was the Roman Empire
and that "if he had chosen to say this openly, he would have
foolishly aroused a frenzy of persecution against the
Christians."  Chrysostom stated: "Because he [Paul] said this of
the Roman Empire, he naturally glanced at it, and speaks covertly
and darkly. For he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous
enmities, and useless dangers."

Understanding that the "let" or restraint that was standing in
the way was the Roman Empire and that its fall would bring on the
man of sin, we can now know the TIME when the man of sin rose to
power! We should look not to the future for the appearance

1) Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 119.  2) Vol. 2, p.
60 (1961 Edition), Article: Antichrist. 3) Note on 2
Thessalonians 2. 4) Tanner, Daniel and Revelation, pp. 188, 189.
5) Jerome, Commentaria, Bk. 5, chapter 25. 6) Chrysostom,
Homilies, p.388, 389.

of the man of sin then, but back into those early centuries to
the time that the Roman Empire fell. But before looking into
history in this connection, there is another point of
identification that we should note.
Looking again at Paul's prophecy (2 Thess.2), we notice that
included within his veiled description is not only the mention of
"what" withholdeth, but also "he" who letteth or restrains
(verses 6,7). "What" is neuter gender; "he" is masculine.
Evidently the reference was to the Roman Empire as "what" and the
Caesar as "he" that would be taken out of the way.
If, then, the Caesar would have to be "taken out of the way"
before the man of sin could come to power, we have a strong
indication that the man of sin would rise to power in Rome. It
could not properly be said that the Caesar was in the way of the
man of sin, unless the Caesar was occupying the place the man of
sin would eventually occupy!

To illustrate, let us suppose we wanted to build a house on a
certain piece of property, but another building was in the way.
Obviously it could not be said that the old building was in the
way - and needed to be taken out of the way - unless it was
occupying the spot where the new house would be built. The old
building would not have to be taken out of the way if the new
house was going to be built on a completely different location!
Likewise, the Roman Caesar could not be in the way - and need to
be "taken out of the way" - unless the place that he occupied
would be the location where the man of sin would come to power!
Therefore, since we have seen that the Roman Caesar was the "he"
that was in the way and would have to be "taken out of the way",
it is definitely implied that the man of sin would rise to power
in the same place that the Caesar ruled:  Rome.

On the basis of these things, then, we know WHERE the man of sin
would rise to power and we know WHEN! Where? He would rise to
power in the place that the Caesars ruled at the time Paul wrote
his epistle; that is, Rome. The man of sin would be a Roman
power! When would the man of sin be revealed? Upon the fall of
the Roman Empire (under the rule of the Caesars) the man of sin
would be revealed.

Looking into history then, who was it that followed the Caesars
as rulers of Rome? What power rose up in Rome following the fall
of the Empire? We believe the evidence all points to the PAPACY.
There was no other power that rose up at the time and place
specified by the prophecy.

Barnes has well said: "To any acquainted with the decline and
fall of the Roman Empire, nothing can be more manifest than
the correspondence of the facts in history respecting the rise of
the Papacy, and the statement of the apostle Paul here." (Barnes'
Commentary, p. 1115).

The breaking up of the Roman Empire and the removal of the
Caesars from power in Rome took place over a period of time.
Constantine removed the seat of power from Rome to Constantinople
in A.D.330. This can probably be considered a partial removal of
the restraint that was in the way. Says the historian Flick: "The
removal of the capital of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople
in 330, left the Western Church practically free from imperial
power, to develop its own form of organization. The Bishop of
Rome, in the seat of the Caesars, was now the greatest man in the
West and was soon forced to become political as well as spiritual
head" (Flick, The Rise of the Medieval Church, p. 113). This
point is recognized by Catholic writers also. Henry Cardinal
Manning wrote: "The possession of the pontiffs, commences with
the abandonment of Rome by the emperors" (quoted in The Seer of
Babylon, p. 113).

Finally in 476, the last Western Caesar, Augustulus, was forced
out of office by the Goths. With the fulfillment of these things,
the mighty Roman Empire of the Caesars had passed from the scene
of human history. The restraint was now fully ek mesou, "out of
the way." According to what Paul had written, the stage had now
been cleared for the next scene in the prophetic drama, the rise
to power of the man of sin.

"The mighty Caesars had fallen; Augustus, Domitian, Hadrian, 
Diocletian, were gone; even the Constantines and Julians had
passed away. The seat of sovereignty had been removed from Rome
to Constantinople. Goths and Vandals had overthrown the western
empire; the once mighty political structure lay shivered into
broken fragments. The imperial government was slain by the Gothic
sword. The Caesars were no more, and Rome was an actual
desolation. Then slowly on the ruins of old imperial Rome rose
another power and another monarchy, a monarchy of loftier
aspirations and more resistless might, claiming dominion, not
alone over the bodies, but over the consciences and souls of men;
dominion, not only within the limits of the fallen empire, but
throughout the entire world. Higher and higher rose the Papacy,
till in the dark ages all Christendom was subjected to its sway"
(Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 61).

The fact that the early Christians held the belief that the "let"
or restraint was the Roman Empire presents a problem for those
who hold the futurist interpretation of prophecy. If that which
was holding back the revelation of the man of sin was the Roman
Empire, how could the man of sin be someone who would not appear
until at the very end of the age? Since the Roman Empire fell
many centuries ago, what has been holding back his appearance all
of these centuries since that time?
To admit that the "let" was the Roman Empire is to admit that the
prophecy of the man of sin has found fulfillment in the Pope, for
it was the Papacy that rose up in the place and time designated
by the prophecy. But futurism teaches that the man of sin is some
future individual - someone, in fact, that will not be revealed
until after a supposed "secret rapture"! Consequently, those who
hold the dispensational viewpoint must ignore all of this
evidence that the "let" was the Roman Empire under the Caesars
and substitute a theory that is of modern origin.

Those who hold the dispensational - futurist interpretation
usually suggest a few vague possibilities and then end up saying
that the "restraint" is the Holy Spirit in and through the
Church. The following quotations from dispensational writers are
typical of many: "The hindering influence in this passage is of
course, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives
of Christians today. This One who hinders the man of sin must be
the Holy Spirit. At the rapture of the saints, we believe, the
Holy Spirit will be taken out of the way of the man of sin so
that he may be revealed" ( Rice, The Coming Kingdom of christ, p.

This teaching is nothing but an echo from the theory spread by
Scofield that the restrainer "can be no other than the Holy
Spirit in the Church, to be 'taken out of the way'." But as
Oswald Smith has well said concerning the verse under
consideration: "There is no mention of the Holy Spirit at all.
That is a Scofield Bible assumption. The Holy Spirit and the
church remain to the end of the age" (Smith, Tribulation or
Rapture - Which?, p. 8).

We all recognize, of course, that the Holy Spirit within the
Church is a great force against evil in the world, but this was
not the "let" of which Paul spoke. Paul told the Thessalonians
that the day of Christ's coming and our gathering together unto
him could NOT take place until AFTER the man of sin would be
revealed (2 Thess.2:1-3). Surely then, he would not turn right
around in the same chapter and contradict himself by teaching
that the church is the "let" which must be taken out of the way
BEFORE the man of sin would be revealed! This would be the exact
OPPOSITE of what he had just said!
The teaching that the church would be taken out of the world
before the man of sin is revealed is absolutely contrary to what
all Christian teachers and preachers have always taught - until
the last century! Though they may have differed on details, they
all envisioned the Antichrist as a persecuting power against the
true believers - a power that would make war against the saints!
On this they were united. None of them thought of the church as
being absent from the earth during the reign of Antichrist.
We have seen that Paul was careful not to mention the restraint
by name when writing to the Thessalonians. But if the restraint
had been the Holy Spirit or the church, there would have been no
reason for Paul not to mention this in 2 Thess.2. Several times
in his writings to the Christians at Thessalonica, he mentioned
the church (1 Thess.1:1; 2:14; 2 Thess.1:1,4) and he also
mentioned the Holy Spirit (1 Thess.1:5,6; 4:8; 5:19; 
2 Thess.2:13).

There is no record of anyone believing that the restraint
mentioned by Paul was the Spirit until the latter half of the
fourth century and we only know of this belief because Chrysostom
rejected it. Concerning this, he wrote: "Some indeed say, the
grace of the Spirit." But he points out that the restraint was
the Roman Empire and could not be the Spirit. "Wherefore? Because
if he [Paul] meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken
obscurely, but plainly."

It should be pointed out that what Chrysostom rejected was a
theory about the restraint being the grace of the Spirit in
connection with spiritual gifts. It had nothing whatsoever to do
with the dispensational idea of the Spirit being taken out of the
world in a secret rapture. The teaching that the Holy Spirit will
be taken out "seems to be of quite modern origin; there is,
apparently, no trace of it in early writings on the subject."
Those who believe that the Holy Spirit will be taken out of this
world are faced with serious problems of interpretation. They
teach that after the church is gone, God will turn to the Jews, a
believing remnant of which will preach the gospel of the kingdom
into all the world. They will be so empowered, some ask us to
believe, that they "will become the mightiest evangelists this
world has ever seen" (Appleman, Antichrist and the Jew, p. 12).

Another writer says: "The Jew in seven years will accomplish more
in world evangelism than the church has done in nineteen
centuries. The greatest revival which has ever been known in
history will be in progress during the tribulation period."

But who, we ask, will so empower these Jews if the Holy Spirit is
taken from the earth? How could they evangelize the world if the
Holy Spirit which convicts and converts is gone? Is there some
other agent more powerful than the Spirit of God?

To hear some tell it, there will be more conversions with the
church gone and the Holy Spirit taken out of the way! They tell
us that millions will be converted within the brief period of
seven years - and so strongly converted that they will become
martyrs! "All over the world will be a turning to God", says one
noted dispensational preacher, "... MILLIONS shall see that they
have been deceived and shall be converted to Jesus Christ and to
full obedience to the true God... it will be a martyr's route to
heaven... These are the Tribulation martyrs. They missed the
Rapture. But at last, their eyes shall be opened." 

All of this is supposed to happen with the church gone, the
Antichrist in power, and the Holy Spirit taken out of the way! It
just does not make sense. We have carefully checked the arguments
that are given to explain this glaring discrepancy and have found
them very weak and unconvincing.

We find no proof whatsoever in the scriptures for the belief that
the "let" was the Holy Spirit or the church. On the other hand,
there are very good reasons for believing that the Roman Empire
under the rule of the Caesars was that which was to be taken out
of the way. That is, the Roman Empire would be broken up and fall
- then the man of sin would be revealed in power.

We believe that Paul proved what he taught from the scriptures.

On what passage, then, did he base his conclusions in this
connection? The passage that shows that the rise of Anti-christ
would follow the breaking up of the Roman Empire is found in
Daniel Seven to which we now turn...



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