THE MAN OF SIN
PART III: THE REALITY
by David Vaughn Elliott
Rome, throughout history, has been identified by believers as the seat of "the man of sin." Were the early Christians right about Rome? Were the Bible believers of the Reformation right about Rome? Do the doctrines of the Roman Church fulfill the details of 2 Thessalonians 2?
In Part I of this series, the prophecy was examined by just looking into the Biblical text itself. In Part II, the views of Bible believers across the centuries were examined. The probe highlighted the fact that from the Reformation until this century, the prevailing view was that the prophecy was (and is) fulfilled in the "pope" of Rome.
The task now before us is to examine the beliefs and practices of the Roman church and papacy. Do the beliefs and practices of Rome fulfill the details of the "falling away" and "the man of sin" prophecy? Or, do we look for another? In this examination, we do not have to resort to private information, secret accords and hidden agendas of Rome. Rather, the task is to examine the open, public, admitted claims of Rome that can be verified by anyone in many available official Catholic sources.
"HE SITS AS GOD"
Central to the whole teaching on "the man of sin" is the fact that "he sits as God." The Holy Spirit said, "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." To claim the attributes of God is blasphemy (see Mark 2:5,7). Revelation 17:3 says the beast is "full of names of blasphemy." Is the "pope" full of names of blasphemy? Is it true that he "sits as God... showing himself that he is God"? Consider these samples.
1 - "Pope" means "father." Jesus plainly said, "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9). Yet the "pope" of Rome accepts the term "Holy Father." In fact, the very term "pope" means father. The Modern English word "pope" comes from the Old English "papa," which in turn comes from the Late Latin. In the Greek, it's "pappas." This explains the words "papacy" and "papal." Moreover, since the local priests also use the term "father," the one in Rome becomes the father of fathers. Double blasphemy! "Our Father, which art in..." My Father is neither in the local diocese nor in Rome. Mine is in heaven. How about yours?
2 - "The head of the church": The Roman "pope" claims to be the head of the church. It is often said that he is "the visible head of the church," with the obvious understanding that Christ is the invisible Head. But what does that do to the frequent figure in Scripture of the church being the body of Christ? Ever see a body with two heads? "No man can serve two masters." A body with two heads is a monster.
What does Scripture say of God's work through Christ? "And He put all [things] under His feet, and gave Him [to] [be] head over all [things] to the church, which is His body" (Ephesians 1:20-23). There are not two heads. Jesus is "head over all things to the church." To claim to be head of the church is to make one's self equal to Christ. It is blasphemy.
3 - "Pontiff": The term "pontiff" comes from ancient pagan Rome. Pontiffs were their chief priests. Since individual leaders in the Roman churches are called "priests," the one in Rome is called the "supreme pontiff." That is just another way of saying "high priest." But according the Gospel of Christ, to call any man "supreme priest" is blasphemy. Such a man claims what belongs only to Christ. Christians know that "we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God... without sin" (Hebrews 4:14,15). To claim to be the chief priest is to claim to be equal to Jesus Christ, the anointed Prophet, Priest and King. To sit as the supreme pontiff is to claim equality with the Son of God, who in turn is equal to God.
4 - "Vicar of Christ": A common term for the "pope" is "vicar of Christ." "Vicar" comes from the Latin meaning "substitute." Rome claims that the Roman pontiff "is acting for and in the place of Christ." Christ is God. The prophecy says "showing himself that he is God." Since the "pope" claims to be "in the place of Christ," he is showing himself that he is God. Another blasphemy!
5 - The "pope" claims "primacy." Rome talks much about the "primacy" of Peter, which it claims has been passed on to all the bishops of Rome. The words "primacy" and "primary" are not to be found in Scripture. However, the kindred word "preeminence" is recorded--just twice. First is Colossians 1:18, speaking of Christ: "He is the head of the body, the church... that in all things He may have the preeminence." Second is 3 John 9: "Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us."
Remember that Paul said, "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work"? Among other things, that mystery is the struggle of men to have first place in the church. Diotrephes only sought first place in the local church. Students of church history know that the struggle continued unabated until someone gained first place over all the world's churches. The bishop of Rome won that struggle. He claims "primacy" via Peter. In reality, his primacy is blasphemy against Christ, and fulfills the prophecy. Only Jesus has primacy in His church.
6 - The "pope" is a king. The Roman pontiff uses all the trappings of royalty. He lives in a palace. In fact, the Vatican Palace is the largest palace in the world. He has an ornate crown called the tiara. For solemn functions, he sits on a throne. His period of power is a "reign." The cardinals are called "princes of the church" who are subject only to the "pope." In short, though Catholics may not usually use the term, some do plainly say that the "pope" is a king. Blasphemy! Jesus is our only King.
7 - This king has three crowns. The tiara can be traced back to 1100 A.D. By 1300 A.D., it contained, not one, but three jewel-bedecked crowns, one above another on this rounded cone headpiece. Authorities do not fully agree on the explanation of the three realms which the "pope" rules over, but it is obvious that he claims all kinds of kingship, spiritual and temporal. Though John Paul II does not physically wear the tiara, he has in no way renounced the tiara and what it represents. Quite the contrary, the tiara appears today on his papal seal and the Vatican flag. Thus, the "pope" still presents himself as a thrice-crowned monarch. Jesus on earth had only one crown. Remember what it was made of?
8 - Above the law: So like God does the Roman Pontiff make himself that he places himself higher than the Son of God. When Jesus was upon earth He voluntarily submitted to taxation (Matthew 17:24-27) as well as to the Jewish council, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers. He had the power to resist, but He did not.
The "pope" of Rome, however, submits to no man! The "pope" is head of Vatican City, an independent nation also called the Papal State. Vatican City has its own coins, postage stamps and water supply. The Vatican receives ambassadors from about 170 nations (now including the United States--shame!). It is true that Vatican City is tiny compared to the land holdings of the "popes" of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it is big enough to furnish the "pope" with absolute independence from all human authority. The reason openly stated for the existence of Vatican City is that the "pope" "cannot rightly be made subject to any temporal power on earth." Did any man ever "sit as God in the temple of God" more than this?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the very church in question, the church in Rome, during the reign of the infamous emperor Nero. In that setting, Paul commanded the brethren in Rome, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1). The "pope" of Rome refuses to obey this command of God. He sets himself outside of and above all earthly authority. In so doing, he sets himself above the very Son of God, who did submit.
"THE FALLING AWAY"
"The man of sin" is only one person (at a time). But 2 Thessalonians 2 prophesies of the entire system over which "the man of sin" rules. It prophesies "lawlessness," "falling away" ("apostasy"), "unrighteousness," "deception," "strong delusion," and "the lie." Keep in mind that since this is a "falling away (apostasy)," it cannot be fulfilled by brand new religions, like Buddhism or Islam. Rather it is a departure or falling away from the true Gospel--keeping parts, omitting parts and changing parts--an unholy mixture of truth and error.
High on the list of these unrighteous deceptions are the numerous mediators that Rome places between man and God. At the uncontested top of this list of mediators is "the virgin."
DOES GOD HAVE A MOTHER?
The "Mary" of Rome is not the Mary of the Bible. While it is true that some teachings and practices of the Roman Church have edged closer to Bible truth in the 20th century, it's doctrine of "Mary" is not one of them. John Paul II, indeed, has dedicated his pontificate to "the virgin." He has everywhere tried to increase devotion to her, himself visiting most of the Marian shrines in the world. His motto is "Totus tuus sum Maria: Mary, I am all yours."
Rome makes a goddess out of their "Mary." The teaching goes this way: 1) Mary is the mother of Jesus; 2) Jesus is God; therefore, 3) Mary is the mother of God. The problem with this supposedly logical argument is the second point. Yes, Jesus is God; but Jesus was also man. As Romans 1:3 puts it, "Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh." By the same token, Jesus was the son of Mary according to the flesh.
Reminds one of the question little children (and materialistic philosophers) ask: "Who made God?" A mother is always before a son. Thus, if Mary is the mother of God, then she is before God and she is god. That is blasphemy. John clarified, "In the beginning was the Word... And the Word became flesh" (John 1:14). Yes, Mary was before Jesus in the flesh; but Jesus was before Mary in the spirit. Mary is not the mother of God. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ is Mary's Master and Maker!
Time fails to speak of all that is involved in Rome's teaching on "Mary." They say she was a perpetual virgin even though married. They say she was absolutely sinless like Jesus. They call her "queen of heaven" (see Jeremiah 44). Since God is King of heaven; that makes "Mary" a goddess. They call her the Mediatrix. Since Jesus is the Mediator, that places her as equal to Jesus. As a matter of fact, in praying the rosary, for every "Our Father," there follow ten "Hail Mary's." Ten to one. The teaching of Rome is "to Jesus through Mary." The teaching of the apostles is "to the Father through the Son" (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). Two different gospels.
OTHER EXAMPLES OF LAWLESSNESS
The Holy Spirit says, "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2). Rome says that a bishop must "not" be the husband of one wife. God requires pastors to be family men. Rome requires pastors to be single.
God's Word says, "as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup" (1 Corinthians 11:26). Rome says that the common members may "not" drink the cup. Rome has the audacity to withhold from its members one half of the Lord's Supper.
The Word says, "as often as you eat this bread." Rome says, "You do not eat bread; you eat the actual body of Christ." Now when Jesus changed water into wine, it no longer looked like water nor tasted like water. The feast master said, "You have kept the good wine until now!" (John 2:10). A miracle of changing one thing into another does just that--it changes one thing into another. Rome claims that the "host" is transformed into the actual body of Christ, even though it still looks, smells and tastes like bread. This is not a miracle. This is a bold-faced lie. Since so many millions world-wide believe such an obvious falsehood, it clearly fulfills the prophecy regarding "strong delusion."
Time fails to even name all the falsehoods of Rome. This is not just minor errors of a doctrine or two. This is "the" falling away, "the" apostasy. Among other things, Rome teaches that the people must confess their sins to a sinful priest rather than to Jesus the pure High Priest. Rome teaches that the mass is a sacrifice in which Christ, in an unbloody manner, offers himself to God via the officiating priest. Rome teaches the baptism of ignorant, sinless infants by means of sprinkling rather than immersion. Rome fosters the veneration of images, including kneeling and praying before them, burning candles before them, and carrying them in street processions. Rome condones church-sponsored gambling, dancing and drinking on the one hand and the Charismatic speaking in tongues on the other.
Is it proper to call the "pope" "antichrist"? The term "antichrist" appears only in the epistles of John, who says that many antichrists were already existent in his day. The texts in question are 1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 7:
"As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come... They went out from us... Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son... and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the [spirit] of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world... For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ [as] coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist."
Item 1 - John states that they had "heard that the Antichrist is coming." John does not deny that. He only clarifies that there are other antichrists besides "the" future antichrist.
Item 2 - "They went out from us." This agrees perfectly with "the man of sin" prophecy, which predicts "a falling away." Both texts thus speak of a development coming out of the true people of God.
Item 3 - "This is the [spirit] of the Antichrist which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world." John agrees with Paul, who said, "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work." With good reason, the translators have added "spirit." The Greek says, "This is the of the antichrist." "The" what? Starting with 4:1, the word "spirit(s)" appears 5 times. Read for yourself and you will see that when you come to "the of the antichrist," "spirit" is the only sensible word to supply. Therefore, John is saying that the "spirit" of antichrist is coming and is already in the world. That is just another way of saying that "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work,"--before "the man of sin" or "the" antichrist actually appears.
Item 4 - "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" "Christ" means the anointed Prophet, Priest and King. The "pope" does not directly deny that. However, by claiming the same attributes for himself, he in effect does deny it. The "pope" claims to be the infallible "chief teacher [prophet] and ruler [king] of the entire church," as well as "supreme pontiff [high priest]." As "vicar of Christ," he takes the place of Christ on earth." Thus he does deny that Jesus alone is the Christ.
Item 5 - "He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son." Does this describe the "pope" of Rome? There are many ways to "deny" God. Paul wrote, "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him" (Titus 1:16). The "pope," by receiving the title "holy father," denies that we have only one Holy Father. By attributing to the "pope" and the "virgin" so many titles and characteristics of the Father and the Son, the Word is fulfilled in them that "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him."
Item 6 - "Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God... For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ [as] coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." Certainly Rome does not deny that Jesus came in the flesh. Or, does it?
Put briefly, Rome teaches 1) that all men inherit original sin, 2) except Jesus and Mary. Rome is thus saying that Jesus and Mary did not have the same flesh as we do. But God says of Jesus, "For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like [His] brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest" (Hebrews 2:16,17). To become our High Priest, Jesus had to be made like us.
Why did Rome invent the myth of the "immaculate conception" of Mary? Because Rome, to its credit, realized that if sin is inherited, then Jesus was born a sinner. That is impossible. So, either you reject the doctrine of inherited original sin and total depravity or else you invent a special miracle to overcome it for Jesus. But when you invent that special miracle, you deny that Jesus came in the same flesh we come in; you are antichrist!
"POWERS, SIGNS, AND LYING WONDERS"
Again, the Roman religion fulfills "the man of sin" prophecy with its "powers, signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Who has claims of miracles like unto Rome? In the mid-19th century, the "virgin" appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes, France. A whole century later, the shrine built there attracted 200,000 pilgrims a year. Many are the claims of miraculous cures.
Other outstanding locations of supposed apparitions of "the virgin" are Fatima in Portugal, Knock in Ireland and Guadalupe in Mexico. All such places become shrines and centers of pilgrimages. Multitudes are the claims of miracles. The average catholic believes in many more miracles than the hierarchy is willing to "authenticate." However, it does "authenticate" many.
To discuss all the miracles claimed by the Roman Church would require a book. I think there is no Pentecostal church that can begin to compete with the Roman Church when it comes to claims of the miraculous. And it has been going on for centuries. Rome clearly fulfills this part of the prophecy.
THE VALUE OF THIS PROPHECY
The "man of sin" prophecy is valuable to us today in at least three ways.
1 - This prophecy is a warning. We are all in danger. Satan can deceive us. Just as he did with Eve, Satan continues to mix truth with error. His arguments seem plausible. He offers benefits. He offers "the pleasures of sin for a season." This prophecy is a warning of false religions and apostate churches. It is a warning that Satan has power to work signs and wonders. It is a warning that there are lies and strong delusion all around us.
Many conservative evangelicals do not heed this warning. For example, many Charismatics today, disregarding all other doctrines, bind themselves together with one common denominator--the supposed baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence via speaking in tongues. "Spirit filled" Pentecostals have great fellowship with their "Spirit-filled" Catholic brethren. Never mind that the latter still go to the sacrifice of the Mass, still pray to "the virgin" and still give allegiance to the pontiff of Rome.
2 - This prophecy is an explanation. How often do people ask, "Why are there so many religions?" "Can you trace your church back to the day of Pentecost?" This prophecy offers some of the answers. It shows that Jesus did not have any illusions about what was going to happen to His glorious church. Tragic as it is, it is a reality that cannot be swept under the rug.
3 - This prophecy is a promise. Verse 8 contains the promise, "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." There is victory in Jesus. "The man of sin" will not triumph in the end. Christ will. Jesus will return. He will destroy His enemies. He will reign victoriously. If we reject "the man of sin" and cling close to Jesus, we will be on the victory side.
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)