Prior to the return of Jesus, many Christians will apostatize when the “Lawless One,” the “Son of Destruction,” appears within the “sanctuary.”
As Paul explained, the “day of the Lord” will not arrive until the “apostasy” occurs and the “man of lawlessness” is unveiled. This malevolent figure will reveal himself “in the sanctuary of God,” where he will oppose “all that is called god.” But in addition to the “lawless one,” the Apostle also labels him, “the son of destruction.” Is there significance to this double appellation, or is it merely for stylistic purposes?
In his letter, Paul was responding to false reports circulating that claimed the “day of the Lord had set in.” But that could not be true since two key prophetic events had not occurred; the revelation of the “man of lawlessness,” and the “apostasy.”
- (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) – “That no one may deceive you in any respect. Because that day will not set in, except the apostasy come first, and there be revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God or any object of worship, so that he, within the sanctuary of God, will take his seat, showing himself that he is God.”
The term “son of destruction” occurs only here in Paul’s letters, and “destruction” translates the Greek noun apôleia, meaning “destruction, ruin, loss” – (Strong’s – #G684).
The exact same term is found on the lips of Jesus when he called Judas Iscariot the “son of destruction.” Certainly, Judas is an excellent model for the ultimate apostate of the end-times. However, other than his betrayal of Christ, nothing in that man’s life parallels the predicted activities of the “man of lawlessness.” Further, nowhere does the passage’s context suggest Paul’s reliance on this saying of Jesus – (John 17:12).
Another possible interpretation is that “son of destruction” refers to the figure’s destiny when he is destroyed by Jesus at his “arrival” or ‘parousia.’ That does comport with Paul’s description of this man’s demise, “whom the Lord will consume with the spirit of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of his coming.” However, in verse 8, “destroy” translates a different Greek word, katargeô, which more correctly means “disable, disarm, bring to nothing.” More importantly, the natural sense of the genitive construction of the clause, “son of destruction,” is that “destruction” characterizes this figure – “destruction” defines what he is and/or does.
Paul’s scriptural source for this figure is the Book of Daniel, especially a passage from its eleventh chapter:
- “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done” – (Daniel 11:36).
In the passage, the “king” is an evil ruler that is featured in the visions from the last half of Daniel, the one called the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” and the “contemptible person.” He was the ruler from the “fourth beast” that “waged war against the saints and prevailed over them” for the time allotted by the “Ancient of Days.” His “war” included the desecration of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the erection of the “abomination of desolation” in the “sanctuary” – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:9-13, 8:23-26, 9:26-27, 11:30-36).
That background explains Paul’s warning that the “son of destruction” will “take his seat in the sanctuary.” Did he mean this figure would enter a rebuilt physical temple in Jerusalem? It is noteworthy that he used the Greek term for the inner sanctum, or naos, the “holy of holies,” and not the word for the entire temple complex.
With the possible exception of the present passage, nowhere in his writings does Paul express any interest in the Jerusalem Temple or say anything about it being rebuilt in the future. However, he does apply the same term metaphorically to the church, as well as similar language. Moreover, since the topic revolves around the “apostasy” of believers, the context makes the latter option the most likely. That is, the “son of destruction” will make his appearance in the church – (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).
In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the “little horn” is identified as the “king” from one of the four Greek kingdoms that succeeded the empire carved out by Alexander the Great, the “goat with the prominent horn” that overthrew the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians.” This figure waged war against the “saints” – (“the goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king” – Daniel 8:21).
The only known historical figure that fulfilled all the details of Daniel’s prophecy was Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom that persecuted the Jewish people for over three years (168 B.C. to 165 B.C.), the allotted “season, seasons, and part of a season.” His “war” included the corruption of Jewish leaders, the banning of circumcision and other Jewish rites, the burning of the Jewish scriptures, the cessation of the sacrificial rituals in the Temple, and the erection of an altar to his god, Zeus Olympias, on the altar of burnt offerings, the so-called “abomination of desolation.” To this day, it is remembered as one of the darkest chapters in the history of Israel.
According to Daniel, this “king of fierce countenance… Corrupted the holy people,… magnified himself in his heart, and caused the destruction of many.” In the Greek Septuagint version of Daniel, the term rendered “destruction” is the same one used by Paul for the “son of destruction,” apôleia. Most likely, considering the language and context of the passage in Thessalonians, this was the source of Paul’s term, “son of destruction.”
The point is not that Paul is reinterpreting the passage from Daniel. Instead, he employs the “little horn” as the model for the final deceiver whose purpose will be to foment apostasy by means of deception, “lying signs and wonders,” and perhaps, even persecution. Just as the “little horn” caused many in Israel to fall, so this creature’s goal will be to destroy as many “saints” as possible before his own demise when Jesus returns. He is, therefore, the “son of destruction.”