Monday, November 24, 2008

Who is this Masked Man? No, really who is he?

Over the last 2 notes, we've encountered this person called "the lawless one" in II Thessalonians 2:3. That is the way that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates the a-nomos. The King James Version of the Bible refers to him as "that man of sin" and describes him as "the son of perdition." Later, it translates the same Greek word as "that Wicked." I suppose they capitalize "Wicked" to reflect how the Greek word has taken an adjective and made it into a substantive noun (in the male gender, by the way.) The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is more consistent, calling him "the lawless one" each time. You may recall that the Greek word is transliterated a-nomos. The word 'nomos' is very common and means 'law.' Sometimes it is used to refer to the "law of Moses," which would be what we call the Ten Commandments as well as a number of related laws in the Hebrew Bible. Or, sometimes it just refers to law in general.

In my last note, I said that the immediate context of II Thessalonians does not help us much. Both of these letters to the Thessalonians are short and- unlike the Gospels or Major Prophets, etc.- do not always address a topic more than once, so we don't really see a pattern of how Paul is using a-nomos like we do with, for example, how Mark uses the phrase "the Son of Man" repeatedly. We also noted that a-nomos is not mentioned in I Thessalonians at all.

To be 'lawless' in general can mean several things in the Scriptures. Paul uses the word in II Corinthians to refer to Gentiles; those who do not have the law of Moses. At other times there is a more sinister use of the word: A general condition of lawlessness which means anarchy, each person doing whatever s/he wants, random acts of will, etc. At other times it means an individual who is self-willed and acts out of self-centered motives.

My point is that I can't see a specific pattern or use of this term as something that seems generally agreed upon among the New Testament writers or churches. It seems not to be such a common term that its use is self-evident. So, when Paul makes reference to having already spoken to the church of Thessalonica about this matter-a conversation that is not available to us- he probably was talking about our best context for understanding who this masked man is. And we missed it. Unless one of you was there. I know that would make you rather old, but if one of you was there could you speak up and explain this word to us? We won't tell anyone your age; we'll just benefit from knowing. Thanks.

Here's what we can do, since the context and the use of the word in the New Testament is not terribly helpful. Let's look at the kind of language and description that Paul is using regarding this mysterious lawless man in II Thessalonians 2 and see if any of it looks familiar. The complete text was in yesterday's post, so I'm going to be more selective today and just lift up those parts that we'll look at more closely:

"As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ... Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, ... And then the lawless one will be revealed, ... The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, ... "

The idea that one is coming who will be ‘revealed,’ who sets himself up in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God, whose time is ‘coming’, who is shrouded in a mystery to which Paul is privy—all of that language seems indicate that this “Lawless One” is like Christ in many ways, but entirely unlike Christ in others. Whereas Christ IS, in fact, the one whom God has raised as Lord, this Lawless One is a fraud when he takes that position. Whereas Christ is the one sent from God, this Lawless One is working alongside of Satan. So, while he has the appearance of a salvific figure, and indeed pretends to be one, this Lawless One is a deception.

Now, who could Paul be talking about? He does not seem to be predicting the distant future, since the Lawless One is already at work in Paul’s own time and place. Hmm… who could it be? Maybe … Caesar? The one whose own inscriptions declare him to be the Son of God, whose coins call him “Lord,” whose golden eagle is perched above the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem (and on American flags too, but we’ll talk about that some other time)?

YES! Caesar! That’s my guess and I’m sticking to it! With the necessary kind of delicacy involved when writing an open letter critical of Rome, Paul is giving his opinion about the one whose empire gets customary validity from places all over the world, who is called the provider of all good things for those who need Caesar’s continued handouts, and whose path of peace—the so-called Pax Romana—is a peace that is built through violence. The world calls him a man of peace, a man of the gods, a man who provides abundance for all. But Paul calls him a fraud, a pretender, whose pretense will one day be revealed, but whose league with Satan is already evident to Paul.

That’s what I’m suggesting. What say you?

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