2 Thessalonians 2:4 — A Rebuilt Jewish Temple, or Something Else?
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [the Day of the Lord] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 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.”
A thought came to me some time ago with respect to “the temple of God” and how many students of Biblical eschatology expect there to one day be a new Jewish temple built on the Temple Mount before the Second Coming of Christ, one in which the Antichrist himself would eventually stand in and literally claim “I am God.” While an effort does exist by some orthodox Jewish groups to rebuild the third temple, I think it would be wise for all students of Scripture to consider the possibility that this may not have been what the Holy Spirit was referring to in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Matthew 24.
The Temple of God in the New Testament
To understand why, we first need to keep in mind that the Apostle Paul and Jesus both pointed to a Last Days event that would take place just before the Day of the Lord (Christ’s post-trib Second Coming). Paul referred to it as the “man of sin” who sets himself up in “the temple of God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4), while Jesus described it as the “Abomination of Desolation” standing in “the holy place” (Matthew 24:15). Many have assumed that the temple mentioned by Paul must be a physical temple in Jerusalem. But if we look a little more closely at the text we begin to notice something that we may not have noticed before: Each and every time the Apostle Paul speaks about the “temple of God” and uses the Greek word “naos” (G3485) in Scripture he is always referring to believers both individually and collectively. He is referring to the Church:
1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
1 Corinthians 3:17, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.“
1 Corinthians 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
2 Corinthians 6:16, “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God …”
Ephesians 2:19-22, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Even the Apostle Peter agrees in 1 Peter 2, the only time he ever refers to God’s temple:
1 Peter 2:4-5, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
When Paul refers to the temple as the Church he uses the word “naos” (G3485) and always called the Church the temple of God or the temple of the Holy Spirit or an equivalent expression. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Paul again refers to the temple of God (“naos” ) which, as in each and every other usage of the expression, would in my opinion again be referring to the Church as it always had before, not a physical temple. According to those who believe that a future literal temple will be rebuilt, however, we are expected to believe that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 suddenly changes what he consistently meant in previous epistles when speaking about the temple of God. But if Paul spoke of the Church each and every time before, then it only stands to reason that he was again referring to the Church when writing about the temple of God in his letter to the believers in Thessalonica:
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in [eis G1519 – or against] the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
The only other times Paul spoke about a physical temple were in 1 Corinthians 9:13, Acts 25:8 and Acts 17:24. In 1 Corinthians 9:13 and Acts 25:8 he uses the word “hieron” (G2411) specifically to refer to the physical temple in Jerusalem. In Acts 17:24, however, he is quoted as using the word “naos” to refer to physical temples in general, however his entire point was that it was no longer a physical temple in which God dwells. Why? Because the Church was now that temple. In these instances where Paul spoke about a physical temple he never referred to it as “the temple of God” or an equivalent expression.
Acts 17:24, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.”
The Temple of Revelation 11
With this thought in mind, let us now turn our attention to another portion of Scripture that many watchers of Biblical eschatology will often use to support the idea that we’re still waiting for a rebuilt Jewish temple. In the very first verse of Revelation 11 John writes:
Revelation 11:1, “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.'”
Many believe that if John could measure this temple using a physical tool like a reed, then the temple must itself be physical. This, however, need not be the case at all. Four quick reasons why:
1. The Angel who speaks to John uses the exact same expression in Revelation 11:1, saying, “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” Even the word “naos” is used when referring to the temple of God, the same word the Apostle Paul used when referring to the temple of God as the Church, not a temple made of stone.
2. The very first time we find the word “temple” in Revelation is in 3:12a regarding the Church in Philadelphia when Christ says, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” To be made a pillar in the temple of God must mean that the temple in view here is not a physical temple made of stone, but rather one that is made of people.
3. Lampstands/candlesticks were important items that were found in the physical temple in the Old Testament, yet John shows us that this time the lampstands/candlesticks in the temple of God are represented by the two witnesses (11:4), which again would indicate that the temple in view is not a physical temple made of stone, but rather one of people.
4. In the Old Testament a priest was one who served within the physical temple. In Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 we are told that anyone who has been washed by the blood of Christ is a priest, and the Christian understanding of this according to 1 Peter 2:5 is that as priests we now “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We no longer offer animal sacrifices in a temple made of stone.
Indeed, we are being built together upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone, a building in which all of us as believers are being fitted together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22). Considering all that we have just learned, could it not therefore stand to reason that when John speaks of the “holy city” being trampled under foot in 11:2 that he is referring directly to God’s people, and not a physical temple built in Jerusalem? In my opinion, definitely (cf. Revelation 21 and Psalm 46:4, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells”; also see Matthew 5:14).
The Prophet Daniel And The Time Of The End
Daniel’s prophecies often spoke about the last days leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. Some will point to these prophecies and assume that since Daniel appeared to speak of a physical temple and daily offerings that the last days temple must therefore be a literal temple in Jerusalem. As we can see from above, however, the New Testament is quite clear that today the “temple of God” is the Church and that we, as believers, now offer up the sacrifice of praise continually (cf. Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 2:5). Even if the prophet Daniel himself believed the prophecies he was given of the end times referred to a physical temple would not change this reality. The revelation that the Church would become the temple of God was progressive and prophets were evidently not always granted a full understanding of the prophecies they were given, which is quite apparent in Daniel 12 itself:
Daniel 12:8-10, “Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.’”
Even though Daniel was not always granted full understanding, he was faithful in recording the prophecies he had received. Not knowing that the temple of God would one day be the people of God, however, would have conceivably been somewhat bewildering to Daniel if he had himself assumed that it was a physical temple that would be defiled during the time of the end. This could very well have been one of the reasons why Daniel did not understand all that he was seeing and hearing. According to the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:24, a physical temple today would be little more than an empty building, void of the presence of God. I am sure that Christ would have known this and would in no way have been referring to a physical temple as the “holy place” in Matthew 24:15 when referring to the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel. A building absent of God is just another building. But the “holy temple” that is the Church in which God dwells, however, is another matter. This may have been why Jesus said “let the reader understand” in Matthew 24:15 — because Daniel did not:
Matthew 24:15, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand–”
Ephesians 2:19-22, “… you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
If Jesus in Matthew 24 and the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 are referring to the holy place that is the new spiritual temple of God — the Church — then it may be that all we need to watch for in this respect is “someone” of significant importance made manifest and rise up against the Ekklesia of God. This new spiritual offensive could even commence as a physical offensive against Jews and Christians at the Temple Mount itself whereby this “someone” would proclaim himself to be something that only the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can lay claim to. And what could that be?
Apart From Me There Is No …
The Muslim world — both the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam — is awaiting the arrival of a “messianic” figure whom they call “The Mahdi” or “The 12th Imam.” They believe that this figure will lead them into a new era of Islamic “justice” that would unite the Ummah (the false Islamic “church” as it were) and spread Islam throughout the earth (see here). Of particular interest is the fact that Muslims view this man as “Savior” — not only for Muslims, but for all of humanity (see here and here).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 the Apostle Paul speaks about a “man of sin” or “lawlessness” setting himself “eis” (in or against) the temple of God, seeking to defile it, and then being destroyed by God at the brightness of His coming. In 1 Corinthians 3:17 Paul stated the exact same thing, saying, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” In my view, this is certainly not a coincidence. Most translations say that before the “man of sin” is destroyed he will “sit” or “take his seat” in the temple of God. The Greek word for “sit” is “kathizō” (G2523) but it means more than to simply sit down physically, as one would sit on a chair. It also means to appoint, or to set or to confer a kingdom on someone. When we say that we have a sitting President or Head of State, for instance, it does not mean that they are physically sitting down. It means that they have taken their seat in office. According to the Greek, this “man of sin” will likewise be taking his seat or official position, which could possibly be referring to Islam’s Mahdi as he takes his seat as the proclaimed “Savior of Humanity” in defiance of Yahweh and His people. Thus the “man of sin” is called the “man of sin” for a very good reason: he sins against God and against His people — the Temple of God — whom he sets himself against once assuming the “office” as “Savior.” According to the Prophet Isaiah, this would be showing himself as God, for the Lord Himself declares in no uncertain terms that “apart from me there is no savior… I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 43:11, 46:9b).
If anyone of signifance in the Muslim world — the “Mahdi” or otherwise — proclaims themself to be the “Savior of Humanity” that all must follow, this would be a direct affront to God and His Temple. According to Scripture, anyone making such a claim or accepting such a title would be showing themself to be God by having a title/position that only God can hold attributed upon them. Additionally, demanding that Judaism and Christianity (and all other religions for that matter) be abolished and forcing all under his power to convert to Islam and worship none other than “Allah” would in effect be causing the “sacrifice and oblations (offerings) to cease” in today’s Temple according to the verses of Scripture below:
Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Hebrews 13:15, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of [our] lips giving thanks to his name.”
1 Peter 2:5, “And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.”
With these thoughts in mind, we’re now beginning to see the text in a whole new light.
The Nation of Israel and Other Considerations
One obvious question, however, would be how does this affect Jews living in the nation of Israel if 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Matthew 24:15 are referring to the spiritual temple of God? There are a couple of possibilities that we could deduce from this thought, especially if we accept the likelihood that the coming Antichrist will be Islam’s awaited Mahdi:
1. The Mahdi (according to Islamic teaching) will not only claim to be the “Savior of Humanity” but will also be the driving force behind uniting a coalition of Islamic nations that come up against the nation of Israel. He will also desire to subjugate the world into converting to Islam, according to Islamic teaching. In this way, it would definitely have much bearing on national/physical Israel even if this is only referring to the spiritual temple of God.
2. It will have a direct bearing on all Messianic Jews who would — along with Gentile Christians — recognize this “Abomination of Desolation.” I do not believe that the Olivet Discourse or even the Book of Matthew as a whole was for an “orthodox” Jewish audience only as some contend (who would never read the book anyway, I fail to see the point) but rather I believe that it was for Messianic Jews and, by extension, all Gentile Christians. Matthew 24:9 says, “… ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Orthodox Jews are not hated because of Jesus’ name, but Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are. (In fact, even many orthodox Jews hate Messianics and Gentile Christians because they adhere to the faith of Jesus).
3. It is possible that there could be a dual fulfillment. Most translations render Matthew 24:15 as “standing IN the holy place” which causes those who read the English translation to envision a fully built temple. However, the word for “in” in the Greek is “en” (G1722) and is also translated as “on”, “by”, “at” or “with” in addition to “among”. Although some orthodox Jewish groups are actively seeking to rebuild the third temple, all that they require to offer sacrifices is an altar and an unblemished red heifer. (The alter began construction in July 29, 2009 and has been completed). This could be on the Temple Mount, or right beside the western wall (which I could see happening if they suddenly have a perfect red heifer but no rebuilt temple yet.) Perhaps this could be Christ’s reference to “standing in/on/by the holy place” and the reason why He did not mention a temple per se, whereas Paul could have been referencing the new spiritual temple of God comprised of Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians.
4. There is also one final point that needs to be considered as well with respect to the “man of sin”. We should not discount the possibility that the “man of sin” may not be pointing to one single person as it were, though the general consensus is precisely that, but could instead be pointing to one single entity or system. The Ekklesia of God is comprised of a great multitude of believing Jews and Gentiles created as “one new man” in Christ who are marked by God (Eph. 2:15, Rev. 14:1) and described by John in Revelation 7 as the “multitude of the lamb”, ie, Jesus Christ. Conversely, the “man of sin” (2 Thess 2:3) could therefore be its direct antithesis comprised of those who have the Mark of the Beast and described by John in Revelation 13 as the “multitude of a man”, ie, the “prophet Mohammed.” If this is the case, then we may be even closer to the cusp of prophetic fulfillment than many of us realize. In other words, Antichrist may not be a man at all, but rather all things entwined with the religion of Islam itself, a physical manifestation as it were of the spirit of Antichrist. Read the portion of this article subtitled “More Than Just A Man?” for more thoughts in this regard.
In conclusion, it is my belief that the intended meaning of the temple of God in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, keeping the overall context and teaching of the temple of God within the full counsel of the New Testament, is a direct reference to the Church, not a physical, rebuilt Jewish temple. To show, declare or present himself as God does not necessitate that an “Islamic messiah” or the “man of sin” make an overt declaration of divinity. Jesus claimed to be God without telling the Sanhedrin “I am God”, for they understood the theological significance of His words and sought to kill Him because of them. Likewise, Antichrist could merely approach the temple mount where the Islamic Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque both stand and from there proclaim to be the world’s savior whom both Jews and Christians must follow. Not only would Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians recognize this as an affront to the faith of Christ and the significance of this event, even orthodox Jews would know that this would be a declaration of divinity, someone other than God showing himself to be God. They, too, understand Isaiah 43:11 where God makes it known that “I am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.” Indeed, “… I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isaiah 46:9).