Man of Sin (or Man of Lawlessness) (Lawless One) (by Ed Stevens)

3Let 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, 4who 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.” (2 Thess. 2:3-4 -Apostle Paul 52ad).

The MAN OF SIN (aka: Son of Perdition or Lawless One) sitting in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God, had to occur before Christ’s second coming Parousia.  

No Roman coinage with human images on it could be brought into the temple.  This would have violated the second commandment (no graven images).  Four years before this (AD 62) the Romans (under Nero) had deliberately stopped the minting of any more Torah-compliant coinage.  The Jews were not allowed to mint their own coins that were Torah-compliant, so this meant that the supply of coinage that they had in the temple would be all they could store in the temple treasury.  Unfortunately this supply of coinage had a tendency to dwindle down as a result of the moneychangers, so that eventually they would run out of gold and be forced to bring coins with Caesar’s image into the temple.  Florus wished to hasten this process by seizing all the Torah-compliant gold out of the temple.  The Jews understood very well what Florus was trying to do.  They had seen this on the horizon four years earlier when the Romans stopped minting Torah-compliant coinage.  So when Florus made his attempt with his armies to seize the temple gold, the citizens of Jerusalem “immediately turned back upon him, and stopped the violence of his attempt,” and stopped up the narrow passages” of the city” so that his troops could not get to the temple.

In Jewish eyes, having to use a temple coin with the image of Caesar on it was the same thing as the issue they confronted earlier in AD 40 when Caligula ordered Petronius and his army to go to Jerusalem to have a statue of himself placed in the temple there.  That was an abomination which the Jews were prepared to resist to the bitter end.  Fortunately Caligula died before the order was ever carried out.  But the same kind of thing is involved here with Florus.  He was attempting to force the Jews to bring images into the Temple.  The Jews would rather go to war than allow that to happen.  (See also Wars 2:433, 435; Antiq 20.11.1 (257-258) and 10:137).

This incident fits all the requirements of the Abomination of Desolation that was predicted by Daniel the prophet and reiterated by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.  It is the very kind of threat against the Temple, at the very time and place, that the prophets had predicted.

Eleazar b. Ananias

The reason I do not subscribe to the Neronian theory of the Man of Sin is because of the explicit Jewish character with which Paul describes the Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians.  Paul stated the Man of Sin would set himself up in the temple as if he was God.  Nero never set foot in Judea, much less in Jerusalem’s temple, nor was his image ever set up in the temple.  So, we need another candidate who might have set himself up in the temple as if he was God.

It is also worth mentioning that Paul identifies the Man of Sin as a single individual, in contrast with the apostle John who referred to “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18-27; 4:3-5; and 2 John 7).  Furthermore, John describes these “antichrists” as having formerly been a part of the church, before “they went out from us.”  They were “deceivers” and “false apostles.”  The Man of Sin cannot be the same as these “antichrists” since there is no indication that the Man of Sin was ever a part of the Church.

Paul, here in 2 Thess. 2, provides over a dozen different characteristics by which to identify the Man of Sin, several of which clearly paint him as a Jewish figure in close connection with the temple or priesthood:

• He would “sit in the temple of God”

• Break the Law completely

• Oppose everyone else

• Exalt himself above God and the Law

• Delude his followers with false signs and wonders

• Engage in utter wickedness

• End up being slain

• Brought to an end by the breath of Christ’s mouth at the Parousia

These qualifications limit the field of possible Jewish candidates to the following individuals: Ananus II, Eleazar b. Ananias, Menahem b. Judas, and John of Gischala.  While there are a few fingers pointing at Ananus, Menahem, and John, none of them fit all the qualifications as perfectly as Eleazar, the son of Ananias.

Yosippon appears to fill in some of the gaps not recorded by Josephus:

When the Roman Procurator Gessius Florus brought his soldiers to Jerusalem to confiscate all the gold from the Temple (May AD 66), Yosippon writes that there was a brash young man, Eleazar b. Ananias, who blew the shofar in Jerusalem and rallied the citizens to block the lanes of the city (Sepher Yosippon, ch. 59).

Hegesippus claims that it was this very same Eleazar who was “the originator” of the rebellion (Roman/Jewish war) (Heg. 5:53).  Eleazar then seized control of the temple and used it as his fortress (in violation of the Law) from that point forward [Wars 2.424 (2.17.5); Yos. 61; Heg. 2:10; 5:1].  About this same time, the angelic armies were seen in the clouds over Palestine, signaling that the Son of Man had arrived to begin His judgment and wrath out-pouring (May AD 66).

A couple of months later, Eleazar illegallystopped the daily sacrifices of all Gentiles (Aug AD 66).  This was totally unprecedented and lawless in the extreme.  Never had Gentile sacrifices and offerings been refused.  At the very time God was grafting the Gentiles into His Church, the Zealots were breaking off all religious ties with the Gentiles—quite a contrast! 

Josephus refers to this stoppage of the Gentile sacrifices by Eleazar as the “true beginning of our war with the Romans” [Wars 2.409 (2.17.2)].

The moderate Jewish leadership and priests all reminded Eleazar that to do such a thing would be to set himself above the Law.  They demanded that he restore the sacrifices, but he defiantly refused.

Eleazar was the son of Ananias b. Nedebaeus, the former high priest (AD 47-58) when Second Thessalonians was written (AD 51-52), as well as six years later in AD 58 at the time of Paul’s trial in Jerusalem (Acts 23).  It was Ananias who ordered that Paul be struck on the mouth.  Upon being struck, Paul predicted, “God is about to strike you, you whitewashed wall” and then called him a law-breaker.  As was the father (a lawbreaker), so was the son (an even worse lawbreaker).  Eight years after the trial of Paul, in September of AD 66, Ananias was indeed “struck” dead by the Zealot leader Menahem, immediately after which his son Eleazar used his own temple soldiers to avenge his father by killing Menahem and his soldiers in Jerusalem, again in violation of the Law.  Thus, Eleazar opposed every other Zealot leader and exalted himself above them all.  Josephus mentions repeatedly that all the Zealot leaders, especially Eleazar paid false prophets to deceive the people to fight in the rebellion and support their cause [Wars 6:285-288 (6.5.2-3)].

At the time of the rebellion, Eleazar was Sagan (captain of the temple guard).  That was the second highest position in the priesthood (right underneath the High Priest).  The Sagan was appointed by the High Priest and approved by the Sanhedrin.  At least two of the sons of Ananias (Eleazar and Ananus) had held that office, both of whom were appointed after Ananias had left the High Priesthood.  This speaks volumes about how much wealth, power, and influence Ananias must have had, in order to get two of his sons appointed as Sagan after he was no longer High Priest.  Josephus verifies just how extremely wealthy and powerful Ananias really was.

Both Yosippon (chpts. 72, 75) and Hegesippus (2:10; 5:5) indicate, Eleazar was the one who literally “sat in the temple” controlling all the affairs of the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices, and used the Temple as his fortress during nearly the entire war, beginning in April AD 66, until just before Titus began the siege in AD 70 (about three and a half years).  Eleazar took it upon himself to make changes in the Law and customs that had always been followed since the beginning of their nation.  Thus, it appears that Eleazar may have been the Man of Lawlessness that Apostle Paul pointed to in his second letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:3-9).

Some preterists think that Nero was the “Man of Lawlessness.”  However, there is not the slightest biblical or historical support for the idea that Nero ever set foot in Judea, Jerusalem, or the Temple, nor that he changed the Jewish sacrificial laws, nor that he was “slain by the breath of Christ’s mouth” at the Parousia (2 Thess. 2:8).  Nero committed suicide in AD 68, two years before the end of the war in AD 70.

Others have suggested John of Gischala as the Man of Lawlessness, even though he did not get control of the temple until right near the end of the war, after most of the abominations had already been committed in the temple.  Nor was John of Gischala “slain by the breath of Christ’s mouth.”  Instead, John was taken to Rome where he was paraded through the streets of Rome during the Triumph, and then kept in Roman prison until he died several years later.  Very few of the statements in 2 Thess. 2 can be applied to John.  Furthermore, Simon b. Giora, another of the three main Zealot leaders, was dragged through the streets of Rome and thrown over the cliff in sacrifice to the Roman gods right after the Triumph of Vespasian and Titus.  Simon never had control of the temple, so it is impossible to see him as the one who

“sat in the temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4).

Of the three original Zealot leaders, only Eleazar b. Ananias is un-accounted for.  Josephus drops all mention of him after the war council in Jerusalem in AD 66, but both Yosippon and Hegesippus state that he stayed in Jerusalem and maintained control of the temple throughout the war, until just before the siege of Titus (mid-70), when John of Gischala broke into the temple with his soldiers and gained control of it (Spring or Summer of AD 70).

Yosippon and Hegesippus say that Eleazar b. Ananias fled from Jerusalem to Masada just before the siege by Titus began, and that it was he who led the Zealot defense of Masada after Jerusalem fell.  Evidently, Eleazar took his family and got out of the city through some of the underground tunnels, and then fled to Masada, where he held out until its fall to the Romans in May AD 73. 

Here is what Yosippon says about it:

When Eliezer [Elazar] ben Anani the priest saw that Shimon’s wickedness had increased within the city, and he had annihilated the righteous and the pious from the city, and there was no more hope, he dispatched [a force] and seized the wall of Masada; then he went and sat there to guard it. [Yosippon ch. 82].   Eleazar’s flight to Masada explains why Josephus records nothing of him after John of Gischalacaptured the temple just before the siege (see Wars 5.6.1. in Whiston).

He [Titus] heard that a large army of Jews had assembled at Masada, and with them Elazar ben Anani who had been in Jerusalem – he had escaped from Jerusalem during the fighting and had gone to Masada, therefore many of the Jews gathered around him. [Yosippon ch. 89]

When Titus found out that Eleazar had escaped there, he sent General Silva with a large force to make sure Eleazar did not elude his grasp this time [Yosippon ch. 89].  The only thing Hegesippus says about Eleazar at this point was that he was now on Masada, leading the remaining Zealots in their futile defense of this final stronghold.  The final mention of Eleazar by Hegesippus was when Eleazar gave his final speech to the 960 people on Masada, the night before the Romans broke through the wall and captured the fortress.

Paul stated in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 that the Lord Jesus would slay the Lawless One “by the breath of His mouth.”  In the previous chapter (2 Thess. 1:7) Paul had predicted that Christ would come “in flaming fire dealing out retribution” to their persecutors.  Here, at the conquering of Masada, we see the “breath of His Mouth” driving the “flaming fire” which destroyed their final wooden wall of defense against the Romans.

Josephus records: “This [wooden wall] of theirs was like a real edifice; and when the [battering] machines were applied, the blows were weakened by its yielding . . . . When Silva saw this, he thought it best to [destroy] this wall by setting fire to it; so he gave order . . . and when it was once set on fire, its hollowness made that fire spread to a mighty flame. . . . after this, on a sudden the wind changed into the south, as if it were done by divine Providence; and blew strongly the contrary way, and carried the flame, and drove it against the wall, which was now on fire through its entire thickness.  So the Romans, having now assistance from God, returned to their camp with joy, and resolved to attack their enemies the very next day . . . [but when Eleazar] saw their wall burnt down by the fire, and could devise no other way of escaping, or room for their further courage, and setting before their eyes what the Romans would do to them, their children, and their wives, if they got them into their power, he consulted about having them all slain.” (Wars 7:314-321/7.8.5-6; emphasis added).

Notice next how Hegesippus described this burning of the wooden wall.  He said it was God who caused the “breath of the south wind” to turn the fire against their wooden fortifications and completely consume them:

“Silva diligently pursuing the task imposed upon him destroyed the wall of Masada with the battering ram.  They had constructed the interior with wood for the reason that the wall material would not readily yield to the blows of siege machines of this type.  But the Romans, the manner of fighting having been changed, threw fire, which both easily stuck fast to the wood and grew strong without any delay.  And so a great roar was produced by the full grown conflagration of the blaze, which at first was driven back from parts of the fortification by the breath of the north wind and instead burned the shelters of the Romans, then the breath of the south wind having arisen turned itself back against the fortress, so that the material having been consumed all that wooden wall opposed burned up. …[Then Elazar said] “O unhappy people, to what hope of this life will we reserve ourselves … since the displeasure of God is evident?  The fires have been turned round from the enemy against us, the breezes of the winds have been changed, the flames turned back, so that our reinforcements were burned down. Who will be able to live with God opposing? …” [Heg. 5.53].

Later in his same speech at Masada, Eleazar b. Ananias referred to Jerusalem as being “the Great City” (cf. Jer. 22:8; Rev. 11:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10-21):

[Wars7:375 (7.8.7)] Josephus reports it, “And where is now that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many ten thousands of men to fight for it?”

[Hegesippus5:53] reports it, “Where is the great city of Jerusalem, where the splendid Zion, where the wonderful temple, where that second tabernacle, the shrine of sanctity [was]?”

[Yosipponch. 89] reports it, “Where is the great city, capital of the people, Jerusalem; where is the beauty of Zion the Holy City? …”

Thus, we have seen that the words of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 do not fit the fate of the other Jewish leaders that we have mentioned.  We know that Ananias b. Nedebaeus, Menahem, and Ananus II were all killed during the war.  Simon b. Giora and John of Gischala both surrendered to Titus and were taken to Rome to be displayed in the triumphal parade through the streets.  After being dragged through the crowd and tormented by them, Simon was finally thrown over the Tarpeian cliff in sacrifice to the Roman gods, while John of Gischala was held in chains in a Roman prison for the rest of his life.

However, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 states that the Man of Sin would be slain (Gk. anaireo), a word that is used 451 times in the works of Josephus describing all the slaughters and killings that occurred during the war.  This same word was also used by Josephus three times in the context of the suicide killings in Masada at the end of the war (AD 73):

“So they being not able to bear the grief they were under for what they had done any longer [by slaying all their families], and esteeming it an injury to those they had slain [Gk. anaireo] to live even the shortest space of time after them . . .” [Wars 7:394 (7.9.1)] (boldface added).

“. . . and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill [Gk. anaireo] himself . . .” [Wars 7:396 (7.9.1)] (boldface added).

“. . . when [the last man standing] perceived that they were all slain [Gk. anaireo], he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hands ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations.” [Wars 7.397 (7.9.1)] (boldface added).

Thus Eleazar died at Masada with 960 others in a final suicide pact, slain by his own soldiers.  This zealot leader who was “the originator of the disturbance” (Heg. 5.53) was probably the last to be slain.  This explains why Titus sent Silva to Masada with such a large force: to make sure the last remaining remnants of the rebellion were completely shattered.  Titus was determined to not let Eleazar (the original instigator of the rebellion) escape to fight another day.

While Hegesippus seems to agree with Josephus on this mass suicide pact of all 960 of them (including all the fighting men).  It is interesting that both of these historians mention the fact that the defenders of Masada, including Eleazar himself, were slain by the hand of their own fellow Zealots in a mass suicide pact.  Then their bodies were thrown into the blazing fire and burned to ashes there on top of Masada.

The point that we must not miss here is that Eleazar seems to be the only one who fulfilled all the characteristics of the Man of Sin that are mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2.  He was the one who blew the shofar and started the war [Yosippon ch. 59].  He was the only one who “sat in the temple” and took the law into his own hands by stopping the Gentiles’ daily sacrifices.  Ananus II never had control of the Temple during the war, and John of Gischala only gained control of it at the very end when the siege began (May AD 70), at a time when holding the Temple no longer mattered.  Although both John of Gischala and Ananus II were guilty of many lawless acts, none were so lawless as what Eleazar did by killing his own countrymen, changing the laws, breaking covenants, polluting the Temple, and stopping the daily sacrifices.  Eleazar far exceeded his contemporaries in lawlessness.  It appears then, that the Lawless One or Man of Sin was indeed forced to be slain by his own men when his last hope of defense was destroyed by the breath of our Lord’s mouth.

May 73 – The Fall of Masada.  The mass suicide occurred on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus (Nisan), supposedly during Passover [Wars 7:401 (7.9.1)].  [Wars 7.413 (7.10.1)].

When viewed through the historical lens of Josephus, Yosippon, and Hegesippus, Eleazar b. Ananias does have a lot of connections with the Man of Lawlessness, as he is described in 2 Thess. 2:3-9.  If he was the Man of Lawlessness, then the one who restrained him was his own father (Ananias b. Nedebaeus) who held a tight rein on him until AD 66 when Menahem killed Ananias.  Eleazar was then freed from restraint, and immediately began to manifest his LAWLESS nature.


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Restrainer (What is Restraining Him) (Man of  Sin) (2 Thessalonians 2:6)

Mark of the Beast (666 – Revelation 13:16-18)

Zealots (Jewish)

Revelation (The Beast)


For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):

“Study Series 16 Lesson 4 Rev. Chapters 13 thru 20 on The Beast”