Second Thessalonians describes a “man of lawlessness” who “sits in the Temple of God” (2 Thess 2:4). Since Jerusalem’s second Temple has been destroyed for nearly two thousand years and this mysterious man is yet to appear, many readers assume that a third Temple will be built in the future so that Paul’s prognostication can come to pass. However, based on the language in other Pauline literature, it is better to understand the “Temple of God” not as a physical building, but as a reference to the collective of those who follow Jesus.

The so-called “man of lawlessness” (ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας; anthropos tes anomías) will be someone who “exalts himself against all that are called a god or object of worship so that he sits in the Temple of God (ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ; naòn tou theou), proclaiming himself to be a god” (2 Thess 2:4). At first glance, this verse seems to imply the necessity for a third Temple in Jerusalem; after all, so the argument goes, if the yet-to-be-revealed man of lawlessness is to take a seat in the Temple, then there must be a structure in which he can sit. Yet, a closer look at the language can offer a way to understand Second Thessalonians that is more faithful to the broader context of the Pauline corpus.

The phrase “Temple of God” also appears in Second Corinthians: “What agreement is there between the Temple of God (ναῷ θεοῦ; nao theou) and idols? For we are the Temple of the living God, as God has said, ‘I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people’” (2 Cor 6:16). Based on this other use of “Temple of God” in Paul’s epistles, it is more likely that the apostle envisions the man of lawlessness exalting himself among the collective human assemblies that make up the “Temple of the living God.” Thus, a third Temple is not a prerequisite for the man of lawlessness or for Jesus’ subsequent Parousia. Instead of directing our attention to the thought of Temple construction at the end of days, Paul tells Jesus-followers to direct their “hearts into God’s love and Messiah’s perseverance” (2 Thess 3:5).

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  1. You can't spiritualize literal verses without a cost. 144,000 undefiled virgins, spiritual? Leviticus, 12:4&5. Some say Revelation 11's "Two Witnesses" are the Old & New testament... these will be prevented from burial, verse 9? Do you have a logical interpretation for Revelation 11:2, without a Third Temple? For Matthew 24:16-21?
    • Paul does not "spiritualize" the physical Temple; instead, he "anthropomorphizes" the building -- making it refer to a collective of human beings (not spirits). The two witness are not the Old and New Testaments, but it is important that they are called "lampstands," which is another symbolic reference to human beings as Temple furnishings; i.e., individual members who reside within the "Temple of God" -- the assembly of believers. For this reason and others, it is more likely that Rev 11:2 refers to a human assembly rather than an architectural structure (see Rev 3:12). Matthew 24:16-21 describes the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE; the passage doesn't move beyond 70 until 24:29.

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    • The 2 witnesses are 2 real people not named These folks hold to Amillenarism. Sad to say they will not come out and say so, so be very careful not to be drawn into that false teaching.
    • Ezekiel's Temple vision could either represent a future earthly Temple, or it could be a vision of God's current heavenly Temple, thereby ending the book where it began in Ezekiel 1. Either way, nothing in Ezekiel should dictate how one reads Paul's own use of the phrase "Temple of God," which indicates the assembly of believers (per the above article).
  2. I always understood the physical building, the temple as an archetype to our own bodies. The priests, prophets, entered the Holy of Holies to commune with God; in our bodies (temples), in the most sacred and holy of places, where no one else can come, we can commune with God.
    • Yes but this cannot be used to explain away scripture and end time prophesies. the man of lawlessness will not be sitting in the bodies of Christians. You are only as temple when you become a Christian, leaving no place for the man of lawlessness.

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  3. This does not make a whole lot of sense, you give very little info here to try and explain away the physical 3rd temple. We are each a temple of the Holy Spirit (those who have been born again obviously) we are not the 3rd temple.
  4. This interpretation doesn’t hold water. It violates other passages that support a physical temple. (Ezekiel’s 3rd Temple, John measuring the Temple but not the outer court, Jesus telling the Jews to leave Jerusalem when they see the abomination. This just doesn’t mesh with all of Scripture collectively.
    • Carl, Paul's use of "Temple of God" as a human assembly does not "violate" other Scriptures, but nor can these other texts override Paul's own understanding of believers as "Temple" (cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 9:13; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21), which is the sole topic of the above article.

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    • Jesus 'spiritualized' the temple in John 2:19-21 when He referred to the temple of His body. And now 'we' are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It's a very interesting study. Ezekiel's temple is a completely different temple- that is the temple that will be built in the millennium. There will be no 'man of sin' there, and Satan will be bound also.
    • John's Temple in Rev is not a literal temple. How do you "measure" worshippers? And what would be the purpose of a literal measuring anyway?
  5. This may be some overwrought contemporization and contextualization. IMHO there are layers here and especially problemmatic when spiritualizing prophetic connections and delaminating them from physical fulfillment. This sort of error blinded the teachers of the law from accepting Jesus as Messiah and accepting Him as a physical/prophetic fulfillment.
  6. A couple of questions. Are the unsaved also the 'temple of God"? Does God dwell in the unholy? Are we to believe that satan will take possession of a redeemed saint? Does it make more sense to read the verse in context of prophecy about the 3rd temple? Eze/Dan/Amos/Isa
    • Thanks for your questions, Bob. (1) No, the "Temple of God" constitutes followers of Jesus (per the above article); (2) God dwells everywhere (e.g., Num 14:21; Isa 6:3; 66:1; 1 Chron 29:11); (3) 2 Thessalonians doesn't say that Satan will "take possession" of anyone, but for Satan's interaction with, and impact upon, those in the church, see Acts 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15; (4) In the context of Pauline literature (per the above article), it makes more sense to read "Temple of God" as the church, since this is exactly how Paul uses the phrase. Only after interpreting Paul's language should the reader bring in other biblical texts, and these texts cannot alter Paul's own meaning.

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  7. We know that only a born again Christian can be a temple of the Holy Spirit. So then this explanation says that the man of lawlessness will be seated in the bodies of Christians. This does not make sense.
    • The language of being "born again" appears nowhere in 2 Thessalonians or any Pauline literature. Being a part of the "Temple of God" means being a member of the Jesus-following assembly, but church members are not impervious to lawlessness or what 2 Thess 2:9 calls the "activity of Satan" (cf. Acts 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). In the context of 2 Thess, the so-called man of lawlessness is not seated "inside" each Christian body, but rather among the assembly of Christ followers.

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