Like its predecessor, 2 Thessalonians gives considerable space to Jesus’ return. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12, Paul speaks to the judgment that will take place when Jesus returns. In chapter 2, Paul returns to the time of Jesus’ return. Whereas in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul speaks of the Second Coming as a thief in the night, in today’s reading he speaks of an event that must precede the Lord’s return, namely the manifestation of “the man of sin,” also called “the son of perdition.”
Who is this “man of sin?” Numerous speculations have been made regarding whether this is an actual person or simply an office or position. I think the latter better fits, as this one is to continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus to gather His people to Himself (cf 1 Thes 4:13-18; John 14:1-3).
So then, what does this place or position describe. Many commentators (e.g., Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown) believe it is a description of the office of the Roman papacy. I am inclined to agree, as the descriptions provided are quite fitting for the revealing and continuation of this office.
First, the man of sin exalts himself above God. While Catholics would deny it, this is exactly what the Pope does. The Pope sits in the Roman church as God himself. Any human being who claims to speak as God and change God’s word believes himself to be exalted above God.
Second, the path to the papacy was already underway in the early church with the apostasy concerning church organization. Among the earliest and lasting apostasies was the exaltation of bishops over the elders, then archbishops, etc. The apostate church eventually mirrored the Roman government, with a singular figure at the top with a burgeoning hierarchy beneath him.
Third, the Roman government may well be the restraining force of verse 7. As the Roman government waned in power, the Roman bishop increased in his. Rome fell in A.D. 476. Boniface III was declared the first pope in A.D. 606.
Finally, history is littered with the claims of great signs and wonders associated with the Roman apostasy.
I believe the papacy best represents the description of the man of sin.