A Preterist Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: Summary and Highlights
In 168 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanies sacrificed a PIG and set up an IDOL of a foreign god in the Temple (1 Macc 1:59; 2 Macc 6:1-2; Wars 1.1.2) This is the original abomination that causes desolation of Dan 11:31. TITUS DID THE SAME THING in A.D. 70 when Titus’ army worshiped the ensigns (foreign idols of Rome and Caesar) in the Temple (Wars 6.6.1) and sacrificed a PIG there as part of suovetaurilia. Not only did Titus mimic Antiochus Epiphanies’ original abomination that causes desolation, Titus also shares all of Antiochus Epiphanies’ epithets. Antiochus Epiphanies is the original “Lawless One” having been given this title in the second century B.C. (Psalms of Solomon 17:9-16). Antiochus Epiphanies is also called “the man, the sinner” (1 Macc 2:48, 62), and the “Little Horn” (Dan 8). Having mimicked (and even exceeded) Antiochus Epiphanies, Titus is ALSO called “the Lawless One” (2 Thess 2), “Man of Sin” (2 Thess 2) and “Little Horn” (Dan 7). Titus represents an antitypical return of Antiochus Epiphanies, the quintessential historical Jewish nemesis.
Josephus says that Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals in A.D. 70. 1 Shortly thereafter, Titus was worshipped in the Temple in A.D. 70 as was customary of someone declared imperator in fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets Himself up in God’s Temple displaying himself as a god.” Josephus writes, “And now the Romans . . . brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator.”2 A metallic image of Vespasian and Titus was also worshipped at that time. Phalerae cum imagines, images of the emperor and his favorites, were regularly attached to the Roman ensigns at that time.3 Here we see that idols of Vespasian and Titus were also worshiped in the Temple in A.D. 70.
Vespasian miraculously healed a blind man and a lame man or a man with a withered hand around the time of Titus’ return to Jerusalem to besiege the city and immediately prior to his triumphal entry into Rome as its new emperor literally fulfilling 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders . . .” Three different Roman historians recorded this miracle wherein Vespasian spit on eyes of the blind man and stepped on the hand of the cripple, healing both men: “With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he [Vespasian] did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion.”4 There were also many miracles recorded around the time Titus returned with the Roman army to besiege Jerusalem as well as afterwards when he returned to Rome to celebrate the triumph with his father.
In the first century, the Caesars were worshipped in Rome’s eastern provinces in the imperial cult as a god. Recall that Titus was given the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at Vespasian’s coronation. And when the Romans broke into the Temple both Josephus and Suetonius say that Titus’ army declared him imperator,5 a title which after the reign of Tiberius was granted exclusively to the reigning emperor. Since the time of Augustus, the Roman emperor was Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Roman religious life. Furthermore, Titus’ army was drawn from the eastern provinces where emperor worship was a day-to-day occurrence and officially sanctioned in the Imperial Cult in Rome at the time. Thus Caesar Titus was his army’s general, perceived emperor and Pontifex Maximus. And as Pontifex Maximus or high priest in the presence of his army drawn from the east where emperor worship was officially sanctioned, Titus was expected to both direct and receive divine worship while the Romans worshiped the images of himself and Vespasian on the ensigns in the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70.
Titus Flavius Vespasianus is called the man of lawlessness because he permanently put an end to the practice of the Law by destroying the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70 thereby making it impossible to fully follow the customs of the Law of Moses.
How could Titus be the Lawless One if he did not die at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? Of all the other possible first-century candidates for the Lawless One–Nero, Simon, John, Eleazar ben Jair, and Eleazar ben Simon–none of these people are known to have died at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 never says the Lawless One would die at the coming of Christ in A.D. 70. This verse literally reads, “And then the Lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will TAKE AWAY with the Breath of His Mouth and DO AWAY WITH by the Splendor of His Coming.” Titus was done away with and taken away in A.D. 70 since he left Jerusalem and returned to Rome immediately after the city fell in A.D. 70.
The following may seem unbelievable. However, all information is taken from unbiased historical records and is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
Titus Flavius Vespasianus is the Man of Lawlessness
In 2 Timothy 2:17-18 Paul mentions a belief in the early church promulgated by Hymenaeus and Philetus that the resurrection had already taken place sometime prior to its ultimate fulfillment. Though it is likely that 2 Timothy was written after 2 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 strongly implies that this mistaken belief existed at the time in which 2 Thessalonians was written which was probably sometime around A.D. 51 or 52. In the first three verses of this chapter, Paul dispels the mistaken idea that the day of the Lord was presently upon them:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.6 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.7
The “A.D. 70 Doctrine” View, Interpretation, Exposition and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4: The Day of the Lord, the Jewish War, Transpired Fourteen or Fifteen Years after 2 Thessalonians was Written.
The “day of the Lord” is a Biblical term used to describe a time of judgment. In this case it refers to the time in which God would punish apostate Israel for its mistreatment of the prophets and saints at the end of the age (Acts 8:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8; Revelation 6:9-11; 17:6). The day of the Lord was also the time in which the resurrection was expected to occur and the saints were to be gathered to the Lord. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul tells the Thessalonians not to be deceived into believing that “the day of the Lord has already come” in A.D. 51 or 52 when this letter was written. Then in vs. 3-9 Paul highlights the major, easily observable events that would indicate that the day of the Lord was a present reality in order to alleviate the fears of the saints. These predictions were all fulfilled during the Jewish War which began in A.D. 66 approximately fourteen or fifteen years after this letter was written. The Jewish War is the day of the Lord mentioned in v. 2.8
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:3: What was the “Rebellion” of v. 3?
The “rebellion” or apostasia of v. 3 can refer to either a religious or political falling away or rebellion.9 For example, Josephus calls Israel’s rebellion against Rome during the Jewish War an apostasia(Josephus Life 4.9.10; The Wars of the Jews 2.2.7; 2.16.4; 7.4.2; 7.6.1).10 Though there was certainly a religious falling away or rebellion which led to Israel’s punishment at the end of the age during the Jewish War, the apostasy or rebellion of v.3 had not transpired at the time of 2 Thessalonians composition so this apostasia or rebellion could not be Israel’s first century religious apostasy as the sin for which the Jews were punished had begun long before 2 Thessalonians 2 was written and was on going and cumulative (Mt 23:35-36). The apostasy or rebellion mentioned in this verse is Israel’s apostasy or rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66 which brought about the Jewish War, the day of the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 says, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed[.]” This verse implies that the rebellion occurs before or around the time of the revealing of the man of lawlessness. And this is exactly what happened! The apostasy or rebellion against Rome began in A.D. 66 and Nero responded by sending the generals Vespasian and Titus who arrived in the spring of A.D. 67. The fact that the political rebellion was to come around the time of the appearing of the man of lawlessness implies that the man of lawlessness was somehow involved in this rebellion. And that was, in fact, the case as Vespasian and Titus were the Roman generals responsible for putting down this rebellion or apostacy. The arrival of these two Roman generals in Israel in A.D. 67 was the point in which 2 Thessalonians 1:3 was fulfilled because this was moment in which the Lawless One was revealed to Israel.
During the Jewish War, the day of the Lord, Vespasian and Titus who initially made their appearance in Israel in A.D. 67 as the two Roman generals of the Jewish War later together usurped the emperor’s throne and were both crowned Caesar at the same time. After having been crowned Caesar, Titus, Vespasian’s firstborn son, then returned to Israel in A.D. 70 to put an end to the remaining resistance by leading the siege of Jerusalem.
A Preterist View, The Lawless One of 2 Thessalonians 2 (He is Not A Zealot Leader or Nero): Antiochus Epiphanies Sacrificed a PIG and set up an Idol of a Foreign God in the Temple (168 B.C.) (1 Macc 1:59; 2 Macc 6:1-2; Wars 1.1.2) and is called “the Lawless One” (Psalms of Solomon 17:9-16), “the man, the sinner” (1 Macc 2:48, 62), and the “Little Horn” (Dan 8). TITUS DID THE SAME THING when the Romans worshiped the Ensigns in the Temple and Sacrificed a Pig as part of Suovetaurilia. Thus Titus is ALSO called “the Lawless One” (2 Thess 2), “Man of Sin” (2 Thess 2) and “Little Horn” (Dan 7). Titus represents an Antitypical Return of Antiochus Epiphanies, the Quintessential Historical Jewish Nemesis.
The title Lawless One was borrowed by the author of 2 Thessalonians as this term first appears in a Jewish Apocryphal work called the Psalms of Solomon (first to second century B.C.):
In that there rose up against them a man that was alien to our race. According to their sins didst Thou recompense them, O God; So that it befell them according to their deeds. God showed them no pity; He sought out their seed and let not one of them go free. . . . The lawless one laid waste our land so that none inhabited it, They destroyed young and old and their children together. In the heat of His anger He sent them away even unto the west, And (He exposed) the rulers of the land unsparingly to derision. Being an alien the enemy acted proudly, And his heart was alien from our God. And all things [whatsoever he did in] Jerusalem, As also the nations [in the cities to their gods.] (Psalms of Solomon 17:9-16)
Notice that the Lawless One of Psalms of Solomon 17:13 is said to be “a man that was alien to our race (Psalms of Solomon 17:9).” In other words, the Lawless One of Psalms of Solomon which seems to have at least partially inspired 2 Thessalonians is not a Jew. The fact that Jewish tradition concerning the Lawless One explicitly states that this figure is Gentile, not Jewish, undermines the zealot interpretation of the Lawless One in 2 Thessalonians 2 while bolstering the Flavian view. Furthermore, v. 13 says, “The lawless one laid waste our land,” while v. 14 states that he exiled the Jews of Palestine even to the west: “He sent them [the wicked Jews] away even unto the west.” And it is stated that all these things he did to Jerusalem (Psalms of Solomon 17:16). The Lawless One of Psalms of Solomon is Antiochus Epiphanies. However, it is hard to imagine a more accurate typological fulfillment of the Lawless One of the Psalms of Solomon than in Caesar Titus. Caesar Titus also fulfilled every element of Psalms of Solomon 17:9-16 when he besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the city and also exiled thousands of survivors west of Israel throughout the Roman Empire.11 See Why the Lawless One is Not Likely to be a Jewish Zealot. But the similarities between Caesar Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies—the original Lawless One—do not end there.
It is well known that Antiochus Epiphanies is the Little Horn of Daniel 8. But what is less well-known is that Caesar Titus is given the SAME epithet in Daniel 7. (See Daniel 7: A Preterist Commentary.) Thus here we see Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies being called the Lawless One and the Little Horn. Similarly, it should also be noted that some Bibles translate man of lawlessness in v. 3 man of sin. This title also seems to point to Antiochus Epiphanies. In 1 Maccabees 2:48 and 62 Antiochus Epiphanies is called “the man the sinner.” So here we can see up to three titles that both Antiochus Epiphanies and Titus shared: Lawless One, Man of Sin, and Little Horn.
The reason Caesar Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies share all the same epithets is because both men set up a seemingly identical abomination that causes desolation in the Temple! In 168 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanies set up an idol of a foreign god in the Temple (2 Macc 6:1-2) and sacrificed a pig in the Temple as well (1 Macc 1:59; Wars 1.1.2). This act is called “a desolating sacrilege” in 1 Macc 1:54 and “the abomination that causes desolation” in Daniel 11:31.
Titus did the same thing! In A.D. 70 while the Temple was inflames the Roman army brought the ensigns (military flags that were idols of Caesar and Rome) to the Temple’s eastern gate and offered sacrifices to them (Wars 6.6.1). There were three animals that were likely sacrificed at this time, a sheep, an ox and a pig; as these were the three sacrifices made in the practice of suovetaurilia, the customary sacrifice made for land purification done especially during the destruction of Temples (Tacitus, Histories 4.53). Did you catch that? Like Antiochus Epiphanies during the first abomination that cause desolation (Dan 11:31), Titus ALSO sacrificed a pig and presided over the worship of foreign gods in the Temple! Since both Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies are responsible for the abomination that causes desolation it is not surprising that both men are given all the same epithets throughout the Bible and Jewish tradition.
A Preterist Interpretation, Exposition and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:3: The Lawless One is given this Title for Ending the Practice of the Law. (In Titus’ Case Permanently).
As stated above both Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies are called the Little Horn. Antiochus Epiphanies is the Little Horn of Daniel 8. And Titus is the Little Horn of Daniel 7. Concerning Caesar Titus, Daniel 7:25 says, “He will . . . try to change the set times and the laws.” Like Antiochus Epiphanies before him, Titus is not just called the Lawless One because of sin, Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies are called the Lawless One or the man of lawlessness because both men put an end to the practice of the Law. Antiochus Epiphanies put an end to Temple sacrifice for three years before the Jews reacquired control of the Temple and Titus did so permanently when he destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem which has never been rebuilt.
As a side note, the idea that the Lawless One and Little Horn of Dan 7 are one and the same is also implied elsewhere in this same verse: “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws.” (Dan 7:25) The fact that the Little Horn would “speak against the Most High” is stated in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. All the predictions concerning the Lawless One and the Little Horn are fulfilled in Caesar Titus (see Daniel 7: A Preterist Commentary.)
A Preterist Exposition and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: The Romans worshiped Idols of Vespasian in the Temple in fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets Himself up in God’s Temple Displaying Himself as a God.”
The fact that Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies each share all the same epithets implies that Titus is a kind of antitype of Antiochus Epiphanies. In other words, Titus represents a kind of return of Antiochus Epiphanies, the quintessential Jewish nemesis, as John the Baptist is a kind of return of Elijah (Mt 11:13-14). Because Titus and Antiochus Epiphanies did the same things and are called the same epithets, it should be no surprise that Caesar Titus is the Lawless One of 2 Thessalonians 2. That having been said, let us now discuss how Titus fulfills each prediction of 2 Thessalonians 2.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 is often translated, “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” [Emphasis mine.] However, the interlinear of this verse says nothing about any proclamation: “The [one] opposing and exalting himself above every so-called god or object of worship so as for him in the temple of God to sit down setting forth he himself that is god.” Thus the NASB more accurately translates this verse: “who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” Notice there is no statement made about the Lawless One “proclaiming himself to be God” or proclaiming anything which gives the reader a sense that the Lawless One entered the Temple and yelled, “I am God!” Rather the Lawless One sets himself up in the Temple and displays himself as a god without any implication of any verbal statement. There is only one person in first century Roman history who is recorded to have done this and that is Caesar Titus.
In A.D. 70 the Roman army besieged Jerusalem under the leadership of the Roman General Titus. Toward the end of this siege, the Romans burned the Temple. Then according to Josephus, the Roman army “brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.”12 This is an extremely significant historical event as it clearly fulfills several Biblical prophecies.
The Roman ensigns were military flags one of which was a three-dimensional image or bust of the emperor called the imago. Furthermore, at this time phalerae cum imagines were also regularly attached to the shafts of eagles and other ensigns of the Roman legions.13 Phalerae cum imagines are images of the emperor14, the emperor’s family15, or his favorites.16 Thus not only were there certainly images of Vespasian present on the imago and other ensigns, there were also almost certainly images of Titus fixed to the ensigns the Romans worshiped in the Temple at that time. Remember the phalerae cum imagines fixed to the ensigns were large coin-shaped images of the emperor’s family and favorites and Titus was not only general of all those legions at the time, Titus had also already been named Vespasian’s successor. Josephus says that these ensigns were worshipped by the Romans in the Jewish Temple!17 This idolatrous worship in the Temple is not historically surprising as it was customary for the Roman military to worship these ensigns at that time. When Titus’ image on the numina legionum was set up in the Temple and worshiped as a god we can see how clearly Titus “displayed himself as a god” in explicit fulfillment of Thessalonians 2:4.
Preterist Bible Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:4: Desiring to make Titus Emperor, the Roman Army would have also likely worshiped Titus in the Temple as was customary in the Imperial Cult in fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets Himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming Himself to be God.”
Titus had also already been granted the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at his father’s coronation.18 And while the Roman army offered sacrifices to the ensigns, the Man of Lawlessness, Caesar Titus, was declared imperator.19 After the reign of Tiberius the title imperator was only granted to the reigning emperor as being pronounced imperator by one’s troops was considered an act of imperial accession and was thus considered a rebellion. This is why Suetonius says that many Romans believed that Titus would try to overthrow his father when he arrived in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem.20 The fact that in A.D. 70 the title “imperator” was synonymous with “emperor” means that Titus’ troops would have naturally treated him as emperor at that time. This means that Titus would have been worshiped as a god in the Temple in A.D. 70 as Titus’ troops were drawn primarily from Rome’s eastern provinces where worship of the living emperor was both sanctioned and customary. Also Titus was the living-breathing embodiment of his image on the ensigns depicted in the far right of the below image and these ensigns were the primary gods of the legions.21 Thus in light of these facts, Titus could not have escaped also being worshiped in the Temple together with the ensigns during the burning of the Temple in A.D. 70.
It should also be noted that the emperor was Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Roman religious life. When his legions desired to make Titus emperor, Titus would have inherited the role of Pontifex Maximus or high priest. Therefore as both general, Caesar and perceived emperor and Pontifex Maximus (high priest), Titus would have been expected by his soldiers to direct and receive worship, the same worship given to his image and the image of his father on the ensigns.
Preterist View of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: According to Josephus, Titus entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple in A.D. 70.
The NASB version of 2 Thess 2:4 says that the Lawless One “takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” It was once possible to take a seat in the Temple and by doing so display oneself as God. To do so one would have to sit on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. The Mercy Seat was God’s throne or seat in the Temple. The Mercy Seat was the top of the Arc of the Covenant between the two cherubim. The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple and took the contents of the Holy of Holies as plunder. When Herod’s Temple was built the Jews did not rebuild the Arc at that time. Therefore, in A.D. 70 there was no Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The Holy of Holies was an empty room with a raised area of the floor where the arc and Mercy Seat would have been placed. Because the “throne of God” i.e. the Mercy Seat was not present in the Temple in A.D. 70 it was not possible to literally sit in God’s seat in the Temple.
Because it was not possible to literally take God’s seat in the Temple when 2 Thessalonians 2:4 was written, something else must be in focus in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. The closest thing to sitting on God’s throne in the Temple that was possible to accomplish at that time was to enter God’s throne room, i.e. the Holy of Holies, and exalt oneself or perform some act of blasphemy therein. The only person permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was the high priest and, in this case, only once a year. However, no high priest would ever think to blaspheme God in the Holy of Holies. The only person reported to have entered the Holy of Holies and performed blasphemous acts therein is Caesar Titus.
Just prior to the Romans worshipping the ensign idols of Caesar and Rome in the Temple, Josephus says that Titus and his generals entered the Holy of Holies:
And now, since Caesar [Titus] was no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire proceeded on more and more, he went into the holy place of the temple, with his commanders, and saw it, with what was in it, which he found to be far superior to what the relations of foreigners contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed about it. But as the flame had not as yet reached to its inward parts, but was still consuming the rooms that were about the holy house[.]22
Did you catch that? Josephus says that Titus saw that the inside of the Temple was “not inferior to what we ourselves . . . believed about it.” This means that Titus did not just enter that part of the Temple which the priests entered every day during their sacred ministrations, Titus entered the part of the Temple in which rumor surrounds. This is the Holy of Holies which was only allowed to be entered once a year by the high priest and thus the contents of this room were based off tradition and shrouded in mystery.
Preterist View–“He sets Himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming Himself to be God.”: The Babylonian Talmud records the many Blasphemous Things Titus said and did against the God of Israel.
What Titus supposedly did when he entered the Temple is written about in the Talmud.23 In Daniel 7:25, the little horn, Titus, is said to “speak against the Most High.” Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud records the fulfillment of this verse immediately before the worship of Caesar and Rome in the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70:
Vespasian sent Titus who said, “Where is their God, the rock in whom they trusted?” This was the wicked Titus who blasphemed and insulted Heaven. What did he do? He took a harlot by the hand and entered the Holy of Holies and spread out a scroll of the Law and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and slashed the curtain. Miraculously blood spurted out, and he thought that he had slain God himself[.]
This account of Titus slashing the curtain, seeing blood and assuming he had slain God is not as fantastic as it might initially sound. The Temple that Titus destroyed no longer contained the Ark of the Covenant thus the Holy of Holies was a rather empty room with the floor raised-up where the Ark would have been. Since the Ark was no longer there, the High Priest sprinkled blood on this raised stone once a year on Passover so that there would have been a thick layer of blood all over this stone. So if Titus slashed the curtain to enter the Holy of Holies he would have immediately seen an empty room with blood all over a stone. Because he had many Jewish soldiers and former procurators in his army, Titus would have known that his enemies believed that the Spirit of God was literally present in the inner sanctuary. Thus when Titus slashed the curtain (after all the Temple was already on fire and was about to be destroyed anyway) and saw an empty room with blood all over you could imagine the jokes coming out of Titus’ mouth about how they had slain the God of their enemies as they all gazed upon an empty room with no God present and just blood covering a stone signifying God’s throne. After all, Titus entered the Temple in the presence of his generals who like himself were all war-hardened, macho soldiers known to be clever, quick-witted and a bit arrogant. In light of this Jewish account and the circumstances surrounding Titus’ entry into the Holy of Holies we can see another way outside of the worship of his image in the Temple in which Titus exalted himself above God in the Holy of Holies even if it was just a joke to garner a laugh from his friends. (Heck this joke was handed to Titus on a silver platter.)
The fact that Titus blasphemed God in the Temple is also found in Jewish tradition concerning Titus’ return to Rome after the fall of Jerusalem. Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud records Titus’ haughty challenge to the Almighty God of Israel: “If he [the God of Israel] is really mighty, let him come up on the dry land and fight with me.”
Preterism and 2 Thessalonians 2:4: How Titus blasphemed God more than anyone else in Biblical history.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 mirrors Isaiah 14:13-14 and Daniel 8:10-25:
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Is 14:13-14.)
It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. . . . When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. (Dan 8:10-11, 25.)
Isaiah 14:13-14 was fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar II who was responsible for plundering and destroying Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C. Daniel 8:10-25 was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanies who entered the Temple and desecrated it with an idol of Zeus in the second century B.C. It is also possible and perhaps likely that Daniel 11:36-39 was fulfilled by Pompey when he entered the Holy of Holies after conquering Jerusalem in the first century B.C.:
“The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. (Dan 11:36-39.)
It seems that lofty challenges and blasphemies are attributed to anyone who enterers, destroys or in any way blasphemes the Temple, God’s sacred dwelling place. In this way, Titus blasphemed God more than anyone else in Jewish history as he did not just desecrate the Temple with idol worship as did Antiochus Epiphanies, he did not just enter the Holy of Holies as did Pompey, and he did not just destroy the Temple as did Nebuchadnezzar II, Titus did all three of those things!
Preterism and 2 Thessalonians 2:4: The Man of Lawlessness did Not Need to be a Megalomaniac to Exalt Himself above God in the Temple. (2 Thess 2:4) This was a Common Military Scare Tactic Likely Employed by the Babylonians, Antiochus Epiphanies, Pompey and Titus to induce surrender by Showing the Jews their God had left Them and were Thus under no Special Divine Protection.
Having addressed how Titus fulfilled the blasphemies attributed to the Lawless One in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, let us now address a possible additional motive influencing Titus to do these blasphemous things outside of blind devotion to the Roman custom of suovetaurilia. Titus did not need to be a megalomaniac to fulfill v. 4. When Titus entered the Holy of Holies and returned alive it sent a clear and powerful message to the Jewish rebels that God had left them since anyone who entered the Holy of Holies except the high priest was expected to be killed by God. The Jewish rebels who fought the Romans in the Temple were poorly-equipped, under trained and outnumbered. The Zealots were relying on God to help them defeat the Romans. Titus and his generals knew this. The fact that Titus returned unscathed from the Holy of Holies of the Temple and even directed the worship of idols in the Temple showed these rebels that God had left them.. Not surprisingly after Titus returned from the inner sanctuary when the flames started spreading to the inside of the Temple, Cassius Dio and Josephus say that many of the Jewish rebels instantly gave up fighting and killed themselves.24 After all why would the Jews continue fighting a battle they knew they could not win without God’s help? Titus was a rational and intelligent military leader, he possibly also knew these simple acts increased the likelihood of a quick military victory at minimal cost to Roman lives. In other words, Titus did not need to be a crazy megalomaniac when he fulfilled 2 Thessalonians 2:4, this blasphemy may have also been a carefully-planned and well-thought-out scare tactic likely also employed by the Babylonians, Antiochus Epiphanies and Pompey when they fulfilled similar predictions in Isaiah 14:13-14, Daniel 8:10-25 and Daniel 11:36-39 respectively. (See Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?)
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.
The “secret power of lawlessness” that “is already at work” appears to refer to Satan’s spiritual power over the world. Seemingly referring to this “secret power of lawlessness” under Satan’s spiritual dominion, 2 Corinthians 4:4 reads, “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .” The idea that Satan is behind this “secret power of lawlessness” seems to be confirmed in v. 9 where we see Satan working behind the scenes surrounding this man and his coming: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works.”
Verse 7 is unclear as to what is being held back as there is no “it” in v. 7. “It” has been added in this translation for readability. Is what is held back in v. 7 “the secret power of lawlessness” or is it the Lawless One himself who is implicitly held back in the previous verse? And who or what is doing the restraining in v. 7? It is impossible to answer any of these questions with certainty as this appears to be information given to Paul’s audience before the penning of this letter.
A good guess as to the identity of the restrainer, however, may be the “angel coming up from the east” in Revelation 7:2 who orders the angels of the four winds to hold back until the sealing of the 144,000. The implication of this pericope is that it is the four winds themselves that are the source of the plagues of Revelation since their withholding prevents the release of these plagues so as to preserve the 144,000. This angel implicitly also holds back the coming of the Lawless One as well since the Lawless One together with his father, Vespasian, is the primary adversary responsible for the plagues of Revelation.
It is also possible that the restrainer is Lucceius Albinus, Procurator of Judea (A.D. 62-64).25 Albinus’ reign immediately preceded that of Gessius Florus whose anti-Jewish policies pushed Israel into revolt against Rome triggering the coming of Titus, the Lawless One.26
8Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.27
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Commentary: None of the First-Century Candidates for the Lawless One Died at the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
How could tTitus be the Lawless One if he did not die at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? It is important to note that no first-century candidates for the Lawless One are known to have died at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Nero died in A.D. 68; Simon was paraded through the streets of Rome before being killed at the Roman triumph; John served a life-sentence in prison;28 Eleazar ben Jair committed suicide in A.D. 74 at the fall of Masada; and Eleazar ben Simon was attacked by John’s forces at the start of the siege of Jerusalem,29 survived and later joined John in his battle against Simon.30 When or how Eleazar ben Simon died is not known. However, out of all these candidates, Titus is the only one who is given an epithet that literally means “death” and “destruction” perhaps unintentionally or ironically calling to mind the “death” and “destruction” of the Lawless One predicted in many translations of 2 Thessalonians 2:8? Because no record exists of the physical death of any candidates for the Lawless One, something other than physical death may be in view in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. As Preterists we are all very much aware of the different kinds of death recorded in the Bible outside of just physical death.
Although 2 Thessalonians 2:8 can be translated in such a way as to predict the death and destruction of the Lawless One, this is not what 2 Thessalonians most literally says in the original Greek. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is more accurately translated “And then the Lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will take up/take away with the breath of his mouth and do away with by the splendor of his coming.” The word translated “slay” above in v. 8 is anaireo which according to Strong’s Concordance means “to take up, take away, make an end.”31 Though for the sake of clarity anaireo is often translated kill, put to death, slay and other related words as anaireo is also a euphemism for murder. Though this is not most literally what this word means as illustrated by the way in which anaireo is used in the following verses:
And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away [anaireo] and nurtured him as her own son (Acts 7:21). [Emphasis mine.]32
[T]hen He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away [anaireo] the first in order to establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). [Emphasis mine.]33
Later in v. 8 Jesus is said to “destroy” the Lawless One “by the splendor of his coming.” According to Vine the word translated destroy in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is katargeo which means to make inactive: “[K]atageo, lit. to reduce to inactivity (kata, down, argos, inactive) . . . Katageo is found in several vs. in the Bible in which the meaning is clearly not destroy or kill:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated [katageo] from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4). [Emphasis mine.]
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears [katageo] (1 Corinthians 13:10). [Emphasis mine.]
For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released [katageo] from the law that binds her to him (Romans 7:2). [Emphasis mine.]
2 Corinthians 3:7, 11, 13 and Romans 7:6 are other notable examples. The above vs. illustrate the fact that although katageo can mean destroy it does not literally mean this. Furthermore, katageo is also occasionally translated taken away, do away or done away:
[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with [katageo], so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6) [.]34[Emphasis mine.]
Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with [katageo] both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body (1 Corinthians 6:13). [Emphasis mine.]
But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away [katageo] (2 Corinthians 3:14). [Emphasis mine.]
In light of the way katageo is used in Romans 6:6, 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 2 Corinthians 3:14 I believe this word is perhaps better translated do away or remove in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Similarly, considering the way in which anaireo is translated as take or took away in Acts 7:21 and Hebrews 10:9, I believe 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is more accurately or precisely translated: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will take away with the breath of his mouth and take or do away with [and thus reduce to inactivity] by the splendor of his coming.” As stated above, katargeo means to make inactive or to reduce to inactivity. Therefore, the fact that Titus and Vespasian were not physically killed and destroyed in A.D. 70 or amidst the Jewish War does not contradict 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
But how were Titus and Vespasian taken up or taken away and thus reduced to inactivity in A.D. 70 or amidst the Jewish War? After the fall of Jerusalem is A.D. 70, Titus left Israel for Rome to celebrate. Thus Titus was quite literally “taken away” and “rendered inactive” in A.D. 70 since he had left Israel at that time.35
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Commentary: The “Death” and “Destruction” of the Lawless One in A.D. 70.
Of course, when we look at 2 Thessalonians 2:8 most translations record the “death” and “destruction” of the Lawless One as this is generally the way anaireo and katargeo are translated respectively in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. This is not necessarily a mistranslation. Though anaireo and katargeo do not literally mean “to kill” or “destroy” as we have seen they can and do connote this meaning in many instances in which these words are used which is why modern translations often record the death and destruction of the Lawless One. Because of the implicit meaning of death and destruction that anaireo and katargeo can convey, I believe these terms are used specifically in 2 Thessalonians as a kind of word play.
The “death” and “destruction” of the Lawless One in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 appears to be an easter egg linking this figure to Abaddon (Revelation 9:11), a Hebrew word that means both “death” and “destruction.” Abaddon is an epithet or title given to Caesar Titus in Revelation 9:11: “They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).” Apollyon is a play-on-words for Apollo and Destroyer. As general of Legio XV Apollinaris, the 15th Apollonian Legion, who destroyed Jerusalem, Titus is undoubtedly Apollyon (see Revelation 9: A Preterist Commentary). The fact that Titus is Apollyon, of course, means that he is also Abaddon. This epithet seems to be another easter egg pointing to Titus and his identity as the Lawless One who was to be “killed” and “destroyed” at the coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
There is more to death in the Bible than just physical death. Perhaps more than the adherents of any other view of eschatology, Preterists are keenly aware of this fact. The Abyss and Abaddon are synonyms for the realm of death. But the Abyss, like Abaddon, Sheol and other related or synonymous terms also denotes foreign nations at the same time. Throughout Revelation and the rest of the Bible there are very many examples in which it is explicitly clear that sea and Abyss represent foreign nations and the realm of the dead concurrently. In keeping with this symbolism, there are also examples in the Bible in which a person or people is or are said to die or be dead when it is explicitly clear contextually that they were still very much alive physically all because of their presence in foreign lands (see In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations and The Poetic Biblical Link Between “Sea” and “Abyss”). For example, in Ezekiel 37:1-14 the exile of the Jews to Babylon is depicted as their death while their return to Israel is explicitly depicted as their resurrection from the dead. The same message is implied with Titus/Apollyon in Revelation 9. Here Apollyon rises out of the Abyss with his locust army to besiege Jerusalem for five months. And in fulfillment of Revelation 9:5, Jerusalem fell after five months. Prior to Titus’ arrival with the Roman army, Titus was, of course, in the Abyss (i.e. realm of death) and yet obviously Titus was not physically dead at that time. Immediately prior to the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Titus was in Egypt with his father plotting the overthrow of Vitellius. Thus when Revelation 9 says that Titus rose out of the Abyss (i.e. foreign nations and the realm of death concurrently) this was obviously not a physical resurrection from the dead as Titus never physically died prior to A.D. 70. So if Titus was not physically dead when he was in the Abyss prior to the siege of Jerusalem, Titus would also still be presumably alive after his return to the Abyss in A.D. 70 at the coming of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 when Titus departed out of Israel. Titus’ resurrection in Revelation 9 appears to signify his arrival in Israel from Egypt–foreign nations (i.e. the Abyss) in the same way that the return of the Babylonian exiles to Israel represented their resurrection from the dead in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
As stated above, there are no candidates for the Lawless One proposed by Preterists who are known to have died in A.D. 70. Titus was given a title meaning “death” and “destruction” even when he was clearly alive. The “death” and “destruction” of the Lawless One is not physical death, but rather the death that comes from departure or exile from the Promised Land (Genesis 2-3; Psalm 69:14-15; Isaiah 28:14-18; Jeremiah 51:25, 42; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Midrash Psalm 116:3). Not only did Titus leave Israel immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 therefore dying in this unique, poetic Biblical sense, Titus is also the best candidate for the Lawless One as Titus’ epithet in Revelation 9:11 literally means “death” and “destruction.”
2 Thessalonians 2:8 should be understood in light of Revelation 19:15-20:
Coming out of his [Christ’s] mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter. . . . ” But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Above it would seem that Revelation 19:15-20 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8 are describing the same thing. If both sets of vs. predict the same event as appears to be the case, then the fate of the lawless one in v. 8 must mirror the fate of the beast and the false prophet in Revelation 19:20. In the Realized Eschatology commentary on Revelation 19, I explain that the beast and false prophet referred to in Revelation 19:20 are also Vespasian and Titus. In Revelation 19:20 I explain that the lake of fire is the Abyss of Revelation 9. The important thing to take from that explanation is that the beast and the false prophet were thrown “alive” into the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20.
Though the beast and the Lawless One are never explicitly said to die in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:20, it seems that there is a non-physical death that is implied. In Revelation 19:15-20 when the beast and false prophet are cast “alive” into the Abyss, this implicit death, like the anaireo and katageo of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, seems to also to point to Vespasian’s and Titus’ departure from Israel, the earth, to Rome, the sea/Abyss in A.D. 69 and A.D. 70 respectively. Perhaps this symbolic death due to exile or departure to foreign lands foreshadows the fate of these men in the afterlife? Regardless of any supposed foreshadowing, this kind of death by means of being physically present in foreign lands appears to harmonize 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:20 as both 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:20 appear to be fulfilled in Titus’ and Vespasian’s departure from Israel to foreign lands (the Abyss/sea).
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Preterist Commentary: Did Christ also Come at the Physical Deaths of Both Vespasian and Titus?
Did Christ also come at the physical deaths of both Vespasian and Titus? Though it is not necessitated by the text, I believe that Jesus did, in fact, manifest Himself at the death of each member of the Flavian Dynasty. The word translated “coming” in v. 8 is again the Greek word Parousia mentioned above. As stated above, Parousia is a Greek word meaning “visit.” Philippians 2:12 illustrates this fact: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence [Parousia], but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling[.]” In Phillipians 2:12 one can see that Paul’s visit to the church at Philippi was a Parousia. Similarly, when an individual was healed in the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus in the 3rd century B.C., the perceived appearance of the god Asclepius to heal this person was labeled a parousia.36 Recall that after Jesus’ resurrection He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) and was then seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Luke 19:12-27; John 8:21-23; 13:1; 14:2-3; 16:7; Acts 7:56; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Hebrews 9:24; 1 Peter 3:22). Because Jesus was present in heaven after His ascension, anytime He came or would come to earth is aptly labelled a parousia in light of the way in which Parousia was used at the time in Phillipians 2:12 and in the coming of the god Ascelepius when he is said to have healed a person in his temple. Thus after Jesus’ ascension when He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 or when He appeared to John in Revelation 1 is also a Parousia.
It is interesting to note that Jesus is widely believed to have made several appearances or parousias throughout the Old Testament prior to His earthly ministry recorded in the Gospels (Genesis 16:7; 21:17; 22:11; 31:11; Exodus 3:2-15; 17:1-7; Judges 6:11; 13:21; Daniel 3:24-27; Micah 5:2). These manifestations of the preincarnate Christ are called theophanies. Jesus also made several appearances after His resurrection and before His ascension (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). As mentioned above Christ then also made several appearances or parousias after His ascension into heaven and before His long-awaited return or Parousia predicted often throughout the New Testament (Acts 7:55-56; 9:1-8; Revelation 1). Therefore, if Jesus made several appearances or parousias prior to His incarnation and several after His resurrection and before His coming on the clouds in judgement during the Jewish War, would it be surprising if Jesus made another appearance or Parousia after A.D. 70? In light of this pattern of multiple visits or parousias, it would not be surprising to me if Jesus later also came at the deaths of Vespasian and Titus.
The fact that there could be a Parousia or divine “coming” at the deaths of Titus and Vespasian after A.D. 70 is made even more probable when one considers the fact that Jesus threatened to come in judgment on a few churches in Asia Minor at the beginning of Revelation. For example, Jesus threatened to come in judgement on the Ephesian church (Revelation 2:5), the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:16) and the church at Sardis (Revelation 3:3). Yet as Preterists we know that the Parousia was primarily, if not exclusively, localized in Israel during its first-century war with Rome. In other words, since the Parousia did not seem to extend to Asia Minor, these promised comings were probably at another time. And if these judgment comings occurred at a time other than the Parousia during the Jewish War, then the Parousia mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 which may have occurred at the deaths of Vespasian and Titus could have also come at another time. That being said, in explicit fulfillment of v. 8 historical records seem to imply that Jesus may have also come in what appears to be another Parousia at the death of Vespasian, Titus and even Domitian. See The Historical Appearance of Christ at the Death of the Beast Fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:19-20.
9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
A Realized Eschatology Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12: The Lie and Deception of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 is Defined in Matthew 24:15-24 and Revelation 13:13-17.
The “powerful delusion” and “lie” of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 is defined in Matthew 24:15-24 and Revelation 13:13-17. Matthew 24:15-24 and Revelation 13:13-17 read:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Mt 24:15-24)
And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Rev 13:13-17)
Matthew 24:15-24, Revelation 13:13-17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 all closely parallel each other. All three texts begin by mentioning the abomination that causes desolation:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel.” (Mt 24:15)
“It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” (Rev 13:14-15)
“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess 2:4)
Matthew 24:23-24, Revelation 13:14 and 2 Thess 2:9-11 then go on to predict the deception and lie that would result from the abomination that causes desolation:
At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Mt 24:23-24)
Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. (Rev 13:14)
“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie[.]” (2 Thess 2:9-11)
Seeing the chronological parallels between Matthew 24:15-24, Revelation 13:13-17 and 2 Thess 2:9-12 we can now see what the deception of 2 Thess 2:9-12 is specified and defined in Matthew 24:15-24 and Revelation 13:13-17. The first lie or deception according to Matthew 24:23-24 is the presentation of a false Messiah: “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Seemingly every or almost every historian who records the reign of Vespasian identifies Vespasian and Titus as the Messiah of the Jews. For example, Tacitus writes, “The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. This mysterious prophecy really referred to Vespasian and Titus[.]”37 Suetonius makes a similar proclamation: “An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as the event later proved, referred to a Roman Emperor.”38 Even Josephus was convinced that the Flavians were the Messiah promised to his people:
But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.39
The Church historian Eusebius even goes so far as to say that Vespasian tried to wipe out King David’s bloodline so as to avoid any Messianic rivals.40
Seeds were planted in the mind of Vespasian and Titus that they could be the Jewish Messiah fairly early in the war when according to Jewish written tradition Rabbi Yochanan told the Flavians of a Bible prophecy saying that whoever destroyed the Temple would become emperor.41 Titus’ sacrifices to the ensigns at the Temple’s eastern gate may also hint at Titus’ belief that he was the Messiah as this act seems to be an idolatrous mirror of the prince of Judah’s sacrifices at the eastern gate prescribed in Ezekiel 46:1-12.
The next set of lies and deceptions is identified in Revelation 13:13-17. Here we see that the Lawless One/beast out of the earth deceives people into worshiping the image of the beast and taking its mark:
And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name [emphasis mine]. (Rev 13:13-17)
Recall that Titus set up the ensigns in the Temple and the Romans worshipped them at the eastern gate. These ensigns were the “image of the beast” referred to in Revelation 13:13-17 not only because they were the symbol of Rome itself in the Aquila but also because the ensigns contained images of the emperor and his favorites as well. The fact that these images of the beast were set up under Titus’ authority shows how the Lawless One/beast out of the earth deceived the inhabitants of the earth to worship the image of the beast. (For a detailed explanation of how Titus fulfilled the rest of Revelation 13 including how he forced the whole Roman world to receive the mark of the beast so that not a single person in the empire could buy or sell without this mark see the commentary on Revelation 13.) Here we see that in comparing the intertangled parallels between 2 Thessalonians, Matthew 24 and Revelation 13 that the lie and deception perpetrated by the Lawless One is the presentation of a false messiah as well as deceiving the people of the earth into worshiping the image of the beast and receiving its mark.
Preterist Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12: The Signs and Wonders that the Lawless One Performs are also Defined in Matthew 24:15-24 and Revelation 13:13-17.
What are the signs and wonders the beast out of the earth/Lawless One performs in order to deceive the people of the earth? At least one of those signs is defined in Revelation 13:13-14: “And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth.” The sign of fire from heaven points to Titus and Rome in three complementary ways. First, the Romans likely launched firebrands into Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as they did earlier to Jotapata.42 Second, one of the legions Titus led during the siege of Jerusalem was Legio XII Fulminata, the 12th Lightning Bolt Legion whose ensign or military flag, not surprisingly, was a lightning bolt. Lastly, the symbol of Rome and the main ensign worshiped in the Temple in A.D. 70 was Aquila, the eagle that carried Zeus’ lightning bolt. Here we see three separate and distinct instances in which there is a kind of fire from heaven surrounding Titus and the fall of Jerusalem. These three instances of fire from heaven are one of the signs of the Lawless One/beast out of the earth.The next sign the Lawless One performs is “to give breath to the image of the first beast so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” To “give breath to the image of the beast” (Revelation 13:15) means to cause it to come to life (Genesis 2:7). This sign signifies the resurrection of the beast after the “fatal wound” it received after the death of Nero (Revelation 13:3). The resurrection of the beast is mentioned all over Revelation (Rev 9; 11:7; 13:3; 13:11; 13:15; 17:8). In Revelation 9, 11:7, and 17:8 the resurrection of the beast is denoted by its rising out of the Abyss, the realm of death. In Revelation 13:3 we see the beast receive a “fatal” wound that is healed. In Revelation 13:11 we see the beast rise out of the earth, another resurrection motif as the dead rise out of the earth in the general resurrection (Ezekiel 37:13). In Revelation 17:8 the beast “once was (alive), now is not (dead) and yet will come” (rise from the dead). In Revelation 13:15 we see the resurrection of the beast depicted in a sign whereby the image of the beast receives the breath of life pointing to the resurrection of the beast fulfilled in the restoration of the Roman Empire under the Flavian Dynasty (see the commentary on Revelation 13).
How does the image of the beast receive the breath of life and how does this sign symbolize the resurrection of the beast predicted in Revelation 9; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:3, 11; and Revelation 17:8? Titus’ living presence in the Temple beside the metal idol image of himself on the ensigns would look to a religious devote as an idol come to life. Titus’ living-breathing presence beside his lifeless image on the ensign is historical poetry symbolizing the resurrection of the beast (Rome) at the fall of Jerusalem. It was at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 that the Flavians saved the empire from collapse as Jerusalem was the last pocket of resistance during the civil war following Nero’s death.
As the living “god” whose “image” was depicted on the ensigns, Titus could, of course, “speak” on his image’s behalf. And apparently, he did when immediately after the Romans finished worshiping the ensigns, Titus ordered his soldiers to “henceforth spare no one.”43 Here we see how the “the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” (Revelation 13:15.) (For a more detailed explanation see the commentary on Revelation 13.)
Preterism Explained and Interpreted, A Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: Around the Time in Which Titus Arrived in Jerusalem to Besiege the City and Immediately before Vespasian became Emperor, “All Kinds of Counterfeit Miracles, Signs and Wonders” were Reported.
According to v. 9 the coming of the Lawless One was to be marked by many counterfeit miracles and wonders. The word translated “coming” in this verse is again parousia, a word denoting the glorious entry of a regal figure into a city typically followed by an extended stay. Interestingly, immediately before Titus’ arrival or Parousia in Jerusalem to besiege the city in A.D. 70 as well as Vespasian’s parousia when he made his first triumphal entry into Rome to claim his title as emperor in A.D. 70, a multitude of signs, wonders and miracles were recorded by Roman historians. According to Cassius Dio, it rained blood in Italy such that rivers of blood flowed throughout the land.44 Suetonius writes, “[A] thunderbolt presently struck the Temple of the Caesars, decapitating all the statues at a stroke and dashed Augustus’s scepter from his hands.” According to Tacitus, “[A]n apparition of superhuman size had suddenly emerged from the Chapel of Juno. . . . [ and, A]n ox had spoken in Etruria.”45 Miracles similar to the ones mentioned above are also predicted in Revelation 16:14. For a more extensive list of the “miracles, signs and wonders” that marked the coming of Caesar Vespasian, the man of lawlessness, see Revelation 16: A Preterist Commentary.
A Preterist View and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: Before making His Triumphal Entry into Rome, Vespasian Miraculously healed a Blind Man and a Lame Man or a Man with a Withered Hand.
Notice that v. 9 never says that the Lawless One would perform every one of these signs himself. Interestingly, one such sign at the time of Titus’ siege of Jerusalem was performed by Titus’ father, Vespasian. Upon claiming the throne, Vespasian spent some time in Alexandria before making his triumphal entry or parousia into Rome. During this time, the time of the “coming of the lawless one,” Tacitus says “many miracles occurred” in explicit fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “In the course of the months which Vespasian spent at Alexandria, waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon,[so he could sail to Rome to assume his seat as emperor] many miracles occurred.”46
According to the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio, during Vespasian’s stay in Alexandria, a blind man and a man with a withered hand fell at the emperor’s feet begging to be healed. Initially reluctant, Vespasian gave in to the fervent pleas of the surrounding crowd. Then according to these historians, Vespasian spit on eyes of the blind man and stepped on the hand of the cripple, healing both men. Recording this miracle, Tacitus writes:
With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he [Vespasian] did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.47
This miracle is also recorded by the first century historian Suetonius in Lives of the Twelve Caesars though Suetonius says that Vespasian healed a lame man rather than a man with a withered hand.48 Interestingly, it was the act of healing the blind and lame that Jesus declared were signs that He was the Messiah in Matthew 11:2-5: “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk . . .”49 Not surprisingly, Vespasian having also healed the blind and lame in a like manner to Jesus also believed himself to be and was believed by others to be the Messiah.50 (See Is Vespasian the Lawless One?).
A Preterist View and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: There were also Miraculous Signs that Accompanied Titus’ Return to Israel to Besiege Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as well as His Coming to Rome afterwards to Celebrate the Triumph with His Father, Vespasian.
These same miracles also preceded Titus’ triumph in Rome as Titus’ siege of Jerusalem only lasted five months and after the fall of the city Titus and Vespasian celebrated this triumph together. And although Vespasian did actively cause one of these miracles, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 never says that the Lawless One would perform all these signs or miracles himself. This v. just says that the coming of the Lawless One would correspond with many miraculous works of Satan: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders[.]” Thus these miraculous signs including the one performed by Vespasian could also be said to precede Titus’ triumph or coming to Rome for the first time with his father as Caesar during their joint triumph.
It is also possible, as stated initially above, that the coming of the Lawless One mentioned in v. 9 refers to the coming or return of Titus to Palestine to besiege Jerusalem in A.D. 70 after his father had been declared emperor. Many of the miraculous signs mentioned above also occurred at this time as the siege of Jerusalem only lasted five months. Thus it is also possible that the coming of the Lawless One refers to Titus’ coming to Palestine to lay siege to Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If this view is correct, then 2 Thessalonians 2:9 echoes Revelation 16:12-14:
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
Revelation 16:12-14 were fulfilled at the coming of the Roman army under Titus to Jerusalem to besiege the city in A.D. 70 (see Revelation 16: A Preterist Commentary). Therefore, it is also possible that the coming of the Lawless One refers to the return of Titus to Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This view also seems plausible in light of the fact that demonic signs are also said to accompany this event in Revelation 16:12-14.
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
A Preterist Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9: Conclusion
Having permanently put an end to the practice of the Law, having been worshipped in the Temple and having miraculously healed the sick, Titus Flavius Vespasianus fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9 and therefore appears to be the most likely candidate to be the lawless one aka the man of lawlessness.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- Raffaele D’Amato, Roman Standards & Standard-Bearers (1) 112BC-AD 192 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2018), 26; Andrew Macgeorge, Flags (Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Outlook, 2020), 13; Varusschlacht im Osnabrucker Land Museum und Park Kalkriese website: https://www.kalkriese-varusschlacht.de/en/the-varus-battle/the-romans/the-roman-army/legionary-eagle-and-army-standards/ (6/16/2021).
- Tacitus The Histories 4.81. Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.7.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 11.5; Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 says that the coming of the Lord AND the gathering of the saints would not happen until the Lawless One is revealed. Titus was revealed to Israel in A.D. 67. I believe that the second coming began in A.D. 66 and extended to A.D. 70 and that the dead were raised at the sounding of the last trumpet in A.D. 70. Therefore, though Christ appeared before the revealing of Titus, the Man of Lawlessness, the saints are not gathered to Him at the resurrection until A.D. 70, after Titus was revealed. Thus the sum total of both of those events, the coming of the Lord AND the gathering of the saints, did not occur until after Titus was revealed.
- Because travel was slow and laborious in ancient times, when political figures visited cities they often stayed for some time. The Greek word used to denote this type of visitation is parousia. Parousia is the Greek word for coming in v. 1. Parousia is a word used to denote the arrival of a conquering high-ranking political figure into a city often for an extended stay before then returning to the capital city, the seat of his throne, assuming, of course, that the city being visited is not the capital. The word generally connotes a coming and extended stay often followed by a later departure. In other words, Parousia is a word that means “visit.” When people think of the “second coming” or parousia, they often picture a one-time, brief appearance of Christ on the clouds. However, this term connotes a coming with an extended stay or presence oftentimes for several months or years.
During His ministry, Jesus said that He would soon depart from this world to be with the Father in heaven (Luke 19:12-27; John 8:21-23; 13:1; 14:2-3; 16:7). Then after His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1:9-11 and there He stayed at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Hebrews 9:24, 1 Peter 3:22) until He returned to earth during the second coming or Parousia where He came on the clouds of heaven in judgment on wayward Israel. Thus the seat of Christ’s throne is the Jerusalem that is in heaven (John 18:36, Hebrews 12:22, Galatians 4:26) with the Father (Daniel 4:26; Acts 2:22-36; 7:48-49). Christ’s coming to earth during the Parousia mirrors the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven in Psalm 18 when God descended from heaven to ride the clouds in judgment: “He [God] parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet (Psalm 18:9).”
As stated above, parousia is a Greek word used to describe an extended visit oftentimes for several weeks, months or years. The term implies that a regal figure will visit a city or province for some time before returning to his capital city, the seat of his throne. This word is thus a perfect description of Jesus’ coming in judgment during the Jewish War. After His ascension, Jesus departed to heaven where He reigned at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in Hebrews 12:22 and Galatians 4:26. Jesus then returned to Israel to enact judgment during the Jewish War. Here He stayed for several years making various miraculous appearances before returning back to heaven, the seat of His throne, with His people at the resurrection at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 2 Thessalonians 2:1). Thus Christ’s coming to and extended presence in Israel during the Jewish War perfectly fits Biblical descriptions and historical uses of the Greek word “parousia” which is an extended visitation–not a brief one-time appearance–of a regal figure often with a later departure back to the capital.
As stated above, the prophecies concerning the time of the end also called the day of the Lord took place during Israel’s first century war with Rome. Though Roman historians describe what appears to be the first miraculous appearance of Christ at the start of the Jewish War in Iyyar of A.D. 66, this is not the only time Jesus appeared during and shortly after the Jewish War. When people think of the second coming, they often think of a single event. However, the Bible is a book full of types and multiple fulfillments. The second coming or Parousia appears to be no exception. Parousia as it had been fulfilled through the various appearances and manifestations of Christ from A.D 66 to A.D. 70 climactically repeat what would appear to be all the diverse ways God is recorded to have manifested Himself throughout the Bible. See Historical Evidence that Jesus, the Son of Man, was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. In Jesus, the Son of Man, was LITERALLY Seen in the Clouds in A.D. 66, a supernatural event seen at the start of the Jewish War is shown to LITERALLY fulfill Biblical descriptions of the second coming in the way it is popularly believed to take place. This appearance of Christ exactly matches the coming of the Lord in Deuteronomy 33:2 and the appearance of the Lord in the sky in 2 Maccabees 5:1-4. In The Second Coming of A.D. 70–like You’ve Never Heard it Before! and The Appearance of Christ in A.D. 68? Biblical and historical evidence is presented showing that Christ came on the clouds in judgment on Israel at the head of an invading army both at the arrival of the Idumean army outside of Jerusalem in A.D. 68 as well during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These aspects of the Parousia are a perfect reflection of the way in which God had come on the clouds in judgment on cities in the past according to the Hebrew prophets. Thus I believe as is implied by the use of the Greek word Parousia, Christ came to Israel from heaven and stayed from A.D. 66, at the start of the revolt, until A.D. 70 at its climax at the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city and its temple. Then as predicted in v. 8 and Revelation 19:20-20:1 I believe Christ came down from heaven yet again during another visit or Parousia several years later at the death of the man described in this chapter. But before discussing this event, let us look at v. 3.
- Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 1: Daniel and 2 Thessalonians (USA: Xulon Press, 2009), 348-350.
- Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, third ed. (USA: Apologetics Group Media, 2009), 391.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.9.2-3.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- “Such portrait medallions are mainly visible in the iconography of Praetorian signa, but they were also present on the standards of other units.” (Tacitus The Histories 4.62; Cassius Dio Roman History 63.25; 65.10; Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 3.48, cited in Raffaele D’Amato, Roman Standards & Standard-Bearers (1) 112BC-AD 192 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2018), 26.)
- Raffaele D’Amato, Roman Standards & Standard-Bearers (1) 112BC-AD 192 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2018), 26.
- Varusschlacht im Osnabrucker Land Museum und Park Kalkriese website: https://www.kalkriese-varusschlacht.de/en/the-varus-battle/the-romans/the-roman-army/legionary-eagle-and-army-standards/ (6/16/2021).
- Andrew Macgeorge, Flags (Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Outlook, 2020), 13.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.1.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1; Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 11.5.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 11.5.
- It is important to remember that the images of the emperor on the ensigns like the imago were made out of ceramic and were thus able to be made very quickly. Thus if there were no phalerae cum imagines on the ensigns with Titus’ image on them before the Romans entered the Tempe in A.D. 70 it seems certain that there would have been images of Titus crafted during or shortly before that time by one of the legions many craftsmen. Remember Titus was declared imperator by his troops at the time the Romans entered the Temple and being declared imperator was akin to being declared emperor at that time. And, of course, the emperor must have his image displayed on the ensigns.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7. Concerning Titus’ actions to preserve the Temple see Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?.
- Of course the Talmud is known to occasionally exaggerate. What do I think really happened during and after Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals? To answer this question, we need to put this event in historical context. Titus’ close friend Josephus was a Jew as was his lover, Berenice, and Titus had Jews in positions of leadership in his army so Titus certainly knew that the Holy of Holies was a sacred place off limits to anyone and that this was the place that the God of the Jews was believed to inhabit. The Jews expected that if anyone even the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies while unclean he would be struck dead so a rope with a bell at its end was tied around the leg of the High Priest when he entered the Most Holy Place. As long as the bell kept ringing he was okay.
The first rule of war is to know your enemy. Any good general would have known these details about the Jews as this information could be used to gain a military advantage. The fact that Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals in A.D. 70 appears to have been a military maneuver. The Babylonians of the sixth century B.C., the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanies and the Romans under Pompey all entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple perhaps employing this strategy when conquering Jerusalem. This would likely have been done for two reasons.
The Jews believed that God would protect them and they no doubt shouted this fact daily over the walls of Jerusalem to intimidate their enemies. Faith that God was going to save the Jews was necessary to inspire and encourage these people to fight a much larger and stronger foe like Titus’ army. In fact, the Zealots even compelled people to pretend to be prophets to preach the fact that God would deliver them to “keep them from deserting” to the Romans. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.2.) Therefore, Titus and his generals would have likely entered the Temple in as visible and ostentatiously theatrical manner as possible so that when they returned unharmed they could announce their safe return so that these Jewish rebels (and even Titus’ own soldiers) would know that the Jewish God had left the Jews (or was on Titus’ side) and they were under no special divine protection since anyone who entered the Holy of Holies unclean was expected to be killed by God. This would have been done to increase Roman morale as Cassius Dio says that once the Romans broke into the Temple they did not immediately enter the building “because of their superstition” but had to be compelled to enter by Titus. (Cassius Dio Roman History 66.6.) It was also done for the opposite reason: to reduce the Jewish motivation to fight the Romans, decrease Jewish morale and increase desertion rates and this is exactly what Cassius Dio implies happened! Cassius Dio states that once the Romans broke into the Temple, the Jews fought harder than ever and they did not let up until part of the Temple was on fire during which many gave up, killed each other and even threw themselves into the flames (Ibid.) Interestingly, this is precisely when Josephus says Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7.) The other reason Titus and his generals would have needed to enter the Most Holy Place was, of course, to see what major valuables could be seized as plunder to offset the financial cost of the war and ensure that they made their way to Rome and were not stolen along the way.
After entering the Holy of Holies, Titus would have likely addressed the rebels to announce his entry into the Most Holy Place and spell out the implications of his safe return. Thus Caesar Titus may have stood in a prominent spot and yelled something like, “Before your very eyes I have just entered the most sacred part of your Temple where the God of your nations resides. And behold, He is not there! And look I stand before you unharmed! Has your mighty God and protector run from the Romans?
But Titus and the Romans did not stop there. Josephus says that the Roman army then brought their idolatrous ensigns (blasphemous images of Caesar and Rome) and worshipped them at the eastern gate of the Temple in plain view of any rebels in the Temple. (Ibid., 6.6.1.) And again all of this was done in the Temple and in as conspicuous manner as possible as a military scare tactic affording the Romans an easily accomplished and invaluable strategic edge.
It may have also been done to intentionally fulfill Daniel 9:27 which Titus may have been made aware of by Josephus. (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 10.11.7.) If Titus set up the abomination that causes desolation in a manner similar to Antiochus Epiphanies, which he did, this would be a strong omen that he would then become emperor of Rome as he planned as the figure who does this is said to be “the ruler who is to come” (Dan 9:26). (See Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?)
Interestingly, other Roman historians who wrote slightly after Titus’ reign as well as periscopes about him in Jewish and Christian tradition often portray him in a different manner. A more reliable depiction of Titus’ character is expected to be found just after his reign ended. Though Titus proved just and fair during his brief reign as emperor (as did even Nero the first couple years of his reign), Titus was viewed as callous and cruel prior to becoming emperor and was “loathed” by the Roman mob for allegedly hosting orgies in the palace, killing anyone on the slightest suspicion of plotting against the emperor and deciding cases based on the highest bidder. In Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius writes, “Actions of this sort … made Titus so deeply disliked at the time that perhaps no more unwelcome claimant to the supreme power had ever won it.” Suetonius added, “It was even prophesied quite openly that he would prove to be a second Nero.” (Ibid., 11.6-7.)
Remember that at the time Titus had recently acquired the title “Caesar” and was expected to succeed Vespasian as the next emperor of Rome. As a result it is likely that medallions with Titus’ image were already placed beside that of Vespasian’s on the ensigns. Recall that the ensigns which presumably contained Titus’ images were the primary gods of the legions. And Titus’ troops declared him imperator, a title synonymous with emperor at the time. The act of declaring Titus imperator would also be an act of deification to Titus’ soldiers who were all drawn from Rome’s eastern provinces where they worshiped the living emperor as a god.
It is my belief that something similar to the following dialogue may have happened when Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals: Seeing that the Temple was on fire and soon to be engulfed in flames, one of Titus’ generals may have joked, “Hum, there is no god in here.” Then another general smirked, “Maybe he ran away?” Then Titus (or another general) responded, “Not true. There is a god right here,” calling attention to Titus and his deification implied by his images on the ensigns as well as in Titus’ anticipated deification soon to follow upon becoming emperor. Afterwards everyone had a good laugh. Though any soon-to-be emperor would no doubt likely have a large ego, Titus did not need to be a delusional megalomaniac to fulfill v. 4.
However, the fact remains that Titus permitted the Romans to worship the ensigns on the eastern gate of the Temple in A.D. 70. One of which was likely an image of Titus beside that of his father. The fact that Titus permitted the Romans to worship his image beside the image of the emperor and Rome itself in the Temple shows that Titus did, in fact, set himself up as a god in the Temple.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.6; Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7.
- Reader of website who wishes to remain anonymous. 10/23/2021.
- Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 20.11.1.
- New Living Translation.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 126.96.36.1993-434.
- Ibid., 5.3.1.
- Ibid., 5.6.1.
- https://biblehub.com/greek/337.htm (8/18/22).
- Though a different word is used (paralabana) a similar concept of being “taken away” is conveyed in Matthew 24:40: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.” This verse appears to have been fulfilled in a large part by the exile of many Jews throughout the Roman Empire as captives after the first Jewish revolt (Wars 6.9.3) as was also the case during the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:20). Like these Jews who were taken away from Palestine in A.D. 70, Titus also left—was taken away from–Palestine having also gone to Rome in A.D. 70. In fact, Titus took many of these captives with him to be killed in the triumph in Rome celebrated in his and his father’s honor.
It is also possible that the inactivity mentioned in v. 8 refers to a spiritual loss of power and dominion. In order to address this interpretation let us now turn to the “overthrow” of the man of lawlessness in v. 8. As stated above, the word translated “overthrow” in v. 8 is anaireo which means “to take up, take away, make an end.” Anaireo is often translated “overthrow” in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. If this is the correct translation, then the “overthrow” of the lawless one in v.8 may be understood in light of the shattering of the statue in Daniel 2 and the overthrow of the little horn predicted in Daniel 7:26.
As explained in the preterist commentary on Daniel 2, the shattering of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue refers to the simultaneous conquest of four earthly kingdoms by the rock that grew into a mountain symbolizing the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the Christian church which according to John 18:36, Luke 17:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:50 is a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one:
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).” (New Living Translation (NLT).)
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of heaven is in your midst (Luke 17:20-21).”
“[F]lesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50).”
At the start of Daniel 2 the geopolitical rise and fall of four empires are symbolized by a transition of different metals. Then after being hit by the rock from heaven all four metals symbolizing this succession of secular empires were all shattered at the same time implying the fact that they were all conquered simultaneously (Daniel 2:34-35, 44). This could not signify secular military, earthly conquest as this was already represented earlier in the vision by the change in metals composing the statue from head to toe. Furthermore, all four metals of the statue are explicitly said to be shattered at the same time (Daniel 2:34-44) which again points away from secular military conquest: Babylon fell in 539 BC. The Medo-Persian Empire fell in the fifth century B.C. The Greek Empire began its decline after the death of Alexander the Great in 323B.C. And Rome fell in A.D. 476. Thus the instantaneous shattering of the entire statue from head to foot must signify the instantaneous spiritual conquest by a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God, since it cannot be a geopolitical, secular conquest. Thus the overthrow of the Lawless One may also be said to occur at the firm establishment of the Kingdom of God. When did this happen? (see The Historical Appearance of Christ at the Death of the Beast Fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:19-20.)
Now let us take a look at the overthrow of the little horn in Daniel 7:26-27. The overthrow of the lawless one in v. 8 links this figure with the little horn of Daniel 7 who also appears to be overthrown in A.D. 70: “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him (Daniel 7:26-27).’” Daniel 7:26-27 like 2 Thessalonians 2:8 seems to predict the overthrow of the lawless one and the little horn at the firm establishment of the kingdom of God: “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” It is Jesus’ kingdom that overthrows the little horn. Verse 26 says that this kingdom that dethrones the little horn is an everlasting kingdom. No earthly, geopolitical kingdom has been or presumably could be eternal. Jesus’ kingdom as explained above is the church and thus is a spiritual kingdom, not a secular one.
- Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World, trans. Lionel R. M. Strachan (Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1978), 370.
- Tacitus The Histories 5.13.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4.
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.12.
- Avoth deRabbi Nathan 4:5.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 3.7.9.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.3.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 63.26.
- Tacitus The Histories 1.86.
- Ibid., 4.81.
- Tacitus The Histories 4.81. Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.7. In Suetonius’ account Vespasian heals a lame man. The accounts are otherwise virtually identical.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.7.
- Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 1: Daniel and 2 Thessalonians (USA: Xulon Press, 2009), 363.
Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4. I believe that the specific miracles that Jesus performed throughout the Gospels are not random. These miracles seem to me to be symbolic expressions of the resurrection of the dead. When Jesus cured the blind or the lame, I believe that this act meant something. It pointed to a time in the not so distant future when Jesus would raise his people from Sheol, the dark realm of the dead, to a new life in heaven.
Thus when the Man of Lawlessness Vespasian cured the blind man and the lame man or the man with the withered hand, these miracles also seem to point to a resurrection: the resurrection of the beast in Revelation 13:3. As explained in greater detail in the commentary on Revelation 13, the beast, representing Rome and its king, receives a fatal wound. This prediction is fulfilled in the suicide of Nero Caesar. Declared an enemy of the state by the Senate, Nero stabbed himself in the neck. His head wounded, the emperor died and along with him, the Caesar family line, and the beast itself. With no clear successor to the throne, Rome was ripped apart by civil war and temporarily collapsed–the many-headed Roman leviathan had suffered a fatal injury. But in Revelation, Rome is symbolized in the sky by the many-headed hydra, a mythical beast related to the many-headed leviathan, for a reason. Like the hydra which was known to regenerate severed heads, Rome’s wound would be healed.
An ancient prophecy originating in Judea spread throughout the Roman Empire: From Judea would come the future king of the world. Vespasian, the Roman general of the Jewish War, was stationed in Israel at Nero’s death. Believed by many to be the fulfillment of this prophecy (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4.), Vespasian, the man of lawlessness, awaited his opportunity. And when the time came, he rose up and overthrew Vitellius. Shortly after gaining the crown the civil war ended and the revolts in Judea and Gaul were crushed. Once again in peace and stability, the Roman Empire had metaphorically risen from the dead, its wound healed through Vespasian, the man who saved the empire. Because this resurrection of the beast is symbolic, these two miracles are counterfeit because they do not point to a true and impending resurrection to heaven as Jesus’ miracles did in the Gospels.
Whether or not Vespasian actually healed the two men mentioned above or it was some kind of hoax to garner public support in Alexandria is irrelevant to Biblical prophecy. Either way this miracle is counterfeit. As already stated, when Vespasian cured the blind man and the man with the withered hand, these two miracles point to the resurrection of the beast. But because this resurrection is symbolic, these two miracles are counterfeit because they do not point to a true and impending resurrection to heaven as Jesus’ miracles did in the Gospels. The two miracles performed by or illustrated through Caesar Titus during the destruction of the Temple–like the miracles performed by his father, Vespasian–are also counterfeit because Titus did not literally call fire down from heaven nor did he literally rise from the dead.