The word translated “overthrow” in v. 8 is anaireo which means “to take up, take away, make an end.” Though for the sake of clarity anaireo is often translated kill, put to death, slay and other related words, this is not really what this word means as is illustrated by the way in which this word 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.]1
[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.]2
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 katageo is imprecisely or perhaps inaccurately translated destroy in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. 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 awaywith [katageo], so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6) [.]3 [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 overthrown in a political sense or killed in a physical manner in A.D. 70 or amidst the Jewish War does not contradict 2 Thessalonians 2:8. But how were Titus and Vespasian taken away and thus reduced to inactivity in A.D. 70 or amidst the Jewish War?
There were two different occasions in which Titus and Vespasian were taken away and thus reduced to inactivity around the time of the Jewish War. The first occasion was shortly after the death of Nero in A.D. 68. Upon hearing of the death of Nero, the Roman assault ceased and Titus and Vespasian left Judaea to await further orders. Thus shortly after the death of Nero we have one occasion in which the Lawless One was taken away and reduced to inactivity.
The next occasion in which the Lawless One was taken away and reduced to inactivity was after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. After usurping the throne and becoming Caesar in A.D. 69, Vespasian dispatched Titus back to Judaea with an overwhelming military force in order to put an end to the Jewish revolt by besieging Jerusalem. The city fell after a five-month siege and Titus then left Israel for Rome to celebrate a triumph with his father, Vespasian. Thus after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Titus and Vespasian having left Israel were quite literally “taken away” and “rendered inactive” in Israel given the fact that the Romans had decisively won the war.
The Overthrow of the Lawless One in A.D. 70.
It is also possible that the inactivity mentioned in v. 8 refers to a spiritual loss of power and dominion that occurred in A.D. 70. 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).”4
“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.
The fourth empire in Daniel 2 is Rome, the beast of Revelation. See the preterist commentary on Revelation 13. Throughout the Apocalypse the beast symbolizes Rome and its emperor. The lawless one appears to be both Vespasian and Titus, both emperors of Rome. And since the lawless one, Vespasian and Titus, were both emperors of Rome, the beast, the spiritual overthrow of the lawless one predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 may be the same spiritual overthrow of Babylon, Medo-Perisa, Greece and Rome predicted in Daniel 2. In other words, if Rome like Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece was spiritually overthrown in A.D. 70 then, of course, so was its secular emperor. This link strongly implies that the conquest or dethronement of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 like the conquest of Vespasian and Titus’ kingdom in Daniel 2 was spiritual in nature, not earthly or secular. This interpretation is corroborated by the fact that Vespasian continued to rule as Caesar in a secular sense beyond A.D. 70 while his son, Titus, succeeded him.
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 in A.D. 70. Daniel 7:26-27 also appears to predict a spiritual usurpation rather than a secular one since according to v. 27 the kingdom that overthrows the little horn in v. 26 is a Christ’s kingdom: “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. How could a spiritual kingdom overthrow a secular one? Furthermore, according to Daniel 7:26-27 the king who supplants the little horn is Christ: “‘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 [Christ’s] kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him (Daniel 7:26-27).’” If the king that overthrows the little horn is Christ and the kingdom that overthrows the little horn is a spiritual kingdom, not a secular one, is it surprising that Titus, the little horn of Daniel 7, later became emperor or Rome in A.D. 79? This is because as explained above the dominion that was usurped in A.D. 70 was spiritual in nature, not mundane or secular.
A case could also be made that anaireo may be translated “slay” in v. 8. If “slay” is an accurate translation of v. 8, then this v. 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.
The sharp sword that comes out of Jesus’ mouth in Revelation 19:15 is the word of God (Ephesians 6:16). Thus the sword or word of God in Revelation 19:15 which is used to slay the beast and the false prophet is analogous to the “breath of his [Christ’s] mouth” that is used to slay the lawless one in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. 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 also address what is meant by being cast into the lake of fire in this verse. 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. It does not seem likely or possible that someone could enter the afterlife realm of Gehenna alive. Therefore, when Christ is said to slay the lawless one in v. 8 it seems unlikely that physical death is intended. Of course, Titus and Vespasian survived beyond A.D. 70. Thus the “death” that Titus and Vespasian experienced post A.D. 70 would appear to be spiritual death akin to the death Paul experienced in Romans 7:9: “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” Of course Paul did not physically die upon hearing of the Law. If the living saints received spiritual life at and after A.D. 70 (John 11:25-26, Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Colossians 2: 9-13, Ephesians 2:5-6), then it follows that the living enemies of God like the beast, the false prophet, the little horn and the lawless one were marked with spiritual death at the same time (Romans 7:9, Ephesians 2:5-6).
Thus the kind of death that Titus and Vespasian experienced at and after A.D. 70 seems to mirror the death that Adam experienced in Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 2:17, Adam is forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Adam did eat this fruit. However, he did not physically die that day having lived 930 years thereafter (Genesis 5:3-5). Though Adam did not perish biologically on earth that day, Adam did, however, learn right from wrong that same day: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).”
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings [emphasis mine] (Genesis 2:6-7).
The kind of death that Adam appears to have experienced the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was spiritual death which is separation from God.5 This appears to be the same kind of death that the wicked like the lawless one, the little horn, the beast and the false prophet experienced at and after A.D. 70.