…who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
2 Thessalonians 2:4
The words which begin this verse are actually in the present tense. Rightly translated, it says, “…the [one] opposing and exalting himself.” If taken substantially, it would read “…the opposer, and exalter of himself.” It clearly references to the Antichrist. The words are reflective of Satan himself, but are being applied to a man; and so it is one who is wholly in league with the goals and intents of Satan. It is this man of lawlessness who places himself “above all that is called God or is worshiped.”
In this phrase, it is understood that the Antichrist will place himself above the true God as well as all other false gods. Total allegiance to him will be required. In essence, he will be believed to be the fulfillment of whatever hope is laid out in any religion. For those who say they are Christians, he will appear to be their Christ. For the Jews, he will appear to be their Messiah. For the Muslims, he will appear to be their Mahdi, etc. But he will even exalt himself above the God or gods that he claims he is from, demanding worship of himself only. The words “[all] that is worshiped” are actually from a noun in the Greek, and so it should read, “object of worship.”
There are things that are not “gods” which receive worship or adoration, but he will exalt himself above any such thing. This self-exaltation will be seen in a demand for total allegiance above power, money, or even life itself. This will be fully seen and realized on the day that “he sits as God in the temple of God.” These words, for countless years of the church age, have been taken to mean something other than a Jewish temple.
That temple was destroyed, and there seemed no chance of one ever being rebuilt. Some have taken this to mean “the Vatican” where the pope sits. Others argue it is referring to the Christian church in general. Some have taken it to mean “a poetical or prophetical description of usurping divine prerogatives generally” (Charles Ellicott). These and other analyses were based on a misunderstanding that the church had somehow replaced Israel, or that – at best – there would never be a “temple of God” in Jerusalem again.
However, it is understood from the dispensational model that the Jews do have another temple coming (Daniel 9:24-27), and that is now possible with Israel back in their land. The temple implements are ready, and the temple itself will be built. This is actually in accord with Revelation 11:1 where John was told to “measure the temple of God.” One doesn’t measure a universal church or a “poetical or prophetical description,” and the Vatican doesn’t sit in Jerusalem. Paul’s words, combined with those of Daniel and John, clearly indicate a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It is in this temple that the Antichrist will sit “as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
To sit in the temple, where only God was allowed to reside, is to claim the authority and personage of God. No priest is said to sit in the temple. There are duties to be conducted and then they are to depart. But no such furniture exists for the priests to sit down. Only in the Holy of Holies of the temple was there a place of rest. This is where God dwelt above the cherubim on the mercy seat above the ark. The high priest would enter behind that veil once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people, but other than that, there was no sitting of any kind involved in temple duties.
For the Antichrist to sit in the temple, it will be his claim that he is entitled to sit there because he is the one who “is God.” As it is known that Jesus is God incarnate, and Jesus is Christ, this then is the “Antichrist.” He will make a false claim against the true God who has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus.
Life application: Only the dispensational model of biblical interpretation can properly explain what Paul’s words are referring to in these verses. Without accepting that Israel is Israel, and that they have an actual purpose in the end-times, verses such as this must be allegorized, spiritualized, or misapplied. But when one understands that the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people as a whole, have been returned to their land for the culmination of the ages, the timeline comes into focus, the verses make logical sense, and God’s plans are properly understood.
Heavenly Father, Your word says that a temple will be rebuilt in Israel, and that the Antichrist will sit there, claiming he is the true God. But You have revealed Yourself already, and much of the world has missed it. Help each of us to be willing to get up, get out, and tell about Jesus now before the time of the deceiver comes. Many will perish following a false god and a false Christ. Before that time, give us the strong desire to tell about the majesty of Jesus, bringing many to salvation. Amen.