Titus Flavius Vespasianus is the Man of Lawlessness
A Preterist Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9: Summary and Highlights
There is a bit of uncertainty regarding the identity of the Man of Lawlessness because there are two men who each individually could be said to have fulfilled these predictions. Because both of these men were generals of the Roman army in Israel during the Jewish revolt, I believe this label may denote this position. In other words, perhaps the Lawless One is the general of Roman army in Israel? And because there were two men who fulfilled this role throughout the course of the revolt both of whom fulfill these predictions, I believe the man of lawlessness is actually two men. This idea implies that the Lawless One or the man of lawlessness is the beast out of the earth in Revelation 13. And like the beast out of the earth with its two horns, the man of lawlessness appears to be two men who both individually fulfill these prophecies crowned Caesar at the same time with the same cognomen (formal Roman nickname)–Titus Flavius Vespasianus.1 This father and son pair is better known as Caesar Vespasian and Caesar Titus.
- 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 proclaiming Himself to be God.” Josephus records this event: “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. The image of Vespasian and Titus was found on the ensign called the numina legionum which was a large coin-shaped bust or image of the emperor and his favorites (i.e. Titus) held aloft on a pole in explicit fulfillment of Revelation 13:14: “He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” And since Titus was also granted the title Caesar at Vespasian’s coronation, Titus could also be said to be a living, breathing image of his father just as man is the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and Jesus is the image of the Father (Colossians 1:15). Titus is also the “mouth” of Vespasian just as Aaron was the mouth of Moses (Exodus 4:16). Thus when Titus was worshiped beside the images of himself and Vespasian on the numina legionum (meaning “gods of the legions”), Vespasian, Titus’ father and emperor, could also have been said to have been worshiped through Titus who was the mouth and image of his father.
- Vespasian miraculously healed a blind man and a lame man or a man with a withered hand 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.”3 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.
Both Vespasian and Titus were worshipped in Rome’s eastern provinces in the imperial cult as a god. Recall that Titus who was given the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at Vespasian’s coronation. Since the time of Augustus, Caesar was Pontifex Maximus or high priest of the Imperial Cult. Furthermore, Titus’ army was drawn from the eastern provinces where emperor worship was a day-to-day occurrence and officially sanctioned in Rome at the time. Thus as Caesar, Titus was therefore a priest of the Imperial Cult during the siege of Jerusalem. And as a priest of the Imperial Cult 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.
Also while Titus’ father ruled as “divine” emperor, Titus might then be seen by his people as the son of God similar to the Christian perception of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Vespasian also believed himself to be the Jewish Messiah, a belief commonly shared by his subjects.4 Vespasian even went so far as to try to eradicate anyone in King David’s bloodline. 5
These two men, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, are called the man of lawlessness because they 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 the Flavians be the Lawless One if they 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. However, the Flavians are still the best candidate in this regard as historical records describe a supernatural event that appears to be the miraculous coming of Christ upon Vespasian’s death as predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. This appearance of Christ bears an uncanny resemblance to the descent of the Lord on Mt. Sanai according to Exodus 19:16-19. For a detailed explanation of the amazing fulfillment of these verses in Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the man of lawlessness, see the following commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9.
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. 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.6
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. Before explaining the historical fulfillment of these prophecies during the Jewish War, the day of the Lord, let us first turn our attention back the coming of the Lord mentioned in v. 1.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 Commentary: The Greek Word Translated Coming in v. 1 is Parousia. Parousia is the Perfect Word to describe Jesus’ Coming in Judgment during the Jewish War.
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.7 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.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Commentary: The Second Coming happened about Fifteen Years after this Letter was Written.
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 ALL 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.
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.8 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).9 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 does not appear to be Israel’s first century religious apostasy. 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 Commentary: The Lawless One and the Trinity Connection . . .
In v. 3 Paul also indicates that the day of the Lord would not arrive until the Lawless One is revealed. The start of the Jewish Revolt in A.D. 66 began unfavorably for Rome. At the start of this revolt the Israelites were clearly winning the war. This firmly and immediately changed in Rome’s favor upon the arrival of Vespasian and Titus in Israel in the spring of A.D. 67. 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. Thus from that moment on God’s judgment and vengeance on Israel began. In other words, the arrival or revealing of Vespasian and Titus in Israel marked the start of the day of the Lord.
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.
The identity of the Man of Lawlessness is a bit unclear as there are two candidates who could each be said to fulfill these prophecies: Vespasian and Titus. Below we shall address how each man fulfills these predictions. Because these prophecies appear to be filled in two individuals, I believe the Lawless One may be a title given to the general of the Roman army in Israel. And since there were two men who filled this position, perhaps the Lawless One is two men? If the Lawless One is actually the two generals of the Roman army in Israel, then this figure is also the beast out of the earth in Revelation 13.10 And like the beast out of the earth with its two horns representing two kings (Daniel 7:24, Revelation 17:12), the man of lawlessness may actually be two men who were ultimately crowned Caesar at the same time11 and with the same name or cognomen–Titus Flavius Vespasianus.12 Concerning the fact that both Titus and Vespasian shared the same cognomen or nickname, Suetonius writes, “Titus, who had the same cognomen with his father, was the darling and delight of mankind[.]”13 This father and son pair is better known as Caesar Vespasian and Caesar Titus. As will be explained below, both Vespasian and Titus were worshipped in the Temple as a god at its destruction on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70. Also while Titus’ father, Vespasian, ruled as the “divine” emperor of Rome, Titus could appropriately be seen, like Christ, as the son of god. It should also be noted that, like Jesus Christ, Vespasian also believed himself to be the Jewish Messiah. This belief in Vespasian’s messianic status was also shared at the time by much of the Roman populace.14
In light of their perceived divinity and Messianic status it may not be surprising that this father and son also appear to be depicted in a Trinitarian-like manner in end time prophecy. The Holy Trinity is summed up in John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.” Similarly in John 14:9-10, Jesus says to Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” Though entirely separate beings, God the Father and God the Son are one unified whole. This is the crux of the trinity. Like God the Father and God the Son, the lawless one may also be a father and son prophetically portrayed in a Trinitarian-like composite unity. As is emphasized in the preterist commentary on Revelation 13, the beast is really a trinity of three Caesars—Nero, Vespasian and Titus. The sum of the numerical values of the letters of the names of each of these three men add up to 666. Together fulfilling every prediction regarding the beast and the lawless one, these three “divine” emperors are inextricably fused into one being in the Bible perhaps in order to become a dark earthly shadow or doppelganger of the heavenly trinity. Thus it is maybe not to shocking that Caesar Vespasian and Caesar Titus, also known as the beast or the lawless one, both individually and together fulfill all the prophecies concerning the lawless one in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9.
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–Permanently.
The man of lawlessness is also spoken of in Daniel 7:25: “He will . . . try to change the set times and the laws.” Better known as Caesar Titus and Caesar Vespasian, these two men are not merely given this name because of sin, this father/son pair are called the Lawless One or the man of lawlessness because they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and were therefore ultimately responsible for putting an end to the practice of the Law of Moses–permanently.
Some Bibles translate man of lawlessness in v. 3 man of sin. This title might be an allusion to 1 Maccabees 2:48 and 62 in which Antiochus Epiphanies is labeled “the man the sinner.” This possible allusion to Antiochus Epiphanies also points strongly to Titus and Vespasian. About two hundred years before the Titus and Vespasian set up the abomination that causes desolation and put an end to temple sacrifice by destroying the Temple in Jerusalem, Antiochus Epiphanies also put an end to temple sacrifice for a few years in addition to setting up an abomination that causes desolation as stated in 1 Maccabees 1. See The Abomination that Causes Desolation Explained.
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 proclaiming Himself to be God.”
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. The Roman army then “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.”15 The Roman ensigns were military flags some of which were crafted of metal like the Roman eagle called the Aquila and the crafted image or bust of the emperor and his favorites called the Imago (Image) which was placed on the ensign called the numina legionum (meaning “gods of the legions”).16 These ensigns were idols often worshipped by the Roman military as illustrated in the above quote from The Wars of the Jews. Here one can see how the Romans historically acted out their worship of the Emperor Vespasian by offering abominable sacrifices to his image on the ensigns within the Holy Temple during Israel’s first-century war with Rome.17
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.”
While the Roman army offered sacrifices to the ensigns, the Man of Lawlessness, Caesar Titus, was declared imperator. And according to Suetonius, many of his soldiers wanted to make him emperor.18 When his legions desired to make Titus emperor, Titus should have received all the divine praise and worship typically placed upon the emperor in Rome’s eastern provinces. Titus’ supporters and military forces were drawn primarily from the eastern provinces where emperor worship was officially sanctioned at the time and commonplace in Temples of the Imperial Cult. Beginning during the reign of Augustus all Caesars were automatically given the title Pontifex Maximus or high priest of the Imperial Cult. Furthermore, having already acquired the label “Caesar” at his father’s coronation,19 Titus was therefore the de facto priest of the Imperial cult at that time whose job it was to direct the worship of Caesar and Rome. Thus it is extremely unlikely that Titus was not worshipped inside the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70 beside the images of himself and his father, Vespasian, on the numina legionum as Caesar worship was customary in the imperial cult at that time. As stated above, the numina legionum contained images of the emperor and his favorites. This means that an image or imago of Titus would have also been present on this ensign as Titus had already been named Vespasian’s successor and Titus’ image even often appeared on Roman coins during his father’s reign.
Thus when Titus as Caesar and consequently priest of the Imperial Cult in the presence of an army accustomed to Caesar worship presided over the worship of himself and his image and the image of his father on the numina legionum one can see how literally 2 Thessalonians 2:4 was likely fulfilled: “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.” And, of course, it was Titus duty to receive and direct this worship since he was Caesar and was thus the de facto priest—and arguably high priest as his soldiers wished to make him emperor–of the Imperial Cult. And as stated above, the job of the priest or high priest of the Imperial Cult was to direct the worship of Caesar and Rome, and Titus had received the title Caesar at his father’s coronation and thus was expected to both direct and receive this worship while the Roman army worshiped the ensigns in the Temple in A.D. 70.
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.
The fact that Titus blasphemed God and was worshiped in the Temple becomes even more likely when one considers what is written about Titus in the Talmud. In Daniel 7:25, the little horn, Titus, is said to “speak against the Most High.” In Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud records the fulfillment of this verse immediately following 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[.]
After assuming that he had killed God, did Titus affirm his divinity while being worshiped as a god in the Temple? This fact seems even more likely when considering the fact that while on his way back to Rome Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud also records General 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.” In light of this blasphemous challenge, the fact that Titus was likely worshiped in the Temple, and the fact that Titus thought that he had slain the Lord of Israel, one might safely assume that Titus proclaimed his divinity in the Temple (especially since as Caesar and priest of the Imperial Cult that was his job). Here one can see the fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming himself to be God.”
Preterism, A Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: Titus is the Image of the Beast, His Father the Emperor Vespasian, in Revelation 13:15 as Christ is the Image of the Father (Colossians 1:15). As the Image of Vespasian, Titus stands in the Temple in the Place of His Father, Vespasian.
As stated above, I believe that the Lawless One is mentioned in Revelation 13:11-18 as the two-horned beast of the earth—Titus and Vespasian. See the preterist commentary on Revelation 13. Also remember that it is not inappropriate to label these men Antichrists as Vespasian was believed by many and believed himself to be the Jewish Messiah.20 This title is also appropriate as Vespasian and Titus seemed to view themselves as if in a Trinitarian-like composite unity as a unified father/son ruling pair which is illustrated by the fact that both men occasionally went by the same blended official Roman nickname or cognomen: Titus Flavius Vespasianus. The fact that in Vespasian’s absence, Caesar Titus acted on Vespasian’s behalf is echoed in Revelation 13:11-18. Here the beast out of the earth (specifically referring to Titus) “exercised all the authority of the first beast [Vespasian] on his behalf[.]” Then in Revelation 13:15, Titus “was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast [Vespasian], so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” This event took place in the Temple in A.D. 70 as mentioned above and is thus an analogous prophecy to 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “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.” The image of the beast as mentioned above is the ensign called the numina legionum which contained the metallic image of the emperor, which the Romans set-up in the Temple and worshipped in A.D. 70 while the Temple burned. Though the Imago is certainly the image of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13, there is much more to the image of the beast than just a metal image/idol of Caesar Vespasian and Caesar Titus.
As stated in the commentary on Revelation 13, the image of the beast is also a man. In Revelation 13:15 the image of the beast is given the breath of life and could speak implying that it became or was a living person: “He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” As stated in Revelation 13:15 this image was also worshipped. The first question that one might ask is how is it possible for a man to be the image of a god? Titus is the image of the “divine” beast in the same way that man is the image of God: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image[.]’” (Genesis 1:26) According to Revelation 13:15 people worshipped the image of the beast. The image of the beast must then be seen as a god. Throughout the Apocalypse the beast, Rome, is also often the label given to a person. Thus the Caesars, the kings of Rome, are also called the beast throughout the Apocalypse because they are the image or human representative of their kingdom. During the first century Rome together with its Caesars were regularly worshipped in the Imperial Cult. The image of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13:15 is also a Caesar who was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem A.D. 70 in fulfillment of Revelation 13:15. This man is, of course, Caesar Titus, the firstborn son of the emperor Vespasian.
In the commentary on Revelation 13:15 I explain that Titus was the mouth of the beast and could speak on his (Vespasian’s) behalf in the same way that Aaron was the mouth of Moses (Exodus 4:16). Titus is not only the mouth of the beast; Rome and its emperor, Vespasian; in Revelation 13:15, he is also the image of the beast, Vespasian and Rome, as well. As stated above, the image of the beast is also a man worshipped as a god. I believe the worship of this person as a god is meant to tie this figure with Jesus and His relationship to the Father. Thus I see Titus and Vespasian as antichrists in that I believe that Titus is a dark, human shadow of Christ, the Son of God, and Vespasian, his father, is a dark, human shadow of God the Father. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the image of God the Father: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).” I believe a similar relationship is suggested in end time prophecy between Vespasian and his first two sons. When Vespasian acquired the title Caesar, both of his sons, Titus and Domitian, also inherited the title concurrently (three-in-one trinity?). And just as Jesus is the firstborn Son of God, Titus was likewise the firstborn son of Vespasian. Thus I believe that Caesar Titus, the firstborn son of Caesar Vespasian is the image of the beast, Rome and his father, in the same way that Jesus, the firstborn Son of God, is the image of His Heavenly Father (Colossians 1:15). The idea that Caesar Titus is the image of the beast, the emperor Vespasian and his kingdom, is also implied by the fact that Titus and his father, the emperor, shared the same blended nickname or cognomen, Titus Flavius Vespasianus.21 The fact that Caesar Titus, a living breathing human being, physically stood beside the metallic image of his father (and himself) on the numina legionum in A.D. 70 explains how this metallic image of the beast appears to receive the breath of life in Revelation 13:15. (For an explanation of the resurrection of the beast implied at the ceremonial worship of Caesar and the ensigns in the Temple in A.D. 70 see the preterist commentary on Revelation 13.)
Thus not only was Vespasian worshipped in the Temple because his image on the numina legionum was worshipped there, but because of the Trinitarian-like composite unity between the Antichrists Vespasian and Titus, it could also be said that Vespasian was also worshipped in the Temple through his son who was his image in the same way that Jesus is one with the Father and is His image (John 10:30; 14:9-10, Colossians 1:15). The relationship between the Antichrists Vespasian and Titus are Biblically and historically similar to Jesus’ unified relationship with the Heavenly Father. Thus in the same way that when you see Jesus, the Son, you see the Father, when you see the Titus, son, you see the father, Vespasian. Therefore, when Titus stood in the Temple worshipped as a god beside the images of himself and his father on the Imagos, Vespasian could also be said Biblically speaking to have been present in the Temple receiving worship through Titus who was his image.
Thus one could say that Vespasian also set “himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming himself to be God” even though he was not physically present at the time since Titus is the image and mouth of Vespasian just as man is the image of God and Aaron was the mouth of Moses (Exodus 4:16). Because Titus was both Vespasian’s image and mouth, he therefore represented and acted on Vespasian’s behalf as indicated in Revelation 13:15: “The second beast (Titus) was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast (Vespasian), so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” Therefore, when Titus directed and received worship in the Temple, one could say that since Titus was Vespasian’s mouth and image, it was ultimately Vespasian who did these things.
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. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
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 the Flavians be the Lawless One if they did not die at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? This should not deter our focus away from the Flavians as no other 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;22 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,23 survived and later joined John in his battle against Simon.24 When or how Eleazar ben Simon died is not known. However, it is interesting to note that the Flavians are still the best candidate even in this regard as historical records describe a supernatural event that appears to be the miraculous coming of Christ upon Vespasian’s death as predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. But before discussing this event, let us take a look at some interesting and compelling views explaining how Titus and Vespasian could be the Lawless One and yet have lived beyond A.D. 70.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 Commentary: Could the Lawless One and the Antichrist Ultimately be a Dark Angelic Authority?
Duncan McKenzie believes that the Antichrist and the Lawless One is ultimately a satanic spiritual power.25 It is this demonic ruler who is the Lawless One and the Antichrist and it is this angelic being who is overthrown and destroyed at the Parousia, not the individual person or people he works through behind the scenes like Titus and Vespasian. This view explains how both Titus’ and Vespasian’s deeds are highlighted in this chapter and yet both men lived beyond A.D. 70.
There is good reason to believe that McKenzie may be correct. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 refers to “the secret power of lawlessness” as though it were an individual spirit or spiritual force. The same can be said concerning the Antichrist. 1 John 2:18 reads, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” 2 John 7 is very similar: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” In these two vs. one can see that though there is mention of an antichrist (singular), John indicates that truly there have been many antichrists. This sounds a lot like the Lawless One who is also referred to in a singular sense in 2 Thessalonians and yet the actions of at least two individuals together fulfill the predictions concerning this figure. 1 John 4:2-3 reads, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” In 1 John 4:2-3 a direct contrast is made between the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of the antichrist as if they were opposites. In these verses it is clear that the antichrist is a spiritual being just like the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of God” mentioned in 1 John 4:2. If the Antichrist and the Lawless One is Satan or another demonic authority it certainly appears to explain how more than one individual could fulfill 2 Thessalonians 2 as it is Satan who ultimately acts behind the scenes and it is this demonic king who is disposed of in A.D. 70.
In Ezekiel 28 the king of Tyre is mentioned as if he were both an angelic authority and an earthly king at the same time. In Ezekiel 28 the king of Tyre is said to be a “guardian cherub” (v. 14) present on “the holy mount of God” who was blameless in all his ways (v. 15) before he sinned and was thus expelled from God’s presence (v. 16) and cast to the earth (v. 19) as if he were a fallen cherub or angel. Similar language implying a conjoined angelic and earthly king is also implied in Daniel 10:13. In Daniel 10 an angel appears to Daniel who says that he was detained by “the king of Persia” implying that the king of Persia in Daniel 10:13 refers to a wicked angelic authority linked to an earthly king: “But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia (Daniel 10:13).”
The fact that the Antichrist and the Lawless One may ultimately be Satan or a similar demonic king may also be implied in Revelation 12 and 13. In Revelation 12:3-4 a red dragon ultimately representing Satan casts a third of the stars or angels out of heaven. This seven-headed dragon after being cast down to the earth (Revelation 12:7-9) then manifests itself on the earthly plane as the seven-headed sea beast of Revelation 13 which represents Rome and its Caesars (notice the plurality here in that each head of the sea beast represents a different Caesar and yet all of these kings are considered the beast in a singular sense).
Similarly, Titus is called “the angel of the Abyss” 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.” Apollyon is a play-on-words for “Apollo” and “destroy.” Before being promoted to general over all the legions in Judaea at the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Titus was the general of Legio XV Apollinaris (the 15th Apollonian Legion). Thus Apollyon is an apt title for Titus who was general of the 15th Apollonian Legion before destroying Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70 (see Revelation 9: A Preterist Commentary–Who is Apollyon?). The fact that Titus is called “the angel of the Abyss” in Revelation 9:11 corroborates McKenzie’s interpretation that the Lawless One is ultimately a spiritual being who worked behind the scenes in the life of Titus and Vespasian to enact the fulfillment of these end time predictions. Though as shown above there is good reason to believe that Duncan McKenzie is correct in his view, let us examine some other views which I believe are equally compelling which explain how Titus and Vespasian could have fulfilled 2 Thessalonians 2 and yet did not physically die in A.D. 70.
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Commentary: 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is More Accurately Translated “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.”
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.]26
[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.]27
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 away with [katageo], so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6) [.]28 [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.
2 Thessalonians 2:8 Commentary: 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).”29
“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 appears to 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.30 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.
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 there seems to be a physical and seemingly spiritual fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, I do believe though it is not necessitated by the text that Jesus did, in fact, manifest Himself at the death of Vespasian. 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.31 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 and the loss of well-being of Titus. 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 the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,
Preterism Explained and Interpreted, A Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: 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 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.32 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.”33 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, the Man of Lawlessness, Miraculously healed a Blind Man and a Lame Man or a Man with a Withered Hand.
After the civil war following Nero Caesar’s death, the Man of Lawlessness Vespasian seized control of the empire and restored the peace. 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.”34
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, the man of lawlessness 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, the man of lawlessness] 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.35
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.36 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 . . .”37 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.38
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.
As stated above, the prophecies concerning the Man of Lawlessness appear to be fulfilled in either Titus or Vespasian or both. Thus these same miracles also preceded Titus’ triumph in Rome as 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 these 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 triumph.
It is also possible 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.
A Realized Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:9: At around the Time that His Father Healed the Two Men, Titus called down Fire from Heaven in a Counterfeit Miracle.
Two additional counterfeit or symbolic miracles might also be said to have been performed by Caesar Titus. These miracles are addressed in Revelation 13:11-18.39 In these verses, Titus calls down fire from heaven and gives life to the image of the beast–representing himself; his father, Vespasian; and Rome. As stated above, Titus and Vespasian represent the two horns of the beast out of the earth in Revelation 13:11. The two horns of this monster are the dark counterparts of the two witnesses of Revelation 11. One of these figures is later called the false prophet because like the two witnesses, this horn is a type of Elijah.40
In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven as a sign that the God of Israel, not Baal, is the true god that Israel must worship. After performing this miraculous sign, Elijah ordered the Israelites to kill everyone who did not worship the God of Israel. As a result of Elijah’s command the worshippers of Baal were slaughtered. As is seen in Revelation 13:13-15, the beast of the earth performs a nearly identical miracle. Like Elijah, the beast out of the earth also causes fire to come down from heaven as a sign to direct men to worship his god, the beast whose wound had been healed. Then like Elijah who ordered all those who would not worship God to be killed, the beast out of the earth also ordered all who would not worship the beast to be killed.
Preterist View, Interpretation and Commentary of the End Times and 2 Thessalonians 2:9: Titus burns the Temple with the Aid of the Twelfth Legion. The Emblem of the Twelfth Legion is a Lightning Bolt—Fire from Heaven.
This fire from heaven mentioned in Revelation 13:13 is fulfilled in The Wars of the Jews 6.4.1: “But when Titus perceived that his endeavors to spare a foreign temple turned to the damage of his soldiers and made them be killed, he gave orders to set the gates [of the temple] on fire.” Aided by the twelfth legion, Legio XII Fulminata, the Roman army lit the Temple on fire. All Roman legions have an emblem or mascot with which they are represented. The emblem of the twelfth legion is a lightning bolt—fire from heaven. Here one can see how “fire from heaven,” representing the twelfth legion, is responsible for burning the temple in Jerusalem.
This great victory inspired in the Roman army such a reverence for Titus, their leader, that while the Temple burned, the Roman army worshiped Titus and the ensigns, including the metallic image of Vespasian called the Imago, the man of lawlessness, at the eastern gate of the Temple. In this act, one can see how Titus “exercised all the authority of the first beast [Emperor Vespasian] on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants [the Roman army in Israel] worship the first beast, whose wound had been healed [the image of Vespasian on the ensigns] (Revelation 13:12).”
After desecrating the Temple with blasphemous worship, Titus declared to his Jewish enemies “that he would henceforth spare nobody.”41 With this order to kill the remaining Jews, Titus is a type of Elijah who after calling fire down from heaven also ordered all those who would not worship his god to be killed (1 Kings 18). The Jews refusing to worship the image of Vespasian and Rome were, in fact, slaughtered. And Jerusalem was left desolate.42
A Preterist View, The Lawless One of 2 Thessalonians 2 is Not A Zealot Leader or Nero: First to Second Century B.C., Jewish Apocryphal Tradition Suggests that the Lawless One is the Flavians.
The identity of the Lawless One is a controversial topic in eschatology. Many preterists believe this figure is Nero and many others see the Lawless One as one of the zealot leaders. The title Lawless One does not appear in 2 Thessalonians without precedent. This title is found in a first to second century B.C. Jewish Apocryphal work called the Psalms of Solomon:
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). It is hard to imagine a more accurate typological fulfillment of the Lawless One of the Psalms of Solomon than in Caesar Titus and what he did during the siege of Jerusalem when he destroyed the city and exiled thousands of survivors west of Israel throughout the Roman Empire.43
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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.
- Brian Jones and Robert Milns, Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors, A Historical Commentary (London: Bristol Classic Press, 2002), 90, cited in Duncan W. McKenzie, PH.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, vol. II (United States: Xulon Press, 2012), 191.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- Tacitus The Histories 4.81. Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.7.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4; Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4; Tacitus The Histories 5.13.
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.12).
- Jesus said that He would depart to heaven and then send the Holy Spirit to be with His people (John 16:7, 1 Peter 1:12). Thus through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills His promise to the disciples that He would be with them until the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20) in addition to being present when two or more people pray in His name (Matthew 18:20).
- 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.
- See Revelation 13:11 in Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary. The idea that the Lawless One is both Titus and Vespasian is consistent with the fact that the beast (Vespasian) and the false prophet (Titus) were cast into the Abyss together in Revelation 19:20 (see the commentary on Revelation 19).
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.1.
- According to the historian Brian Jones, before A.D. 69 both Vespasian and Titus were called Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Brian Jones and Robert Milns, Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors, A Historical Commentary (London: Bristol Classic Press, 2002), 90, cited in Duncan W. McKenzie, PH.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, vol. II (United States: Xulon Press, 2012), 191.
- Suetonius Tranquillus, Lives of the Twelve Caesars to which are added his Lives of the Grammarians, Rhetoricians, and Poets, trans. Alexander Thomson, M.D. rev. T. Forester, M.A. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1909), 11.1.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4; Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4; Tacitus The Histories 5.13. Vespasian even went so far as to try to eradicate any other rival candidates as he sought to eradicate King David’s bloodline (Eusebius The History of the Church 3.12).
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- Tacitus The Histories 4.62, 1.41; Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 3.48, 4.14.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.1.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 11.5.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.1.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4; Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4; Tacitus The Histories 5.13.
- Brian Jones and Robert Milns, Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors, A Historical Commentary (London: Bristol Classic Press, 2002), 90, cited in Duncan W. McKenzie, PH.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, vol. II (United States: Xulon Press, 2012), 191.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 22.214.171.1243-434.
- Ibid., 5.3.1.
- Ibid., 5.6.1.
- Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 1: Daniel and 2 Thessalonians (USA: Xulon Press, 2009); Duncan W. McKenzie, PH.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, vol. II (United States: Xulon Press, 2012).
- New Living Translation (NLT).
- Don K. Preston, We Shall Meet Him in The Air: The Wedding of the King of Kings!, (Ardmore, OK: JaDon Management Inc., 2010), 6.
- 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.
- 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.
- These miracles are explained in greater detail in Revelation 13:11-18. See Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary.
- See Revelation 11: A Preterist Commentary–Who are the Two Witnesses?.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.6.3.
- Ibid., 6.9.2-4.
- Ibid., 6.9.2-3.