Titus Flavius Vespasianus is the Man of Lawlessness
A Preterist Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: 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. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 mentions “the secret POWER of lawlessness” as if it were a spiritual being or force in addition to referring to the coming of this figure by “the activity of Satan.” I believe that the Lawless One is a satanic spiritual power working behind the scenes in the life of two men. These two men who both individually fulfill these prophecies were 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.
- Josephus says that Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals in A.D. 70. 2 Shortly thereafter, Titus was worshipped in the Temple in A.D. 70 as was customary of someone declared imperator in fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets Himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming Himself to be God.” Josephus writes, “And now the Romans . . . brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator.”3 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.”4 There were also many miracles recorded around the time Titus returned with the Roman army to besiege Jerusalem as well as afterwards when he returned to Rome to celebrate the triumph with his father.
Both Vespasian and Titus were worshipped in Rome’s eastern provinces in the imperial cult as a god. Recall that Titus was given the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at Vespasian’s coronation. And when the Romans broke into the Temple, Suetonius says that Titus’ army wanted to make him emperor.5 Since the time of Augustus, the Roman emperor was Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Roman religious life. Furthermore, Titus’ army was drawn from the eastern provinces where emperor worship was a day-to-day occurrence and officially sanctioned in the Imperial Cult in Rome at the time. Thus Caesar Titus was his army’s general, perceived emperor and Pontifex Maximus. And as Pontifex Maximus or high priest in the presence of his army drawn from the east where emperor worship was officially sanctioned, Titus was expected to both direct and receive divine worship while the Romans worshiped the images of himself and Vespasian on the ensigns in the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70.
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.6 Vespasian even went so far as to try to eradicate anyone in King David’s bloodline. 7
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 another 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.8
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. 2.9
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.10 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).11 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.
1 John 2:18 reads, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist [singular] is coming, even now many antichrists [plural] have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” Just as the Antichrist is mentioned in the singular tense in 1 John 2:18 but then later explicitly said to be more than one individual, I believe the same is true of the Lawless One. 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 13.12 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 time13 and with the same name or cognomen–Titus Flavius Vespasianus.14 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[.]”15 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.16
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 doppelganger of the heavenly trinity. Thus it is may not be that 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. Then according to Josephus, the Roman army “brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.”17 This is an extremely significant historical event as it clearly fulfills several Biblical prophecies. The Roman ensigns were military flags one of which was a metal image or bust of the emperor and his favorites called the numina legionum (meaning “gods of the legions”).18 Josephus says that these ensigns were worshipped by the Romans in the Jewish Temple! This idolatrous worship in the Temple is not historically surprising as it was customary for the Roman military to worship these ensigns at that time. 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.19
Preterist Bible Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:4: Desiring to make Titus Emperor, the Roman Army would have also likely worshiped Titus in the Temple as was customary in the Imperial Cult in fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He sets Himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming Himself to be God.”
Titus had also already been granted the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at his father’s coronation.20 And 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.21 The emperor was Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Roman religious life in the minds of his soldiers. When his legions desired to make Titus emperor, Titus would have inherited the role of Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Roman religious life. Not only was Titus seen as Pontifex Maximus or high priest at that time, Titus would have also received all the divine praise and worship typically placed upon the emperor in Rome’s eastern provinces. This is because Titus’ supporters and military forces were drawn primarily from the east where emperor worship was officially sanctioned at the time and commonplace in Temples of the Imperial Cult. Therefore as both general, Caesar and perceived Pontifex Maximus (high priest), Titus would have been expected by his soldiers to direct and receive worship, the same worship given to his image and the image of his father on the numina legionum. Thus it is extremely unlikely that Titus was not worshipped inside the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70 beside the ensigns which contained images of himself and his father, Vespasian, as ensign and Caesar worship was customary for the Roman legions and the imperial cult at that time. Recall that 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. Here one can see how literally 2 Thessalonians 2:4 was likely fulfilled in A.D. 70: “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.”
Preterist View of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: According to Josephus, Titus entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple in A.D. 70.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 reads, “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.” Just prior to the Romans worshipping the ensign idols of Caesar and Rome in the Temple, Josephus says that Titus and his generals entered the Holy of Holies:
And now, since Caesar [Titus] was no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire proceeded on more and more, he went into the holy place of the temple, with his commanders, and saw it, with what was in it, which he found to be far superior to what the relations of foreigners contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed about it. But as the flame had not as yet reached to its inward parts, but was still consuming the rooms that were about the holy house[.]22
Did you catch that? Josephus says that Titus saw that the inside of the Temple was “not inferior to what we ourselves . . . believed about it.” This means that Titus did not just enter that part of the Temple which the priests entered every day during their sacred ministrations, Titus entered the part of the Temple in which rumor surrounds. This is the Holy of Holies which was only allowed to be entered once a year by the high priest and thus the contents of this room were based off tradition and shrouded in mystery.
Preterist View–“He sets Himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming Himself to be God.”: The Babylonian Talmud records the many Blasphemous Things Titus said and did against the God of Israel.
What Titus supposedly did when he entered the Temple is written about in the Talmud. In Daniel 7:25, the little horn, Titus, is said to “speak against the Most High.” Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud records the fulfillment of this verse immediately before the worship of Caesar and Rome in the Temple on the 9th of Av of A.D. 70:
Vespasian sent Titus who said, “Where is their God, the rock in whom they trusted?” This was the wicked Titus who blasphemed and insulted Heaven. What did he do? He took a harlot by the hand and entered the Holy of Holies and spread out a scroll of the Law and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and slashed the curtain. Miraculously blood spurted out, and he thought that he had slain God himself[.]23
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.”24
Preterism and 2 Thessalonians 2:4: How Titus blasphemed God more than anyone else in Biblical history.
Some might find it hard to believe that Titus would proclaim himself to be God in the Temple. However, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 mirrors Isaiah 14:13-14 and Daniel 8:10-25:
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Is 14:13-14.)
It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. . . . When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. (Dan 8:10-11, 25.)
Isaiah 14:13-14 was fulfilled in Nebuchadnezzar II who was responsible for plundering and destroying Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C. Daniel 8:10-25 was fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanies who entered the Temple and desecrated it with an idol of Zeus in the second century B.C. It is also possible and perhaps likely that Daniel 11:36-39 was fulfilled by Pompey when he entered the Holy of Holies after conquering Jerusalem in the first century B.C.:
“The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. (Dan 11:36-39.)
It seems that lofty challenges and blasphemies are attributed to anyone who enterers, destroys or in any way blasphemes the Temple, God’s sacred dwelling place. In this way, Titus blasphemed God more than anyone else in Jewish history as he did not just desecrate the Temple with idol worship as did Antiochus Epiphanies, he did not just enter the Holy of Holies as did Pompey, and he did not just destroy the Temple as did Nebuchadnezzar II, Titus did all three of those things!
Preterist Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:4: The Fact that an Image of Titus and Vespasian on the Ensign called the Numina Legionum was Worshipped by the Romans along with the other ensigns Fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
Having perused what the Talmud says concerning Titus’ blasphemies and having placed Titus’ actions beside those of his predecessors in which similar blasphemies were attributed in Isaiah 14:13-14, Daniel 8:10-25 and 11:36-39, I believe there can be no doubt that Titus fulfilled 2 Thessalonians 2:4. But how exactly did Titus most likely do this? As stated above, the fact that an image of Titus and his father on the ensign called the numina legionum was worshipped by the Romans together with the other ensigns explicitly fulfills 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.” Thus when Titus participated in and presiding over the worship of his images on the ensigns he would have necessarily fulfilled 2 Thessalonians 2:4 without hardly having to say a word.
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;25 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,26 survived and later joined John in his battle against Simon.27 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?
2 Thessalonians 2:7 mentions “the secret POWER of lawlessness” as if it were a spiritual being or force in addition to referring to the coming of this person or people by “the activity of Satan.” Duncan McKenzie believed that the Antichrist and the Lawless One is a satanic spiritual power working behind the scenes.28 There is good reason to believe that McKenzie may be correct. If 2 Thessalonians conflates the Flavians with Satan or another demonic power, this text is not the only one in the Bible or early Jewish writing to do so (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Daniel 8:9-11, Revelation 9:11, Sibylline Oracles 3.63-74, Ascension of Isaiah 4:1-14). If the Lawless One is a demonic authority this idea would certainly explain how Vespasian and Titus seem to collectively fulfill these prophecies and yet did not die in A.D. 70. Thus it appears that the Lawless One may be very similar or identical to the Antichrist as this figure is described in 1 John 2:18: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist [singular] is coming, even now many antichrists [plural] have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” 2 John 7 is very similar: “For many deceivers [plural] 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 [singular].” 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 (plural). 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 (see But Vespasian and Titus Did Not Die And Rome Did Not Fall in A.D. 70?). As stated above, and explained in greater detail in the link above, there is good reason to believe that Duncan McKenzie is correct in his view. However, let us examine some other views which I believe are also compelling which explain how Titus and Vespasian could have fulfilled 2 Thessalonians 2 and yet did not physically die in A.D. 70 (see 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.”)
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.29 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 how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,
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.30 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.”31 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.”32
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.33
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.34 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 . . .”35 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.36
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 joint 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 13:11-18.37 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. For an explanation of this miracle see Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary.
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.38 See Why the Lawless One is Not Likely to be a Jewish Zealot.
10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
A Realized Eschatology Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12: Who is the Deceiver and What is the Lie of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12?
The “lie” of v. 11 is contrasted with the “truth” which saves of v. 10. Whatever this lie is it is in someway perpetrated by Satan: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie[.]” (2 Thessalonians 2:9.) John 8:44 reads, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” The delusion and lie on vs. 9-12 may be a resistance to the truth of God.
It is also possible that this deception may in some way allude to the delusion that the rich of Jerusalem were under when Titus and the Roman army broke into the city in A.D. 70. Loyal to Rome, the rich people of Jerusalem who were still trapped in the city with their Zealot enemies believed that once Roman army broke into the city they would be saved from their mutual Zealot enemies. This did not happen and the Romans went on a killing spree throughout Jerusalem killing the zealots and the rich alike assuming anyone left in the city was an enemy.39
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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 6.4.7.
- 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 11.5.
- 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).
- Because travel was slow and laborious in ancient times, when political figures visited cities they often stayed for some time. The Greek word used to denote this type of visitation is parousia. Parousia is the Greek word for coming in v. 1. Parousia is a word used to denote the arrival of a conquering high-ranking political figure into a city often for an extended stay before then returning to the capital city, the seat of his throne, assuming, of course, that the city being visited is not the capital. The word generally connotes a coming and extended stay often followed by a later departure. In other words, Parousia is a word that means “visit.” When people think of the “second coming” or parousia, they often picture a one-time, brief appearance of Christ on the clouds. However, this term connotes a coming with an extended stay or presence oftentimes for several months or years.
During His ministry, Jesus said that He would soon depart from this world to be with the Father in heaven (Luke 19:12-27; John 8:21-23; 13:1; 14:2-3; 16:7). Then after His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1:9-11 and there He stayed at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Hebrews 9:24, 1 Peter 3:22) until He returned to earth during the second coming or Parousia where He came on the clouds of heaven in judgment on wayward Israel. Thus the seat of Christ’s throne is the Jerusalem that is in heaven (John 18:36, Hebrews 12:22, Galatians 4:26) with the Father (Daniel 4:26; Acts 2:22-36; 7:48-49). Christ’s coming to earth during the Parousia mirrors the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven in Psalm 18 when God descended from heaven to ride the clouds in judgment: “He [God] parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet (Psalm 18:9).”
As stated above, parousia is a Greek word used to describe an extended visit oftentimes for several weeks, months or years. The term implies that a regal figure will visit a city or province for some time before returning to his capital city, the seat of his throne. This word is thus a perfect description of Jesus’ coming in judgment during the Jewish War. After His ascension, Jesus departed to heaven where He reigned at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in Hebrews 12:22 and Galatians 4:26. Jesus then returned to Israel to enact judgment during the Jewish War. Here He stayed for several years making various miraculous appearances before returning back to heaven, the seat of His throne, with His people at the resurrection at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 2 Thessalonians 2:1). Thus Christ’s coming to and extended presence in Israel during the Jewish War perfectly fits Biblical descriptions and historical uses of the Greek word “parousia” which is an extended visitation–not a brief one-time appearance–of a regal figure often with a later departure back to the capital.
As stated above, the prophecies concerning the time of the end also called the day of the Lord took place during Israel’s first century war with Rome. Though Roman historians describe what appears to be the first miraculous appearance of Christ at the start of the Jewish War in Iyyar of A.D. 66, this is not the only time Jesus appeared during and shortly after the Jewish War. When people think of the second coming, they often think of a single event. However, the Bible is a book full of types and multiple fulfillments. The second coming or Parousia appears to be no exception. Parousia as it had been fulfilled through the various appearances and manifestations of Christ from A.D 66 to A.D. 70 climactically repeat what would appear to be all the diverse ways God is recorded to have manifested Himself throughout the Bible. See Historical Evidence that Jesus, the Son of Man, was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. In Jesus, the Son of Man, was LITERALLY Seen in the Clouds in A.D. 66, a supernatural event seen at the start of the Jewish War is shown to LITERALLY fulfill Biblical descriptions of the second coming in the way it is popularly believed to take place. This appearance of Christ exactly matches the coming of the Lord in Deuteronomy 33:2 and the appearance of the Lord in the sky in 2 Maccabees 5:1-4. In The Second Coming of A.D. 70–like You’ve Never Heard it Before! and The Appearance of Christ in A.D. 68? Biblical and historical evidence is presented showing that Christ came on the clouds in judgment on Israel at the head of an invading army both at the arrival of the Idumean army outside of Jerusalem in A.D. 68 as well during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These aspects of the Parousia are a perfect reflection of the way in which God had come on the clouds in judgment on cities in the past according to the Hebrew prophets. Thus I believe as is implied by the use of the Greek word Parousia, Christ came to Israel from heaven and stayed from A.D. 66, at the start of the revolt, until A.D. 70 at its climax at the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city and its temple. Then as predicted in v. 8 and Revelation 19:20-20:1 I believe Christ came down from heaven yet again during another visit or Parousia several years later at the death of the man described in this chapter. But before discussing this event, let us look at v. 3.
- Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 1: Daniel and 2 Thessalonians (USA: Xulon Press, 2009), 348-350.
- Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, third ed. (USA: Apologetics Group Media, 2009), 391.
- 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.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.1.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 11.5.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7. Concerning Titus’ actions to preserve the Temple see Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?.
- Of course the Talmud is known to occasionally exaggerate. What do I think really happened during and after Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals? To answer this question, we need to put this event in historical context. Titus’ close friend Josephus was a Jew as was his lover, Berenice, and Titus had Jews in positions of leadership in his army so Titus certainly knew that the Holy of Holies was a sacred place off limits to anyone and that this was the place that the God of the Jews was believed to inhabit. The Jews expected that if anyone even the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies while unclean he would be struck dead so a rope with a bell at its end was tied around the leg of the High Priest when he entered the Most Holy Place. As long as the bell kept ringing he was okay.
The first rule of war is to know your enemy. Any good general would have known these details about the Jews as this information could be used to gain a military advantage. The fact that Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals in A.D. 70 appears to have been a military maneuver. The Babylonians of the sixth century B.C., the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanies and the Romans under Pompey all entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple seemingly employing this strategy when conquering Jerusalem. This would likely have been done for two reasons.
The Jews believed that God would protect them and they no doubt shouted this fact daily over the walls of Jerusalem to intimidate their enemies. Faith that God was going to save the Jews was necessary to inspire and encourage these people to fight a much larger and stronger foe like Titus’ army. In fact, the Zealots even compelled people to pretend to be prophets to preach the fact that God would deliver them to “keep them from deserting” to the Romans. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.2.) Therefore, Titus and his generals would have likely entered the Temple in as visible and ostentatiously theatrical manner as possible so that when they returned unharmed they could announce their safe return so that these Jewish rebels (and even Titus’ own soldiers) would know that the Jewish God had left the Jews (or was on Titus’ side) and they were under no special divine protection since anyone who entered the Holy of Holies unclean was expected to be killed by God. This would have been done to increase Roman morale as Cassius Dio says that once the Romans broke into the Temple they did not immediately enter the building “because of their superstition” but had to be compelled to enter by Titus. (Cassius Dio Roman History 66.6.) It was also done for the opposite reason: to reduce the Jewish motivation to fight the Romans, decrease Jewish morale and increase desertion rates and this is exactly what Cassius Dio implies happened! Cassius Dio states that once the Romans broke into the Temple, the Jews fought harder than ever and they did not let up until part of the Temple was on fire during which many gave up, killed each other and even threw themselves into the flames (Ibid.) Interestingly, this is precisely when Josephus says Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.7.) The other reason Titus and his generals would have needed to enter the Most Holy Place was, of course, to see what major valuables could be seized as plunder to offset the financial cost of the war and ensure that they made their way to Rome and were not stolen along the way.
After entering the Holy of Holies, Titus would have likely addressed the rebels to announce his entry into the Most Holy Place and spell out the implications of his safe return. Thus Caesar Titus may have stood in a prominent spot and yelled something like, “Before your very eyes I have just entered the most sacred part of your Temple where the God of your nations resides. And behold, He is not there! And look I stand before you unharmed! Has your mighty God and protector run from the Romans? I am Rome; I am your god now!” (A common expression in Rome at the time was, “Caesar is Rome, and Rome is Caesar.” Recall that Titus was granted the title Caesar in A.D. 69.)
The fact that Titus might have exalted himself as a god in fulfillment of v. 4 would also hammer home the same point made when he entered the Temple. The fact that Titus could blaspheme the God of Israel by exalting himself as a god himself–something the Babylonians and Antiochus Epiphanies also may have employed (Is 14:13-14, Dan 8:21-25)–and yet still live would further prove that God had left the Jews and would not save them from the Romans. The fact that Titus remained healthy and alive after exalting himself as a God in the Temple served to show that God was not going to protect the Zealots in case any of them did not see or believe that Titus actually entered the inner sanctuary.
Perhaps Titus desecrated the Holy of Holies in some way and announced this fact during this discourse? (Perhaps Titus’ desecration of the Holy of Holies described in the Talmud recorded an oral tradition ultimately traced back to this discourse.) By remaining unscathed after blaspheming God and announcing some way in which he had desecrated the Holy of Holies, Titus could effectively hammer home the idea that God was not there to protect them from the Romans and that these rebels were on their own.
But Titus and the Romans did not stop there. Josephus says that the Roman army then brought their idolatrous ensigns (blasphemous images of Caesar and Rome) and worshipped them at the eastern gate of the Temple in plain view of any rebels in the Temple. (Ibid., 6.6.1.) And again all of this was done in the Temple and in as conspicuous manner as possible as a military scare tactic affording the Romans an easily accomplished and invaluable strategic edge.
Some preterists might find it hard to believe that Titus would ever “set himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4) After all Josephus never explicitly mentions Titus proclaiming himself to be God and even has Titus run out of the Temple trying to get his soldiers to put out the flames after entering the Holy of Holies. This portion of wars appears to be an historical fabrication on Josephus’ or Vespasian’s part intended to portray Titus as a level-headed hero and suitable successor to Vespasian. The fact that such a peculiar act is attributed to Titus appears to be intended to soften the fact that Titus had just performed the ultimate offense against the Jewish people when he entered their most sacred space and had his army worship the ensigns in the Temple before destroying this sacred edifice. In Josephus’ history Titus is often portrayed as a sensible and level-headed Roman while the Jews, his enemies, are the ostensible villains. Yet hints of Titus’ callousness and savagery are not fully redacted in Wars as Titus did seek to exterminate the Jewish rebels after the Romans seized the Temple when they were willing to surrender.
It is important to remember that Wars was commissioned by Vespasian for the ostensible purpose of political propaganda. In other words, Wars was written to improve Vespasian’s public approval, legitimize his reign as Vespasian was not a member of the Caesar family line, and reduce his risk of assassination. Just as Nero was portrayed favorably in biographies written during his lifetime, so was Titus in Wars of the Jews especially since this historical account was commissioned by his father. The fact that Titus is not recorded to have publicly addressed the Jews after entering the Holy of Holies is not surprising as any politically unfavorable or savage acts employed by the Flavians would understandably be glossed over, explained away, omitted, redacted or changed. In fact, it is known that the Flavians read through Josephus’ work and edited it before its publication to ensure they were portrayed favorably.
Josephus would have also been personally motivated to redact any blasphemous statements by Titus if he heard rumor of any as Josephus and Titus were known to have been close friends. The fact that Josephus had betrayed his people in favor of their enemy made him loathed by his people. If Josephus recorded Titus blaspheming God this would have further increased this rift with his people.
Interestingly, other Roman historians who wrote slightly after Titus’ reign as well as periscopes about him in Jewish and Christian tradition often portray him in a different manner. A more reliable depiction of Titus’ character is expected to be found just after his reign ended. Though Titus proved just and fair during his brief reign as emperor (as did even Nero the first couple years of his reign), Titus was viewed as callous and cruel prior to becoming emperor and was “loathed” by the Roman mob for allegedly hosting orgies in the palace, killing anyone on the slightest suspicion of plotting against the emperor and deciding cases based on the highest bidder. In Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius writes, “Actions of this sort … made Titus so deeply disliked at the time that perhaps no more unwelcome claimant to the supreme power had ever won it.” Suetonius added, “It was even prophesied quite openly that he would prove to be a second Nero.” (Ibid., 11.6-7.) In light of what Suetonius expresses above concerning Titus’ character prior to becoming emperor, it is perhaps not a surprise if the discourse mentioned above is actually what had taken place rather than Josephus’ seemingly spurious insert (see Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?).
It might be argued that proclaiming his divinity would be out of character for Titus who is quoted saying, “[I]t is not I who did this [conquer Judaea]; it was the Divinity, to whom I loaned my hands as instruments.” (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.9.) Perhaps the “Divinity” here is the God of Israel? Maybe Josephus convinced Titus that he was doing the will of God convincing him that he was fulfilling predictions concerning the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel? (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 10.11.7.) If this statement is true, then it implies that Titus may not have proclaimed himself as God during an oration after he entered the Temple. And even if Titus believed he conquered the Jews by the hand of God this fact still does not preclude him from fulfilling v. 4 when he entered the Holy of Holies.
Remember that at the time Titus had recently acquired the title “Caesar” and was expected to succeed Vespasian as the next emperor of Rome. As a result it is likely that Titus’ image was already placed beside that of Vespasian’s on the numina legionum. Recall that numina legionum means “gods of the legions.” The fact that Titus’ image was on the ensign called “gods of the legions” obviously meant that Titus was already deified in the eyes of his soldiers. Then of course when Titus succeeded his father he would be considered a god in Rome’s eastern provinces. And if his reign went well, Titus could also expect to be deified in Rome after death.
Also remember that Titus and his generals were ultimately soldiers. And like soldiers of any generation one would expect their social interactions to be peppered with the obligatory machismo and bravado that seems to almost always accompany this job. Did these generals truly believe Titus was a god? Probably not after all they were his friends, but in the presence of all these macho men were jokes about Titus’ deity made in the Holy of Hollies in which Titus probably participated? I think you can bet on it. When 2 Thessalonians 2:4 says, “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,” it doesn’t ever say that the Lawless One actually had to 100% believe it.
It is my belief that something similar to the following dialogue may have happened when Titus entered the Holy of Holies with his generals: Seeing that the Temple was on fire and soon to be engulfed in flames, one of Titus’ generals may have joked, “Hum, there is no god in here.” Then another general smirked, “Maybe he ran away?” Then Titus (or another general) responded, “Not true. There is a god right here,” calling attention to Titus and his deification depicted on the numina legionum as well as in Titus’ anticipated deification soon to follow upon becoming emperor. Afterwards everyone had a good laugh. Though any soon-to-be emperor would no doubt likely have a large ego, Titus did not need to be a delusional megalomaniac to fulfill v. 4.
However, the fact remains that Titus permitted the Romans to worship the ensigns on the eastern gate of the Temple in A.D. 70. One of which was likely an image of Titus beside that of his father. The fact that Titus permitted the Romans to worship his image beside the image of the emperor and Rome itself in the Temple shows that Titus did, in fact, proclaim himself to be god.
- 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. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.4; Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4; Tacitus The Histories 5.13.) This title is also appropriate as Vespasian and Titus seemed to view themselves for the sake of political aggrandizement as a unified father/son ruling pair as 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. (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.) 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.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 188.8.131.523-434.
- 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).
- 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.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.9.2-3.
- Ibid., 6.6.3.