By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
According to many Church Fathers, the Man of Lawlessness is Nero Caesar, who also is the Beast of Revelation.1 The difficulty of this passage lies in the fact that Paul “describes the Man of Sin with a certain reserve” (Origen, Celsus 6:45). Apparently this is for fear of incurring “the charge of calumny for having spoken evil of the Roman emperor” (Augustine, City of God 20:19). Thus, Paul becomes very obscure in order to hide his prophecy from the Roman authorities. Josephus does the same when speaking about Daniel’s fourth kingdom, which applies to Rome (Josephus, Ant. 10:10:4). Paul and his associates had already suffered at the hands of the Thessalonian Jews for “acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king — Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Wisdom demands discreetness in his reference to imperial authority; his recent (1 Thess. 2:17) personal ministry among them allows it: they are to “remember” that while with them he “told [them] these things” (2:5). His personal instruction would allow them to know much more than we can from his discrete allusions in his letters.
Apparently something is presently (ca. A.D. 52) “restraining” the Man of Lawlessness: “you know what is restraining [katechon; present participle], that he may be revealed in his own time” (2:6). This strongly suggests the preterist understanding of the whole passage. The Thessalonians themselves know what is presently restraining the Man of Lawlessness; in fact the Man of Lawlessness is alive and waiting to be “revealed.”2 This implies that for the time-being Christians can expect some protection from the Roman government. The Roman laws regarding religio licita are currently in Christianity’s favor, while considered a sect of Judaism and before the malevolent Nero ascends the throne. Paul certainly profits from the protection afforded by the Roman judicial apparatus (Acts 18:12ff.) and makes important use of these laws in A.D. 59 (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) as a shield from the malignancy of the Jews. And he expresses no ill-feelings against Rome, when writing Romans 13 in A.D. 57-59 — during the early reign of Nero, the famous Quinquennium Neronis.3
While Paul writes 2 Thessalonians 2, he is under the reign of Claudius Caesar, who has just banished Jews from Rome for persecuting Christians (Suetonius, Claudius 24:5; cp. Acts 18:2). Paul even employs a word play on Claudius’s name. The Latin word for “restraint” is claudere, which is related to “Claudius.”4 Interestingly, Paul shifts between the neuter and masculine forms of the “the restrainer” (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). This suggests he may be including both the imperial law and the present emperor in his designation “restrainer.” While Claudius lives, Nero, the Man of Lawlessness, is powerless to commit wide-ranging public lawlessness. Christianity is free from the imperial sword until the Neronic persecution erupts in November, A.D. 64.
Early in Nero’s reign careful tutors hide his evil from the public eye. Eventually he breaks free of their restraints and is publicly “revealed” for what he really is. Roman historians write of Nero: “Other murders were meant to follow. But the emperor’s tutors, Sextus Afranius Burrus and Lucius Annaeus Seneca, prevented them. . . . They collaborated in controlling the emperor’s perilous adolescence; their policy was to direct his deviations from virtue into licensed channels of indulgence” (Tacitus, Annals 13). “Although at first his acts of wantonness, lust, extravagance, avarice and cruelty were gradual and secret . . . yet even then their nature was such that no one doubted that they were defects of his character and not due to his time of life” (Suetonius, Nero 26). “Gradually Nero’s vices gained the upper hand: he no longer tried to laugh them off, or hide, or deny them, but openly broke into more serious crime” (Nero 27, cp. 6). “After this, no considerations of selection or moderation restrained Nero from murdering anyone he please, on whatever pretext” (Nero 37).
Comment:Tomorrow I will continue this study on 2 Thessalonians 2. Unless I am too tired. Or change my position. Or become left-handed.
Notes E.g., Augustine, City of God 20:19; Chrysostom cited in Alford, Greek Testament, 2:80. If I am correct in equating him with the beast, we could add: Victorinus, Apocalypse 17:16; Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 2; Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History 2:28, 29. See my The Beast of Revelation (Powder Springs, Geo.: American Vision, 2000).
 The view that the Roman government was the restrainer is called by Schaff “the patristic interpretation.” Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (3rd ed: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), 1:377n. It was held by Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 24 and Apology 32; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:25-26; Augustine, City of God 20:19; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 7:15.
 Trajan, Epistle 5; cp. Suetonius, Nero 19. See: B. W. Henderson, The Life and Principate of the Emperor Nero (London: Methuen, 1903), ch. 3.
 Bruce, New Testament History, 310. John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 17-18. John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol.2 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, rep. 1989 ), 312.See: J. R. V. Marchant and Joseph F. Charles, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (New York: Cassell, n.d.), 101-2: “Claudius” “1. claudo. . . to shut, close, opp. aperire).
 Why in the world would I need a footnote here?