“… this apostasy was to have a head, and the coming and character of that head are the great subject of Paul’s Thessalonian prophecy. A mistaken apprehension of his first letter to them had led the Thessalonians to expect an immediate advent of Christ, and in his second epistle Paul sets himself to correct this error by further instruction as to the future. He tells them of something that was destined to precede the return of Christ, a great apostasy, which would reach its climax in the manifestation of a certain mighty power of evil; to which he attaches three names, and of which he gives many particulars similar to those which Daniel gave of his “little horn,” such as the place and time of its origin, its nature, sphere, character, conduct, and doom.
The names which the apostle gives to this head of the apostasy in this prophecy are “that man of sin, . . . the son of perdition,” and “that wicked” or “lawless” one. These expressions might convey to the mind of superficial readers the idea that the predicted head of the apostasy would be an individual. Careful study however shows this to be a false impression—an impression for which there is no solid foundation in the passage. The expressions themselves, when analysed grammatically, are seen to bear another signification quite as well, if not better, and the context demands that they be understood in a dynastic sense. “The man of sin,” like “the man of God,” has a broad, extended meaning. When we read “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” we do not suppose it means any one individual man, although it has the definite article. It indicates a whole class of men of a certain character, succession of similar individuals. The use of the definite article (analogous to the omission of the article in Greek) does indeed limit an expression of the kind. A man of sin could be only one, just as a king of England could mean only an individual. The king, on the other hand, may include a whole dynasty. A king has but the life of an individual, the king never dies. When, in speaking of the Jewish tabernacle in Hebrews, Paul says that into the holiest of all “went the high priest alone once every year,” he includes the entire succession of the high priests of Israel. That a singular expression in a prophecy may find its fulfilment in a plurality of individuals is perfectly clear from John’s words, “As ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even so now are there many antichrists”
Any doubt or ambiguity as to the true force of the expression “the man of sin” is however removed by a consideration of the context of this passage. Grammatically it may mean either an individual or a succession of similar individuals. The context determines that it actually does mean the latter. “The mystery of iniquity,” in which this man of sin was latent, was already working in Paul’s day. The apostasy out of which he was to grow was already in existence. “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” The man of sin, on the other hand, was to continue till the second advent of Christ, which is still future; for he is destroyed, as it is distinctly stated, only by the brightness of the epiphany. The interval between Paul’s days and those of the still future advent was then to be filled by the great apostasy in either its incipient working as a mystery of iniquity or its open manifestation and great embodiment in the career of ” the man of sin and son of perdition.” That career must consequently extend over more than a thousand years, for the process of gestation is certainly briefer than the duration of life. In this case of the man of sin the two together occupy at least eighteen centuries. What proportion of the period can we assign to the hidden, mysterious growth of this power, and what to its wonderfully active and influential life? The life must of course occupy the larger half, to say the least of it, and therefore, as no individual lives on through ages, we may be sure that it is a succession of men, a dynasty of rulers, that is intended by the ambiguous expression. We, students of the nineteenth century, may be sure of this, though the students of early centuries could not.” Romanism and the Reformation: From the Standpoint of Prophecy by Henry Grattan Guinness