…we have in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 where he is described, By his names and characters; he is called the man of sin; one addicted and given to sin in a grievous manner, not notoriously sinful, a spiritual wickedness in high places; one guilty of all manner of sin, as the Popes of Rome have been; lying, perjury, adultery, incest, sodomy, simony, sorcery, and every thing that is bad: hence their seat is called Sodom and Egypt, and the antichristian whore, the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth, all centering here; and therefore with great propriety is he said to be the son of perdition, a name given to Judas that betrayed our Lord (John 17:12) and rightly belongs to antichrist.
Who is the Apollyon and destroyer of the souls of men, by his false doctrine and worship, and will himself go into perdition: he is also represented as he that opposeth; that opposeth Christ, and is an adversary of his, and therefore called antichrist: he opposes him in his offices; in his kingly office, by asserting himself to be the head of the church; in his priestly office, by pretending to offer up Christ again in the sacrifice of the mass, when he by one offering has perfected the whole work of atonement; and in his prophetic office by coining new doctrines and articles of faith moreover, he exalteth himself above all that is called God; above the gods of the heathens, who ascribe the government of the heavens to one, of the earth to another, of the sea to another, and of the winds to another; but this haughty creature assumes all power to himself, in heaven, earth and hell: he exalts himself above angels, who are called gods (Ps. 8:4).
In his bulls he has commanded angels to take such a soul out of purgatory, and to carry such a one to heaven: and above all civil magistrates, who are called gods (Ps. 82:5), assuming a power over them to depose them at pleasure making an emperor to hold his stirrup whilst he alighted from his horse and got upon it, and trampling on his neck, using those words in Psalm 91:13, and throwing a king under his table to lick bones, whilst he was eating: yea, he sitteth in the temple of God as god, shewing himself that he is god; he rose up and appeared in the church of God, at least so by profession, where he took his place, and, becoming apostate, here he continues, and shows himself as if he was God; admitting his creatures and flatterers to call him God on earth, and our Lord God the Pope; receiving worship from them, and assuming that which is the peculiar prerogative of God, to forgive sin.
Moreover, he is called the mystery of iniquity; Mystery is one of the names of the whore of Babylon, and was formerly put upon the mitres of the Popes: it may respect both doctrines and practices, which were set afoot in the apostles time, and began to appear and work in Simon Magus, and his followers, and which centered in the papacy. Once more, he is called the wicked one (anom), a lawless person; that dispenses with the laws of God and man, setting up himself above all law; giving out that he is not subject to any human judicature; that he is the spiritual man that judges all, but is judged of none, being not accountable to any; yea, though he should lead millions of souls to hell, yet none ought to say, “O Lord the Pope, what dost thou?”
The restrainer prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2 has been understood to be the Roman empire. From my readings of the early church fathers this point seems to be almost unanimous. Gill commenting on the passage, “the Roman empire and Roman emperors, and which were by degrees entirely removed, and so made way for the revelation of this wicked one: and which was done partly by Constantine the emperor receiving the Christian faith, whereby the Roman empire as Pagan ceased.”
The People’s New Testament Commentary also notes, “He that hindereth must first be taken out of the way. There was no room for an arrogant spiritual power in Rome as long as imperial Rome continued to persecute the church. A persecuted church cannot be a haughty church. Two things were needful before the papal power could be developed; viz., the overthrow of paganism, and the removal of the capital of the Empire from Rome. When these things were done, it was free to seize the old Roman scepter.”
I’m not a huge fan of Albert Barnes but his notes on prophecy are excellent. He wavers a little but still identifies correctly the one restrains the power of antichrist, “There can be no doubt that there is reference to the same restraining power, or the same power under the control of an individual; but what that was, is not quite certain. It was some power which operated as a check on the growing corruptions then existing, and which prevented their full development, but which was to be removed at no distant period, and whose removal would give an opportunity for these corruptions to develop themselves, and for the full revelation of the man of sin. Such a supposition as that the civil power of Rome was such a restraint, operating to prevent the assumption of the ecclesiastical claims of supremacy which afterward characterized the papacy, will correspond with all that is necessarily implied in the language.”
Continuing with Gill’s lecture:
was soon filled by the Pope of Rome, and he quickly appeared in his grandeur and glory; whose coming was after the working of Satan; he came in like him, a deceiver, a liar, and a murderer, and under his influence, and by his assistance: with all power; with pretensions to all power in heaven and in even to power next to omnipotence: and signs and lying wonders; pretending to work miracles, though all were shams and lies, of which the popish legends are full; and under a show of righteousness deceived many; and meeting with carnal professors that loved not the truth, they were given up in a judicial manner to believe his lies, as, that he was head of the church, Christ’s vicar, had a power to forgive sin, and grant pardons and indulgences; particularly that great lie of transubstantiation, that he and his priests have power to transmute the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper into the very body and blood of Christ; receiving which lies spoken in hypocrisy, they bring damnation upon themselves.
Using sacred and profane history:
…all these characters of antichrist, and all these things predicted of him hundreds of years before his appearance, exactly answers to the Pope of Rome, and have been punctually performed; there can be no reason to doubt of the certain performance of what the same prophetic spirit has declared concerning his destruction; as that the Lord shall consume him with his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming; that is, by the spiritual and powerful preaching of the gospel, attended with the presence of Christ in the beginning of his spiritual reign; when the whole earth will be enlightened with his glory, and antichrist, and all antichristian darkness, doctrine and worship shall disappear; and the rather this is to be credited, since it receives confirmation from a prophecy of Isaiah, delivered many hundreds of years before this, in much the same language, and from whom the apostle seems to borrow his words; for speaking of Christ, he says, he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked: that wicked lawless one, antichrist: The Lord in his great zeal will perform this.
Trusting in our Sovereign God:
What has been said will serve greatly to support the credit of divine revelation; the sacred Word will appear from hence to be indeed the Word of God, and not the word of men; we may be assured the scripture is divinely inspired, and is a sure word of prophecy; for what else could have foretold such numbers of events, which have been exactly fulfilled: particularly what relate to Jews and Papists, who are two such living and standing proofs of the truth of the divine revelation, that all the Deists in the world are not able to set aside? Likewise, this may serve to encourage our faith, as to the performance of whatsoever has been spoken by the Lord; for if he performs all things for us in providence, as he does for particular persons, as Job, David, and others, as he did; then much more may we believe that he will perform all that he has said he will do for himself, for his Son, and for his church and people in the world. But then, though he has so particularly prophesied of, and so peremptorily promised these things, yet he will be enquired of by his people to do them. We should therefore pray continually to him, and give him no rest day nor night until they are accomplished; and for the accomplishment of which we should quietly wait; for there is an appointed time, and when that comes there will be no tarrying: Blessed is he that waitheth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days (Dan. 7:12). I add no more but this wish, the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting of Christ (2 Thess. 3:5).