Antiochus IV: Foreshadowing the Man of Lawlessness

Antiochus IV: Foreshadowing the Man of Lawlessness

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul wrote: “…for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…” (NIV)

In verse 3, the Greek word translated as lawlessness is anomias, and it means one who transgresses God’s law. Paul described a future time where a leader will appear who mandates lawlessness worldwide. This means that the commandments of God will be outlawed, including the Sabbath. It is prophesied that this man will sit in God’s Temple and proclaim himself to be ‘god’. The rest of the chapter goes on to describe false signs and wonders that will accompany his appearance.

Did you know that a past event foreshadows this future event? It is part of the series of events that compose the Hanukkah story! This occurrence was foretold in the book of Daniel chapter 11, which we will briefly summarize.  

Between 331-323 BC, Alexander the Great conquered from Greece all the way to India. His empire even stretched down into Egypt. We have a map of this expansive kingdom below.

A Map of Alexander the Great’s Empire

After Alexander’s death, his empire was broken up into four separate kingdoms. Of them, only two lasted a long period of time. One of them was called the Seleucid Kingdom; it was based out of Antioch in modern-day Syria. The second one was called the Ptolemy Kingdom; it was based out of Alexandria in modern-day Egypt. In Daniel chapter 11, they are respectively called the Kingdom of the North and Kingdom of the South. We have a map of these two Kingdoms below from the years 175-164 BC.

Seleucid and Ptolemy Kingdoms (175-164 BC)

The Jewish people lived in the land between these two kingdoms. This placed them at the crossroads of interaction between them. The Seleucids and Ptolemies often fought against each other, and the Jewish people were at times pulled into the fray. Such was the case during the reign of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes).

Antiochus IV spent most of his youth as a hostage in Rome because his father lost a war with the Romans. His brother, Seleucus IV, was the rightful ruler of the kingdom. Antiochus was eventually released by the Romans, but his brother was killed not long afterwards. Seizing on the opportunity, he was made king over the Seleucid kingdom in 175 BC. He stole the throne from its rightful heir (which was Seleucus’ son).

This was prophesied in Daniel 11:21: “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue” (NIV).

Among the goals of Antiochus IV was to conquer the Ptolemy kingdom. In 170, he nearly succeeded when he forcibly took most of their territory. On his way back to the capital city of Antioch, he stopped in Jerusalem. He robbed God’s Temple of some treasures, including the golden Table of Shewbread.

Two years later, he tried to finish his conquest of the Ptolemies. This second invasion was not successful. The Romans stopped him from proceeding; Antiochus was humiliated. Outraged, he turned his fury towards Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Antiochus and his army approached Jerusalem in a peaceful manner. Once troops entered the city, they turned on the Jewish people and killed many of them. He then defiled the Temple of God. He had a pagan altar placed on top of God’s Altar of Sacrifice and commanded pagan sacrifices to be made. God foretold these events many years before in the days of Daniel:

“At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant. His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 11:29-31, NIV).

Antiochus then turned his attention to assaulting the Jewish people throughout Judea. He forced the Greek religion and culture on them, which is called Hellenization, and banned Biblical practices, including the Sabbath and reading of the Torah. He sent troops across the country to compel the people to sacrifice to idols and eat swine’s flesh. Those who would agree to betray their faith were promised riches and positions of authority. Some people did compromise, but many others did not and were martyred.

The first book of Maccabees is an historical account of these events. We have quoted an excerpt from it below:

“41 Then the king (Antiochus) wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42 and that each should give up his customs. 43 All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land. 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46 to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47 to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48 and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49 so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50 And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die… 56 The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. 58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities  59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering” (I Maccabees 1:41-50, 56-59, NRSV).

Antiochus promoted a policy of lawlessness. He threatened the people with death for not complying with his decrees. Even those who had the book of the law were condemned to death.

During all these events, Antiochus also proclaimed himself to be a god. The title “Theos Epiphanos” was added to his name, which means “god manifest”. To prove this detail, we have a picture of one of his coins below:

A Coin from Antiochus IV’s reign (dated between 168-164 BC)

This coin was minted during the time that Antiochus committed these awful atrocities. On the left side, we see the face of Antiochus IV. On the other side Zeus is depicted. He is seated on a throne with a scepter in one hand and the goddess Nike on the other hand. The Greek letters on this side of the coin read as follows:

To the left of Zeus: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY (English: King Antiochus)
To the right of Zeus: ΘEOY EΠIΦANOY (English: god Manifest)
Below Zeus: NIKEΦOΡOY (English: Bringer of Victory)

Antiochus stood in God’s Temple and declared himself to be god manifest. The Jewish people, led by Mattathias, rebelled against this wicked ruler. Those who joined this revolt were called the Maccabees. After a multi-year struggle, the Jewish people eventually regained control of the Temple. They cleansed it and resumed worshipping the True God. These events form the foundation for the Hanukkah story. Eventually the Jewish people won complete freedom!

The prophetic “man of lawlessness” who is to come will follow a very similar pattern to the past example of Antiochus IV. This historical example reminds us how important it is to hold onto the commandments of God.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –

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