The hidden power of lawlessness had already been at work for years, but the Apostle Paul envisioned a day when it would be manifested in full power with the revealing of his ‘man of sin’. However, something or someone was holding it back when Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians. By the time they had received his latest letter they already knew who or what it was. Paul had verbally told them on a previous occasion, so he didn’t need to elaborate on ‘its’ identity again by letter.
Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now (i.e Chief Priest Ananus), so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he (i.e Chief Priest Ananus) is taken out of the way. ~ 2 Thessalonians 2: 5-7
Audience relevance – you means the Thessalonians, not us 2000 years later!
So let’s go back 2000 years or so to see what actually was happening in Jerusalem…
Ananus Had Been Able To Restrain The Full-Scale Rebellion
Last time on the blog I shared how Ananus the former Chief Priest and Joshua were killed by the Idumeans. From the way Josephus described Ananus you’d have thought that he was a righteous man. He might have been in Josephus’s eyes, but he wasn’t in the eyes of the early church.
He was the last Chief Priest from the House of Ananus. They had been the wealthiest, most powerful controlling force in Judea from the time Jesus had been born. They were in charge of the Sanhedrin and with their supporters, they persecuted and killed many members of the early church, including James, the brother of Jesus.
But Ananus opposed the Jewish rebellion as he wanted peace with Rome and he encouraged his supporters to rise up against the Zealots. So, as long as Ananus was still alive, the lawlessness was held back.
However, did God the Idumeans to remove the restrainer by murdering Ananus so that the hidden power of lawlessness could be fully revealed?
Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. ~ 2 Thessalonians 2: 3 – 4
The Apostasy had been happening for years and when John was writing in 1 John and 2 John, it was already ‘the last hour’ of the Old Covenant and their nation, which was about to pass away with the destruction in 70 AD.
Many Jews had decided to turn from Jesus and go back under the Old Covenant and become anti about Christ and His teaching. The antichrist was a present reality to the people John wrote to. They were the Jews, the Synagogue of Satan, who had persecuted the early church.
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. ~ 1 John 2:18-19
Apostasy had already come, now lawlessness and utter madness would be made visible without any restraint with the revealing of the Man of Lawlessness …
Who Could Rule The World?
There was a civil war going on behind the walls of Jerusalem. The zealots had split into three factions and were fighting between themselves for overall control of the city. As Josephus wrote – whoever gained the leadership in their eyes could ‘rule the world’.
“What more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle…that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world.” 
If the Oracle reported by Josephus was correct then that person would rule Israel and the World. He would be their Messiah.
The Man of Lawlessness is Revealed
Only after the Idumeans killed Ananus, who held the ‘prophetic office’ in the temple priesthood and Joshua, was the man of lawlessness revealed.
After their death, John of Gischala and his forces controlled the lower part of the city and the outer court of the temple. While Eleazar ben Simon took over complete control of the inner temple.
John Gischala or Eleazar ben Simon could have been the Apostle Paul’s Man of lawlessness.
Both men were treacherous and carried out many atrocities on their own people, murdered all of the temple priests and with Eleazar ben Simon in charge of the inner temple inforced the law changes Eleazar ben Ananias had decreed over the sacrifices.
Josephus recorded some of the abominations that John of Gischala carried out in the temple …
But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from those pouring vessels that were sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors did ever both honor and adorn this temple;
whereas this man, who was a Jew, seized upon what were the donations of foreigners, and said to those that were with him, that it was proper for them to use Divine things, while they were fighting for the Divinity, without fear, and that such whose warfare is for the temple should live of the temple; on which account he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple, and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them” 
While under Eleazer ben Simon lots were cast and an unqualified zealot to became High Priest. (See the other in our next post.)
By fortune the lot so fell as to demonstrate their iniquity after the plainest manner, for it fell upon one whose name was Phannias, the son of Samuel, of the village Aphtha. He was a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he ! yet did they hail this man, without his own consent, out of the country, as if they were acting a play upon the stage, and adorned him with a counterfeit thee; they also put upon him the sacred garments, and upon every occasion instructed him what he was to do. This horrid piece of wickedness was sport and pastime with them, but occasioned the other priests, who at a distance saw their law made a jest of, to shed tears, and sorely lament the dissolution of such a sacred dignity. Wars 4.3.8
They Believed A Lie
There was utter madness inside the city gates and the curses of the Old Covenant began to be felt more intensely within that generation of the apostles.
For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but delighted In wickedness. ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:11
John lied to his supporters and told them that God would never allow the temple and city to fall into the hands of the Romans. It didn’t matter what they did on their fellow Jews as God would miraculously deliver them from their enemies. John commissioned false prophets to spread the lie throughout the city and citizens sought ‘the perceived safety of the Temple grounds’ and flocked there in great numbers.
The people had placed their hope in this false saviour, John of Gischala.
A Self Inflicted Famine
They even destroyed their own grain supplies, such as the madness that overtook them.
During these skirmishes John’s men set fire to the storehouses containing the provisions on which Simon’s army depended, and then Simon’s troops retaliated by setting fire to John’s supplies. Their leaders were unable to stop them. As a result, grain that might have fed the defenders for a decade was destroyed during a Sabbatical “seventh year,” when the Jews were required to let the land rest and therefore had no harvest to replenish their stores. This burning of irreplaceable supplies underlines the Zealots’ two crippling weaknesses — lack of discipline and lack of a proper command structure.
Between them, the three groups of Zealots were tearing the people of Jerusalem to pieces. Ordinary citizens were in utter despair. They could see not the slightest likelihood of the three factions reaching an agreement with each other, and they had very little chance to escape, since there were guards everywhere. If they agreed on nothing else, the Zealot chieftains concurred in murdering anyone who suggested making peace with the Romans or anyone whom they suspected of planning to escape. While the noise made by rival groups fighting each other day and night was deafening, so was the moaning of people who lost friends or relatives but dared not wail. Nobody bothered to bury the dead. Those who did not belong to one of the Zealot groups could see no point in it since they regarded themselves as already condemned to death. On the other hand, patriots fought each other mercilessly, trampling on the corpses beneath their feet.
Starvation and Cannibalism
As a result of the famine, tens of thousands starved inside Jerusalem. Josephus recorded at least one act of cannibalism, which was one of the curses of the Old Covenant listed in Deuteronomy and Leviticus 26: 29.
And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee ~ Deut 28: 53
He records the events …
Now of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious; and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable. For if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did any where appear, a war was commenced presently; and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it: snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food; but the robbers would search them when they were expiring; lest any one should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying. Nay these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along, like mad dogs; and reeling against the doors of the houses, like drunken men.
They would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses, two or three times in one and the same day. Moreover their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing; while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch; and endured to eat them. Nor did they at length abstain from girdles, and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed. The very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibres, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attick [drachmæ].
But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on men in their eating inanimate things? While I am going to relate a matter of fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or Barbarians. ’Tis horrible to speak of it: and incredible when heard. I had indeed willingly omitted this calamity of ours, that I might not seem to deliver what is so portentous to posterity but that I have innumerable witnesses to it in my own age. And besides, my country would have had little reason to thank me, for suppressing the miseries that she underwent at this time.
There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan; her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar; of the village Bethezob; which signifies the house of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family, and her wealth; and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon; such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city.
What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. This put the poor woman into a very great passion; and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she cast at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her. But none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of commiseration of her case, would take away her life. And if she found any food she perceived her labours were for others, and not for herself: and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels, and marrow. When also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself. Nor did she consult with any thing but with her passion, and the necessity she was in.
She then attempted a most unnatural thing: and snatching up her son, which was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee, in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on. Be thou my food: and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world. Which is all that is now wanting to compleat the calamities of us Jews.”
As soon as she had said this, she slew her son; and then roasted him; and eat the one half of him; and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently; and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her, that they would cut her throat immediately, if she did not shew them what food she had gotten ready. She replied, that “She had saved a very fine portion of it for them:” and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with an horror, and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight: when she said to them, “This is mine own son: and what hath been done was mine own doing. Come, eat of this food: for I have eaten of it myself. Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother. But if you be so scrupulous and do abominate this my sacrifice; as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also.”
After which those men went out trembling: being never so much affrighted at any thing as they were at this: and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard-of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine, were very desirous to die: and those already dead were esteemed happy; because they had not lived long enough either to hear, or to see such miseries.
There were no burials and dead bodies lay everywhere across the city. The stench must have been utterly unbearable. Disease and pestilence were rampant.
The zealots didn’t mind these deaths. It meant that there was more food for those who were alive. They only cared for those who were prepared to fight against the Romans.
And indeed many there were of the Jews that deserted every day, and fled away from the Zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans; yet did he who gave them money get clear off, while he only that gave them none was voted a traitor. So the upshot was this, that the rich purchased their flight by money, while none but the poor were slain.
Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay on heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting, at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these Zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial, either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country, and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrify under the sun.
Jesus had warned about these days of great tribulation in the Old Covenant world of Judaism…
How miserable those days will be for pregnant and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not occur in the winter or on the Sabbath. For at that time there will be great tribulation, unmatched from the beginning of the world until now, and never to be seen again ~ Matthew 24: 19-20
Josephus believed that the Zealots did more harm to each other than anything the Romans did so that nothing worse could happen to the city. “No horrors more dreadful can possibly be imagined,” and that “the desolation wrought upon Jerusalem was caused by that wicked generation itself.”
Now this was the work of God, who therefore preserved this John, that he might bring on the destruction of Jerusalem.
That wicked generation Josephus spoke of was also the same one Jesus spoke of in Luke 21.
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. ~ Luke 21:32
Unfortunately many place this generation in our future and make up crazy theories of how long a generation actually is, counting from 1948 or 1967 onwards. But when Jesus was speaking, He was not directing You at us, but those belonging to the generation of the apostles, who lived in Israel, under the rule of the Roman Empire.
I can’t stress how important audience relevance is when trying to grasp the full meaning of scripture. If we ignore the audience and historical context we get things wrong and read ourselves into the text.
Next time we’ll see how the Herod Dynasty ended and how the Idumeans would fulfil the old testament prophecies about Edom.
 Josephus, Wars 6.5.4 312
 Josephus, Wars 4.2.3