Sire, it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer. — Theodore Beza to the King of Navarre in France (1561)
After Abraham defeated the Shemite king Chedorlaomer, he brought a tithe to the priest-king Melchizedek, who served him a meal of bread and wine (Gen. 14).
Similarly, in a preliminary fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, the nations of the world brought their wealth to Joseph, who gave them life by providing them bread (Gen. 41:53-57). In addition to this, Joseph seems to have had a position of cupbearer-advisor to Pharaoh (Gen. 44), so that it could be said that Joseph had become both chief baker and cupbearer (Gen. 40), the man of both bread and wine.
Thus, weekly communion: week to week we bring tithes, offerings and tribute to our priest-king (1 Cor. 16:2), and we find that Jesus, the greater Melchizedek (Heb. 5-7) and “son of Joseph” (Luke 4:22, John 6:42), is more, not less, prodigal than the shadows and types that came before him:
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says Yahweh of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Mal. 3:10)
One of the things that is happening in the Lord’s-day worship service is that the church is conducting spiritual warfare. We see this throughout the book of Revelation, where it is the church’s songs and prayers that call forth God’s powerful action. We see it, too, in that God uses even the singing of babies to silence his enemies (Ps. 8:2 taken together with Matt. 21:16). Jesus prepares a table for his church in the very presence of her enemies (Ps. 23).
Thus, weekly communion: for when is the church not surrounded by enemies, and she must always find a table and an overflowing cup there.
One of the aspects of the church’s Lord’s-day worship is that we gather as the spiritual army of God to assemble before Jesus our commander. It is a sort of dress review or dress parade before our commander and king, in which we also receive instructions and orders for the coming week.
In the Old Testament, this military review occurred three times a year (Ex. 23:17), on three of Israel’s feast days (Ex. 23:14). This made it equally a kind of military banquet with the commander.
Thus, weekly communion: our dress parade before the king is always accompanied with a banquet.
The church gathered is Jesus’s bride. One of the aspects of Lord’s-day worship is that Jesus holds tryst with his bride.
Seemingly every other page of the Bible has something to do with food. Food is the chief avenue for the consummation of fellowship; if we are what we eat, then when we eat together, we become more united. We have already seen Jesus’s desire to eat with his church. Ahashuerus prepares a feast for his people (Esther 1). Esther prepares feasts for Ahashuerus (Esther 5, 7). Joseph prepares a table for his brothers (Gen. 43). Jesus prepares breakfast for his disciples, then instructs them to feed his flock (John 21). Melchizedek prepares a meal (of bread and wine!) for Abraham (Gen. 14), and Abraham later prepares a meal for Jesus and two angels (Gen. 18). In spite of their differences, Jacob and Laban share a meal to seal their covenant (Gen. 31:54). Jesus prepares a table for us in the very presence of our enemies (Ps. 23). Solomon and his bride banquet with and feast upon one another. In a sense, Jesus eats us into his body (Rev. 3:16, also considering we are the loaves of Lev. 24 and 1 Cor. 10), and we eat Jesus (John 6).
Thus, weekly communion: every tryst has its morsels and wine (e.g., Esther 5, 7), and every reunion its repast. Jesus provides not only enough wine when the groom meets with the bride, but also the best wine (John 2).
As I have previously suggested, the Lord’s supper has much in connection to the tribute, or grain, offering. The priests in Israel offered bread and wine to God every morning and evening (Num. 28:1-9), and additional bread and wine every Sabbath (Num. 28:10). The priests ate portions of the bread (Lev. 2) but had no portion of the wine, which was poured out entirely (Lev. 10:9). And interestingly, the tribute offering, together with the frankincense that accompanied it, is the only offering described as a memorial. Likewise, Jesus calls the Lord’s supper a memorial (1 Cor. 11, often confusingly translated “remembrance”).
Clearly Jesus means us to draw connections between his supper and the daily offering of bread and wine. This is one of the many ways in which the worship of the church has become a sort of transfiguration of temple worship; for example, the church is the temple (1 Cor. 3), we offer a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13), and we draw near in worship (Heb. 10), which is sacrificial language. Likewise, as a kingdom of priests, we eat bread—and now drink wine!—together with God in his house.
Thus, weekly communion: if every priest offered memorial bread and wine every day that he stood in service in God’s house, how much more should we eat memorial bread and wine every day that we stand together as the house of God?
What follows are some reasons I think it is preferable or at least possible to think of the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians 2 as being the Jewish high priest, priesthood, or additionally some power behind them such as Herod or the former high priest Ananias.
First, we should be alert to the fact that God operates covenantally, and that “judgment [begins] at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). God is concerned with all sin, but is most concerned with faithful worship. This is operative in the pattern of what the Bible calls the “abomination of desolation.” Often interpreters connect this abomination with actions of invading Gentile nations. But everywhere that God threatens to—and actually does—depart from his house, leaving it “desolate,” it is the apostasy of his own people that is the precipitating factor. The pattern is this: God’s people practice abominations, God leaves his house desolate, and then it is left unprotected for Gentile armies to attack. So we should look to identify these abominations as activities on the part of God’s people. We see this pattern in Ezekiel 8-10 where it is the idolatry of Israel that causes God to leave his house desolate. We see it again in Matthew 21 when Jesus cleanses the temple and then leaves it desolate of his presence. We should be prepared again to see it when Jesus vindicates his name in AD 70, understanding that the Jewish and Judaizing persecution of the church serves as the primary antagonist, with Rome playing a secondary role.
Second, there was already an essential element of disobedience to God in the second temple high priesthood. God had declared in the restoration covenant that only Zadokite priests could come near to serve him (Ezek. 40:46). Beginning at least with Menelaus in 172 BC, the high priests were no longer Zadokite, not even under the Hasmoneans. Although the New Testament does not call attention to this, it is likely that this disobedience, which included the murder of the high priest and the buying and selling of the priesthood, was the abomination that left God’s house desolate so that Antiochus Epiphanes could later walk right in. There were continuing abuses of the high priesthood after Jesus.
Third, there are some subtle hints elsewhere concerning the one who “takes his seat in the temple of God.” Hebrews 10 stresses that every priest “stands daily at his service,” and that Jesus is the only priest who has “sat down,” by virtue of his permanent and final sacrifice. By contrast, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for sitting in “Moses’ seat” (Matt. 23:2). Now, these are not all priests. And it is likely that this is speaking of their office of teaching and judging (as in Exodus 18:13), rather than a physical seat, and certainly not a seat in the temple. But it is a hint of an inappropriate “seatedness” on the part of the Jews, and the very context in which Jesus prophesies the final desolation of Jerusalem.
Fourth, very much of what is happening in the run-up to AD 70 is a sort of revival of Judaism, as the threat of Christianity catalyzes them, as the temple is completed and the last great Passover celebrated. This, I believe, also connects to 2 Thessalonians 2, in that the “false signs and wonders” were experienced by the Jews, and the “strong delusion” was a characteristically Jewish delusion: the thought that “God has blessed us with a great revival and will give us ultimate victory over the Romans and the Christians.” Again, it is the apostate house of God that is in focus, and the foremost representative of that house before God is the high priest.
Fifth, there are several senses in which we can identify the high priest as “proclaiming himself to be God.” First, in putting Jesus on trial and putting him to death, the Jews, and especially the priesthood, had exalted themselves over God and made themselves out to be the final arbiter, to be God. Second, in continuing to persecute Jesus’s body, the church, the Jews continued in this position. Third, in proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) but then revolting against Rome, the Jews revealed themselves to be aspiring to the same sort of idolatry of self-willed power exhibited by Rome.
Finally, we can understand the “one who restrains” the Jewish persecution of Christians as being the Roman rulers. Throughout the New Testament it is the Roman authorities who come to the aid of Christians over against Jewish persecution. It is only at the very end that Rome as well begins to turn upon the Christians, establishing the temporary unholy alliance of beasts (until Rome eventually devours Babylon-Jerusalem) that we see in Revelation.
James Jordan, to whom I am indebted for almost every single idea above, suggests that it is actually the church’s preaching that served as the restraint on lawlessness. Elsewhere Jordan suggests that the “mystery of lawlessness” is a sort of Girardian scapegoating mechanism, whereby the Jews were suppressing their own guilt (and ironically adding to it) by scapegoating Jesus and his church.