The man of sin or man of lawlessness seems to have been a figure in Paul’s day, because the mystery of lawlessness was already at work (2Thessalonians 2:7). If his work was already present in the first century CE, then we must consider the possibility that he also lived at that time and would be revealed to us in the pages of history by means of his labor that would not be according to law. Admittedly, most scholars would not support this possibility, because their interpretation is dependent upon a yet future work against the people of God. However, and we need to consider this possibility, did Paul believe that, and if not, do we consider ourselves more knowledgeable than he about those things he wrote?
2Thessalonians 2:7 also tells us that there was a restraining power in existence in the 1st century CE that prevented the appearance of this man of lawlessness. Why would this restraining power need to be in existence, if this individual was not also present? Moreover, 2Thessalonians 2:10 is speaking of a group of people who were at that time giving themselves over to this lawlessness even taking pleasure in its fruit. Who were these people; were they not the Jews who rose up against Paul and Silas in the first place, not even considering the Scriptures (cp. Acts 13:50; 14:2-6, 19 & Acts 17:5-8, 13)? Remember, the Beroeans were distinguished from those in Thessalonica in that they looked into the Scriptures daily to consider what Paul told them. This means those in Thessalonica didn’t use the Scriptures to reject the Gospel, but were in love with a false doctrine about the Messiah—they believed a lie over the truth, not even considering the Scriptures which would have revealed the truth to them.
Paul goes on to say that God will send them strong delusion that they would believe a lie (verse-11), so that they would be judged for rejecting the truth of the Gospel and finding pleasure in lawlessness (verse-12). What group of people was actively rejecting the Gospel in Paul’s day? Was it not the Jews? It wasn’t the gentiles, for the Romans are often seen in the New Testament as protecting Paul or the freedom to preach the Gospel. If this is so, is it too great a stretch to believe the man of lawlessness was also a Jew? Who could he be, and does history point him out?
Since he sits in the Temple of God, and if we can conclude he is Jewish, then he is probably a priestly authority. Does history point to such a man—a priest who opposed the Gospel and exalted himself above the word of God, the worship of God and God himself? Yes, the Bible shows us that this man is Annas, the high priest—the same man who opposed Jesus and held an illegal trial and lawlessly had him crucified by intimidating Pilate (John 19:12-16) to execute his demands. Moreover, he tried to intimidate the apostles (Acts 4:6-18), again without using lawful means (Acts 4:19). He questioned Stephen (or his son-in-law did) in Acts 7:1, and Stephen was executed by a mob, without a proper trial, for no official verdict was reached. They all came upon him suddenly and lawlessly (Acts 7:54, 57-60). Furthermore, in the ensuing persecution that followed Stephen’s death, the Messianic Jews were lawlessly hunted down with the approval of and even the command of the high priest (Acts 9:1-2).
A point to consider is that a member of Annas’ family was the officiating high priest during each of the three main persecutions of the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem. Think of it; a member of Annas’ family (six high priests) held that office during the days when Messianic Jews were persecuted. Moreover, Annas, himself, headed up the official delegation from Jerusalem to accuse Paul before Felix (Acts 24:1).
Finally, Annas, the high priest, was killed at the outbreak of the Jewish war with Rome. He was killed on the sixth day of the sixth month in the year 66 CE, being the senior high priest at Jerusalem for sixty years (16 CE to 66 CE). He was judged by Jesus, just as Jesus claimed (Matthew 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62), and destroyed with the brightness of his coming in judgment upon the nation, just as Paul claimed (2Thessalonians 2:8)—by the ‘spirit of his mouth’ being what Jesus told him in Matthew and Mark above.