Having covered some of the fundamental matters concerning the debate, let us look at some of the issues raised. One of these involved the prophecy of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 concerning the man of sin. Neubauer affirmed that this man was the high priest and that Jesus destroyed him in AD 70. Accompanying this assertion was that the Jews were the persecutors of Christians and that God would thus destroy them when Jesus came in AD 70, as per 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9. This is also supposed to correspond to what is being described in the Book of Revelation.
Several problems with this interpretation virtually leap off the pages of the New Testament. First of all, the persecution described in Revelation was intense. No one thinks only a few were put to death; the cry is heard of the souls who were under the altar, asking how long it would be until their blood was avenged in Revelation 6:9-10. This fits well with the Roman persecution of Christians since hundreds and thousands were put to death. How many Christians did the Jews put to death? Stephen was the first (Acts 7:59-60). Paul indicates there were some others in Jerusalem (Acts 26:9-10). He gives no indication of a vast amount, however. Neubauer indicated that the Jews had persecuted many in Thessalonica, and they had, but how many Christians died there? Acts 17:9 says the rulers of the city took security for Jason and the rest but then let them go. So far as we know, no Christian lost his life there.
Brother Neubauer correctly says that we ought to look for what a text meant to the ones who first received it before we ask what it means to us. So what did 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 mean to them? It was assurance that those who troubled them (by way of persecution) would be troubled by the Lord. Since Paul was writing to those yet alive, they are the ones who would receive rest. Paul says nothing about those put to death as part of their persecution in either 2 Thessalonians 1 or 2. So, did the Jews persecute Christians? Yes, but nothing indicates that the Jews themselves caused very many deaths of Christians—not like the amount of martyrs described in Revelation.
2 Thessalonians says that Jesus would come in flaming fire to take vengeance on the persecutors. Is that said of the destruction of Jerusalem? No, fire is a sign of eternal judgment, as in Matthew 3:10-12, 25:41, 46. How would Christians persecuted by Jews in Thessalonica have been rewarded by the destruction of Jerusalem? Neubauer’s theory does not match the facts.
The Man of Sin (2 Thess. 2)
Bible students have always been intrigued by the identity of the man of sin. Neubauer insisted that he was the high priest and that any other interpretation—especially, the man of sin being the pope—was wrong. Of course, if one is talking about the literal temple of God, the high priest does seem to fit, and the explanation of Jesus destroying him in AD 70 logically follows.
However, Denham repudiated that idea by saying that Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 they should not think that what he had previously taught them was “at hand” (the translation of the King James). Neubauer took high exception to that translation, saying that the New King James and Vine’s Expository Dictionary were correct when they rendered the words: “as though the day of Christ had come.” Greek technicalities aside, frankly, what is the difference? How is “the day had come” different than “the day is at hand”?
The American Standard also contains “at hand.” The Revised Standard uses “has come,” as does the New American Standard and the English Standard Version. Young’s Literal Translation renders it “hath arrived.” All of them are expressing what Paul meant. Do not think that the Day of the Lord (even the beginning of its fulfilment) was at hand, had arrived, or was present. Why should they not think that? Because there would first be “the falling away” and “the man of sin” would be revealed (v. 3).
How can this description refer to the high priest? Did Christians not already know the sinfulness of that man? Had he not been instrumental in determining that Jesus be crucified (Mark 14:60-64)? That is quite revelation enough as to his character. Also Paul had letters from the high priest to bring Christians bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). What more evidence does anyone need to have in order to know that he is a sinful man, acting contrary to the interests of God?
Did the high priest claim to be God (v. 4)? Perhaps in a way he acted as though he were, but he never said he was. And what was restraining him (v. 6)? Nothing. He constantly took as much power as Rome would give him. Rome never stepped aside so that his power could increase. He was eventually taken out of the way, but he meets only a few of the characteristics Paul listed. All the things that apply to the man of sin must fit. And what signs and lying wonders did the high priest ever claim to do (v. 9)? Christians were never duped by him to the point of not possessing salvation (v. 10).
Although Neubauer ridiculed the idea that the passage refers to the pope, that interpretation actually fits better. Consider first that before the Lord returned to destroy him, there had to be first the falling away (v. 3). What falling away was there between AD 52 and AD 70? No one has ever heard of one. But all know that the church fell away during the Dark Ages.
The pope does indeed oppose God and exalt himself (v. 4). Several references throughout history have called him, “Our Holy Lord God, the Pope.” These have been challenged by the Catholic Church as being unwarranted comments and mistranslations. But even if they are incorrect, does not the pope accept worship? Peter refused to do so (Acts 10:25-26); even an angel refused (Rev. 19:10). Only Jesus accepted worship because He was God in the flesh. The pope is not, but he accepts worship. The pope also prays to Mary, and so do many Catholics. Various websites deny all these things, but there is more than sufficient information to confirm the truth of the matter.
Neubauer objected that the pope was never in the temple (church) of God. But exactly when did the original church go into apostasy? It began in the second century and continued in that direction until Boniface III proclaimed himself universal bishop over the church. Sprinkling did not become common for baptism until after 1100 or 1200. Some claim that the official change was “in 1311” at “the Council of Ravenna,” which allowed people to choose immersion or sprinkling. It may be that Boniface III had been immersed for his sins and entered the church that had increasingly wandered away from the New Testament. But even if he was not a member of the Lord’s church, he claimed to be and thus set himself up as God in the temple.
The mystery of lawlessness was already at work, which is the desire for self-exaltation. Diotrephes would display such an attitude (3 John 9), and Paul would warn against those who would draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30). When the nation of Rome was destroyed (around 476), the papacy soon became full blown. There were already five bishops over various regions of the world prior to 606. The office of pope will remain until the Lord returns and destroys him with the brightness of His coming.
Over the years popes have claimed to do miracles (v. 9), and many have been deceived. When people do not have a love of the truth, they will believe anything. They “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). Was that true of those who followed the high priest? What corruption were they involved in? They were greedy, yes. Jesus exposed that attitude in the moneychangers. But those who profited from such endeavors were few. What did the Jews as a whole gain by following the high priest? They were rewarded with death when Jerusalem fell.
However, adherents of Catholicism get precisely what is stated in verse 12. Their system of religion allows them to have pleasure in unrighteousness. They confess their sins, do some penance, and then go engage in the same sin again. Just prior to the Reformation—and helping to bring it about—was the sale of indulgences, which allowed a person to purchase pardon for sins in advance of committing them. Thus, people have pleasure in unrighteousness. Which of these two proposed explanations best fits the data?
Date of New Testament Books Being Written
Several books of the New Testament have been assigned dates that come after AD 70. Among them are the gospel of John, as well as the epistles of 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, and the prophetic book of Revelation. However, if everything was fulfilled in AD 70, then all the books had to be written previously. One problem for those who assert that idea (in the face of historical evidence to the contrary) is that not enough time elapsed for the development of Gnosticism.
On the other hand, Neubauer defends A. T. Robinson who opined that any New Testament book written after AD 70 would surely have mentioned the Destruction of Jerusalem. It is true that the gospel of John omits all of the prophecies concerning that horrible and bloody event. But why does it not occur to these scholars that the reason these latter books do not mention it is precisely because everyone was aware of it? Would anyone expect there to be references to World War II immediately upon its conclusion? Sure, there might be analyses, etc., but everyone knew about it and did not have to be informed. In a world considerably less full of information than ours, all of John’s readers would know what had happened there.
The Death of the Law
In the second speech on the third night of the debate, Neubauer put up a chart that read: “The Law died by means of the Cross but not at the Cross.” “What?” someone says, scratching his head. “Oh, yeah,” emphasizes Neubauer. “The Law was nailed to the cross but wasn’t taken away until AD 70. It was only passing away (Heb. 8:13)”. According to him, Jesus’ coming the second time without sin to salvation (Heb. 9:28) means that Jesus took away the Law at the Destruction of Jerusalem and established His law. This is the way Jehovah’s Witnesses argue.
The Law was nailed to the cross, period (Col. 2:14). Did Jesus die that day? Then so did the Law. The hatred between Jews and Gentiles was fueled by the Law of Moses. According to Ephesians 2:11-15, Jesus became our peace, having broken down the middle wall of division between them. Therefore Jew and Gentile could be one in one body (Eph. 4:4-6). This did not occur at AD 70—but at the cross. Otherwise, Jew and Gentile could not be heirs of Abraham and united together until AD 70. But they clearly were long before that date (Gal. 3:26-29).
In Hebrews 8:6-7 we read that Jesus established (past tense) a better covenant which contained better promises. Then the writer quotes from Jeremiah 31: 31-34 which prophesied of the new covenant. Afterward, the prophet, quoting the phrase, a new covenant, says that the old, therefore, was ready to vanish away—at the time Jeremiah wrote! Neubauer (perhaps intentionally) tries to make the verse applicable at the time Hebrews was written rather than when Jeremiah wrote. Hebrews 8:6-7 said that it had already passed away, thereby disproving Neubauer’s thesis and showing him to take the verse out of context. The reader should study Hebrews 9:27-28. It refers to the death of men followed by the judgment—not a new law. Jesus came the first time to save us from sin, but His second coming will involve eternal salvation.
The New Math
In the second speech of the last night of the debate, Neubauer introduced the audience to his special brand of arithmetic (reminiscent of the bit Rush Limbaugh used to air of “Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man Math Made Easy”). After pointing out that no one in the Old Testament ever lived to be 1,000 years old, he stated that Adam lived 930 years. Then he said that Jesus was baptized at age 30 and Jerusalem was destroyed 40 years later, thus making 1,000 years. How amazing!
Well, consider this. After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples caught 153 fish. Divide that by the number of those in the Godhead (3), and the quotient is 51. Now subtract the number of days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness (40), and the result is 11—the number of apostles Jesus had left after Judas betrayed Him and hanged himself. What do these numerical manipulations prove? Apparently, they serve as evidence for whatever someone desires of them.
Holger Neubauer made two boasts on the final night of the debate. In his second speech, he claimed rather forcefully, “Do you realize that we have already two people who have changed their minds, who had your view before the debate? We’re whippin’ you very well.” In his last speech he spoke more temperately, but nonetheless he exuded the same level of confidence as he said:
But we’re not gonna give up. We’re not gonna shut up. We’re not gonna back up. We believe that we have the truth, and we’re changing minds. I can tell you about anti preachers in Indianapolis. I can tell you about brethren in Ohio who are reading our material. I can tell you about brothers in North Carolina, I can tell you about brothers in Florida, who have contacted us. So, if we’re just so heretical, how do seasoned men, gospel preachers rethink some of the arguments that we’re making?
That’s a question we all wish we had the answer to. How did Mac Deaver, Bob Berard, Glenn Jobe, and others rethink their views on the Holy Spirit? Neubauer moderated for Ben Vick when he debated Mac Deaver in 2011. He certainly knows that Mac changed his mind. How seasoned men are swept away by error is one of the great mysteries. Can Neubauer explain why Rubel Shelly became a liberal? Daniel Denham gave a great response to these two statements by pointing out we were once united, but the introduction of this doctrine has created division. “This has become their golden calf…they’re dividing churches, and he’s proud of that.”