3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 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 (2 Thes 2:3-4).
I'm going to discuss a neglected interpretation of this passage, but I will summarize some alternative interpretations before getting to that particular interpretation:
1) According to the preterist interpretation, this refers to events concerning the Second Temple in Jerusalem. But there are problems with a that identification:
i) According to our sources, nothing happened between the time of writing and the fall of Jerusalem that matches Paul's description in 2 Thes 2.
It's possible that our sources are deficient, but if so, that's an admission that there's no supporting evidence for this interpretation.
ii) If this was fulfilled c. 70 AD, then there's a sense in which it's much too soon to be a useful precursor to the Parousia. After all, it's now 2000 years down the pike. If the interval between the prelude to the Parousia and the Parousia is that distant, it loses significance.
iii) If this was fulfilled c. 70 AD in a symbolic sense, then it's hard to see what grave error Paul is correcting. If the return of Christ is symbolic, what difference does it make to say he came back in the 40s or the 70s of the 1C? In any event, it's business as usual. All the same moral and natural evils continue as before.
3) Commentator Gene Green thinks it denotes the imperial shrine in Thessalonika, dedicated to Julius and Augustus Caesar. But there are problems with that identification:
i) Would Paul refer to a pagan shrine as the "sanctuary of God"?
ii) From Paul's perspective, why would it be wrong for the Antichrist to oppose the imperial cult?
iii) Green says "the apostle describes a cult center where people go to offer worship" (312), but I don't see where Paul in fact says that. Green's statement is far more specific.
iv) What historic event does Green think fulfilled this identification? It can't be the imperial cult, itself, for that wasn't opposed to other heathen devotions.
v) Surely it's awfully provincial to say that Jesus could not return unless and until something happened at the imperial shrine in Thessalonika.
4) Premils think it refers to the rebuilt millennial temple. But given that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was still intact and functioning at the time of writing, it's hard to see how such a labyrinthine allusion would be intelligible to the original audience.
5) Commentator Greg Beale believes the "temple" is a synonym for the church. I think that interpretation has much to commend it, although it needs to be fleshed out.
6) But let's consider a final identification:
It has also been thought by some patristic and modern commentators that Paul is referring to the heavenly temple, where God sits (Ps 10:4: "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord, his throne is in heaven": cf. Isa 66:1; Mic 1:2; Hab 2:20; 1 En 14:17-22; 2 Bar 4:2-6). A. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Yale 2000), 420.
This doesn't mean the Antichrist literally usurps the throne in the heavenly temple. Rather, Paul would be trading on ancient "war in heaven" motif. The Antichrist is an agent of Satan–the archetypal irreligious rebel. The "god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4). So this would be a colorful way of depicting the Antichrist's insolent impiety.
It has the advantage of allowing for a future fulfillment, as well as bringing the signs of the Parousia into closer conjunction with the Parousia itself.