by Mike Ratliff
τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται. (2 Thessalonians 2:7 NA27)
For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. There is one restraining it until He is out of the way. (a personal translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 from the NA27 Greek text)
Before my surgery this week, my friend Mickey sent me a piece on The Mystery of Iniquity, which was an exposition of 2 Thessalonians 2:7. I promised that I would write something on this as God led me. Of course, the reason I made that promise was that I was already being drawn to into researching it. Without a doubt, much of what we see in the ‘visible church’ is not Christian. They are apostate religious institutions that were either once contained within the genuine Church because the Gospel was preached there and the Bible was believed and held high as the Word of God, but they have abandoned all of that or they are heretical man-made religious groups that call themselves ‘Christian,’ but they are anything but.
However, as we saw in Matthew 16:18, “κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.” “And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Our Lord is the one who builds His Church, not people and it is immune from death. Also, the building of our Lord’s Church is not according to the wisdom of this world or the efforts of men.
Therefore, when we see apostasy rampant all around us we must understand that heretical preachers, theologians, and those who follow them are not part of our Lord’s ἐκκλησία or ekklēsia, “a called out assembly.” No, they are part of the ‘visible church’ that calls itself ‘christian,’ but is not at all for as we saw in our study of John 6, all those in the true Church are called by God, given to the Son, He loses none of them, and they are all raised up on the last day. For these people to “fall away” into apostasy or follow heretical teachings, et cetera, we must understand that this proves their disingenuousness. Some will argue that no one is an apostate unless they totally disavow their Christianity, but I challenge that and argue that turning from true Orthodox Christianity to a man-focused form of ‘christianity’ that is based on the wisdom of this world is no different that someone like Bart Eherman declaring that he used to be Christian, but now he is an agnostic.
Let us look at a passage that I believe foretells exactly what I am attempting to describe, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ὑπὲρ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμῶν ἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ μὴ ταχέως σαλευθῆναι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ νοὸς μηδὲ θροεῖσθαι, μήτε διὰ πνεύματος μήτε διὰ λόγου μήτε δι᾽ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δι᾽ ἡμῶν, ὡς ὅτι ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου· Μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον. ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶ ἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας, ὁ ἀντικείμενος καὶ ὑπεραιρόμενος ἐπὶ πάντα λεγόμενον θεὸν ἢ σέβασμα, ὥστε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καθίσαι ἀποδεικνύντα ἑαυτὸν ὅτι ἐστὶν θεός. Οὐ μνημονεύετε ὅτι ἔτι ὢν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ταῦτα ἔλεγον ὑμῖν; καὶ νῦν τὸ κατέχον οἴδατε εἰς τὸ ἀποκαλυφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἑαυτοῦ καιρῷ. τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται. καὶ τότε ἀποκαλυφθήσεται ὁ ἄνομος, ὃν ὁ κύριος [Ἰησοῦς] ἀνελεῖ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ καὶ καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ, οὗ ἐστιν ἡ παρουσία κατ᾽ ἐνέργειαν τοῦ σατανᾶ ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει καὶ σημείοις καὶ τέρασιν ψεύδους καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πέμπει αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ἐνέργειαν πλάνης εἰς τὸ πιστεῦσαι αὐτοὺς τῷ ψεύδει, ἵνα κριθῶσιν πάντες οἱ μὴ πιστεύσαντες τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἀλλὰ εὐδοκήσαντες τῇ ἀδικίᾳ. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 NA27)
Now we ask you brothers with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, our gathering together to Him, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed either by a spirit, by a word, or by a letter as if from us saying the Day of the Lord has come. Do not let anyone deceive you in any way; because unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the Son of Destruction, the one setting himself against and exalting himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so he sits in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself as God. Do you not remember that while being with you I was telling you these things? And you know the one now holding him back for him to be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. There is one restraining it until He is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will consume by the breath of His mouth and will destroy him by the appearance of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the works of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood and with every deception of unrighteousness for the ones being destroyed, because they refused to accept the love of the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a powerful delusion, so that they may believe what is false, that all those not believing the truth but having pleasure in unrighteousness may be judged. (a personal translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 from the NA27 Greek text)
Some of what the Apostle Paul wrote here is most definitely still future. The Son of Destruction has not yet been revealed and, therefore, the Day of the Lord has not yet come. However, in v7 he also makes it clear that part of this is most definitely already at work. The restrainer is still restraining this son of Destruction. He has not yet been taken out of the way, but the mystery of iniquity is already at work, “τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται.” “For the mystery of iniquity is already at work. There is one restraining it until He is out of the way. ” What is Paul talking about?
The word ‘mystery” translates the Greek word μυστήριον or mustērion, “denotes a ‘mystery, secret,’ or something ‘unknown.’ In the New Testament it most often refers to the mystery that Christians now know and which differentiates a Christian from unbelievers. In Matthew 13:11, for instance, Jesus said, ‘The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.’ However, μυστήριον while usually referring to Christian mystery, it can be used in other contexts as in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 referring to the ‘mystery of iniquity.’ These and other ‘mysteries’ are things known by God alone and may or may not be revealed by Him in His timing.
The word ‘iniquity’ translates the Greek noun ἀνομίας, which is the Genitive, Singular of ἀνομία or anomia. The word means “lawlessness, wicked, unrighteous.” The Genitive case is the source of the word “of” between “mystery” and “iniquity” in my translation since it indicates possession. In any case, This μυστήριον ἀνομίας ‘already is working,’ which translates the adverb ἤδη or ēdē , “even now: – already, (even) now (already), by this time” and the verb ἐνεργεῖται, which is the Present tense, Indicative mood, Middle voice of ἐνεργέω or energeō. This word means, “to be active, work, operate, do” something. This word constitutes the basis of the English word “energy.” This word is used in the New Testament to denote supernatural powers, whether godly or demonic. What about the verb structure? What does that mean here? The Present, Indicative asserts something which is occurring while the speaker is making the statement (or writing the sentence.) This is action that was happening at the time Paul wrote this and is still going on.
What does all this mean for us in our time? We know that after the Lawless one is revealed in God’s timing, then things will become quite evil. However, since this evil force is “already at work” then what is it that we should know? This is a spirit of iniquity that is already prevalent throughout the world system (cf. 1 John 3:4; 5:17), but it is still a mystery in that it is not fully revealed as it will be in the one who so blatantly opposes God that he blasphemously assumes the place of God on earth which God has reserved for Jesus Christ. However, since this spirit is already at work then we should see this evil in operation right now as well (cf. 1 John 2:18; 4:3). The only difference between now and after he is revealed is that we have only the spirit of the mystery of iniquity in operation, but not his full embodiment.
Think of all those counterfeit churches in our time with leaders who do not even believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Think of Rob Bell and his continual attacks on genuine Christianity. He is nothing more than a liberal christian trying to pose as an evangelical, but he does not pass muster. Think of the seeker-sensitive movement in all its forms. Their “churches” are not genuine Churches at all because they do not function to serve the sheep of our Lord, but to be churches for the unchurched. In other words, they are churches for unbelievers. They function to get large numbers of people to come by meeting “felt needs.” They never preach the whole Gospel because it is offensive. I am reprimanded by someone from that camp nearly every time I write something about that, saying something along the lines, “You are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What about all those people who we get in to hear the gospel who would never hear it if we didn’t do those things?” My response, “So what if you aren’t preaching the Gospel!” If all you are doing is being man-pleasers then you are not obeying the Great Commission.
Think of all forms of the Emergent movement as well as the Missional movement including Acts 29, et cetera. Their focus is not eternal, but temporal. The Emergents are simply are more up-to-date form of Christian liberalism. The Missional/Acts 29 group may have some sincere people in it, but the focus of making the world a better place as their goal instead of going into the world to make disciples from all peoples is not the same thing. They are temporally focused rather than eternally focused.
Think of those who are heavily into mysticism and using their ministries to get rich or having the largest church in town, or whatever. You know who I’m talking about. These are the rock star or movie star or soap opera star so-called christian leaders who are all about promoting self and making lots of money. Some are heavily into mysticism and that is evil.
I could go and on and on here listing these things and even giving you lists of names you would know, but you already know who I’m talking about. The spirit of the mystery of iniquity is what is behind these “ministries.” I don’t know about other countries, but I don’t think I would be too far off base here to say that even in the most conservative evangelical churches here in the United States we could find, the numbers of people within who really have the mark of our Lord on them is probably quite a bit smaller when compared to the number of people who are on their rolls. Remember, I have taught in those classes. I have served as deacon. I have preached in those churches. I have dealt with the spiritual blindness and the fleshliness not only from those sitting on the pews, but also in those who are on staff.
Why is it that when I became drawn by God to walk this narrow walk of repentance not turning to the right or left that I became the enemy of the leadership of my old church? Talk about a brutal surprise. As long as I was one of the mediocre crowd, no problem, but when I became the slave of our Lord Jesus Christ and this became apparent then I was no longer welcome. Something is wrong in a church when that happens. I was not doing anything wrong. I was simply not going to stand by and be silent while the leadership led our church into the Purpose Driven apostasy. Of course, the tension was building long before that took place.
The spirit of the mystery of iniquity is continually attacking the Church, the true Church. It is all about compromise and relativity. When it is time for the Man of Lawlessness to be revealed, these churches will have no backbone left. As I have shared many times, I know of many of you who have had similar experiences and have been driven from your churches because you would not compromise with what the leadership was doing in bringing in some evil. God has called us to come out and we have obeyed. I have found another local church and really like it, but I feel like the old guy with all the young fellows doing all the serving there. Most of those people have no idea what I do here and that is fine.
My brethren, do not be discouraged. As Paul said, the Day of the Lord has not yet come. Until then, let us continue to fight the good fight in the power of the Spirit, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!