The Mystery of Iniquity

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!

21 thoughts on “The Mystery of Iniquity

  1. Thank you for such an excellent teaching on this scripture. It explains a lot concerning the absolute ‘stubborn, mule-stance’ of those who continually balk at the truth… now I see why… they never did belong to us in the first place. How can you embrace the truth while hating it at the same time!??

  2. Mike thanks for continuing to shed light on what is going on in the visible church. This helps us navigate the waters, so to speak. Because it sure gets confusing sometimes.

    The thing that the false churches all have in common is man centered methods. This started out with Arminianism and all that comes with it. YOu hear it with some of the older preachers on the radio (some of whom have passed on). They are very man centered, but they did preach the gospel too, to their credit. BUT those who have come behind them who are under say 60 years old, have drifted further and further all based on MAN and MAN’S NEEDS. They have taken this and run with it so that they do not even start with the Lord anymore, but with man. The Bible to them says…”in the beginning man…” They got rid of hell because that is an idea abhorrent to man. They are either emergent (does it bother anybody else that this word looks alot like the word emergency? maybe that means it should set off warning bells in our heads). Or else their church is so seeker sensitive that it is almost like going to a nightclub instead of church. I am not making this up, I went to one that had a full band, strobe lights and dry ice making “smoke”. They stamped the back of my hand when I arrived, just like all those years ago as a pagan when I went nightclubbing. My friend visited a church that thought that they should just give a little sermonette, about 15 minutes. She was used to a long sermon that went verse by verse. She asked about this and they told her that they think everybody should just go home and figure out what they think the verse says because they can’t be sure! Anyway….

    The result is that no matter what their motives might be, or what they hope to accomplish it is all man-centered and therefore their efforts are all based on man’s reasonings, man’s logic, man’s notions, but not scripture. For example the person that says don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water; what if people are “saved” or at least attending. It is all pragmatic. But it is not biblical. People today think they are smarter and nicer than God. People in the church and people out of the church think this. They call themselves Christian but are unwilling to go to the scriptures and use the scriptures to guide them in biblical teaching, preaching and church services. How then is this Christian? What other religion has thrown out its holy book, denied its leader, and still goes by its name? It is disgraceful. As you say it is fleshly. So what does the flesh produce? Flesh. The spirit produces spirit; the flesh profits nothing. They begin and end with the flesh. NO surprise then that the result is churches full of infants who are happily following empty talk and playing at religion. God help us.

  3. Excellent article, Mike.

    “The churches will have no backbone left.” We can already see, right? It will be so easy.

    May God continue to give you and us courage to speak out against all that comes against His word.

    How’s your shoulder feeling today? Any numbness or tingling in your fingers or elbow?

  4. BTW, despite how you personally feel at church, remember Galatians 3:26-29. Could we also think in terms of “there is neither young nor old?”

    For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

  5. Diane, amen. My shoulder and arm hurt. I had a frozen shoulder. The Orthopedic Surgeon manipulated it while I was under. He actually made my shoulder unstable so now I am going through therapy to repair or strengthen that. There are times when my right arm feels like it weighs a million pounds. I have to lift my right arm with my left hand. Of course, this is all just a tensing up or pre-reaction to pain. I am on pain meds and I am using ice packs. Fortunately, I can work from home and am doing so. My therapy is going well. After my first session yesterday I came home and spent the next two hours on the couch with an ice pack on my shoulder. :-) The biggest problem I have is sleeping. When I get up in the morning it really hurts. However, the pain I was having prior to surgery is gone. I am very grateful for that. That was getting to be nearly unbearable. My left shoulder was unstable after I had first few seizures back in 2009. I am going through the same therapy for my right shoulder that I did for it. I know it works, but the problem is that I am right handed…

  6. What a blessing that you can work from home!!

    Prayers going up for you, Mike. Take extra good care of yourself and don’t be tempted to push yourself too much.

  7. Mike,
    When reading your post and the responses you receive, I have the feeling of not always being alone in my thoughts. It can be so discouraging at times, we are still seeking a church where we live, I know the Lord will lead us to one, but the choices here are slim. Thank you for always encouraging.

  8. I know exactly what you mean Cristina. I pray for God to use me in that very capacity. If you are encouraged in this ministry then it is Him working through me to accomplish that. I rejoice that He answers those prayers and you are edified. I do pray that God takes care of this for you.

  9. I appreciate so much the work you do, Mr. Ratliff. It is very much needed in this time of hypocrisy, heresy and apostasy. May the Lord Jesus continue to lead, guide and bless you as you seek to bring honor to His Name by proclaiming His truth.

  10. And by the way, I will pray for a speedy recovery for you. I know what it is like to be almost exclusively right-handed. I can barely brush my teeth with my left hand.

  11. Thanks Dave! My therapist today pushed the pain envelope a bit. I thought my right arm and shoulder was going to come apart, but all he was really doing was putting pressure to move my arm into a normal rotation position. He had me on my side on a mat while he leaned on me with a lot of leverage. I finally just gave up and let him push through. Talk about agony! I have had ice on it most of the afternoon. I have pretty good motion right now, but it is what happens as I sleep that really causes me the most problems. I still can’t put my right arm back to that position it takes to tuck my shirt in or take something out of my pants pocket. We’re getting there though.

  12. Hang in there, sir. God will bring you through. You will just have to wear your shirt out and put everything in your left pocket……..you may be a little lopsided, though. haha

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