What is "The Mystery of Lawlessness"?




Pauline theology presents two "mysteries" as signs preceding the Second Coming: the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 1-12)...and the mystery of Israel’s hardening and final salvation (Rom. 9-11).

For a general discussion of the signs of the second Coming click here.

The Man of Lawlessness

Antichrist

Above: The Sermon and Deeds of Antichrist, by Luca Signorelli, 1499-1500 (detail)

As a result of Paul’s first letter to believers in Thessalonica, his readers became upset and excited; some claimed to have revelations from God or a special word from Paul indicating that the end was upon them and that events of the Day of the Lord had actually begun.

Paul corrects an erroneous view of imminence of the parousia (appearing) of Christ at his Second Advent (1-2). Before the end comes, there will appear an evil ruler, the man of lawlessness, who will seize all authority, sacred and secular, and will demand the total submission of mankind to his rule (3-4). He will be satanically empowered to deceive people and turn them away from the truth (9-10). This is the "mystery of lawlessness."

The “Falling Away”

The second feature of the mystery of lawlessness is that before the end comes a “falling away” will occur.

Paul uses the word apostasia, a compound of apo, denoting from, or a state of separation and the verb histemi, which means to cause or make to stand. Therefore, the word means abandonment, apostasy, or rebellion. This is not a drifting away from the Lord into apathy; rather it is a deliberate setting of oneself in violent opposition to God.

G. E. Ladd

According George Eldon Ladd (1911–1982), professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California: “This rebellion is to be a definite event, and apocalyptic happening.” The man of lawlessness will not only oppose all divine authority, but will be supported by a general rebellion against God...why?

The secret power of lawlessness

“Lawless” is from the Greek term anomia, which means the condition of being without law (nomos), contempt and violation of law. The revealing (apocalypto) of the man of lawlessness is only the Final manifestation of a mystery of lawlessness operative throughout the church age (1 Thess. 2:7).

This evil principle is currently held in check (1 Thess. 2:6). There is something that is restraining the appearance of the man of lawlessness. Paul does not state what this restraining principle is. He indicates that it is embodied in a person. When the Restraining One is removed the Lawless One will be revealed.

Ladd insists that there is no hint of the teaching that the Holy Spirit will leave the world before the parousia. The traditional view was that the restraining principle is the Roman empire and the restrainer the emperor. Ladd concludes: “This view, or a modification of it, fits best into the Pauline theology.”

This agrees with Paul’s affirmation that God has ordained human authorities to preserve order (Rom. 13:4). Paul foresees that the mystery of lawlessness ultimately deifies the state so that it is no longer an instrument of law and order, but a totalitarian system that defies god and demands the worship of mankind.

According to Professor Ladd suggests that Paul foresees a time when the rule of law will collapse, when political order will be swept away and no longer be able to restrain the principle of lawlessness. Thus the final defense that the Creator has established against the powers of chaos will break down completely.

Ladd summarizes: “At the very end, law and order will break down, demonic lawlessness will burst forth, and the church will experience a brief period of terrible evil that will be quickly terminated by the return of Christ (v. 8).”

Practical Application from Paul's Teaching on the Mystery of Lawlessness

Alexandra Brown

Dr. Alexandra R. Brown, Jessie B. Dupont Professor of Religion at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia argues that the parousia “encourages both scrutiny regarding one’s own moral disposition and continued work in the world.” Believers are called to reflect on the parousia as the motivation to “lead a life worthy of God,” that is, to holy living (1 Thess. 5:1-11). Furthermore, they are exhorted to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thess. 5:14-15).



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