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


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).

For clear and concise study of the end times using a biblical theology approach with a discussion of selected basic themes including the hope of Israel, the second coming of Christ, the afterlife, judgment, hell and heaven, order my eBook At the End of time.

You may purchase the .pdf eBook for $15.00 through our secure PayPal service. You will be asked to supply an email delivery address to which we can email your .pdf eBook.

Email address for eDelivery

NOTE: We can normally email .pdf eBooks within 24 hours of receiving the order. However, when we are traveling, especially overseas, we are not always able to check our website and emails every day. Please be patient if delivery is delayed for this reason as we do not have a home office staff. THANK YOU!

Return from Signs of the Mystery of Lawlessness to our Eschatology Home Page.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

I write informative and inspirational Bible study material exclusively for subscribers to to my monthly newsletter, eBibleTeacher.

It also tells you each month about the new information that I have added to free-online-bible-study.org. So please subscribe today!

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you eBibleTeacher.

Visit our Free-Online-Bible-Study.org aStore powered by Amazon.com. to view books and other study resources reviewed or referenced on this web page.

Then explore our entire aStore. We have built a Category Page as a resource companion for each article on our Free-Online-Bible-Study.org website.

The books and resources listed do not represent the views of Free-Online-Bible-Study.Org or Teach the Nations, Inc.

Check out the section of our aStore on Eschatology

Would you like to host a Biblical Eschatology: Sound and Sensible seminar at your church, Bible school, or Bible study group?

For over three decades I have lectured on Eschatology and related themes in universities, colleges and churches throughout the world.

The basic class requires 10 hours of class time. This is ideal for a weekend seminar.

Dr. Ian Bond

I am able to conduct a Biblical Eschatology: Sound and Sensible seminar at your church, school, or study group throughout the United States and Canada. I am also available to facilitate seminars in other countries on a more limited basis.

Please contact me.