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5. Correction Concerning the Day of the Lord—Part 2 (2 Thes. 2:6-8)


In this next section, vss. 6-12, the apostle is still writing to refute the idea that the Day of the Lord was present. The fundamental objective again, however, was protect the truth of the parousia and our gathering together unto Him, i.e., what that means to the church as the “blessed hope.” The apostle had appealed to the Thessalonians to not be shaken or easily unsettled about the false claims that they were then in the Day of the Lord. His appeal was first based on two facts: that day cannot be present without the presence of the great future rebellion that must come first before the second necessary ingredient—the unveiling of one called “the man of lawlessness.” This rebellion is not the mystery of lawlessness already set in motion, but evidently a future, sudden, and final revolt that provides the final seed bed for the unveiling of the lawless one’s presence.

Throughout history, it has been the desire of Satan to exalt himself above the throne of God and to be worshipped. This one who will come, “the lawless one,” is Satan’s man, the product of the working of Satan himself (vs. 9). So why hasn’t Satan been able to reveal his man before now? Though the identity of the restrainer is very difficult by way of interpretation, part of the answer to this question is found in these verses in the concept of the restrainer. Satan, as the arch enemy of God and man, is now active night and day seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). This nefarious creature would have long ago brought the kingdoms of this world to even greater ruin and raised up his own kingdom so that he might be worshipped if it were not for the sovereign restraint of God’s grace.

Both the activities of Satan before the flood and God’s response at that time illustrate this principle. Before the flood, the wickedness of man was extreme and the intent of his heart bent only on evil (Gen. 6:5). Satan’s activity was certainly part of the cause for the extreme conditions that existed, but the point is that God did not allow this to continue. Genesis 6:3-4 states the divine intention to halt these conditions in the declaration, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years’” (NIV). Or as the NET Bible translates, “So the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not always protect mankind—his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” Regardless of how the word “contend”51 is translated, the point of the text “… seems to be that the Lord would not allow the race to continue on in such debauchery; rather, there would be a limit.”52

Clearly then, because God restrains the forces of evil in the world today, Satan can only do what he does by the permissive will of God as with Job (see Job 1-2). But a day is coming when that restraint is going to be removed and then Satan will move quickly to set up his end time system of horror.

The Second Explanation:
The Day of the Lord and Its Relation to the Restrainer

2:6 And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 2:7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way, 2:8 and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his coming.

The Delay of the Day of the Lord (2:6-7)

Paul has shown us that the Day of the Lord cannot be present without the two phenomena mentioned, “the rebellion” and the “revelation of the man of lawlessness,” but now a third important phenomenon is brought into the picture that must also occur before the Day of the Lord can be present. Verse 8 begins with tote, “then, at that time.” It is an adverb of time which shows a sequence of events. This stands in strong contrast with the focus on the present seen in verse 7 which is brought out more forcefully in the translations of the NIV and the NASB. The NIV has, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (emphasis mine). Note the words “already” and “now.” “Already” is ede, an adverb of time meaning, “now, already.”53 “Now” is the Greek arti, another adverb which may refer to the present time in general, “now, at the present time.”54 The point is that the mystery of lawlessness is now at work and the Thessalonians were facing suffering because that lawless system was already at work, but the man of lawlessness—one of the vital evidences for the Day of the Lord—could not be revealed until the restrainer is removed.

But who or what is the restrainer mentioned by the apostle in verses 6 and 7? While we know God is at work restraining evil in general, the exact identification of the restrainer has always baffled expositors with multiple solutions offered. It’s clear that Paul told the Thessalonians what or who the restrainer was for he says, “you know what holds him back,” but he does not tell us in this or in any other of his letters. What he does tells us is that the restrainer is now at work until he or it is no longer present. Before tackling the identity of the restrainer, let’s look at some of the details of verses 6-7.

Literally, verse 6a reads, “And now you know what holds back (or restrains).” “Now” is nun, an adverb which may be understood in a temporal sense, “now, at the present time.” Taken as such it would modify “holds back” as in the translation of the NASB, “And you know what restrains him now.” Or nun may be taken in a logical or resumptive sense in which case it modifies “you know,” as in the NET Bible, “And so you know,” or “as it is (in view of the previous teaching) you know.” The word order and flow of the argument seems to fit the logical sense better.

“What holds back” is to katechon, from the verb katecho, “to hold back, hinder, check, restrain.” Grammatically, it is a present neuter substantival participle which means, “you know that which is restraining” or “the restraining thing.” Katecho occurs again in verse 7, only there it occurs in the masculine, “he who” or “the one who restrains.” It should be noted the object restrained is actually not mentioned in verse 6 or 7. Most translations have something like, “restrain him” referring to the lawless one, but it could just as easily be the mystery of lawlessness that is being restrained. This restraint naturally hinders Satan’s end-time plans from developing and so also the historical arrival and revelation of the man of lawlessness as verse 6b explains, “so that he will be revealed in his own time.” It will be then (tote), and not before. “Time” is kairos which looks at a definite future and fixed time, but primarily from the standpoint of the characteristics of that period when he will be revealed, not the date. Only God knows the date, but we can know something of the characteristics of this time of lawlessness as it is described in other portions of Scripture like Revelation 6-19 and portions of Daniel, for instance.

While verse 6b draws our attention to the intended result or purpose of the restraint, “so that he (the man of lawlessness) will be revealed in his own time,” verse 7 focuses the reader on the present state of affairs, “for the hidden power (mystery) of lawlessness is already at work, only the one who restrains will continue to do so until he (the restrainer) is (taken) out of the midst.” The restraint of this present spirit of lawlessness will continue according to God’s sovereign purposes until things are ripe for the lawless one himself to be fully developed and revealed.

But what is meant by the mystery of lawlessness? “Mystery” is musterion, which in the New Testament is something that lies beyond man’s natural reach and can only be known by divine revelation.

The word “mystery” can be summarized as follows:55 The term mystery as it is used in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word musterion from meuo, “to initiate into (the mysteries),” i.e., to make known special secrets. Thus, musterion meant a secret rite or teaching which the initiate knew but no one else could know; something not publicly disclosed. The root idea then is information known only to those on the inside, but hidden to those who are without (Mark 4:11). Most often in the New Testament, though not always, it refers to information which has been kept secret or veiled, but has now been disclosed by God’s revelation (see Rom. 16:25-26).

The term mystery does not refer to something mysterious in that it eludes all comprehension or explanation. Rather, as used in the Bible, it refers to God’s secrets, His counsels, purposes, and other truths not naturally known to man apart from His special revelation in Scripture or by His prophets (see Dan. 2:18-23; 27-30).

In the context of 2 Thessalonians, the mystery of lawlessness refers to the continuation and gradual build up of the state of lawlessness (see 2 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 3:3) which will culminate in the man of lawlessness once the restrainer is removed. Musterion, because it has the article, points to something specific and well known to the readers, obviously by the teaching of Paul and the missionary team. But in what sense is this a mystery? It is a mystery in the sense that humankind does not recognize the insidious forces of Satan at work behind the scenes to create a state of lawlessness the world over. And we should note that this lawlessness is not necessarily confusion and disorder or even the absence of law. The man of lawlessness will invoke all sorts of hideous laws through his tyrannical governmental system by which he seeks to control mankind. Lawlessness, then, refers to the presence of rebellion against God’s established rule and purposes. It speaks of the aim of Satan and his hosts of wickedness in spiritual places to overthrow the human government as ordained by God and other institutions like marriage and the family that God has designed for the blessing and protection of mankind.

Finally, referring again to the restrainer, most translations have something like, “until he is taken out of the way” or “removed” (cf. NASB, NIV, KJV, NET, and NRSV). Literally, however, the text simply has, “until he comes (ginomai, “to be, come to be, happen”) to be out of the midst (ek, “out of,” + mesos, “middle, midst”).” The possible significance of this will be suggested in the discussion regarding the identity of the restrainer.

Who then is the restrainer? Multiple suggestions have been made, but ultimately, it seems it must boil down to what or who is powerful enough to restrain Satan’s activities and who or what would do so. Most expositors commenting on these verses in their commentaries list a number of proposed solutions with perhaps most identifying the restrainer as the Roman Empire of Paul’s day or even government in general as a divine institution (Rom. 13:1f) since government is designed to hold back evil by its system of laws. The problem with this view is that it is government and specifically, the revived Roman Empire that the lawless (anomos) one will use in the last days. Government does not restrain him. Rather than a restraint to the mystery of lawlessness and so to the antichrist, government will become the very vehicle he will use to propel his system into existence.

To identify the restrainer, then, certain requirements need to be met.

    1. The restrainer must be able to fit the description of the neuter (to katechon, “that which restrains”) and the masculine (ho katechon, “he who restrains”).

    2. The restrainer must be both powerful enough and willing to restrain or hold back Satan because the mystery of lawlessness lies under Satan’s control.

    3. The restrainer should be one who is seen in other portions of Scripture as engaged in the restraint of the mystery of lawlessness.

    4. The restrainer must be able to fit the description of someone or something that “comes to be out of the midst.”

So who or what fits these requirements? Regarding some of the proposed identifications of the restrainer and especially the view that it is the Roman Empire, Thomas writes:

Proposed identifications of to katechon have been multiple. Because of inability to explain the neuter-masculine combination, such suggestions as the preaching of the gospel, the Jewish state, the binding of Satan, the church, Gentile world dominion, and human government are improbable. To identify to katechon with a supernatural force or person hostile to God is difficult in a paragraph such as this because the restrainer is limiting Satan (vv. 7-9), not cooperating with him (Best, pp. 298-301). A popular understanding since early times has been that this is a reference to the Roman Empire (neuter) and its ruler (masc.) (See George Ladd, NT Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], pp. 530, 560). Paul had several times benefited from the intervention of the Roman government (Acts 17:6 ff.; 18:6 ff.). In other writings he limits the role of human government to its dealing with wrong-doing (Rom 13:1, 3) (Milligan, p. 101). Though preferable to some other solutions, this explanation is disappointing in several ways. To predict the demise of the Roman Empire (cf. v. 7) is very uncharacteristic of Paul (Frame, p. 260). Then too, the Roman emperors sometimes precipitated anti-Christian activities rather than restrained them (Auberlen and Riggenbach, p. 139; Hogg and Vine, p. 260). Elimination of this solution is sealed when we remember that the Roman Empire has long since ceased to exist, and the appearance of Christ or the lawless one has yet to take place (Hogg and Vine, p. 259).56

The restrainer must be God Himself and particularly as the Godhead operates through the power and ministry of the Spirit of God. This is supported by the following:

(1) This fits well with the reality that in the final analysis only God is able to hold back Satan and his activity. As Ryrie points out,

Ultimately a decision as to the identity of the restrainer will be made on the basis of answering the question, Who is powerful enough to hold back Satan. The obvious and only answer to that question is God. Therefore, the restrainer must be God Himself. In this view the neuter in verse 6 would remind us of the power of God in general, and the masculine in verse 7 would point to the person of God.57

Thomas adds the following helpful comment on this issue of the power needed to accomplish the restraint.

It is evident that the restrainer, to accomplish his mission, must have supernatural power to hold back a supernatural enemy (v. 9). God and the outworking of his providence is the natural answer (Ladd, The Blessed Hope, p. 95). Reference to God is favored by the restrainer’s harmony with divine purpose and a divine timetable (“at the proper time,” v. 6) (Hiebert, p. 313; Delling, TDNT, 3:460, 461).58

(2) This view that the restrainer is God as the Godhead operates through the ministry of the Spirit also fits well with the way Paul varied the gender in his description of the restrainer and in the way the Holy Spirit is referred to in Scripture. The Greek word for Spirit is neuter, but on several occasions masculine nouns or pronouns are used for the person of the Spirit as in John 15:26; 16:13-14 and Ephesians 1:13-14.

… Either gender is appropriate, depending on whether the speaker (or writer) thinks of natural agreement (masc. because of the Spirit’s personality) or grammatical (neuter because of the noun pneuma; see John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13, 14) (Robertson, RHG, pp. 208, 209). This identification of the restrainer with deep roots in church history (Alford, 3:57, 58) is most appealing. The special presence of the Spirit as the indweller of saints will terminate abruptly at the parousia as it began abruptly at Pentecost.59

(3) This view also fits well with the activity of God as previously illustrated in Genesis 6 and God’s activity to restrain the evil intentions of pre-diluvian man. The Holy Spirit who is omnipresent and always at work in the world is also present and at work in the church to accomplish God’s purposes. Since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and in keeping with both Old and New Testament promises, this age has been known as the age of the Spirit. It is a time characterized by the fact of the indwelling of the Spirit in the body of Christ (John 14:16-17; 16:8f; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13f; 4:30, etc.). So obviously, much of the Spirit’s ministry of restraint is now being accomplished by the work of the Spirit in the body of Christ in ways far beyond our imagination.

(4) While the Spirit cannot be removed from the world as the omnipresent one, there is the sense in which He can come to be out of the midst as described in verse 7 through the removal of the church, the body of Christ. With the absence of the church, the Spirit’s ministry will then revert back to that of the Old Testament times when the Spirit was with believers in some special way, but was evidently not in them the way He is today. Jesus spoke of this difference when He told the disciples, “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you” (emphasis mine) (John 14:16-17 in the NET Bible). Thus, while the Spirit will not be taken out of the world, a reference to His presence (otherwise no one could be saved in the Tribulation and millions will be), He will come to be out of the midst, a reference to His special residence in the church. This removal of His residence will allow Satan to quickly bring about the great rebellion and reveal the man of lawlessness.

… every person of the Godhead has been, is, and always will be present in the world simply because God is omnipresent. But the persons of the Godhead and particularly the Holy Spirit have not always been resident within the hearts of God’s either permanently or universally (see John 14:17), … Today God has bound Himself to be resident within the hearts of all of His people and always … Thus, to say that the restrainer is removed is not to say that the presence of God is taken away from the earth, nor is it to imply that God (or specifically the Holy Spirit) will cease to work in the world in any way including the work of regeneration. Many will be saved in the tribulation period (cf. Rev. 7:14), and God will be the One who accomplishes that work just as He did in Old Testament times. God’s universal and permanent residence in His people is a distinctive relationship in this day of grace, and certainly the removal of His residence (including those believers in whom He resides) does not mean the withdrawal of His presence or the cessation of His activity. No other interpretation does full justice to all the facts and implications of this passage.60

The Destruction of the Lawless One (2:8)

By the temporal adverb, “then,”61 verse 8 shows the unveiling of “the lawless one”62 will not occur until the restrainer is removed or is no longer resident in the midst as a restraining force in the church. Thus, verse 8 functions as a kind of transition to the next section, verses 9-12. These verses focus on the rise of the lawless one and so also on the Day of the Lord as the product of Satan’s work or activity of deception in the world. But before the apostle moves to that subject, he calls our attention to the sure destruction of this one who is the product of Satan’s work. Though hideous beyond belief, the rise and activity of the lawless one, and so also his governmental and religious system, will be short lived. The temporary nature and sure end of the rule and life of the lawless one is brought out by two statements of the apostle which stress the action accomplished and the means employed: (1) “whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth,” and (2) “wipe out by the manifestation of his coming.” While such details are not mentioned in this passage, verse 8 spans the seven-year reign of the antichrist from the time he makes a covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:26-27) following the rapture, until his destruction by the true Christ at His glorious return at the end of the Tribulation (see Rev. 19:11-21).

Thus, verse 8b strongly focuses us on God’s sovereignty, the Lordship of Christ, and His absolute power. The world will stand in awe of the lawless one, but he is not even a feather in the wind when compared to the Lord Jesus.

The First Statement of the Demise of the Lawless One: “whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth.”

The action against the lawless one: “Destroy” is anaireo, “to take away, remove, destroy.” The word was mostly used of “killing by violence, in battle, by execution, murder, or assassination.”63 Revelation 19:19-20 describes what is meant by “destroy.” The lawless one will not be annihilated, i.e., cease to exist, but removed and thrown alive into the lake of fire.

Revelation 19:19-20 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur.

The means used by Christ: “With the breadth of his mouth” is fundamentally a quote from Isaiah 11:4 (see also Rev. 19:15). Truly, as Martin Luther put it in the great old hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “A word shall quickly fell him.” Whether “the breath of his mouth” is a figurative reference to a word spoken by Christ or to His literal breath, it highlights the ease by which He will remove the lawless one and his lawless and godless system from the earth.

The Second Statement of the Demise of the Lawless One: “and wipe out by the manifestation of his coming.”

The action against the lawless one: “Wipe out” is katargeo, which means (1) “to make ineffective, to nullify, make powerless, idle,” or (2) “abolish, wipe out, set aside.” The idea here is that the lawless one’s power, presence, and rule will be brought to an end and rendered impotent as far as the world is concerned. His fate is the lake of fire.

The means used by Christ: “by the manifestation of his coming.” The very manifestation and splendor (see Tit. 2:13) of the Savior’s presence when He arrives at the end of the Tribulation will render the antichrist impotent and defeated.

Though different words are used in the Greek text, there are two unveilings spoken of in verse 8, that of the man of lawlessness (the antichrist), and that of Christ Himself. For the manifestation of Christ, the apostle used the Greek word epiphaneia, “appearance, manifestation.” It was often used as a religious technical term in the sense of a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity, either in the form of a personal appearance, or by some deed of power by which its presence is made known.64

The apostle used epiphaneia a number of times for the coming of Christ. In each case he used it to focus on some aspect of the purpose of Christ’s appearance or on the glorious nature of His appearing or both. These include the destruction of the man of lawlessness (2 Thes. 2:8), the fact of God’s sovereign rule (1 Tim. 6:14), of Christ’s first appearing to destroy death and give life (2 Tim. 1:10), the judgment of the living and the dead and God’s rule (2 Tim. 4:1), the awarding of crowns (2 Tim. 4:1), and the glorious nature of His appearing as an incentive to godly living now (Tit. 2:13). Here then, is a strong note of encouragement. Yes, there is a mystery of lawlessness at work now; and yes, the man of lawlessness (Satan’s man) will have his day of power and rule, but it will be short lived. The Lord Jesus, the Lamb who is also the Lion and the one who will have already come for the church, will return with His bride (Rev. 19) and His worldwide and glorious manifestation will become the very means of rendering powerless Satan’s man.


No wonder the author of Hebrews, warning his audience against going back into the legalism of Judaism, spoke of what Christ has accomplished and of what we have in Christ now and in the future as our “so great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). Our salvation in Christ not only frees us from the clutches of sin, both its penalty and power, and from the power of Satan, but it promises us a glorious future by the literal return of the Savior in great glory and power. First, as declared in 1 Thessalonians, He will come for us to deliver us from the wrath to come, but then He will come with us to defeat Satan’s end-time system and establish His glorious rule on earth. It is for this reason Paul speaks of this event as “the blessed hope and (or “even”) the appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” But lest we forget, it is a hope that not only gives comfort for the future, but strong instruction and motivation for godly living now.

2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 2:12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 2:13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 2:14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. 2:15 So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority (Titus 2:11-15).

Further, as we reflect on these verses, we should never underestimate the way God is using the church today. As Wiersbe writes:

In spite of its weakness and seeming failure, never underestimate the importance of the church in the world. People who criticize the church do not realize that the presence of the people of God in this world gives unsaved people opportunity to be saved. The presence of the church is delaying the coming of judgment. Lot was not a dedicated man, but his presence in Sodom held back the wrath of God (Gen. 19:12-29).

There are two programs at work in the world today: God’s program of salvation, and Satan’s program of sin, “the mystery of iniquity.” God has a timetable for his program, and nothing Satan does can change that timetable. Just as there was a “fulness of time” for the coming of Christ (Gal. 4:4), so there is a “fulness of the time” for the appearance of antichrist; and nothing will be off schedule. Once the restraining ministry of the Spirit of God has ended, the next event can take place.65

Whether one realizes it or not, through the preaching of the gospel and bringing people into a relationship with Christ, the church has been the cause of more transforming changes for good than any other source or movement in history. Perhaps, the following two illustrations will help to show this.

First, in his book, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Dr. James Kennedy first gives an overview of a number of the awesome results of the life of Jesus Christ and then documents and explains how Christianity has impacted society in detail with illustration after illustration in the rest of the book. Today, many take these things for granted, especially in our country, but as Kennedy shows, things were by no means always like this. Here are a few of those transforming results summarized: (1) The development of hospitals which essentially began during the Middle Ages. (2) Universities, which also began in the Middle Ages. In addition, most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes. (3) Literacy and education for the masses. (4) Capitalism and free-enterprise. (5) Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the American experiment. (6) Civil liberties. (7) The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in more modern times. (8) Modern science. (9) The elevation of women. (10) Benevolence and charity; the Good Samaritan ethic. (11) The condemnation of adultery, homosexuality, and other sexual perversions. This has helped to preserve the human race, and it has spared many from heartache. (12) High regard for human life because people are seen as created in the image of God. (13) The civilizing of many barbarian and primitive cultures.66

Second, I was recently reminded of this restraining influence of the church by Dr. Ted Baehr, author of The Media Wise Family and Chairman of The Christian Film and Television Commission/Good News Communications, who spoke at the church my wife and I attend. In his message as well as in his book, he gives statistic after statistic based on numerous polls and surveys that show the church is a lot more healthy than one might suppose in view of what is seen and heard via the media. The same applied to the morals of American people and that in spite of the fact that many movies and TV shows today promote morals that fall completely in line with the mystery of lawlessness. Though the church is far from what it should be, it appears the restrainer is at work regardless of the fact the Bible is not being proclaimed as clearly and with the depth as it should. For instance,

A USA Today / CNN / Gallup poll dealt with broader entertainment industry issues. This survey of 65,142 viewers found: 96% are very concerned or somewhat concerned about sex on TV. 97% are very or somewhat concerned about vulgar language on TV. (7% are very or somewhat concerned about violence on TV. 83% said the entertainment industry should make serious effort to reduce sex and violence in movies and music and TV. 68% believe that reducing the amount of sex and violence in movies and music and on TV would significantly improve the moral climate of the U.S. 65% felt the entertainment industry is seriously out of touch with the values of the American people… 67

In another place, Baehr points out another interesting report.

The spiritual sea change in America is influencing the box office in some startling ways. Movies with strong Christian content are becoming extremely profitable at the box office. In 1996, movies with strong Christian content, such as Dead Man Walking, and not just movies with wedding or funeral homilies, earned 37. 5 million on average at the box office, …

… The shift in values and attitudes has left movies with excessive sexual content and violence in the dust. Therefore, much to the dismay of Hollywood executives, many big-budget porno-violent films have flopped at the box office.68

What does all this show us? Again, even though there is a crisis in evangelical Christianity and though in some ways we have been losing the war, we can see that a church in whom the Spirit of God is resident is still having an impact of restraint. But a day is coming when the restrainer is going to be removed and I believe this is through the rapture of the church, and then that awful rebellion or apostasy will occur and the lawless one will be revealed.

The Word “Mystery”

The term mystery as it is found in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word musterion from meuo, “to initiate into (the mysteries),” i.e., to make known special secrets. Thus, musterion meant a secret rite or teaching which the initiate knew but no one else could know. The root idea then is information known only to those on the inside, but hidden to those who are without (Mark 4:11). Most often in the New Testament it refers to information which has been kept secret or veiled, but has now been disclosed by God’s revelation (Rom. 16:25-26).

The Biblical Significance and Use of the Term

As mentioned in the body of this study, the term mystery does not refer to something mysterious in that it eludes all comprehension or explanation. Rather, as used in the Bible, it refers to God’s secrets, His counsels, purposes, and other truths which are not naturally known to man apart from His special revelation in Scripture or by his prophets (Dan. 2:18-23; 27-30).

In many cases in the New Testament it refers to church truth which was unknown in Old Testament times, but has been revealed in the New Testament revelation (cf. Eph. 3:1-9). The Old Testament revealed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the Gentiles, etc., but there was no mention of the church and certain aspects of the church age. These things Paul called mysteries (Rom. 16:25-26).

It is also used of spiritual truth revealed in Scripture (Old or New Testament truth) but which remains a secret or veiled to unbelievers because they cannot spiritually understand ideas due to their unregenerate condition. In this sense, it refers to truth that man cannot comprehend by experience, by trial and error, by human testing, or by his own reason or human philosophy (1 Cor. 2:6-14; Mark 4:11). Through the revelation of the Word of God, the new capacity given in the new nature, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the believer becomes the initiate of God’s mysteries (cf. Phil. 4:12 where Paul uses the Greek word mueo). For this more general use, compare also 1 Cor. 4:1 and perhaps Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; and 1 Tim. 3:9.

A Summary of the Mysteries of the New Testament

    1. The mystery of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13). The mystery of the interim program of God between Christ’s first and second advents.

    2. The mystery of the blindness of Israel and God’s purpose with Israel’s blindness (Rom. 11:1-25).

    3. The mystery of the departure of the church at the end of this age (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thes. 4:13f).

    4. The mystery of the church as the body of Christ where Jew and Gentile become one new man in Christ (Eph. 3:1-11; 2:11f).

    5. The mystery of the church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32).

    6. The mystery of the indwelling of Christ as the hope of glory or spiritual deliverance by the power of the indwelling Christ (Col. 1:26-27; 2:2).

    7. The mystery of lawlessness—the continuation and gradual build up of the state of lawlessness which will culminate in the man of lawlessness (1 Thess. 2:7). Lawlessness is not necessarily confusion and disorder or even the absence of law, but rather the presence of rebellion against God’s established rule and purposes. It speaks of the aim of Satan and his hosts of wickedness to overthrow the divine government and established ordinances of God as He designed them.

    8. The mystery of godliness, or the process by which man becomes God-like in character through the person, work and life of Jesus Christ as He is faithfully proclaimed and defended by the church of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:16).

    9. The mystery of the church as the seven stars (Rev. 1:20).

    10. The mystery of God, the answer to the age old question, why has God allowed Satan and evil to continue to exist (Rev. 10:7).

    Please note that the answer to this is found in Scripture, it was preached to God’s prophets. There are two key parts to this answer: (a) To resolve the angelic warfare, to answer and demonstrate that Satan, the accuser and slanderer of God’s character is wrong in his accusations and that he is worthy of God’s judgment for his sin. (b) To demonstrate God’s patience and love and to provide ample opportunity for men to come to Christ (2 Pet. 3:7-8).

    So when the angel of Revelation 10:7 says “time shall be no more” he means that once the seventh trumpet is sounded, this time of demonstrating God’s character and of demonstrating man and Satan for what they are, this time of allowing Satan and rebellion to continue, will be over; God will act swiftly now to establish His rule of righteousness on earth. This period of the patience of God is over.

    11. The mystery of Babylon, the truth regarding the source of the ancient and godless mother-child cult (Rev. 17:5, 7).

51 The Hebrew word here is yadon, which has been translated “strive” is in question because it is found only here in the Old Testament. Some take it to mean “strive” in the sense of the Holy Spirit’s work of judging or executing judgment. Some take it to mean “protect, shield,” based on an Akkadian cognate. Others prefer the Septuagint translation of “remain” in the sense that the human spirit placed there by God would not always abide because man was doomed to death.

52 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1988, p. 183.

53 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic media.

54 Bauer, Gingrich, Danker, electronic media.

55 See Addendum for an overview of the meaning and use of mystery in the New Testament.

56 Thomas, electronic media.

57 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, First and Second Thessalonians, Moody, Chicago, 1959, pp. 110-111.

58 Thomas, electronic media.

59 Thomas, electronic media.

60 Ryrie, pp. 113-114.

61 “Then” is the Greek tote, used here to introduce that which follows in time.

62 The unveiling of the lawless one has already been mentioned in vs. 3, which is a sure sign of the presence of the Day of the Lord.

63 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic media.

64 Bauer, Gingrich, Danker, electronic media.

65 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Ready, Victor Books, Wheaten, Illinois, 1979, pp. 139-140.

66 D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1994, p. 3.

67 Ted Baehr, The Media Wise Family, Chariot Victor Publishing, Colorado Springs, CO, 1998, pp. 31-32.

68 Baehr, pp. 42-44.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)

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