There’s a verse in the second chapter of 2Thessalonians that has caused great confusion (or, at least, wonderment) to many modern day saints. It refers, in part, to the timing of the Lord’s return. It reads:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” (2Thessalonians 2:7)
The confusion occurs when trying to pin down exactly who the two “he”(s) are that this scripture is referring to. The combined list of suggestions, theories and presumptions is very long. In order to sidestep this list, one must remember an admonition given by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:3)
Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is simple. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, Jesus meant for all of His saints to understand the scriptures. And in this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul definitely wanted them to understand some key points concerning the timing of the Lord’s return … no gimmicks, no hidden knowledge and no obscure symbols. In fact, Paul is just reiterating something that he had already discussed with them. He tells them plainly:
“Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (2Thessalonians 2:5)
So, let’s take a look. Paul starts out in Chapter 2 by saying:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,” (2Thessalonians 2:1)
If one reads this in its simplicity, even a child can understand it. Paul is clearly referring to Christ’s second coming in the clouds when He will “gather together” all of His saints that are still alive upon the Earth and, at the same time, resurrect those who have fallen asleep in Him. You can twist this scripture and render it to mean something else, but not without sacrificing the “simplicity which is in Christ”!
Jesus comes and gathers together His saints unto Himself. SIMPLE! That’s all there is to it.
And Paul is going to keep this theme of the second coming of Christ in mind, all the way up to (and including) 2Thessalonians 3:5 where, afterwards, he changes the topic in order to give some directives to the saints.
In reading the next two verses, it would help to understand that Paul was writing this letter about 20-25 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were still many of the original saints alive that were “witnesses” of those events. They carried with them the promise that Jesus had made to them personally of His “soon-coming” return. Like many today, they thought Jesus could return “at any moment”. This created an excitement among those saints, so much so, that a number of Christians were postulating theories about Christ’s return that were of a disturbing and deceitful manner. The most notorious of these being a heresy that was being perpetrated by Hymenaeus and Philetus:
“Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” (2Timothy 2:18)
This is a perfect example of how erroneous preaching can be so harmful. It can actually, by its very nature, “overthrow” a Christian’s faith! It is within this scope and atmosphere of prevailing heresies, that Paul is endeavoring to “calm” the saints lest they lose heart or even despair and possibly fall away from the faith. Can you imagine how YOU might despair today if you believed that the resurrection had taken place already … and YOU were “left behind”? Yeah, that’s another topic and definitely one that needs to be addressed in another article.
So, let’s examine these scriptures:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall NOT come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” (2Thessalonians 2:1-3)
Again, this instruction is so clear, a child can understand it! Two demonstrable and visible occurrences MUST take place before the Lord returns and gathers together His saints:
1) There must be a falling away (departure, apostasy) from trusting in God and having the true faith in Jesus Christ which “brings salvation unto all men” … this is only now beginning to manifest in the world and will increase in intensity more and more until it totally fills the Earth. This not only includes pseudo-Christians that forsake God, but all of mankind that have heard the gospel of salvation and have refused the opportunity to repent and, thereby, acknowledge the lordship of Christ that they might be saved.
And, secondly …
2) The man of sin, who will rule the Earth (along with the hearts & minds of those who inhabit it), must be revealed visibly as the antichrist in the midst of the people who are living on the Earth … this has NOT happened, yet.
So, with these two directives in mind, let us go on.
“And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.” (2Thessalonians 2:6)
Well, there are only two things that are “holding” everything back at the moment, and Paul just instructed us what they were: (1) There first has to be a full-blown, world-wide apostasy and (2) the man of sin must be revealed (i.e. exposed) to the entire population of the world.
Again, one can let their eschatology cloud the issue, but Paul is being very plain and simple here.
Now, the following scriptures are very important because they link together what we need to understand about, not only the timing of these events, but HOW the man of sin is going to be “revealed” to the world.
The scriptures describe the man of sin this way:
“Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” (2Thessalonians 2:9)
“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2Thessalonians 2:4)
And to those upon the Earth who have not trusted in Jesus Christ as their personal savior, Satan will also come…
“…with all deceivableness of unrighteousness IN them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2Thessalonians 2:9-12)
Notice here that because of the deceitful nature of the man of sin’s actions and power (I.e. basically Satan incarnate in human form), the whole Earth is going to believe that he’s the messiah … or God in the flesh. They’re going to be deceived and influenced by Satan himself. They won’t know the man of sin is the antichrist until God “reveals” him to be so.
“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:” (2Thessalonians 2:8)
The world will not know that they’ve been duped until Christ returns and destroys the man of sin at his coming. Then, like the prophet Isaiah said, all that look upon the man of sin at his destruction will be amazed and proclaim:
“Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?” (Isaiah 14:16-17)
Then the world will understand who this man of sin really is. Because Jesus Christ will destroy him at His coming, and thereby “expose” to the world this great deception.
So, where does that leave us at this present time. Well…
“…the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” (2Thessalonians 2:7)
For sure! This is what Paul was trying to convey to the Thessalonians. The “mystery of iniquity” that was already working in Paul’s time (and has continued to work for the last 2,000 years), will go on “working” right up to the point where “he is taken out of the way”! Then shall that “wicked one be revealed”.
In case you haven’t caught on, the Greek usage of “taken out of the way” means “to be fulfilled”, “to be ended” or “to be finished” while in the very “midst” of things occurring. In other words, the mystery of iniquity is going to continue until, while even in the very midst of its working, it is going to be ended, fulfilled and brought to a conclusion. That’s why the scriptures declare that:
“…except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)
How? By the coming of Christ! With the brightness of His coming, Jesus Christ is going to put an “end” to the man of sin and his “working of iniquity” is going to be finished upon the Earth.
“only he who now letteth will let”
The word “letteth” is an unfortunate term for our modern day English. It’s not something that we readily use or understand. So, to put it simply, the Greek usage of “let” is derived from two other Greek words meaning “to possess” and “opposition”. It’s been widely interpreted to mean “to hinder”, but its actual inference is much stronger. It means “to hold down fast” or “to oppose strongly”.
So, who is he that is “strongly opposing” in these scriptures? Simply put, it is Satan … in the form of the man of sin!
“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped;” (2Thessalonians 2:4)
If we were to loosely paraphrase into modern day jargon what Paul was saying to the Thessalonians, combined with the understanding of other supporting scriptures, it would come out something like this:
“Now, in these final days brethren, don’t get all excited and shook up by a lot of talk by others who think that Jesus could come any minute. Because that day of His return is not going to occur until two things happen.”
“First, there is going to be a great apostasy in the world from the Christian faith. This will give rise to an environment of great evil which will cause many to be deceived and even become followers of Satan who will do his bidding continuously.”
“Secondly, during this vacuum of Christian influence, the man of sin, having received power from Satan himself, is going fill this spiritual void by bringing his work of iniquity (which has been going on for thousands of years) into full operation.”
“And this opposition against God is going to continue in the world until Jesus Christ Himself returns, exposes the man of sin for who he really is, and destroys him along with all of his works. He will also destroy all of Satan’s cohorts who were deceived by the man of sin and contributed willingly to his evil agenda.”
“So, now you understand why it seems like His second coming is being delayed. But it’s really nothing more than the fact that the Father (who is the only one who knows the actual day and hour of Christ’s return) is allowing all of these things to be fulfilled in their perfect order and revealed in their perfect time.”
“God’s timing is always perfect. And nothing is going to happen before it’s time to happen. Remember how when I visited last, I explained all of this to you?”
Or, to be totally simplified:
“Satan, who now opposes God, will continue to oppose God, until he (Satan) is destroyed.”