Chapter X, The Mystery Of Lawlessness And The Revelation Of The Man Of Sin

In his earliest epistle, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul unfolded the precious truth of what we commonly call the “Rapture” of the Church. It is sometimes objected that the word “rapture” is not found in the Scriptures. This is perfectly true, but it does not therefore militate against the truth generally so designated. There are many other terms which are not actually found in the Bible and yet are themselves thoroughly Scriptural inasmuch as they are used to denominate doctrines which are clearly taught in the Word of God.

We do not find the word “trinity” in the Bible, but we do learn that God has revealed Himself in three Persons, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and this of course is the Holy Trinity. The word “substitution” is not found in Scripture, but when the Apostle exclaims, “The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me,” and when Isaiah declares, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,” both are teaching the great truth of substitution.

And so we need not be troubled because we do not find the actual word “rapture” either in Paul’s writings or elsewhere in the New Testament, for to be raptured is to be caught away, and in this first letter to the Thessalonians, as well as in other passages, we learn that the Church of God will be caught away to be with the Lord at His Return to the air. This is what we mean when we speak of the Rapture.

In seeking to comfort some of the troubled Thessalonians who were grieving because they had lost friends in Christ by death, the Apostle told them of a special revelation he had received of the Lord which, as we have already noticed, is identical with that mystery made known later, in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. This is the Coming of the Lord for His saints at the close of the present dispensation and prior to the beginning of the period of judgment which is to follow. Some have supposed that the Church would go into that time of trial and tribulation, but they forget that it is to be the time of Jacob’s trouble, not that of the Church’s testing.

There are also those who, because of present war conditions, insist that we are already in the tribulation and that the Church perhaps will be here for at least the first half of it, but will be caught up in the midst of the seventieth week, before the intense judgments are poured upon the earth; but they surely forget that the seventieth week begins with the signing of a covenant between the head of the ten-kingdom empire yet to arise and someone, evidently the Antichrist, representing the people of Israel. That covenant has not yet been signed. Therefore, we are not in the first half of the week. It will never be signed so long as God is still taking out from among the Gentiles a people to His Name. It will not be until He is once more recognized as in covenant rela- tionship with Israel and the apostate part of the people make a “covenant with death and hell,” as Isaiah calls it (Isaiah 28:18), that the seventieth week will begin.

This, however, was not clear to those early Thessalonian Christians, and when trial and persecution arose, they became perplexed and forgot the clear, definite teaching of the Apostle concerning the hope of the Lord’s return to take His own to be with Himself ere the judgments began, and many wondered if they were not already entering the Great Tribulation with all its terrors. To them it seemed as though nothing could be worse than what they were already enduring, and the teaching was promulgated by some among them that the actual Day of the Lord was upon them—that great and dreadful day when He will deal in judgment with the nations of the world and His wrath will be poured out upon those who have rejected His Gospel. It is even possible, nay, actually probable, as one gathers from Second Thessalonians 2, verse 3, that someone had forged a letter, pretending it came from the Apostle Paul, declaring this very thing; and so bewildered saints were in confusion of mind and had lost sight of the blessed hope which had meant so much to them in the days of their first love.

To correct all this, Paul wrote his second letter. In the first chapter of that letter he speaks of the Coming of the Lord with all His saints when He appears in judgment. Surely no one who compares this passage with First Thessalonians 4:13-18 could ever dream of confounding them. In Second Thessalonians 1:7-10 we read:

“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”

What a scene is this! And how different from the peace and blessedness of the picture given of the descending Christ calling His own to Himself, as we have it in the first epistle. There, there is no flaming fire, no taking vengeance upon the ungodly, but we see the Bridegroom coming for His bride, the Head of the Church calling all His members to be with Himself before the judgments fall upon the earth.

In the second chapter of this second epistle Paul comes directly to the point. Notice verses 1 and 2:

“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” (II Thessalonians 2:1-2).

He bases everything that he is about to say upon the truth he has already declared concerning the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him. It is as though he were saying to these believers, “I beg of you, brethren, in view of what I have already made known to you concerning the precious truth of that which is to be the consummation of all our hopes, the coming of our Lord Jesus to the air, when the dead will be raised and the living changed and we shall all be gathered together unto Him, that you do not allow yourselves to be misled or to be troubled in mind as though the present difficulties you are passing through and the persecutions you are called upon to endure indicate that the actual Day of the Lord is almost upon you.”

Notice that whereas in the Authorized Version we read in verse 2, “the day of Christ,” it is in every critical translation rendered, “the day of the Lord.” This was what they feared. “The day of Christ” always refers to the time when the saints will be gathered around the Lord Jesus Christ in the air and we will stand before His judgment seat. That will be the Day of manifestation for believers only referred to so frequently in the epistles, but the Day of the Lord is the time when He will be manifested in judgment. It includes the pouring out of His wrath during the Great Tribulation and the entire Kingdom Age that will follow.

If someone professed to have a revelation by the Spirit or another declared that he had found in the Word (that is, the Word of God) that the Church was to go through the Great Tribulation, or if someone else presented a forged letter as though it came from Paul himself, he would not have the saints believe it. The Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him must occur first. The Great Tribulation cannot begin until the man of sin has been manifested, but that will never be so long as the Holy Spirit is here in the earth working in and through the Church. This comes out clearly in the verses that follow. He says:

“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; 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. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (II Thessalonians 2:3-5).

The expression “a falling away” might better be rendered “the apostasy.” It refers not to such fallings away from the truth as have taken place again and again throughout the Christian dispensation, but the complete repudiation of Christianity and everything that is of God, when Babylon the Great, the false religious system of the last days, will hold sway over all Christendom, and the man of sin, the embodiment of all impiety, Satan’s pretended Christ, will be manifested. He is called definitely, as Judas was, “the son of perdition.”

We are not to suppose, as some have taught, that Satan will have the power of resurrection. It is only God who raises the dead. Therefore, this son of perdition is not identical with Judas as though he were to be brought forth from the tomb and become the Antichrist, but just as Satan entered into Judas and so controlled and dominated him that he sold the Christ of God, so Satan will enter into and dominate and control this blasphemous leader of Israel in the last days that he will set himself up to destroy everything of God on the earth. His description as given in verse 4 is almost identical with that of the willful king in Daniel 11. He opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped. He takes his place in the Temple of God, a Temple doubtless to be rebuilt in Jerusalem in the end-times, and there declares himself to be divine.

Some have thought that the man of sin is to be identified with the first beast of Revelation 13, because we are told that all men shall worship him whose names are not written in the book of life of the slain Lamb. But the worship here mentioned is in the sense of doing homage, just as millions today do homage to Adolph Hitler and look upon him as an invincible leader against whom none can successfully fight. But the man of sin is a religious leader, not simply the head of a state, and is unquestionably, at least to my mind, identical with the second beast of Revelation 13, the one who will have two horns like a lamb, that is, who looks like the Lamb of God (therefore is the false messiah), but who speaks as a dragon, for he will be energized by Satan.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that when he was with them he had mentioned these things to them, and then he goes on to explain something that they had evidently forgotten.

“And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 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: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (II Thessalonians 2:6-10).

Let us examine these verses carefully. “You know,” the Apostle says, “what withholdeth,” that is, what hinders, what restrains, what keeps back the full manifestation of iniquity—the revelation of the man of sin. Paul had told them of a power that was already in the world which kept evil from rising to its full height. There has been much speculation as to what he meant by this withholder or hinderer. Some have supposed that he was speaking cryptically of the Roman Empire, intimating its destruction, and declaring that the man of sin could not be revealed until the Roman Empire fell. Those who so teach generally think of the man of sin as the Papacy. That the Papacy is anti-Christian cannot be questioned by those who believe and know the truth, but the man of sin is a definite individual, not a system, who will arise at a given time and be destroyed by Almighty power. Others have taught that the hinderer is organized government, and this with a good deal more plausibility. Their thought is that when the Church is taken out of the world, all organized government will collapse, and then out of the chaotic condition prevailing among the nations, the man of sin will arise. But we need to remember that the Apostle was inviting not only for the Thessalonians in his day but for all believers to the end of the dispensation, and when he says, “Ye know what hindereth that he might be revealed in his time,” he is speaking to all Christians.

Let me put the question directly to my reader. Do you know what hinders or restrains the full manifesta- tion of iniquity? I have asked this question over and over again of congregations, small and great, when Christian people were gathered together to study the prophetic Word, and always as with one voice the cry came back in answer, “Yes.” And when I put a second question, “Who or what is the hinderer?” at once they replied, “The Holy Spirit.” This seems to me so plain that I wonder that anyone could question it. In fact, the Prophet Isaiah declares this very definitely. In chapter 59, verse 19, he says: “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him”; or, as others have translated it, “The Spirit of the Lord shall resist him.” He ever resists the powers of evil. As long as He is in the world doing His present work as the Spirit of grace, He resists the efforts of Satan to bring to the-front his false Christ and to destroy God’s testimony in this scene. And so we read that “the mystery of iniquity [or the secret of lawlessness] doth already work, only there is one now who hinders until he be taken out of the way [or out of the midst].”

The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “When the Comforter is come, the Spirit of truth, He will abide with you forever.” He, then, is here in the world working in and through the Church. As long, therefore, as the Church is in this scene, the Hinderer is here, holding back the evil; but Satan is working in a hidden way, duping men and women with false teachings and doing all he can to dishonor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to prepare them to receive the false Christ when he shall appear.

When the Holy Spirit, the Hinderer, goes up with the Church at the Rapture, then that wicked one, Satan’s masterpiece, will be manifested, and for a time he will deceive the whole world, except the very elect (an election called out after the Church is gone), and even they will often be in perplexity and experience difficulty in standing against his persuasiveness. His doom, however, is certain. When the Lord descends in power and glory as indicated in the first chapter of this epistle, this evil personality will be destroyed by the brightness of His Coming.

Rut during the last half of the seventieth week he will deceive the nations by power and signs and lying wonders. Those who will be preserved in that day are designated in the prophets as “the remnant.” This Jewish remnant will become God’s messengers to the Gentiles who have not yet heard and resisted the truth, but for those who have heard and had every opportunity to be saved but persisted in refusing the message of grace, there is no possibility of salvation in that awful day. Recause they refused the love of the truth when they might have known it, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe not merely a lie, but, according to the original text, ike lie, that is, the lie of the Antichrist, that they all might be damned or doomed to judgment because they believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

That the believers of this dispensation will not be present on the earth in that day of Satan’s power is clear from verses 13 and 14:

“But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to Salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Caught away to be with the Lord before the judgments fall, the believers will be with Christ in the Father’s house during the time of trouble here upon the earth. And so it is evident that this revelation concerning the man of sin fits in perfectly with what we have been tracing throughout Scripture, the hidden purpose of God to call out His people during the parenthetic period between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel’s vision.