…and into the fire.
We figured out what was going on in verses 1-4 with some detective work, and now we must grab our sleuth garb once more as we continue into these verses:
Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His [f]coming;9 that is, the one whose [g]coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and [h]signs and false wonders, 10 and with [i]all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
2Thessalonians 2:5-10 (NASB)
I usually don’t do this, but for this discussion, I’ve left the verse and footnote markers in place; they will be important for us here.
Verse 5 is easy to understand, but it also makes our caution lights go on; Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that he has already taught them about all of this, so they should already understand what’s going on. While this statement might have reminded them of his earlier teachings and thus helped them understand their current situation, it tells us that Paul might not feel the need to mention every detail again, and since we were not present when he taught the Thessalonians in the first place, our job is likely to be made more difficult, as is the case. Verse 6 is not the best literary sentence Paul ever came up with, and not his easiest for us to follow.
It follows his teaching of verses 3-4, so that we now know all about the man of lawlessness, all we need to figure out is this “holding back” business. Since the man of lawlessness is Satan, and “lawlessness” is sin, rebellion… apostasy, then who might be holding him back until the time comes for him to be revealed (exposed)? Only God can fill this bill entirely, so let’s assume Paul is referring to God for now, and see if that is confirmed in the rest of the text.
This brings us to verse 7, which is the crucial verse. As I read it, the “mystery of lawlessness” is Satan because he is the “man of lawlessness” who deceives, and who has not yet been revealed or exposed, thus he is mysterious. The man of lawlessness is “already at work” as the Thessalonians are well aware (remember this!) but he and his work are being restrained. That might have come as a surprise to the Thessalonians who were being harshly persecuted, as it may also come as a surprise to many today who see Satan and his works seemingly running rampant all over the world, but he is being restrained or held back even now.
Do you recall my little theory from a few passages back? I mentioned there that God was restraining the works of Satan, and cited at least one example: Why did they arrest and kill Jesus, but not also arrest and kill His disciples? Why didn’t the temple guards arrest and kill the Apostles at Pentecost? God will not permit His eternal purpose to be destroyed by Satan. Satan has leeway right now, but he can only go so far, for he is being restrained even now. If you’re sharp, you’re recalling the story of Job right about now…
Continuing in verse 7: “…only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way” we need to consider who is going to be taken out of the way. The word “he” appears here twice. The first “he” is God, but is God also the second “he”? Unless we can think of someone who can actually remove God from the situation, I highly doubt it. The subject of the sentence is “the mystery of lawlessness”, thus the second “he” is the mystery of lawlessness, and we’ve solved that particular mystery already; it is Satan. So here’s the picture: Satan is busy at work trying to ruin God’s plan. God is allowing this to play out for now, but is only letting Satan go so far, until the time comes for God to take Satan out for good.
Verse 8 confirms this picture, but does verse 9?
This is why I left the footnotes in place; the footnotes in the NASB for both verses 8 and 9 are the same, for the Greek word is the same. The footnote says: “or presence”. The Greek word is parousia which means “presence” or “coming” and the tense is determined by the context. Since verse 7 clearly tells us that the man of lawlessness is already on the scene and hard at work, context should tell us that verse 9 should have been rendered “presence” and verse 8 “coming” because the whole point of this chapter is that Jesus hasn’t come yet, but Satan is here now. Therefore, both verses 8 and 9 confirm our understanding of verses 7 and 8.
Oh! In all of the excitement, I almost forgot to mention that Paul finally names names in verse 9. The presence of the man of lawlessness is in accord with the works of… (drum roll please)… Satan: of course it is, for the man of lawlessness is Satan. The result of all of Satan’s activities is that he not only deceives, but that he does so with wickedness for those he deceives, for their lack of love for the truth results in their utter destruction.
When we pick up next, we’ll be in the home stretch, see you then!