Already, the mystery of lawlessness is at work, preparing the way for the Man of Lawlessness and the Apostasy – 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7.
Paul first explained why the “day of the Lord” has not commenced: Two events must precede it, the “apostasy” and the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.” Next, he describes the “mystery of lawlessness” that was working even in his day behind the scenes to set the stage for the “arrival” of the “Lawless One,” the “son of destruction.”
The “mystery of lawlessness” will not culminate in the “arrival” of the “lawless one” until the time determined by God. But in the interim, it strives tirelessly to produce its malevolent fruit.
- (2 Thessalonians 2:5-8) – “Do you not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you? And now you know what is possessing, to the end, he may be revealed in his season. For the mystery of lawlessness already is working, only there is one who is possessing now, until he comes out of the way; then will be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth and destroy with the manifestation of his arrival [parousia].”
The Greek term rendered “mystery” does not refer to something that is esoteric or mysterious, but instead, to that which is hidden, secret. The demonstrative pronoun “these things” refers to the two things just listed, the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness” and the “apostasy.”
The term rendered “possessing” translates the Greek participle katechon. It is in the present tense, which signifies ongoing action. In other words, “what is retraining” – (Strong’s – #G2722). The verb occurs approximately twenty times in the New Testament, usually with the sense “hold fast, keep, possess” – (Matthew 21:38, Romans 1:18,7:6, 1 Corinthians 7:30,1 Thessalonians 5:21).
What is possessing” represents the participle with the definite article or “the,” and here it is in the neuter gender; hence, “what is possessing.” In the Greek sentence, it is paired with the “mystery of lawlessness” (verse 7). Like the participle, the noun rendered “mystery” is in the neuter gender, which explains the neuter article in verse 6. That is, the “mystery of lawlessness” is the thing that is “possessing” at present.
Paul’s description echoes the image of the “little horn” from the seventh chapter of Daniel. As he often does, he uses the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. The Greek term katechon or “possessing” and several others are derived from this chapter in Daniel, including “midst,” “season,” and “lawlessness”:
- (Daniel 7:8) – “There came up IN THEIR MIDST [anebé en mesō] another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots: and behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
- (Daniel 7:18-26) – “But the saints of the most High will take the kingdom, and POSSESS [katechō] the kingdom forever….I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; UNTIL [heōs] the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and THE SEASON [kairos] came that the saints POSSESSED [katechō] the kingdom…And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom will ten kings arise: and another will arise after them; and he will be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings. And he shall speak words against the Most-High and shall wear out the saints; and he will think to change THE SEASONS and THE LAW.”
The Septuagint version of the passage uses katechō to translate the Aramaic verb chacan, meaning to “possess, take possession.” In Daniel, after judgment is made on their behalf by the “Ancient of Days,” the “saints” take “possession” of the kingdom, which implies that something or someone else first possessed it.
“To the end, to reveal him in his season [kairos].” “To the end” represents a purpose clause in the Greek (to eis), and that purpose is to prepare for the unveiling of this lawless figure. This understanding is confirmed in the next clause, “for the mystery of lawlessness already is working.” Note the use of another present tense verb, “is working.” Even now, the “mystery of lawlessness” is working to prepare for this unveiling.“
In his season” means there is a set time when this event will occur. Just as the “little horn” was authorized to inflict the saints for a “season, seasons, and part of a season,” so the “man of lawlessness” will be allotted a specific and limited “season” in which to pursue his deceptive goals.
“Only at present, until he who possesses comes out of the midst [heōs ek mesou].” The verb ginomai or “comes out” means to “come, become, to come to be.” Here again, Paul echoes the same passage from Daniel – The “little horn rose up in the midst” to remove three “horns” – (Daniel 7:8).
The subject of the clause is the man “who possesses,” not the “mystery of lawlessness” or his unveiling. Precisely what Paul means by “out of the midst” is not clear; however, it may allude to the description of the “man of lawlessness” who will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God,” where he will be “revealed.”
This interpretation is confirmed in the next clause, “then shall be revealed the lawless One.” The “mystery of lawlessness” is preparing the way for the revelation of the “man of lawlessness.” Paul is describing the things that must occur BEFORE the “day of the Lord,” that is, the “apostasy” and the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.”
In Daniel, the “little horn” was a usurper who appeared from the legitimate line of ten kings. He “possessed” the kingdom UNTIL the time arrived for God to vindicate His “saints,” which produced his overthrow and the “possession” of the kingdom by the “saints.” Likewise, after the “arrival” of the “man of lawlessness,” he will be destroyed at the “arrival” or ‘parousia’ of Jesus.
While his language is cryptic, the scenario Paul presents is straightforward. The “day of the Lord” and the “arrival” of Jesus to “gather his saints” will not occur until after the “apostasy” and the “man of lawlessness” is “revealed.” That malevolent figure will take his seat and be unveiled in the “sanctuary of God,” where he will deify himself.
At present, the “mystery of lawlessness” is at work preparing for this unveiling when he comes “out of the midst,” that is, his “revelation.” His “arrival” is the same as his “arrival” or ‘parousia.’ Afterwards, Jesus himself will “arrive” and destroy the “lawless one.” Put another way, the “arrival” of the “Lawless One” is the counterpart to the “arrival” of Jesus in glory – (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
The description by John of the “spirit of antichrist” is conceptually parallel to Paul’s “mystery of lawlessness.” Like that latter, the “spirit of antichrist is in the world already.” That reality is demonstrated by the rise of “many antichrists” within the church, false teachers, which also demonstrates that it is the “last hour.” They are forerunners of “the Antichrist… who is coming” – (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3).
The association of the “lawless one” with the “apostasy,” the “sanctuary of God,” and the use of “signs and wonders” to deceive, along with the contrast between his “arrival” and that of Jesus, warn us that this figure is coming to deceive believers. On some level, he will mimic Christ, and in the end, cause many saints to apostatize from the faith.
Whether the “mystery of lawlessness” is an impersonal force, one of the spiritual “principalities or world rulers,” or Satan himself, its purpose is to retain “possession” of the “kingdom,” and to do this, it must derail the “saints” and, thereby, the purposes of God. That can only be accomplished by deceiving them and causing their apostasy.