SYNOPSIS – The Mystery of Lawlessness is already at work in the world preparing to unleash the Man of Lawlessness – 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7.
To this point, Paul has explained why the “Day of the Lord” has not commenced – Two events must precede it – First, the “apostasy”; second, the “revealing of the man of lawlessness.” He now describes the “mystery of lawlessness” that is operating behind the scenes setting the stage for the arrival of the “man of lawlessness.”
The Apostle reminds the Thessalonians that he told them about “these things” when he was with them. The demonstrative pronoun – “These” – refers to the two things just listed in verses 3-4:
(2 Thessalonians 2:5-7) – “Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you? and now, what is keeping down ye have known, for his being revealed in his own time, for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now will hinder— till he may be out of the way, and then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of his presence” – (The Emphasized Bible).
“Restrains” in verse 6 translates the Greek participle katechon, which is from the verb katechō, here with the present tense. It describes something that is ongoing – “What is retraining.” The verb is a compound of echō, “to have,” and the preposition kata, “down, according to, against.”
The verb occurs about twenty times in the New Testament – Ten times in the letters of Paul – Most commonly with the sense of “hold fast,” “keep,” or “possess.” The sense of “restrain” or “suppress” is NOT well attested. Note the following examples:
- (Matthew 21:38) – “This is the heir; let us kill him and possess his inheritance.”
- (Luke 8:15) – “But that on the good ground are they, having heard the word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.”
- (Romans 1:18) – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
- (Romans 7:6) – “We are delivered from the law in which we were held fast.”
- (1 Corinthians 7:30) – “And they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not.”
- (1 Corinthians 11:2) – “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
- (1 Thessalonians 5:21) – “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
- (Philemon 1:13) – “Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel.”
- (Hebrews 3:6) – “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
“What is restraining” (verse 6). The English clause represents a present tense participle with a definite article – “the” – and here in the neuter gender; hence, “what is restraining.” In the sentence, “what is restraining” is paired with the “mystery of lawlessness” (Verse 7).
The noun rendered “mystery” is also neuter. This explains the neuter article in verse 6. That is to say, the “mystery of lawlessness” is the thing that is at present “restraining,” or more correctly, “possessing, keeping.”
In this paragraph, Paul continues to use verbal allusions to the “little horn” from the book of Daniel. As he often does, he uses the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. His source for the verb katechō is found in the seventh chapter of Daniel, as follows:
- (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 shall 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 shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall 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 shall think to change the seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time. But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most-High.”
The Septuagint version uses katechō to translate the Aramaic verb chacan – To “possess, take possession.”
“To the end, to reveal him in his season [kairos].” “To the end” represents a purpose clause from the Greek (to eis); the purpose of that which “possesses” is to prepare for the unveiling of this figure. This is confirmed by the next clause – “For the mystery of lawlessness already is working.”
Note well – The use of another present tense verb – “Is working.” That is to say, at the present time, this “mystery of lawlessness” is even now at work in the world.“
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.” It does NOT mean to “remove” or “take out of the way.” The clause is a deliberate echo of the passage in which the “little horncame up in their midst” – (Daniel 7:8).
The subject of the clause is the one “who possesses,” not the “mystery of Lawlessness.” It refers to the figure himself, not to the removal of something that was holding him back. That is, his appearance or unveiling. Precisely what Paul means by “out of the midst” is not clear; however, it may allude back to the description of the “man of lawless” who is to appear in the “sanctuary of God.”
This understanding is confirmed by the next clause – “Then shall be revealed the Lawless One.” As Paul just stated, the “mystery of lawlessness” that eve now “possesses” is preparing the way for the revelation of the “man of lawlessness.” The Apostle has been explaining the two things that must occur BEFORE the “Day of the Lord” – The “apostasy” and the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.”
In Daniel’s account, the “little horn” was a king who appeared from a succession of ten preceding kings. Like his predecessors, this ruler “possessed” the kingdom UNTIL the time came for God to vindicate His “saints,” which produced the overthrow of the rule of this malevolent king and the “possession” of the kingdom by the “saints.”
The point is not that something or someone is, at present, restraining the forces of lawlessness – The “mystery of lawlessness” is active even now. Relevant to this point are the two that must occur before the “Day of the Lord” – The “apostasy” and the “unveiling of the man of lawlessness.” Only then will the “man of lawlessness” be destroyed – (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).