Even now, the mystery of lawlessness is preparing the way for the appearance of the lawless one who will cause many Christians to apostatize.
According to the Apostle Paul, the “mystery of lawlessness” is working diligently in the world to prepare hearts and minds for the “arrival” of the “lawless one.” And it will continue to do so until the appointed time when this final deceiver will “come out of the midst” and appear in the “sanctuary of God.” Thereafter, he will employ “lying signs and wonders” to cause many saints to depart from the faith.
In the New Testament, the term “mystery of lawlessness” is unique to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. The Greek term rendered “mystery” does not refer to something that is esoteric or mysterious, but to that which is hidden. And that is the point. “Lawlessness” is at work in the world but largely out of sight.
In the Greek text, the participle “what is possessing [katechon]” is in the neuter gender since it is paired with the “mystery of lawlessness.” And like the participle, “mystery” is neuter. In Greek syntax, the participle takes the gender of its associated noun. In other words, the “mystery of lawlessness” is the thing that is now “possessing.”
The description uses language applied to the figure of the “little horn” in the seventh chapter of Daniel. This includes the term katechon or “possessing.” The “little horn” appeared “in the midst” of the ten horns of the fourth beast, then waged war against the saints “until” the Ancient of Days rendered judgment for them when the “season” for the saints to “possess [katchon] the kingdom” arrived. In the interim, the “little horn” strove to “change seasons and the law.” However, in the end, he lost his “dominion” and was “broken in pieces without hand” – (Daniel 7:8, 7:18-26, 8:23-25).
So, also, the “mystery of lawlessness” is working at present to produce the man of lawlessness, only “until the proper season” when he will be revealed, “out of the midst.” Afterward, he will be “disarmed” and “paralyzed” at the “arrival of Jesus” – (2 Thessalonians 2:5-8).
Paul presents is a straightforward scenario. The “Day of the Lord” will not commence until the “apostasy” takes place and the “man of lawlessness” is “revealed.” And he will be unveiled when he “seats himself in the sanctuary of God.” At present, the “mystery of lawlessness” is laying the groundwork for this unveiling when the “lawless one” will appear “out of the midst” and deceive men and women who “refuse the love of the truth.”
Whether the “mystery of lawlessness” is an impersonal force, one of the spiritual “principalities or world rulers,” or Satan himself is not addressed in the passage. But its purpose is to “possess” the “kingdom,” and to do so, it must deceive the “saints” and thereby derail the purposes of God. And that will necessitate their apostasy, assuming he succeeds in his efforts.
There are striking similarities to John’s description of the “spirit of antichrist” in his first epistle. Like the “mystery of lawlessness,” the “spirit of antichrist is in the world already.” And that reality is demonstrated by the rise of “many antichrists” within the church, that is, false teachers. Not only so, but their activities in the church indicate the “last hour” is underway even now. And these deceivers are forerunners of the final “Antichrist… who is coming” – (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3).
The association of the “lawless one,” as well as the “antichrist,” with the “apostasy,” the “sanctuary of God,” “signs and wonders” that deceive, deception within the church, and the contrast in 2 Thessalonians between the “arrival” of the “lawless one” and the coming of Jesus, all warn us that this figure will be intent on deceiving the followers of Christ, and he will be active within the church.