Mysteries intrigue people. Most of us enjoy trying to figure out puzzles and solving problems. Did you know that the Bible also mentions mysteries? The New Testament includes multiple “mysteries,” which are things that have been revealed to us but were previously unknown.
For instance, the church is a mystery revealed in the New Testament, including the fact that Gentiles are one in Christ with Jewish believers at salvation (Romans 16:26; Ephesians 3:4-6). Also, the rapture is a mystery revealed in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Another mystery of the New Testament is the “mystery of iniquity” mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church. To understand the meaning of this mystery, we must look at the background and context of 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
Furthermore, we can learn more about this mystery by considering its connection to the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6). As God’s Word, Christians should take this passage seriously in informing their beliefs about eschatology (the study of the End Times).
Background and Context
The Thessalonian church received false information, including a letter supposedly from Paul, that the Day of the Lord had come (2 Thessalonians 2:2). They were alarmed and concerned that they had missed the promised gathering of believers to the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
However, Paul told them not to pay attention to those deceptive messages because “that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, ESV).
Paul was surprised that the Thessalonians were so easily deceived by the false messages. He previously instructed them about the events leading up to the Day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:5). In 1 Thessalonians, he had specifically taught them about the rapture and the Day of the Lord (see chapters 4 and 5).
In discussing these issues, he reassured them that the Day of the Lord could not have occurred yet, because certain events must happen first, including the rebellion, the revealing of the “man of lawlessness,” and the removal of the restraint holding back the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3, 7). These events must occur before the great day of God’s judgment occurs.
The Mystery of Iniquity
In the context of the Day of the Lord, Paul talks about the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7, KJV). Other Bible translations render this term differently. For instance, it is also described as “the secret power of lawlessness” (NIV), “the mystery of lawlessness” (ESV), and “the hidden power of lawlessness (NET Bible).
Hence, Paul is referring to a power that is hidden but occurring now since he says it “is already at work” (NIV).
The original Greek term for “iniquity” used in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 means “lawlessness, iniquity, disobedience, sin” (Strong’s 458).
Thus, this hidden power is marked by lawlessness, sin, and disobedience to God. Many commentators specifically use the word “apostasy” to characterize this secret power, which refers to a turning away from God and His truth.
Paul warned in his other epistles that in the End Times, people would turn away from the truth to pursue falsehood.
As he told Timothy, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3, NLT).
Apostasy was occurring in Paul’s time and is present now. Like Paul, John also notes in his epistle that the spirit of the antichrist is “already in the world” (1 John 4:3, NIV). Opposition to the truth will worsen as false teachings increase (2 Timothy 3:1, 13).
Therefore, the “mystery of iniquity” or the “hidden power of lawlessness” is the power of sinful disobedience in the world that is already present but will increase and reach its peak at the End Times.
Connection to the Antichrist
This hidden or secret power is connected to the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, ESV). Right before he mentions the “mystery of iniquity,” he describes that someone is holding back this “man,” restraining him like the power of lawlessness is being restrained (2 Thessalonians 2:6). Thus, the power of lawlessness is closely connected to the “man of lawlessness.”
Like the lawlessness that will increasingly grow in the world, this man will also be characterized by wickedness. The King James Version calls him the “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). He will sinfully disobey the laws of God and oppose the righteousness of the Lord.
Although there are different views among Christians about eschatology and the meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2, I believe that a consistently literal interpretation (or plain reading) of the Bible teaches that this man is the Antichrist.
When we compare Scripture with Scripture, we can see that Paul’s description of the man matches the “first beast” in Revelation, also known as the Antichrist (Revelation 13:5-6).
He will oppose God and set himself up in the temple to be worshiped (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Jesus referred to this event as the Abomination of Desolation (Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27).
Once the restraining work of the Holy Spirit is removed, the full power of lawlessness will be unleashed, and the Antichrist will be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). His work will function perfectly with the unbridled apostasy in the End Times.
For instance, we read that he will speak “terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling — that is, those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:6). Apostasy and opposition to God will fill the world (Revelation 16:9, 11).
Actively deceiving people, the “man of lawlessness” will make people believe he is the Messiah, hence his title as the “Antichrist.”
People around the world will worship him, except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13:8).
Revelation even mentions that the Antichrist will deceive people by receiving a fatal wound but being miraculously healed, an obvious corruption of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Revelation 13:3, 12, 14).
Thus, he will lead people, with the help and guidance of Satan, into horrific apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
The Antichrist’s evil rule will be unparalleled in all history. However, we know that his time is numbered.
As Paul told the Thessalonian believers, “the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT).
At His second coming, Jesus will defeat the Antichrist and throw him into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20).
What Does This Mean?
The mystery of iniquity refers to the power of sin and lawlessness in the world. Like the other “mysteries” of the New Testament, in times past, the truth about this power was unrevealed.
However, we now know that this power will be fully unleashed before the Day of the Lord when God will bring judgment to the earth. Also, the revealing of the Antichrist is closely connected to the future unrestrained power of lawlessness.
The power of sin and disobedience are present in the world today but will increase in the End Times.
While these matters may threaten to cause us to fear or worry, Scripture teaches us that Jesus will prevail against the power of lawlessness and the Antichrist. Nothing, not even the “mystery of iniquity,” can stop the Lord’s perfect plan.