Man of Lawlessness - Until Revealed

SYNOPSIS The Mystery of Lawlessness is at work already in the world to prepare for the unveiling of the Man of Lawlessness - 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7

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The Apostle Paul has just explained why the “Day of the Lord” has not commenced - Two events must precede it - The “apostasy,” and, the “revealing of the man of lawlessness.” Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he told them about “these things” when he was with them. The demonstrative pronoun or “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” (Source: The Emphasized Bible).
"Restrains” in Verse 6 translates the Greek participle katechon, from the verb katechō, here it is in the present tense. It describes something that is ongoing (i.e., “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 and ten times in the letters of Paul, most commonly, for “hold fast,” “keep,” and “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) represents a present tense participle with a definite article or “the” in the neuter gender; hence, “what” restrains. In Paul’s 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, the “mystery of lawlessness” is what is at present “restraining” or “possessing.”

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 Daniel 7:8, 18-26, 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 cited in the preceding passage 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); that is, the purpose of that which “restrains” or “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, at present, this “mystery of lawlessness” is at work in the world.

Only at present until he who possesses comes out of the midst [heōs ek mesou].” The verb ginomai means to “come, become, to come to be.” It does not mean to “remove” or “take out of the way.” This is a deliberate echo of the little horn that “came up in their midst” (Daniel 7:8). The subject of the clause is the one “who possesses,” not the “mystery of Lawlessness” or “what possesses.” 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.
This understanding is confirmed by the next clause, “and then shall be revealed the Lawless One.” As Paul just stated, the “mystery of lawlessness,” which is “possessing,” is preparing the way for the revelation of this “man of lawlessness.” Keep in mind that the Apostle has been explaining the two things that must occur BEFORE the Day of the Lord; the apostasy and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness.”
In Daniel’s original account, the “little horn” was a king that arose from a succession of ten other kings. Like his predecessors, this ruler “possessed” the kingdom and dominions UNTIL the time came for God to vindicate His saints. This resulted in the destruction of the “little horn,” the overthrow of his rule, and the “possession” of the kingdom by the saints.

Paul’s point is not that something or someone is at present restraining this malevolent figure or the forces of lawlessness. As Paul states, the “mystery of lawlessness” is active in the world even now. Relevant are the two things that must occur before the Day of the Lord and the “coming” of Jesus, at which time this man of lawlessness will be destroyed (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).


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