Paul spoke of the “Mystery of Iniquity” in his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Thess. 2:7). This is the only place in scripture where iniquity is called a mystery. Since many Old Testament scriptures use the word iniquity, why would Paul call it a mystery? Whenever the scriptures use the word mystery describing anything, or anyone, it is extremely important to dig into the Word to see what is truly being taught.
What does the word actually mean? In the Greek, the word is musterion (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 3466, moos-tay-ree-on). It is derived from a root word muo (‘to shut the mouth’), a secret or ‘mystery’ (through the idea of silence). A secret or mystery is not necessarily a terrible thing unless failure to understand it can cause serious harm, even death to those affected by it. Such is the case when Paul was writing to the Church at Thessalonica. They were being deceived and alarmed by a source of confusion.
In the letter Paul is teaching, or actually reteaching, the Christian believers about the conditions that will take place “in the last days,” or as Paul deemed it, “the day of Christ.” It appears they were concerned that the day of Christ was upon them and they might be caught unawares by a sudden return of Jesus. Obviously, there was a source of deception at work in their midst; there appears to have been some confusion over when that time would be; and Paul, who had already taught the Thessalonian believers about it, wanted to reinforce what they should have learned from his original teaching.
When Paul was alive on the earth, much of the truth of scripture, and especially future prophetic scripture, remained hidden even from God’s chosen people, the Jews, to whom the truth should have been obvious. There were times when the prophets were commanded to seal up the words of prophecy until the end, such as the prophecies of Daniel.
But when Jesus came, He brought the truth into the open and expected all who followed Him to study the scriptures (II Timothy 2:15) and receive the light that would allow them to ‘rightly divide the Word of truth’ and discover/uncover all the mysteries previously hidden from view. However, at the time Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, there were only the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament to study; the New Testament was still a work in progress, and Paul would be the man chosen by God to write a large portion of that Testament.
The Working of Iniquity – in Paul’s Time
In the Mosaic writings, iniquity is mentioned many times, but it is never once called ‘a mystery’; its real source remained a mystery to most of the Jewish people until the time of Jesus and Paul. Men were certainly aware of evil; Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12) and Satan (the fallen archangel mentioned 15 times in the Old Testament) were spoken of multiple times, but the real nature and character of evil were still a mystery to most of the Old Testament people as well as to the early Christian believers, who, in the beginning, were Jews.
Jesus described the mysterious source of evil as “the Thief” who came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and the apostle John called him “the dragon” that does battle with God’s holy angels, which is mentioned several times in Revelation chapter 12. However, those books of scripture were as yet future, and the teachings were not widely known or understood. Only those who had walked with Jesus, or had heard Paul and the other apostles preach, would have had a better understanding of the nature and character of evil.
Thank God for Paul who was commissioned to bring the light and Truth to the Gentiles who had for centuries been idolaters, walking in total darkness. Such were the Thessalonians before they were converted by hearing and receiving the Gospel preached by Paul. But, having heard the word and receiving it was not enough to cause them to fully walk in the light of that gospel. Paul was making sure they had a thorough understanding of the Truth, especially the source and nature of evil. Paul wanted them to know the real nature of evil, its spiritual makeup and how it operates against people. The tactics of evil make it (him) an enemy of all mankind, one who provides nothing of benefit to any person.
Since Jesus had stated that “the thief came not but to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10), it is important to know how the thief does his work. Knowing the thoroughness of Paul in his teaching, it must have come as a shock to his Thessalonian believers to learn there was to be a person who would be totally evil, a worker of unrighteousness through deception (2 Thess. 2:10) and who would become known as “that man of sin, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3), “that wicked” (2 Thess. 2:8).
It has been said that the greatest feat Satan ever accomplished was convincing people that he does not exist. This is truly a master accomplishment of deception; but Paul, writing to the believers in Corinth, said that Satan himself is “transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses deception to accomplish his evil agenda.
I have heard people say they doubt his ability to do this; but consider someone in your past whom you considered to be a true friend and an honest person, one you would even trust with your life. Then you later learned that person had a secret life of lying, cheating and complete dishonesty, all covered up by a false front that concealed a life of deception. You were completely fooled by the deception presented.
If a human person is capable of such deceit, how is it so difficult to believe Satan can do the same? In fact, Jesus called Satan a liar and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). And, if a master liar could convince people that he is non-existent, he could also persuade them to form their confused opinions of what is, and is not, evil.
The Working of Iniquity – Present Day
If it was important for early Christian believers to understand the working of iniquity, how much more important for us living in this day when Satan has had another 2,000 years to perfect his tactics of lies and deception. We who will likely be the generation that sees the fulfillment of all prophecy should have a much better developed knowledge of Satan and his agenda. After all, He knows his time is short and is ramping up his efforts to destroy Israel and the Jewish people as well as every person that names the name of Christ. His hatred for God, Jesus, the followers of Jesus, and the Jews knows no limits. He will do everything in his power to stop God’s plan for the Church, the Body of Christ, and His chosen earthly people, the Jews.
Anyone who has ears and eyes and regularly follows the news from around the world must be aware of the success Satan has had in persuading unbelievers that he is that ‘angel of light’ that Paul mentioned in his second letter to the believers in Corinth. The meaning of deception from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary captures exactly what I am saying: “the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid”: the act of deceiving.
This is Satan’s forte and he is a master of it. He is cunning and sly, and he has millions of demon spirits who follow his playbook, attempting to deceive the entire world. Satan has hated God and His righteousness, His Son and His law since before the world began. He has used the thousands of years since creation to hone his evil skills and has become the “spirit of lawlessness,” that spirit that is constantly working to deceive us into believing something that is contradictory to God and His word.
The word lawless at Dictionary.com is defined as: 1) “contrary to or without regard for the law: lawless violence. 2) being without law; uncontrolled by a law; unbridled; unruly; unrestrained: lawless passion.” This is exactly what we are seeing in America right now; and, unfortunately, it is a growing phenomenon, getting worse on an almost daily basis. It is permeating every area of our culture.
We who are believers, and who have some knowledge of God and His character, as well as some knowledge of Satan and his character, must be very diligent in preventing Satan from causing us to deviate from God and His word. To do so will bring loss, destruction and eventually death into our lives. Satan is an unseen spirit, and he works on his victims in the mental realm, that of the mind, where he can place thoughts that may seem to be wonderful but, in reality, are thoughts of evil and death. Paul told us how to defeat this attack from Satan:
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
This is an extremely difficult task since our minds are constantly working, both forming our own thoughts and processing thoughts that enter from the outside.
In Part Two, we will dig deeper into the spirit of lawlessness at work in the world today.