Monday, September 22, 2014

EXERCISING RESTRAINT (2 Thessalonians Chapter 2)

2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.  Only he who now restrains it will do until he is out of the way.”

Some in the church in Thessalonica had succumbed to a false teaching that the day of the Lord had already arrived.  This teaching had come to them “by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from (Paul)” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).  Alleging to speak for the Spirit, false teachers had promulgated their teaching in their messages to the people.  So devious was their conspiracy that they had apparently signed Paul’s name to a letter espousing their beliefs.  As a result of this false teaching--being dismayed by the erroneous notion that the day of the Lord had already come--some of the believers were “shaken in mind or alarmed” (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2).

Paul responded to their fears by affirming the truth that the day had not yet come.  And in this context he spoke of matters that would precede its arrival, including the appearance of “the rebellion” and “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).  The “man of lawlessness” is elsewhere referred to as the “antichrist” (Cf. 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7).  He is the personification of evil and is described to be “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god and object of worship, so that he take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 3:b-4).

Though the “lawless one” is yet to be revealed, the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).  Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the term mystery as follows: “In the NT it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known only in a manner and time appointed by God, and to those whose who are illumined by His Spirit.”  In this context, according to Vine’s, the term “mystery” has reference to “the spirit of disobedience to God.”  Though we are given some insight into this “spirit of disobedience” (Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3), there are aspects of it yet to be revealed to us.  The “spirit of the antichrist” is “now in the world already,” but in the unveiling of the antichrist, the nature and extent of lawlessness will be fully made manifest.  The “mystery of godliness” has been unveiled to us in the person of Jesus Christ (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:16).  The “mystery of lawlessness” will be unveiled in the “lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

There is something acting now to “restrain” lawlessness.  The term “restrain” means “to hold fast or down.”  Who is it that is now acting to do this?  A number of possibilities have been suggested: the Roman Empire, human government, the church, the Holy Spirit.  While it is true that government does exercise such a role (Cf. Romans 13:1), its influence is of a limited extent.  J. Dwight Pentecost has commented on this, “Human power does not seem to be a satisfactory answer to the identity of the restrainer…it would seem a preferable interpretation to view all restraint of sin, regardless of means, as proceeding from God as a ministry of the Holy Spirit.”

As bad as things are in this world, one can only imagine how bad they might be were it not for the restraining work of the Spirit of God.  In His ministry of convicting “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” He has worked to hold back the flood of iniquity that would otherwise overwhelm this world (Cf. John 16:8).  Wherever and whenever His influence has waned evil has triumphed and lawlessness has escalated.

The day is coming when the restrainer will be taken out of the way.  It is reasonable to assume that this will take place in the rapture when the church itself is taken out of the world.  One of the means by which the omnipresent Spirit exercises His restraining influence in this world is through His indwelling of the saints (Cf. John 16:8 & Acts 24:25; Matthew 5:13; Philippians 2:14-16; 1 Timothy 2:1-4).  This aspect of His restraining ministry is underestimated by most.  What will things be like when the restrainer is taken out of the way?  Imagine the flood of water than would ensue if the Columbia River dams were to fail.  Imagine the flood of evil that will overwhelm all humanity when the lawless one is met with no restraint (Cf. Genesis 6:5).  As bad as things are now (and most Americans believe that morality is in serious decline), they are nothing compared to that which is to come.  There is but one means by which a person can avoid that evil day and that is by trusting now in the Savior.  He who “knows how to rescue the godly from trials” works not only to “deliver us from this present evil age” but, through the rapture, from that which is to come (Cf. 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

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