Of whom was the apostle Paul speaking when he said, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thess. 2:7-8 RSV)?
Who is the “lawless one”?
Paul could see the influence of the civil authority of Rome already at work within the church. Its deadly influence was contaminating pure doctrine with vain philosophies, belittling sound principles and substituting that which pleases the ear for that which purifies the heart. Paul foresaw this contamination spreading to completeness. This is the great Apostasy, a time when all would forsake the faith of Jesus and His apostles, when true religion would be silenced and the power of darkness (Rome) would assume control and sit “as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4).
Whom did Paul speak of as “he who now restrains it”?
The followers of Christ were the “salt of the earth,” (Matt. 5:13) the preservative of the church. It is they, who by their strict adherence to the teachings and principles of Jesus preserved restrained the decay and rottenness from overcoming the church. It was their doctrine, teaching and lives that kept the church from complete apostasy and preserved true religion for a time — even after the majority had departed from the faith. Compare their power to restrain the coming apostasy with Lot’s power to delay the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Noah’s power to restrain the coming of the Deluge until he and his family were safely in the ark. Are such occurrences not remarkable?
It was by exalting the word of God and translating it into living testimony that these men and women hindered or restrained the mystery of lawlessness and the workings of the lawless one. They could not, however, remain long. Slowly, steadily, as prophesied, the power of darkness wore out “the saints of the most High” and “cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced and prospered” (Dan. 7:25; 8:12).
Paul spoke of the day when he who hindered (the servants of Christ) the working of the Wicked one (the civil authority of Rome) would be taken out of the way, and after his removal, the whole religious system would become utterly corrupted.