The Mystery of Iniquity
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
In 1 Timothy 3 the apostle Paul declares the greatness of the ' mystery of godliness,' that mystery which embraces the doctrine of the Trinity, the coming in the flesh of Jesus, the Son of God, and His ascension to the glory of the Father. By way of terrible contrast we note a ' mystery of lawlessness," black with the darkness of hell as that of godliness is aflame with the eternal light of God.
We have seen in an earlier paper that there is a power that hinders the full manifestation of this mystery but that meanwhile it is already at work. The hindering power we suggested to be the Church indwelt by the Spirit of God (see 2 Thess. 2). " Ye," said the Lord Jesus, " are the salt of the earth." In this paper we will note the nature of this ' mystery of lawlessness' that is to come into the open in the latter day after the removal of the hindering power.
The thoughtful student of the Word of God will find throughout. a conflict between light and darkness, between holiness and sin. The prince of darkness, the devil, a liar from the beginning, is seen in determined hostility to the purposes of God. His masterpiece is seen in the awful parody of the Godhead to be manifested in the latter days.
The trinity of evil. The Christian believes in one God, yet three Divine Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father wills, the Son reveals, the Spirit is the ' agent' of God's works. In the book of The Revelation we see the devil's parody of the Glorious and Holy Trinity. An unholy league is formed between three monsters of iniquity, the devil, the anti-Christ and one whom we may term the anti-Spirit. In Revelation 12 that old serpent, the devil and Satan (accuser and adversary), is cast down to the earth and his angels with him. While the heavens rejoice in the overthrow of the accuser of the brethren, a message of woe is pronounced to the earth. " Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea ! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time " (Rev. 12. 12). The devil, thrown down to earth, makes as it were in his fury a final effort to thwart the purpose of the Father in the manifestation of ' the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.' As the violent opponent of the Father's will, the devil may, therefore, be termed anti-Father.
In the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and said, “All these will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4. 9). Our great Redeemer stood spotless and un-assailed. The kingdom and the glory were to be won by Him by way of the Cross, in the completion of the Father's will. He said to the Jews, " I am come in My Father's name and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." The self-exaltation of sinful humanity will reach its climax in the manifestation of a monster of iniquity, the man of sin, the anti-Christ. In Revelation 13 we read of a beast terrible to behold, having in itself all the characteristics of the ' wild beast' empires of Daniel 7. The world wonders and worships this super-man, who by the exercise of his authority is able to impose his peace over the nations of the earth. If the Lord will, a paper will be devoted to the Scriptural references to the Anti-Christ, but at this juncture the significant thing for us to notice is the source of his ' superhuman ' power. That which our blessed Lord resisted in the hour of temptation, this beast accepts. " The dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority " (Rev. 13. 2, R.V.).
Yet another wild beast is seen in the visions of the Apostle John. He exercises all the authority of the first beast, he does great wonders, and deceives the inhabitants of the earth. He causes all to worship the image of the beast and seals the worshippers with the brand of hell. This third member of the ungodly league is the devil's parody of the gracious person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Before our Lord was crucified He told His disciples He would pray the Father to send another Comforter. All that Christ was to His disciples, the Holy Spirit would be when He came at Pentecost. His power was manifested, through the disciples, in doing great signs and wonders with the purpose of leading men to the eternal truth in Christ. He glorifies Christ and seals Christ's own unto the day of redemption. We notice the darkness of the parody. The second beast has all the power of the first; he does wonders to cause men to believe the lie ; he glorifies the anti-Christ and seals his worshippers to the day of eternal perdition. Lawlessness is therefore finally expressed in this league of three, the devil, the anti-Christ, and the false prophet.
What is the nature of its working in the world ? Docs man revert to a state of barbarism, from which he has slowly and painfully managed to extricate himself ? By no means. The lamentation of Revelation 18 indicates, in the figure of the great city Babylon, an ordered and highly-civilized life full of the luxuries and material blessings so highly prized by man. The over-riding feature of the rule of the unholy league is open defiance of God and the enthronement of sinful man as God. It is the pride of man, exalting itself to the uttermost, in startling contrast to the grace and humility of Him who, though in the form of God, humbled Himself to the death of the cross. It is that sin of man come to a climax, which expressed itself so early in the days before the Hood, when wicked men said to God, " Depart from us " (Job 22. 17). It is the spirit of lawlessness which is the very essence of sin, a lawlessness which is anti-God. God is Light, this is darkness; God is love, this is malice; God is all that is eternally beautiful and glorious; this is all that is ugly and devilish.
Its future end, and present course. In the day of grace in which you and I are privileged to live, we have seen monstrous regimes brought to a disastrous end. What then shall be the end of this manifestation of lawlessness ! The beast and false prophet are thrown alive into the lake that burns with fin: and brimstone to be joined after the Millennium by that old serpent, the devil, who dared to try and thwart God's purposes. Already he is a defeated foe; then he will be crushed and broken for ever.
When the apostle wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he said, "The mystery of lawlessness doth already work." What will later be open, now works insidiously ; often, ala-s, under the cloak of religion, and lies are spread ostensibly in the name of Him who is the Truth. How may we recognize the mystery of lawlessness ? " Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God ; and this is that spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world " (1 John 4. 3). " Many deceivers are entered into the world who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ " (2 John 7).
How may we sis followers of Christ combat the spirit of lawlessness ? Surely it is by the salt of our character, that which speaks of fidelity and truth. If the salt loses its savour it is good for nothing. May the Lord keep us from being ' good for nothing ' Christians.