Bible study series: The Beginning and the End - Genesis and Revelation
The Mystery of Iniquity
by I Gordon
For the mystery of iniquity is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. (2Th 2:7)
We looked last time at a great mystery that has gone on since the days of Adam and Eve and their disobedience in the garden. Namely, the mystery of God. God, after the fall, became somewhat of a mystery. Sin did that. It caused a separation and the days of God dwelling with His creation came to an end. Yet we also saw how an announcement is made in the book of Revelation that the mystery of God will soon be finished! God will be a mystery no more! God will once again dwell with His creation! In this study we need to look at another mystery. One that goes back even before the garden of Eden. Scripture calls it the 'mystery of iniquity'. So what is this mystery? When did it start? How does it play out? What does it look like today? And when will it end? And why so many questions? When will they ever end? We'll do a bit of an overview of this theme and see how it finds its conclusion in the book of Revelation. Let's have a look.
Going way, way back...
It doesn't take long in the book of Genesis before we see that all is not right. God's creation was called 'good' and even 'very good' on that pivotal 6th day when man was created1 (Gen 1:31). And yet by the third chapter, with perfect innocence, harmony and peace existing in the garden, we see that all is not well. There is something, or rather someone, lurking that is not in the 'good' category. We are quickly introduced to the serpent who through craftiness and deception tempts and deceives Eve. You know the story. But where did this being come from? And why is he out to rebel, deceive and disrupt God's plans? We obviously need to go further back to find the answers. Back even before the creation of this world. The Bible tells us in Job that the angels where already created and watching when God made the earth:
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
There was joy amongst God's angels when He created this world. They liked what they saw! And yet some of the angels were not happy. These were the fallen ones. The rebellion of Satan and his angels had also already taken place by this stage. The Bible speaks of the fall and corruption of Satan in Ezekiel chapter 28 saying:
"You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you. "By the abundance of your trading You became filled with violence within, And you sinned; Therefore I cast you as a profane thing Out of the mountain of God; And I destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the fiery stones. "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, That they might gaze at you. (Eze 28:14-17)
Here is the origin of the mystery of iniquity. The Bible doesn't try to fully explain it but we see that Lucifer, an anointed cherub - which are the highest of all angelic beings and closest to the throne of God Himself, was originally full of beauty and perfect in his ways. And yet his heart was lifted up because of his beauty until iniquity was found in him. This is where a good part of the mystery in the 'mystery of iniquity' comes in. How could sin occur in one perfect in their ways? The Bible only says He became completely corrupted, filled with violence... 'a profane thing'. When scripture speaks of 'the abundance of your trading' the Hebrew here means 'to go to and fro' or 'traffic, move around'. Satan wasn't buying and selling or trading in a material sense. It is describing how he went from angel to angel, spreading lies about the Most High and getting them to join in his rebellion.
After Adam and Eve were created, the pinnacle of God's creation, a new victim for those same lies soon came into the cross hairs.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:1-5)
You have probably read and heard this passage many times. It is the start of the mystery of iniquity on this planet so it is good to just take a little while to explore what the essence of Satan's lie is about. What is he actually saying? The serpent only says two sentences to the woman but it is enough. He says:
Indeed, has God said 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?' - We see here the introduction which is simply used to subtly cause doubt upon God's word. You sure that is what He said?
You surely will not die! - In other words, 'God has lied to you. What He said is not true. He is trying to scare you. I'll tell you the truth even if He won't. It won't happen, you won't die... Trust me'.
For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened - In other words 'He is keeping you blinded to the real truth. There is something He doesn't want you to know or experience. He is keeping something from you. Something wonderful which I will now tell you!
You will be like God, knowing good and evil - You can be like Him! You can be God. You can call the shots, make the decisions, be like the most high. You don't need to be dependent upon Him. You don't need Him! Listen to me for I am telling you the truth!
In this, 'the lie'... the original lie, we see the essence of Satan's own rebellion because he wanted (and wants) to 'be like the Most High' (Isa 14:14). Satan was essentially saying that 'God is lying to you, keeping the greatest prize and truth from you. You don't actually need Him. You can be God. He is deceiving you while I am the one telling you the truth.' What great deception this is! And it carries on today! And it is being accepted by the majority today!
Having accepted the lie and taken of the fruit, their eyes were actually opened. Things were instantly different. Their eyes were opened to the fact that they had been deceived and oh how great their fall was. Everything changed in their nature and life from that point... and still continues today.
The mystery of iniquity today - there but restrained
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he (the man of sin) may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness (iniquity) is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. (2Th 2:5-7)
Writing to the Thessalonians Paul reminds us that the mystery of lawlessness, or iniquity, is already at work. Every day of the week, every week of the year, every year of our life... they mystery of iniquity is at work. He is always at work. The serpent didn't just deceive Adam and Eve and leave it at that! No, he has continued to deceive and corrupt right down through the ages2. Amongst others he continues with 'The lie' saying that 'you don't need God... you can be your own God and call the shots.' And for the most part, the world has bought this lie hook, line and sinker! The forces behind the scenes also work to bring forth that which is spoken of in this passage - a man who will rule which the whole world will wonder after! The book of 1 John speaks about this mystery of iniquity and it's final form when John writes
this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming,
even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last
hour. (1Jn 2:18)
...every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1Jn 4:3)
So John speaks of 'the spirit of the antichrist' which is already in the world in his day and has always been operating. This leads to 'many antichrists' that have operated by that spirit of iniquity and caused havoc right through church history. But he also knows that there is a specific 'one' still to come... 'the antichrist' who will come in the last hour. And it is interesting as we see events today that point to that coming day. As I write nearly the whole world is in lockdown from the Covid 19 virus. It is truly unprecedented times! For the first time ever in the history of the world, that I know of at least, businesses, travel, sports, shows and entertainment all across the world... have just stopped. What it will do to the world economy is yet to be seen but many are speaking of a great depression coming. Quite likely the cure, that politicians globally have enforced, will be worse than the disease itself. But I like to watch what the globalists want to see rising from the ashes of this virus. Some have been talking about getting rid of cash (cause that can carry the virus of course.) Along with that is Bill Gates and others desire for a global digital Id, mandatory vaccinations and the chipping of all human beings. Former UK Prime Minister has just called for a global government to be formed to tackle this global event. So just watch this space. The globalists, as the saying goes, will not let a crisis go to waste!
But there is, at this current time, the restrainer! There is One who resists and restrains the fullness of the deception and plans which the enemy would like to do. This is the Holy Spirit, operating through the church - the body of Christ.3 But the day will come when the church will be removed and taken to be with the Lord according to His promise (John 14:1-3, 1 Thes 4:14-17) and the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the plans of the evil one.
So what will it be like when this restraining force upon 'the mystery of iniquity' is removed? Let's see...
The mystery of iniquity tomorrow - unleashed and unrestrained
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2Th 2:9-12)
Just as we saw that the mystery of God will come to an end and God will be revealed, so this hidden 'behind the scenes' mystery of iniquity will be revealed. It will be revealed in a person... a world leader. One called the man of sin whose coming will be with all the power, signs, wonders and full deception of Satan. For those on this chaotic earth at the time, desperate for answers as to why millions have disappeared (at the rapture), seeing will be believing (the lie). In fact the passage above says that God Himself will actually send a powerful delusion4 so that thy would believe the lie because they would not love the truth.
And what is 'the lie' they will believe? It will be related to the original lie in the Garden. It could well go something like: 'That other god some of you previously followed has been holding things from you. He doesn't want you to know the truth. I will tell you the truth. You can be like God. I will show you. Just follow me... Worship me! This other God has lied to you. He is a deceiver. I speak and am the truth.'
So will this be successful?
Revelation - The mystery of iniquity unleashed will flip everything around
We saw briefly at the start of this study that right from the very beginning Satan has wanted 'to be like the Most High'. He wants what is God's alone - The glory and worship of creation. As we turn to the book of Revelation we see that for a limited time he will see this goal achieved. Note the following passage:
The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?" The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.5 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. (Rev 13:3-7)
It is worth noting that there will come a time (thankfully for only 42 months) that mankind will follow and worship the beast (the antichrist). But note also that it says they also worshiped 'the dragon' who gives his power to the beast. The dragon is Satan.(Rev 12:9) Men will openly worship Satan in that day. Think about that for a little while. This was Satan's goal right from the start. In his rebellion against the true God he not only took a sizeable portion of the angels but will now have corrupted and totally deceived humanity. He will revel in their worship and this truly is the high point in his long held desire to be like the most High. The lies that will be told at this stage will swap everything around. Satan will become the one humanity should worship and follow and, as the Antichrist speaks out and blasphemes the Most High, God will be seen as the one that is evil and to be cursed (Rev 16:8,11,21) The nations will unite against the true God!
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. Let us break their chains, they say, "and throw off their fetters." (Psa 2:1-3)
And do we not see the start of this 'switch' even now? 'Lucifer' is now a TV show where the devil is a charming helpful guy. Christians are often seen and portrayed as judgmental backward people holding back the needed advancement of society. What is seen now will go into overdrive in the last days, especially when the Church is removed! Good will be called evil and evil good.
Revelation - So how will it end?
Thankfully this 'beast', this 'man of sin' whom the whole world will wonder over, is still but a created being and is no match for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords! And nor is the serpent empowering him! And so we read of their quick end when the Lord Jesus returns to earth. The book of Revelation tells us exactly how this mystery of iniquity will end. The beast will be cast into the lake of fire and the initial source of the iniquity, Satan, will be placed in the abyss during the 1000 year Kingdom reign of Jesus Christ!
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (Rev 19:19-20)
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. (Rev 20:1-3)
Satan will be placed in the pit so he 'should deceive the nations no more'. Imagine how wonderful those days will be! And yet after 1000 years of peace and abundance, Satan is let out again for a short period. Has he learned his lesson? Has he changed during the 1000 years of isolation? Will things be different now? Nope. The iniquity within his heart is so complete that he knows only one way - rebellion, deception and corruption.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Rev 20:7-10)
Though mankind will live in the most perfect conditions since the early days of the garden of Eden, that mystery of iniquity, that fallen nature, still dwells within them. And so they will despise the King. They will hate His laws. And the lies of the Devil will sound good to them once more. There will be one final revolt against the true King. But it to will fail. At this point, with the final overthrow of Satan and all that have followed him finally over, then and only then will the mystery of iniquity be complete. It will be over. Think of the blessed conditions that exist in the New Jerusalem where there will be no liars, nothing impure or deceitful. That is what I long for.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal... Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev 21:10-11, 27)
'The lie' of the enemy is that we don't need God. That we can call the shots and be our own 'god'. If we hold to that we still hold to the essence of 'the mystery of iniquity'. Any true believer holds not to this however but points to 'the mystery of godliness' - that He, Jesus Christ, is godliness for He is God! And He is essential for any godly living! This lie of the enemy will greatly advance in the days ahead so be on guard. Do not be surprised when that which is evil is seen as good, and that which is good is despised as evil.6 But the contrast between the Lord and this fallen egotistical deluded cherub could not be more clear!
|Jesus the Saviour||Satan the adversary|
|The Truth (John 14:6)||The Father of Lies (John 8:44)|
|Came the we may have life (John 10;10)||A murderer from the beginning (John 8:44)|
|The advocate who intercedes for us (1 John 2:1, Rom 8:34)||The adversary who accuses us (1 Peter 5:8, Rev 12:10)|
|Humbled Himself for our gain (Phil 2:5-8)||Exalted himself for his gain (Isa 14:13-14)|
|Brings freedom (Gal 5:1)||Brings fear (Heb 2:14-15)|
|Defeated death (Rev 1:18)||Brings death (John 10:10)|
|Brings light to the world (John 8:12)||Blinds the eyes of the world (2 Cor 4:4)|
|The ruling Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5)||The roaring lion looking for prey (1 Pet 5:8)|
50% of the population might agree with that! The other 50% would probably say that man turned out to be very lazy! ↩
John Piper gives a good summary of Satan's aims and strategies writing:
He is the Father of lies. John 8:44
His nature is falsehood! He only speaks the truth in order to deceive.
Therefore, his chief enemy is truth - he opposes God's word. Genesis 3:1-5
He casts doubt on God's goodness. Genesis 3:1-5
He destroys the obedience of faith.
He hinders missions strategy. 1 Thess. 2:18
He opposes the truth reaching and converting people.
He distorts and prevents effective Gospel ministry. Acts 13:8-9
He avoids inner need by removing external trouble. 1 John 3:12
He uses the fear of death to hold men in bondage. Hebrews 2:15
The fear of death doesn't lead them to God because it leads them to get as many kicks here as possible.
He causes people to stumble over bad Christian attitudes. 2 Tim. 2:24-26
He blinds the minds of unbelievers. 2 Cor. 4:4
He exploits a lack of understanding. Mt. 13:19
He suggests ways that don't involve suffering. Mt. 16:23; Mt. 4:1-11
He imitates religious roles. 2 Cor. 11:14-15; Mt.13:28,30; Rev. 2:9
He misuses Scripture. Mt. 4:6
He imitates signs and wonders. 2 Thess. 2:9; Mk. 13:22
He offers exotic occult alternatives. Rev. 2:19-24
He attacks faith. 1 Thess. 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:3
He brings persecution. Rev. 2:9; 1 Pt. 5:8; Lk. 22:31
He brings sickness. Job 1:11; 2:5; Lk. 13:16.
He causes dissension over doctrine and causes rifts. Rom. 16:17-20
He tempts saints with sexual allurements. 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Tim. 5:15
He takes advantage of unresolved anger. 2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 4:27
He promotes pride. 1 Tim. 3:6
The Believers Bible Commentary writes well on the restrainer stating:
"In the first part of verse 6, the restrainer is described in an impersonal way ... what is restraining. But then in verse 7 it is a person—He who now restrains. E. W. Rogers puts it clearly:
"It is Something and Someone who wittingly, purposefully, and designedly holds it in check with the view to ensuring that the Man of Lawlessness is revealed in his own proper time."
Seven of the more common views as to the identity of the restrainer are: (1) the Roman Empire, (2) the Jewish State, (3) Satan, (4) the principle of law and order as found in human government, (5) God, (6) the Holy Spirit, and (7) the true church as indwelt by the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit indwelling the church and the individual believer seems to fit the description of the restrainer more completely and accurately than any of the others. Just as the restrainer is spoken of as Something and Someone in this chapter, so the Spirit is spoken of in Joh 14:26, Joh 15:26, Joh 16:8, Joh 16:13-14 as both neuter (the Holy Spirit) and masculine (He). As early as Gen 6:3, the Holy Spirit is spoken of in connection with the restraint of evil. Then later He is seen in this same role in Isa_59:19 b, Joh 16:7-11, and 1Jo 4:4.
It is by the indwelling Spirit that believers are the salt of the earth (Mat 5:13) and the light of the world (Mat 5:14). Salt is a preservative, but it also hinders the spread of corruption. Light dispels darkness, the sphere in which men love to perform their evil deeds (Joh 3:19). When the Holy Spirit leaves the world as the permanent Indweller of the church (1Co 3:16) and of individual believers (1Co 6:19), the restraint of lawlessness will be gone.
Speculation but it is possible that 'the powerful delusion' that makes mankind believe the lie will involve the arrival of aliens or an alien spacecraft. This would be something so powerful that anyone who sees it will suddenly believe that we are just evolved beings, seeded by another race, and that our masters or master have now come back to this planet to rule. Movies are conditioning mankind to get ready for it. Scientists around the world are desperate to find alien life somewhere out there. They want an answer to how humanity got here and what our purpose in this universe is. When the restrainer is removed and Satan is allowed to do as he will, the depths of his power to deceive will be terrifying. ↩
As a side note see how the beast (antichrist) will not only blaspheme the name of God but also those who dwell in heaven! This is believers! He will hate us and that we have been saved by the true God!↩
As an example, the country I live in is currently debating abortion laws again. Last night on the news it spoke of a few protesters outside our parliament who had signs and some graphic images of what actually happens to a baby during the abortion procedure. They interviewed one of our ministers who called the protesters 'sick'. So according to this minister of parliament it isn't those who advocate for the killing of babies in the womb that are sick... it is those that speak up and try give a voice for the unborn by informing the public of what actually happens during an abortion... they are the 'sick' ones... according to this minister. What a crazy mixed up world we already live in! ↩