Though Paul saw this “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3) and “the mystery of lawlessness” (2:7) already operative, yet to be revealed, the full implications of such an evil state of mind has been hindered. Who, or what, is the one who hinders (6, 7)? Some identify the hinderer as some power in society that is in competition with the goals of the lawless one. They see the Roman emperor as the hinderer. When Constantine moved the capitol of the empire from Rome to Byzantium (Constantinople), the church in Rome began to exert its influence over the next decades and into centuries as ruler of both church and state. This brought in persecution, perversion of biblical authority, a false teaching on justification, a system of merits utterly void of scriptural authority, and a division between clergy and laity foreign to biblical patterns of local church relations. The “Two Swords Theory” of Boniface VIII in the early fourteenth-century (1302) sought to establish de jure a complete dominance of the Roman bishop. The hinderer in this case would be the Roman emperor, the hindrance of which was removed when the capitol went east and thus unleashed the development of an authoritarian bishop of Rome and his false doctrine. Other events, the resistance of national kings, soon developed that hindered the de facto absolutism of Rome.
Paul, however, indicates that the Thessalonians already know about the operation of hindrance of evil—“and you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed” (6). They were taught clearly about the work of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 4:8, 9; 5:19, 23, 24). He makes effectual the word of God, grants holiness and perseverance to the believer even in the face of tribulation. They probably would grasp, therefore, that the one who hinders the full effect of the destructive power of evil is the Holy Spirit operating according to the decreed providence of God. He subdues the power of evil in the world, represses some powers and raises up others (Daniel 5:26, 30, 31; John 19:10, 11).
The many antichrists and the spirit of antichrist in the world for a while are held at bay by the Spirit’s power. When the time comes for the full implications of lawlessness to be revealed, the Spirit will no longer hinder, but will grant to evil and lawlessness its wonted power. A series of advances in power, such as described in Revelation 13, will indicate that the Spirit is allowing the mystery of iniquity to unfold with apparent domination even over the followers of Christ. “And the beast was given a mouth, uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.” The saints will be preserved only by the sovereign power of God operating by his eternal decree in accordance with his revealed truth. Everyone else will believe the beast and side with him, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 13:8). See Paul’s summary of this in verses 13-15 and John’s picture of it in Revelation 13:10, 14:12, the sealing of the 144,000, and the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 20:15).
In a series of gradually increasing severities of judgment, the powers of the great beast are stripped, his iniquities punished, his allies confused (Revelation 17:15-18), and his final defeat and complete humiliation consummated (Revelation 14:6-20:10).
This will be done essentially in two stages: one, “by the breath of his mouth,” (8) refers to the preaching of the gospel that will prosper and bring the myriads of elect to embrace the truth (Revelation 14:6, 7). They will resist the lawless one. The Reformers of the sixteenth century and the Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries partially debilitated this specific expression of the man of sin in their recovery of biblical authority and preaching. Christ’s own personal appearance in the glory of his exalted state as the Redeemer of God’s elect will bring to an end the activities of all of those forces that have aligned themselves in anger and hatred against the law of God and the perfect fulfillment of that law in the gospel of Christ—“bring to an end by the appearance of his coming” (8). This is pictured graphically in Revelation 19:11-16. The ”Word of God” comes to conquer. He is vested in his work of atonement, and by his own perfected righteousness, he judges all the nations and defeats all his opposition. The sharp sword from his mouth, his inspired word of revelation, inerrant truth that has been resisted or replaced will establish his rod of iron in infallible judgment and justify his verdict. This one whose word was disbelieved, whose person was denied, and whose work was deemed a charade will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Dr. Tom Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was professor of Church History and chairman of that department. Previously, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from Mississippi College and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. In addition to writing numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles has authored or edited nine books including By His Grace and For His Glory, Baptists and the Bible, and Why I Am a Baptist.
Courses taught: Historical Theology of the Baptists, Historical Theology Overview, Jonathan Edwards & Andrew Fuller.