I was reading 2 Thessalonians and I read this verse from 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7,
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
I’d always focused on extracting the meaning from the part of the verse that says “he who restrains” but this time I was focused on the “mystery of lawlessness.” My mind began to question. “Why is lawlessness a mystery? The Bible speaks of sinfulness often. That’s what sinfulness is, lawlessness. So why is it a mystery? We’ve been living with it for 6000 years…”
I find that asking questions of myself about the meaning helps me dig deeper. I’m not speaking of doubting the meaning. Nor am I suggesting I am questioning God’s judgment. I am asking myself what, who, when, where, why questions like a journalist would do to get at the truth of a story. ‘Why is this word here? Who was Paul writing to? Why is his tone so abrupt? What is the city or geographical location? What was the context?’ Those kinds of questions.
So why is lawlessness a mystery? Let’s hold that thought while I take you down another line of inquiry and then I’ll tie the two together.
I was listening to a John MacArthur sermon last Saturday morning. It was titled, “Heaven: The Future of Christians.” In the sermon MacArthur was talking about salvation and the process of getting into heaven. He explained this verse:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
He said of the narrow way, the small door of Matthew 7:14, that it’s hard to go through. “Why? Why is it so hard?” He’d said-
“First, it’s hard to find because it’s small, second, to go through you have to strive. You have to agonize. You have to be violent about it. You have to press into it…”
It is hard to go through the door of repentance. It is the most difficult thing a person will ever do. Turning your back on your own wickedness and lawlessness is agonizing over our sin nature and violence because one is turning one’s back on one’s self. It is hating not just the sin IN us, but our very selves because sin is our very nature.
In a different sermon but on the same verse, Matthew 7:13-14 and the narrow door, MacArthur paints a picture of the struggle to come to repentance and salvation-
So Jesus says in Matthew 11:12, “The Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” What amazing words. There’s a certain violence in coming to salvation. You’re in the throes of a war and a battle with your own soul to release your love of sin and self and pride. It’s a wrenching experience. Luke 16:16 says, “Every man presses into it.”
Becoming a Christian is not easy. It’s hard. Another way to say all that is that the Kingdom opens up to those who seek with all their hearts. You’re not going to sleep your way into the Kingdom. The Kingdom requires earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion.
Pressing into the door with all exertion and violence. His word-pictures brought to mind another door that people were pressing into.
The door to Lot’s house at Sodom.
The men who were deep in sin and given over to it were pressing into the door with violence and all exertion. Here is the scene at Genesis 19:9-11.
But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. 10But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.
The men were immersed in their sin-nature and they exhausted themselves trying to go through the door to perform their sin. They wanted to go through the door from bad to worse. The penitent person wants to go through the door from worse to best.
In referring back to the Matthew 11:12 verse,
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
I’d always pondered over that scene at Lot’s hose. The men had obviously experienced something supernatural, they’d all just been struck blind. But their sin was so potent they still tried to beat down the door with violence. This is a peek at the mystery of lawlessness.
Lawlessness is a mystery because mystery means veiled from our full perception. We know that in 1 Corinthians 13:12 we see through a mirror dimly
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
We can’t fully comprehend the mystery of Jesus, the mystery of the heights and the depths of His glory, the mystery of his perfections. It is partly veiled from us. It is the same with sin. The full height and depth of sin is partially hidden from us. This fullness will come when the Man of Sin is revealed, who is the antichrist. We have a sense of the mystery of lawlessness now, because John said there are many antichrists. We know from history what Hitler did. But sin can be and will be so much worse than that when it’s full expression is revealed in the Tribulation, embodied by the man whose nickname IS sin.
Just as Jesus’ glory is infinitely beautiful, so is sin infinitely gross and putrid. The fullness of sin’s depravity is hidden from us and its full expression is not revealed … yet. We see sin through a mirror dimly.
This essay is the tale of two doors. The door to salvation which the penitent presses into, exerts himself toward with violence. Then there is the door to sin which the impenitent presses into, exerts himself toward with violence. They exhaust themselves groping for the door to the next layer of descending depravity, the depths of which is bottomless like the pit where the worst of the demons are being held in chains, restrained from expressing themselves until the time of Revelation 9:2 arrives.
The path is wide and leads to a big door, or the path is narrow and leads to a small door. My hope is that many more will press into the small gate and change from goat to sheep. Use all exertion, violence and pressing into repentance, forsaking all behind, even yourself.