I’ve thought in the last few years that the revealing of the man of lawlessness would bring anarchic chaos in the days before the Lord returns.

However, now I think that my understanding and focus of this difficult yet glorious time to come has been wrong.

Here’s why.

Concerning the day of the Lord, Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

It seems clear that the man of lawlessness will be a man who rebels against the law of God—a man of sin, iniquity, and unrighteousness. Paul paired sin and lawlessness in Romans 6:19: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

Now, it surely follows that anyone who makes it his or her goal to sin against God may very well have little regard for the laws of government and the norms society. However, I must face the fact that both kinds of lawlessness have been around for a very long time. We don’t need to dig very deeply into history to find the iniquity of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and ruthless Roman emperors. And what shall we say of the history of the world in the 20th century? The murderous, infamous men of that era cannot be viewed as men of law, except laws of their own making. In fact, the governments and societies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others were exceptionally fascistic. Therefore, it doesn’t follow that the reigns of men who defy God’s moral law bring anarchy.

So, I am thinking now that the nations in the days to come will not be characterized by unfettered anarchy but by unfettered sinfulness. This should not surprise us, since Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37–38). This should not surprise us, since there is absolutely no way that the laws of men are adequate to restrain the sinfulness of mankind.

But, oh, they have tried—and will try, as well they should.

In the United States, they are trying now. The problem is that this country is a post-Christian nation and the definitions of sin are shifting.

It is striking to me that in 1920, the United States passed an amendment that outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages. Can you imagine the spiritual state of the country at that time? Enough people had apparently been spiritually changed in the revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries that liquor was viewed as evil. However, Prohibition was a total failure. The courts and prisons were overwhelmed. Corruption among the police was endemic. People died of poisoning trying to brew their own liquor. The amendment was repealed thirteen years later, and people rejoiced in the streets.

So, sin won. It was just too strong for the American society to deal with.

Were the pious folks in the early 20th century wrong? Is there a problem with alcohol? Well, first let me ask you a question. If you were in the Senate or the House, and a bill came up that would you knew would save the lives of over 30 million people in eighty years, would you vote for it? According to a little research I did, since 1930 around 25 million people have died in the United States in alcohol-related car accidents. 25 million.

According to drugwarfacts.org, 80,000 people died in 2013 of alcohol-related causes and diseases. If that number were relatively constant for eighty years, that’s an additional 6,400,000 people. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today.

What shall we conclude from this? Moral lawlessness is amazingly strong, even in what most consider a lawful nation. And that moral lawlessness is growing in the West. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I have little doubt that all nations have followed or will eventually follow the same course.

Without Jesus, sin will win. Every time. Every time, regardless of how many laws nations pass.

However, new kinds of moral laws are now being enforced. The lawful United States continues to become an increasingly morally lawless nation. To think of prosecuting those who sell or use death-dealing alcohol is ridiculous. To think of legally prosecuting people who don’t bake cakes for homosexual weddings is not.

Is the stage being set for a man of moral lawlessness? It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? I understand this is a pessimistic outlook. As we’ve seen, major revivals in the United States were unable to stem the tide of moral decline, as the failure of Prohibition in the early 20th century proved. In the same decade of the Jesus People revival in the 1970’s, abortion was made legal in the United States. Should we be surprised about the moral degradations to come? No. I have no clue what they will be, but they are coming.

However, the growth of early Church during the time of the depraved Roman government gives me hope to press on. People’s lives can and will be transformed by the power of the cross. Nevertheless, one day in the not-too-distant future, this world, this lovely world that God created, will be judged by the only just and moral power in the universe. And the only escape from that devastating Judgment will be for those who are dressed in the righteousness of God Himself, the blood-bought garments of Jesus Christ.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.