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In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote about the mystery of lawlessness and a coming man who would embody it. A man of lawlessness is not difficult for us to imagine. The world has witnessed many of them throughout its history.

But lawlessness—why is it a mystery? Sin seems straightforward. A person tells a lie, commits murder, or adultery, evidence abounds, and he or she is guilty. What is mysterious about that? The Holy Spirit did not inspire Paul to elaborate on this subject, but perhaps as we investigate we will discover some clarity concerning the mysterious nature of sin. Nevertheless, but let me be clear that what I write is speculative.

Let’s look at the greatest crime in human history: The murder of Jesus, Immanuel, the Creator-in-the-flesh. In Jesus’ life and ministry, He had done nothing wrong and nothing at all that should have merited punishment by a government official. He told only the truth. He did only good. His “sin” was that He had challenged the Jewish religious leaders, but He broke no religious or civil laws. The Jews’ massive problems with Him were that they said He violated the Sabbath, of which He claimed to be Lord, had table fellowship with sinners, and claimed to be equal with God by saying He was His Son. The final straw was His announcement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

All these assertions were true, but the Jews were blind to those truths, and God’s prophesied plan had to be realized. The Jewish leaders knew how much the people loved Him and therefore could not harm Him outright. So, they brought Jesus to the reigning civil authority, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate as part of their plan to eliminate Him. They accused Him of breaking their laws, and, finally, of being an enemy of Rome. Pilate, however, could find no guilt in Him. In response to their insistent calls to crucify Him, he asked them the third time,

Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him (Luke 23:22).1

Pilate knew the Jews had brought Jesus to him out of envy, and his wife had warned him to leave Him alone.

For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:18–19).

Pilate then gave the Jewish leaders an opportunity to release Jesus.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted (Matthew 27:15).

Instead, the Jewish leaders called for the release of a murderer and a thief.

It became clear that nothing Pilate said or offered would mollify the Jewish leaders.

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24).

There is mystery here. In this case, a lawful man, Jesus, was found lawfully innocent of breaking any law by the powerful civil authority, Pontius Pilate. Regardless, Pilate, fulfilling his role of judge, ordered the lawful Man to be lawlessly murdered.

This made sense to everyone. Lawlessness “won,” in the way man thinks.

Good—Jesus, God in the flesh—became evil.

Evil—murder, the breaker of God’s command—became good.

Let’s look at a more contemporary case. Abortion.

In our sinful world, a woman finds herself in a predicament when she is pregnant with an unplanned or inconvenient child. The solution: kill the baby. In most of the history of the United States, this was a sin and an illegal act. However, the explosion of “free sex” in the 1960’s resulted in a multitude of unwanted pregnancies. Abortion was a dangerous, unsanitary, back-alley business. The solution was to legalize abortion. Thus, the case for killing innocent children was brought before the Supreme Court.

Here is the logic of that case. When a woman becomes pregnant, the baby cannot survive on its own outside his or her mother. Therefore, the infant is not a person. It is still a part of the mother’s body. The government cannot force a woman to do something with her body that she does not want. If a woman has a cancerous or benign tumor, for example, the government cannot forbid her from having it removed. It is a civil rights issue. It’s her body, and she has a right to do make choices concerning it and her well-being. So, the Lord’s just law prohibiting murder was overthrown by human logic and civil rights.

Here is the mystery: Murder, again, is declared lawful and good; even necessary. People attempting to preserve God’s law of forbidding murder are accused of wanting to deny human rights and are therefore misogynistic, bigoted, and fascistic.

Evil is good. Good is evil.

This makes sense to the majority of the population of the Untied States.

The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and the one who restrains it is being taken out of the way. Good will continue to become evil. Evil will continue to become good. The man of lawlessness, who will embody that mystery, will be revealed some day. And, when that time comes, the evil that he does will make sense to almost everyone.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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