Question: Please comment on II Thessalonians 2:6-11 with emphasis on the words “Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” and “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.”
Answer: First, let me suggest that the readers take your Bibles and read this entire passage so you can get a better over-all idea of the context being discussed here and I will not need to take up so much space inserting the full text here.
Matthew Henry in his comments at this place states that there are many who believe that the one referred to in the passage who was then letting and would continue to let until he was taken away was the Holy Spirit; but the majority of commentators believed it to be the Roman Empire. I recognize that the Roman Empire with its Pagan religion which was in power when Jesus was here and through the early period of the Christian Church at the time this passage was written stood as a deterrent to the Roman Empire under Popery (the Catholic religion) which is here described from coming in. In the 13th chapter of Revelation where the Roman Empire under Catholicism is symbolized by a beast having seven heads and ten horns, it is said in verse two that the dragon (in chapter 12 the Roman Empire under Paganism is symbolized by a great red DRAGON with seven heads and ten horns) and here it is said the dragon gave this beast (Catholicism) his power and his seat, and great authority. One of them followed the other; they were not on the scene at the same time and it is evident that Paganism had to pass off the stage of action before Catholicism could come in. I have no problem with that and no quarrel with those who hold that view. But I do have some problem in identifying this text with that view or at least limiting it to that view and my thinking runs more with those who believe this to be the Holy Spirit and my discussion will be along that line in general.
First, let it be remembered that Jesus instructed His apostles to not depart from Jerusalem but wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). This was to endue them with power from on high (divine Power) (Luke 24:49). This power was to be imparted to them by the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8) and Jesus told them they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). This actually came to pass on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Jesus recognized the full importance of this and told them to not go anywhere or do anything until they received the Holy Ghost. He knew how futile all their efforts would be without the Holy Ghost. The apostles did not know it then (they could not have possibly know it then) but they did later on and we must recognize that also and never attempt anything in the work of the Lord without the unction, anointing, inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost.
The Church of God, the body of Christ, was built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells the body of Christ, the Church, and directs and supervises all its activities and doings. It was born and came into active being on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost moved into it to dwell there and have charge of all its activities. This new creation of God the one new man (Ephesians 2:15) came forth a full-grown body just as the first man (Adam) that God created was a full-grown, fully developed man fresh from the hand of God. So this new man, the body of Christ, the Church, came forth fresh from the hand of God full-grown and ready to do service for God and that very same day there were about three thousand souls saved and added to them through the power and operation of the Holy Ghost in those apostles. (Acts 2:41.)
The Holy Ghost is the supervisor and general overseer of all the work of God being carried on by the Church. It is by the Spirit that believers are baptized or inducted into the body (Church) and their unity and oneness is maintained by drinking into that one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13.) In I Corinthians 12:7-11 Paul enumerates nine spiritual gifts placed in the Church for the profit of the entire body and declares it all to be a work of the Spirit. God through the Spirit sets all the members in the body as it pleaseth Him (I Corinthians 12:18) and through the Spirit God tempers the body together (I Corinthians 12:24) and verse 28 describes the different parts and phases of the ministry that God through the Spirit has set in the Church to teach, instruct and build it up in the most holy faith. The Holy Spirit was the predominant one and in supremacy in all the activities of the Church throughout that first golden period of its history and how glorious it was. The book of Acts gives the history of the Church and its work through the first few years of its existence. But we see the Holy Spirit in all those pages and all those doings until we conclude that book could have, with all propriety, been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” as “The Acts of the Apostles.” Beautiful!
All the apostles and ministers were humble servants of Christ and of the Church. What if some were more useful and effective in their work that the Holy Spirit had called them to and qualified them for; none of them were seeking or desiring preeminence or authority over any of the others. They were just all busy doing what the Holy Ghost was working in them and letting everyone else do the same. One historian said in describing the Church in its first golden period, “The Christian Church in its beginning was a community of holy brethren guided by a few of the brethren.” How beautiful! In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:…” And surely God made a most beautiful and grand thing when He made the Church of God.
In the fourth chapter of Zechariah he had a vision, the principal objects of which were a candlestick and two olive trees, one on either side. To determine the identity of this candlestick let us look at a vision John the Revelator had in Revelation 1:12-20. In verse 12 he saw seven golden candlesticks. In verse 20 he was told that the seven candlesticks were the seven churches. The book of Revelation was addressed directly to the seven churches in Asia. There was one candlestick for each church. In Zechariah’s vision there was only one candlestick which would represent the entire universal Church and not just a single congregation.
The candlestick, then, was the Church. But what of the two olive trees? They are of prime importance here because it was from them that the oil was supplied to light the candlestick and without them the candlestick would have just stood there dark; giving no light. Zechariah asked the angel to explain what these two olive trees represented. Revelation 11:3-4 throws some light on this matter. Verse 3 speaks of God’s two witnesses in the earth and verse 4 identifies these two witnesses as the two olive trees. In John 5:39 Jesus said that the scriptures testified of Him. In John 1:45 Philip declared to Nathanael that they had found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Then it is evident that God’s WORD is one of the two witnesses.
Then Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with out spirit,…” Again in the last part of I John 5:6 we read, “…And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” Then going on through verses 7 and 8, we read “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in the earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Here is definite, conclusive proof of the Spirit being a witness of the Son of God and of salvation in the earth. But let it be noted that both the Spirit and the Word (the term “water” in verse 8 is symbolic of the Word) bore witness in heaven which would make it sure and indisputable that the witness of both the Spirit and the Word could be of heavenly and eternal things here in the earth. This is further confirmed by what Jesus said in Matthew 18:18-20 concerning the exercise of discipline and executing of judgment in the Church. He said, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Read on through verse 19 and then verse 20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Here we see the divine government in the Church being executed through the agency of Holy Spirit filled men and God can accept it in heaven because the same agents (Word and Spirit) which are in heaven and bearing record there are also in the earth and bearing witness here and exercising preeminent leadership in the government of the Church and directing all of its activities.
Therefore it is established that the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-4, and the two olive trees which Zechariah saw standing one on either side of the candlestick (Zechariah 4:3), are the Word and Spirit of God. This is confirmed by what the angel said to Zechariah in explaining the vision to him in Zechariah 4:6, “…This is the word of the Lord…by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Thus it is evident that the Word and Spirit of God are the two representatives (vicars) of God in the Church and that the Church of God is a called out body of people in the earth in which these two agents are preeminent in the oversight and operation of all its activities. This is what makes it the Church of God. Take these away or relegate them to an inferior position and it is not the Church of God anymore.
It is very beautiful and interesting to watch the Holy Spirit operating and working and directing all the affairs of the Church in that early Church which had just come fresh from the hand of God and was just exactly like He wanted it. It was His new creation and was very good.
One requirement of all who held prominent places and exercised leadership in the Church was that they must be persons filled with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 6:3.) And by this means quietness, peace and harmony were maintained in this fledgling Church which was being threatened with schism by murmurings of discrimination by some of its members. These seven Spirit-filled men who were chosen by the Church and ordained for this service (deacons) by the apostles, took charge of this situation and were enabled by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to steer things in the right course.
In the 8th chapter of Acts we read how the Church at Jerusalem was scattered by severe persecution but as they went they preached the Word. And Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them and a great revival broke out down there. But with all this going on there the Spirit led Philip, by an angel appearing unto him, to leave and go down on the Gaza desert. Philip obeyed and went. There was one lone man riding across that desert in his chariot and the Spirit led Philip to go and join him. Philip obeyed again and joined this man who was seeking after the things of God. Philip preached Christ unto him and he believed and was baptized but this was not the end of that story. This man was a very important man in the service of Queen Candace of Ethiopia and he carried what he got from Philip on down to Ethiopia and a sizable church was raised up there through him. This is a very beautiful example of Holy Spirit leadership in the Church and that He knew what He was doing when He took Philip away from the revival at Samaria and led him down to the desert to intercept his man.
When Cornelius was instructed of the angel of God to send to Joppa and get Peter to come down and tell him the way of salvation, he did so. Now be it remembered that Peter, being a Jew, was not permitted by Jewish custom to go in to one uncircumcised. But he explained when called in question about this that “…the Spirit bade me go with them,…” and he went and the results were wonderful and the gospel of salvation was opened to the Gentiles. This is just another outstanding example of Holy Spirit leadership and that the Spirit knew what He was doing. (Acts 10:1-8 and Acts 11:1-12.)
Again witness the operation of the Spirit in Acts 13:1-3. In this case there was a company of prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch who were ministering and fasting and the Holy Spirit spake to them saying “…Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” God had a far-reaching work for them to do. So the company of disciples were obedient to the instruction of the Spirit and, after further fasting and prayer, laid their hands on them and sent them forth. Their work on that journey brought in a regular influx of the Gentiles into the Church. They went far and several churches were raised up.
On another missionary journey they went through Phrygia and the regions of Galatia and would have gone into Asia but the Spirit forbade them to do it. Then they went to Mysia and assayed to go into Bithynia but the Spirit did not allow that either. Was this because God did not want those people to have the gospel of salvation? Nay, verily. God is extremely anxious that every person hear the saving gospel of the Son of God. However, He knows His times and seasons and knew the time and conditions were not ripe right then in those areas. Asia was evangelized later on and Churches raised up there and the book of Revelation is addressed to them. But for that time the Holy Spirit had other work for Paul and Silas to do so He led them into Macedonia where they had not originally planned to go and there was some great work done over there and Churches raised up. Paul said in Acts 20:28 that the Holy Ghost appointed the elders to be overseers in the Church. He not only appointed the overseers over the different congregations, but also endowed them with gifts and qualifications to fulfill their responsibilities and take care of the Church of God.
This was very beautiful and this was indeed the glory period of the early Church but it was not long to continue in this way. This was the period when the Holy Spirit was in full charge and directing all the affairs of the Church. In other words, He was the One who was letting or overseeing and supervising everything. “…Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” (II Thessalonians 2:7.) Though the Holy Spirit was in full charge then, the time was soon to come when He would be relegated to a “back seat” position and taken out of the way to make way for the “Man of sin” to come in.
A prophecy concerning this is found in Isaiah 63:18 and reads thus, “The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while:…” Again another prophecy concerning this same thing is found in Amos 8:9 and reads thus, “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.” In verse 11 it continues on to say that God would send a famine of hearing of the Word of the Lord and verse 12 says that they shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, and shall not find it. This, no doubt, had a direct fulfillment in Israel’s night when the prophecy was cut off and there was no voice from God for 400 years between Malachi and Christ. But it also has a second direct fulfillment in what happened to the Church in the period we are now discussing in the second chapter of II Thessalonians.
In the first part of II Thessalonians 2:7, Paul said, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work:…” The seeds had already been sown and were taking root and growing in Paul’s day. In those early times of the Church, the ministry consisted of elders OR bishops (not elders AND bishops; the two were the same) and deacons. They were all humble men of God subject to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and there was no one among them seeking preeminence or to be lord over the others. However, this idea did surface among the apostles in their early days before the Holy Spirit came James and John desired the chief places; one on the right hand and one on the left hand of Jesus in His kingdom, and all the apostles debated among themselves at one time who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Read Mark 10:35-45 and Luke 22:24-27). In these places Jesus taught them that was the way of the world and of the Gentiles and their kings and great men exercised lordship over them but it should not be so among them. And in Matthew 23:8 He nailed it down when He said, “…One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” The apostles got the point of that teaching and this thing never showed up in them anymore throughout their lifetime. They all remained just, humble men of God entirely submitted to the directions of the Holy Spirit. As one historian who has already been referred to said, “The Christian Church was in the beginning a community of brethren guided by a few of the brethren.”
This was all very beautiful just like God makes everything beautiful and good; but Paul detected in his time the sprouting of the tares which had been sown among them and said the mystery of iniquity was already showing its symptoms. He called it the “mystery of iniquity.” (II Thessalonians 2:7.) John wrote in III John 9 about one named Diotrepes who loved to have the preeminence among them and went on in verse 10 saying this man would not receive the brethren and forbade others from doing so and those who did he cast out of the Church. This was after Paul’s time but he encountered some of the same things himself. He wrote in I Corinthians 4:18 saying, “Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.” How different this was from those humble men of God in the early days of the Christian Church.
The evidences of spiritual decline were manifest in the Churches of Asia in the Revelation. The Church at Ephesus was holding steadfastly to the doctrines and standards of Christ and His apostles but they had left their first love. Jesus reproved them for this and commanded that they repent and do their first works or He would come and remove their candlestick. (Revelation 2:1-7.) To keep the Word of God and hold Its standards (outwardly) and not possess the Spirit and love of God (inwardly) is to substitute the form for the fact of godliness. Christ called this a fallen church. It was to this very church that Paul gave his solemn charge in Acts 20:17-35 and admonished its elders with tears to be alert and watchful. He saw these things coming.
The Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) had become very worldly and fallen to a very low spiritual level and become lukewarm and rating their spiritual status by their worldly prosperity. In a lukewarm state they were very obnoxious and nauseating to Christ and He was ready to spew them out.
Things were wrong in every church except Smyrna. They had false teachers and various kinds of wickedness. This low spiritual level and a high level of worldly prosperity combined to produce among the church leaders a lust for power and authority and preeminence and a competition for position. Soon every group of elders exalted one among them to a position of preeminence and to him was reserved the exclusive title of “Bishop” (before they were all bishops). Then the idea of ecclesiastical organization progressed a step farther and several bishops in an area formed a conference and the most influential bishop among them was elected to the position of Archbishop with authority over all the bishops in that diocese. Then as it progressed still farther one of the archbishops in a large district was exalted to the office of Metropolitan with authority over all the archbishops in his district. And so on and on until the Pope of Rome was declared to be the universal head of the church. He had authority over political kings and could humble and dethrone them and actually did this in some instances. Today the universal head of the church reigns with almost absolute authority over the world’s largest congregation of 800 million souls.
This man sits in the temple of God showing himself that he is God. (II Thessalonians 2:4.) His title is “Vicar of the Son of God” and this title is lettered across his miter. But, as we set forth in the first part of this discussion and confirmed with definite scriptures, God’s Word and God’s Spirit were His two representatives (vicars) in the Church. So the title attributed to this ecclesiastical ruler is blasphemous and presumptuous. As this apostasy developed and the system produced, by each step of its progressive build-up, a human government over the church system, the Holy Spirit, who had formerly exercised leadership and governmental authority in the Church, was relegated to a lesser and lesser place and human preeminence took away His authority. He was taken away to make place for the man of sin (this human government system and its head, the supreme pontiff of Rome). This is what is referred to in Revelation 11:3 where it is said, “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, (the Word and Spirit) and they shall prophesy…clothed in sackcloth.” This signifies that they would be in humiliation and mourning and would be relegated to the background and have a very limited operation. Their operation during all the time of the dark ages (1260 years) and the reign of the apostasy was just among the few who were faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel and would not bow to human rule and faced the bitter persecution that came against them from this false, human, and apostate system.
And as the system of human organization progressed to its climax in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, those carnal, exalted, power and position-lusting men declared that God had given unto them the power to “Prescribe authoritative rules of faith and manners to govern the people of God.” Thus they became a legislative and governing body for the church with power to enact laws and make decrees which they did and many of which were carnal ordinances and in direct opposition to the New Testament teachings of the pure truth of the gospel of salvation. Thus the Word (the other of the two witnesses (vicars of Christ in the Church) was taken away and denied its rightful place in the Church.
It has been pointed out earlier that a body of religious worshippers must have both the Word of God and the Spirit of God working among them with full liberty in order for it to be the Church of God. Since this vast, apostate system to which the whole world bowed and worshiped, had neither the Word or Spirit it could not be of God but was totally human and of hellish and devilish origin. Therefore it is said, “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” This was Satan’s substitute church and directly in opposition to the true Church of God in the earth and its head, Jesus Christ.