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What Is the Mystery of Iniquity?

"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed . . . even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-9.

Examining Bible Tests for Evidence

"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

"Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Paul spoke forthrightly and unequivocally in addressing the issue of apostasy in the early church. Hard to believe, but error was creeping into the church even before the last of the apostles were in their graves. In his letters, Paul warned the churches he had planted to beware of false doctrines. Peter and John, likewise, attempted to safeguard the flock of Christ through their letters.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (2 Peter 2:1-2).

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (1 John 4:1-3).

Slow Infusion of Error Through Deceptive Means

Gnosticism's philosophy was being incorporated into the new church on vital doctrines such as the nature of Christ, overcoming sin, and second coming of the Saviour to harvest the earth. The three methods of deception being employed were outlined by Paul in his letter the church at Thessalonica: "by spirit"; "by word"; and "by letter as from us."

"By spirit" or by professing to have the spirit of prophecy, some were coming into the congregations and giving their deceptive messages, while claiming to have received the message under divine inspiration. Under such conditions Paul admonished the believers to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). That the problem persisted is clear from the fact that some 30 years later, the apostle John said the same thing in his first letter to the churches — don't believe every word that is told to you, but verify it according to the truth you already have received from us.

Some artful individuals didn't necessarily claim any divine revelation on the subject. There were men among the early congregations who would bring "some new thing" as though it had been spoken by the apostle himself, in another city, to a different congregation. Under the guise of "I'm just relating what I heard," the weight of evidence was laid on the absent apostle. In the days before Internet and email, it would take weeks or months before anything could be verified by letter. So Paul here warns the Thessalonian congregation in advance: "Let no man deceive you by any means."

To the Galatians, Paul said that if anyone should come with a different message than the one he had already given them, then let that individual be cursed. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8). Paul was not going to change the truth in any fashion, and the people needed to know this so they would not fall into the snare being set by Satan to hinder the work of the Gospel.

To those living in Corinth, he had this to say about any individual bringing in some "new view" on salvation or Bible doctrines: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

By false prophecy, by word of mouth, and by letter, these departures from Christ’s truth were circulated in the new churches in Asia. One would scarcely think it possible at the very time when the apostles were still alive that someone would dare to distribute a forged letter claiming apostolic authorship. But such was the extent of the evil that was sneaking in attempting to destroy the work of the apostles. Some of these letters are even now being widely published as authentic and worthy of study, such as the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Barnabas, both of Gnostic origin.

"Various works made their appearance, with some apostolic name appended to them, their fabricators thus hoping to give currency to opinions or to practices which might otherwise have encountered much opposition. At the same time many evinced a disposition to supplement the silence of the written word by the aid of their traditions. . . . Though Christians were removed at so short a distance from apostolic times, the traditions of one church sometimes diametrically contradicted those of another." (J.N. Andrews and L.R. Conradi, History of the Sabbath and the First Day of the Week, p. 230).

Paul cautioned his young co-worker, Timothy, that things would get even worse than they were at the time Paul was still alive. "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned." (2 Timothy 3:13). "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science [Greek: gnosis] falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith." (1 Timothy 6:20-21).

"Vain babblings" and "science falsely so called" included the method of Bible study that allegorized whatever portions of the Scriptures were out of harmony with the new views. Gnostics claimed that nothing was what it seemed in the writings of the old prophets; everything was written in symbol and could only be understood by someone who had been trained in mystical interpretation. The plain reading of the Word of God was set aside, and in its place the philosophies and traditions of men became prominent.

[page 2 of Part I]

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