A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:6-8. b). The outbreak of the rebellion (continued).
The third and most widely held view is that the restraining influence is *Rome and the power of the state*. Tertullian seems to have been the first church father to enunciate this: ‘What obstacle is there but the Roman state…?’ Not that the reference need be limited to the Roman Empire; every state, being the guardian of law and order, public peace and justice, meets the case equally well. It is true that in Revelation 13 the state is portrayed as satanic, and that when it appears in this guise it can hardly be conceived as the restrainer of Antichrist. Indeed, it is this which led Cullmann to declare the interpretation of the state as the restrainer ‘the least probable hypothesis’. Nevertheless, Paul regarded the state as God’s agent for the punishment of evil (Rom.13:1ff.). In fact there are four main arguments in favour of this interpretation:
1). It makes good sense. As Plummer wrote. ‘the natural restrainer of lawlessness is the law, and in the first century the great organizer and executor of the law was the Roman Empire’. He even wrote that this explanation fits so well that ‘it is almost a waste of time to look for any other’.
2). It tallies with Paul’s known view and experience of the state. He and Silas as Roman citizens had recently experienced Roman justice both in Philippi and at the hands of the politarchs in Thessalonica itself, and the proconsul Gallio’s fair handling of a potentially ugly situation in Corinth might be fresh in Paul’s mind (Acts 18:12-16). Further, he would soon be expounding to the Romans his conviction that the state was God’s servant to punish evil and promote good (Rom.13:1-5).
3). The combination of the neuter and the masculine is easily explained. ‘Think’, wrote Hendriksen, ‘of the empire and the emperor, of justice and the judge, of law and the one who enforces it.
4). The enigmatic reference would be explicable, since there were obvious prudential reasons for not openly and explicitly predicting that the state would be ‘taken out of the way’ or ‘removed from the scene’ (REB).
Meanwhile, even during the period of restraint, and before the lawless one is revealed, *the secret power of lawlessness is already at work* (7a). ‘The secret power’ translates *to mysterion*. It cannot here bear its usual meaning in Paul’s writings of ‘a truth once hidden but now revealed’, since it is still secret and is contrasted with the coming ‘revelation’ of the man of lawlessness. Before he is revealed openly, however, the lawlessness he embodies is operating secretly. His antisocial, anti-law, anti-God movement is at present largely underground. We detect its subversive influence around us today – in the atheistic stance of secular humanism, in the totalitarian tendencies of extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies, in the materialism of the consumer society which puts things in the place of God, in those so-called ‘theologies’ which proclaim the death of God and the end of moral absolutes, and in the social permissiveness which cheapens the sanctity of human life, sex, marriage and family, all of which God created or instituted.
Were it not for some remaining restraints (which preserve a measure of justice, freedom, order and decency) these things would break out much more virulently. And one day they will. For when the restraint is removed, then secret subversion will become open rebellion under the unscrupulous leadership of *the lawless one* who *will be revealed* (8a). Then we can expect a period (mercifully short) of political, social and moral chaos, in which both God and Law are impudently flouted, until suddenly *the Lord Jesus* will come and *overthrow* him *with the breath of his mouth and destroy* him *by the splendour of his coming* (8). ‘There is no long battle’, writes Ernest Best, ‘victory comes at once’.
|Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. c) The dynamics of the rebellion.|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.