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Man of Lawlessness, People of Lawfulness

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3 NIV)

Something strange is happening in the world. Just as human governments and organizations insist more and more on full compliance with all their human laws and regulations, societies are becoming more and more indifferent to the law of God. Even stranger is the fact that Christians are often at the forefront of this increasing disregard for the law of God!

Prevalent Dislike

I recall a distant relative whom I had met for the first time and who, perhaps not knowing that I was an Adventist, said with an evident sense of condescension that there were actually some Christians who believe that we should follow the Ten Commandments.

I also recall someone telling me that the law is no longer binding on Christians and that a life without the law, but with the Spirit is so much more superior and fulfilling, a different experience altogether. I would in no way deny that only a life in the Spirit can bring fulfillment; yet one of the chief works of the Spirit is to write God’s law on the heart! So why see conflict between Spirit and law, where the Bible sees harmony? Why this dislike for God’s law?

I recall reading a book which, on the basis of Romans 7, suggested that following the law (especially the 10 commandments) was tantamount to spiritual adultery, a rejection of Jesus! Strangely enough, the same author later in the same book stated that the nine commandments are good and valid so his real qualm was not with the law as such, but with the Sabbath. Nonetheless, the force of the statement that the law equals spiritual adultery was not easy to undo.

Indeed, having taken part in many discussion forums, I have come to realize that for many contemporary Christians the word “law” has almost become a swearword.

A Paradigm Shift

It wasn’t always like that. 100 years ago most Christians of most denominations had a high regard for God’s law, especially the 10 Commandments. This explains why Adventist evangelistic studies were focused primarily on proving which day was the Sabbath rather than whether the Sabbath was still valid; most Christians believed in the 4th commandment and the main qualm was in which day to keep it.

The rise of dispensationalist approaches that see a major dichotomy between the Old and New Testaments, coupled perhaps with a desire to counter Adventist emphasis on the law, has led to the major paradigm shift described above in which the law of God is now seen in a negative light by a large percentage of Christians.

Lawlessness in the NT

Paul does not seem to be in agreement. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 he describes a person/power who would rise and try to challenge the supremacy of God. He calls him, “the man of lawlessness.” Both the Greek noun anomia that Paul uses, and the words “lawlessness” used in some English translations (e.g. NAS, NIV, ESV, RSV) have the same force, a lack or absence of law. It follows then that the entity in question would put aside the law of God.

Paul ties this activity specifically with the “day of the Lord”, a reference to the Second Coming. While on the basis of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we believe that this lawless tendency has been manifested throughout history, we probably should anticipate a kind of climax before the Second Coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 is not the only text that ties lawlessness with the time prior to the Second Coming. The word anomia is used 15 times in the NT, always in a negative light, and often in relation to the end times. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus explained that many would come on “that day” (the Day of Judgment) and claim that they prophesied and performed miracles in His name; but Jesus will reply that He does not know them because they practice lawlessness.

In Matthew 13:41 Jesus explains that at the Second Coming He will send His angels to gather the elect and to remove from His kingdom all who practice anomia. The fact that these are “removed” from the kingdom may suggest that they were in it, or at least believed so.

In Matthew 24:12 Jesus prophesied that in the last days the love of many would wax cold and iniquity/wickedness [Greek anomia, lawlessness] would abound. Jesus hates lawlessness (Heb 1:9).

Likewise, the adjective anomos, “lawless one” is used nine times always with a negative connotation of opponents of the gospel, and in a special way of those who crucified Jesus (Luke 22:37; Acts 2:23); once it is related to the Second Coming (2 Thess 2:8).

It seems to me that there is a very clear pattern in the use of the words anomia/anomos. First, they always designate trends or people who are opposed to God; second, this trend and those people, while active throughout the history of the Christian church, would take prominence in the last days.

The apostles leave no doubt as to what fate awaits the lawless. The man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2 will be destroyed by the splendor of the coming of Jesus (2 Thess 2:8). Those who practice lawlessness will find themselves separated from Jesus (Matt 7:23), removed from the kingdom (Matt 13:41), find themselves in darkness (2 Cor 6:14), remain in their sins (Titus 2:14; Heb 10:17).

A Call to Law-Fullness

Against this backdrop of increasing lawlessness in the last days, especially among professing Christians, God calls His people to emulate the example of Jesus. In Matthew 5:17 we read the Jesus fulfilled the law. The Greek verb plerōsaiused, indicates filling something to the full, like filling a cup to the brim. Jesus exemplified perfect obedience. This is by no means an easy task. Human sinful nature creeps under the surface ready to disrupt the best of intentions. But though the righteous might fall seven times, he/she will also rise seven times (Prov 24:16). As we abide in Christ, victory is assured.

At this point in time when the spirit of lawlessness is taking over the Christian world, when the work of the man of Lawlessness seems to prosper, let us be people of lawfulness. There is nothing more beautiful than a life lived in triumph in Christ.

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