The working of Satan is something that we have spent a long time discussing so far in our look at what the Bible has to say about our adversary. We have just seen how Satan attempts to prevent the truth from being proclaimed through inspiring violent hostility against those who tell the truth. Let us now examine the other side of the picture, in Satan’s encouragement of the official proclamation of deception, which is written about at some length in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
There is a lot of speculation about the identity of the man of lawlessness and the nature of the deception and of course the timing of this deception for what appears to be an end-time prophecy. There is a fascinating aspect of demonology in terms of the restraint of the mystery of lawlessness that is being referred to here as if the pull towards lawlessness is something that begins long before it becomes most dangerous. This is a tendency we can see in various aspects of the mystery of lawlessness and the hostility to God’s ways that we find in our own contemporary society as well as in a look at history. And in our own world, if we want to gain insight into what the Bible is saying by comparison with our own experience, we can see various matters that restrain the mystery of lawlessness, including the development of people’s consciences, the beneficial aspects of traditional morality, the cultivation of rule of law, and even the relatively good behavior of elites that encourages respect of law in the general public. It is when these are undermined that the mystery of lawlessness appears particularly obviously.
It is also noteworthy that the mystery of lawlessness itself is labeled by Paul as a working of Satan. There are obvious reasons why this is the case, but there is also a somewhat paradoxical nature of this activity of the lawless one that mirrors the paradox of lawlessness and ungodliness in general. Lawlessness in general is anarchical and the hostility of people to God’s laws and God’s ways detracts from the orderly nature of the behavior of people. Yet it should be noted that those who oppose God’s laws are not in general simply libertarians who want to be free to live immoral lives without being coerced into the appearance of righteousness (though some people are like this), but in the main we find that they simultaneously desire to coerce other people into favor of their ungodly and immoral ways. This same contradiction, this Janus-faced attitude of anarchy towards above authorities and tyranny towards those viewed as lower, can be found in Satan’s approach as a whole, which require a great deal of deception on numerous levels. Self-deception is necessary to avoid recognizing that one is behaving in a hypocritical fashion by refusing coercion towards righteousness while endorsing coercion in favor of unrighteousness. Deception of others is necessary to deaden the impact of a vestigial conscience as well as a reminder of divine judgment, and frequently there needs to be deception about the nature of truth itself so as to privilege one’s feelings and not recognize the empirical truths that come either through statistical understanding or reasoning from sound premises or recognizing truth in creation. In all of these areas of deception Satan is involved in the promotion of lawlessness as well as in figures who coerce large portions of the globe on behalf of Satan’s interests.
Characteristically, it is Satan’s working of deception that is the source of his other powers over others. Truth is required to be genuinely free because when one is deceived one is prey to a variety of falsehoods that prevent freedom. On the one hand deception leads us to be enslaved by imaginary and neurotic fears, and so it is little surprise that those who are worked on most successfully by Satan find themselves enslaved by anxiety and worry, whether it is the worry about other people liking them or worries about the power of their appearance or (correspondingly) a lack of concern in matters of reality. Similarly, deception leads to slavery to one’s desires and lusts, or the harmful effects of chemicals and behavior, that which to harm to our minds, bodies, heart, and spirits. The benefits gained from ungodliness are elusive, and people find themselves suffering as a result of having adopted the wrong attitudes and behaviors, and yet in their deceived state they tend not to repent of this and seek the truth, but rather to attack those who are telling them unwanted truths. In this way the mystery of lawlessness, whether it appears as a widespread societal pull towards evil or as a coercive authority that seeks to enforce moral anarchy in the nature of a Hitler or Stalin, serves Satan’s interests and ultimately serves to the harm of humanity, even those people who are in support of such evils.