by A.E. Knoch

LAW is a basic element of the spiritual and physical world. There could be no cosmos without it. All would be confusion and chaos, and creation would be destroyed and disappear. Imagine what would happen if even one of the celestial bodies failed to keep its course! Should the sun refuse to rise on the morrow, or the moon forsake its appointed path and crash into the earth, all would become waste and vacant once again, as at the forefront of revelation. Then we would really see "the end of the world." Let us thank God that His consummation is the exact opposite. In the new heavens and the new earth law will pervade the universe. All will obey His will, and even rebellious man will find no room for his harmful lawlessness.

While sin, or failure, is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), there is a very different thought at the bottom of each. Sin is the result of mortality or inability or incompetence, while lawlessness is wilful independence or opposition to the rules and regulations which control the relation of things. The old rendering "man of sin" or sinful man, does not, it seems to me, measure up to the ruler who will head the human race when man's day comes to its zenith. Sin suggests failure, but he will succeed until the Lord Himself puts an end to his career. It suggests shame, but he will combine all earthly glories. It is associated with weakness, but he will have more power than any other man except our Lord. He will, however, be essentially lawless, unwilling to bear the restraints imposed by God and nature and organized society. To me it seems a most appropriate title, and one that we should understand and use far more frequently and intelligently than we do.

The Authorized Version reads "man of sin." The Revisers retained this, but put lawlessness in the margin, as the reading of many ancient manuscripts. The Concordant Version superlinear shows that "sin" hamartias is the reading of Alexandrinus, but that both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have "lawlessness." In such a case, where the two better manuscripts agree against the witness of an inferior one, there can be no doubt as to the correct reading. Besides, the two words look enough alike, having the same ending, with the first letter identical, that one copyist could readily mistake one for the other. But it is not likely that two would change it to the same word, anomias, for amartias. As lawlessness is just as clear, or even more illuminating than sin, as regards interpretation, we need not hesitate to build our teaching upon it.

The fact that the lawless one is the development of the secret phase of lawlessness, which is already in operation, strengthens this position. We do not need to wait until the man of lawlessness is unveiled in order to see his work in operation. It is all about us already. In many places lawlessness is rampant. The laws of nature and of human society are flouted. Crime is on the increase, and often defies the forces of law and order. But, in this connection, we should especially note the growing Godlessness. More than ever, there is no fear of God among men, and His laws are trampled under foot. This phase of modern man should be of special interest to us, for it is the feature which will be concentrated in the last great ruler before God's Man seizes the helm and God writes His laws on the hearts of His people, Israel, and enforces them among the nations with an iron club.

The Jews, not the other nations, are looking for a Messiah. And it is as a Messiah that the apostates of the sacred nation will accept the one who comes in his own name (John 5:43). The term "Antichrist" is used far too frequently, and without sufficient discrimination, even when we are really speaking of a different phase of his work. It occurs only in the epistles of John, in reference to his relationship to the Circumcision. The title signifies INSTEAD-Anointed. He is the substitute Messiah, the false Christ. He is, indeed, against the true, but not in the usual sense of open opposition, but of imitating and displacing. The Jews will accept him as the true Messiah, not as an enemy of the true. That is the real force of anti in this title.

In the Scriptures the law usually refers to the law given through Moses on Mount Sinai. But it is by no means confined to that holy enactment. We, the nations, are not under this law, for it was not given to us. Yet even we who believe are under the spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:2). The law of Moses brought Israel into bondage, while the spirit's law frees us, so different are they. There is a law written in the hearts of all mankind, which produces conscience by contact with sin (Rom.2:15), just as the law of Moses produced the recognition of sin (Rom.3:20). Even faith has its law, that is, its fixed principles of procedure (Rom.3:27). There are social laws, such as that pertaining to marriage (Rom.7:2). The nations, as well as all creation, animate and inanimate, are limited by law to the sphere and activity which corresponds with their place and function in the world, so that they may glorify the Creator as well as preserve their own welfare.

There is an instructive contrast between the rule of the lawless one and that of Messiah in the millennium. First of all, there is the new covenant with Israel. Yahweh will put His laws in their hearts and inscribe them on their comprehension (Heb.10:16). It will be a reign of law. Messiah will be a Man of Lawfulness. But law will not be confined to Israel (Isa.2:3):

2 And it comes in the days hereafter,
established shall be the mount of Yahweh,
and the house of the Elohim, on the summit of the mountains,
and borne by the hills.
And stream to it all the nations.
3 And go many peoples and say,
"Go, and we will ascend to the mount of Yahweh,
and to the house of the Elohim of Jacob,
and He will direct us in His ways,
and we will go in His paths."
For from Zion shall fare forth the law,
and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
 4 And He judges between the nations,
and corrects many peoples.
And they pound their swords into mattocks,
and their spears into pruners.
And nation is not lifting the sword against nation,
nor learning still further to fight.

For His law the coasts shall wait (Isa.42:3). Micah (4:4) repeats and enlarges upon Isaiah's words, as follows:

4 And each man sits under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one is causing them to tremble.
For the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken,

It is generally acknowledged that the A.V. has never translated anomia UN-LAW lawlessness, correctly. Once they have it "transgression of the law, and once, combined with do, "transgress the law" (1 John 3:4). But it is not so much a stepping over of a known law, as acting without regard to law. The A.V. itself has rendered the noun (anomos) without law (1 Cor.9:21). Once the A.V. has unrighteousness for lawless (2 Cor.6:14). But usually it renders this word as iniquity (Matt.7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12; Rom.4:7; 6:19; 2 Thess.2:7; Titus.2:14; Heb.1:9; 8:12; 10:17). By using iniquity for two other Greek words they further hindered the reader from getting a clear conception of the true meaning of lawlessness, which is vital to a basic understanding of the time of the end.

That the meaning is unrestrained by law, seems to be evident from the apostle's words concerning his own ministry, how he adapted himself to those whom he served. To those under law he was as under law, and to those without law or lawless as without law (1 Cor.9:21). Here the noun is used in a neutral sense. We could hardly say that Paul became iniquitous to gain the iniquitous! This should show us just where the real heart of the matter is to be found. The present disregard and evasion and contempt for law will come into full bloom at the time of the end, and have its greatest exponent in the man in power in that era. Perhaps he will have an excuse, like that we hear today, that, in a crisis or an emergency, even the fundamental law of a country, like the constitution of the United States, need not be enforced or considered.

That lawlessness is distinct from sin (Heb.8:12; 10:17) and hypocrisy (Matt.23:28) and uncleanness (Rom.6:19) should be evident from the fact that these are coupled with it. Sin, indeed, is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), yet lawlessness evidently goes beyond sin in its usual sense in such passages as "of their sins and their lawlessnesses should I under no circumstances still be reminded" (Heb.8:12). In this verse it is also distinguished from injustices, which call for propitiation. These assurances to Israel follow the reception of the new covenant, in which Yahweh says that (Heb.8:10):

Imparting My laws to their comprehension,
On their hearts, also, shall I be inscribing them.

The happiness of the thousand years will be the fruit of conformity to law, but the preceding era will be cursed by lawlessness, especially in the person of the man at its head.

We should always use this beneficent scene as a background for the era of the lawless one, as well as for the time in which we live, for we have lawlessness enough already to give us a grim contrast with those haleyon days. The present is a time of making and breaking laws. Millions of statutes bulge the books, yet billions of evasions and transgressions characterize the conduct of mankind. In some regions even the laws of nature are flouted and rejected. In others so-called "rackets" and armed criminals defy the powers of government. Yes, even governments themselves go back on the promises and guarantees that they have made, so that men have lost confidence in them, and are afraid and tremble at that which the future has in store. Instead of peacefully resting under their own vine and fig tree, I have actually come across men standing guard with a gun lest their fruit be carried off by thoughtless and lawless visitors and sightseers.

The adjective lawless, or without law anomos is used freely of the nations who have not received the law of Moses. Paul himself became as lawless to the lawless (1 Cor.9:21). In their relation to God, the uncircumcision, having no law, are a law to themselves, displaying the action of the law written in their hearts, their conscience joining its witness, and their reckonings between one another accusing or defending them (Rom.2:15). Conscience is the nearest thing we have to God's law, but we know how little this can be relied upon, for, unlike the law of Moses, it varies in each individual. Besides, it is callous in all of us, and almost suppressed in some. Is it not fitting that the lawless nations should be headed up in the flower of their career by the lawless one?


The nearest Hebrew word for lawlessness seems to be aun, which the A.V. renders affliction, evil, false, idol, iniquity, mischief, mourner, mourning, nought, sorrow, unjust, unrighteous, vain, vanity, wicked, wickedness. The fact that almost every one of these words is undoubtedly the nearest equivalent of some other Hebrew word seems to show that there was no definite meaning attached to it by our translators. The remarkable fact which claims our attention is this: The same stem, with a slight variation in the vowels perhaps, is used in the sense of virility. It is rendered force, goods, might, strength, substance. The thought is clear in the first occurrence (Gen.49:3):

Reuben, my firstborn are you, my vigor,
And the beginning of my virility.

This is confirmed by the law of the firstborn (Deut.21:17). The rendering virility may yet be replaced by one showing that there is no real difference between these two words, seeing that a man in his minority is under the law of his parents and the household, but when he marries he is without such a law, and is independent, directed by his own will.

I am tempted to include some of the greatest achievements of humanity in the category of lawlessness, but I would not press this point unduly. Man is evidently designed to live upon the earth. Indeed, he cannot, for any considerable time, leave the earth for other spheres. Still, he is continually inclined, especially in these last days, to invade elements for which he was not formed, the water and the air, for which other creatures have been created, the fishes and the birds. The great hardships accompanying these lawless excursions do not deter men. The terrible retribution is clearly evident when we see devastation wrought by submarines and flying machines in modern warfare. Man is inventing lawless machines to destroy himself. Do not these striking developments clearly indicate the character of the era dominated by the man of lawlessness?

The normal and natural functions of the human body are already being neglected and superseded by mechanical devices which bring along with them a train of evils that outweigh their benefits. These are threatening to repeal the sentence of Eden on man's sin: "In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread" (Gen.3:19). Many men are already lawless, and even the saints cannot escape the trend of civilization. Lawlessness is often alluring, and it may be that the man of lawlessness will bring this tendency to fruition, so that, by mechanical means, he will counteract the effects of the curse, and thus gain the applause and allegiance of mankind. This would correspond with his other character as the anti-christ, who fulfills the hopes of the Jews to such an extent that he is acclaimed their messiah by the apostate nation. These devices, are, indeed, a kind of mechanical miracle.

Technocracy has been loudly acclaimed as the coming saviour of mankind. The use of machines has undoubtedly lessened the labors of the common people and brought luxury to the well to do. This may be one of the means used by the man of lawlessness to "cause craft to prosper" (Dan.8:25) or bring physical blessings to his subjects.

As I am writing this exposition, an incident occurred which may help to illustrate the meaning of lawlessness as used in the Scriptures. According to the statutes, the so-called National Guard, or state militia, a military organization distinct from the U. S. army, composed of private citizens, receives its orders from the governor of each state, not from the President, the Commander in Chief of the Federal army. Now, however, the President wishes to do away with this law, and subject the National Guard to his orders. In that case his will would supersede the law, and become supreme. If this were carried out fully, then there would be rule by the will of one man, rather than by law. It would be rule without law. Such, no doubt will be the case in the days of the lawless one. He will allow no laws or customs to interfere with his will.

When we study the career of the little horn we will find that he is also a lawless one, for he sets aside the Supreme, means to alter stated times and an edict (Dan.7:25). The God of heaven is the One Who has the right to alter the stated times and to cause kings to pass away (Dan.2:21), yet this little horn takes it upon himself to usurp His place and power in these particulars, because he elevates Himself over every object of veneration (2 Thess.2:4). This seems to be the main characteristic of the great conqueror of the end time as viewed in connection with the nations. To Israel he may be the false christ, but to the nations he is the false god. Yahweh will work His will among the nations in the millennium, but the lawless one will impose his word on them in his day.


Lawlessness, disorder and delusion will come to a head in the last days, but are detained from their fullest development by the presence of the saints. Yet they are already operating, and their increase is one of the surest "signs" of the end. But the day of the Lord, with its fiery inflictions and dire indignation, cannot come until we are in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and assembled to Him, and after the apostasy, in which the man of lawlessness is actually unveiled, and demonstrates his own deity (2 Thess.1:12).


Paul's last epistles, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, are especially helpful to us in these last days, and should be given special attention, after the teaching of the earlier ones has been apprehended. It may seem strange that the Thessalonian epistles, which seem to have been written first, are placed among the last, but that is their correct order in time. Thessalonians is especially concerned with Christ's future descent and presence, and with the period between that and His coming to Israel. It is to the second epistle that we must go to get an understanding of this grim period into which the world is now rushing, and which will commence soon after we are called home to be always together with the Lord.


The second epistle to the Thessalonians is especially pertinent and helpful for us, in view of the imminent vivification and summons into the presence of our Lord. A glance at the skeleton, as shown at the end of the International Edition of the Concordant Version, will show that the body of the epistle consists of a series of two thanksgivings and prayers, and of admonitions concerned especially with the present period before the great apostasy of the day of Yahweh. The first of these deals with the impending lawlessness in the world and the last with disorder in the ecclesia. Both of these strike at the very root of God's purpose to subject all to Himself, that He may become All in all (2 Thess.2:1-12; 3:6-15).

In the first epistle to the Thessalonians our expectation was set forth. We are not appointed to indignation, such as will engulf the nations in dire disaster in the Lord's day, but to procure salvation from it. The Lord Himself will descend from heaven and all of us, dead or alive, will be caught away together in clouds to meet Him in the air (1 Thess.4:13-5:10). But the saints had met with persecutions and afflictions, and had become alarmed, as these seemed to show that the day of the Lord was already present (1 Thess.1:4; 2:2). It is this delusion which the following argument refutes.

Our popular version is far too loose in its renderings to help in clearing up this confusion. In second Thessalonians it renders lawlessness "iniquity" in verse seven, and lawless "wicked" in verse eight. This conceals its essential sense of insubjection. God alone has the right to throw off all restraints. He alone is subject to no law but His own will. This corresponds with one man's assumption of divine honors, and acceptance of worship as the Deity. The rendering "iniquity" and "wicked" miss the central idea of his character and career.


One of the great truths for the present is the fact that we are not under the law, that is, the law of Moses so that we are "lawless" so far as it is concerned. It was a law of death, for it demands that which no mortal can deliver. In the thousand years of Christ's reign it will be written on the hearts of Israel, so they will be able to fulfill it. But we are delivered from it by another law, that of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. As "lawlessness," in English idiom, implies evil, we must sometimes render it "without law," that is, the law of Sinai (1 Cor.9:21). But when we are subject to God and His Word we fulfill its just requirements as well as all the laws by which He governs His creation.


There is a strong tendency today to confound freedom with lawlessness. A story is told of an emigrant to the United States who was asked, on board ship, on his way there how he stood politically. In astonishment he exclaimed, "Is there a government? I'm against it!" On the other hand, some have seen that anarchy is not good, so a local newspaper has the slogan, "freedom under law." There is no freedom in ignoring natural laws, rather destruction. And so, also, in other spheres. While there is no condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus, there is much loss in lawlessness, and the disorderly should be shunned by the saints.

The beauties of a flower are best seen when it is in full bloom. The taste of a fruit can only be known when it is fully ripe. In full fruition we can best comprehend the essence of lawlessness and disorder. It may seem strange that disorder should be chosen to balance lawlessness, as the two main subjects of second Thessalonians. Looked at from the human standpoint the lawless one of the end time will be infinitely worse than a disorderly saint. But, from the divine point of view, the saint has far less excuse for it than the lawless one, so is more culpable. So, brethren, let us take heed that we are not guilty of this sin!


What is meant by "disorderly?" It belongs to a large family of words derived from the stem SET (Greek -ta-), which has such members as arrange, prescribe, class, enjoin, mandate, subject. Thus it is closely connected with God's great goal, the consummation (1 Cor.15:28). Disorder is a-tak-toos and subjection is upo-tag-ee. Indeed, it is conduct which reverses God's order, the opposite of that which alone can prevail in the divine ideal. Its disturbing effect on the saints is a very small matter compared with its essential influence on God's purpose of perfection. It leads to complete alienation from God instead of universal reconciliation.


Disorder is rampant everywhere in the world, yet, strange to say, divine revelation speaks of it only in connection with the saints, in the epistles to the Thessalonians, in this passage (2 Thess.3:6,7,11), and in Paul's first letter to them (1 Thess.5:14), where we are told to warn the disorderly. They, of all people, knowing that God's ultimate is complete subordination, should not be disorderly, for it so displeases Him that we are not allowed to commingle with such. They are to be isolated, like the leper of old, until all traces of the disease are gone. This is because it is infectious. We either keep clear of the leper or may become lepers ourselves.


Other words in the same family as disorderly, may help us to understand its nuances. The positive form of this word, order, is used when the Corinthians are urged to do everything respectably and in order (1 Cor.14:40). Their meetings had evidently been confused and turbulent, ungoverned by the desire to edify. This is usually the case when the gifts of immaturity are prevalent. In contrast to this, those who are mature should be like the Colossians who were praised for their order and the stability of their faith in Christ (Col.2:5).

A fine example of order is seen in distinct orders, or classes in vivification. There are many resurrections, but only three vivifications: Christ, those made alive at His presence, and all the rest at the consummation when death is abolished (1 Cor.15:20-28). There is no disorder in God's operations! It is good that we have no hand in these great transactions, for some of the saints would have it one way, some another. Most of them would raise everyone at death! Some would wait three days, like our Lord. Only a very few would do like Lazarus, and wait for His presence. Apart from that no saint will break the bonds of death or arise to meet Him in the air.

We can see order illustrated in God's worship in His temple. The ministry was limited to the tribe of Levi and the priesthood to the sons of Aaron. Later they were divided into "courses," or "routines" (Luke 1:8), so that each knew their place and time. And, indeed, we can see the necessity of order continually everywhere, especially in these days of great organizations. I once had to dismiss a very good and capable man, simply because he could not adapt himself to the routine which governed his fellow workers. In war insubordination may be punished with extreme penalties. Neither man nor God can accomplish their aims without order.


The counterpart of the man of lawlessness is the disorderly brother in the ecclesia. Just as the Circumcision saints are warned against the one, yet many will succumb to his signs, so we are told to put ourselves from every brother who is walking disorderly, and so today the saints pay no heed to this "sign," and commingle freely with a disorderly brother (2 Thess.3:14), to his own hurt. It may seem very harsh to compare such a one to the son of destruction, but, in some aspects, his conduct is more reprehensible, for he has far more light, and is the recipient of far more grace, so deserves far greater condemnation.

In essence lawlessness and disorderliness are the same thing. Both are the very opposite of God's grand goal, in which all are subject to Him. Both are the antithesis of the consummation, the reverse of God being All in all. We may think it a small matter, but with God it is the fundamental of fundamentals. Yet many of the saints commend it and defend it and support it, little dreaming that they are doing the greatest harm to the brother as well as contributing to the lawlessness of the last days, and are more guilty than the criminal unbeliever, who has little light compared with them. May our blessed Lord enable us to avoid all lawlessness in ourselves and to shun association with it in others!

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