Rebellion Against God Comes to Light
WE COULD expect that, if God has an adversary, this one would try to overthrow any arrangement that God would make for his people. And the most effective way would be to institute a rebellion within God’s congregation itself, and to bring from it a counterfeit “congregation of God.” This very thing God’s adversary Satan the Devil has done. That effort began in the first century, during the very lifetime of the apostles. When was full light shed on this rebellion, unveiling it?
The revealing of this rebellion in full flower began shortly after the death of the apostles. At that time those who were true Christians could see it for what it really was, though selfish professed Christians were attracted to it and actually blinded as to its real nature and its foretold end.
THE ‘MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS’
The apostle Paul called the movement in his day ‘the mystery of lawlessness.’ This was because, though such lawlessness against God was working among some in the congregations, the rebellion could not get organized and assert itself then. Why not?
Answering this question, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica: “And so now you know the thing that acts as a restraint, with a view to his being revealed in his own due time. True, the mystery of this lawlessness is already at work; but only till he who is right now acting as a restraint gets to be out of the way. Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed.”—2 Thess. 2:6-8.
THE FIRST-CENTURY RESTRAINT
The early Christians knew that “he who is right now acting as a restraint” was not one man, but the body of the genuine apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, including Paul. Similarly, the “lawless one,” the “man of lawlessness,” was not to be one man, but a composite rebellious body of men. (2 Thess. 2:3) The apostle’s statement at 2 Thessalonians 2:8 shows that this “man” would be living down to the time of Christ’s presence. Only a class or body of men, the personnel of which changed from generation to generation, could do this, for, of course, one man could not live that long.
There is ample proof that the “mystery of this lawlessness” was indeed at work in the first-century Christian congregation and that it was suppressed or restrained by the strong spiritual guidance and alert action of the apostles. One example is found in what the apostle John wrote:
“I wrote something to the congregation but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.”—3 John 9, 10.
Also, the ‘mysterious’ deceptiveness of this rebellious operation, and that it would involve religious leaders, is shown in Paul’s letter to the congregation at Corinth, in which he said of boastful men who sought prominence and power:
“Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness. But their end shall be according to their works.”—2 Cor. 11:12-15.
Paul had trouble with some men who promoted apostate ideas, but these he exposed, causing some of them to be expelled from the congregation. Two men, named Hymenaeus and Alexander, had thrust aside a good conscience and had “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” Paul “handed them over to Satan that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim. 1:19, 20) Later Paul wrote to Timothy: “Hymenaeus and Philetus . . . have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred; and they are subverting the faith of some.”—2 Tim. 2:17, 18.
The rebellious religious operation persisted right to the close of the first century. As late as 96 C.E. the glorified Jesus Christ said, through the apostle John, to the body of elders of the congregation in Ephesus: “I know your deeds, and your labor and endurance, and that you cannot bear bad men, and that you put those to the test who say they are apostles, but they are not, and you found them liars.”—Rev. 2:1, 2.
Again, John wrote giving definite evidence of the operation of the “mystery of this lawlessness” and the nearness of its being revealed:
“Young children, it is the last hour, and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.”—1 John 2:18, 19.
From these apostolic writings, exposing bad conditions that were coming to the surface here and there in the congregation, we can see that the apostles, during the “last hour” of apostolic care on earth, stood in the way, preventing the organizing of the “mystery of this lawlessness” into a corporate body, the “man of lawlessness.”
THE REBELLION COMES TO FULL BLOOM
Discussing the revealing of this rebellious composite “man of lawlessness,” Paul said: “But the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing.”—2 Thess. 2:9, 10.
The “man of lawlessness” came to be fully unveiled after the death of the apostles. Some leaders in the congregations began to lord it over their brothers and to cater to worldly politicians. The rebellion manifested itself in an especially brazen way in the days of Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the State religion. Concerning this, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia relates:
“The simplicity of the Gospel was corrupted; pompous rites and ceremonies were introduced; worldly honors and emoluments were conferred on the teachers of Christianity, and the kingdom of Christ in a great measure converted into a kingdom of this world.”—Vol. 2, p. 488.
For centuries the apostate church had great power with the governments, and brought about the “Dark Ages” and much religious persecution. Later, the Reformation came, but it was not a restoration of true worship. It was merely a break from the authority of the Catholic Church and its popes. The chief false doctrines were carried over into the Protestant churches, and the clergy of those churches even today manifest the same attitude as did those who began the apostasy, holding themselves forth as ones exclusively set apart and appointed to the ministry of God’s Word, with special powers, privileges, rights, immunities, rank and titles not shared by the inferior “laity.”
According to the apostle, “the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception.” We see this among Christendom’s clergy today. (2 Thess. 2:9, 10) They demand high esteem and reverence. Often they wear grand, eye-dazzling regalia, are called by high-sounding titles, exult in magnificent church buildings and cathedrals and carry on impressive church rituals, such as their claimed transubstantiation of bread and wine in the “Mass.” They pride themselves in superior education, their standing and influence with the political State and the military.
As to their performing of ‘powerful works,’ they have “converted” whole populations by force. They have built hospitals and church schools, and have sent medical missionaries to “pagan” lands. Yes, they have ‘transformed themselves into ministers of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:15) At the same time they permit their “converts” to continue to carry on many of their pagan practices, combining these with their so-called “Christianity.” Actually, the Church has aided Christendom’s governments to exercise domination over such lands, a domination made more binding because of the power that the religious leaders have wielded over the people. On this point consider the statement by Methodist minister Gabriel Setiloane at the All-Africa Church Conference held in Uganda in 1963:
“The advance of the Church in Africa has gone hand in hand with the Adventurer, the Explorer, the Colonizer and even the Imperialist. The hand that planted the Cross . . . on this continent was not that of the priest or apostle. It was the bloodstained hand of the soldier. . . . Even up to this century the Church in this continent, in spite of remonstrations to the contrary, has not been able to tear itself loose from the cords of Caesar’s robes.”
To what extent has the clerical “man of lawlessness” class grown? In the year 1971 C.E. the published figures for the Roman Catholic Church alone showed 419,611 clergymen for 566,771,600 Catholic church members world wide. With all this, is the world better, morally or spiritually? Is there more love, peace, unity and happiness in the world today, and, for that matter, in Christendom itself?
Those who sincerely look into the Bible can readily see that the “man of lawlessness” class has indeed developed according to the apostle Paul’s prophetic words. This composite “man” is clearly identifiable as the clergy of Christendom. Those finding themselves associated with that class, either as laymen or perhaps as honest-hearted members of the clergy, are warned by the Bible to separate from this deceptive effort of the Devil to overthrow God’s true Christian congregation and to obscure the truth. (2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 18:4) Satan’s scheme will not succeed, as the words of the apostle show at 2 Thessalonians 2:8, which words will be considered in the next issue of The Watchtower.