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.
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.