For the mystery of iniquity - On the meaning of the word mystery, see the notes on Romans 11:25; compare I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:3; Colossians 1:26. It means properly what is hidden or concealed; not necessarily that which is unintelligible. The "mystery of iniquity" seems here to refer to some hidden or concealed depravity - some form of sin which was working secretly and silently, and which had not yet developed itself. Any secret sources of iniquity in the church - anything that tended to corrupt its doctrines, and to destroy the simplicity of the faith of the gospel, would correspond with the meaning of the word. Doddridge correctly supposes that this may refer to the pride and ambition of some ministers, the factious temper of some Christians, the imposing' of unauthorized severities, the worship of angels, etc.
Doth already work - There are elements of these corruptions already existing in the church. Dr. Newton maintains that the foundations of popery were laid in the apostle' s days, and that the superstructure was raised by degrees; and this is entirely in accordance with the statements of the apostle Paul. In his own time, he says, there were things which, if not restrained, would expand and ripen into that apostasy. He has not told as particularly to what he refers, but there are several intimations in his writings, as well as in other parts of the New Testament, that even in the apostolic age there existed the elements of those corruptions which were afterward developed and imbodied in the papacy. Even then, says Dr. Newton, "idolatry was stealing into the church I Corinthians 10:14, and a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels." (Colossians 2:18; see, however, my note on that passage.) "There existed strife and divisions I Corinthians 3:3, an adulterating and handling the word of God deceitfully II Corinthians 2:17; II Corinthians 4:2, a gain of godliness, teaching of things for filthy lucre' s sake I Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:11, a vain observation of festivals Galatians 4:10, a vain distinction of meats I Corinthians 8:8, a neglecting of the body Colossians 2:23, traditions, and commandments, and doctrines of men Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:22; compare III John 1:9, "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence." These things constituted the elements of the corruptions which were afterward developed in the papacy, and which are imbodied in that system. An eye that could see all, would even then have perceived that if there were no restraint, these incipient corruptions would grow up into that system, and would be expanded into all the corruptions and arrogant claims which have ever characterized it; compare I John 4:3.
Only he who now letteth - Who now hinders, or restrains - ̔ ́ ho katechōn . This is the same word which is used in II Thessalonians 2:7, and rendered "withholdeth," except that it is there in the neuter gender. There can be no doubt that there is reference to the same restraining power, or the same power under the control of an individual; but what that was, is not quite certain. It was some power which operated as a check on the growing corruptions then existing, and which prevented their full development, but which was to be removed at no distant period, and whose removal would give an opportunity for these corruptions to develop themselves, and for the full revelation of the man of sin. Such a supposition as that the civil power of Rome was such a restraint, operating to prevent the assumption of the ecclesiastical claims of supremacy which afterward characterized the papacy, will correspond with all that is necessarily implied in the language.
Will let, until he be taken out of the way - This will be an effectual check on these corruptions, preventing their full development, until it is removed, and then the man of sin will appear. The supposition which will best suit this language is, that there was then some civil restraint, preventing the development of existing corruptions, but that there would be a removal, or withdrawing of that restraint; and that then the tendency of the existing corruptions would be seen. It is evident, as Oldshausen remarks, that this resisting or restraining power must be something out of the church, and distinguished from the anti-Christian tendency itself; yon der Kirche und vom Antichristenthum. It is necessary, therefore, to understand this of the restraints of civil power. Was there, then, any fact in history which will accord with this interpretation? The belief among the primitive Christians was, that what hindered the rise of the man of sin was the Roman empire, and therefore "they prayed for its peace and welfare, as knowing that when the Roman empire should be dissolved and broken in pieces, the empire of the man of sin would be raised on its ruins."
Dr. Newton. How this revolution was effected, may be seen by the statement of Machiavel. "The emperor of Rome, quitting Rome to dwell at Constantinople" (in the fourth century, under Constantine), "the Roman empire began to decline, but the church of Rome augmented as fast. Nevertheless, until the coming in of the Lombards, all Italy being under the dominion of either emperors or kings, the bishops assumed no more power than what was due to their doctrine and manners; in civil affairs they were subject to the civil power. But Theodoric, king of the Goths, fixing his seat at Ravenna, was that which advanced their interest, and made them more considerable in Italy, for there being no other prince left in Rome, the Romans were forced for protection to pay greater allegiance to the Pope. The Lombards having invaded and reduced Italy into several cantons, the Pope took the opportunity, and began to hold up his head. For being, as it were, governor and principal of Rome, the emperor of Constantinople and the Lombards bare him a respect, so that the Romans (by mediation of their Pope) began to treat and confederate with Longinus (the emperor' s lieutenant), and the Lombards, not as subjects, but as equals and companions; which said custom continuing, and the Pope' s entering into alliance sometimes with the Lombards, and sometimes with the Greeks, contracted great reputation to their dignity." (History of Florence, B. i., p. 6, of the English translation.) A more extended quotation on the same subject, may be seen in Newton on the Prophecies, pp. 407, 408. To anyone acquainted with the decline and fall of the Roman empire, nothing can be more manifest than the correspondence of the facts in history respecting the rise of the papacy, and the statement of the apostle Paul here. The simple facts are these:
(1) There were early corruptions in the church at Rome, as there were elsewhere, but peculiarly there, as Rome was the seat of philosophy and of power.
(2) There were great efforts made by the bishop of Rome to increase his authority, and there was a steady approximation to what he subsequently claimed - that of being Universal Bishop.
(3) There was a constant tendency to yield to him deference and respect in all matters.
(4) This was kept in check as long as Rome was the seat of the imperial power. Had that power remained there, it would have been impossible for the Roman Bishop ever to have obtained the civil and ecclesiastical eminence which he ultimately did. Rome could not have had two heads, both claiming and exercising supreme power; and there never could have been a "revelation of the man of sin."
(5) Constantine removed the seat of empire to Constantinople; and this removal or "taking away" of the only restraint on the ambitious projects of the Roman bishops, gave all the opportunity which could be desired for the growth of the papal power. In all history there cannot, probably, be found a series of events corresponding more accurately with a prophetic statement than this; and there is every evidence, therefore, that these are the events to which the Spirit of inspiration referred.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing 2 Thessalonians 2:7:
1 Thessalonians 4:15
2 Thessalonians 1:10
2 Thessalonians 2:3
2 Thessalonians 2:3
2 Thessalonians 2:7
2 Timothy 3:1
2 Timothy 3:9
1 John 2:18
1 John 3:4
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