The Bible warns about an increase in lawlessness before the return of Christ. What is lawlessness, and why is it important for each of us to avoid it?
Jesus Christ warned that at the end time “lawlessness shall abound,” and that there would be severe consequences for those who take lightly His dire warnings about the effects of lawlessness. How does God expect us to react to an increasingly ungodly and lawless society?
Warnings about lawlessness in the Olivet Prophecy
In response to His disciples’ questions about what signs would reveal that His second coming was near, Jesus Christ gave this as His very first statement: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
Jesus wasn’t referring to idolatrous religions already in the grip of deception. He gave this warning because He knew many would come in His name—in the name of Christianity—but not truly represent Him, and in the process would deceive not a few, but many.
In verse 11 He repeated this warning: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” They would proclaim false teachings, contrary to the truths contained in Scripture. The result would be a large-scale deception among those who claim to be Christian, leading to an increase in lawlessness and ungodly behavior.
Do deceived people know they are deceived? Obviously no—if they knew that what they believed was wrong, they would, by definition, not be deceived! Tragically, the vast majority will be totally unaware that they have bought into lies and falsehoods spread by a cunning manipulator.
Notice Christ’s explanation of how this terrible deception will take place.
“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (verses 12-13, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus is saying that some of His followers will not endure because they will be influenced by lawlessness. Only the righteous and genuine disciples will be saved at His return, because they will not have been deceived by the many “false prophets” teaching that people do not need to keep God’s laws—which is lawlessness.
The word translated “love” in verse 12 is agape in the Greek, which is used many times in the Bible to describe the godly love genuine Christians are to have for God and for other people. In the famous Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul used the word agape throughout to describe godly love.
The apostle John used this same Greek noun agape and its verb agapao when he wrote: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3). Here we see that God’s law and love are inextricably tied together. The consequence of lawlessness is a decline in love.
Christ’s warning in Matthew 24 referred to Christians who were enlightened, but whose love grew cold because of lawlessness. These warnings are extremely serious for those who claim to be Christians! Clearly, they can be deceived and therefore need to be on guard.
Notice carefully further warnings from the apostle Paul.
What the apostle Paul said about lawlessness
In 2 Thessalonians 2 the apostle Paul prophesied that shortly before Christ returns, the Christian community will experience lawlessness.
In verse 3 Paul echoed the words of Christ in Matthew 24 by stating: “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [Christ’s return] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition [destruction].”
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words states that the expression the falling away “signifies apostasy from the faith.” The Greek word apostasia means “a defection, revolt, apostasy . . . used in the NT of religious apostacy.”
In connection with the falling away, Paul wrote about “the man of sin” being revealed. The Bible defines sin as lawlessness in 1 John 3:4. Therefore, Paul was identifying this person as the man of lawlessness.
The mystery of lawlessness
Paul continued in 2 Thessalonians 2:7: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” The source of this spirit of disobedience or law breaking comes from “the lawless one” who will appear on the scene when Christ returns (verse 8). Clearly these events occur just prior to Christ’s return to this earth, most likely in the not-too-distant future.
In verse 10 Paul wrote, “And with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
Paul is stressing that because lawlessness will abound, the love of many for God’s truth will grow cold. Again, he echoes the warning Christ gave to His disciples in Matthew 24. Those who identify themselves as Christians, but who do not receive the love of God’s truth—including obedience to His laws—will perish.
In James 4:12 God is described as the “one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.” Under the word “Lawgiver,” Vine’s states: “Occurs in James 4:12, of God, as the sole ‘Lawgiver;’ therefore, to criticize the Law is to presume to take His place, with the presumption of enacting a better law.”
This is the height of presumptuous sin against God, who established His perfect laws in the first place! Can anybody really presume to know more about law than God does?
The real deceiver revealed
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul wrote: “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.”
Revelation 12:9 says: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil [slanderer] and Satan [adversary], who deceives the whole world.”
In reference to Satan, the archdeceiver, Christ stated: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).
From the very beginning, Satan opposed God and His laws (Genesis 3:1-5), and he has continued his deception to this day as the ruler of this evil world.
Satan has been, and remains, the mastermind behind all forms of lawless behavior among the inhabitants of our planet. Until he is removed at Christ’s return (Revelation 20:1-3), the evil and wickedness in this world will only get worse, especially at the end of man’s rule: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
A wrath-filled Satan will cause immense and serious damage on the world scene!
Satan is the main instigator behind the evil and lawlessness prevalent in the world. He hates God’s laws and commandments and incites the inhabitants on a global scale to follow his evil dictates. And, as we have noticed, he has succeeded in his clever deceptions by influencing the minds and thoughts of people to act in opposition to God and His teachings (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
Chief among his human followers is this “man of sin.” Revelation warns of both a political “beast” and a religious leader, the “false prophet” (Revelation 19:20). Learn more in our articles “Who Is the Beast?” and “What Does the Bible Say About the Antichrist?”
God’s laws will be established
The lawless will not inherit the Kingdom of God, but those who show a willingness to obey God will enjoy immense and everlasting rewards.The mistaken belief that some mainstream Christians have—that they don’t have to literally keep the laws of God, summarized by the 10 Commandments—actually promotes lawlessness. It ignores the fact that Christ kept the law and taught His disciples to do so (Matthew 5:17-19). Jesus told a rich young man that if he desired to obtain eternal life, then he needed to “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-22).
Furthermore, the returning Christ will implement and uphold His Father’s laws worldwide.
Notice Micah 4:2, among many similar passages, referring to Christ’s reign on the earth: “‘He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”
The time setting of this chapter is clearly not at this time, but in the future, when Christ establishes His Kingdom on the earth.
The psalmist did not consider that God’s law would ever be suspended: “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160). And he added, “Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble” (verse 165).
God’s instructions to observe His laws are consistent. Consider the following Bible verses:
- Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Hebrews 8:10, 12: “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people . . . and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
- Hebrews 1:9: “You [Christ] have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.”
- Matthew 13:41-42: “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
God’s laws are clearly something He wants all people of all nations to love and abide by—now and forever. He deeply desires that we have the humility to hear and put into practice what He is saying to us in the pages of the Bible!
We all need the help of God’s Holy Spirit in order to grow and overcome, but the Bible says that He will give His Holy Spirit only to those who commit to obey Him (Acts 5:29, 32).
An analogy: how I think of the benefits of obeying God’s law
While traveling on ministerial assignments in the country of Mozambique in southern Africa, I would come across signs next to the road, reading “DANGER MINES KEEP OUT.” The signs referred to antipersonnel mines hidden just below the surface of the ground, placed in strategic areas during the civil war in the country. The mines were meant to either severely injure or kill people who would unwittingly step on them.
These signs were sufficient warnings to people not to venture into these zones. As you can imagine, it would be foolish and absurd to disregard these warning signs.
In a similar way, the Bible gives repeated warnings from our Creator that disobeying His laws will result in severe consequences—troubles and even death! Yet too often we continue to disregard His clear admonitions.
To discount or brush aside God’s warnings, while responding to humanly devised danger signs, seems most unwise. We should take note of humanly designed danger signs, but place even higher priority on God’s warnings.
What does God require from us?
To those with a spiritual ear to hear, Christ gives this instruction: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
This is a personal invitation from Christ. If you are willing to accept His invitation, Christ will share the abundance of spiritual food—and the blessings it brings—with you. Christ’s voice is heard speaking to us through the pages of His Word, the Bible.
Remember, the lawless will not inherit the Kingdom of God, but those who show a willingness to obey God will enjoy immense and everlasting rewards.
One of the last messages in the Bible is: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14). Blessings are given to those who respond to God and demonstrate a determination to obey and serve Him—and those blessings will be enormous.
Will we obey God and gain the many incredible blessings He promises, not only in this life, but ultimately when we are granted eternal life in His family and Kingdom? Whatever humans promise will pale into insignificance compared to what our Heavenly Father has guaranteed—and that for all eternity.
The choice is up to each of us!