The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan has two mysteries –the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of Godliness.
The phrase, “mystery of iniquity” is mentioned only one time and only in the KJV.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 KJV
Paul mentions the mystery of iniquity right after talking about a man
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV.
Now while the KJV uses the word “iniquity” many other versions use the word “secret.” Also many other versions use the word “lawlessness” instead of “iniquity.” I am using multiple versions to get the big picture. In 2 Thessalonians Paul is talking about someone whose secret agenda is to overthrow God’s law and set himself on God’s throne.
Is this what also happened in heaven? Yes!
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Isaiah 14:12-14 KJV
John shares more light on this mystery when he says,
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, Revelation 12:7 KJV
Here we see an outright war. Not with tanks and machine guns, but a war of the minds. Lucifer is secretly trying to overthrow God’s law and government in order to set up his own kingdom. I imagine he was using flattery, bribery and mind games to secretly undermine God’s law and government and turn people to himself, just as he does now.
This is where the word “iniquity” comes in. Iniquity can be described as being bent towards or inclined towards self. Ezekiel has another clue in this mystery.
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Ezekiel 28:15 KJV
In heaven, Lucifer’s love, which was supposed to be centered on God and others took a u-turn and headed towards himself. Somehow Lucifer mysteriously started undermining the importance of God and others and began his secret agenda of exalting self.
When things appear unexpectedly where they are not supposed to be, we call that a mystery. Part of the famous D.B. Cooper case involves a family finding a large sum of money while hiking in the forest. It was a mystery because the money was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was self-love supposed to be in an angel’s heart in heaven? No, it was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was there a logical reason for Satan to be at war with Christ in heaven of all places? No. It was not logical at all. The rebellion was not supposed to be there. That makes it a mystery doesn’t it? We can’t explain it or defend it. It’s a mystery.
Sometimes we are tempted to think, once we get to heaven we just automatically won’t sin any more, because we will be in a perfect world. Yet sin began in a perfect world! What a mystery!
However we do know there will be no sin in heaven.
Affliction will not rise up a second time. Nahum 1:9. NKJV
This leads us to another mystery, the mystery of Godliness. While many find it a mystery how a perfect being became so sinful, they also find it a mystery how a sinful race can become Christlike.
Obviously this is not done on our own. This mystery can only be performed by Christ working in us.
To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 NKJV
Revelation 10 gives us another clue to the mystery. John is given a book, which I understand to be the book of Daniel. It was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. When the 2300 days in Daniel 8:14 came to an end, the expectation of Christ’s return in 1844 was sweet, but the disappointment was bitter. (I wonder if the thunders told John about the disappointment, but he was not allowed to write it down because some things must be learned through experience?) While they were disappointed in 1844 when Jesus did not return, Revelation tells us what would occur in 1844.
… but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. Revelation 10:7 NKJV
According to Colossians 1:27, the mystery of God is Christ in us. This leads us to the cleansing of the sanctuary, not just a building on earth or in heaven, but even more so the cleansing of the soul temple, so God can dwell right within us! See Exodus 25:8 and John 14:1-3.
Again this mystery can only be accomplished by Christ working in us. It is all grace.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV
In Titus 2:11-14 Paul describes a people on earth who have become Christlike. What a mystery! In heaven where you would least expect it, sin began. Now thanks to God’s grace, right here on earth, where you would least expect it, people become Christlike. John agrees with Paul. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to be like Jesus.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17 NKJV
I like the way Ellen White explains it:
That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God. The plan of salvation, making manifest the justice and love of God, provides an eternal safeguard against defection in unfallen worlds, as well as among those who shall be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. -Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889.
In the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan we see a perfect angel in heaven who becomes sinful. We also see a sinful race on earth become Christ-like.