What will the withdrawing of the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 look like as you understand the process?
The Restrainer is a very interesting, almost cryptic, passage tucked away in Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians on the man of lawlessness. To understand who or what the Restrainer is, we need to look at some context.
This passage concerns the man of lawlessness, who is most likely the Antichrist ruling in the end times. He is the ultimate fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Daniel 12:11, Matthew 26:15; Mark 13:14). Daniel prophesied that there would be a person who would violate the Temple in Israel.
Previous ruling figures have also fulfilled the prophecy of the abomination of desolation in history. One notable ruler named Antiochus Epiphanies IV was a typological figure of the abomination of desolation in the intertestamental period. He walked into the Temple and put a statue of Zeus inside, which the Jews understood to be an idol in the temple. He also forced them to eat pig meat, another violation of Jewish law.
In the midst of explaining this man of lawlessness to the Thessalonians, Paul mentions the Restrainer that keeps the man of lawlessness from being known in his time. This Restrainer has been keeping lawlessness to a minimum until he is out of the way. After the Restrainer is gone, the man of lawlessness will be revealed to the world, and the world will follow after him.
It must be noted that Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was rushed. He was chased out of the city before he felt he had fully taught and prepared the Thessalonians. When you read his letters to the Thessalonians, you get the impression that he feels like he is making up for lost time. He even worries if he gave them enough information to stand firm under the persecution they are now facing.
In the opening of 2 Thessalonians 2, the Thessalonians have somehow asked Paul if they had missed the second coming of Jesus. Within the two letters, Paul lets them know that they have not missed it. And explaining events like the coming of the man of lawlessness shows how the Thessalonians haven’t missed it.
Who Is the Restrainer?
The Restrainer keeps evil and lawlessness from completely having their way until the proper time God has ordained in the end times. So this restrainer is on the earth right now and will be until God desires the man of lawlessness to be revealed to the world.
While we have several theories of this Restrainer is, Paul clearly taught the Thessalonians who he/it was because he says, “And you know what is restraining him (the man of lawlessness) from being revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:6).
This is almost the same situation we have where John says, “This calls for wisdom, let the one who has understanding…” when he talks about the number of the beast, 666 (Revelation 13:18). This gives the idea that the original readers had this information but it is not shared with them in this letter because they already know it. This means that we need to do our best to try to recover it or at least have an idea of what it might mean.
There are two possibilities for the Restrainer: a person, or a thing. Paul refers to this Restrainer as “what” (2 Thessalonians 2:6) and “he” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). So here are some options for the Restrainer:
- The preaching of the gospel. This one does not fit the criteria well because while it is a thing, it is not a person. There are people that preach the gospel, though. And the preaching of God’s good news and righteous kingdom would restrain evil from taking its full effect.
- The Jewish state. This proposition suggests that it can be both the state and the people. As God’s chosen people, the Jewish state may be the reason as a group of people that the man of lawlessnessn cannot take his place of leadership. The problem with this view is that Israel as a state has not existed all the time in history and there are many ethnic Jews who do not practice righteousness.
- The Roman government and its Emperor. But while this fits the time of Paul, it is not likely. The Emperor and the Roman government spent most of its time against Christians and against God’s purposes. And the Roman Empire has been long gone for a while. This Restrainer appears to still be here.
- God and his righteous purposes. This would make a lot of sense because God is a spiritual being who is directly in opposition to Satan. But can we refine this understanding?
- The Church. While the church and believers remain on this earth, lawlessness and evil are unable to fully do what they wish. The church helps the world with ethics and righteousness. We also know that the church will be removed from the earth in the end times.
- The Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit was a restrainer of evil in the days of Noah. This is why God says, “My Spirit will not always abide with man forever (Genesis 6:3) right after the sons of God buried the daughters of man. On a cosmic level, the Holy Spirit is the only one stopping evil or lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7a).
From studying this issue in depth, is my understanding that last three options are the most viable. They are spiritual entities that are in direct conflict with wickedness, lawlessness, and Satan. I would suggest that God and his purposes are the most general.
The Church is part of the equation. The Holy Spirit works through his Church, and when the church is taken out of the world by Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s presence will go with it. Is most likely that the Restrainer is the Holy Spirit.
How Will It Happen?
When Jesus returns in the clouds and the rapture (catching up) of the Church occurs as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Holy Spirit will no longer affect the world through the filling of believers in Jesus. The absence of his presence and his Church will allow the Antichrist full reign on the earth.
He will reveal himself through cunning and receive the admiration of the wicked world. Then he can set up his kingdom without opposition and unite the world against God. Without Christians in the world, there is no reason for the world not to worship him as well.
The last part of this answer is my opinion of how things will happen. It is based on Scripture about the end times, the Antichrist, and the man of lawlessness. As I have said, we do not completely understand the end times, nor will we get everything right this side of heaven and these events playing out in human history. But Scripture fills in a lot of the blanks.