Burning Questions answered
by Rev Colin Le Noury.
Q16. Who is the Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2 v 6-7?
The identity of the person or force referred to in the above verses is, and always has been, a matter of some mystery and no little controversy among lovers of prophecy. Commonly referred to as 'The Restrainer', this person or entity clearly has an important role in the prophetic calendar since the removal of such will allow the rise of Antichrist and will usher in the tribulation period.
For this reason it is very important to try and accurately identify 'The Restrainer' as this will have a bearing on our understanding of the chronological sequence of events in the last days.
Let us look closely at the verses. Two phrases seem to stick out: '...ye know what withholdeth ...' (v.6); and '...he who now letteth will let until he be taken away ...' (v.7).
Paul is talking about the last days and the emergence of Antichrist referred to in v.3 as 'The man of sin' and in v.4 as 'He who opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God' and in v.8-9 as 'That Wicked ...whose coming is after the working of Satan.'
He is suggesting that it is the presence of a restrainer which prevents the emergence of this Antichrist. The language of the A.V. is not particularly helpful to our understanding of these verses and it would be better to read them in the NKJV, 'And you know what is restraining that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way; and then the lawless one will be revealed' (v.6-8a).
Several attempts have been made to identify 'the restrainer', some so fanciful that they hardly merit a mention. However, there are six popular theories which we would do well to examine.
Is it 'Human Government'?
Firstly, let us examine 'Human Government'. There are those who believe that because 'The powers that be are ordained of God' (Romans 13), their function is to maintain law and order thus suppressing evil. The theory being that the time will come in the last days when there will be such a breakdown of law and order and governmental restraint that the situation will be ripe for the Antichrist to emerge.
No one would question the fact that the end times will be a time of unparalleled evil since this is clearly prophesied in scripture. It is true that the governments of our day wrestle constantly with this problem. However, two objections arise to this theory; one being that human government has never been a truly restraining power in the world, and in reality, has done little to check evil in society. The other objection being that, far from being removed prior to Antichrist, human government will reach its most sophisticated form of global domination under Antichrist.
Is it 'satan'?
The second theory is that 'the restrainer' is satan himself. Strange as this theory may seem, it is not without its adherents, among post-millennialists who wrestle with the restrainers anyway.
The idea is that satan has a programme and a timetable to which he is working, and just as God had an appointed time to reveal His Son Jesus Christ, so satan has a time to the son of perdition (antichrist).
On the surface this sounds like a plausible suggestion, but it does seem to bring into question the sovereignty of God and allows satan far too much credibility in the divine plan and purposes.
Furthermore, logic questions whether satan, the personification of evil could ever be involved in restraining evil. Also, far from being removed from the earthly scene, John of the Apocalypse suggests that satan will be ejected from the heavenly realm and cast down upon the earth (Rev. 12:9).
Is it 'The Roman Empire'?
A third theory, and one with a popular following, is that 'the restrainer' is the Roman Empire. Some of the early church fathers believed this to be so and held to the idea that Paul refrains from mentioning this by name for fear that the Christians would be regarded as subversives, and that it would incur greater persecution of believers. The instant response to this is that the Roman Empire expired centuries ago and the Antichrist still has not come, whereas Paul implies that his appearance will immediately follow the removal of the restrainer. It is argued that the Roman Empire continues in the form of the papacy and the Roman church. If this theory be true then it follows that the Roman Catholic system must be removed before the Antichrist can be revealed. This is a scenario which would be hard to envisage; except, perhaps that it could be swallowed up into some great ecumenical system.
It has to be said, however, that the Roman Empire has never held back sin, in fact it was corrupt to the core and collapsed on its own decadence. Nor can we ignore the fact that some of the most intense persecutions experienced by christians was at the hands of the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic system.
Is it 'The Jewish State'?
Some believe 'the restrainer' to be the Jewish state. The idea being that the infant church was protected by Judaism and that persecution would follow once the protecting sheath of Christian / Jewish identity was removed. The theory falls short in many ways, not least by the fact that persecution of believers arose very early as indicated in Acts. Furthermore, the theory takes little account of the emergence of Antichrist as a person.
Is it 'The Church'?
A fifth theory is that 'the restrainer' is the church. Whilst this idea may not be incorrect it is not the complete truth either. Yes the church does act as a restraining influence in the world, and believers are urged to be salt and light, thus holding back the tide of evil. However, the church militant on the earth is still an imperfect body and has no power other than the power that indwells individual believers. To state that the church is the restrainer is both perfectly true, and yet deficient. We need to go one step further.
It is 'The Holy Spirit'
This brings us to our final theory that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, who resides in Christian believers.
The restrainer would have to be part of the Godhead since only one of the persons of the Trinity would be powerful enough to restrain satan.
The activity of the Holy Spirit has always been to counter sin. It is His indwelling presence in believers residing on the earth which holds back the floodgates of evil. Only when the church is raptured, and thus the Holy Spirit and his temple removed, will satan have full sway and the man of sin be revealed.
That is not to say that God will be without witness during the tribulation or that the Spirit will be inactive at that time. The Spirit's activity will revert to that evidenced in Old Testament times, but He will no longer be resident on the earth as at present through the indwelling of believers.
For that reason we as Christians look not for Antichrist neither do we expect to know him, since the bride adores her husband and has eyes only for Him.
Colin Le Noury