The Restrainer and the Restrained in 2 Thessalonians 2

2 Thessalonians 2 is a very revealing passage of scripture.  In it we learn that the Thessalonians were worried that the Day of the Lord had arrived and that they had somehow missed the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and being gathered to him.  We also learn about a restrainer, a lawless one, and a mystery of lawlessness.  Let’s examine the passage:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the apostasia [departure] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?  And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.  The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,  and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,  in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

“The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the parousia.  It is used to describe both appearing and coming, in an ordinary sense (showing up) as well as in the prophetic sense (a glorious event).  The parousia of Jesus Christ occurs when He is revealed,  which occurs when the skies are rolled back as a scroll.  We are told in the book of Revelation that the skies are rolled back as a scroll to reveal Jesus Christ twice – once at Seal 6 (which I believe is the rapture), and once at the 7th Bowl (the Second Coming).

“Our being gathered together to him” can also be interpreted as “assembling”.  Paul previously taught the Thessalonians that at some point, the dead and alive in Christ would be gathered together and meet Christ in the air.  This would be their reference for his current teaching.

The Day of the Lord is mentioned hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments, both directly and indirectly.  It refers to a future very specific and detailed time period in which God will pour out His wrath upon unbelievers.  Through the Day of the Lord, God will also reconcile Israel to Himself.  The Day of the Lord includes the familiar Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl Judgments.  For a full discussion on the Day of the Lord, please see THIS POST.

Paul now instructs the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord (“that day”) will not come, unless:

  1. The  [apostasia / departure] comes first
  2. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work
  3. There is a “what” that is restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed
  4. There is a “he” who is restraining the mystery of lawlessness, who will do so until “he” is out of the way
  5. The man of lawlessness is revealed “in his time”
    1. His coming is by the activity of satan with all power and false signs and wonders
    2. His coming is with all wicked deception for those who are perishing (the ones who are perishing are doing so because they refused to love the truth and so be saved)
    3. The son of destruction
    4. Who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship
    5. He takes his seat in the Temple of God
    6. He proclaims to be God
    7. The Lord Jesus will kill him by the breath of His mouth
    8. The Lord Jesus will bring him to nothing by the appearance of His coming
  6. God sends a delusion to the ones who are perishing so they may believe what is false and be condemned

Let’s examine these in more detail.

1.  The apostasia [departure] comes first. This is such an important discussion that it has its own post HERE.  The definitive article “the” indicates that this is a specific event, not a generic “falling away from the faith”, or a departure from sound doctrine, that was already present in Paul’s day and has continued throughout the church age.  All early translations of the Bible (prior to 1500’s), translated this word as “departure”.  The departure clearly fits into Paul’s prior teachings that the Thessalonians (representing true believers) would be saved from wrath and experience salvation.  An honest examination of this passage in light of Paul’s previous teachings in 1 Thessalonians clearly indicates that this is the rapture of the church (catching up event, harpazo).

2.  The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.  Lawlessness is basically opposing the things of God, or God’s laws – the opposite of righteousness.  It is satan’s workings in the world.

3.  There is a “what” that is restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed. The word is “that which”.  We will talk about 3&4 together, because together they are restraining the man of lawlessness.

4.  There is a “he” that is restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed.  The word is “the one”.  I find the interlinear very interesting here: “only [there is] the [one] restraining [it] at present until out of [the] midst he might be [gone].”

The Restrainer – is both a “what” and a “he”.  In the interlinear, the one restraining the lawless one does so until out of the midst he might be gone.  If you are being intellectually honest, there is only one possible interpretation for the Restrainer: The Holy Spirit residing within the true body of Christ.  The “what” is the church, the “he” is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s presence on the earth through believers acts as a restraining force to lawlessness in general, as believers are salt and light to the world.  As far as the man of lawlessness, we are told next that he is empowered by satan.  So the Restrainer must be more powerful than satan, in order to be able to hold him back until his appointed time.  The only One powerful enough to do this is God (the Holy Spirit).

The notion that Michael (the archangel) is the restrainer doesn’t hold.  Michael cannot be both a “what” and a “he”.  He also isn’t more powerful than satan, who was an anointed cherub (a higher angelic class than Michael).  The man of lawlessness will deceive all the world, not just Israel.  Michael is specifically assigned to Israel.  When Michael stands up (prophesied in Daniel), it will likely be to supernaturally protect the “woman” (Israel), who has fled to the wilderness.  He might literally stand in the wilderness to guard them.

5.  The man of lawlessness is revealed “in his time” – specifically when God allows, and not a moment sooner.  God has appointed times for everything.

The Restrained – is the son of destruction (his father is satan, the father of lies – John 8:44), who will take his seat in the Temple of God, proclaim to be God, exalt himself against every so-called god or object of worship.  He is empowered by satan and will be accompanied by false signs and wonders. He comes with a wicked deception.  The Lord Jesus will kill him by the breath of His mouth at the Second Coming.  I think it’s very clear that this is the antichrist, the “beast”, who will cause sacrifices to God to cease at the abomination of desolation.

Will Be Revealed -What does it mean to be revealed?  It hardly makes sense that the antichrist will all of a sudden appear and seat himself on a throne proclaiming to be God in one day.  However, in Daniel chapter 9 God tells us that a future “he” will sign, or strengthen, a covenant with Israel, and that this “he” will commit abominations and make desolate until the end is poured out upon him:  And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”  (Daniel 9:27)  Jesus further references this event as beginning the greatest tribulation of all time (Matthew 24). In the book of Revelation we find out that it is the beast, who doles out this greatest persecution of all time.  The man of lawlessness will be revealed when he signs a covenant with Israel, after the departure of the church has occurred.  He will certainly confirm that he is the antichrist when he later claims to be “god”.

6.  God sends a delusion to the ones who are perishing.  With true believers now safely out of the way and tucked up in heaven (Isaiah 26), God will send a deluding influence to the ones Left Behind that they would believe satan’s / the lawless one’s lies.  This seems severe, so we will examine this in depth in another post.  What we can trust, though, is that God is just.

A literal, simple summary of 2 Thessalonians 2:

  • The mystery of lawlessness is already at work – Satan is scheming his big deception.
  • The restraining influence of the Holy Spirit filled Church will be removed at “the departure”, when we are gathered together to Jesus.  There is an appearing of the Lord Jesus at this time (Seal 6), and all the world cowers in fear.  The Age of Grace has ended.
  • The lawless one will be unrestrained, and will immediately start to rise to power. (Seal 1).
  • The Day of the Lord will Begin (Seal 6).
  • The lawless one will be revealed when he signs a 7 year covenant/contract/treaty with Israel. (Daniel 9)
  • Many will be deceived through the lawless one’s false signs and wonders and powers; this will be enhanced by God sending a deluding influence
  • The lawless one will take his seat in the Temple of God halfway through the covenant (which tells us the Third Temple will be at least partially rebuilt by then) and proclaim to be God.  We know from Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 that this is when the “abomination of desolation” occurs.
  • Jesus will appear again at the Second Coming and defeat the lawless one

Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model

A Disclaimer:    The Bible is infallible.  I am not.  Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!

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