WHO OR WHAT IS ‘THE RESTRAINER’?
“Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until he is taken out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 (NIV).
Up to this point we have established that the spirit of antichrist operates in a category of people who were already in the world during the days of the apostles. They had Judas-like characteristics, traitors from within the church who fell away, denying both the deity and humanity of Jesus. Before the coming of Jesus and the rapture of the church, they would take their place in the church, usurping the place of God. They would head up a powerful and destructive kingdom which would make war on the saints but Jesus would return and destroy them with the breach of His mouth.
According to Paul, there was a ‘restrainer’ who was holding antichrist back. Paul does not identify the restrainer but his readers knew who he was because Paul had discussed it with them when he was with them in Thessalonica. He confirms that the secret power of lawlessness, obviously people who were acting outside the law of God within the church, was already at work.
Before Paul was martyred, he warned the Ephesian elders who had come to say goodbye to him before he proceeded to Jerusalem where he would be arrested and taken to Rome for trial and execution, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:29-31 (NIV).
What was it that was holding back the unleashing of this onslaught against the church? When we discover what it was, we will realise that Paul did not disclose it in his letter for obvious reasons. It would have been politically dangerous for him to do so.
Popular prophecy teachers interpret this ‘person’ to be either the Holy Spirit or the church or perhaps both since the Holy Spirit will leave the earth with the church when the church is secretly raptured. This puts a spanner in the works of the idea that there will still be an opportunity for people to believe in Jesus during the seven years of tribulation after the church is raptured. Since it is the work of the Holy Spirit to apply salvation to people’s lives, how can they be saved if He is no longer on the earth? The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, makes us alive and gives us the assurance that we are the sons of God. Without Him no-one can be given new life in Christ.
We have to look elsewhere for the identity of the restrainer. The Reformers all agreed that the restrainer was the Roman government. As long as the Caesars were in power, the antichrist spirit operating through people was being held back. Paul uses the word ‘he’ collectively as we have already discussed regarding the ‘man of lawlessness’, indicating that it was a succession of individuals, representing a kingdom, that held back the tide of people headed by a succession of spiritual leaders who would manifest the antichrist spirit. They would be functioning within the church but not be a part of it because of their apostasy.
(To be continued…)
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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