The Restrainer and the Rapture
By J. R. Lawendowski
Another key to understanding the position of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is
correctly identifying the personages shown in 2 Thessalonians 2. As I came
to understand this passage it struck me how solid it was as a proof for the
Pre-Trib Rapture. Like the other proofs for both Pre-Millennialism and the
Pre-Trib Rapture it requires proper understanding by interpreting Scripture
with Scripture and not adding factors. Once you apply these basic principles
the truth is clearly revealed.
SETTING THE STAGE
The reason Paul had written the second letter to the church of Thessalonia was that Paul heard that someone wrote some letters to that church first claiming to be him, and further claiming that they missed the coming of the Lord and are entering the final judgement period known as the "day of the Lord". In the first letter to the Thessalonians Paul introduced the mystery of the rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18). In this letter he further clarifies what he had previously revealed to them with the specifics to strengthen them in their lives and to further strengthen them against spiritual attacks from the lies of false teachers.
In John 14:26 Christ named the Holy Spirit as the Comforter
(John 14:26) But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Here is the interpretation from the Greek of the word "Comforter"
1) summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid
1c) in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant
1c1) of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom
Part of Speech: noun masculine
Furthermore the Holy Spirit dwells within believers:
(Joh 14:17) [Even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
In John 14:18 Christ promised that the church shall not be left "comfortless" or "without a Comforter".
In John 14:18 Christ promised that the church shall not be left "comfortless" or "without a Comforter". Whether you look at the second half of v18 as a future reference to His Second Coming (John 14:3) or as His coming as the Holy Spirit (which cannot occur until his absence) v18 clearly shows that the church will not be without Christ.
While indwelling believers, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgement (John 16:8). By taking a deeper look at the Scripture we also see that the Holy Spirit liberates, directs and equips believers. Thus, a believer can count on the ministry of the Spirit of God to work in his life that the result can be a life that glorifies God. Having freed us He now directs our lives into channels of effectiveness and equips us so that we can be effective.
Romans 8:14, Acts 13:2,4; and Acts 8:27-29 are examples of the directing of believers, convicting them. As a result it can be understood that the church, through the leading of the indwelt Holy Spirit helps to stem the tide of evil throughout the world.
2Th 2:3 makes it clear that prior to the "day of the Lord" two things occur, a "falling away" (Gr. apostasia) and the revealing of the "man of sin" (the antichrist).
There is little agreement as to whether the Greek word apostasia ("falling away", "standing away") refers to a physical departure (the Rapture) or a metphorical one (departure from the faith). The first seven translations of the English Bible translated it "departure". It is unclear as to why the translators of the KJV rendered it "falling away" or why others translate it "rebellion".
If the translation done in the early Bibles is correct this chapter would leave no doubt that is refers to a pre-Tribulation Rapture due to the fact it places it prior to the revealing of the man of sin. If the newer translations are correct then apostasia would refer to the departure from the faith and rejection of the Word in mass numbers.
Either way, these verses still place the Rapture prior to the revelation of the man of sin which is placed prior to the "day of the Lord" which is the Tribulation period at a minimum.
The Day of the Lord
In v2 you will note it reads the "day of Christ is at hand". Apparently this is an transliterational error and should read "day of the Lord is at hand". At first look one might think this wording difference to be insignificant. Actually it's quite the contrary.
Scripture points out the significance of the term "day of the Lord". There are 29 verses using the phrase: Isa_2:12; Isa_13:6; Isa_13:9; Isa_34:8; Jer_46:10; Lam_2:22; Eze_13:5; Eze_30:3; Joe_1:15; Joe_2:1; Joe_2:11; Joe_2:31; Joe_3:14; Amo_5:18; Amo_5:20; Oba_1:15; Zep_1:7; Zep_1:8; Zep_1:14; Zep_1:18; Zep_2:2; Zep_2:3; Zec_14:1; Mal_4:5; Act_2:20; 1Co_5:5; 2Co_1:14; 1Th_5:2; 2Pe_3:10;
What is significant is that it doesn't refer to a single 24 hour period of time, but rather a period of time in which God pours forth His wrath and later his blessings.
So to the Thessalonians (and the Christians of that time), the "day of the Lord" meant the final time period of human history (remember that Revelation had not been written yet....they had Daniel, Isaiah and others that talked about the end times.
A CLOSER LOOK AT 2 THESSALONIANS 2:1-9
Paul, in 2 Thess 2:1, speaks of either the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18) or the Second Coming ("our gathering together unto him" as in Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27) or both. More specifically "by our gathering together unto him" refers to the Rapture.
Again, in verse 2 Paul is telling them that the day of the Lord was not yet because some things have to occur first.
This brings us to verse 3 in which Paul is telling them the things which must occur first.
(2Th 2:3) Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Paul says that the order of things will be the Rapture (taught in 1 Th 4:13-18), a falling away (departure either from faith or the earth via the Rapture), and the revealing of the antichrist....THEN the day of the Lord will begin.
In v4 Paul provides more clarification on the traits of the "man of sin"
2Th 2:4 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.
In v5 Paul is simply saying "Have you forgotten?" After all he had previously taught them about these things.
Now on to the restrainer:
2Th 2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
2Th 2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [will let], until he be taken out of the way.
2Th 2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
2Th 2:9 [Even him], whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders
A couple of phrases stand out: '...ye know what withholdeth ...' (v6); and '...he who now letteth will let until he be taken away ...' (v7).
Paul is talking about the end times and the coming 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 telling them that a restrainer is what is preventing the rise of this Antichrist. The language of the KJV is not particularly helpful to our understanding of these verses and it would be better to read them in the NKJV,
2Th 2:6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.
2Th 2:7 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.
Over the years, several attempts have been made to identify 'the restrainer'. 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 program 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 reveal 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. Since the church will never be without comfort (John 14:18) when the Holy Spirit is removed the church will go too. 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.
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