The beginning of 2 Thessalonians 2 makes it clear that at
least two events will precede the advent of the "Day of
the Lord": the arrival of the great apostasy and the
unveiling of the "man of sin" (v. 3). Paul reminded the
Thessalonians that he had taught them these truths when he
had ministered among them previously.
In verses 6-12 the apostle went on to remind them of
something else that they already knew, which is actually a
third event that must precede the Day of the Lord. As he
had written in verse 3, the revelation of the man of sin
must take place first, but, in the meantime, there is
something holding back the tide of lawlessness that will
erupt when he is revealed. That restrainer must be removed
before the man of sin appears in his diabolical role as
arch-deceiver. What (or who) is this restrainer, and what
will happen when it (or he) is removed?
" And now 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." (vv. 6,7).
Clarifying the identity of this "restrainer" is vital to a
correct understanding of this passage and crucial for our
understanding of end-time events. Before we attempt to
identify what is keeping the man of sin from being
revealed, we must note some important facts about these
First, the present tense of verse 6 (i.e., "now you
know what is restraining") shows that the
arresting force or person was already in operation in
Paulís day. From this passage it is also clear that the
restrainer will operate until the Antichrist appears on
Second, the restrainer is described with a neuter
expression in verse 6 but with a masculine form in verse
7. This change indicates that the restrainer can be spoken
of both as a thing and as a person.
Third, the restraining influence will be removed at the
appropriate time. "His time" in verse 6 may be either
Godís time or the Antichristís time. The emphasis,
however, is that at an appointed time in the prophetic
program, the restrainer will be removed, allowing the
rebel to launch his rebellion publicly on the earth.
Thus far we have seen that there are actually three events
that must precede the Day of the Lord. They are, in order,
the apostasy, the removal of the restrainer, and the
unveiling of the man of sin. Let us now attempt to more
specifically identify what or who the restrainer is.
A number of proposals have been set forth as to the
identity of the restrainer. Around 200 A.D., Tertullian
suggested that it was the Roman Empire, particularly in
its role of maintaining law and order. While Paul did
affirm such a role for the higher powers mentioned in
Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1, it is doubtful that this is
the correct interpretation because the Roman government
faded 1,500 years ago, and the man of sin did not appear
before then and still has not appeared. The predicted
events simply did not occur.
Another similar interpretation is that the restrainer is
the principle of human government in general, exercising
its restraint on aberrant human behavior. This view is
also doubtful because human government has often failed in
restraining evil acts and at times has even encouraged
them by its lack of moral restraints. Furthermore, the
prophetic scriptures are clear that human governments will
still be present after the advent of the man of sin.
Consider, for example, the statements in Matthew 25:31 and
following and Revelation 16:12-16. Governments will be in
existence during the Day of the Lord.
Another novel idea that has emerged in recent years is
that the restrainer is the Archangel Michael, who
supposedly will "stand aside" and allow Israel to be
persecuted during the "time of Jacobís trouble" (Jer.
30:7). This view, however, first appeared in
quasi-Christian magical papyri of the third century A.D.
and has never been espoused by any reputable theologian.
It is based on a total misunderstanding and erroneous
translation of Daniel 12:1, which actually states just the
opposite viewóthat Michael will "stand up" for Israel at
that time, not abandon them.
If the restrainer can be described both in neuter and
masculine ways and must have sufficient supernatural power
to restrain the Satanic mystery of lawlessness, the Holy
Spirit is the only person who fits all of these
characteristics and is the best possible identity of the
restrainer. The word "spirit" is neuter in its grammatical
form ("pneuma") but describes one who is actually a person
("he" in vv. 6-7). But how does the Holy Spirit presently
restrain the mystery of lawlessness? Through Christians,
the body of Christ, whom He indwells and through whom He
works in society to hold back the swelling tide of lawless
But how, then, will he "be taken out of the way" (v. 7)
when the church leaves the earth in the Rapture? He will
not be removed in a complete sense but in His unique
ministry of restraining lawlessness through Godís people
(see a parallel in Gen. 6:3). He will leave in the
distinctive sense in which He came at Pentecost. Just as
He was active in saving people before Acts 2, so He will
be active during the Day of the Lord (see, for example,
Rev. 7). But He will cease His restraining ministry
through the church, since it will no longer exist on
earth due to its having been raptured earlier.
The removal of the restrainer at the Rapture of the church
must therefore precede the Day of the Lordóa truth
confirmed by many other passages in the New Testament
(e.g., John 14:1-3; 1 Thes. 5:9; Rev. 3:10). In the
context of 2 Thessalonians 2, the readers should have
known that they were not in the Tribulation period because
the Rapture had not yet occurred.