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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > The Antichrist > The Restraint or Restrainer    


Regarding the Antichrist Paul wrote the following:

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 (II Thess. 2:6-7 in NKJV).

“Restraining” and “restrains” are from katechō, a verb meaning “to prevent,” “to hinder,” “to hold to” or “to hold back”; thus, there is the idea of restrain or inhibit. It is used in Luke 4:42 where the crowd “tried to keep Him from leaving them,” that is, “tried to restrain Him from leaving.”

Exactly what or who is restraining? Is it something or someone, impersonal or personal? If personal, should the pronoun be capped as in the NKJV, thereby indicating that the restraint is Deity? Evidently the original readers at Thessalonica knew the intent of Paul, for he does not specify the restraint. If they had not known, it would be appropriate to think that Paul would have supplied additional information. But the answers to these questions are lost, therefore, no consensus exists as to the correct identification.

There is exegetical support for the restraint being both impersonal and personal. In verse 6 of II Thessalonians 2 the statement is: “what is restraining” (support for the impersonal, a neuter participle), while in verse 7 the statements are: “He who now restrains” (support for the personal, a masculine participle) and “until He is taken out of the way.” Must it be either impersonal or personal? Could it be a combination of the two, thus explaining the unusual wording? Numerous suggestions have been made:

One, the restrainer is God. This is the ultimate explanation. God is sovereign in all things (see: God is Sovereign and All Things) and is the One controlling the Antichrist, both in his elevation and his final destruction; so this suggestion cannot be denied in the absolute sense. But the context does not seem to refer to God’s absolute control, that is, the passage is not dealing with primary means but secondary means. It also does not seem proper to speak of God as being taken out of the way so Antichrist can appear.

Two, similar to the above view is the one that identifies the Holy Spirit as the restrainer. It is argued that He is in the world today and His work and influence keep evil in its place; but when the restraining work of the Spirit is terminated, then evil will surge, resulting in the appearance of the Antichrist. In response it can be argued that such restraint is not the present work of the Spirit. A twist on this view is that of the Dispensationalists who affirm that when the Church is taken up (the Rapture) at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, then the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the world; therefore, Antichrist can arise (see: The Rapture Question).

Three, the restraint is the Church. Through its influence and through the influence of the Gospel, the work of evil in the world is thwarted or limited. According to Dispensationalists, when the Church is removed at the time of the Rapture, which is before the Great Tribulation, then without the hindering influence of the Church the Antichrist will enter the picture.

Four, some have equated the restraint with the Roman Empire or specifically with one of the emperors who ruled the Empire.

Five, others have identified the restraint with the Roman Church or specifically with one of the popes who has controlled the Church.

Six, even Michael has been suggested. The ESV Study Bible has the following note:

According to Dan. 10:13, 20-21, Michael restrains satanic principalities (cf. Rev. 12:7), and in rabbinical traditions and the Septuagint of Dan. 12:1, Michael is said to ‘pass away’ when the Antichrist pitches his tents in Judea (Dan. 11:45) just before the great tribulation begins (Dan. 12:1).

Seven, some suggest a combination of the impersonal and personal, meaning an institution and the leader of the institution. Examples would be the Church and the believers who constitute the Church, or the Roman empire and the emperor who leads it, or the Roman Church and the pope who controls it.

Eight, other suggestions have included the following: the influence of the Gospel, the political state which enforces a degree of morality with its form of government, the missionary work of Paul coupled with the message he preached, the Jewish nation with its emphasis on monotheism, or the concept of Law.

Nine, perhaps the restraint is the Truth of the Christian faith that through its general influence has kept evil at bay. It is a moral influence that is universal and pervasive. It is a mindset that secretly and without publicity mitigates against the influence of evil. But at the end time the Truth will be so undermined through the development of the Apostasy (see: The Apostasy) that the Truth will lose even its general influence on the social order. Absolutes will be denied in favor of relativity, which is to affirm that humanism will be substituted for Theism. Or, in the words of Paul, the lie will be embraced (II Thess. 2:9-12). Of course, all of this is the work of the Lord who sends a strong delusion and who is preparing the world for the final events. (If the Truth is viewed as restrainer then the restraint is personified).

Whatever or whoever is the precise restraint, it should not be understood as merely a negative influence, for there is also a positive dimension. The restraint is limiting the work of “the spirit of antichrist” or “the mystery of lawlessness,” which is already at work in the world, until it is the appropriate moment for the Antichrist to be revealed, who will be revealed “in his time” (II Thess. 2:6). In other words, at the appropriate time the restraint will be removed so that Antichrist can be unveiled to do his work.

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