The Restrainer of Evil
2 Thessalonians 2:6–8
While establishing the church in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul personally instructed believers concerning future prophecy. In fact, he went into great detail about the Rapture of the church and the Day of the Lord.
However, being severely persecuted for their faith, many Thessalonians wondered if they were already experiencing the Day of the Lord’s wrath. False teachers apparently had fabricated reports about the event, causing disruption and anxiety in the church and spreading great fear among these young believers who did not understand clearly what Paul had taught. Consequently, they became confused concerning the timing of certain prophecies. Paul assured the Thessalonians the Day of the Lord could not come until three events occurred:
1. The “falling away [apostasy]” (2 Th. 2:3)
2. The revelation of the Antichrist, “the man of sin [lawlessness]” (v. 3)
3. The removal of the one “who now restrains” (v. 7)
We examined the first two events in the previous article. Now we’ll look at the restrainer’s ministry.
The Restrainer Presented
The apostle appealed to the Thessalonians based on what they already knew about the restrainer: “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).
The phrase and now draws attention to what the Thessalonians knew. The phrase you know speaks of their absolute knowledge concerning what Paul meant when he wrote of the restrainer.
The word restrain means “to withhold.” It is a neuter participle with a neuter article. Thus, the word does not refer to a person but, rather, to an abstract force or power that is holding back or holding down lawlessness in the world. However, verse 7 (“He who now restrains”) uses the masculine gender with a masculine article, referring to a person. Thus, in verse 6, Paul spoke of an impersonal principle or power of restraining, while in verse 7 he referred to a person who is restraining. Therefore, a person with extreme power is restraining both the man of lawlessness and evil in the world.
He is restraining so “he [the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist] may be revealed in his own time,” a time determined by God (v. 6). It should comfort us to know the evil in this world is completely under God’s sovereign control and is allowed for His purposes.
Even though the restrainer is working, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” in the world (v. 7). The word mystery does not refer to a mysterious or baffling event but, rather, to a prophecy in the Old or New Testament that has not been revealed to mankind. A mystery in the Bible is something that was hidden in past ages but will be divinely revealed at God’s choosing.
The word lawlessness does not mean a general outbreak of criminal activity. It refers to the specific lawlessness connected with “the lawless one” (v. 8)— the man of sin, the Antichrist, who will be energized and controlled by Satan.
This man has not been revealed yet; but Satan, the spirit controlling his career, already has operatives in the world (cf. 1 Jn. 2:18–22). The apostle John boldly declared that people who deviate from what he taught possess the spirit of Antichrist (4:3).
So horrible will the Antichrist’s acts be once he is revealed that it would be impossible for humanity ever to understand the depths of his wickedness without God’s revelation.
Paul indicated the restraining of lawlessness will end at a specific time: “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way [midst]” (2 Th. 2:7), that is, until He is taken or disappears from the scene. When His work ends, the world will experience a Satanic onslaught of evil that will be unparalleled in world history.
The Restrainer’s Position
Since the apostle never identified the restrainer, today’s church does not know for certain who he is. Over the centuries, commentators have offered many views as to his identity. Suggestions have included Nero and other Roman emperors, the Roman Empire, Israel, human government, law, Elijah, Michael the archangel, Satan, Jesus Christ, the gospel, the church, and the Holy Spirit.
The restrainer must be able to hold back the evil manifested by Satan, who is “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). He must be more than a human force or human being because Satan is a spiritual being who functions in a supernatural realm that cannot be restrained by humans on Earth.
A popular position is that the church is the restrainer. True, the church is salt and light in the world. It does impact the world for good and restrains evil in many ways and in many areas of life. The church also dispels darkness and brings light to the world. But the church is not the ultimate restrainer of evil, as required by 2 Thessalonians 2:7. The restrainer must be more powerful than Satan. The Holy Spirit is the only Person who possesses the principle and power required to restrain Satan’s wickedness until a time determined by God.
The Holy Spirit’s restraining power is revealed in Genesis: God said, “My Spirit [Holy Spirit] shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3). One of the Spirit’s ministries was to restrain Satan while Noah built the ark before the flood came. Another example was when God allowed Satan to take Job’s health, possessions, and children but restrained him from taking Job’s life (Job 1:6—2:6). Satan’s ability to generate evil is completely controlled by God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Consequently, the Holy Spirit is the most qualified agent to restrain Satan’s villainy. As a member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent and possesses the power to restrain the evil of Satan and the Antichrist.
The restrainer “will do so until He is taken out of the way [midst]” (2 Th. 2:7). At the Rapture of the church, the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry will cease. Mark it well: This does not mean He will be removed from the world; it simply means His ministry of holding back evil will cease.
The Holy Spirit has always been omnipresent; He will never be removed from the world. He will be here to empower God’s servants for ministry during the seven years of Tribulation. A great multitude of people—who cannot be redeemed apart from the Holy Spirit’s ministry—will be saved during this time (Rev. 7:1–17).
The Restrainer’s Power
Paul provided a brief overview of both the Antichrist’s evil work and his demise at Jesus’ Second Coming: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Th. 2:8).
The phrase and then refers to what happens once the restrainer stops holding back evil. At that time, the “lawless one [Antichrist] will be revealed.” The reveal begins when “he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week” (Dan. 9:27). The “many” are Daniel’s people, the nation of Israel. The Antichrist will posture himself as a peacemaker, and many (not all) in Israel will accept him as such.
This landmark event broadcasts to the world that the “lawless one” has stepped onto the global stage. Wickedness will run rampant and unhindered around the world under the Antichrist’s brutal and demonic rule. He will claim to be God and demand to be worshiped, signifying that the time Paul was speaking about has arrived. The only escape is faith in Jesus Christ. However, many who turn to Christ will be martyred for their commitment to Him (Rev. 7:14).
At the Lord’s Second Coming, the Antichrist’s true identity as Satan’s demonic pawn will be divulged. He and his pernicious worldwide reign will be cut short by the Lord, who will swiftly “consume” or overthrow him “with the breath of His mouth” (2 Th. 2:8). He will not wage a prolonged war against the Antichrist. All of the Antichrist’s strength and authority combined with the supernatural power of Satan and his demons will be no match for Jesus Christ. The Lord will defeat him in an instant.
At His Second Coming, Christ will slay individuals and nations with His breath or spoken word (cf. Job 4:9; Rev. 19:15). This powerful picture describes the ease with which Christ will overthrow His archenemy and decisively end the Antichrist’s devilish rule.
Jesus Christ will destroy the man of sin “with the brightness [splendor] of His coming [appearance]” (2 Th. 2:8). Consume, or destroy, does not mean annihilate but, rather, make the “lawless one” immobile, inoperative, and powerless. The “brightness of His coming” speaks of Christ’s splendor, which will accompany His appearance. Christ’s radiant glory will shine in a worldwide manifestation unlike anything the universe has ever seen. Such glory will immediately destroy the Antichrist and his power.
The visible appearance of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16), will be so dazzling and overpowering that the lawless one’s “kingdom” will immediately cease to exist.
What an awesome sight to behold! As believers, we will return with Him at His Second Coming to witness this spectacular event. Glory to God in the highest!