The Restrainer

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 the apostle Paul referred to the revelation of “that man of sin.” He indicated “that man” cannot be revealed until a restrainer, who hinders his revelation, is taken out of the way (vv. 6–8). In light of these remarks, three identifications must be addressed.

The One to Be Revealed
Paul described the person to be revealed as “that [literally, “the”] man of sin” (v. 3). The word translated “sin” means “lawlessness.”1 It “can denote a general state of lawlessness or wickedness.”2 This person will be controlled and characterized by a spirit of lawlessness.

Paul emphasized this fact in verse 8 by calling him “that wicked one” (literally, “the lawless one”). Paul’s use of the definite article the in both expressions implies this person will be the epitome of human lawlessness. He will oppose and reject all governing authority and laws except what he approves or establishes.

Since the God of the Bible is the ultimate existing authority, the man of lawlessness will make God and His Messiah the ultimate objects of his rejection of governing authority. He will deny God “the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22) and the truth that Jesus is God’s Son “come in the flesh” (1 Jn. 4:3; 2 Jn. 7) and the Messiah (1 Jn. 2:22). He will deny these truths because God’s Son came into the world through incarnation in human flesh for the purpose of (1) crushing Satan and Satan’s man of lawlessness and (2) restoring God’s authoritative rule to the world system (1 Jn. 3:8). Because of these denials, John called him “antichrist” (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7).

The One Who Will Reveal Him
Several items help identify the person who will reveal the Antichrist. First, all verb forms that refer to the Antichrist’s revelation (2 Th. 2:3, 6, 8) are in the passive voice. Thus the Antichrist will not reveal himself through actions that he performs. Another person will reveal him.

Second, Paul stated that the Antichrist will be revealed “in his time” (2 Th. 2:6). The word translated “time” refers to a “definite, fixed time.”3 It refers to “the specific and decisive point” and strongly emphasizes that God is the one who determined that definite, fixed, and decisive time.4

Christ asserted that the authority to determine such times belongs exclusively to God (Acts 1:7). Thus the time of Antichrist’s revelation has been determined exclusively by God, not by Antichrist or Satan; and Antrichrist will not be revealed until that time.

Third, God declared that He will raise up a “foolish” and “idol” shepherd (Zech. 11:15–17). The word translated “foolish” (v. 15) refers to a person who is morally perverted, insolent, “impatient with discipline,” “does not fear God,” “feels that his own way is without error,” and “is overbearing in his attitude” because he thinks “he has all the answers.”5

This shepherd will be an “idol” shepherd (Zech. 11:17). The word translated “idol” means “something worthless (particularly as an object of worship)” and “is used primarily in Scripture to describe vain objects of worship, i.e. the gods of this world.”6 These gods “even included people in whom men trusted but who were deceitful and of no value (Job 13:4; Isa. 19:3; Zech. 11:17).”7 Thus this shepherd will be a person who, through deceit, will convince people to put their trust in him as a god.

The Holy Spirit’s restraint of lawlessness has been a significant factor in the administration of God’s rule over the world. The possessive pronoun “my” implies that the Spirit was God’s appointed restrainer.

Careful study of the biblical passages describing the Antichrist indicates that he will be this foolish, idol shepherd (Dan. 7:20–21, 25; 11:36–37; 2 Th. 2:4, 9–11; Rev. 13:4–8).

God declared that He will raise up this shepherd (Zech. 11:16). In this specific verse, the verb translated “raise up” means to “bring on the scene.”8 God thereby indicated that He will bring the Antichrist on the world scene.

These items prompt the conclusion that God is the one who will reveal the Antichrist. At a time He sovereignly determines, He will bring the Antichrist on the world scene in the sense of revealing him as the next great world ruler.

The One Who Restrains
John stated that the spirit of antichrist was already operating in the world during the first century (1 Jn. 2:18; 4:3). Paul indicated the same when he wrote that “the mystery of iniquity [literally, “lawlessness”] doth already work” (2 Th. 2:7). But he emphasized that something (“what” in the phrase what restraineth is neuter in gender, v. 6) or someone (“he” in the phrase he who now hindereth is masculine, v. 7) is restraining the spirit of lawlessness from attaining its ultimate expression in the Antichrist. That ultimate expression will not be attained until the time the Antichrist is revealed, and he will not be revealed until the restrainer (“he,” v. 7) is removed (vv. 6–8).

Proposed Identification. God is the one who will reveal the Antichrist and has sovereignly determined the definite, fixed, and decisive time of that revelation. In light of this and the fact that the time of that revelation will not take place until the restrainer is “taken out of the way,” two things seem evident.

First, God sovereignly determined to have a restrainer restraining the spirit of lawlessness from attaining its ultimate expression in the Antichrist until the determined time for his revelation. Second, God will sovereignly stop that restraint by removing the restrainer at the appropriate time.

These considerations prompt a question. Does the Bible reveal that God has had a restrainer restraining the spirit of lawlessness during history? Two passages indicate that He has.

First, in Genesis 6:3 God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” He thereby signified that His Spirit strove with lawless mankind in the days before the Noachic flood (vv. 5, 11–13). The word translated “strive” means “to govern.” It “embodies the idea of government, in whatever realm.”9 This indicates that the Holy Spirit has one of the same functions as government—the restraint of lawlessness (Rom. 13:3–6; 1 Pet. 2:13–14).

Thus the Holy Spirit’s restraint of lawlessness has been a significant factor in the administration of God’s rule over the world. The possessive pronoun “my” implies that the Spirit was God’s appointed restrainer. God’s declaration that His “Spirit shall not always strive with man” implies the Spirit’s restraint is temporary and that God has sovereign authority to remove it at the appropriate time.

Second, in Romans 8:2 Paul referred to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” that provides the believer with freedom from “the law of sin.” All law has the purpose of governing or controlling people or things. Paul was teaching that the governing or controlling power of the Holy Spirit gives Christians freedom from the governing or controlling power of the sin nature, which causes people to be lawless. Thus the Holy Spirit has the function of restraining lawlessness in Christians.

These passages provide a biblical basis for concluding that the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2 is the Holy Spirit. If that be so, why did Paul use a neuter gender participle in verse 6 (“what restraineth”) and a masculine gender participle in verse 7 (“he who now hindereth”) to describe the restrainer?

Paul used the neuter to refer to the restraining power or activity of the Holy Spirit (v. 6), but the masculine to refer to the Spirit as a person (v. 7). In addition, the New Testament Greek word for the Spirit (pneuma) is neuter, but the New Testament also uses Greek masculine words (translated “he” and “him”) to refer to the Spirit. That combination is found in Christ’s statements about the Spirit in John 14:26; 15:26, and 16:13–14.

Clearly, the Spirit has other functions besides restraining lawlessness. He also has functioned as a revealer (1 Cor. 2:10), reprover (Jn. 16:8), regenerator (Jn. 3:5–6; Ti. 3:5), and seal (Eph. 1:13–14).

The fact that 2 Thessalonians 2:7 refers to the Spirit being removed as a restrainer does not mean He will be removed from all functions. He will not, for example, be removed as a regenerator. If He were to be removed as a regenerator, no one could become saved during the Antichrist’s reign. But Scripture clearly reveals that many will get saved during that time (Rev. 7).

ENDNOTES
  1. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., “anomia,” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 71.
  2. W. Gutbrod, “anomia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:1085.
  3. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, “kairos,” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 396.
  4. Gerhard Delling, “kairos,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:460–61.
  5. Louis Goldberg, “ewil,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:19.
  6. Jack B. Scott, “elil,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:46.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, “qum,” A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 878–79.
  9. Robert D. Culver, “din,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:188.

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