2 Thessalonians 2 is a very revealing passage of scripture. In it we learn that the Thessalonians were worried that the Day of the Lord had arrived and that they had somehow missed the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and being gathered to him. We also learn about a restrainer, a lawless one, and a mystery of lawlessness. We previously discussed the day and event in question. In this post we are going to discuss the identities of the Restrainer and the Restrained.
Let’s examine the passage:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the apostasia [departure] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV
The Mystery of Lawlessness
From this passage, we learn that there is a mystery of lawlessness that is already at work. Lawlessness is basically opposing the things of God, or God’s laws – the opposite of righteousness. It is satan’s workings in the world. The Greek word for “lawlessness” is anomia. HELPS Word Studies defines anomia as the utter disregard for God’s law (His written and living Word). Note that this definition includes the living Word – who is Jesus Christ. Thus, lawlessness is a disregard for, or opposition to, Christ. i.e. anti-Christ.
The word anomia appears in the New Testament 15 times, but we will just examine a few:
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. Matthew 24:12 ESV
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 ESV
I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Romans 6:19 ESV
Just as there is a mystery of lawlessness, there will also be a specific man of lawlessness.
The Restrained – The Man of Lawlessness
A literal reading of scripture confirms that there will be a future, literal man embodying the characteristics of an “anti-messiah”, just as Jesus was a literal man embodying the characteristics of the true Messiah. The man of lawlessness discussed in 2 Thessalonians 2 is clearly the future antichrist. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we are told he is:
- the son of destruction
- he will oppose and exalt himself against every so-called god or object of worship
- he will take his seat in the temple of God
- he will proclaim to be God
- he will be empowered by satan himself
- he will be killed by Jesus with the breath of His mouth at the appearance of His coming
Supporting passages in the books of Daniel and Revelation which confirm the lawless one’s identity include:
“As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” (Daniel 7:21-25 ESV)
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. Daniel 9:27 ESV
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:15-16, 21-22 ESV)
And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. Daniel 11:36-37
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Revelation 12:9 ESV
And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. Revelation 13:2 ESV
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Revelation 13:5-6 ESV
“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.” Daniel 7:11 ESV
But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ Daniel 7:26-27 ESV
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. Revelation 19:11,15-16,19-20 ESV
While some claim that the man of lawlessness is merely the “spirit anti-Christ”, we have seen from the above passages that he:
- makes war
- has power and a throne
- he will exalt and magnify himself over all “gods”
- speaks blasphemous words
- is given authority for 42 months
- will be captured
- will be thrown alive into the lake of fire
I believe these attest to his literal nature as a man. Further posts discussing the antichrist are here:
- Literal, Historical, Grammatical, Contextual Bible Interpretation
- Who is the Antichrist and What Does He Do?
- Triumph: The Beast (Antichrist) Rises to Power
- Why Israel Rejected Jesus at His First Coming
The man of lawlessness will be revealed only when God chooses to allow him to be revealed, and he will come to his appointed end in the lake of fire as foretold thousands of years ago.
We learn that there is a “what” that is restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed. The phrase specifically used is “that which”, as in “that which is restraining him”. We also learn that there is a “he” that is restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed. The word is “the one”, as in “the one restraining him”. We will talk about both the “that which” and “the one” together, because together they are restraining the man of lawlessness.
The Restrainer is both a “what”, or “that which”, and a “he”, or “the one”. If you are being intellectually honest, there is only one possible interpretation for the Restrainer: The Holy Spirit residing within the true body of Christ. The “what” is the church, the “he” is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s presence on the earth through believers acts as a restraining force to lawlessness in general, as believers are salt and light to the world. As far as the man of lawlessness, we are told next that he is empowered by satan. Satan, as the anointed cherub, was the head of the angelic host before he fell. So the Restrainer must be more powerful than satan, in order to be able to hold him back until his appointed time. The only One powerful enough to do this is God (the Holy Spirit).
The presence of the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is currently restraining the man of lawlessness. The Holy Spirit is restraining the full expression of the mystery of lawlessness and will do so until He is taken out of the way.
Out of the Midst He Might Be Gone
I find the interlinear very interesting when considering verse 7: “only [there is] the [one] restraining [it] at present until out of [the] midst he might be [gone].”
The interlinear translation thus reads that he will restrain the mystery of lawlessness “until out of the midst he might be gone“, as in, the Holy Spirit, along with the body of Christ, will be taken out of the midst of the lawless ones.
As soon as the believers have been taken out of the midst (departed), the lawless one (antichrist) will begin his rise to power. (Detailed here – The Beast Rises to Power).
The Holy Spirit’s Ministry in the Time of Jacob’s Trouble
At the rapture of the church, the “church age” will have ended. The Holy Spirit’s sealing ministry within the heart of each individual believer will end with it. This does not, however, mean that the Holy Spirit will not be present and active on the earth. I would suggest that the Holy Spirit’s ministry during the “tribulation” period will be very similar to what it was during the Old Testament. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Will Draw the Unsaved Sinner to Jesus
- Will Convict Both Unbelievers and Believers of Sin
- Will Regenerate Human Spirits
- Will Draw Believers Closer to the Lord
- Will Help Believers to Pray
- Will Guide Believers Into All Truth
- Will Teach Believers All Things
- Will Anoint Believers With His Divine Power as He Wills
- Will Be the Helper and Comforter to Believers During the Tribulation
- Will Empower Believers with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Will Ripen the Fruits of the Spirit in Believers
Did you notice that the only thing missing is the Holy Spirit’s special sealing until the day of redemption? It appears that believers may be able to lose their salvation during the post-rapture period. Thus they should pray as David did:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:10-12 ESV
For more information about the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit and how I understand the transference of His ministry at the time of the rapture, please see: Seals, Sealing, and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit.
What About Michael?
The notion that Michael (the archangel) is the restrainer is popular in mid-tribulation rapture views, but I believe it doesn’t hold. The first of the issues with that view is this – Michael is specifically the angelic prince assigned to Israel alone. When he is called upon in the Bible, it is always in reference to Israel. In contrast, the mystery of lawlessness and the man of lawlessness will involve GLOBAL deception and wickedness upon EVERYONE who refused to love the truth and be saved.
Secondly, as we discussed previously, there is something that is both a “what” and a “he” that is restraining both the full expression of the mystery of lawlessness and the specific man of lawlessness. While Michael is a “he”, he is not a “what”. But even more importantly than that, Michael is not powerful enough to restrain the mystery of lawlessness throughout the entire world single-handedly. Nor is he powerful enough to restrain satan on his own. Satan was an anointed cherub, which is a higher angelic class than “chief prince”. Michael is a “chief prince”. Let’s examine some related passages concerning Michael and satan:
The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. Daniel 10:13-14 ESV
But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince. Daniel 10:21 ESV
“You [lucifer / satan] were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Ezekiel 28:12-16 ESV
“How you [lucifer / satan] are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 ESV
Only God is powerful enough to fully restrain satan. God’s indwelling Holy Spirit in the church body is the restraining power over the full expression of the mystery of lawlessness and the man of lawlessness.
Now while Michael cannot defeat satan single-handedly, Michael and the holy angels will indeed defeat satan and the unholy angels at the time of the rapture of the church. Remember that the holy angels outnumber the unholy angels 2:1 as per Revelation 12:4.
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Revelation 12:7-12 ESV
I understand that the association with this passage in Revelation is not traditionally associated with the resurrection/rapture/salvation of the church. However, I do believe that Revelation 12 clearly gives a picture of the rapture and an overview of the entire tribulation period. I have detailed this more thoroughly here:
If you read through the above two links, you will also understand that when Michael arises, it will be to supernaturally protect the “woman” (Israel), who will have obediently fled from Jerusalem into the wilderness when they witness the abomination of desolation event. This will occur approximately 3.5 years after the rapture of the church. Michael arises at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, when the “time of greatest tribulation” begins:
And he [the antichrist] shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him. At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. Daniel 11:45-12:2 ESV
This time of greatest trouble, and the protection of believing Israel through it is detailed more fully here:
- The Woman Flees To A Place Prepared
- Part 1 – Tribulation, Great Tribulation, and Wrath
- Daniel’s 70 Weeks
- Triumph: The Beast (Antichrist) Rises to Power
Summary of the Restrainer and the Restrained in 2 Thessalonians 2
The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and has been throughout the church age. Satan has been scheming his big deception for millennia. There is a literal “man of lawlessness” who will appear in the latter days. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they know what is restraining the man of lawlessness, that he may be revealed in his time. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, although he who restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
There is a WHAT that is restraining the man of lawlessness, which is the same as a HE who is restraining the mystery of lawlessness. Put another way, there is a HE that is being restrained by a WHAT, and a WHAT that is being restrained by a HE. Let’s identify the what’s and he’s:
- The man of lawlessness is clearly the future antichrist who will be empowered by satan. This is supported by many passages in scripture.
- The mystery of lawlessness is related to sin and satan’s workings in the world to oppose Christ
- God is not a WHAT, but He is a HE.
- The body of Christ is a WHAT, that is indwelt by a HE.
- Satan, as the anointed cherub, was the head of the angelic host before he fell. God is the only one who can effectively restrain satan until the appointed time.
The presence of the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is restraining both the man of lawlessness and the mystery of lawlessness and will do so until they are taken out of the way. The interlinear translation reads “until out of the midst he might be gone”, as in, the indwelling Holy Spirit, along with the body of Christ (the saved), will be taken out of the midst of the lawless ones (the unsaved).
Once the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit filled Church is removed, the lawless one will be revealed. These coordinated events usher in the dreadful and terrible Day of the Lord. The lawless one will immediately begin his rise to power. This rise to power occurs over the first half of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Many will be deceived through the lawless one’s false signs and wonders, which will be enhanced by God sending a deluding influence to those who refused to love the truth and be saved from this deception/delusion.
The lawless one will take his seat in the Temple of God halfway through the 70th Week of Daniel, which tells us the Third Temple will be at least partially rebuilt by then, and proclaim to be “god”. We know from Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 that this is when the “abomination of desolation” occurs. Michael, the angelic prince of Israel, will arise at this time to protect the believing remnant in the wilderness. After 1260 days of worldwide antichrist rule, Jesus will appear at the Second Coming and defeat the lawless one.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
- Part 1 – That Day Will Not Come Until…
- Part 2 – The Apostasia [Departure/Falling Away] and the Revealing of the Lawless One
- Part 4 – The Wicked Deception – “Aliens”?
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!