In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he told them that “the one who restrains must be taken out of the way so that the son of perdition may be revealed.” It reads like this at 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8a:
“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. And then the lawless one will be revealed….”
You have noted that this translation identifies the “one who restrains” with capitalized pronouns, indicating deity. Some translations do not do that, even in passages clearly indicating deity. The ongoing scuffle among Bible students is just who or what is this “restrainer”?
The issue is that of holding back the advance of evil until the proper time for it to take place has arrived. That the lawless one may be revealed “in his own time” is the reason for the restraining or holding back the advance of evil.
Now, what does that mean?
It means that the most receptive time for the lawless one to be revealed is when his audience will be most responsive to his deceptive leadership. Even then, God is going to cause a deceptive spirit to come upon those who follow the lawless one, that they truly be committed to his godless endeavors. In other words, there will be no one to resist the encroachment of evil in those last days as judgment bears upon them. The falling away indicates a continual process, pointing to that time when the lawless one will be fully received by those who “have no fear of God before their eyes.”
But, then, just who or what is that one who restrains?
Let’s think for a moment on the total picture before us. The two opposing factions in all of history are that of good versus evil. The words of Isaiah 5:20 ring out loud and clear—“Woe to those who make evil good and good evil.” That is astoundingly evident in these days. We can see political foes warring over issues of right and wrong. However, the Bible says “we war not against flesh and blood but spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
In every case in Scripture where evil is resisted, or held back, where Satan is not allowed to pursue his own desires, it is one of the Godhead who stands in the way. Those of the “pre-wrath rapture” theory want to say the restrainer may be the angel Michael, who opposed the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9). But even there, Michael turned the issue over to God, saying, “the Lord rebuke you, O Satan.”
Another leading theologian who holds tightly to the “post-tribulation rapture” theory cannot bring himself to say who or what the restrainer is. It boils down to the obvious reality that if the true identity turns out to be the Holy Spirit indwelling born-again believers, then their particular rapture timing theory is shot to pieces!
The evidence shows that the One who restrains evil can only be the Holy Spirit indwelling the born-again believer. Not the church, that visible entity in the world, for its record of holding back evil is one of dismal failure. Jesus said His church would prevail against even the gates of hell, so why is it so hard to understand who is the one who holds back evil? It clearly shows that a pre-conceived idea guides those who cannot bring themselves to admit the obvious that lies openly in the Scriptures.
That one thing, if admitted, brings the timing of the rapture to a pre-tribulation position. Then, we see a steady, flowing continuity of events from Revelation 4 onward through to the coming of Jesus Christ in glory of judgment at the end of the seven years of the tribulation period.
It makes sense, the statement of Jesus in Luke 21:28, where he says, “When these things begin to happen, look up, for your redemption draws near.” Why did He not say, “When these things are completed, look up, for your redemption draws near?” The answer is unmistakable.
The most obvious fact that “post-tribulation” rapture timing is not scriptural is the total absence of any mention of the body of Christ, His church, in the time of the tribulation described in Revelation 6-19. If that fact is rejected as meaningless, then one must acknowledge that Jesus is also present during those seven years. Did Jesus not say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you?”
Actually, there are four appearances of the redeemed saints with Jesus before the Second Coming when Jesus shows up in conquering attire with judgment on His mind.
The first one is that mid-air meeting which is described in 1 John 3:2-3:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
This meeting in the air is of the Son of Man and His redeemed saints, both from the grave with transformed bodies joined again with their souls and spirits, but also with living saints who are changed from mortals to immortals in the twinkling of an eye. Contrary to one highly visible “post-tribulationist,” the word “meet” does not mean that Jesus returns back to earth with His saints—they will go with Him to heaven for that next appearance in his presence. The saints follow Jesus; He does not follow the saints.
That second appearance with Jesus is seen by John where he describes it in Revelation 4, a scene of Christ the Judge sitting on His throne. It is the account of that judgment seat of Christ described briefly in 2 Corinthians 5:10:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
The third end-time appearance of Jesus being with His redeemed saints is that of His taking them to those mansions He has prepared for them, as reported in John 14:2-3:
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Then, after seven years, the marriage supper of the Lamb is held in heaven, so reported in Revelation 19:7-8:
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
If we follow the teaching of the “post-tribulationists,” there is not a chance that the marriage supper of the Lamb could take place, for that teaching says the saints in the rapture meet the Lord in the air and immediately return to the earth to begin the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. By that theory, raptured saints would not go to heaven with the Lord, but He, with them, would return to the earth.
Why would God subject the living saints to the tribulation, and those who are in the grave obviously are not because they are dead, yet both groups are in the rapture? By that unjust situation being allowed, it would be better for the living believer to commit suicide so he would not have to endure the tribulation. Perhaps the issue is made clearer with this question: What have the living saints done that has not been covered by the redeeming blood of Christ which promises “no condemnation” (John 5:24) for which dead saints are not to be charged?
Is it not clear by any stretch of consideration that anyone present during the tribulation period is going to face and participate in suffering? For the whole world will be submerged in evil’s judgment. There is one exception, and that is the one-third of the Jews hidden away in the wilderness by God, away from Satan’s great rage, as told in Revelation 12:14 and in Zechariah 13:8.
Also, one must consider why God would allow His redeemed saints to suffer along with the unsaved during the tribulation period. No, Revelation 3:10 does not assure us that we would be protected in the midst of tribulation. “Kept from” means “kept apart from, separated from” by any common sense understanding. As an example of word usage, consider “from” in this statement of Jesus in Luke 13:27: “Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.” Does He mean “stand aside,” or “get totally away from My presence?”
Also, we have the straightforward assurance in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10:
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”
Let’s not strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, as the Pharisees were prone to do. Light always expels darkness, and Jesus is the light of men, the light of the world! How simple it is to take the Word at face value and thus see who the restrainer really is.
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