Kept From The Hour – By Gerald Stanton

Chapter 5

Who Is “The Restrainer”?

One of the interesting problems connected with Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians is that of identifying the “restrainer,” who will be taken out of the way before the manifestation of the “lawless one.”  The passage is a familiar one, although somewhat confusing in the Authorized Version due to the use of the old English term “let,” meaning hinder.  The passage is reproduced here from the American Revised Version for greater clarity:

Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gather together unto him to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season.  For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (II Thess. 2:1-12).

These verses are not particularly difficult.  Paul writes concerning the coming of the Lord and deals with the false report that the Day of the Lord had already come.  To remove this fear, assurance is given that this day will not come until the final falling away, or apostasy, and the revelation of the Antichrist, the “lawless one” who works by the “activity of Satan.”  There is in the world today, moreover, a restraining person or influence which holds unrighteousness in check, and Antichrist cannot be revealed until this “restrainer” be taken out of the way.  It is at this point that expositors differ widely, and wonder at “Paul’s mysterious words in 2 Thess. ii. 6-7.”[1]  For those who reject the removal of the Church prior to the revelation of Antichrist, it is of little wonder that these are mysterious words.  However, since “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable” (II Tim. 3:16), it should not be assumed that a solution is impossible, or that the identity of the “restrainer” cannot be determined.

It is immediately evident that the passage deals with the Tribulation, even the Day of the Lord, and with the manifestation of Antichrist as foretold in Daniel 9:27 and Revelation 13.  It is also evident that the Wicked One cannot be revealed and that present iniquity cannot reach its peak until a “restrainer” be taken out of the way.  It seems obvious that if the identity of the restrainer can be established, much light will be shed upon the commencement and the character of the Tribulation period.  Actually, this passage bears so vitally upon the future of the Church that it may become a major factor in determining the relationship of the Church to the great Tribulation.

I.          Attempted Identifications
Many widely divergent answers have been proposed for the identity of the restrainer, including groups or agencies such as the Roman Empire or the Jewish State, and individuals such as James, or even Satan.  These attempts at identifying the restrainer must be briefly examined.

A.      The Roman Empire
It is argued that the restrainer could not be a person, for the use of the neuter “that which restraineth” favors identification with an agency, force, or group of people.

Some of the early fathers thought the hinderer was the Roman Empire, and that Paul dared not put upon paper just what was in his mind, lest he expose the Christians to the charge of plotting the downfall of the existing government.[2]

Such is the view of Reese, who says:

The oldest and best interpretation is that Paul hesitated to set down in words what he meant, because he had in mind the Roman Empire.  The impersonal influence was the magnificent system of law and justice throughout the Roman world; this held lawlessness and the Man of Lawlessness in check.  Then the line of emperors, in spite of wicked individuals, had the same influence.[3]

Response to this theory might be made in his own words:  “This is ingenious, but it is a mere conjecture, and precarious at that.”[4]  The Roman Empire has not existed down through the present age as the power which has held evil in check.  The Roman government of that day was exceedingly corrupt and was of little consequence in holding back the tides of iniquity throughout the empire and the world.  History clearly records the tragic failure and decline of the Roman Empire.  Far from restraining the evil present in the world, Rome fell under the very weight of her own iniquity.  She has long since ceased to exist as an empire, and still Antichrist has not been revealed.  Anticipating these objections, Reese adds:

Roman law and Roman justice are still a barrier, and the Emperors live on in the Papacy. … “And if a man consider the origin of this great ecclesiastical dominion, he will easily perceive that the Papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire sitting crowned on the grave thereof.”[5]

Reese himself says that Roman Empire was swept away and will not be revived.  How then will it restrain Antichrist and godless forces in the last day?  Did it ever restrain evil, even when the empire was at its height?  It is well to inquire further with Pollock:

Was the Roman Empire the restraining influence when the Coliseum of Rome, built by 30,000 Jews taken captive by Titus at the siege of Jerusalem, holding 80,000 people, echoed with the cry, “Throw the Christians to the lions?”  Was it witnessed by 575 miles of amazing Catacombs at Rome, where the Christians were driven underground to worship and to bury their dead to the number, it is said, of 4,000,000?[6]

As for the idea that Roman “restraint” of evil lives on in the Papacy, as the “ghost of the deceased Roman empire,” when on remembers that down through the centuries the Roman Church has ever been the most aggressive opponent of evangelical Christianity and has been guilty of spilling rivers of Protestant blood, the whole idea is nauseating to the extreme.  As to the claim that Paul did not speak more clearly lest Christians be charged with plotting the downfall of the empire, this has long been the charge of the enemies of Christ, and the Saviour Himself was so accused:  “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar” (Luke 23:2).  No need for Paul to keep silence at this point, as if he ever was silent for fear of men, or from lack of faith that God could care for His own!”[7]  The idea that the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2 is the Roman Empire is fraught with such difficulties and dangers and has so little to commend it that the theory may unhesitating be called false.

B.      The Jewish State
This hypothesis is suggested by Warfield:

For the continued existence of the Jewish state was both graciously and naturally a protection of Christianity, and hence a restraint on the revelation of the persecuting power.  Graciously, it was God’s plan to develop Christianity under the protection of Judaism for a short time, with the double purpose of keeping the door of salvation open to the Jews until all of their elect of that generation should be gathered in and the apostasy of the nation should be rendered doubly and trebly without excuse, and of hiding the tender infancy of the Church within the canopy of a protecting sheath until it should grow strong enough to withstand all storms.[8]

Two objections to this theory immediately stand out, and it is to be wondered how a theologian of Warfield’s stature could have missed them:  First, the early church did not have years of “tender infancy,” but was from its inception on the day of Pentecost (when three thousand were saved and added to the disciples) a sturdy, vigorous body, so that it was said of its members, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6).  Second, the Jewish State never functioned as a “protecting sheath” about the early Christian testimony, but to the contrary, Saul and other Jews “made havoc of the church.”  Witness Paul’s testimony before Agrippa:

Many of the saints also did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.  And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly and against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities (Acts 26:10, 11).

At no point does the Jewish State prove to be the solution to the problem of identifying the restrainer.  Nor does Warfield himself seem wholly satisfied with his own suggestion, for he offers an alternate:

If the masculine form of “the restrainer” in verse 7 demands interpretation as a person – which we more than doubt – it might possibly be referred without too great pressure to James of Jerusalem, God’s chosen instrument in keeping the door of Christianity open for the Jews and by so doing continuing and completing their probation.  Thus he may be said to have been the upholder of the restraining power, the savour of the salt that preserved the Christians from persecution, and so in a high sense the restrainer.[9]

As valuable as James may have been to the Early Church, it is utterly impossible for him to be the restrainer.  No man is able to restrain all the evil within his own heart, to say nothing of doing so throughout the world until the end of the age.  Christians are to exert a preserving influence in this world as “the salt of the earth,” but it is also true that any success James, or any other believer, is given must be by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.  James provides no solution to the problem of identifying the restrainer, although the idea is not as bad as the proposal of another that the Man of Sin is Nero, and the restrainer the wise Seneca, his tutor, whose death he ultimately procured.

C.          Human Government or Gentile Dominion
Hogg and Vine, although pretribulationalists, seem to favor this view, citing the words of Daniel 2:37-44.

In due time the Babylonian Empire, to whose king the words were spoken, was succeeded by the Persian, that by the Grecian, and that again by the Roman, which flourished in the Apostle’s day….  The laws under which these states maintain their existence were inherited from Rome as Rome inherited them from the Empire that preceded her.  Thus the existing authorities are ordained of God … constituted authority is intended to act in restraint of lawlessness.[10]

Yet even here it is admitted that “the Roman Emperors … presented some of the characteristics of the Antichrist.  Themselves the representatives of the law, they were yet at heart lawless….”[11]

It is true that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1), and that rulers are ministers of God in the sense that they derive their authority from Him.  But it is likewise true that civil government or authority vested in Gentile rulers cannot avail in itself to resist the forces of evil.  These can become channels of blessing to the world when the rulers are godly, but human government which spurns the sovereignty of God and depends upon its own resources becomes itself lawless, with corruption in high places.  One has only to dip into history, or, it might be suggested, into the daily newspapers have availed little in checking the evil of the age and have been lawless themselves both before God and society.  Then, when it is remember that the restrainer must be caught away before the revelation of the Man of Sin, and that Gentile dominion and human government go on into the Tribulation unchanged, eventually to be seized by the Beast himself, it will be obvious that such agencies in no wise correspond to that which is required of the restrainer.

D.      Satan
A strange suggestion, yet not without a following among posttribulationalists, is that which is made for the identity of the restrainer by Mrs. George C. Needham:

Why should every one conclude that this hinderer must be some good thing?  May not this restraining power be Satan himself?  Has he not a plan for the manifestation of the Son of Perdition, as truly as God had a time appointed for the incarnation of His divine Son?[12]

The obvious answer is that Satan never restrains evil, but is everywhere in the Bible presented as the author and instigator of it.  He would not oppose his own program, for:

If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end (Mark 3:25, 26).

The Scriptures represent the restrainer as holding the whole course of iniquity in check, not just withholding Antichrist until the time appointed.  Also, Satan is not removed from the scene before the disclosure of his false Christ; rather, he is ejected from the heavenly sphere and cast down upon the earth, together with his unholy angels (Rev. 12:9).  The earth will be no new sphere for Satan’s working, but then he will be in full control.  Satan is never the restrainer of evil.  He is rather the deceiver of the whole world.  This has ever been his objective and occupation.

E.      The Church
The suggestion that the restrainer of iniquity may be the Church, the redeemed of this age, has far more to commend it than any suggestion considered thus far.  Like salt, Christians are a true preservative in a civilization which is corrupt and marked for death.  As lights, they are to shine in a world of darkness; as ambassadors, they witness for Christ and show forth their heavenly citizenship.  Yet, the Church is at best an imperfect organism, perfect in standing before God, to be sure, but experimentally before men, not always blameless, not always beyond reproach.  Similar to human government, the Church is being used of God to hinder the full manifestation of the Evil One in this present age, but He who effectively restrains is certainly not the believer himself, but the One who empowers the believer, even the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 16:7; I Cor. 6:19).  Apart from His presence, neither Church nor government would avail to hinder the program and power of Satan.

It is doubtful if the Church is in view in II Thessalonians 2:6, 7.  The restraining force of verse six is referred to in the neuter, that which, while the person of the restrainer in verse seven is in the masculine.  Since the Greek word for church, ekklesia, is a first declension noun and always used in the feminine gender, any attempted identification of the Church as the restrainer would see precarious.  Even so, the Church has more to commend itself in the role of restrainer than any suggestion previously considered.  IT should not go unnoticed that if the Church is the restrainer, she will be “taken out of the midst” before the coming of the “lawless one,” which would mean that the Church could not first pass through the Tribulation.

II.      The Holy Spirit as Restrainer
There are a number of factors which unite to provide a positive identification that the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6, 7 is none other than the Holy Spirit.  Posttribulationalist Scruby writes:  “I believe, but cannot prove, that Paul did mean the Holy Spirit.”[13]  Perhaps the following discussion will help others of like doubtful persuasion to see the issues involved and the evidence for making such an identification.

A.          Reasons for This Identification
The following reasons are suggestive, rather than exhaustive, in their treatment:

(1)             By mere elimination, the Holy Spirit must be the restrainer.  All other possibilities fall far short of meeting the requirements of one who is to hold in check the forces of evil until the manifestation of Antichrist.  Some of the alternate suggestions are out of harmony with the basic text itself.

(2)             The Wicked One is a personality, and his operations include the realm of the spiritual.  The restrainer must likewise be a personality and of a spiritual order, to resist the wiles of the Devil and to hold Antichrist in check until the time of his revealing.  Mere agencies or impersonal spiritual forces would be inadequate.  Moreover, the masculine gender of II Thessalonians 2:7 requires the restrainer to be a person.

(3)             To believe all that is to be accomplished, the restrainer must be a member of the Godhead.  He must be stronger than the Man of Sin, and stronger than Satan.  In order to restrain evil down through the course of the age, the restrainer must be eternal, for Satan and his workers of iniquity have made their influence felt throughout the entire history of the Church.  Likewise, the theater of sin is the whole world, making it imperative that the restrainer be one who is not limited by time or space.  Such a one is the Holy Spirit of God, for He is omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent throughout the universe, and therefore preeminently qualified to hold in check all of the Satanic forces of darkness.

(4)             This present age is in a particular sense the “dispensation of the Spirit,” for He works in a way uncommon to other ages as an abiding Presence within the children of God.  While Christ dwelt among men for the space of thirty-three years, the Spirit is the only member of the Trinity to have an earthly abode throughout the age (John 16:7; Acts 1:5, 2:4, I Cor. 3:16; 6:19, etc.).  As part of His present ministry, believers are regenerated by the Spirit (John 3:5, 6), baptized by the Spirit (I Cor. 12:12, 13), indwelt by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:19, 20), and sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).  It is God’s will that they should be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

The Church age commenced with the advent of the Spirit at Pentecost, and will close with a reversal of Pentecost, the removal of the Spirit.  This does not mean that He will not longer be operative in the world, but only that He will no longer be resident upon the earth.

(5)             The work of the Spirit since His advent has included the restraint of evil.  The Spirit of God’s righteous Agent for the age, and there are many reasons to be grateful for His restraining hand upon this world’s iniquity.  None but the Lawful One could restrain the workings of Satan, the lawless one.  The book of Revelation reveals how awful this work will be without the hand of the Spirit, when the power of Satan will be unleashed with none to rebuke, and when sin will know no restraint.  Meanwhile, the Spirit does restrain, for this is part of the work He came to do.

It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:  Of sin, because they believe not on me … of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (John 16:7-11).

Of inestimable value is the quiet work of the Spirit in behalf of those who are Christ’s, guiding believers into all truth (John 16:13), empowering for witness (Acts 1:8), convicting of sin (Eph. 4:30), and assisting believers in their stand against the wiles of the Devil (Eph. 6:11, 17, 18).  When Christians are exhorted to overcome the spirit of Antichrist, they are reminded that the Holy Spirit is greater than Satan.  “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them [that have the spirit of antichrist[: because greater is he [the Spirit] that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world” (I John 4:4).  How different it will be in the Tribulation when many of these gracious influences will be removed.  How manifestly possible for the Church to go into the Tribulation once the Spirit has been caught away from the earth.  As Strombeck well says:

Then there would be no Comforter (John 14:16) during those awful days of torment.  But this is contrary to God’s promise:  “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  There would be none to show the believer the things of Christ (John 16:14).  There would be none to teach all things (John 14:26) during those bewildering years.  There would be a Church without power to resist Satan during the time that He is cast out from heaven upon the earth.  There would be an impotent Church during the most terrible days of the entire human history.[14]

(6)             It is not difficult to establish that although the Spirit was not resident on earth during Old Testament days, whatever restraint was exerted was by the Spirit.  Isaiah testified:  “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa. 59:19).  Another important passage concerns the days of Noah and conditions which existed before the judgment of the flood.  The wickedness of Noah’s day and the fact that life went on as usual in blindness to impending destruction is used of the Spirit in vivid portrayal of careless and wicked men upon whom Tribulation judgments shall fall.

As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all (Luke 17:26, 27).

In the light of this Scriptural parallel, it is exceedingly significant that in the days immediately preceding the destruction of the flood, the restraining work of the Spirit is emphasized.  God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and to the people of that day the warning of Jehovah was clearly given:  “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3).  Couched within that warning was the implication that the restraint of the Spirit would be removed, after which God would act in righteous judgment.  Even so, just prior to Tribulation judgment, the restraining hand of the Spirit shall be removed from the earth.  Then will the wrath of God be poured out and the Man of Sin be revealed.

The similarity between this event, so early in earth’s history, and the removal of the Spirit at the end of the age is most striking.  Evidently, in all ages, although more particularly in this age, the Spirit has held back the flood tides of evil and checked the activities of the principalities and powers of darkness.  Christians should be everlastingly grateful that such a restraining ministry is part of the work of God in their behalf.  How pitifully weak are all human efforts to rebuke Satanic agencies and to bind the Strong One (Jude 9)!  The very fact that during the Tribulation, Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet – that great trinity of evil – shall be on earth and be permitted full sway, argues strongly that the Holy Spirit of God will not longer be resident in the earthly sphere.  It would seem that the pretribulation removal of the Spirit fits well into the broad Biblical pattern.  It is corroborated by II Thessalonians 2:6, 7, but is not dependent upon this one passage for its sole support.

B.          Objections to This View
(1)             The fact that the neuter gender, “that which restraineth,” is used in verse 6 gives the impression that Paul is speaking of am impersonal force or agency.  It is affirmed that the neuter would be most unsuitable if the Holy Spirit were in view.  Verse 7 shifts to the masculine gender, “he who restrains,” implying personality.  Therefore, some have maintained that verse 7 speaks of the Spirit, but that verse 6 speaks of the Church as the agent of the Spirit.  While this position is not objectionable and is still perfectly in harmony with the pretribulational interpretation of the passage, it is not necessary for the sake of gender to deny that both verses speak of the Spirit.  The passage, of course, is Pauline, and the use of the neuter to apply to the Spirit is not uncommon to his writings.  In Romans 8:16 and 26, there are two clear references to the Spirit, both in the neuter gender.  This very fact strengthens more than it weakens the argument that the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6, recorded as it is by the same author, is indeed the Holy Spirit.  Thiessen, an authority on the Greek New Testament, confirms this point:

The writer holds … that that which “withholdeth” (neuter, ver. 6) and “he who letteth” (hindereth) (masculine, ver. 7), is none other than the Holy Spirit.[15]

Surely, there is no reason from the Pauline use of the neuter gender for departing from this conclusion.

(2)             It is held by some that the phrase έκ μέσου γέυηται cannot be translated “taken out of the way” because the verb γίυομαι seems quite incapable of the translation “removed,” or “be taken.”  Thayer’s Lexicon is often referred to as the authority, where the first definition of γίυομαι is to become, to come into existence, begin to be, receive being.  The same verb is used of the incarnation of Christ, when “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), so that II Thessalonians 2:7 is said not to be the removal of the Holy Spirit from the earth but the coming into being from the midst of the earth of Antichrist, who has been withholding himself until the time is ripe for open manifestation.  However, as English has pointed out:

Ginomai alone has many meanings.  We have traced through the New Testament to find that the word is used, in various forms, 621 times, and is translated in 49 different ways….  It is rather difficult, therefore, to determine with finality its exact meaning.  Yet practically every translation of the New Testament gives the connotation, with ek mesou, of to be taken out of the way, or to be removed.[16]

Thayer’s Lexicon does give several meanings to the verb γίυομαι, but it must not be overlooked that when it comes to this passage, it clearly states:  “γίυεσθαι έκ μέσου, to be taken out of the way, 2 Th. ii. 7.”[17]  The verb γίυομαι is exceedingly flexible and not infrequently suggests a change from one state to another, as in John 1:14: “the Word became flesh”; Matthew 4:3: “command that these stones be made bread”; and Matthew 21:42: “the stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.”  AS for the final clause of II Thessalonians 2:7, it is rendered “until he be taken out of the way” by the Authorized, Revised, American Standard, Douay Versions, and others.  In the face of such substantiation, one might judge a hasty change to some other rendering of the passage unwarranted and precarious.

(3)             The third major objection against the removal of the Holy Spirit as the restrainer of evil is based on the false notion that the Spirit would then have no place or ministry during the Tribulation, and that the saints of that day would be left to their own resources.

It would seem to be incredible that those who will be witnesses for God against the Antichrist will be left to their own resources in coping with the delusions and awful persecutions of that hour, without the aid of the Holy Spirit.[18]

Added to this is the objection that a Jewish remnant could not be saved, yet alone evangelize the world, without the Holy Spirit.  Reese in particular has heaped scorn and abuse upon such an idea, and seems never to tire of expressing his contempt for such “half-converted Jews.”

Their exegesis now, instead of adhering to the main emphasis of Scripture, and basing itself on careful and obvious deductions from clear texts, was shot to pieces by idle speculation, by the adoption of innovations like the Secret Rapture, and the prodigious missionary tour of the world in 1,260 days, by an army of half-converted Jews, still in their sins.  Preachers without life, without forgiveness, and without the Holy Ghost in the soul, will do in 1,260 days what the whole Christian Church has been unable to do in 1,900 years – evangelize the world. ….  This at a time when, ex hypothesi, the Holy Spirit is in heaven, Antichrist is raging here below, and the elect evangelists are torn between the Imprecatory Psalms and the Sermon on the Mount![19]

Here indeed is a creed that no one will profess.  It is but a poor caricature of the pretribulational position, a veritable “straw man” set up only to be knocked down again.  Yet the underlying criticism is clear, for it questions what will be the saving and enabling power during the Tribulation if the Spirit of God is removed.  As always, the answer lies in the Scriptures.

It is believed by many that the Jews will do a large share of the evangelism during the Tribulation period, but it is hardly fair to characterize them as without life or forgiveness, “half-converted Jews still in their sins.”  In the Tribulation, Israel is to be purged (Deut. 4:30, 31; Zech. 13:8, 9) and there will be a national turning to God (Ezek. 20:33-44; Rom. 11:26).  The 144,000 of Israel are sealed of the Lord, and expressly called “servants of our God” (Rev. 7:3).  The martyrs of that day will be “beheaded for the witness of Jesus” (Rev. 20:4), and will overcome Satan by “the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).  There need be no doubt at all about these being redeemed men, while the vital character of their testimony is demonstrated by the fact that they seal their witness with their blood.  Their evangelism, coupled with the unique ministry of God’s especially appointed two witnesses (Rev. 11:3-12), will no doubt be most effective in turning many unto God.

Nor can it be said that these witnesses will work without the convicting power of the Spirit.  How men have stumbled over this simple problem!  The work of empowering and convicting during the Tribulation is still that of the Holy Spirit.  Because He is God, the Spirit is omnipresent, and in that sense, He is present among men and operative in every age.  But it is only since Pentecost that His place of residence has been on the earth, indwelling the members of the true Church.  When He, as restrainer, is removed, there will be a reversal of Pentecost, which will mean that the Spirit will minister from heaven, as during the Old Testament economy.  He will be present, but not resident; operating, but no longer indwelling.  He will save souls, but no longer baptize them into the body of Christ, for the Church will be complete and in heaven.

Removal of residence does not mean loss of omnipresence or of power to save.  The Spirit has various ministries, and because He no longer restrains does not mean that He no longer draws men to Christ.  This procedure should not amaze any who are acquainted at all with their Bibles.  Did not Christ dwell in the heavenly sphere throughout the Old Testament period, only to come to earth at His incarnation (John 1:14), and to return to the Father at the ascension?  Christ had several particular ministries to perform while on earth, but He did not cease to save souls when He was caught up into glory.  In like manner, there is no reason for saying that if the Holy Spirit is the restrainer, no one could be saved after He is taken out of the way.

Was Jonah a “half-converted Jew still in his sin” when he preached the shortest sermon on record and saw the mighty city of Nineveh repent in sackcloth?  Did not the Spirit convict in power when the land was swept by a mighty revival during the days of Josiah?  Yet the Holy Spirit sustained the same relationship to the earth in those days as will exist during the Tribulation.  Although He will not indwell His servants in the same sense that the Church is now indwelt, yet He will come upon them with enabling power sufficient for all the mighty works which will characterize that day.

Having reached this point of the discussion, it would seem that the identity of the restrainer is sufficiently established.  He who now restrains and will be taken away before the manifestation of the Man of Sin is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit.  HE alone could fulfill all that is required of the restrainer of evil; all other suggestions fall far short of satisfactory identification.  Indeed, the Church has reason to be thankful that He who is the Comforter, He who indwells those that are Christ’s, He who intercedes with groanings that cannot be uttered and has baptized and sealed God’s children until the day of redemption, also has His hand upon the course of the age, restraining iniquity, holding back the Evil One, detaining the apostasy of the last days, and assisting the members of the body of Christ in the task of living the Christian life in the midst of a wicked and adulterous generation.

One more ministry of the Spirit must receive mention, and that in connection with the rapture of the Church.  Even as the servant of Abraham brought home to Isaac a bride, chosen of God, so will the Spirit lead home the Bride of Christ.  When the Spirit is removed, then the Church must also be snatched away.  To say otherwise is to make void the promise of Christ:  “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever:  Even the Spirit of truth … (John 14:16).  The removal of the Spirit takes place before the Wicked One shall be revealed, and this removal sets the time for the rapture of the Church.  Thus II Thessalonians 2:6, 7 adds a considerable weight of evidence to the teaching of other Scriptures that the rapture of the Church is clearly pretribulational.

[1] Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 244.
[2] Henry A. Ironside, Not Wrath But Rapture, p. 27.
[3] Reese, op. cit., p. 246.
[4] Ibid., p. 245.
[5] Ibid., p. 247.
[6] A. J. Pollock, Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?, p. 36.
[7] If Paul is guilty of any vagueness at all at this point, it is because: “Remember … when I was with you, I told you these things” (II Thess. 2:5, 15).
[8] B. B. Warfield, “The Prophecies of St. Paul,” Biblical Doctrines, p. 611.
[9] Ibid., p. 612.
[10] C. F. Hoff and W. E. Vine, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, pp. 259, 260.
[11] Loc. cit.
[12] Mrs. George C. Needham, The Anti-Christ, p. 94.
[13] John J. Scruby, The Great Tribulation:  The Church’s Supreme Test, p. 194.
[14] J. F. Strombeck, Firs the Rapture, p. 104.
[15] Henry C. Thiessen, Will the Church Pass Through the Tribulation?, p. 41.
[16] E. Schuyler English, “Re-Thinking the Rapture,” Our Hope, LVI (June, 1950), 753.
[17] Joseph Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 117.
[18] Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About the Lord’s Return, p. 120.
[19] Reese, op. cit., p. 269.  On page 208, Reese further characterizes these tribulation Jews:  “half-converted, half-Christian, Jewish Remnant (unconverted, un-Christian would fit the facts better)”!