3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away[apostasy] comes first, and the man of sin [the antichrist] is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is like God.
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 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. (2 Thess. 2:5-7).
Paul refers the Thesselonians to his past teaching on this subject, as he goes back and mentions briefly the conditions that will lead to the emergence of this brutal, world leader, the Antichrist. He has gotten his power from the nations who have desired for this kind of king, who represents everything that they long to be. As Israel poorly chose Saul over David, so the nations will choose this man over the true King, Jesus.
This decision is the result of a declining morality and rejection of righteousness. The coming of the “lawless one” will be the fruit of the maturity of lawlessness (Dan. 8:23) when the “transgressors reach their fullness.” God will give men the god they desire when Satan is cast down to the earth (Rev. 12:7-9) and will “give them over” to the king they desire as well (Rom. 1:26).
What is the Restrainer
What is restraining” and “he who restrains” are often thought to be the Holy Spirit – but the issue that must be resolved is “what” and / or “who” is restraining the activity of sin on the planet: is it God or men that restrains sin, and what will be “taken out of the way” to allow for the fullness of sin to come forth? As the church will be experiencing the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in history, it does not seem likely that the Holy Spirit will be moved out of the way – nor does it seem as if the Holy Spirit functions as a restraint to sin.
Some wrongly teach that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer that is removed when the Church is raptured before the Great Tribulation. If that were true then no-one could be saved in the Great Tribulation because it takes the work of the Holy Spirit moving on an unbeliever’s heart for them to be saved. Even the Left Behind series accounts for the harvest coming in, millions of unbelievers coming to Christ, (Matt 13:39). (This belief doesn’t account for the end-time Tribulation to be like the plagues Moses released on Pharaoh, who was an Old Testament type of the Antichrist. The praying church and prayer movement will in unity release these numbered seals and trumpets as Judgments on a wicked empire. God will protect and seal much of the end-time church; Zech 2:3).
This “restrainer” is holding back sin and lawlessness. What or who that restraining force is, Paul does not say specifically in this letter. The forces that restrain lawnessness, in a sense restrain the man of lawlessness, for until they are fully given over to lawlessness they will not elect or want him. Ultimately what restrains lawlessness is ‘laws.’ When Paul He described the restrainer as a “what” (neuter in v. 6) and as a “he” (masculine in v. 7) I believe he was referring to cival authority or in his day “Rome.” The legislation that is put in place by man, reflecting man’s desires.
I believe what is restraining men is biblical morality knit to the human conscience – eternity has been written on the heart of every man. As men suppress the truth and sear their conscience they will throw off the “bonds” of biblical morality. As the conscience erodes, man will continue to change their laws to reflect what is alive in their conscience. Yet the church can prevent this to a degree in praying eph 1:17 for the nations, wisdom and revelation of Jesus released by the Holy Spirit in greater measure. Hos 4:6 says ‘my people cast off restrain because of their lack of revelation.’
Finally, men will move God Himself “out of the way” and God will no longer act to restrain the full “ripening” of sin in His mercy as He did at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11). Men will literally “vote God out” of their cultural and social context and make way for the false king to come forth.
Romans 1 Pattern
4 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.
It is critical that we understand the Romans 1 pattern of God’s leadership at the end of the age. Paul highlighted a key facet of God’s mercy strategy for those who oppose His leadership—He gives them what they want in the hopes that they will come to their senses and repent. God, if they press for it, gives people the desires of their heart, hoping that they will turn from then in hopes and, in turning, come to the realization that His ways (and leadership) are superior to our own.
In Romans 1, Paul was touching on a terrifying reality that is knit to the Sermon on the Mount: that Jesus will give to anyone who asks. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8). Everyone who asks receives; the unbeliever and believer alike will receive that which they press and pursue by their choices and actions. In the kindness of Jesus, and as part of His strategy to produce voluntary love within the heart of all people, He leads in part by desire. Part of how He transforms our desires is by revealing to us how unsatisfying our fleshly pursuits actually are to us.
Now the restrainer will be taken away and then the antichrist will come, and those who take the mark can never be saved. The mark is a declaration that you believe the antichrist, whatever he is called at the time, is God and your allegiance is to him and no one else, not Jesus. The restrainer will be taken away and hopefully many who fell away from the faith and into the harlot have at this time become disillusioned with sin and disobedience to Jesus and do not accept the antichrist. But for some the restrainer being taken away caused them to only fall deeper in love with sin and they will accept the mark.
Mystery of Iniquity
Paul spoke of “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7) or the mystery of man’s hidden hatred of God and His ways. Men despise the leadership of God. The great error is thinking that if God revealed Himself to men, they would believe and repent. One does not necessarily lead to the other. For the last 2000 years, God has “pleaded His case with the nations” to believe and repent in what Jeremiah called His “controversy with the nations” (Jer. 25:31). Jesus understood that men love darkness (the works of sin) rather than light and truth (Jn. 3:19).
Psa 2:3 says the kings of the earth will “break Their bonds” and “cast Their cords” they will violently break off and hurl away all restraint; all that represents biblical morality will be angrily removed from the social context in that time. They see the morality and laws of God as “chains” that restrain them in a negative manner, hindering them from their goal of power. The rulers of the earth will not only reject God and His Son (or Anointed King), but they will in full unity completely reject God’s ways and influence over them or their people. Rev. 17:13-18 gives an example of this.