2 Thessalonians 2:3-7 “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion 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.”
Who is this ‘person’ that is restraining evil and lawlessness? Paul is encouraging the believers in Thessalonica that in the end times the man of lawlessness, also known as the Anti-Christ, will come as an agent of Satan, but he will not be revealed until God is completely ready. God has not revealed His time-line for these events, but He has revealed that He has provided a restrainer to hold back full out lawlessness until the Day of the Lord. This is a two part event, with the first part being the Rapture of the Church, and the second being the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to reign as King. The force that restrains seems to be the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church. Evidence for this claim is twofold: (1) No power can restrain the devil other than God. Job 42:2 says, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” According to Jude 1:9, even the highest of the angel warriors, Michael, cannot restrain Satan. (2) Once the Church is removed from the earth in the Rapture, we see the timeline become very clear, and the ‘man of lawlessness’ is revealed very quickly. The Holy Spirit is still at work on the earth during this time, as people still come to Christ (known as Tribulation saints), but the main work of the Church is gone!
John’s gospel tells us the main purpose of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, (14:26) “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (15:26) “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (16:13) “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Once the Church is gone, these will no longer be needed.
There already is much evil in the world. Paul’s letter to the Romans explains why. Romans 1:24 says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Yet, it is not as bad as it is going to get. Thankfully, the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us is restraining the devil until God’s timing is right. We should be thankful for the power of God that enables us to carry on His mission, and that God’s purposes never fail. We can also be thankful that we will not be around for the removal of the restrainer and the revelation of the Anti-Christ.
- John Macarthur “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians”