The Restrainer: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

In any study dealing with eschatology, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 must be brought into the discussion.[1] There has been much debate as to the exact point or points Paul wished to make, the identity of “the restrainer,” and exactly what is the relationship between the Antichrist and the restrainer. In dealing with this passage, perhaps it would be best to first summarize the main points Paul made and then proceed to an analysis of the text.

  1. Paul comforted the believers of Thessalonica by letting them know that they were not in the tribulation nor had the tribulation arrived.
  2. He conveyed that there would be two separate revelations of the Antichrist at different points in time.
  3. He pointed out that two different things would be restrained: first, the mystery of lawlessness in general, now; and second, the Antichrist specifically, in the future.

Paul’s first point is made in verses 1-4. Apparently, some false teachers taught that the believers were already in the tribulation after Paul left Thessalonica. In verses 1-2, the Thessalonians were troubled that the day of the Lord—the most common title for the tribulation—had already arrived. This was especially true since, in the first Epistle, Paul taught them a pretribulation rapture. In verse 3, Paul stated that the tribulation could not have come yet because two events, both of which must precede the tribulation, had not yet occurred. The first event is the rapture of the church, and the second event is the revelation of the man of sin or the son of perdition.[2] In verse 4, it is clear that this “Antichrist” will be opposed to God and to all objects of veneration and will take over the Jewish Temple and declare himself to be god. This event will occur in the middle of the tribulation in conjunction with what is known as “the abomination of desolation.”[3]

Paul’s second main point is found in verses 5‑7. These verses are somewhat parenthetical. In verse 5, Paul reminded his readers of things he had taught them while he was still with them. According to verse 6, the key thing he had taught them was that the takeover of the Jewish Temple and Antichrist’s self-declaration of deity would be restrained; therefore, until the restrainer is removed, the events of verse 4 cannot occur. What will restrain the Antichrist from gaining full political and religious control will be three of the ten kings of the first half of the tribulation and the governments they represent. It is only when the last of these three kings has been killed, leading to complete submission by the remaining seven kings, that the Antichrist will be free to take over full global dictatorship and to carry out the events of verse 4. Consequently, the last restrainer of the Antichrist will be the last of the three kings and the government he represents. In verse 7, Paul reminded his readers that the mystery of lawlessness was already working and was even then being restrained. The Holy Spirit is never described as restraining. The task of restraining evil was given to human government under the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9:1-17, and this basic doctrinal truth was reiterated by Paul in Romans 13:1-7. On one hand, human government is even now restraining lawlessness. On the other hand, the government of the last of the three kings will restrain the Antichrist, the lawless one, until the middle of the tribulation.

Paul’s third point is found in verses 8-12. According to verse 8a, the abomination of desolation (see v. 4) will serve as the second revelation of the Antichrist. While the first revelation will be to believers before the tribulation, the second revelation will be to Israel in the middle of the tribulation. By the very act of setting up an abomination that will cause desolation (Matt. 25:15), the Antichrist will be revealed as truly being the lawless one. Consequently, Israel will finally realize with whom they have made their seven-year covenant (see footnote 2). In Matt 24:15-22, Yeshua talked about this very fact and stated that the abomination of desolation will be a sign to Israel. In verses 8b-12, Paul proceeded to provide further information regarding the Antichrist: He will ultimately be destroyed by the second coming of the Messiah (v. 8b); he will be energized by Satan and will be able to do miracles for the purpose of worldwide deception (v. 9); and he will call all men to worship him (v. 10). According to verses 11-12, the ones who will be deceived by him and his counterfeit signs are those who have already rejected the gospel of Yeshua the Messiah.

These verses have often been taken to mean that those who heard the gospel before the rapture but who did not believe will not have the opportunity to be saved after the rapture and during the tribulation. However, the passage places the rejection of the gospel during the tribulation itself, rather than before it. It should be remembered that during the first half of the tribulation, there will be a worldwide preaching of the gospel by the 144,000 Jews (Matt. 24:14; ; Rev. 7). While myriads will accept the gospel, many more will not. Because these people will refuse to respond to the preaching of the 144,000 during the first half of the tribulation, they will be deceived by the Antichrist and will begin to worship him during the second half of the tribulation. The initial act of worshipping the Antichrist will involve accepting the mark of 666. Once this mark is taken, the individual will have reached the point of no return and will not have the opportunity to be saved from then on (Rev. 14:9‑12).

[1] This post is a modified version of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s original Messianic Bible Study. The full version may be obtained here.

[2] The revelation of the identity of the Antichrist that precedes the tribulation. The rapture of the church may or may not have occurred by then, since the Scriptures do not state exactly how long before the tribulation the rapture will occur. From other Scriptures we deduce that the tribulation will begin with the signing of a seven-year covenant between Israel and the Antichrist (Dan 9:27), thus believers may become aware of the identity of the Antichrist. Furthermore, believers will be able to deduce who the Antichrist is by the numerical value of his name: 666.

[3] For details regarding the author’s teaching on this and other eschatological topics, see Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2020), available here.

One thought on “The Restrainer: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

  1. Hi.
    On your topic ‘ The Restrainer – 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-12, you say that the restrainer is not the holy spirit , then why in the King Jame’s bible is the restrainer given the honourable capital H, when He is being spoken of. Only Christ, the Father and Spirit are given these honours when being spoken of.

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