by Paul Benson
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed… 2Thessalonians 2:7-8
One of the greatest hindrances to Bible study in the area of end-time prophesy is the mess many people make out of the 2nd chapter of 2nd Thessalonians. The distraction they introduce into the text has you asking and answering questions, which not only promote a falsehood in themselves, but so occupy your attention that you lose track of what the Apostle was truly saying in the first place. This subtle beguilement is so effective that it replaces a solid rebuke of the pre-trib rapture theory in these verses with a ‘proof text’ promoting it instead!
The element of deception here centers around a notion that the main focus of this text is the appearance of the man of sin (Antichrist), who has a ‘restrainer’, and that this restrainer is the Holy Spirit. Therefor the Holy Spirit (along with those he indwells) must be removed before the evil one can be revealed. But a proper reading of this chapter, without that attention absorbing distraction, shows something quite different! Let’s first develop some discernment about this distraction, and divorce ourselves from it; then we can receive the truths Paul was really presenting.
Who Is Hindering Who?
Something I have noticed is that pre-trib preachers most often do not read the entire context, but jump right into verse 8:
‘And then shall that Wicked be revealed’ (2Thess. 2:8) Here’s the Antichrist! Then they back up to read verse 7:
‘only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.’ (2Thess. 2:7) The Holy Spirit indwelling the Church removed! And then they back up again to read verse 6:
‘And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.’ (2Thess. 2:6) Now ye know! Case Closed!!!
They act as if Paul had written these verses in reverse order, and verse 6 was referencing verse 8 which it is absolutely not. Paul would not have been explaining in verse 6 a point not presented until later. This mistaken notion comes from reading the text in the wrong direction. Most people reason this text backward because that’s what they have been taught to do. But they are missing an important understanding here. Verse 6 is actually referencing the subject of the passage up to that point:
The hindering of Christ’s arrival!
Most people are confused a bit by the wording of this passage, and when you add in the distraction presented by the pre-trib theory it becomes so slurred it’s easy to just give up and accept whatever you are being told to believe. But if read properly you see it is actually the appearance of Christ being restrained that is the primary focus of the first 6 verses of this chapter. That can be hard to grasp when you have been told to focus elsewhere all these years.
But please bear with me a bit here and try to understand that pre-trib theory cannot have anything hindering the coming of Christ, or their doctrine of ‘imminent return’ is proven bogus. And thus the extreme focus placed upon Antichrists restraint. It keeps you distracted from what this chapter says about the restraint of Christ’s appearance! That is the purpose of this distraction introduced into the chapter by pre-trib theory.
We shall read the chapter in question in proper order; but for now, do we see anything about this passage of Scripture, or any thing taught elsewhere in the Bible that would lead us to believe verse 7 is a reference to the *Holy Spirit? Where do they get that idea? It is always a healthy practice to ask, ‘Would I get that understanding from this verse if no one had first given it to me?’ Not likely!
* The Holy Spirit truly restrains sin in the life of one who is submitted to that influence. But I cannot see anything here, or in anything else I have ever studied on the Spirit of God, that would even hint I should think the Holy Spirit in the Church restrains evil men from rising to power in the world. There is no biblical or historical indication of such. In truth MANY have risen up in the spirit of Antichrist and slaughtered countless millions with a large segment of the Body of Christ dwelling right in their midst! Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and on and on. Why were they not restrained by the Holy Spirit in the believers? Did God have to remove the Church for them to rise to power? No! And on that basis alone I reject the notion of the restrainer of Antichrist’s appearance being the Holy Spirit in the Church. But there is much greater reason for doing so, as we will see.
In language studies there is a term called ‘cognitive scaffolding’ which simply means that in literature we receive a progression of understanding as each new sentence adds information to the previous ones. The fullness of meaning in any verse of Scripture is not found only in that verse itself, but also in the contributing information of the verses around it. This is why studying Scripture in its context is so vital. Let’s keep that in mind as we see a progression of thought built here.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is *at hand. 2Thessalonians 2:1-2
(* The Greek word here ‘enistēmi’ is used only 7 times in the N.T., and always in the present or future tense, never to refer to something of the past. The primary meaning it conveys is of something that is or will become ‘impending’ or ‘at hand’. Those who render this as a past tense event are in error.)
Many times have I heard it preached that Paul wrote these verses because (like on another occasion) some were teaching the resurrection had already happened; and he was reassuring them it had not. End of story; nothing else to see here. A reasonable sounding explanation. But no, if you read carefully that’s not even close. I had to hear this mistaken rendering of 1Thess. 2:1-2 quite a number of times before I understood it to be a clever distraction and not a simple mistake.
They are trying to put these verses to bed, so to speak, that they be not contemplated any further and become bothersome to their theory. Paul was not warning here (as he had elsewhere) of a false claim the resurrection was past, but instead warning them not to listen to them who were saying the Resurrection was at hand. Some were preaching the Return of Christ was impending; and thus many thought the great tribulation was now upon them! He was rebuking a claim of imminence; a falsehood addressed elsewhere. We need to understand this. This correction is foundation for the very important progression of understanding (cognitive scaffolding) to be built upon it with his next words.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition… 2Thessalonians 2:3
After warning them not to believe our gathering together unto Christ was at hand (imminent) he went on to teach there are a couple of things restraining Christ’s coming and our catching away: a falling away and the man of sin rising to power. The lack of fulfillment of these two things is restraining the Second Coming! That’s the ‘restraint’ being discussed so far in this chapter, not the restraint of Antichrist’s appearance. It’s Christ’s appearing that is being restrained; that is the primary subject at hand thus far.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? (What things? The things he has just said about Christ’s coming being restrained, NOT the things he would say later) 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he (JESUS CHRIST) might be revealed in his time. 1Thessalonians 2:5-6 (words In parenthesis mine)
The subject here is still the appearing of Christ being restrained; (‘now you know what is restraining the appearance of Jesus because I just told you, as I also told you before’), namely those two unfulfilled events must be fulfilled. Verse six is not about the man of sin (that focus has not been introduced yet)! It makes no sense to say verse 6 is saying: ‘now you know what restrains Antichrist’ when no information has been given to let you know what restrains him. The information they were previously given was about the restraint of Christ’s appearance, thus the words ‘and now you know’. It is about Jesus, our focal subject so far, being restrained from being revealed in his time.
Go over it again if need be, this is important to grasp. A misplaced application of verse six takes emphasis off the restraining of Christ’s appearance, and places undue emphasis on Antichrist’s restraint. Now here is where the big distraction is introduced by those promoting the pre-trib theory:
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 2Thessalonians 2:7-8
Now the minor focus of this chapter is briefly touched upon: Antichrist and his restraint. I think most understand the word ‘let’ here does not mean allow, as we would use it in modern English, but to hold down or hinder. Now at this point I ask again, ‘Why would anyone assume this hindrance is the Holy Spirit, and that He must be removed for Antichrist to come forth?’ There is no evidence here (or anywhere else) for this reasoning. Where is the Scriptural foundation for this? I invite anyone to explain this from the Word of God.
Yes, there is truly a restraint of Antichrist’s appearance expressed here, but it is a minor concern overshadowed by the MAJOR factor of Christ’s Return being restrained.
FOOD 4 THOUGHT: Should we not question why so much discussion takes place over Antichrist’s restraint, and so very little is discussed about the remainder of this chapter? Has that thought ever occurred to you? I think that fact is very telling, and speaks of an improper focus to say the least! The distraction introduced to this passage minimizes the major focus and maximizes the minor, and thereby obfuscates important truths. To properly understand this chapter we need to keep the main focus upon Jesus where it belongs.
Who Or What Is The Restrainer? I Don’t Know For Sure (And Neither Do You)!
As to what restraints Antichrist, I feel (only speculating here) it could be as simple as unfulfilled events awaiting the fullness of time to be fulfilled. Then at the appointed time they are fulfilled. And when the restraint (lack of fulfillment) is taken out of the way, naturally the man of sin will now arrive. (Before you scoff at that idea please remember we just saw a similar restraint expressed concerning the appearance of Christ. His appearance is shown to be restrained by two events needing to be fulfilled! So there IS a biblical precedent for this possibility, and right in this very chapter!) I am not dogmatic on that idea. I am just saying it could be that simple, and not the big distracting issue most make it into.
Many others feel this restrainer is the Archangel Michael. And as I have heard some very convincing arguments in favor of that idea I am open to the possibility. All in all we do not have enough Scriptural input upon which to base a firm statement as to who this restrainer is. All we can do is speculate. (I actually think it is not that important we know, or God would have given us a lot more info on it in this passage.)
But my main point here is that making Antichrist’s arrival the main focus forces an inflated, and distracting, importance on his restraint. And keeping Christ’s Coming (and its restraint) as the main focus is paramount to a proper rendering of this chapter. Keep the focus on Jesus!
This chapter so far is definitely difficult and if you don’t jive with my speculations of the restraint expressed here I don’t mind. The important thing is that you see this chapter clearly brings forth the truth that the coming of the Lord and our gathering together unto him will not happen until after the appearance of the Antichrist. And thus it absolutely could not happen before the great tribulation! That is the truth being clouded over here. This is stated in such plain terms in v.1-4 it is no wonder such lengths have been undertaken to hide that truth in a fog of muddled reasoning.
The distraction they introduce turns you around to where instead of focusing on what is hindering Christ’s Return, and what that says about the timing of that event, you become preoccupied instead with things you were never meant to scratch your head over.
The presence of the Church is not hindering Antichrist’s appearance; the wait for Antichrist’s arrival is hindering the Coming of Christ and our catching away! Let’s get it right!
That is the truth presented in this chapter! Some of us need to take this chapter to the LORD and ask him to breathe upon it; and to blow away the deceptive cloud of false reasoning that is hiding the truth we ought to be receiving here. Seriously.
If you have to place a piece of paper over the rest of the chapter, and study the first six verses over and over until you get it; please do so! This was the purpose of the distraction introduced into these verses. To steer you away from the clear and concise statement that ‘Jesus will not return, nor will we be caught away, until after the great falling away and the man of sin is revealed’, and replace that truth with a lie that says just the opposite! That the man of sin will not be revealed until Jesus comes for the Church. The truth here is changed into a lie! The deceiver wants you in and out of this chapter before that light comes on. He wants to keep you from what is plainly stated, and how that truth demolishes his pre-trib rapture deception with a great big wrecking ball.
Don’t let the distracting over-emphasis on what is restraining the appearance of Antichrist keep you from what the Father intends you receive from this chapter of the Bible. Read the chapter from the beginning, keep the focus on Jesus, and you will see truth that is consistently missed by those jumping into the middle of this chapter, focusing only on the restraint of the man of sin, and then jumping back out again.
And I reiterate, that truth you will see is that Christ will not come for us until AFTER the man of sin is revealed. And if the Church can not be caught away until after Antichrist is revealed, then the Church / Holy Spirit cannot be what is removed in order for him to be revealed! PERIOD!
And also according to verse 8 of that chapter this Coming of Christ destroys the man of sin! So that places Christ’s Coming at the end of his 42 month reign. Just like it says in Matthew 24:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29-31
We will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air at his Return to Earth after the time of great tribulation. I honestly wish I could tell you it was before that time of great upheaval and persecution; but that is not what is presented to us by the Scriptures.
May the Lord strengthen you and prepare you; and keep you through the dark days ahead.
In Christ’s Love;
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