The Restrainer: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

In any study dealing with eschatology, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 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 intended to comfort the believers of Thessalonica by letting them know that they are not in the Tribulation, nor has the Tribulation arrived.

2) He wanted to convey that there will be two separate revelations of the Antichrist at different points in time.

3) He communicates that two things are being restrained:

the mystery of lawlessness in general now,
and the Antichrist specifically, in the future.

Let’s look at his first point above 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 Lord¾the most common title for the Great Tribulation¾had already arrived. This was especially true since, in the first Epistle, he 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 apostasy of the church, and the second, 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 the Abomination of Desolation.

Let’s now consider Paul’s second main point above in verses 5-7. These verses are somewhat parenthetical. In verse 5, Paul reminds his readers of things he had taught them while he was still with them. The key thing he had taught them in verse 6 was the fact that the takeover of the Jewish Temple and the self-declaration of deity will 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 reminds his readers that the mystery of lawlessness is already working and is 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 (above) 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 the Abomination of Desolation, the Antichrist will be revealed as truly being the lawless one, and then Israel can realize with whom they have made their seven-year covenant (see footnote 2). The act of the Abomination of Desolation is clearly stated by Yeshua (Jesus) to be a sign to Israel in Matt 24:15-22. Paul then proceeds to give further facts regarding the Antichrist. He will ultimately be destroyed by the Second Coming of the Messiah in verse 8b. In verse 9, the Antichrist is the one who will be totally energized by Satan and will be able to do miracles for the purpose of world-wide deception. In verse 10, he will call all men to worship him. In 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 world-wide 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 “many” 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 may 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 – and that believers will deduce who the Antichrist is by the numerical value of his name: 666.

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