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Who Restrains The Man of Sin? Analysis of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones (Conexiones Church) in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership. Author.

"And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 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." (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, ESV)

The Identity of The Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7

The identity of the restrainer (the one who restrains) in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 is a topic of much debate because the Apostle Paul did not identify him in the epistle since the Thessalonians already knew who he was ("you know what is restraining him now"). Paul had previously visited the Thessalonians and taught about the endtimes, therefore he felt no need to discuss all the details in the epistle: "Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?" (2 Thessalonians 2:5)

Theologians have suggested several candidates for the identity of the restrainer: (1) Paul, (2) the Archangel Michael, and (3) the Holy Spirit.

I assume that those who argue that the restrainer was Paul do so on the basis of a preterist view of Revelation (a view that holds that most of the book of Revelation deals with events that are now in the past). On the other hand, those who argue the restrainer is the Archangel Michael probably do so because of the archangel's role in Revelation 12.

Then, there are those who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Because of their adherance to this doctrine, they believe the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, who (they say) will be removed from Earth when the church is raptured to Heaven. However, I find this view problematic.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, there is no direct reference to the rapture—we are making a big assumption. Moreover, although the rapture (or something like it) is in vew in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, that passage does not make mention of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit and the rapture are not spoken of together in any single passage of the Bible. It is, therefore, a great assumption to define the restrainer as the Holy Spirit.

"And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 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." (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, ESV)

Even though the passage calls the restrainer what and he, this situation does not necessarily mean that the antecedent of both pronouns is the word spirit (which in Greek is neutral and corresponds to what, yet is used to refer to the Holy Spirit, a he). The what could be referring to a situation, and the he could be referring to the agent working in that situation, for example: God's power could be the what, and God Himself could be the he—this would mean that God restrains the man of sin through his power.

Analysis of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 and Its Relationship to Daniel and Revelation

Nevertheless, I do not think the antecedent of what is God's power; neither do I think that the antecedent of he is God. What I think is that the antecedent of both what and who is Israel, which is a nation (a what) made up of people (a who), a nation (what) which bears the name of the Patriarch Jacob/Israel (a who).

The Context of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 and Its References to the Old Testament

If we look for clues in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, we see that the man of sin will seek to sit in God's temple, oppose God, and claim to be God. According to verse 5, Paul had explained this to the Thessalonians when he was with them:

"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, 4 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. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 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. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. " (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8, ESV)

It is in relationship to this action by the man of sin that Paul says that he had told the Thessalonians these things (see verse 6)—and because Paul had told them these things, they now knew what was restringin him.

Now, think carefully and ask yourself who would want to prevent the man of sin from sitting in God's temple and claiming to be God? Naturally, that would be Israel—for we see in the book of Daniel that the people of Israel opposes those who try to defile the temple:

"Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. 32 He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action." (Daniel 11:-31-32, ESV).

It appears that Paul had been teaching eschatology to the Thessalonians, and I cannot imagine Paul teaching eschatology without bringing up the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, (the Old Testament, or Tanach). In fact, as we read through many of Paul’s epistles (Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and Romans) we see that he often discussed the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) in his writings.

It seems to me that, in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul combines elements from both Daniel 11:36 and 12:11. In Daniel 11:36, the king (whom many interpreters identify as the Antichrist) exalts himself and magnifies himself above every god, and he speaks against the God of gods; and, in Daniel 12:11, we find an abomination of desolation in God’s temple (compare with Daniel 11:31).

Could these passages in Daniel bring clarity to who and what is restraining the mystery of iniquity in 2 Thessalonians 2? I think so.

Throughout the ages, there has been a mystery of wickedness opposing God and attempting to destroy his chose people, the nation of Israel: Egypt, Assyria, Media, Persia, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, etc. All these nations tried to conquer and destroy Israel, and they opposed the God of Israel. Not surprisingly, the Antichrist will follow their attempts, and he will try to sit in God's temple and declare that he is God.

Revelation 11-13

Some information in Revelation 11-13 also appears to supports the idea that Israel is restraining the appearance of the Antichrist, the Man of Sin.

In Revelation 11:3, we are told that the two witnesses prophesy in Jerusalem for the space of 1,260 days (three and a half years): "And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3, ESV). During this time, we can assume that the Jews unto whom the two witnesses prophesy are living in the land of Israel and occupying Jerusalem. Then, according to Revelation 11:7-8, these two witnesses are killed by the Beast (the Antichrist or Man of Sin) at the end of their ministry—that is, at the end of the 1,260 days. This is the first half of the seven years commonly referred to as The Great Tribulation.

Now, according to Revelation 12:6, the woman (which is Israel) flees from the dragon and takes refuge in the wilderness for 1,260 days: "and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days" (Revelation 12:6, ESV). This time of refuge refers to the second half of the Great Tribulation—we know this because for three and a half years Israel will be in the wilderness. This same idea is repeated further ahead in the chapter: "But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time" (Revelation 12:14, ESV).

Immediately after the woman has taken refuge in the wilderness and been assisted by the earth, the dragon goes to make war against those who believe in Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17). In order to wage war against them, the dragon stands on the sand of the sea, waiting for the Beast (the Antichrist, the Man of Sin) to emerge (Revelation 13:1). Once the Beast has emerged, the dragon gives the Beast his authority and power (Revelation 13:2).

In other words, during the first 3.5 years of the tribulation, the two witnesses prophesy in Jerusalem, where the temple will stand (Revelation 11:1-2, 8). Then, the Beast will ascend and kill the two witnesses. Afterwards, During the second 3.5 years of the tribulation, Israel (the woman) will take refuge in the wilderness, the Beast (the Man of Sin and Antichrist) will rule and persecute believers in Jesus Christ.

So then, when will the Beast (the Antichrist, the Man of Sin) sit in God's temple and proclaim to be God as Paul taught in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7? He will do this in the second period of the tribulation, the second set of 3.5 years, as predicted in the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:25, 9:27).

Putting It Together

As we can see, the Antichrist begins to fulfill Paul's prophesy about the Man of Sin (2 Thessalonians 2:4) at the beginning of the second half of the Tribulation (the second period of 3.5 years), after Israel has fled from the dragon into the wilderness—that is, after Israel is out of the way and no longer protecting the temple in Jerusalem.

Conclusion

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel sought to protect itself as a nation, its holy city, and God's temple from foreign invaders like the Babylonians and the Greeks. Therefore, it makese sense that Paul would see Israel as having an important role in delaying the appearance of the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). Moreover, the chronology of events in Revelation 11-13 shows that the Beast (the Antichrist, the Man of Sin) is able to occupy Jerusalem and sit in the temple to proclaim himself to be God only after Israel has fled from the dragon (Satan) into the wildnerness and he (the Beast) has killed the Two Witnesses. Consequently, it is my opinion that the identity of the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 is Israel.

© 2020 Marcelo Carcach

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