Many are confused about who or what the restrainer is. I hope this article, which is a commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, will help to clear up some of the confusion.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; NASB
As we see from the text, the Thessalonian believers were very upset (“quickly shaken”), because they thought they had missed the rapture, due to the fact that they received a message, supposedly from Paul, saying that the day of the Lord had come—for, as Paul had taught them, they were well aware that the day of the Lord comes after the rapture.
Paul, in this letter, seeks to calm their fears by explaining to them that the day of the Lord (which is the day of God’s wrath on unbelievers) will not come until “the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (vv. 3-4).
This “apostasy” will be a worldwide rebellion against God, led by the antichrist, and it will come exactly at the midpoint of the tribulation. This is the point at which the antichrist breaks the peace covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27), and also is when he is revealed to be what he is—the evil antichrist.
This revelation of who he is, is God ordained and God directed, for it is at this point in time that the restraints on him by the Holy Spirit are removed. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who has been restraining him and his evil works until this time; and here, at this point in time, he (the Holy Spirit) is “taken out of the way.”
Now it doesn’t say (in verse 7) that he (the Holy Spirit) is taken out of the world, but only “out of the way.” I believe this means that he will just take His restraints off of this antichrist, in order for God to use him for His will on the earth—for the Holy Spirit will indeed be working on the earth at this evil time to save many souls, primarily through the 144,000 Jewish witnesses.
Now this period of time, when the restraints are off of the antichrist (from the midpoint of the tribulation until the end of the tribulation, 3 1/2 years), will be the most terrible and fearful times that have ever been on the earth. Jesus instructed the Jews, concerning this time, to “flee to the mountains,” and “let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak.” Jesus said of this time, “then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall” (Matt. 24:15-22).
The end of the story for the antichrist is in verse eight: “The Lord will slay [him] with the breath of His mouth, and bring [him] to an end by the appearance of His coming”—or in the Greek it is by the outshining (epiphaneia) of His presence (parousia).
His sad demise is prophesied for us in Revelation 19:20:
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
Now I want to say one more thing about this restrainer. First of all, we are not told anywhere in scripture that he is the Holy Spirit. But I think this is a very good guess. Secondly, if He is the Holy Spirit—and I think He is—He will not be removed until the midpoint of the tribulation. This point is very clear in this 2 Thessalonians passage; the antichrist is revealed at the midpoint of the tribulation because of the fact that what has been restraining him has been taken out of the way.
Therefore, thirdly, we must conclude from this that the removing of the restrainer has nothing to do with the church or the rapture. Many believe that the Holy Spirit leaves this earth along with the church when they are raptured, and so they believe (as I have for a long time) that the restrainer is tied into the church and the timing of the rapture. However, this is wrong. The rapture comes before the seven year tribulation and the taking out of the way of the restrainer comes at the midpoint of the tribulation.