The Restraining Force

Sometime ago I was asked how I understood 2 Thessalonians 2:6,7 "And you know what is restraining him now so that he (the man of lawlessness) may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is out of the way." (RSV)

Students of the Bible are undoubtedly familiar with the various interpretations. There are those who think that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit as the restraining force, while others think that he could have had the Church in mind, which - according to some teaching, will be removed from earth in the rapture, before the AntiChrist, the 'man of lawlessness' will reign on earth. Both interpretations really don't fit with Paul's complete argumentation in this passage, as many recognize. From the Greek text we learn that he speaks of the 'restraining force' both as a 'thing', verse 6, and a person, verse 7. I join those who are of the opinion that Paul is referring to government in terms of a ruling person and the institution of government itself, with its set of laws and rules. But I am not dogmatic about this interpretation. The governmentsystem is responsible to keep order and law in society, and thus must restrain evil and lawlessness. Human government is instituted by God to rule, guide and punish those, that violate law and order, (Romans 13:1-3). Paul observed in his days already the increasing tendency to despise law and the failure of government to restrain evil successfully.

We see in these days this force also clearly in operation. An increasing number of people reject and despise rules and disobey laws. This process of increasing lawlessness, when unchecked, will end in total chaos and anarchy on a worldwide scale. When this situation arises, it will become the opportunity for an extremely strong, ambitious, proud and evil man to grasp power. He will become so great and powerful, that he will claim to be god for all humanity. He will try to restore order and peace, but by oppression and brutal force and he wants to be worshiped as god. Then, when this ultimate and satanic lie is in operation, combining political and psychic (supernatural) powers, Paul sees the time ripe for Christ's return, to destroy this evil, satanic system and establish his Kingdom.

The early Christians thought that the Roman Emperor was that evil man. They had their reasons, for some emperors demanded respect, even worship as KURIOS, Lord. Christians however recognised and worshiped Jesus Christ as Lord, and that brought them in conflict with the emperor. However, there wasn't total lawlessness, chaos and anarchy in their society. So, those Christians in the Thessalonian Church that expected a soon return of Christ and who became fanatic and unbalanced about it - read 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2 - were called back to order by Paul.

As I said above, the power - or as Paul called it the mystery of lawlessness - was and is working. It is the mystery in the very heart of man, for why does he tend to do evil and why does he disobey laws, that are designed to make society a better place to live in? The tendency to sin and lawlessness is a problem, indeed a mystery. Law-systems, education and science cannot deal with this evil tendency successfully, nothing seems to be able to change man on the inside. In our sophisticated and civilised society lawlessness is again on the increase, inspite of all our efforts, to the despair of governments and good living people.

Who can change, heal and sanctify the human heart? God can. Only He can make us good inside by His Spirit and Word. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, (Romans 1:16). The mystery of lawlessness can and will be neutralised, defeated and overcome ultimately by the fruit of the great Mystery of Godliness, Christ, God manifested in the flesh, ( 1 Timothy 3:16).

August 1999,
T. J. de Ruiter, Pentecostal Pastor & Bible Teacher in The Netherlands

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