In this article, we are going to delve into the often debated topic of who or what the restrainer is found in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2; namely, we will first address what it isn’t and then what it actually is. There have been various theories floating around for centuries within the Church. Popular candidates include: the Holy Spirit, the Church, Michael, the archangel (or some other angel), and even a demonic spirit as being that which has held back the man of sin from being revealed, which in turn leads the way to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for his Church. If we had simply stopped and looked more carefully at the text we would have found that Paul, in his letter to the church in Thessalonica, told them (and us!) exactly what was restraining. Here is the complete passage in the King James Version for you to refer back to in its entirety:
1 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.
3 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;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
7 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:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders…
2 Thessalonians 2:1-9
What It Isn’t
The first major mistake that has happened in finding out who or what is restraining the man of sin from being revealed prior to the coming of the Lord for his Church, is a matter of grammar; specifically the grammar of the original Greek. The thing that restrains has somehow, erroneously become a proper noun (The Restrainer) and is described with a personal pronoun (he). But neither of these can be supported by the Greek text. The passage we will first look at is found in verse 6 and specifically the two words, “that witholdeth.” Many translations say “that which restrains” or some variant; this is where many have erroneously chosen to translate as “The Restrainer”.
The word for “that witholdeth” in the Greek is katechó. Katechó is simply defined as something that holds back or to hold fast. More importantly, katechó is a verb (or an action word), and not a noun (person, place, or thing). The Greek grammar here is straightforward. This is the first piece of the puzzle. The second piece is as follows…
In verse 7 we see this phrase, “…only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” This seems to show the personal pronoun “he” referring to letteth (restrain) as a proper noun. Note that we italicized and bolded two sets of three words. Each of these phrases comprise only one word in Greek. The first phrase “he who now” in verse 7 is the Greek word arti which means “just now” or “at this moment”. Arti is an adverb and not a personal pronoun. Had a personal pronoun been intended it would have used the Greek word, “autos”. Autos is used for the pronouns, “he, she, and it”.
The second phrase, “he be taken”, is also not a personal pronoun. The Greek word here is ginomai which means to come into being, to happen, or to become; it is a verb, not a personal pronoun. Just as before, the Greek does not use the normal personal pronoun, “autos”. The erroneous use of the word “he” by translators has made it almost impossible to exegete this passage properly, but thanks to the totality of what Paul wrote, the error is forgivable.
Concluding this section, we find that the word for restrain is a verb and the words referring to it are either adverbs or verbs themselves. This does not give support for any reason to translate the passage as a personal being using the term “The Restrainer” as most do in popular eschatological discussions. A verb simply can’t be rendered a proper noun. Also, the personal pronoun (he) is not seen in the Greek in this hunt for what exactly is restraining the eventual revealing of the man of sin prior to the coming of the Lord for his Church – the major point of the passage in the first place! This rules out Michael the archangel, another angel, a demonic spirit or The Holy Spirit; whatever this thing is, it is not a person at all!
What It Is!
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul gives us a very clear chronological process that involves three steps; It’s as simple as A, B, C…. A has to happen before B. B has to happen before C. Paul bluntly tells the readers of this passage that he has already told us what it is that restrains. Let’s look here…
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he [the man of sin] might be revealed in his time.
2 Thessalonians 2:5-6
Paul tells the readers in Thessalonica that not only did he tell them when he was physically with them what was restraining the man of sin (verse 5), but he reiterated it here in this letter to them (verse 6). He clearly tells them “Remember I told you this stuff when I was with you? Well, now you know for sure, because I just told you again!”. If he is saying, (so) “now you know…”, then we can look back at the preceding verses to understand exactly what Paul has told us that is withholding the man of sin from being revealed. Verse 3 has the answer! The falling away comes first and then the man of sin is revealed. This “falling away” is the apostasy of the Church!!!
Now, this is a big fat “no duh!” is it not? Because of poor translations inserting a proper noun (The Restrainer) and personal pronouns (he) where there are none, it has sent many on a false trail that is hard to get off. Old paradigms die hard! Paul’s clarifying statement of having said he told the Thessalonians not once, but twice what was withholding the man of sin from coming on the scene, should have given us pause, but we didn’t….until now! “See, I already told you”. Well, what did he tell us exactly?
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. 2 Thessalonians 2:3
This verse explicitly tells us that the faithful Church would have to become a shell of its former self; only a remnant would be left. That remnant will have to wait for the revealing of the man of sin until the coming of the Lord Jesus for his Church. The rest of the church (small c) will be fully apostate (falling away) and easily deceived by the coming antichrist and actually welcome him! The A, B and C process we talked of earlier is this:
A. The Church in majority becomes apostate allowing for the deceiver to come on the scene…
B. The man of sin deceives the apostate church and declares himself God and makes war with the remnant…
C. The return of the Lord for the gathering of his remnant at a day and hour unknown happens.
Again, Paul tells us that it is the falling away which leads to the man of sin being revealed. The Greek word for “falling away” is apostasia which is the root of the English word apostasy. The answer, therefore, lies in the opposite of apostasy; that would be the faithful Church! The faithful Church would give way to a majority in revolt or rebellion against God’s commands. This hearkens back to the prophecy in Daniel 8 of when the little horn (man of sin, antichrist, false prophet, etc), rises:
21 And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 22 Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.
23 And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
In Daniel 8 it speaks of a kingdom that is mighty but suddenly falls and splits into four lesser kingdoms. This four horned kingdom gives rise to a little horn that comes out from among them; a younger nation that produces the man of sin that we see in 2 Thessalonians 2. Daniel 8 says he rises when “the transgressors are come to the full“. What exactly does that mean? The word for transgressors in Hebrew is pasha which means; to rebel, revolt, transgress. This is exactly what we see in 2 Thessalonians 2. When all authority (including a majority of the Church) becomes thoroughly in revolt against God, this allows for the little horn/man of sin to rise because he will easily deceive them all. This is exactly what Paul told the Thessalonians! Because the Church has become the little “c” church (full of goats!), it can be deceived by the coming of the man of sin. This is when he can get away with claiming to be God and fool those who are not truly Born Again, Spirit filled believers in Christ; they will bow down and worship this Anti-Messiah as Creator and be doomed forever.
It turns out the mystery wasn’t such a mystery after all. When we realize that there are no proper nouns and personal pronouns in the Greek, we find that the words “falling away” were the key. We look to the opposite of that meaning (falling away) to find what was holding back the apostasy and the man of sin from being revealed; a God fearing, Bible believing Church, which upholds the Truth of God’s word and holds to righteousness. Today’s church is a former shell of itself of which Paul warns of in 2 Timothy 4 (see below). It longs for the comforts of this life, doesn’t bother talking about sin and hell and just wants to have fun and escape persecution; have your best life now, right!? Then there is the DIY church that wants to build heaven on earth and usher in the kingdom of God, aka, Dominionism. Neither of these positions is Biblical. We are seeing a church in revolt against God with more and more goats showing up every week. It is this time (the one we are witnessing) that Paul warned us about; the man of sin is being revealed today…
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. [The True Church vs. 2]
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. [The Apostate Church vs. 3-4]
2 Timothy 4:2-4