Tricky Questions on End Times

I recently had a dialogue with a friend, and he asked me my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 2. We obviously had differing opinions on the rapture and who the restrainer was in this passage.  I thought I'd share the compilation of my research. I am thankful for website like that is such a great resource that I borrowed heavily from.  But remember, these things are open handed, albeit important, matters and we don't divide over differences.  

When developing doctrine or understanding the Bible, a key principle is that context within the whole of scripture is important because the Bible was written as a unified whole.  Especially when it comes to prophecy, you often get a progressive revelation. Example: think the Abrahamic Covenant.  Starting in Gen. 3, we get hints of the rescue plan. Genesis 12:1 gives a bit more.  Gen. 15 reveals more. It’s repeated to Abraham’s sons etc. and then we get more into specifics as scripture reveals more. From the line of Judah, born in Bethlehem, etc. Culminating in the birth of Jesus.  End times are no exception, and it isn’t inconsistent to look at Daniel, Zephaniah, etc.  to put the pieces together if it is obvious that they are talking about the same event.  So, that being said, the Bible clearly teaches a timeline of events of end times including that of the tribulation:
“tribulation . . . in the latter days” (Deuteronomy 4:30, ESV); the great tribulation, which refers to the more intense second half of the seven-year period (Matthew 24:21); “a time of distress” (Daniel 12:1); and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7, NKJV). And we have this description of the tribulation that attends the day of the Lord: “That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— a day of trumpet and battle cry” (Zephaniah 1:15–16). Now how does that relate to 2 Thessalonians 2? 
Paul writes to the Thessalonians to correct some of the errors concerning the end times that the believers had heard from false teachers. Among the falsehoods was that “the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The Christians in Thessalonica were afraid that Jesus had already come, they had missed the rapture, and they were now in the tribulation. Paul had already explained the rapture to them in his first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). Paul writes his second letter to assure them that, contrary to what they had heard, and despite the persecution they were enduring, the “day of Christ” had not yet come.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul makes it clear that the day of the Lord, a time of worldwide judgment (Isaiah 13:6; Obadiah 1:15), will not transpire until two things happen. First, the falling away, or great apostasy, must occur. Second, the “man of lawlessness” must be revealed, he who is called the “son of perdition,” also known as the Antichrist and thirdly, I suppose, a rebuilt temple. Once this person makes himself known, the end times will clearly be revealed.
Oh, Paul also mentions that what is keeping evil in check and thus the man of lawlessness, is found in vss. 6-8 of 2 Thess. 2.  “And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (verses 6–8).
So a big part of your question was what is that restraining power?  The problem is that Paul does not specifically identify what or who the restraining force is since the Thessalonians already knew. Many scholars have speculated as to the identity of the restrainer, naming the restraining force as 1) the Roman government; 2) gospel preaching; 3) the binding of Satan; 4) the providence of God; 5) the Jewish state; 6) the church; 7) the Holy Spirit; and 8) Michael the archangel. It seems that the restrainer could be none other than the Holy Spirit, or better said, the Holy Spirit working through the New Testament church.

Supporting the idea that the Holy Spirit within the church is the restrainer is the fact that the restrainer is referenced both as a thing (neuter gender, verse 6) and as a person (masculine gender, verse 7). Also, the power delaying Satan’s masterplan to unveil his false messiah must be of God. It makes much more sense to say that the Holy Spirit is curbing the devil than a political entity or even an angel. The Holy Spirit of God is the only Person with sufficient (supernatural) power to do this restraining.

Of course, the Spirit works through believers to accomplish this. The church, indwelt by the Spirit of God, has always been part of what holds society back from the swelling tide of lawless living. At some point, Paul says, the Spirit will “step aside” from His restraining work, allowing sin to have dominion over mankind. Second Thessalonians 2:7 can be literally rendered, “The secret of lawlessness is already working, only it cannot be revealed until he who now withholds disappears from the midst.” We believe this “disappearing from the midst” will happen at the time the church leaves the earth at the rapture. The Holy Spirit will still be present in the earth, of course, but He will be taken out of the way in the sense that His unique sin-restraining ministry—through God’s people—will be removed (see Genesis 6:3).

Second Thessalonians 2 is clear that the removal of the restrainer’s influence precedes the revealing of the Antichrist. Given free rein during the tribulation, the lawless one will “use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders” to deceive the people of the earth (verses 9–10). After the Antichrist’s time is up, the Lord Jesus will return and overthrow the man of sin by “the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming” (verse 8). Evil is restrained right now; once the Church Age ends, the hindrance to evil will be removed, and the rebellion will seem to be winning; however, the ultimate doom of evil is sure.
If I had more time, I’d go to Daniel’s time frame. But Daniel’s prophecies are so obviously tied to timing, length and activity of the tribulation period, regardless, Revelation 13 seems to indicate a major turn of events that happen in the midpoint of the tribulation period.   Thus, there seems to be enough evidence that there is a 7 year period with the antichrist setting himself up in a rebuilt temple at the midpoint.  Regarding the rapture of the saints, for what it is worth though, the best that I can understand and the best explanation for me, is a pre-tribulation rapture (perhaps mid trib), but the important thing to remember is this isn’t a salvation issue, just a readiness issue. 
Why is it important to keep the rapture and the second coming distinct?

1) If the rapture and the second coming are the same event, believers will have to go through the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 3:10).Revelation 3:10 seems to preclude this.  

2) If the rapture and the second coming are the same event, the return of Christ is not imminent—there are many things which must occur before He can return (Matthew 24:4-30).

3) In describing the tribulation period, Revelation chapters 6–19 nowhere mentions the church. During the tribulation—also called “the time of trouble for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7)—God will again turn His primary attention to Israel (Romans 11:17-31).  
The differences between the rapture and second coming are significant in description.  I can’t seem to get away from the fact that two different events are described throughout the context of scripture.

1) At the rapture, believers meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the second coming, believers return with the Lord to the earth (Revelation 19:14).

2) The second coming occurs after the great and terrible tribulation (Revelation chapters 6–19). The rapture occurs before the tribulation; or perhaps right before the midpoint (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 3:10).

3) Christ appears in the air (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:51,52) in the rapture.  In the 2nd coming Christ comes back to earth (Zech. 14:4 says he will stand on the mount of Olives and it will split in two!). This clearly depicts 2 different events. 
4)  The rapture is the removal of believers from the earth as an act of deliverance (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 5:9).  In other words, he comes as a loving bridegroom (you can see the analogy of the bridegroom through scriptures and the betrothal process).  The second coming reveals a wrathful warrior, the King of Kings (Rev. 19) and includes the removal of unbelievers as an act of judgment (Matthew 24:40-41).

4) The rapture will be secret and instant (1 Corinthians 15:50-54) and only his own see Him. It will be a time of great joy for believers. The second coming will be visible to all (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-30) and will be a time of great fear for the lost.

5)  The focus is on the Lord and his church; the second coming the focus is on Israel and His kingdom. 
6)  The second coming of Christ will not occur until after certain other end-times events take place (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Matthew 24:15-30; Revelation chapters 6–18). The rapture is imminent; it could take place at any moment (Titus 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

1 Comment

Janie - February 18th, 2024 at 11:35am

Thank you pastor for such. A Thorough and scriptural answer. I plan to keep it on my phone to use for reference.