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2 Thessalonians 2:7 (AMP):

For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of rebellion against constituted authority) is already at work in the world, [but it is] restrained only until [a]he who restrains is taken out of the way.

Footnotes:

[a] Many believe this One Who restrains the antichrist to be the Holy Spirit, Who lives in all believers and will be removed with them at Christ’s coming; yet a majority thinks it refers to the Roman Empire.

I first read this in the NIV and then read the Amplified version (quoted above) to answer my question: Who is holding back the "secret power of lawlessness"? The footnote here implies (as I have heard before) that this is The Holy Spirit. So my questions are:

  1. Is this indeed referring to The Holy Spirit? If not, who?
  2. If this is The Holy Spirit, is this interpreted (by pre-premillenialists) as a reference to The Rapture (since The Holy Spirit dwells in believers)?
  3. Can anyone shed light on the strange ending to the footnote: "yet a majority thinks it refers to the Roman Empire"?
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I'm going to provide an unorthodox perspective for your consideration. Hopefully it is helpful in some way. It was too long for the comments so I'm putting it in an answer.

I think to interpret this verse accurately we must first ask "what / who is being held back in verse 7"? Most people assume it's the "mystery of lawlessness" that is being referenced, but I'm not so sure... I think this (common) interpretation may come from a consideration of the verse, but perhaps not a careful consideration of the authorial intent (as evidenced by the flow of thought in the broader context).

In context, Paul is reassuring his readers that the Day of the Lord has not yet come, and actually can not have yet come, because the lawless one has not yet been revealed. In other words, Jesus can not return until the lawless one is first revealed. This is the big point Paul is trying to make in verses 1-5.

In verse 6 I'm wondering if Paul is actually saying "...now you know what is restraining Him"; that is, what is delaying the coming of the Lord. "Now you know" because he just explained it!

Then in verse 7 he says the one doing the restraining will continue to do so until he is taken out of the way, and verse 8 talks about the Lord appearing and taking the man of lawlessness out of the way!

So in summary, perhaps it is the mystery of lawlessness that is doing the restraining, and the Day of the Lord that is being restrained. That makes much more sense to me in context.

Of course, this is not the popular interpretation. Most people seem to interpret this to mean that there is some force restraining the Antichrist from being revealed, and that this force must be taken out of the way so he can be revealed. I've heard that the Holy Spirit is that force. But this seems rather arbitrary; verse 6 then becomes more of a statement about how Paul's readers had the "inside scoop", but we're left to assume that Paul never bothered to record this "inside scoop" in Scripture. In other words, this argument seems to be based on a claim to personal revelation more than on exegesis, since it clearly doesn't say in the text that the Holy Spirit is restraining the Antichrist. (Someone came up with that and went back to argue that this is "what they must have known", as referenced in verse 6.)

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I'll answer your questions in reverse order.

First, the argument that it is the Roman Empire holding back traces back to the 3rd century. Tertullian and Hippolytus both argued for this position. But I'm not sure where the comment about a majority following this position comes from. The current consensus seems to be that the "man of lawlessness" himself is modeled after a Roman ruler, so it's hard to see how the Roman empire would be the one holding back the Roman empire (even if that Roman empire is figurative of something else).

Second, pre-millenialists interpret this event in one of two ways depending on their view of the rapture. Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture would likely see the restraint being taken away at the start of the seven year tribulation. The rapture occurs pretty much simultaneous to the restraint of the antichrist being removed, so it could be the Holy Spirit's presence being removed from the earth at the rapture that precipitates this event. Post-tribulation pre-millenialists, however, cannot interpret this event as the Holy Spirit being removed from earth since believers remain on the earth until the parousia.

Finally, let me draw together a number of texts in order to answer your first question. I've bolded a number of key phrases to show why I think they should be linked in terms of describing the same event, in which Satan deceives the nations into making war with God so that they might be destroyed at Christ's coming.

1 Thessalonians 2:8-10

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.

Revelation 16:14

Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

Revelation 19:19-20

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.

Revelation 20:1-4

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.

Revelation 20:7-8

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle.

If the passages below do describe the same event, then from Revelation 20:1-4 it seems like it is an angel who seals Satan from performing these false miracles and deceiving yet the nations. Of course, in the theology of Revelation, it is ultimately God himself who is sovereign over these things.

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Prelude

The verse 2 Thess. 2:7,

τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται(Textus Receptus Stephanus 1550)

"The indeed mystery already is working of lawlessness, only(there is) the(one) restraining(it) at present until out of (the)midst he might be(gone)."(Interlinear)

is translated the same from the NA27 to the TR, therefore we may conclude that at least the sources are in singular agreement at to what the words say. But as to what they mean we must examine the entire context of this chapter, and indeed the entire bible.

Mystery of Iniquity(Lawlessness)

In order to identify the "restrainer" we must first identify the mystery. "Mysterion" as defined by Thayer's Lexicon is "a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding", or "a hidden purpose or counsel; secret will". Therefore, if it were plainly obvious it wouldn't be considered a 'mystery'. So, if it's a "mystery", how do we know with any certainty what the true meaning is?

The answer can be found throughout Scripture; but it is contained in one word-"revelation".

But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets,(Dan. 2:28)

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.(Matt. 13:11)

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.(1 Cor. 2:9-10)

Since Paul doesn't spell out exactly what the "Mystery of Iniquity" is, what other clues does he give us that might help us determine what he is talking about?

In vs 7, he states that "it is already working". And further on in the verse the "restrainer" is "already restraining". Is there another "mystery" Paul references that we might reference the "Mystery of Iniquity"?

In 2 Tim. 3:16, Paul talks about the "Mystery of Godliness",

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

What is important is that this "mysterion" is spelled out: Christ is the "Mystery of Godliness". And if we understand that Christ was a "Mystery" from the beginning, we can see how both mysteries are presented, then revealed, each in their proper order and time.

The Garden of Eden

Both Christ(The Mystery of Godliness) and the Antichrist(Mystery of Iniquity) were 1st revealed in the Garden of Eden. In Gen. 3:15, God says to the Serpent(Satan),

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Two "Seeds" were revealed by God: and what is important is that neither the devil or the woman can bear seed! Adam bore the "seed", and if we believe Jesus's words to the Saducees (Matt. 22:30) when they asked who's husband will the woman in the Resurrection be, who had 7 husbands, He said,

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. If the angels can't "procreate", then Satan must rely on another source for his "seed"-Adam. The "woman's seed" singular is Christ, who came through Mary's womb apart from man. Satan's 'seed' however is plural(for a further explanation, see Jack Collins " A Syntactical Note(Gen. 3:15) Is the Woman's Seed Singular or Plural" ). However, these 2 "seeds" are also Trees; Christ is the Tree of Life(Gen. 2:9), and the "Antichrist" which was never "born"(there are no 'incarnation' passages for the Antichrist-he arises out of hell,(Rev. 11:7)

And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.

It's important to understand that these 2 mysteries(Christ-the Mystery of Godliness, and the Antichrist-Mystery of Iniquity) become kingdoms. The Kingdom of God, of whom Jesus is the Righteous King, begins with the Covenant Promise to Abraham, fulfilled physically through Israel, and then spiritually through the church.

The Antichrist's Kingdom is found in the Statue of Nebuchnezzar(Dan. 2:31-49); his 'kingdom' started with Babylon, and is "spiritually fulfilled" today through those who embrace "man as God", the same way Satan got Eve(and Adam) to fall.

The Restrainer

As previously mentioned, both Christ and Antichrist were from the beginning, they both are kingdoms, and furthermore, they are at war with each other over the souls of men.

But the Mystery of Iniquity gets restrained; the 1st time we see this is in Gen. 11:4,

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name(for ourselves), lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

God's command was to (Gen. 9:1) **Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.**Instead, they wanted to make 'a name for themselves'. In vs 6 God says,

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Therefore, He "restrained" man by dividing his language(vs 7), so that men could not understand each other and were forced to separate. Though the "Antichrist" has been existant from Adam, during the Time of John he "was not",

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

Answer is incomplete-will finish at 1st opportunity.

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I'm citing the relevant passage to show a few things:

  • the one who is to be revealed is a conception of a person, not a person
  • the concept was to be accompanied by mass apostasy
  • the concept is a man who is divine
  • the concept was already in the world during Paul's lifetime
  • the concept was suppressed by Rome during Paul's writing
  • the concept would be revealed with a change of Roman rule
  • the concept is attributed to the Adversary but also to God's activity

2Th 2:3 let not any one deceive you in any manner, because--if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed--the son of the destruction, 2Th 2:4 who is opposing and is raising himself up above all called God or worshipped, so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down, shewing himself off that he is God-- the day doth not come . 2Th 2:5 Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you? 2Th 2:6 and now, what is keeping down ye have known, for his being revealed in his own time, 2Th 2:7 for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now will hinder --till he may be out of the way, 2Th 2:8 and then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of his presence, 2Th 2:9 him, whose presence is according to the working of the Adversary, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, 2Th 2:10 and in all deceitfulness of the unrighteousness in those perishing, because the love of the truth they did not receive for their being saved, 2Th 2:11 and because of this shall God send to them a working of delusion, for their believing the lie, 2Th 2:12 that they may be judged--all who did not believe the truth, but were well pleased in the unrighteousness.

While all of this information is present in the passage I cited above it is also consistent with parallels in other places:

1Jn_2:18 Little youths, it is the last hour; and even as ye heard that the antichrist doth come, even now antichrists have become many--whence we know that it is the last hour; ... 1Jn_2:22 Who is the liar, except he who is denying that Jesus is the Christ? this one is the antichrist who is denying the Father and the Son;

1Jn_4:3 and every spirit that doth not confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come, of God it is not; and this is that of the antichrist, which ye heard that it doth come, and now in the world it is already.

2Jn_1:7 because many leading astray did enter into the world, who are not confessing Jesus Christ coming in flesh; this one is he who is leading astray, and the antichrist.

So here's my case:

  • the one who is to be revealed is a conception of a person, not a person

Paul refers to the mystery as "the lie" which is bolstered by divine activity to give the lie wide credence:

2Th 2:11 and because of this shall God send to them a working of delusion, for their believing the lie, 2Th 2:12 that they may be judged--all who did not believe the truth, but were well pleased in the unrighteousness.

In other words, there really is no divine man, only the lie that there is a divine man. And the lie is about Jesus.

In 1 and 2 John this is very explicit who explains that the antichrist is specifically a lie about Jesus:

1Jn_2:18 Little youths, it is the last hour; and even as ye heard that the antichrist doth come, even now antichrists have become many--whence we know that it is the last hour; ... 1Jn_2:22 Who is the liar, except he who is denying that Jesus is the Christ? this one is the antichrist who is denying the Father and the Son;

This liar-antichrist denies the humanity of Jesus:

1Jn_4:3 and every spirit [breath] that doth not confess Jesus Christ in the flesh [human race] having come, of God it is not; and this is that of the antichrist, which ye heard that it doth come, and now in the world it is already.

2Jn_1:7 because many leading astray did enter into the world, who are not confessing Jesus Christ coming in flesh [in the human race]; this one is he who is leading astray, and the antichrist.

So the antichrist is a lie about Jesus, denying his humanity and making him out to be Almighty God.

2Th 2:3 let not any one deceive you in any manner, because--if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed--the son of the destruction, 2Th 2:4 who is opposing and is raising himself up above all called God or worshipped, so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down, shewing himself off that he is God-- the day doth not come . 2Th 2:5 Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you?

So the revelation of the Man of Sin is the appearance of the Christ of God being described as Almighty God. This is none other than the invention of the "same substance" doctrine created by Constantine at Nicaea, and the eponymous creed created there.

Therefore, the one "hindering" and "taken out of the way" was the Roman emperor who was suppressing Christianity and was replaced by Constantine who not only embraced the lie but personally birthed the false Assembly (the Roman Catholic Church) and gave it the power to kill all who did not receive the divine Jesus.

  • the concept was to be accompanied by mass apostasy

The Catholic Church was full of perversion:

1Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Ti 4:2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 1Ti 4:3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

It is described graphically in Rev 17 as "the great whore":

Rev 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, Rev 17:2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk." Rev 17:3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. Rev 17:4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. Rev 17:5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations." Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. Rev 17:7 But the angel said to me, "Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. Rev 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. Rev 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; Rev 17:10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. Rev 17:11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. Rev 17:12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. Rev 17:13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. Rev 17:14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful." Rev 17:15 And the angel said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. Rev 17:16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, Rev 17:17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. Rev 17:18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth."

  • the concept is a man who is divine

2Th 2:3 let not any one deceive you in any manner, because--if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed--the son of the destruction, 2Th 2:4 who is opposing and is raising himself up above all called God or worshipped, so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down, shewing himself off that he is God-- the day doth not come .

Notice that he does not identify himself as the person of God but rather is said to be is in the sanctuary "as God" and representing himself to be "God". There is no article in front of "God" so he is saying that he is "of one substance with God" rather than saying that he is himself ther person of God.

  • the concept was already in the world during Paul's lifetime

2Th 2:7 for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now will hinder --till he may be out of the way,

1Jn_2:18 Little youths, it is the last hour; and even as ye heard that the antichrist doth come, even now antichrists have become many--whence we know that it is the last hour;

In both passages the revelation of the antichrist signals the last hour.

  • the concept was suppressed by Rome during Paul's writing

2Th 2:7 for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now will hinder --till he may be out of the way,

  • the concept would be revealed with a change of Roman rule from those who suppressed Christianity to the one who created the antichristian Catholic Church:

2Th 2:7 for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now will hinder --till he may be out of the way,

http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/foxs-book-of-martyrs/the-sixth-persecution-under-maximus-a-d-235.html

  • the concept is attributed to the Adversary but also to God's activity

2Th 2:9 him, whose presence is according to the working of the Adversary, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, 2Th 2:10 and in all deceitfulness of the unrighteousness in those perishing, because the love of the truth they did not receive for their being saved, 2Th 2:11 and because of this shall God send to them a working of delusion, for their believing the lie, 2Th 2:12 that they may be judged--all who did not believe the truth, but were well pleased in the unrighteousness.

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