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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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