2 Thessalonians 2 tells us about a figure known as “the restrainer”. The restrainer is an entity that is holding back the unveiling of the Antichrist and the working of Satan’s full power. However, the restrainer will vacate their role in the end times. This will enable Satan and the Antichrist much more freedom to unleash evil on this world:
“(3) 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. 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 2:3-9)
Is the Holy Spirit the Restrainer?
Many Pre-Trib supporters teach that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer. They claim one of the following two things about the Holy Spirit:
- The Holy Spirit will no longer be in this world by the start of the tribulation. OR.
- The Holy Spirit will remain in the world, but its ministry of restraining evil through the Church will end before the tribulation. This means that the Church will no longer be here by the start of the tribulation (which implies a Pre-Trib Rapture). Without the Church, there will be nothing to hold back or speak out against the evil that will arise.
Pre-Trib supporters emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit to restrain evil by citing the following passage:
“(7) Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (8) And when he [the Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove [convict] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (9) Of sin, because they believe not on me; (10) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; (11) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)
Many Pre-Trib teachers view the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of Christians as a key force that holds back evil in this world. They argue the world would be a far more wicked place if Christians were not there to speak out against sin and to oppose evil in this world. As a result, many believe the removal of the Church through the Pre-Trib Rapture could account for the end time surge of evil in this world.
The flaw with the teaching that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer is that the Holy Spirit will not stop opposing evil during the tribulation. We can see this from the presence of Christians on the earth during the tribulation and from the ministry of the Two Witnesses.
Christians on the Earth
Christians will be present on the earth during the tribulation period. We know Christians will be present because Antichrist will make war with the saints, who have the testimony and faith of Jesus (Revelation 12:17, 13:7, 14:12):
“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 12:17)
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” (Revelation 13:7)
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12)
Many Christians will oppose the Antichrist at that time and will be martyred for opposing him (Revelation 6:9-11. 20:4). Christians alive at that time will be a part of the body of Christ as much as anyone who is alive now. We are all ONE body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Colossians 3:11, Romans 12:5).
The Holy Spirit will help Christians at that time to sustain their opposition even when under duress. In fact, the Holy Spirit will help them to justify their opposition to the authorities:
“But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” (Mark 13:11)
Therefore, claiming the Holy Spirit’s work through the Church will end before the tribulation is wrong. The body of Christ will still be on the earth and opposing the Antichrist during the tribulation.
The Ministry of the Two Witnesses
The ministry of the Two Witnesses also serves as evidence that the Holy Spirit will not stop opposing evil during the tribulation. Revelation 11:3-14 tells us about the Two Witnesses. We can glean the following about the Two Witnesses:
- They will prophesy for 3.5 years.
- This 3.5-year period is likely to cover the second half of the tribulation.
- They will punish the world with plagues over the course of their ministry.
- They will die in Jerusalem, and their deaths will be a cause for celebration.
You can learn more about the Two Witnesses and their likely identity in my article: “The Two Witnesses vs. End Time False Prophets”.
Revelation 11:3-4 mentions an overlooked detail about the Two Witnesses:
“(3) And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. (4) These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
The Book of Revelation often refers to other parts of the Bible. For instance, Revelation 20:7-9 refers to an attack by Gog and Magog that Ezekiel 38 describes. Revelation 11:4 refers to a vision in Zechariah 4 when it speaks of: “the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth”.
Zechariah served as a prophet when there was much opposition to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. He records several visions during his ministry, including one where he sees two olive trees supplying oil to a candlestick:
“(1) And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, (2) And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: (3) And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.” (Zechariah 4:1-3)
Zechariah asks for clarification about the vision. He then learns that the Lord has a message to Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews who returned to Israel from Babylon. The message states that Zerubbabel will oversee the completion of the temple. However, his success will not be through his own efforts. He will rely on the Lord’s Spirit empowering him:
“This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, Saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Zechariah then asks specifically about the two olive trees that supply oil to the candlestick (4:11-13). An angel tells Zechariah that the two olive trees are two anointed ones or “sons of oil” that stand with the Lord:
“Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:14)
Oil is a power source in this vision. Given that the Lord’s work will get done through His Spirit, we can deduce that oil represents the Lord’s Spirit in this vision. The olive trees, the sons of oil, are full of the Lord’s Spirit. The Lord’s Spirit enables them to get things done.
The two olive trees in Zechariah 4 refer to the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:4). The vision of Zechariah 4 suggests that the Holy Spirit will empower the Two Witnesses during their ministry.
The Spirit-filled Two Witnesses will be formidable foe against evil. The Lord will give them the authority to strike the world with every type of plague as often as they deem fit (Revelation 11:6-7). Anyone tries to harm them (and there will probably be those who try) will die (Revelation 11:5).
The Two Witnesses will torment the wicked so much that they will celebrate the deaths of the Two Witnesses:
“(8) And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (9) And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. (10) And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.” (Revelation 11:8-10)
The Holy Spirit will not be passive during the tribulation. It will continue its various ministries on the earth, including opposing evil in this world.
If the Holy Spirit is not the restrainer, then who could it be? The Bible indicates another figure could fill that role:
Michael the Archangel
The Book of Daniel introduces us to the Archangel Michael. Michael is a powerful angel that helps to protect the people of Israel. Daniel 10 tells us that Michael helped another angel overcome strong spiritual foes:
“(12) Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. (13) But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12-13)
“(20) Then said he, Knowest thou wherefore I come unto thee? and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come. (21) But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.” (Daniel 10:20-21)
Daniel 12:1 states that an unprecedented time of trouble will arise when Michael stands up. This time of trouble is known as the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21):
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” (Daniel 12:1)
The Archangel Michael will lead a war against Satan and his angels just before the start of the great tribulation. They will win the war and expel Satan and his angels from Heaven:
“(7) And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, (8) And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. (9) And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. […] (12) Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:7-9, 12)
The people on the earth will be in big trouble when this happens because Satan will be full of wrath and will know that he has a short amount of time to stir up trouble on the earth. We can deduce that Satan will operate with little resistance since the restrainer will be out of the way.
Based on this information, I believe the Archangel Michael is likely the restrainer. Michael’s actions lead Satan to unleash his full anger and power on the earth. Also, Michael’s actions relate to the start of an unprecedented time of trouble, the great tribulation.
- The Antichrist at that time will set up an abomination of desolation and unveil his true identity; demanding the world to worship him (Matthew 24:15-21, 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
Some emphasize how the restrainer must be more powerful than Satan to restrain him. Michael meets this requirement since he and his angels will defeat Satan and his angels in the upcoming war in Heaven.
The theory that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer of 2 Thessalonians is widely taught, but a theory that I do not believe in. The Holy Spirit will resist evil on the earth during the tribulation. We can see that from the fact that Christians will oppose the Antichrist and the Two Witnesses will torment the world during the tribulation.
The theory that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer is one of many widely taught end time teachings I disagree with. You can read some of my other critiques of widely taught end time teachings at the links below:
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- Many Pre-Trib supporters like to distinguish between Christians in the Church and the tribulation saints of the end times. However, it is ridiculous to argue that Christians alive during the tribulation will be in a distinct class of believers. The Apostle Paul wrote that there is ONE body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Colossians 3:11, Romans 12:5). He did not exclude membership to just believers who lived in the first century A.D. Believers throughout time belong. For us to say that the tribulation saints differ from us would be like the Apostle Paul saying that believers living in 2000 A.D. are not the same as those living in his time. ↩