For the sake of convenience, I repeat the quotation from 2 Thessalonians 2, so that the reader can keep referring to the text as he follows the arguments.
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 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; 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. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 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”.
The pre-wrath view of this passage is that the Restrainer does not refer to the Church. Putting the revelation of Antichrist in the context of the previous verses, the pre-wrather makes the following argument.
1. The day of Christ does not come until the Antichrist is revealed (Abomination of Desolation).
2. “[O]ur gathering unto [Christ]” (v. 1) = the Rapture
3. The gathering/rapture happens when Christ comes (Parousia).
Conclusion: the Rapture cannot happen until after the Abomination of Desolation.
At this point we need to consider the context of 2 Thessalonians: Paul was writing to them because they thought “that the day of Christ is at hand” – i.e. had come. This is why the Thessalonians were troubled. Now why should they be worried if the day of Christ was at hand? Because the day of Christ is the same thing as the Day of the LORD, which is the same thing as the Day of Wrath (Dies Irae). This is a time of judgement and destruction upon the earth; no one would want to be around for it. True believers, however, have been promised exemption from this Day; in fact, it was the Thessalonians themselves to whom this promise was originally addressed: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Thus when we put the two epistles to the Thessalonians together we get the full picture of their terror as we see their reasoning:
1. True Christians will be protected from God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).
2. The Day of Wrath (=day of Christ) has come.
Conclusion: the Thessalonians are not true Christians because they are experiencing the Day of Wrath; judgement is imminent!
The Thessalonians reaction was wrong because Premise 2 was wrong, foisted on them by false teachers, and given root by poor discernment. Paul’s second letter to them is designed as a corrective for this faulty premise. He explains to them that they cannot be in the Day of Wrath, because the son of perdition hasn’t been revealed yet. When Paul’s teaching is set alongside Christ’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24), and other revelations regarding the Day of the LORD in the prophets and the Revelation (e.g. Joel 2 and Rev. 6), the following picture emerges.
1. Apostasy & Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4)
2. Antichrist is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
3. The saints are persecuted (Daniel 7:25; Matthew 24:9, 21-22; Revelation 6:9-11; 13:7, 9-10)
4. Christ is revealed (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 = “brightness of [Christ’s] coming“; Revelation 6:15-16)
5. The saints are rescued (Rapture) (Isaiah 26:19-20; Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 [we are left = those who’ve managed to avoid being martyred]; Revelation 7:9-17)
6. Christ pours out judgement on Antichrist & his followers (“those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation) = the Day of Christ/Day of Wrath/Day of the LORD (Isaiah 26:20-27:1; Daniel 7:11; Matthew 24:38-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12; Revelation 6:15-17; 8-19)
I would like to round off this post by partly addressing Bosco’s argument regarding the Restrainer; I would then like to devote a third post to other arguments he and other pre-tribbers use against the pre-wrath position (e.g. the word Church isn’t mentioned during the middle portion of Revelation -> Rev. 4:1 [John’s rapture to heaven] is symbolic of the Rapture of the Church).
My first point (and I think Bosco has essentially agreed with this in his comment on my Elijah post) is that 2 Thessalonians 2 isn’t explicit about the identity of the Restrainer. In order to identify who he/it might be, we need to consider other passages of Scripture and build a case, and hopefully receive revelation from the Lord. Bosco’s position is certainly possible, but he must prove why it is the case. He asks (fairly in my opinion), “Who or what else could the Restrainer be if not the Spirit-filled Church?”
Kurschner’s book, Antichrist before the Day of the Lord, deals with this issue: pages 36-39, entitled, Michael the Restrainer; page 211 where Note 11 may be found. On page 38, Kurschner lists the main candidates proposed by Christian scholars over the years for the Restrainer’s identity:
a) The Holy Spirit
b) God the Father
c) The Universal Church (Bosco’s position, and that of most pre-tribbers)
e) The Roman Empire
f) Preaching the Gospel
g) Colin R. Nicholl’s position: Michael the Archangel
Endnote 11, found on page 211, gives the academic reference for Nicholl’s work in which the arguments for Michael the Archangel may be found: “Michael, The Restrainer Removed (2 Thess. 2:6-7,” Journal of Theological Studies 51 (2000):27-53; it can also be found in From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Before looking at arguments in favour of any particular definition, we need to consider the attributes of the Restrainer.
1. The Restrainer is of the masculine gender: verse 7 literally reads, ‘only he who restrains until now..’ – ‘ο κατεχων’ is grammatically masculine in Greek, and implies personhood, as opposed to being an impersonal force.
2. At the same time the Restrainer is referred to in an impersonal way: ‘το κατεχον‘, ‘that which restrains’, in verse 6 is grammatically neuter. This would seem to refer to the restraining influence that the Restrainer exerts over the spirit (“mystery”) of lawlessnes/spirit of antichrist.
3. Putting Points 1 and 2 together should remind the reader of 1 John 4:3, in which the Apostle John makes a distinction between the spirit of antichrist, and Antichrist the man, who will come at the end of days. There is a spirit of antichrist that was in the world in John’s day and is in the world in our day, and there is a man, Antichrist, who will be revealed just prior to Christ’s return. Similarly, there is the Restrainer, a person, and the restraining influence (or spirit of restrain, if you will) that the restrainer exerts against the spirit (“mystery”) of lawlessness/spirit of antichrist.
4. This Restrainer and his influence existed in Paul’s day; exists in ours; and will exist up until Antichrist is revealed in the future.
Now let us consider the candidates proposed. We may rule out the Roman Empire straightaway because it is not personal (1) and has ceased to exist between the time of Paul’s writing and our own day (4). We may rule out government because it is not personal (1).
The Church and/or preaching the Gospel are possibilities in as much as they can be said to represent the influence aspect (2), while empowered by God (1 and 3). The Church and the Gospel have continuously existed from Paul’s day to the present and will continue up to the time of Antichrist (4).
“[U]ntil he be taken out of the way” is not the strictest of renderings for “εως εκ μεσου γενηται“. The Greek could be rendered in a few other ways, and it is interesting that Paul chose the verb γιγνομαι rather than an active voice of a verb for going (e.g. απερχομαι) or a passive voice of lifting or moving (e.g. αιρω, αρπαζω, αποτιθημι). An alternate reading might run: “until he goes out from the midst [of the world/battle]”; “until he is no longer in the midst”. This can obviously be applied to Michael or the Church. But when we talk about God, the matter becomes complicated, and caution is needed. I am loathe to suggest that God entirely leaves the world: clearly He is present with the Two Witnesses, who are confronted and killed by the Beast/Antichrist (Rev. 11).
Michael meets all 4 attributes. He is a person and can exert influence (1, 2, 3). He is the angelic prince of Israel, fighting against the fallen angelic princes of Persia and Greece (Daniel 12:1; 10:13, 21) This can be described as restraining activity: Michael, as angelic prince of Israel, prevents Satan from overwhelming and destroying God’s people and hindering God’s plans. Michael casts Satan out of the heavenlies down to earth in Revelation 12. Rabbinic interpretation of Daniel suggests that Michael withdraws/is caused to withdraw, allowing Antichrist to commit his Abomination of Desolation. Michael as guardian of the Temple Mount, withdrawing to allow the Abomination of Desolation, is reminiscent of the angels who protect the Temple’s sanctity in 2 Maccabees 3:25-26. Michael existed in Paul’s day, exists in ours, and will exist in the days of Antichrist (Revelation 12:7) (4).
Faced with viable alternatives, we must ask why the interpretation of the Restrainer as the Spirit-filled Church must necessarily be so, and the others not. Post 3 will consider other arguments used to support the Church’s removal.