One may naturally enquire, what is that which withholds, and after that would know, why Paul expresses it so obscurely. What then is it that withholds, that is, hinders him from being revealed? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman empire, to whom I most of all accede. Wherefore? Because if he meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts, withhold him. And otherwise he ought now to have come, if he was about to come when the gifts ceased; for they have long since ceased. But because he said this of the Roman empire, he naturally glanced at it, and speaks covertly and darkly. For he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities, and useless dangers. For if he had said that after a little while the Roman empire would be dissolved, they would immediately have even overwhelmed him, as a pestilent person, and all the faithful, as living and warring to this end. And he did not say that it will be quickly, although he is always saying it— but what?
that he may be revealed in his own season, he says, “
For the mystery of lawlessness does already work.” He speaks here of Nero, as if he were the type of Antichrist. For he too wished to be thought a god. And he has well said,
the mystery; that is, it works not openly, as the other, nor without shame. For if there was found a man before that time, he means, who was not much behind Antichrist in wickedness, what wonder, if there shall now be one? But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it. So indeed he also says here.
Only there is one that restrains now, until he be taken out of the way, that is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of man and of God. For as the kingdoms before this were destroyed, for example, that of the Medes by the Babylonians, that of the Babylonians by the Persians, that of the Persians by the Macedonians, that of the Macedonians by the Romans: so will this also be by the Antichrist, and he by Christ, and it will no longer withhold. And these things Daniel delivered to us with great clearness…
These are St John Chrysostom’s thoughts on 2 Thess. 2:6-9. St John Chrysostom lived from c. AD 347 to 407. In his lifetime, the Roman Empire still existed in both the West (Rome/Ravenna) and the East (Constantinople). This passage clearly shows that he believed the Man of Sin is the Antichrist and that the Antichrist is a future figure (i.e. St John Chrysostom was not a preterist).
Earlier in this commentary on 2 Thess., St John Chrysostom indicates that the Antichrist will sit in the temple in Jerusalem (presupposing that it will be rebuilt), although he considers that the Antichrist taking his seat in the temple of God also means the church in some fashion.
His interpretation of the restrainer/restraining force is a common one – viz. the Roman Empire. It does not seem to be confirmed by history, however. Although St Paul does not say expressly that the Antichrist will appear almost immediately after the removal of the restrainer, most would naturally read the passage this way. The Antichrist did not appear swiftly after the fall of either the Western (AD 476) or Eastern (AD 1453) Roman Empire. We know this because the Antichrist is destroyed when Christ returns – Christ did not return soon after the fall of the Roman Empire.
In St John Chrysostom’s words, St Paul writes “obscurely”. The identity of the restrainer has proved a vexing problem for commentators and exegetes over the years.