The Restraining Work of the Spirit in the World

Some who hold to a pretribulation Rapture believe the Holy Spirit in the Church is restraining lawlessness in this present age. When the Spirit is removed from the earth, the Antichrist will rise to power.

And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7).

This is a cryptic apocalyptic passage. What does Paul mean by “the one now restraining (“what holds back” to katecon to katechon), which is neuter and then “he is out of the way” (o katecwn o katechon), which is masculine? The neuter might refer to the Church and the masculine to the Holy Spirit since Paul says, “And you know.” The apostle had already instructed the church of the Thessalonians on the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). Some identify o katecwn with a supernatural force or person hostile to God, who does not cooperate with Him. In earlier times, the restrainer was considered the Roman Empire and one of its emperors. Others suggest the restrainer is the Gospel, the Jewish state, the binding of Satan, Gentile world dominion, and human government.

The identification of the restrainer as the Church indwelt by the Holy Spirit has deep roots in church history. Since the Holy Spirit convicts the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment, the most appealing argument can be made for Him restraining evil through the body of Christ. In Noah’s day, the Spirit’s striving with man ceased at the time of the Flood (Genesis 6:3); and Jesus said, “As the
days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be” (Matthew 24:37).

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