By Rev Willem J.J. Glashouwer.. From the book Why End Times? Chapter 1 – Why End Times?
However, before this evil is able to break through without restraint, the ‘one who is holding it back’ must first be removed, says Paul. There is therefore something or someone who is still preventing the coming of THE antichrist; a restraining force, a Re- strainer. This will not continue to be the case. At a given moment the ‘one who is holding back’ evil will be removed and evil will be able to break through without restraint and THE antichrist will appear on the world scene to rule in full control. 2 Thessalonians 2:7b-8 says: “…the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the law- less one will be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendour of His coming.”
And verse 6-7a KJV says: “…And now ye know what [restraineth] that he might be revealed in this time. For the mystery of iniquity doth al- ready work; only he who now hindereth will continue to hinder until he be taken out of the way.”
What or who is ‘the one who now holds back’? Bible expositors offer many different explanations. Here is a summary (but many more explanations have been given):
- The worldwide proclamation of the Gospel
- The worldwide presence of the Church of Jesus Christ
- The presence of the Holy Spirit on earth
- The ongoing battle in the heavenly realms between Michael and his angels and the dragon/devil/satan and his angels in the heavenly realms
- The presence of the Roman Empire with law and order that kept lawlessness in check
- The institution of government in general, as God’s servant, protecting the good and punishing the bad, and not ‘sparing the sword’.
Whatever the right explanation one thing is sure: God is the One Who ultimately holds back, or ‘restrains’ while using some – or maybe all – of the possibilities that I have mentioned. It seems to me there is an element of truth in all of these.
The breakthrough of evil cannot fully take place as long as the Lord is still gathering a people from the Gentiles to Himself by the world- wide proclamation of the Gospel. As long as His Church is present in the world, the ‘salt’ is holding off decay. Light is shining in the darkness. Matthew 5:13-16: “…You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” The Holy Spirit causes light to shine in the darkness.
Michael, the archangel with his particular responsibility to protect Israel – Daniel 12:1 – wages an unremitting battle against the ‘dragon’ and his angels (Revelation 12:7-12). But finally the devil and his an- gels are cast out of the heavens onto the earth. Then these powers of darkness are finally unleashed upon the earth and the sea (the sea of ‘nations’) and evil breaks through in the world with no holds barred, unrestrained. Revelation 12:12: “…woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Even anti-Christian governments – in Paul’s time probably the in- famous Roman Emperor Nero, who massively persecuted Christians, so that many martyrs died – are nevertheless regarded by Paul as being God’s servants. Government is an institution of God, and “…he beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4, KJV). To protect good people and punish evildoers. A Dutch theologian in the 19th century spoke about a kind of ‘common grace’ that God maintained in the world, in order that life upon earth, in a world that was afflicted by the sin of man, would still be possible. To prevent total chaos. To prevent an ongoing war between man and man, race and race, people and people, nation and nation. Although ‘homo homini lupus est’ the Romans said – ‘man is a wolf for his fel- low-men’ – God took care of it that life would remain possible, even worth living, restraining evil and preventing total darkness to set in upon the earth. Authority is an institution to make life bearable. But what if He takes away this ‘common grace’? Then total darkness will rush on in.
In the NIV, the whole passage of Romans 13:1-7 about the God-given institution of ‘government’ reads: “…Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Con- sequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on them- selves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Today however, in the final stages of the End Times, we are observing a growing trend away from governments that are God’s servants towards governments that are servants of satan and the powers of darkness. We are on a slippery slope. We are slowly but steadily progressing towards the time when THE antichrist, the lawless one, the beast will have totally free rein. Although that day has not yet dawned, it will happen one day. And maybe, as we look at our world today, we are well on the way to those terrible days – authorities as instruments in the hands of satan, instead of in the hands of God.
John speaks of that time in the future, when evil will seem to triumph forever worldwide. Revelation 13:7-8: “…It [THE beast] was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” Today we see a trend by governments to shift more and more from the position of being a government as a servant of God, towards the position of being a government as a servant of satan, of THE beast – a shifting in position from being a government in accordance with Romans 13 towards a government in accordance with Revelation 13. Who knows how close we have already come to the final phase of this period of world history?
Whatever the case may be, and however that ‘resisting power’ might be explained, one thing is certain: it is God Who is holding things back. He ultimately is the ’Restrainer’, using a restraining power to prevent the total outbreak of evil. Only when He ceases to do so will evil be able to break through fully and will THE man of lawlessness be revealed.
To be continued.. with: Chapter 1 – Why End Times? – God is in control
The book Why End Times? and other books from Rev Willem J.J. Glashouwer can be ordered from the webshop of Christians for Israel International.