I have a position on the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 that I don’t know if anyone else shares. This topic has been of much interest to me because many Pre-Tribbers see this as a proof text for a pre-trib rapture. They affirm that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit working through the church. They maintain that this verse points out that the church will be taken out of the way before the man of sin (the antichrist) is revealed. Of course, the passage says no such thing. But the identity of the restrainer is of concern to those who study the end times.
When I first read Rosenthal’s book, The PreWrath Rapture of the Church, I was struck by his view that Michael the Archangel is the restrainer. I reviewed the scriptures that he cited and it seemed sound. However, when I went to discuss this with a pastor friend of mine who is also PreWrath, he stated that he wasn’t quite sure because he believed that human government was also a God-ordained instrument to restrain evil. He didn’t say that Michael wasn’t the restrainer; he just wanted time to weigh both options.
I have concluded that the restrainer is both Michael the Archangel and human government. Human government has been set up by God to restrain evil through the Noahic covenant. The Noahic covenant has not been reversed in any way. It is still in effect. Mankind was allowed to organize in order that different societies would form to protect themselves from the evil nature within man. Before the flood there were no nations and it resulted in chaos. God’s progressive plan allowed for organized mankind to punish individuals who break God’s laws, Genesis 9:6. Even though the official commandment "thou shalt not kill" was not given until Sinai, the law of creation is appealed to in this verse showing that mankind has knowledge of good and evil based on God revealed in creation.
The division into differing nations was crucial to God’s plan for restraining evil. First, it was the next step in God’s plan to redeem the world. Evil would be held in check by force. The threat of punishment would limit man from carrying out the evil that he is capable of. Otherwise the post flood era would have resulted in the same wickedness before the flood. Second, God’s plan would also include one nation called out and set apart for Himself, soon to be known as Israel. This could not happen unless nations had begun to form. Third, if any one entire nation became so wicked that its own government was not restraining evil, God would use another nation to come in and restrain the evil through domination. This was the case when Israel took Canaan, also when other nations dominated Israel during the days of the judges, when David ascended the throne and conquered the nations, and when the times of the Gentiles began with Babylon and the colossus of Daniel 2.
Romans 13:1-7 teaches us that government is still being used by God to restrain evil. Titus 3:1, I Timothy 2:1-4, and I Peter 2:11-17 all show that this is the uniform teaching of the New Testament. God has ordained human government and backs it up when it does its job. God also uses other nations to step in when they fail to restrain evil. I believe we saw this in the days of The Third Reich. At the end of this age, there will be an empire which will be so evil that God will demolish it Himself, but that will be once the restrainer has been removed. Human government will be allowed to turn completely against all true godliness for the time of the great tribulation.
Daniel 10:10-11:1 along with Daniel 12:1 show us a glimpse behind the scenes of human government from an angel’s point of view. Gabriel has some insightful comments to show us his role (and Michael’s) as it relates to the government of those days. Notice how there was a prince of Persia who stood against Gabriel for 21 days before Michael came to Gabriel’s assistance. Gabriel was left there with the kings of Persia. We see both the physical and spiritual woven into one from the angel’s point of view. Gabriel stands with the physical rulers, but also wrestles against these other rulers in high places. Gabriel also knew the next empire that would arise as early as the third year of Cyrus, which was probably only the third year of the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel 11:1 is probably the best verse to illustrate the principle. Gabriel stood alongside Darius the Mede in the first year of his reign. The purpose of this was to confirm and strengthen him in his reign. So based on the relationship of angels to government in Daniel 10:10-11:1, I believe the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 is an angelic being working through human government.
Revelation unfolds the development of Michael and gang throwing Satan out of the heavenly places. Once this occurs, Satan is allowed to call the beast from the sea with seven heads and ten horns. Since here in Revelation 13:1 the crowns are upon the ten horns as opposed to the crowns being on the seven heads as they are in Revelation 12:3, this shows that Satan has been allowed to form a ten nation alliance with the power given to the ten kings. So the continuity between Revelation 12 and 13 must be viewed in light of the governmental structure that will result in Michael withdrawing heavenly restraint of evil through human government. This leads into the great tribulation of Revelation 13 whereby the antichrist uses the government to persecute all true Christians. Since the restraining influence of holy angels will have been removed from standing with the rulers of the world, the government will be allowed by God to be evil for this short period of time.
Revelation 12:7-9 should be considered a fuller explanation of Daniel 12:1. Here in Daniel, we see Michael as the great prince which stands for the children of Israel. His authority will be temporarily pulled back. Notice that the result of Michael “standing up” is that the worst time of trouble ever comes upon the nation of Israel. Rosenthal’s discussion in his book is quite compelling. Here is the paragraph which explains his position, italics are his.
But what does the Hebrew word for stand up (amad) mean? Rashi, one of Israel’s greatest scholars and one who had not concern regarding the issue of the timing of the Rapture under discussion in this book, understood stand up to literally mean stand still. The meaning, according to one of Israel’s greatest scholars, would be to stand aside or be inactive. Michael, the guardian of Israel, had earlier fought for her (Dan. 10:13, 21), but now this one “who standeth for the children of thy [Daniel’s] people” would stand still or stand aside. He would not help; he would not restrain; he would not hold down. The Midrash, commenting on this verse, says, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Michael, ’You are silent? You do not defend my children.’”
Rosenthal’s entire section here should be read to understand his complete reasoning. But for the sake of my post, I’ll just keep this primarily my thoughts and not his. I’d like to point out that the restrainer can be both Michael and human government. So while my pastor friend at one point thought he would have to choose between Michael and human government, I think the answer is both.
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