Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Who is the antichrist? Part 7 (The restrainer)

This posting will discuss the “restrainer” of antichrist mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8. This will be the last posting before we begin discussing the “beasts” of Revelation. Once again, there is a modern day speculative interpretation of this prophecy that is subscribed to by most modern day Christians. Most Christians believe the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit holding back the antichrist until the appointed time determined by God. While God does determine the appointed time for all things, is this interpretation correct according to scripture? Let’s examine this more closely.

From “End Time Delusions”:

Zeal without knowledge is fire without light. –Dr. Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)

In this chapter we will play the role of Sherlock Holmes by attempting to solve a most puzzling Bible mystery. The difficult question is: What is the restrainer of antichrist? In 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8, Paul revealed the intriguing idea that in his own day something was restraining this horrendous development of evil. Once the restraint was removed, antichrist would be revealed. Millions of Christians today have been taught that this restrainer is the Holy Spirit inside the Christian Church. According to this theory, once the Church is whisked out of this world in the pre-tribulation rapture the Mr. Delusion will appear. This interpretation once again confirms the concept in many minds that antichrist can only come after the Church vanishes.

Sherlock Holmes is purported to have said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data”. So, let’s examine the datum. Paul told the early Thessalonians, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed….” (2 Thessalonians 2:5-8).

To begin with, it must be admitted that Paul did not explicitly specify what was restraining antichrist. Nevertheless, the following three clues are clear:

1. Paul previously “told” the Thessalonians what the restrainer was (vs. 5)
2. The Thessalonians knew what it was (vs. 6)
3. For some important reason, Paul did not identify the restrainer in writing.

Sherlock Holmes is also believed to have said, “Detection is, or should be, an exact science.” As we ponder the evidence above, a significant detail surfaces. Because Paul plainly said he “told” the Thessalonians what the restrainer was, this knowledge had obviously been given to the early Church. So, as good detectives, what should we do next? It seems logical that we should first go back into the dusty records of ancient history in an attempt to discover what the early Church might have reported on this subject. Let’s go back and find out.

Did the early Christians reveal what they knew about this subject? Did they identify the restrainer? The answer, surprisingly, is yes. Such early writers as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine all wrote about this topic. What did they say? They all said the restrainer was the civil power of the Roman Empire ruled by the Caesars. Notice carefully the following quotations:

Tertullian: “…he who now hinders must hinder until he be taken out of the way. What obstacle is there but the Roman state; the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce antichrist….”

John Chrysostom: “…’he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way,’ that is, when the Roman Empire is taken out of the way, then he [antichrist] shall come; and naturally, for as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will readily exalt himself; but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of men and of God.”

Augustine: “….it is not absurd to believe that these words of the apostle, ‘Only he who now holdeth, let him hold until he be taken out of the way,’ refer to the Roman Empire……”

It’s obvious. The early Church believed the Roman Empire was the restrainer of the antichrist. Many have recognized this fact. Elliott wrote, “We have the consenting testimony of the early fathers, from Irenaeus, the disciple of St. John, down to Chrysostom and Jerome, to the effect that it [the restrainer] was understood to be the imperial power ruling and residing in Rome.” Dr. George Eldon Ladd, a much-respected Baptist professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1950’s, also confirmed, “The traditional view has been that the restraining principle is the Roman Empire and the restrainer the Emperor. This view, or a modification of it, best fits into the Pauline theology.”

Guiness also summarized:

The early Church, through the writings of the fathers, tells us what it knew upon the subject, and with remarkable unanimity affirms that this “let”, or hindrance, was the Roman Empire as governed by the Caesars; that while the Caesars held imperial power, it was impossible for the predicted antichrist to arise, and that on the fall of the Caesars he would arise….The early Church tells us what it did know upon the subject, and no one in these days can be in a position to contradict its testimony as to what Paul had, by word of mouth, told the Thessalonians. It is a point on which ancient tradition alone can have any authority. Modern speculation is positively impertinent on such a subject.”

When modern interpreters identify the restrainer as the Holy Spirit inside the Christian Church, they are simply expressing a newly developed fancy unsupported by historical evidence. Sherlock Holmes said, “Detection is, or should be, an exact science.” It’s simply not historically scientific to identify the restrainer as the Holy Ghost within the Church. Unfortunately, this new theory has now become one of the supporting pillars beneath the idea that the rapture must come before antichrist shows up. We have already proven from 2 Thessalonians 2 that it’s really the other way around. Paul emphatically said antichrist must come first (vs. 3) before the Church is gathered to Jesus Christ (vs. 1).

In addition to being directly “told” by Paul that the restrainer of the antichrist was the Roman Empire, another reason why the early Church believed this may be found in the parallel prophecy of Daniel 7. Daniel’s prophecy predicted the rise of four great beasts representing four successive world empires (Daniel 7:23). The vast majority of commentators throughout church history have identified these four empires as the successive kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.

Martin Luther commented:

This prophecy of Daniel 7 is by all teachers uniformly explained to represent the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, the kingdom of Alexander the Great and the fourth, the Roman Empire, which is the largest, the most cruel, and most powerful…..”

In Daniel 7, the fourth beast, or Roman Empire, is described as having “ten horns” (vs. 7). Most scholars apply these ten horns to ten kingdoms to arise in Western Europe after the demise of the Roman Empire. Daniel’s prophecy distinctly says that “after” the ten horns are in place, rising up “among them”, would come ”another little horn” with “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things (vs. 8). The vast majority of scholars, even today, regardless of how they apply the symbolism, correctly associate the little horn with the antichrist. The lesson is clear: After the fourth beast, that is, after the fall of Rome, the antichrist would rise up among ten nations in Europe.

The Thessalonians lived under the rule of Rome. Through understanding the prophecies, they knew that after Rome fell, the antichrist would come. This helps to explain why the early Christians (according to Tertullian) made it a habit to pray for the continuation of that very empire, even though it was cruelly persecuting them (see Thessalonians 1:4) for their trust in Jesus Christ. Wait a minute! Here’s another important piece of data! The reality of this fierce Roman persecution against the early Christians provides a logical explanation as to why Paul only “told” the Thessalonians what the restrainer was, rather than writing it down. What if his letter fell into the hands of unfriendly Roman officials? What if Roman leaders found out that these Christians expected the mighty Roman Empire to someday crash, being “taken out of the way”? The answer is obvious. They would have seen this as high treason against Caesar and would have increased their persecution against the infant Church. This explains why, instead of writing it down, Paul merely “told” the truth to the Thessalonians.

Paul wrote: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, only he who now restrains will do so, until he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Thus the antichrist was “already” starting to work in Paul’s time, yet it was restrained by the mighty power of the Roman Empire. Once this restraint was removed by the collapse of the Roman government, this monstrous evil would fully rise in Europe. In other words, once the Caesars went down, antichrist would fully raise its satanic head.

Here’s a simple summary of the biblical data found in 2 Thessalonians 2:

1. The antichrist was already starting to work in Paul’s day (vs. 7). This was around 50 A.D.
2. Something was restraining this horrible development of evil (vs. 5-7).
3. As soon as the restraint was removed, antichrist would be revealed (vs. 7-8).
4. This antichrist will continue until the visible return of Jesus Christ (vs. 8).
5. Then Christ will destroy the antichrist and gather His Church (vs. 1, 8).

Daniel wrote that after the fourth beast fell, the little horn would come (Daniel 7:7-8). Paul said that after the restrainer was taken out of the way, the antichrist would be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). History records that the Roman Empire collapsed in 476 A.D. Did the predicted antichrist soon appear? Read on.

Sherlock Holmes would say, “It’s elementary, Mr. Watson, elementary.”

This is where things begin to get very interesting. Here’s where we begin to discover that not only has the antichrist and spirit of antichrist been working in the world since the 1st century A.D., but the “beasts” of Revelation have been with us as well. It may seem shocking to you that this is true. Remember, we are dealing with a very deceptive enemy. Are you beginning to sense just how deceptive he is? You haven’t seen anything yet…….as Steve mentions – read on.

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