2 Thessalonians 2:6-12 - The Restraint of the Man of Sin
In the previous verses the author had spoken of the nature of the man of sin who will come before our Lord returns. The question may well rise in the minds of the readers: Why is his coming delayed until the time just before the return of Christ? Paul addresses this question in these verses and also shows them what effect his coming will have.
These verses belong to the group of very difficult passages of the New Testament. There are grammatical difficulties and difficulties of interpretation. Paul writes to people who do know what he has in mind and therefore does not consider it necessary to go into detail. However, we do not know of a certainty the things to which he refers in the verses six and seven. One thing is clear — there is something or someone which restrains so that the man of sin has not yet appeared. There have been all manner of interpretations given as to who or what this restraining power might be. There are those who believe that the Apostle is writing in a vague manner because he has in mind the power of Rome and does not wish to write anything which might be held against him or the church. Others believe that he refers to the Holy Spirit as the restraining force. However, none of these interpretations satisfy. Although no one is able to speak with complete certainty concerning the identity of the restraining power, it seems as though he is hereby referring to the rule of law which is operating in the world. The man of sin is the "lawless one." All the laws of both God and men will be trampled by him. God is maintaining a rule of law in this world despite the sin of man. This force holds back the man of sin. Such a force of well-ordered society can be spoken of as "that which restraineth" or as "one that restraineth." The Apostle speaks of the importance of a well-ordered society under government in other places (Romans 13). He himself used his own Roman citizenship effectively for the welfare of the gospel. In this kind of world in which laws are still enforced for the benefit of the people the lawless one is not able to operate.
The "Mystery of Lawlessness"
There is a "mystery of lawlessness" which is already at work in this world long before the man of sin is revealed. Whenever the New Testament speaks of "mystery" it does not refer to the mysterious but to the things which have been kept secret. When Paul, in other places, speaks of the "mystery of godliness" he means the things which had not been revealed and have now, in this New Testament period, been made plain. So here too. It has not been clear to men how the evil one is working and what purpose he has in mind. But, it is now clearly seen that his is an ongoing work which will culminate in the revelation of the man of sin. The Apostle is not interested in giving these Thessalonian Christians some information concerning the order of events at the time of the Savior's return and just before that time, but he is giving them a view of history! They (and we) must realize that the forces of lawlessness are indeed at work in the present time and that these will ultimately lead to the man of sin. So we also do justice to the words of the Apostle John and to the words found in this chapter. John speaks of "Antichrist" as a present reality — Paul speaks of the "man of sin" being revealed shortly before the return of Christ. The "mystery of lawlessness" is the spirit of the "Antichrist." That is in the world long before the man of sin appears.
When the restraints of the present time are removed, the man of sin will make his appearance. He will, in the words of the last part of verse six, be revealed in his own season. He is not able to do as he pleases nor to appear whenever he wishes. God determines the proper season for the appearance of this man of sin. God has placed the restraints. The evil one is able to do nothing except with divine permission! God is in control — not the devil! This fact must be clearly fixed in the minds of believers. When they see the day of the man of sin, they will tremble. But, they must be assured that their God is sovereign. The man of sin may give the impression for a time that he is in control and that he has dethroned God, but His people must not fear, their God is still on the throne and also has complete control over the man of sin.
It is therefore not surprising that we read that the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth. He will bring him to nought by the manifestation of His coming. Notice that the Apostle does not picture a strife or a battle. It is so simple! When the Lord breathes on him, he will slay him. The coming of Christ takes all his power away. He simply melts and withers before the presence of the Lord Jesus. This again emphasizes the total sovereignty of our God and His Christ. The man of sin will boast great things and will call men to bring him divine honors, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah will conquer him easily and gain the final victory.
The Energy of Satan
However, let no man think that there is no cause to fear this embodiment of evil when he appears. For men he will be far too strong. Never have men seen such power of evil as they will see when this one comes. He will come with the power, the energy, of Satan. Satan will take over this man of sin. No, the power of Satan is not to be compared to the power of the Christ, but it is a ruthless power far greater than that of man. He will come in the power of Satan and will come with signs and wonders, or miracles. This reminds one of the Christ who came in the power of God and did signs and wonders! He is indeed "Antichrist." His signs and wonders are falsehoods. But, he is going to do great things so that men will stand amazed. He will imitate the Christ of God. It is no wonder that many will be led astray and follow him. Many will not be able to judge whether his works are false or not. When he does his signs and miracles on the earth, many will place him on the same plane with Christ or above Him. There always have been those who could not distinguish between the power of God and the power of Satan nor between falsehood and truth.
A Power to Deceive
The power which the man of sin shows is to deceive those who perish. They see his supernatural works and are deceived by them. This sounds like a truism, but the Apostle is not in the habit of writing such things as are obvious to everyone. Their minds are not able to discern, they are not able to distinguish between truth and error. Why not? They did not receive or accept the love for the truth! The gospel had been preached to them. They, however, did not receive it — they did not believe it. The gospel had come with the urgent appeal to believe unto salvation. This they had rejected. No one can reject the gospel with impunity. When He calls them to believe so that they might be saved He is placing the emphasis on the responsibility which man has toward the gospel. Therefore the Scriptures command men to believe even though it teaches us very clearly that faith is worked by the Holy Spirit. Men are responsible beings both in accepting or rejecting the gospel. Instead of a love for the truth, they now believe the lies of the man of sin! Sin is lawlessness, it is wicked, but it is also irrational! How can men reject the truth whereby they may come to salvation and substitute for it the lie whereby they perish?
A Judgment of God Upon Unbelief
The Scriptures frequently speak of the power and the effects of sin. This is a truth which everyone must grasp in order that he may know the danger in which he stands and may flee for refuge to the only Savior of men. The first thing a person must know is how great his sin and misery is. This is a difficult truth to apply to one's self and a bowing before the Scriptures is the absolute requirement. Only in this light are men going to be able to see the true nature of sin. There are certain parts of Scripture which bring this truth home to the individual as no others can. At the cross of Christ men can see what their sin has cost. In his teaching concerning the man of sin and the time in which he will rule the Apostle also gives us a view of the effects of sin which is crystal clear. There will be a deluding power sent forth by God Himself whereby man will finally believe the lie rather than the truth. When the sin of man has finally given birth to the man of sin he will do those things which he had never thought possible. Man had always prided himself on his ability to know and to find the truth. But, when God sends a working of error, he is blinded and is no longer able to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Those who have hardened themselves against the appeal of the gospel, he hardens. When Pharaoh hardened his heart — God hardened his heart! When men practiced impurity — God gave them up to their lusts! (Romans 1) The sin of man contains its own punishment within itself! Let sin go unchecked and it will consume him who practices it! When the man of sin appears the sins of men will know no bounds. There is that which restrains in the present time so that the man of sin cannot appear as yet, and there is that which restrains so that the sin of man does not yet appear in its most awful nature. But, when that restraint is removed, he appears and sin shows its true nature. Those days will be the most difficult time which the history of the world has ever seen. When God has given them over to the lie the opportunity for repentance is past. They cannot grieve, resist and quench the Spirit of God forever! The Bible often speaks of the patience, the longsuffering of God. In this His people glory. But, there is an end to that patience. As long as He still speaks to them there is still hope. But, when He gives them up...
A Gospel Warning
Throughout these verses Paul has been speaking about those who are the followers of the man of sin. It is, therefore, not a passage which only gives us some information about the last days which otherwise we might not have had. It speaks in warning and is therefore still gospel. The end of the matter is that those who believe the lie of the Antichrist will be judged. These words refer to the final judgment. Those who have rejected the truth of the gospel and have believed the deceptions of the man of sin have placed themselves in the position that there is no opportunity to turn to Him anymore. The judgment is to be expected because He is righteous. We must not conclude, first of all, that God casts them away; they have cast themselves into destruction.
The words which the Apostle now uses to sum up the things he has said above are very instructive. They are the ones "who believed not the truth." The opportunity was given them. God will restrain the coming of the man of sin until the gospel has been preached to all nations. He will not allow the evil one to dictate the order of events. Having heard the gospel they consciously and deliberately turn against it and reject it. Herein they are completely responsible for their actions. When they have not believed the truth, they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." Not only the intellect but also the will was involved in their rejection of the truth. Their will and emotions are involved in the pleasure they find in unrighteousness.
It is always true that a man's actions are shaped by his beliefs. The child of God who believes with heart and understanding the truth of God will delight in righteousness. The one flows from the other. So too, the person who has rejected the truth will not practice righteousness but will find his pleasure in lawlessness. These cannot be separated. In the present time the impression may be left that although the gospel is rejected, nevertheless there is an attempt to live a moral life. However, in the days of the man of sin, when all restraints are lifted, sin will show its true nature and its true "consistency." He who does not love the truth, does not love God Himself, will also trample all the laws of God and man. No wonder Jesus says that if those days were not shortened even the elect would be in danger.
Paul has given us an extremely important message in these verses regarding both the time of the appearance of the man of sin and the conditions which shall obtain at the time. This chapter is one of the most important for the proper understanding of the doctrine of the last things. We must never lose sight of the fact that, whether we speak of the doctrine of God, of man, of Christ, of salvation, of the church or of the last things, God is in complete control and therefore His people are always safe.
Questions for Discussion
Why must the man of sin be "restrained?" Would Antichrist have appeared long ago if this restraint were not present? Discuss.
What is the history or "development" of sin? Does sin grow worse the longer time lasts?
Why is the victory of Christ over the man of sin so "easy" while the battle was so furious in Gethsemane and on Golgotha?
What kind of wonders will Antichrist perform?
Is the gospel a matter of "take it or leave it?" What effects will the rejection of the truth have for the present?
Why does the time come when repentance will be impossible?
If our actions are determined by our beliefs, how important is doctrine?