Q. In 2 Thessalonians 2: 6-7, who is holding the Antichrist back that when he steps out of the way, the Antichrist will be revealed?
A. Many possibilities have been proposed. Let’s first observe the passage:
• 2 Thes 2:6-7 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 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.
Notice v 6 says “what restrains him now”, neuter gender. The first “him” refers to “the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction” in v 3, the “lawless one” in v 8. Therefore some suggest the “what” to be:
• the Roman state with its emperor,
• the Jewish state,
• the principle of law and government,
• Paul’s missionary work,
• the restraining ministry of the Spirit through the church.
However, v 7 says “he who now restrains” and “he is taken out of the way”, masculine gender. The noun “Spirit” is neuter gender, but the Bible uniformly uses “He” to describe the Holy Spirit. Therefore others suggest the “he” to be the Spirit:
• Jn 16:13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
Which is correct? Let’s examine the options in turn.
• Government, whether Roman, Jewish, or the principle of law, can restrain human evil, but are powerless to restrain supernatural or spiritual evil. They can even be used as instruments to carry out the evil schemes of Satan and the Antichrist, so they can’t be the restrainer.
• Paul’s missionary work had certainly advanced God’s Kingdom and overthrown the kingdom of darkness wherever it went, but that was nearly two thousand years ago, and the man of lawlessness has not yet been revealed. So it can’t be the restrainer either.
• Pretrib proponents use these verses to argue for the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. This is a faulty inference because they overlook the fact that the church is the bride of Christ, feminine, and not neuter nor masculine:
o 2 Co 11:2 For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.
o Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
The only option left is the Holy Spirit, who can certainly restrain the Antichrist as He is omnipotent. But the passage says both neuter (v 6) and masculine (v 7) gender. How can both be true? The Spirit’s restraining ministry would fit, though not through the church (feminine). The ultimate restrainer is the Spirit (He), while the mediate means is His restraining ministry (it).
One question remains. In what sense is the Holy Spirit taken out of the way, since He is omnipresent? In the sense that “taken out of the way” simply means He “lets go”, “releases the restraint”, or “steps aside”, not complete removal. Contrary to what pretrib supporters say, this actually argues against them. Even if the church were raptured, God is still on earth as He is everywhere:
• Ps 139:7-8 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
The interpretation above does not presume pretrib which read suppositions into the text as if they were conclusions. Hope this helps.