I would like to take a little break in the study of the Lord’s Prayer and address an issue that has been swirling around in my head of late. Let me say upfront that this post concerns speculation about the last days, so if that is not your cup of tea, please come back next week. The issue I want to address has to do with this passage from Second Thessalonians:
“And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:6–10 ESV).
The eschatological teaching I received as a young Christian advocated a pre-Tribulation rapture. I no longer hold to this view. Apparently, some believers have turned the heat up on those who still believe the pre-Trib scenario, because they think it will cause believers to become lax in their faith and unprepared for dark days ahead. However, the concern runs deeper than that. It is wiser to counsel believers to love Jesus more than their very own lives in order to be true disciples (Luke 14:26-34), regardless of what the future holds. It is that lack of love which sinks so many of us, as it did the believers in Ephesus and Laodicea, who received Jesus’ rebuke in the Book of Revelation. We must know Him. Abide in Him. As John wrote, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28). I do not want to be ashamed when Jesus returns.
Regardless of one’s position on the rapture or if it will even transpire, we can all agree that Jesus will return someday, because He promised He would. That promise was reinforced by His disciples, including Paul, as we see in the verses above. When will that be? No one knows. It is foolish to speculate. We know that the apostles expected it to happen in their lifetimes. Therefore, for over two thousand years, the Church waits and prays with the apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
But back to the passage from Thessalonians. Who is this “lawless one” who will be revealed before Jesus returns? Since Paul wrote that he will come with “all power and false signs and wonders,” it seems clear that this is the beast written about in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:11–14 ESV).
Since Christians are waiting for Jesus’ return, when we see the lawless one revealed, we will know that His return is imminent. However, in order for the lawless one to be revealed, “what is restraining him,” or “he (or the one) who now restrains” must be “out of the way.” What or who is this one who restrains the mystery of lawlessness? No one knows with any certainty. I grew up hearing that the Holy Spirit was the restraining force who would be taken “out of the way” at the rapture of the Church. However, that position cannot be proven from this passage. Therefore, we are left with speculation, and what follows is my speculation, to make sure again, we are clear. One of my speculations is that the removal of the restraining force will not be a one-time event, like the departure of the Church and the Holy Spirit, but a slow (from our point of view) process of removal and increasing lawlessness.
Concerning this “restrainer,” I found this interesting nugget from a commentary on Second Thessalonians:
“Of all the theories advanced so far the one which seems to have most in its favor is that according to which the restrainer is ‘the power of well-ordered human rule,’ ‘the principle of legality as opposed to that of lawlessness’ (see Ellicott’s Commentary on this passage). According to this view Paul intends to say that as long as law and order still obtain, the man of lawlessness is unable to appear upon the scene of history with his program of unprecedented unrighteousness, blasphemy, and persecution.”1
So, is the world becoming more lawless? I think it is. However, I cannot say with any historic proof that the time in which we are now living is more lawless than any other. It is clear that the family of nations now includes several countries that are models of bedlam and disorder: Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Syria, are notable examples. Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen may not be far behind. All of this lawlessness is particularly interesting in light of the fact that these failed or failing states have a maledictory view of the nation of Israel, which did not exist until relatively recently.
Political conservatives in the United States maintain that the fault for this lawless disorder lies with President Obama. His foreign policy is a disaster, they say. His weakness has emboldened rebellious factions to rise up. Perhaps. However, let’s step back for a broader look. Is this perceived American weakness part of the Lord’s plan for “that which restrains” to no longer restrain? We can blame Obama, but let’s be honest: The situation in the Middle East cannot be fixed by any nation or consortium of nations. The United States can’t fix it, and we have tried several times. We thought each attempt was a great idea. Reagan helped arm the Iranians. When Russia was fighting Afghanistan, we helped the Afghani rebels fight them. We fought two wars in Iraq and insured the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. What is the condition of Iraq now, after the loss of all that blood and treasure? We encouraged the overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Egypt. How does that make sense? I thought one of our goals was to encourage the spread of democracy around the world. We helped overthrow Gadhafi. What replaced him? Currently, we don’t like Assad in Syria. Who will take his place if he is ousted? We may not be happy with the current state of affairs, but what is the clear way forward? There isn’t one. The situation in that part of the world is simply unsolvable, no matter what we do. My prediction is that we will see increasing chaos and lawlessness.
For those of us who live in the United States, let’s look at our country. Do you notice an increase in lawlessness? Every time we fly on jetliners, we do so with an abiding awareness that there may be a person on board who is wants to blow up the plane. Flash mobs can enter a store and, by force of numbers, take any and all the merchandise they please. Without reason, armed men kill adults and children in schools, universities, neighborhoods, and theaters, just because they can. Each time one of these mass shootings occurs, the media ask, “What caused him to do it? Was he abused as a child? Did he play violent video games? Was he mentally stable?” Here is the biblical answer. This is a fallen, sinful, rebellious world. The only One who can save it is Jesus. Lacking that, there is little hope for our nation or any other nation, and the days will grow increasingly evil. In addition, because the days are evil, Jesus taught, the love of many will grow cold. Have you noticed that has been happening? Our culture is so strange today that men must be careful not to linger in a public place where children are present or even to look at them. Who is to blame? A protective mother? No, of course not. An innocent man sitting on a park bench? No. This is just the way things are. Whatever restrained men in decades past from sexually abusing or abducting children is being taken away. Male and female teachers are having sex with their students. Whatever restrained teachers from doing this in days past is being removed. These things are just bizarre to me. However, they cease being bizarre when I look at them with a last days perspective. Cultures must and will become more and more lawless, because that which restrains is being taken out of the way.
Should I say I hope I’m mistaken? No, I don’t think so. If we really look forward to the return of Jesus, we must accept that lawlessness will increase because that which restrains will no longer restrain. This doesn’t mean that we stop praying, telling people about Jesus, or give up hope. It does mean that life will continue to become more difficult in ways we hadn’t expected.
1Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of I-II Thessalonians (Vol. 3, p. 181). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.