How Can Christians Be Prepared For The End-Times? - Part 2
How can we be encouraged and courageous even when it seems like the world has the upper hand? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes us through 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 and continues in our series, Hope Beyond Hardness.
Because Ezekiel prophesied that at the end of time, Israel would be invaded by a northern and southern military coalition (Ezek. 38-39), a coalition composed of Russia (Rosh), Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and possibly modern Afghanistan (Magog), modern Turkey (Meshech and Tubal), Iran (Persia), Ethiopia, Libya (Put), Turkey (Gomer), Azerbaijan and Armenia . . . or other parts of Turkey (Beth-togarmah), one could easilyl posit it currently looks like this is what is about to occur geo-politically with the savage attack of mostly unarmed, innocent Israelis by Hamas and how surrounding Islamic nations (and Russia) are responding to Israel’s military to (rightfully) eradicate these blood-thirsty terrorists on their southwestern exposed border. One could go one step further and say it looks like we are either about the enter the Tribulation or are on the cusp of it.
Current events are troubling because worldwide war could erupt at any moment, and while the alignment of the nations committed to Israel’s eradication, as prophesied by Zechariah (Zech. 12), is undoubtedly falling in place as God revealed thousands of years ago, we are certainly closer to the time of God’s direct judgment of the wicked in the seven-year Tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27; Rev.12:6-14), but we are not in that prophesied period, and we, the Church, never will be.
The sadistic, savage persecution the saints in Thessalonica endured primed them to listen to false teachers who contradicted Paul’s teaching about the Rapture of the Church in his first letter (1 Thess. 4:13-18). They stirred up and misled the people by stating believers were currently experiencing the Day of the Lord or the Tribulation. If Paul believed the Church would face the force of God’s prophesied wrath, his second letter to these confused believers afforded him an excellent opportunity to tell them to prepare for the worst. But he didn’t. He did just the opposite in chapter 2. In answering the following question from this passage, Paul tells believers of all periods why they will be Raptured before the Tribulation, coupled with how to live until Jesus brings them to their heavenly home.
I invite you now to turn your attention to the question we posed in our last study.
How Can Christians Be Prepared For The Prophesied Tough Times Of The End-Times? (2 Thess. 2:1-17)
So far, we have studied two of Paul’s answers:
- Don’t Be Hoodwinked (2 Thess. 2:1-3a) or translated: don’t permit misguided prophecy teachers to convince you that you are in the Tribulation.
- Do Be Honed In (2 Thess 2:3b-5), or translated: do understand that the Tribulation period will be one of worldwide apostasy away from God, the Word, His gospel, and truth. True, you see this falling away from biblical (logical and moral) truth today; however, it pales into insignificance concerning what will transpire when the Church is no longer present.
A third answer is discovered in verses 6 through 7:
Do Be Courageous (2 Thess. 2:6-7)
Watch how Paul thoughtfully develops this point:
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. (2 Thess. 2).
The personal pronoun, “he” (αὐτὸν), here contextually speaks of “the man of lawlessness,” “the son of perdition,” or, in a word, the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3). The saints in Thessalonica were not in the Tribulation because this coming false Messiah was currently being restrained. What was (is) restraining him from wreaking political, social, economic, and spiritual havoc on the world?
The Greek for “restrain,” katecho (κατέχω), according to Gingrich’s Greek New Testament Lexicon, has eight lexical nuances, each denoting the power to control something from doing what it/he/she desires. For what it’s worth, here is the entire entry for the Greek students among us. This is a pivotal word in the passage. Therefore, it is word understanding:
κατέχω impf. κατεῖχον; fut. καθέξω LXX, 3 pl. κατασχήσουσι (JosAs 16 [p. 64, 18 Bat. and cod. A]); 2 aor. κατέσχον. Pass.: fut. 2 pl. κατασχεθήσεσθε Ruth 1:13; aor. 3 sg. κατεσχέθη LXX (s. ἔχω; Hom.+). Trans. in all mngs. below, except 7.
① to prevent the doing of someth. or cause to be ineffective, prevent, hinder, restrain
ⓐ to hold someone back from going away hold back, hinder, prevent from going away (Hom. et al.; BGU 1205, 27 [28 b.c.]; 37, 6 [50 a.d.]; PFay 109, 11; Gen 24:56; cp. Jos., Ant. 7, 76; Just., A I, 45, 1) Hs 9, 11, 6. ὃν ἐβουλόμην πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν κ. whom I wished to keep with me Phlm 13. Foll. by gen. of the inf. w. article (B-D-F §400, 4) οἱ ὄχλοι κατεῖχον αὐτὸν τοῦ μὴ πορεύεσθαι ἀπʼ αὐτῶν Lk 4:42.
ⓑ hold down, suppress τὶ someth. (γέλωτα X., Cyr. 2, 2, 1; Chariton 3, 7, 4 τ. λύπην; WCrum, Coptic Ostraca p. 4, 522=Dssm., LO 260 [LAE 306]=PGM II 233, no. O 1, 1–3 Κρόνος, ὁ κατέχων τὸν θυμὸν ὅλων τ. ἀνθρώπων, κάτεχε τ. θυμὸν Ὡρι; cp. II, 7, 935f, p 41; Jos., Vi. 233 τ. ὀργήν) τ. ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ stifle the truth by unrighteousness/ wickedness Ro 1:18 (cp. JFitzmyer, Ro [AB], ’93, 278; but s. 6 below).
ⓒ to prevent someone from exercising power, restrain, check (Thu. 6, 29, 3; Appian, Bell. Civ. 2, 149 §622 τοῦ δαίμονος κατέχοντος τὸ πέλαγος=divine power held the sea back until Alexander reached the other shore; PGiss 70, 3 [II a.d.] ἡ ἀναγραφὴ κατέσχεν ἡμᾶς μέχρι ὥρας ἕκτης) ἵνα μὴ κατέξω τ̣ὰ [προσ]|τεταγμένα καὶ ἐπεικίμ̣[εν]α so that I might not delay (carrying out) the instructions and orders AcPl Ha 7, 14f. τὸ κατέχον (Themistocl., Ep. 13, 4) 2 Th 2:6 and ὁ κατέχων vs. 7 mean that which restrains and one who restrains, i.e. what prevents God’s adversary fr. coming out in open opposition to God, for the time being. In an effort to define κ. more specifically here, many interpreters have followed the exegesis of the ancient church (Tertullian) and taken τὸ κ. to be the Roman Empire and ὁ κ. the Emperor (OBetz, NTS 9, ’63, 276–91). An alternative view, as old as Theodore of Mops., but without sustained acceptance, would make τὸ κ. the preaching of Christian missionaries and ὁ κ. the apostle Paul (so OCullmann, Dodd Festschr. ’56, 409–21). These and other attempts to limit more precisely the mng. of these terms in 2 Th invite skepticism because of insufficient textual data (vs. 5 appears to imply in-house information). The concept of the temporary restraining of the forces of hell (cp. Rtzst., Poim. 27 late Egyptian prayer 6, 4 Horus as κατέχων δράκοντα=PGM 4, 994f; cp. 2770 Μιχαὴλ … κατέχων, ὃν καλέουσι δράκοντα μέγαν) does not appear to play any role here.—WBousset, D. Antichrist 1895; NFreese, StKr 93, 1921, 73–77; VHartl, ZKT 45, 1921, 455–75; WSchröder, D. 2. Thess. 1929, 8–15; DBuzy, RSR 24, ’34, 402–31; OCullmann, RThAM 1, ’38, 26–61; JSchmid, TQ 129, ’49, 323–43; OBetz, NTS 9, ’63, 276–91. Difft. CGiblin, Threat to Faith ’67, 167–242, a hostile power. S. also JTownsend, SBLSP 19, ’80, 233–46; RAus, JBL 96, ’77, 537–53; New Docs 3, 28.
ⓓ to hold back with design hold back τὶ someth. κ. ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν σοφὴν αὐτοῦ βουλήν hold back his wise plan as a secret Dg 8:10.
② to adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs, hold to, hold fast (cp. the lit. sense λαμπάδας ἐν ταῖς χερσίν ParJer 3:2)
ⓐ keep in one’s memory (Theophr., Char. 26, 2, a word of Homer) εἰ κατέχετε if you hold it fast 1 Cor 15:2.
ⓑ hold fast, retain faithfully (X., Symp. 8, 26 τ. φιλίαν; TestJud 26:1 τ. ὁδούς) τὸν λόγον Lk 8:15. τὰς παραδόσεις guard the traditions 1 Cor 11:2. τὸ καλόν hold fast what is good 1 Th 5:21; Agr 11. τὴν παρρησίαν βεβαίαν κ. keep the confidence firm Hb 3:6; cp. vs. 14. κ. τὴν ὁμολογίαν ἀκλινῆ 10:23.
③ to keep in one’s possession, possess (Ps.-Aristot., Mirabilia 159; 160; Polyb. 1, 2, 3; IMagnMai 105, 51 [II b.c.] ἵνα ἔχωσιν κατέχωσίν τε καρπίζωνταί τε; Ezk 33:24; Da 7:18, 22; Ath. 8:3) τὶ someth. Mt 21:38 v.l.; ὡς μηδὲν ἔχοντες καὶ πάντα κατέχοντες 2 Cor 6:10 (DMealand [ZNW 67, ’76, 277–79] cites Ps.-Crates Ep. 7 Hercher=p. 58 no. 7, 8 Malherbe: ἔχοντες μηδὲν πάντʼ ἔχομεν, ὑμεῖς δὲ πάντʼ ἔχοντες οὐδὲν ἔχετε). Abs. 1 Cor 7:30.
④ to keep within limits in a confining manner, confine
ⓐ in prison keep, confine (PFlor 61, 60; BGU 372 I, 16; Gen 39:20; Philo, Leg. All. 3, 21) pass. Χριστιανοὶ κατέχονται ὡς ἐν φρουρᾷ τῷ κόσμῳ they are confined in the world as in a prison Dg 6:7.
ⓑ by law: ἀποθανόντες ἐν ᾧ κατειχόμεθα having died to that by which we were bound Ro 7:6 (cp. PAmh 97, 17 οὐ κατασχεθήσομαι τῇ ὑποσχέσει; PRyl 117, 13).
ⓒ by disease (Diod S 4, 14, 5; Philo, Op. M. 71, Congr. Erud. Grat. 138; PSI 299, 3 κατεσχέθην νόσῳ; act., Jer 13:21; Jos., Vi. 48) Lk 4:38 D; J 5:4 v.l.
⑤ to have a place as one’s own, take into one’s possession, occupy (Hdt. 5, 72 et al.; PAmh 30, 26 [II b.c.] τὴν οἰκίαν) τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον Lk 14:9 (cp. Philosoph. Max. 491, 69 τὸν κάλλιστον κατέχουσι τόπον; Jos., Ant. 8, 104). Cp. GPt 5:15.—AcPl Ha 5, 28 [κατ]ε̣ῖ̣χεν αὐτὰς ἔκστασις perh. means astonishment overcame them.
⑥ lay claim to, legal t.t. Ro 1:18 (the point is that a claim is made for truth, which is denied in practice, cp. vss. 22f; s. FDanker, in Gingrich Festschr. 93. For a difft. interpr. see 1b above).
⑦ hold course, nautical t.t., intr. (Hdt. 7, 188 κατέσχε ἐς τὸν αἰγιαλόν; Dicaearchus, Fgm. 85 W. εἰς Δῆλον κατέσχε; Polyb. 1, 25, 7; Philostrat., Vi. Apoll. 4, 13 p. 133, 5; 5, 18 p. 178, 13; cp. Jos., Ant. 1, 204) κατεῖχον εἰς τὸν αἰγιαλόν they headed for the beach Ac 27:40.
⑧ Perh. in the sense of determine (cp. προσέχω 2c) κατεχόντων εἰ ἄρα ἀληθῶς ἀπέθανεν AcPt Ox 849, 2f; s. ed.’s notes.—M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq.
The present tense participial use of this verb denotes the restraining was/is an ongoing activity. The fact the verb is also neuter, as opposed to masculine or feminine, tells us it is an impersonal force. At the right time, according to God’s precise and well-planned timetable, this restraining force will be removed to permit “the man of lawlessness” to be revealed. Regarding this, Pastor Warren Wiersbe observes,
“There are two programs at work in the world today: God’s program of salvation, and Satan’s program of sin, “the mystery of iniquity.” God has a timetable for His program, and nothing Satan does can change that timetable. Just as there was a “fullness of the time” for the coming of Christ (Gal. 4:4), so there is a “fullness of the time” for the appearance of Antichrist; and nothing will be off schedule.
This evil, Devil-inspired man cannot arise in the Tribulation until God says he can. Interestingly, God is so utterly sovereign that even the Antichrist must do His bidding in His time. And the Antichrist will be revealed when God deems it the right time. The Greek word here is apokalupto (ἀποκαλύπτω), and it speaks of something that was completely hidden from view and is suddenly brought forth for all to see. I don’t know about you, but God's sovereign and omnipotent power gives me great comfort, hope, and courage.
In verse 7, Paul gives us more precise information about the identity of the restraining force that holds the arrival of the Antichrist in check.
7 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 Thess. 2).
Even though “the man of lawlessness” was/is not currently revealed, it doesn’t mean his spirit was/is not at work, greasing the proverbial skids for his arrival. In John’s first letter, we learn that the spirit of the Antichrist, who hates the Godhead and loves wickedness, is presently working overtime to create as much mayhem as possible (1 John 2:18; 4:3). Look around you and you (unfortunately) see a world engulfed in wickedness and outright lawlessness.
- Some politicians create a double standard of the law: one for them and one for you.
- Some judges are ideologically driven so they have already determined justice in a given case before the case is presented.
- Some students on university campuses can look at the barbarous actions of terrorists and decide it is supposedly noble to side with their (crooked) cause.
- Some young people think the best way to shop is to overpower a given store with your numbers so you can take what you want.
- Some laws are so lax that repeat offenders keep repeating their felonious crimes on innocent people because the courts won’t keep them locked up.
- Some librarians purposefully place pornographic material in all sections of their libraries to corrupt the minds of innocent children, and they will classify moral people who want those bad books removed as illogical book burners.
Yeah, lawlessness is spreading like a weed, but all of this is only a faint glimpse of the Satan-inspired man who will turn law and order on its head when God permits him to reveal himself to mankind.
Presently, however, the Antichrist’s revelation is suppressed by what Paul now calls not an impersonal force, but a highly personal one. Using the same verb for restraint, Paul changes it from a neuter (impersonal) to a masculine (personal) form: ὁ κατέχων (2 Thess. 2:7). The article here is masculine, and the verb is, once again, a present tense denoting ongoing restraint; however, the case ending here is also masculine, thereby underscoring that a person, not a thing is in view. All of this naturally leads to two key questions: Who is the retrainer? This leads logically to a second question: Who is capable of holding back the evil intent of Satan?
Many answers have been given to answer these questions, and I will not dive into them because they are logically, historically, and/or biblically tenuous. I think the answer is quite apparent. The restrainer has to be God, for only God can restrain and hold back the advancement of pure, Satanically driven, and inspired evil. As Hiebert quips, “Only a supernatural person can truly frustrate the supernatural workings of Satan. This would at once rule out human agencies as well as all evil supernatural agents. Only a superhuman Restrainer can do the work.” That Restrainer is, therefore, God Almighty. In Genesis 6, verse 3, we read about His work on earth during the unchecked contagion of sinful behavior when Moses writes:
NAS Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years."
NIV Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years."
He who was/is holy informed Noah He wouldn’t basically restrain man’s love for advancing wicked behavior forever. Therefore, the time of judgment by means of a worldwide flood was at hand. Note to self: God is gracious, merciful, and patient toward sinners; however, His utter holiness eventually moves Him to deal with sin definitively. It is better to turn, in saving faith, to Him right now by means of bowing before Jesus, the Savior.
Job’s story also reminds us about God's restraining power and plan. God had put some type of protective hedge around this godly man’s life. The Devil testified that God restrained him from trying Job (Job 1:9-11). Satan accused Job of only serving God because God had only showered goodness on him and his family. Satan posited if God would only remove this hedge of protection, Job would curse God. God agreed with one proviso: Satan couldn’t touch Job’s body (Job 1:12). When Satan killed Job’s children and wiped out his work animals and flocks, Job tore his clothes, shaved his head, and fell to his knees in grief and said:
21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1).
When God pointed out to Satan how faithful Job was in all of this, the Devil responded with a request to permit him to afflict Job’s physical body (John 2:1-8). He wrongly thought Job would eventually implode and turn and hate God. That didn’t happen from what we learn from the historical story. We learn much from this instructive, moving, emotional story, but at the top of the list is this: Satan could do no more than what God permitted. God was, and is, the only one capable of restraining Satan’s actions and assuring that His holy plans for us and mankind are realized in due time.
God is, therefore, the Restrainer. But which member of the Godhead is it? I think the Holy Spirit is consistently referred to by Jesus with the masculine pronoun, “He,” coupled with the neuter, Spirit (John 14; 16). Where is the Spirit right now? Of course, He is omnipresent, but since Pentecost (Acts 2), He specifically indwells and seals all believers who comprise the mystical body called the Church:
- 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12).
- 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3)
- 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Cor. 6)
- 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1).
Pragmatically, this means the Church, which the Spirit indwells, assists God in restraining the advancement of evil. Stated differently, what keeps radical, ruthless lawlessness from spreading like wildfire as the world ramps up for the coming of the Man of Lawlessness? It is you. It is me. It is the Church of Jesus Christ. We are the formidable force that brings health, wholeness, sanity, peace and life to this sin-torn world.
Yet, as Paul teaches here, there will come a moment in time when Pentecost is reversed.
7 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 Thess. 2).
When will the Restrainer, the Spirit, be “taken out of the way?” When the Lord Raptures the Church and the Tribulation begins. Before Pentecost, the Spirit was present, but He worked selected in the lives of prophets, priests, kings, and tabernacle and temple artisans in Israel. At Pentecost, He descended to fill His saints and to empower them to live for God, share the gospel in this Age of Grace, and frustrate the works of the Evil One. After the Rapture, His special presence will leave with the Church, and He will return to work with specific people like He did in Old Testament times. The countless people who will be saved at the beginning of the Tribulation who appear in Revelation chapter 7 are a testimony of His convicting and drawing ministry to the lost (John 14; 16). His “departure” with the Church also reminds us of two things: one, we are not in the Tribulation, and two, the Rapture of the Church is pretribulational because “the man of lawlessness” cannot be revealed until the Restrainer is “removed.”
What does all this mean to us in the here and now as we await the imminent Rapture of the Church? It means we are to corporately and individually work to restrain evil and lawlessness as saints of the Lord Jesu Christ and recipients of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. How should we do this?
- We should strive to be law-abiding citizens.
- We should oppose lawbreakers whenever and however we can.
- We should oppose legislators who seek to enact laws that cultivate further lawlessness.
- We should work to rewrite laws that encourage lawlessness.
- We should peacefully demonstrate when schools push lawlessness on our children.
- We should support those politicians who respect law and order.
- We should not embrace cultural issues that challenge us to abandon the ancient truths of Holy Scripture.
- We should live lives that reflect kingdom principles laid out by our Lord (Matt. 5-7), and we should make sure hypocrisy has no place in our lives.
- We should read, preach, and teach the Word of God with compassion and without equivocation (2 4:1-5), knowing the time is here when people do not want to hear biblical truth but need it nonetheless.
- We should crucify sinful passions that war against our lives, be what they may, so we can show unbelievers the power of the gospel, the presence and fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24).
- We must share the life-giving gospel with everyone like the early Church did in Acts.
- We must commit to not being silent when we see darkness masquerading as light to deceive the masses.
- We must be utterly committed to speaking truth in all forms and not perpetuating lies, which originate in the father of lies, the Devil.
- We must be committed to not being silenced when truth is at stake.
- We must listen to the hurting, the broken, and the dysfunctional, as our Lord did, but we must not permit this to pull us from our commitment to what constitutes truth.
- We must study cultural issues and identify where they espouse truth and where they embrace lies. In the final analysis, we must challenge people to turn to biblical answers to the cultural issues we encounter, knowing that this is the only place to find answers that lead to peace and prosperity.
We are the salt that holds decay at bay (Matt. 5:13) and the light that keeps darkness from being the order of the day (Matt. 5:14-15). May we be as brave as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as culturally keen as Francis Schaeffer, and as articulate as Paul. Who knows . . . perhaps through our work as a restraining force, we will live to see a spiritual revival. Oh, may it be so.
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 532–533.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 313.