What is the removal of the restrainer? Is the Holy Spirit still active afterwards?

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Question / Comment -  What is the removal of the restrainer? Is the Holy Spirit still active in the tribulation?

Dear Iain

I have a question about the Restrainer, the Holy Spirit, being taken out with the rapture of the church. With the removal of the Holy Spirit, what about the 2 witnesses and the 144000 sealed servants of God? Don’t they need the Holy Spirit too?


JPN Reply:

Hi Irene

thanks for the good question which certainly comes up when thinking about the restrainer. 

2Th 2:6-8 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. (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. (8) Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

Who is the restrainer?

To give some background, people have suggested various options on who the restrainer is including human government, Michael the archangel, the church, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit operating through the church. 

We know from the text the restrainer is spoken of as both neuter and masculine. Dr Renald Showers writes:

John stated that the spirit of antichrist was already operating in the world during the first century (1 Jn. 2:18; 4:3). Paul indicated the same when he wrote that “the mystery of iniquity [literally, “lawlessness”] doth already work” (2 Th. 2:7). But he emphasized that something (“what” in the phrase what restraineth is neuter in gender, v. 6) or someone (“he” in the phrase he who now hindereth is masculine, v. 7) is restraining the spirit of lawlessness from attaining its ultimate expression in the Antichrist. That ultimate expression will not be attained until the time the Antichrist is revealed, and he will not be revealed until the restrainer (“he,” v. 7) is removed (vv. 6–8).

Dr. Gerald Stanton gives the following 6 reasons why the restrainer should be understood to refer to the Holy Spirit's restraining ministry through the church.

(1) By mere elimination, the Holy Spirit must be the restrainer. All other possibilities fall short of meeting the requirements of one who is to hold in check the forces of evil until the manifestation of Antichrist.
(2) The Wicked One is a personality and his operations include the realm of the spiritual. The restrainer must likewise be a personality and of a spiritual order, to resist the wiles of the Devil and to hold Antichrist in check until the time of his revealing.
(3) To achieve all that is to be accomplished, the restrainer must be a member of the Godhead. He must be stronger than the Man of Sin, and stronger than Satan.
(4) This present age is in a particular sense the "dispensation of the Spirit," for He works in a way uncommon to other ages as an abiding Presence within the children of God.
(5) The work of the Spirit since His advent has included the restraint of evil. The Spirit is God's righteous Agent for the age, and there are many reasons to be grateful for His restraining hand upon this world's iniquity. None but the Lawful One could restrain this world's iniquity.
(6) It is not difficult to establish that although the Spirit was not resident on earth during Old Testament days, whatever restraint was exerted was by the Spirit. . . . (Isa. 59:19) . . . The wickedness of Noah's day and the fact that life went on as usual in blindness to impending destruction is used of the Spirit in vivid portrayal of careless and wicked men upon whom Tribulation judgment shall fall.

So I believe that the removal of the restrainer is two-fold:
1) It is the Holy Spirit's ministry in and through the church. Looking at the lawlessness that is increasing around the world in our day, can you imagine what it would be like when the Church, which through the power of the Holy Spirit within is said to be the light and salt of this world, is removed at the rapture? If things are bad now those days will be absolute chaos. There will be no push-back on the works of the enemy and his evil agenda, and the vast majority will fall into line, thoroughly deceived and wondering in awe at the Antichrist.

2) It is the Holy Spirit's specific role in relation to restraining lawlessness and evil. You will remember in the wicked days of Noah that the Bible says

Gen 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."

In those days the Lord put a deadline on how long the Spirit would strive (in relation to the evil of men) before that was removed and judgement came. The same will be in the last days. 

The Holy Spirit's role in the tribulation

So getting to your specific question, we need to be clear that the removal of the restrainer in relation to the coming of the Antichrist does not mean that the Holy Spirit is no longer on the earth. The Holy Spirit, being God, is omnipresent and will always be present on earth. However, his present day restraining work through the Church will be removed at the rapture before the tribulation and the Spirit's specific role in restraining the man of lawlessness (and the spirit of lawlessness) will be removed. 

This does not mean that the Holy Spirit will not carry on other existing roles. He will still save and empower individuals in the tribulation. Clearly He will. All of God's servants need the power of the Holy Spirit... in every age. Even in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit would come upon individuals to empower them for the task at hand.  For example the Holy Spirit came upon Bezalel (Exodus 31:3), Moses (Numbers 11:17, 25-26), Joshua (Numbers 27:18-19), Othniel (Judges 3:9-10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Epitaph (Judges 11:29), Samson (Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14), Samuel (1 Samuel 10:6-10; 16:13-14), Saul (1 Samuel 19:20-23), David (1 Samuel 23:1), Isaiah (Isaiah 59:21) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2).

So in the tribulation period the Holy Spirit is still operating in His role to save and empower but He is not restraining the man of lawlessness and the spirit of lawlessness. With the restraining hand upon the Antichrist removed, Satan, through the Antichrist, will finally be able to perform all the signs and wonders he desires to deceive the whole world. 

2Th 2:9-10 ...the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

But at the same time, the Holy Spirit will still perform His role of saving and empowering. The 144,000 will be empowered by the Holy Spirit in a radical way as will the 2 witnesses. Through the ministry of the 144,000 countless people will be saved as seen in Revelation 7:9-17. But it will be an unspeakably terrible time and these believers will nearly all lose their lives. This is why, in the book of Revelation, we see the Holy Spirit encouraging the tribulation saints that though they will lose their lives, rest and rewards await!

Rev 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

Hope this helps. God Bless!