The Restrainer, and the Restrained.
Now we beseech you brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what with-holdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way, and then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-10
The above verses are perhaps, alongside Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, the most significant texts in the entire word of God as to revealing the identity of the Antichrist of scripture. When reading Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, and in contemplating the above, the reader cannot help but be impressed with the detail and amount of information given regarding the nature, the thoughts, beliefs and practices of this entity who from the beginnings of the Christian faith to the present time, has shed such a dark forbidding cloud over the true church. In these few short verses the apostle Paul has given his readers a clear and unambiguous signpost pointing directly to the rise of the man of sin, the son perdition. A signpost that he first revealed to the Thessalonian church in person, and reaffirmed in this letter. Bible scholars for centuries have agreed that the reason Paul was less than forthcoming in his letter in naming the ‘restrainer’ directly as he is commonly known, was because there was a very real danger involved in so doing. That danger coming from the restrainer himself, the Roman pagan empire who ruled the then known world at that time, and who, if upon reading this letter and realizing that Paul was here saying that their power was about to be swept away to make way for another, Paul would have been immediately arrested and charged, tried, and executed for sedition. Also, because the Thessalonians already knew who Paul was talking about, it was not necessary for Paul to risk naming Rome again.
Practically all the early commentators and church fathers were unanimous in their belief that Paul was referring to the empire of Rome in general, and to the emperors in particular. Let me provide a few quotes from those early church statesmen from their comments on this matter.
Let me start with Tertullian (160-240 A. D.):
“‘For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder,
until he be taken out of the way.’ What obstacle is there but the Roman state, the falling
away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon (its
own ruins)? ‘And then shall be revealed the wicked one.” “On the Resurrection of the
Flesh,” chapter 24; Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. III, p. 563
(Author: There is some debate as to whether the ‘falling away’ referred to here is in reference to the empire, or the church. Some say one, some the other, while some would contend that it can apply equally to both. Either way, Tertullian was certain in his belief that the restrainer was the Roman Empire. That it was Rome itself that inhibited in some way the rise of the antichrist. This was generally accepted throughout the church at that time, and it was common for the church to pray to God that He would keep the Roman power intact in order to keep the antichrist to coming to power in their time. Interesting also is Tertullian’s reference to the ten kingdoms that would result from the break up of Rome. This is a direct reference to Daniel 7 and the ten horns that would grow from the 4th beast, Rome. The Antichrist, according to Bible scholars, was the 11th horn. Tertullian was using the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, that method which viewed prophecy as an historical unfolding throughout history from the time the prophecy was first given, and culminating at the second coming. This is significant when understanding Paul’s letter, because Paul is clear that the Antichrist would appear as soon as Rome moves aside, and that very same Antichrist would still be there to be judged at the second coming. Not futurist, not preterist, but a historicist approach, just like Tertullian.)
In yet another comment, Tertullian states: “The very end of all things threatening dreadful woes is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman Empire.”
(“Apology,” chapter 32; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 43).
A little later Lactantius,. in the early fourth century wrote: “The subject itself declares that the fall and ruin of the world will shortly take place; except that while the city of Rome remains, it appears that nothing of this kind is to be feared. But when that capital of the world shall have fallen, and shall have begun to be a street, which the Sibyls say shall come to pass, who can doubt that the end has now arrived to the affairs of men and the whole world? It is that city, that only, which still sustains all things.” (“The Divine Institutes,” book 7, chapter 25; Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII, p. 220).
Also early in the fourth century Cyril of Jerusalem (318-386 A. D.)had this to say: “But this aforesaid Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman Empire shall have been fulfilled, and the end of the world is drawing near. There shall rise up together ten kings of the Romans, reigning in different parts perhaps, but all about the same time; and after those an eleventh, the Antichrist, who by his magical craft shall seize upon the Roman power; and of the kings who reigned before him, ‘three he shall humble,’ and the remaining seven he shall keep in subjection to himself.” (Catechetical Lectures,” section 15, on II Thessalonians 2:4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII, p. 108 [New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1895]).
(Author: Much could be said about this quote; he also is clearly linking the prophecy of Daniel to the text of Paul’s, agreeing with other eminent writers of his time that out of Rome would evolve ten kings, 3 of whom the antichrist would subdue. When the restrainer, Rome, was to be taken out of the way, and the horns of Daniel 7 arise, the antichrist would be revealed.)
Now I would present the testimony of Ambrose (died in 398): “After the falling or decay of the Roman Empire, Antichrist shall appear.” (Quoted in, Bishop Thomas Newton,
Dissertations on the Prophecies, p. 463)……
….and Chrysostom (died in 407): “When the Roman Empire is taken out of the way, then he [the Antichrist] shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of man and of God.”
“Homily IV on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-9,” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. XIII, p. 389
[New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1905]…..
…and finally Jerome (died 420): “He that letteth is taken out of the way, and yet we do not realize that Antichrist is near.”
(Letter to Ageruchia, written about 409A. D. Letter 123, section 16; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VI, p. 236
Jerome’s testimony is interesting. He admits and agrees with other early church fathers of his era that Rome was the restrainer, and had been removed in his (Jerome’s) lifetime. Yet it had not yet been made apparent who the power was that could definitively be called the Antichrist. Why? Because from Jerome’s perspective, he could not see all the signs of the Antichrist’s coming, as they had yet to be revealed in history. The capital of the empire had been removed to Constantinople, and the Gothic barbarian kings* were already well entrenched in ongoing battles and wars to decide who would rule over the territories not long since vacated by Rome, but the three horns to be subdued were still in power. When they were subdued, it would then be known by whose power they were done away, and the identity of Antichrist would be revealed.
I think it would be very helpful if I here provided a quote from the eminent Catholic historian, Cardinal Manning.
“Now the abandonment of Rome was the liberation of the pontiffs. Whatsoever claims to obedience the emperors may have made, and whatsoever compliance the Pontiff may have yielded, the whole previous relation, anomalous, and annulled again and again by the vices and outrages of the emperors, was finally dissolved by a higher power. The providence of God permitted a succession of irruptions, Gothic, Lombard, and Hungarian, to desolate Italy, and to efface from it every remnant of the empire.
The pontiffs found themselves alone, the sole fountains of order, peace, law, and safety. And from the hour of this providential liberation, when, by a divine intervention, the chains fell off from the hands of the successor of St. Peter, as once before from his own, no sovereign has ever reigned in Rome except the Vicar of Jesus Christ.”
(Henry Edward Manning, The Temporal Power of The Vicar of Jesus Christ, Preface, pp. xxviii, xxix. London: Burns and Lambert, 1862).
Manning has clearly given an excellent summary of history which directly correlates with the prophecies of Daniel and Paul. While attributing the fall of Rome to God and the rise of the papacy to Him also, Manning seems oblivious to the fact that he is revealing the perfect fulfillment of the prophecy of Paul and Daniel. That when Rome fell, the ten nations arose, three were subdued, and the ultimate victor was the papacy! It was the papacy itself that the empire of Rome was restraining. It was the papacy that arose after the establishment of the ten horns. It was the papacy that had a major role in the subjugation of the 3 horns because being Arian in belief they were directly opposed to the rule of the pontiffs. It will be the papacy that will still be here at the second coming. Therefore it is the papacy which perfectly fulfils the criteria demanded of it in order to be identified as the Antichrist. And that my friends are precisely the reasons all non-Roman Bible commentators from the time of the 6th century on were almost unanimous in identifying the papacy as the man of sin. The power who entered the church (the temple of God) and by claiming the power to forgive sin, and shut out of heaven whom he will, and claiming universal spiritual and temporal authority over all the earth, thus claiming the prerogatives of God, “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
* The ten kings who vied for power as the Roman Empire disintegrated before them and from which 7 nations of modern Europe can trace their descent are known by most historians as being the Anglo-Saxons (Britain), the Allamanni (Germany), the Franks (France), the Lombards (first around the Danube then Italy), Visigoths (Spain), Burgundians (Burgundy/Switzerland)) and the Suevi (Portugal).
These seven of the ten Barbarian kingdoms were converted to Christianity and submitted to the authority of the Bishop of Rome. However, three of the kingdoms converted to Christianity but embraced the heretical teachings of Arius. Arius (who was presbyter in Alexandria around the year 320 A. D.) taught that ‘Christ was created out of nothing as the first and greatest of all creatures’, very similar to Jehovah Witness teachings of today. The teachings of Arius were condemned in two great church councils, Nicea (325 A. D.) and Constantinople (381 A. D.). These three Arian kingdoms were a threat to the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome [later called the Pope]. To make a long story short, these three kingdoms eventually were uprooted by the imperial power acting under the influence of the Bishop of Rome. The Ostrogoths (originally from Yugoslavia), by order of the emperor, dealt the heretical Heruli a devastating defeat in 493 A. D.
It happened like this: The Pope requested the emperor to do something about the unorthodox Heruli. In response, the emperor sent Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths to do
battle with Odoacer, king of the Heruli. Odoacer was slain by Theodoric and the Heruli
disappeared from history. Then the Vandals were crushed (in 534 A. D.) by Belisarius, general of emperor Justinian’s armies. But there was one remaining horn which needed to be uprooted, and it was the most formidable of all: the Ostrogoths. After the Ostrogoths conquered the Heruli, they became extremely powerful. They were also Arians, so the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] implored Justinian to uproot the Ostrogoths. There were several battles between Belisarius and the Ostrogoths. The decisive battle, however, was in February of the year 538. The armies of Justinian, as well as the ravages of disease, decimated the armies of the Ostrogoths, they were expelled from Rome and in short order, disappeared from the historical scene in Europe.
There is some debate as to why the operations of the little horn should be restricted to the western hemisphere of the old Roman territories. The eastern portion of that empire was eventually taken by Islam, so the question is often asked, why cannot Islam be the Antichrist? I think that the following quote from the eminent Bible scholar and historian Sir Isaac Newton asa quoted by Thomas Newton, gives the answer.
“Antichrist, then (as the Fathers delight to call him), or the little horn, is to be sought among the ten kingdoms of the western Roman Empire. I say of the western Roman Empire, because that was properly the body of the fourth beast; Greece, and the countries which lay eastward of Italy belonged to the third beast; for the former beasts were still subsisting, though their dominion was taken away. ‘As concerning the rest of the beasts,’ saith Daniel, ‘they had their dominion taken away; yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.’ Daniel 7:12. ‘And therefore,’ as Sir Isaac Newton rightly infers, ‘all four beasts are still alive, though the dominion of the three first be taken away. The nations of Chaldea and Assyria are still the first beast. Those of Media and Persia are still the second beast. Those of Macedon, Greece and Thrace, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, are still the third. And those of Europe, on this side of Greece, are still the fourth. Seeing therefore the body of the third beast is confined to the nations on this side the river Euphrates, and the body of the fourth beast is confined to the nations on this side of Greece; we are to look for all the four heads of the third beast among the nations on this side the river Euphrates; and for all the eleven horns of the fourth beast, among the nations on this side of Greece.” (Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, pp. 239, 240).