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Is Archangel Michael the Restrainer?
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, April 07, 2017
Alf Cengia

Various identities have been proposed for the Restrainer. Here are some: 1) The Roman Empire; 2) Human Government; 3) God; Paul's proclamation of the gospel; 4) The Holy Spirit; 5) Michael the Archangel. I first became aware of the rapture timing debates somewhere around 2004. One of the bones of contention was the identity of the Restrainer (2 Thess 2:6). 

At the time, the Holy Spirit idea held by most pretribulationists (not all) was being strongly challenged by the new-kid-on-the-block prewrath rapturism. It would be accurate to say that most, if not all, prewrathers contend that Michael is the Restrainer.

In The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Marvin Rosenthal asserted that it was clear the Restrainer is neither human government nor the Holy Spirit (p 260). Rosenthal claimed the issue wasn't crucial to his view. It appears to matter to prewrathers given their attention to this point.

Pre-Wrath adherents claim that Michael the Restrainer is removed at the midpoint of the 70th week. 2 Thess 2:6-7 is cited and it's assumed that v 4 - the revealing of the Antichrist - occurs then. For some rebuttals and responses see Eric Douma's essay on 2 Thess 2:1-8, and William Varner's article on the Restrainer.

Robert Van Kampen expounded the idea in The Sign (revised edition pp 212, 489 etc). He relied heavily on Jewish rabbi Rashi's material for his arguments. Colin Nichol (From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica) also argued for Michael using Rashi's material.

Note: Relying on a rabbi's interpretations is problematic. Jewish scholars Michael Rydelnik and Arnold Fruchtenbaum have demonstrated how Rashi adversely influenced the Christian recognition of Messiah in the OT. See Dr. Rydelnik's The Messianic Hope (chap 8).

It is claimed by some that the Greek term parerchomai in Daniel 12:1 (LXX) means "to pass by." Rashi's interpretation of 'amad (stand-arise in Dan 12:1) is employed to argue that Michael stands up, but remains still. They note that the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) Hebrew English Lexicon allows the meanings: stand still; stop, cease moving etc.

It's true 'amad can have these meanings. Renald Showers has pointed out that it also means "arise, appear and come on the scene." In fact these are the meanings BDB assigns to that passage. Furthermore, parerchomai (LXX) also means: "to come near or aside, i.e. to approach (arrive)."

One problem with the Michael-ceasing-restraint argument is context. It makes little sense to say that "Michael will stop defending your people; the angel who defends your people," when the context is that Israel will be saved through the tribulation. Compare Dan 12:1 with Matt 24:15-16, 21-22 and Rev 12:6-8.

Michael isn't "standing aside" at all. He is fighting against the dragon.

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war Rev 12:7.

Posttribulationist Robert Gundry disagrees with pretribulationism regarding the removal of the church during the 70th week of Daniel. Yet in The Church and the Tribulation (pp 122-128) he cogently argues why the Restrainer can only be the Holy Spirit.

Ironically, Gundry even states that: "The charge of novelty against this view [Holy Spirit as Restrainer]...does not survive investigation." We might say the same about the alleged "novelty" of pretribulationism.

Another issue associated with Michael is his capacity (or authority) to restrain Lawlessness, and the Man of Lawlessness (Jude 1:9). While he is Israel's protector, he is never assigned the role of restraining lawlessness in general.

Renald Showers has shown that the Holy Spirit acts as restrainer of lawlessness. Such was the case before Noah's flood (Gen 6:3). Showers notes that the word "strive" means to govern. It embodies the idea of God's sovereign government in every realm through God the Holy Spirit.

F. F. Bruce, Robert L. Thomas, and Gordon Fee generally agree that the timing of the revelation of the Antichrist and the Apostasy (rebellion) are coincident. It is the cessation of the restraint of lawlessness which gives rise to the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess 2:7-8).

The idea that the revelation of the Man of Sin occurs at the midpoint of the 70th week is not required of 2 Thess 2:4. It is an appositional phrase describing what he does. If we assume the first seal of Revelation represents the Antichrist riding out and conquering, then that strongly suggests the restraint of lawlessness has already ceased at that point.

Eric Douma proposes that the Restrainer is a combination of Michael the Archangel and human government rule. His caveat is that the cessation of the restraint occurs at the commencement of the 70th week. I agree with the second premise.

However, God may use several means to restrain evil - and especially the church! Similarly, while Gundry cited Rom 13:1-7 to show how God (the Holy Spirit) restrains evil, he glossed over the church's role (via the Holy Spirit) as a restraining force.

One would be hard pressed not to note the difference in societies where the gospel has enjoyed a free voice, compared to those where it's fundamentally suppressed. The Holy Spirit, via the church, has acted as a restraining force for nearly two thousand years.

The church's contribution to restraining evil hasn't been lost on former atheist Peter Hitchens. In his book "The Rage Against God", Hitchens marked how Soviet suppression of Christianity turned Russia into a "grotesque relic." Upon his return to Britain he noticed a significant decay of morals in that society. This he attributed to the gradual reduction of Christian presence in public forums.

What are we seeing now in Western societies which suppress Christianity and reject God's word? One commentator believes that the rapture of the church can be viewed as God's judgment against a rebellious, unbelieving world. I agree.

Contrary to those who see the "Antichrist tribulation" as directed only to the Jews and the church - Paul clearly states that the coming of the Lawless One is punishment on those who reject God's truth.

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2Th 2:9-12

On the other hand Christ promised the Philadelphian Church exemption from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world, to test them (Rev 3:10). I believe the church will be gone by the time all restraint of evil has ceased. This will begin the time of God's wrath.

I'll conclude by recommending Tony Garland's excellent essay on the Rapture of the Church. His discussion of the Restrainer is detailed and very useful. You can read it HERE.

Lord, come quickly!

About Alf Ceniga

Last week: A God of Love and Wrath



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