Summary: Who is the restrainer mentioned by Paul in 2nd Thess. Is it the Holy Spirit? The Church? Or none of the above?
II Thess 2:1-9
1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,
2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,
4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.
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 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
The Pre-Trib View of the Restrainer Explained
Paul indicates in this passage that someone is witholding the "mystery of iniquity." Once this person moves "out of the way," the Antichrist will be revealed. Pre-tribulationists claim the Holy Spirit is the restrainer. His influence, exercised through the "Church," keeps the revelation of Antichrist and his demonic kingdom in check. They believe the Holy Spirit, along with the Church will be removed before the Antichrist can be revealed.
Pre-tribbers assume several things not stated by Paul. The passage does not say who the restrainer is. Pre-tribbers assume it is the Holy Spirit. It does not say where the restrainer goes when he is "taken out of the way." Pre- tribbers assume He goes to heaven. It is assumed that the "Church" will also go to heaven because she is indwelled by the Spirit.
The pre-trib reasoning depends upon a positive identification of the restrainer as the Holy Spirit. What is the basis for concluding that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit? According to Scofield, the process of elimination requires this view. He says the Holy Spirit is the only one who could do the job. Since the restraining influence has been at work from the time of the Apostles to the present, the restrainer must be eternal and supernatural. It is said that the Holy Spirit is the only one who could fit this criteria.
If the Holy Spirit leaves earth at the beginning of the tribulation, how could the multitudes be saved in the tribulation? No one can be saved apart from the drawing and convicting influence of the Spirit of God. Also, how could 144,000 Jews evangelize the world in seven years, without the power and presence of the Spirit, when the "Church" has been unsuccessful in nearly two thousand years with the Holy Spirit? The Word of God clearly teaches in Mark 13:9-11, that Christians in the tribulation will be empowered by the Holy Spirit! And that the Spirit will be indwelling them.
If we clear away all the assumptions and speculation, these verses say only that someone is withholding the revelation of the Antichrist. When the restrainer moves "out of the way" (of the "mystery of iniquity"), the Antichrist will be revealed. The restrainer is not identified in this passage, nor is there any indication that the restrainer will go to heaven at this time. Scofield is not correct in claiming that only the Holy Spirit can fit the criteria established in this passage.
The earliest known interpretation of Paul’s "restrainer" seems to have been the Roman Empire. This was the view of Tertullian, a late second century Latin writer. Some have also claimed that Irenaeus (mid 2nd cent.) and Hippolytus (late 2nd cent.) also taught this. But, a close examination of their writings indicates that while they thought Rome must fall first, they derived this idea from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image, not from Paul’s discussion of the restrainer. They understood the legs of iron as being the Roman Empire. Since the ten toes represented the 10 kings that give their authority to the Beast, they concluded that the Roman Empire would dissolve into ten kingdoms, after which the Antichrist would arise. This is not the same as Rome being what restrains the appearance of Antichrist. After Constantine made Christianity a state sponsored religion in the fourth century, writers commonly held that Rome was the restrainer.
Others have understood this to refer to human government in general. Since "the powers that be are ordained of God," human laws are seen as keeping this wicked force in check.