In early 2010 I came across a post concerning the timing of our Lord's return in which the author presented the argument that since the text of Matthew 24 does not contain any specific reference to God's wrath, it could not, therefore, be a reference to the Great Tribulation. Although this was the first time I've ever encountered this particular line of reasoning, I understand that many people consider the Great Tribulation as being the Wrath of God. I have already commented on this particular topic before, so I'll skip that one for now. However, I must note that an argument from silence is a logical fallacy and is not a viable form of Biblical hermeneutics.
The author’s primary intent was to prove a pretribulational rapture of the Church using John 14:18, “I will not leave you comfortless,” and 2 Thessalonians 2:7 “only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” This is a point that I have not previously covered—what exactly is meant by Paul’s reference in his letter to the Thessalonian church?
"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way" (2 Thess. 2:7).
This particular passage of Scripture has created much confusion and controversy within the study of eschatology. The two points of contention are 1) who is he that letteth and 2) how is he to be taken out of the way.
To begin with, the text of the Authorized Version (KJV) can be a bit misleading to modern readers. Within the English language, the word let once meant "to hinder," so the translation itself is not incorrect. The English word let is derived from the Old English word laetan which meant “make late” or “delay.” Our modern English usage of let can cause us, if we are not careful, to misunderstand the text. Recent translations render the passage like this: "Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way" (ESV). Thus, the first dilemma focuses on understanding who or what the restrainer is.
The author indicated he in the text refers to the Holy Spirit. Believing the Rapture will take place before the final seven years, the passage is suggested to imply that when the Holy Spirit is removed (taken out of the way) from the earth, the Church will ascend with Him (the rapture), and then the Antichrist will be unrestrained to begin the Tribulation Period. As an example, the NKJV renders the passage like this: "only He* who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way," and places in the footnotes, "*Or he." Although a secondary translation is placed in the footnotes (for textual accuracy), the main section uses the capitalized He to denote God, thereby impressing upon the reader the idea that God is the restrainer who will be removed.
(Others have suggested that restrainer is the Church, human government, the preaching of the Gospel, or even the Archangel Michael. However, all of these have their own significant weaknesses.)
But is this the only valid interpretation for this passage, or is there any other way to understand the text? If we do not begin with the assumption that the Rapture must occur before the Antichrist is revealed, then he can be shown to portray a different meaning.
Laying out the original Greek passage that Peter wrote can help in understanding it.
μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται
monon ho katechon arti eos ek mesou genetai
only the he-restraining now until out midst becomes
First of all, ho in the original text (translated as “who” in the KJV) is the Greek definite article. In English, the definite article is the word the. In translation from Greek into English, the definite article is not always required.
The translation "be taken" for genetai occurs only once throughout the entire NT. Its root word ginomai literally means, "to become, or to come to be." Ginomai, in its various forms, is used over 600 times in the NT, and only here in 2 Thess. 2:7 is the word taken associated with its translation. In all other usages of ginomai within the NT, the idea of origin is intended—never removal.
Interestingly, ginomai denotes the “coming to be” as in birth. When declaring “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), John wrote ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο ( ho logos sarx egeneto). Egeneto (was made, or became) is the aorist indicative middle of ginomai (to become). In order to maintain Biblical integrity, it is difficult to believe that any form of ginomai could be used in reference to the Holy Spirit since He has always “been,” in other words, God is eternal. Only the Son of God was ever born.
Genetai, being the second aorist, middle deponent, subjunctive of ginomai, is used in this form 45 times within the NT. The following lists some of the various ways this specific form has been translated:
Matt. 5:18 – be fulfilled
Matt. 10:25 – be, or become
Matt. 18:12 – have, or has
Matt. 23:26 – may be, or may become
Matt. 24:21a – was
Matt. 24:21b – shall be
Matt. 24:32 – is, or become, or becomes
Luke 1:20 – shall be performed
Luke 14:12 – be made
Luke 23:31 – shall be done
John 5:14 – come
John 9:22 – he should be
John 13:19 – it is come to pass
Acts 20:16 – would
Rom. 7:13 – might become
Rom. 15:16 – might be
1 Cor. 9:15 – should be done
Gal. 3:14 – might come
If "taken" or “removed” was absolutely meant to be understood in this text, Peter could have written a form of αἴρω (airo), as in Matthew 13:12 and Mark 11:23. As nothing is explicitly contained in this text, the application of “removal” is forced. Truly, the idea of removal only comes about from the idea that the “restraining” element must be “taken out” or “removed.” However, as the word taken cannot be supported by any explicit or implied Greek word within the original text, is it wise to base an interpretation of the Church’s Rapture upon it?
Ginomai in its various forms was also translated as “arise” 13 times within the KJV. Some have attempted to use this translation to insinuate that the restrainer is the Church, and that when a pretribulational rapture occurs, the saints “arising” from the graves will be the removal of that restraining element. However, since the restrainer is designated using a masculine participle (genetai), it seems doubtful that the Church qualifies as she is always referred to being feminine. Nevertheless, the idea of “arise” may be a suitable translation for genetai in portraying a straight-forward translation for the passage as follows:
Only he |is| holding back now until it arises out of |the| midst.
When this understanding is placed back into textual context, it makes the entire passage more understandable.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming [Grk. parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and |by| our gathering together unto him(1)(2), That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand(1). 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(2), 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, shewing 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 withholdeth(3) [Grk. katechon] that he might be revealed in his time.(4) For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: Only he |is| holding back [Grk. katechon] now until it arises out of |the| midst.(5) 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(6) [Grk. parousia] . . . .
1) The parousia of Christ and our "gathering together unto him" are summarized together as the "day of Christ." Moreover, the "gathering together" can only be understood as a reference to the Church being "caught up [raptured] together" that Paul wrote about in his first letter (1 Thess. 4:13-17).
2) Before we can ever be gathered “together unto him,” i.e. the Rapture, the “man of sin, the son of perdition” has to be revealed.
3) The Church should already know “what witholdeth,” or restrains.
4) The “son of perdition” will be revealed “in his time,” exactly as Christ came in "the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4).
5) When he is revealed, it will not be silently. Rather, it will be as if he explodes on the scene: “arises out of the midst.”
6) Yet, the Lord (at His parousia) shall destroy him.
Finally, please compare the two uses of katechon (the restrainer) in verse 6 and 7:
“what withholdeth (Grk. katechon) that he might be revealed in his time”
“he is holding back (Grk. katechon) now until it arises
out of the midst, and then . . . revealed”
The usage of now and until are “time-based” words. Why is the Antichrist being withheld? The Bible indicates the answer is so that he will be revealed “in his time.” This is the same understanding given in verses 7-8. The verses appear to be parallel texts indicating that the restraining element is God's time-clock. The reason the Antichrist has not been revealed is simply because it is not yet time.
Is my direct translation forced? I suppose some could make that charge. However, when looking at other literal translations, it can be shown to be substantive.
Young's Literal Translation:
only he who is keeping down now |will hinder| -- till he may be out of the way
Green's Literal Translation:
only he is holding back now, until it comes out of the midst
When applying the understanding of God's time-clock back to the text of the KJV, the idea still does not change:
only he [Time] who now letteth will let, until he [Time] be taken out of the way
In conclusion, those who rely on this passage to prove a pretribulational rapture will soon find themselves in a quagmire of difficulties. The difficulty of this passage in translation should be a sufficient reason to avoid its usage in demanding a particular eschatological perspective.