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Originally published in "The Lord's Coming Herald & Wesleyan Bible Prophecy Advocate," Summer Edition 2000

What John Wesley Believed About The Restraining Force Of II Thessalonians 2:6-7

    Dispensationalists universally assume that the Holy Spirit is the restraining force in II Thessalonians 2:-6-7, and that his removal before the man of lawlessness is revealed implies a pretribulation rapture of the church. 

The following quotation from the renowned evangelical fundamental Bible scholar, the late J. Barton Payne, sets forth the exegetical ambiguity and logical incongruence of this whole notion: "Even if its identification of the restraint were to be accepted, the being 'taken out of the way' would require no rapture, but simply a ceasing to restrain. It could mean no more than that 'the Holy Spirit would gradually recede in his active conviction of the sons of men.' . . . More fundamental, however, are the intrinsic improbabilities of the whole theory. Context suggests nothing about the Holy Spirit nor why such veiled language would have been used if he were the one really meant. The Holy Spirit, though he may well do so, is never mentioned in Scripture with the function of restraining lawlessness: and verses like John 16:8, Eph. 6:18 and I John 4:4 cannot be adduced as germane to such activity. . . . Scripture, moreover, gives no hint of the Holy Spirit's ever being removed from the world. . . . Even dispensationalists admit that the Holy Spirit continues in the world after the rapture, convicting men of sin and judgment, and opening their hearts to the message of salvation; that the only thing really removed is his presence as indwelling the church (which looks suspiciously like an interpretation dictated by pretribulationists preconceptions); and that the passage presents "many difficulties" (The Imminent Appearing of Christ, p. 111).

    The majority view for nearly eighteen hundred years of Church history was that the text of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 refers to Rome: when Rome falls, then the end will come. This was the position of John Wesley, whose comment on this passage runs thus: "only he that restraineth—That is, the potentate who successively has Rome in his power. The emperors, heathen or Christian: the kings, Goths or Lombards: the Carolingian or German emperors" (Explanatory Notes On the New Testament, p. 535).

    That the fall of Rome is an apocalyptic sign of the end-time is well documented in the legends of the Christian church, though modern dispensationalists are nearly totally ignorant of this fact. The following partial quotations from the early Church fathers, John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-470), and Lactantus (A.D. 260-330), respectively, are only two examples from a large body of ancient Christian teaching that could be cited:

    "Only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way, that is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come." [Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. 13:389] . . . "the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled, will be taken away from the earth, and the government return to Asia; and the East shall again bear rule, and the West be reduced to servitude" [Anti-Nicene Fathers, 7:212].

    Adam Clarke predicted that the Roman world dominion would last until the year 2015. If he is right that is only ten years away. Given how slowly peoples' ideas are given to change, MAYBE it's enough time to get a majority of evangelicals out of Darbyism and awake to what the Bible REALLY teaches about the end-time!

For further detailed information on the meaning of II Thessalonians chapter 2 we refer the reader to our approved Masters Degree thesis entitled St Paul's Primitive Understanding Of the Delay Of The Parousia, (Indiana Wesleyan University, 1982).

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