As we observe the rapid acceleration of events foreshadowing the coming Tribulation, it is becoming more clear that God is removing His restraint of evil. The spiritually discerning recognize this trend as evidence that the Bridegroom is preparing to come for His bride, the church very soon.
The key passage that tells us about God removing His restraint of evil as an indicator of Jesus coming soon is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10. The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians because their persecution was so bad some of them were thinking the rapture of the church had occurred and they were left behind. Paul wrote to clarify why that was not the case thus helping us understand the proper order of events. This passage is among the most important establishing that the rapture must happen before the Tribulation.
The context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 is established in the first verse by the reference to "our gathering together to Him." This has to talking about the rapture of the church. The second verse addresses the "day of Christ" which is another term for the Tribulation because it culminates in the revelation of Christ to the world. In verse three, Paul makes it clear that the Tribulation can not happen until the "falling away" happens first.
The original Greek word translated "falling away" in English is "apostasia" which sounds like our word apostasy meaning falling away from the faith. Scholars however have recognized that this word is another term for the rapture of the church because we will fall away from the earth when we meet the Lord in the air. However, many have dismissed this term as referring to the rapture of the church because it could also mean a falling away from the faith which is an end times trend supported in Scripture. Whether Paul was making reference to a great falling away of the faith or removal of the church at the rapture, the rapture is implied either way because the rapture results in zero believers on earth, a pretty thorough apostasy.
Also in verse three we find that the "man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition" following the "falling away." This is referring to the Antichrist who is also called "the lawless one" in verse eight. The Antichrist will be empowered by Satan to rule the world as an alternative human savior to Christ. It will not be clear who this coming world ruler will be until the church is removed at the rapture. So any effort by Christians to speculate on who the Antichrist will be is a futile activity.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 tells us what the Antichrist will do, representing himself as God in the temple. This is the "abomination of desolation" Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:15. For the "abomination of desolation" to occur, there must be a temple in Israel. It is amazing that there is a growing desire for a Temple in Israel even though the population is thoroughly secular. The Jews want a temple as part of their national identity but it is clear that something significant must happen changing the political situation to allow it. The "abomination of desolation" is the event that makes the Jews realize the world leader is not their savior but a deceiver.
Verses six and seven tell us that God is restraining lawlessness keeping the Antichrist from coming to power while the church is on earth. The "mystery of lawlessness" refers to Satan and his minions conspiring to thwart God’s plans to call out a people for Himself. The Restrainer of lawlessness is personified referring to Him as "He." This can only be a reference to the evil restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit who indwells followers of Christ. The Restrainer will be taken out of the way when the church falls away from the earth at the rapture thus ending His restraint of lawlessness.
Verse eight reinforces the truth that the Antichrist will not come to power until the evil restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit ends. The Tribulation is when lawlessness is allowed to run its full course. The Antichrist will establish a totalitarian government that will enslave the world. He will start out representing himself as a friend to Israel but will seek to destroy them and all who will not swear allegiance to him. God will tolerate un-throttled evil for only a short period and will ultimately destroy the Antichrist when Jesus returns.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 tells us that the Antichrist coming to power will be accompanied with great signs and wonders to deceive people into following him. God will allow deceptive miracles to dupe all who do not have the spiritual discernment that only comes from a relationship with Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Matthew 24:24).
Why God Allows Evil
The fact that God removes His restraint of lawlessness thus allowing a Tribulation shows that God has a purpose for evil. This is however the very thing that is often cited by atheists as justification for rejecting God... How could a good God allow evil? People who don't see their need for a Savior don’t understand the concept of sin. A just and holy God demands that there be consequences for usurping His authority. And in our fallen world, evil happens as a consequence of sin.
All people are made in God's image. One important aspect of being in the image of God is that we have freedom of choice. We have exercised our freedom to put ourselves before God and that sin has consequences. God loved us so much that He wanted us to experience the depth of relationship with Him that is only possible if we are free to accept or reject a relationship with Him. If there is to be true free will, God has to allow evil for a time.
However, God makes use of evil to help us. For example, He raised up the Babylonians to help Israel see their need to return to Him. He used the evil of Jesus dying on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And He uses evil in our lives to bring about a greater good, "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, NKJV).
How the Holy Spirit Restrains Evil
God orchestrates events to bring about His plans (Isaiah 46:9-10). But God limits the reach of evil as He did with Satan who was given permission to touch the life of Job (Job 1:12). While all of earth’s rulers are under the influence of Satan, God influences their hearts so that His will be done as demonstrated with the Persian King Xerxes in Esther 6 and the Roman King Augustus prior to Jesus being born.
God works through His children whom the Holy Spirit indwells (1 John 4:15). The Holy Spirit helps us to discern evil and commands us to expose it per Ephesians 5:11. Indeed, there will be loss of reward if we fail to speak up when we see evil (Ezekiel 33:9). Jesus said His followers are salt and light in Matthew 5:13-14; acting as a preservative helping others know Jesus and shinning the light of truth about evil. Exposing evil does reduce it’s impact, "for everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:20).
The United States has been known as a Christian nation, indeed, the most preeminent Christian nation on earth. We were founded by Christians, made laws based on biblical values, and had the highest percentage of Christians. We have promoted liberty and crushed tyrants who enslaved their people. We acted as God’s agent to squelch the plans of those who sought to enslave Africans, the Nazis and their allies, and the Soviets. We have stood by and encouraged Israel along with the nations who would also befriend Israel. The U.S. has been a force for good in the world. But the U.S. acting as a force for good in the world is beginning to change as part of the restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit being removed...
The U.S. is now known as much for its export of entertainment filth as restraining evil in the world. We have legalized the murder of the unborn and have sought to end the Bible’s concept of marriage. We have institutionalized our national debt. We are abandoning our allies like Israel and embracing their enemies instead. There is a growing propensity to appease evildoers and yield our sovereignty to the world community of nations. Our rule of law is being replaced with rule of man and along with it, our freedoms of religion and speech are under assault. Truth and justice is being replaced with political correctness and social justice which is simply a ruler’s view of fairness. Our mainstream press no longer serves as a force which exposes evil, instead it has become a propaganda agency seeking to manipulate the population.
What God’s People Should Do About It
In the Parable of the Minas, Jesus told us to "do business until I come" (Luke 19:13). God has gifted us to serve His purpose to be salt and light in the world. He wants us to take full advantage of the resources and opportunities He gives us to be His representatives. When we apply the principles He has given us to our lives, we will experience the spiritual fruit of Galatians 5:22-23 and this will attract people to Jesus.
Part of being a good steward of what God has blessed us with is being a good citizen. That means we should participate in the political process in this country to slow the growth of evil here. Often this means making a choice of the lesser of two evils when we vote. However, we should recognize that evil will grow despite our best efforts to expose it because of the times in which we live.
We are privileged to be able to serve the Lord in this time when so many are being convicted by the Holy Spirit that this world is not headed in a good direction. As we see the stage being set for the Tribulation, we should experience joy knowing that our redemption draws near. This joy is infectious and the Lord can use it to lead people to Him. It will not be long before we will all be united with Jesus. And then our joy will be complete.