He who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way – 2 Thessalonians 2:7
Sometimes the question comes up: why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? But I’ve never heard this question raised: why isn’t there more evil in the world?
It is true that there is much evil in the world. We see it all the time in the news. But what we don’t see is all the good. Good things in this world go unnoticed for the most part. It’s kind of the like the sound guy at church. No one notices him or cares about him when things are going well. It’s only when there is a problem that everyone turns around with daggers in their eyes.
We hear about terrorist attacks that have happened, but what about the ones that have been thwarted? We don’t hear much about those. And if we do, it’s in the press for a moment and then forgotten about. However, a ‘successful’ terrorist attack gets a lot of attention.
We hear about murders, but what about attempted murders that aren’t ‘successful?’ We don’t hear much about a drive-by shooting that misses it’s target. We don’t hear about the man who is about to be stabbed when all of a sudden a police car just happens around the corner and spooks the assailant. If we were to tally up all the ‘unsuccessful’ attempts of evil I imagine that we would be stunned. And what if we were to include those who thought about doing something evil but backed out because of their conscience, or because of the intervention of a friend, or because of some ‘coincidence’ or divine encounter? These are things we don’t often hear about.
The truth is that there are many more people in the world that would commit evil if it were not for some inner or outside force that kept them from it.
A partial list of these things would include:
- religious beliefs
- social pressure
- the Holy Spirit
and the list could go on.
Most people are aware of this. Most would acknowledge that this is true. But this isn’t the whole story. There’s an enormous force that is constantly at work to hold back evil that most people (most Christians, even) are not aware of. What is it?
Now I know that sounds kind of hokey, but bear with me.
Angels are spoken of sporadically throughout the scripture. In certain places in the Bible, the veil is drawn back a bit and we see into the world where angels operate. It’s a strange world to us, but those who believe the Bible must acknowledge that it’s there. There are an innumerable number of them (Heb 12:22) that seem to be busy at work. Sometimes they are seen delivering messages (Luke 1:26); sometimes they are offering praise to God (Isaiah 6); sometimes they are fighting with demon powers (Daniel 10:13); and sometimes they are inflicting punishment (2 Samuel 24:16). Sometimes they are fighting the enemies of Israel (2 Kings 19:35), and sometimes they are rescuing people from prison (Acts 5:19). This is the short list of what they do.
But what I want to speak to specifically today is the work of angels in restraining evil upon the earth.
It is not hardly doubted by most educated Christians that Satan and his angels are hard at work, seeking to draw people away from God and to incite them to commit evil. We see this from the garden of Eden to the last part of the book of Revelation. He is the tempter, a murderer, a deceiver, and a liar. He fell from heaven and drew a third of the stars of God (angels) with him to do his work.
But what some may not realize is that the angels of God are hard at work also, seeking to resist Satan as much as possible. There is a constant battle happening in the spiritual world. It’s hard to know exactly what that looks like, but it’s happening nonetheless.
The clearest picture of this that we see in scripture is in Daniel chapter 10. In Daniel chapter 10 we see that Daniel had been praying. He was praying and fasting for 21 days when a powerful heavenly being (Jesus?) came to him with a message. But before he proceeded with his message, he took the time to explain to Daniel why it took so long for his prayer to be answered:
from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.” – Daniel 10:12-13
This is a fascinating portion of scripture. Here we see this messenger being held up for 21 days by the ‘prince of the kingdom of Persia’ and by the ‘kings of Persia.’ What does that mean?
To help us understand this more clearly we can look to the New Testament. In Ephesians chapter six, Paul the apostle talks about similar things. He reminds the believers in Ephesus that other human beings are not the enemy and that the battle is not with ‘flesh and blood:’
For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against principalities, abasing powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
Notice how Paul contrasts ‘flesh and blood’ with ‘principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ What is he saying?
‘Flesh and blood’ is an obvious reference to physical human beings. But then Paul uses words like ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ and ‘rulers.’ These are all governmental terms. Most of these words are used in other parts of the New Testament to refer to governing authorities like the Sanhedrin and the Roman government. But that can’t apply here because Paul makes it clear that these are not ‘flesh and blood.’ Instead, what Paul is referring to is the well-organized demonic forces that are at work in our world. By using these different terms he implies that such forces are organized in a similar way that a national government is organized. In a national government, you would have a prince, governors of the provinces, mayors of cities, military leaders, a police force, and the like. Paul seems to imply that Satan has a similar hierarchy structure. And it would make sense for him to have such a structure. It is the most efficient way for a leader to lead a large number of subjects.
In Daniel chapter 10, it seems as though Satan himself is set up as the prince of the kingdom of Persia (working behind the scenes, pulling the strings). This would make sense because Persia ruled the world at the time and we see in the New Testament that Satan is called the ‘ruler of this world’ (Jn 14:30), the ‘god of this age’ (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the ‘prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2). It was with him and his ‘kings’ that the glorious man in Daniel 10 struggled against for 21 days. It wasn’t until Michael (a chief prince – aka archangel) came that he was able to get freed up to deliver his message.
It stands to reason, then, that if Satan and his forces are set up against the Christ and against the people of God, that Michael (a chief prince) would also have such a structure under him. Indeed, it is generally accepted that Michael is an archangel, holding authority over other angels. And it is also gathered from scripture already mentioned, and from other verses, that Michael is a warring angel, fighting battles in the spiritual realm. And it would stand to reason, that if Satan is seeking to cause mischief, that Michael is seeking to resist it–and that’s precisely what we see.
Notice again the verse of scripture we used at the beginning:
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. – 2 Thessalonians 2:7
This verse of scripture has puzzled me for many years. And apparently, it has puzzled many others. Who is he that restrains? Some have said that it is the Holy Spirit, some have said the church. I say that it’s neither. I think it is none other than the great archangel, Michael.
Don’t leave me just yet!
Now don’t think for a minute that I’m going to get into angel-worship or something. I’m not heading in that direction. However, I’m quite convinced that ‘he who restrains’ is indeed Michael. And I’m going to explain why.
First of all, it always bothered me that Paul mentions in the previous verse that the church there knew who (or what) it was that was restraining. Why did he say that? I didn’t know, most people don’t know…why did he say that? That really ticked me off. But I found out that there was good reason that they should know. It was written long ago in the book of Daniel. Look here:
At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. – Daniel 12:1
This passage mentions a few things that are worth noting. First of all, it speaks of Michael, ‘the prince who stands watch over the sons of your people.’ It says that he will ‘stand up.’ Once that happens, the verse speaks of ‘a time of trouble, such as never was.’ What could he be referring to? It could only refer to the Tribulation spoken by Jesus in the last days, a tribulation that begins when ‘he that restrains is taken out of the way.’
In this passage, the phrase ‘stand up’ is just one word in the Hebrew. It’s the word ‘stand.’ It can have a number of different meanings depending on how it’s used. It can mean to stand still, to stand your ground, to stand up, or to stand down (cease fighting). I think a better translation of this verse would be this: “At that time Michael shall stand down…” In other words, there will come a time on God’s clock when He speaks to that great prince and says, “Micheal, stand down.”
What does that mean? It means: ‘stop fighting, it’s time to back away.’*
What will happen then? It won’t be good. Michael’s restraining force will be removed. Satan and his hordes will be given unfettered access to this world for a short amount of time. It will be the worst time of trouble this world has ever seen. So bad, in fact, that Jesus said that everyone would be destroyed if God hadn’t decided to shorten those days (Matthew 24:22).
So, why isn’t there more evil in this world than there is? We have Michael and his army of angels to thank for that. Of course, they don’t want our thanks. They want all praise to go to God, Who rightly deserves it.
Thankfully, we still live in the time when the forces of darkness are being held back to a certain extent. Let’s make wise use of this time. Imagine what it will be like when no restraining forces are in place. I don’t plan on being around to find out.
*the word stand is used in a similar fashion in 2 Samuel 2:28 and in other places