In John 15 during one of the most precious and intimate moment that Jesus had with those closest to him, He said:
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15)
Jesus spoke these words at an intimate gathering. And they are so precious, so filled with meaning. “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
God reveals His plans to His friends
God doesn’t want to hide things from us. He doesn’t want to keep us from understanding, He wants to reveal more and more and more to us as we press in closer. Because those who just keep following Jesus, especially when things get tough, who delight in sitting at His feet and hearing Him teach, they are His friends, you are His friends, and He loves you and delights in taking you into His confidence, revealing to you things that others are maybe too busy or too self-centred to pay attention to.
When I think of this moment with Jesus and His friends, my mind is taken back to another story deep in the Old Testament from the book of Genesis. The story of Abraham. This is the scene. Abraham and Sarah are both well advanced in years and they are camping, they are always camping because they are nomads and that is what nomads do, they camp.
God had given them a promise. Sarah would have a son, and through that child God would birth a great nation. But they were both in their twilight years and this seemed an impossibility.
Humanly speaking it was an impossibility, but all things are possible with God. And Jesus came to the tent with two of His angels. The Lord comes to tell Abraham and Sarah that the time has come, God was about to fulfil His promise to them because within a year, Sarah would have a son.
Before He leaves though the Lord takes Abraham into his confidence about something He is about to do. He tells Abraham that He has been watching the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and their time is up. The opportunity for repentance is done. God’s patience has reached its end and He is about to bring judgement. He is going to destroy the cities and everyone living in them.
Abraham is troubled by this. He knows many of these people, including the rulers, and his Nephew lives there. “But Lord!” Abraham says. “Would you slay the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the cities, would you not then save the city?”
“OK Abraham, if I find 50 righteous people the city will stand.” But something in the Lord’s tone alerts Abraham to the fact that the God knows something that Abraham doesn’t. There are not 50 righteous people. So Abraham begins to negotiate .. 45 people, 40 people, 30 people, 20 people … what if it were only 10?
“OK,” says the Lord. “If I can find 10 righteous people.” God would withhold His wrath on the city, those righteous people would restrain, they would hold back The Lord’s Judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
Righteous believers prevent God’s Judgment
It isn’t the only time in the Bible that righteous followers of the Lord would hold back His judgment. In Ezekiel 22 we find a passage that has always distressed me. The Lord is speaking to Ezekiel and pointing out all the horrible, wicked things that the people are doing. Many of these things our world today sees as acceptable, and even normal. We see this wickedness celebrated today on TV and social media.
When God spoke to Ezekiel and told him of the wickedness of the people He said some of the saddest words in all Scripture. God said:
30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 22:30 – 31)
You and I live at a time where the wickedness pervades our culture in a way that makes the days of the destruction of Israel, the Exile of Judah, and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah pail into the background.
We, the Holy Spirit filled friends of Jesus who Love God and endeavour to obey and follow and worship Him with every ounce of our being, are the restrainer that holds back the judgment of God on a world that is lining up to experience His wrath that they simply do not know is coming.
This is our calling
This is who we are! And we do it to save those who are perishing. The more we shine light in the world, the more people will see Jesus and the more opportunity that they have, to come to faith. A day is coming when God will say, “That’s it. No more chances!” The restrainer will be removed and the world will be plunged into the worst time in its history. The time of Great Tribulation is the period of time that Jesus spoke of saying: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:21)
“Jesus says to us, He says to you: You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing.” (Matthew 5:13) Salt brings flavour and it is a preservative. It slows the process of the meat going off, it restrains decay.
Let’s quickly go back to our Abraham story. What happened next? The Lord found Abraham’s Nephew and his family to be the only righteous ones in the city. Even though he was righteous, he was still a little attached to the world otherwise I think he would have got out himself anyway. But the Angels went in and got them out before God brought judgment on the cities. The Angels even said that they couldn’t bring destruction before Lot and his family had got out.
God does not appoint the righteous to wrath
And God will not bring judgment on the righteous ones who are living in this time of evil wickedness either, I believe that very strongly. I believe God removes His church before The Great Tribulation comes upon the earth. I believe that we are here both to hold back the evil in the world, and also to restrain the judgment at the hand of God that will most certainly come, and that we will be taken away before that moment comes.
Some people point to this to say that the church will be in the Tribulation period for part of the time, but God will remove them before He pours out His wrath. Now God could have chosen to do that, but He has actually told us when it is that we are removed.
Paul speaks about this in his second letter to the Thessalonians. The church in Thessalonica were troubled because Paul had taught them about the Great Tribulation and they thought they were in it. But Paul says you can’t be. He tells them that the Great Tribulation can’t happen before 3 things happen. Firstly: The falling away, which most agree refers to an apostacy or a departure from the faith.
Secondly, the antichrist is revealed. All over the world, Christians and even many non-Christians are on the lookout for who that might be. But I want to remind you that this is futile because Paul tells them that that can’t happen until something else happens first. He writes:
6 And now you know what is restraining, that he (the anti-christ) 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. (2 Thessalonians 2)
Thirdly, the Great Tribulation can’t begin until the one who is restraining is taken out of the way. For a long time people have debated who the restrainer Paul is talking about is. They have suggested such things as: The Roman Empire, The Jewish State, The Apostle Paul himself, The Preaching of the Gospel, Human Government, Satan, Elijah, An Unknown Heavenly Being, Michael the Archangel, The Holy Spirit, The Church.
I believe that based on what we have been studying that there is only one logical answer, and I very humbly put forward, what lines beautifully with all other aspects of Scripture, that the restrainer is The Holy Spirit indwelling the Body of Christ, the Church.
The Church is holding back the appearance of the Antichrist, and that as soon as Our Lord Jesus comes and snatches away His Body, the Antichrist will then be free to step onto the stage and the seven years spoken of in Daniel 9, and by Jesus and Paul and John will be able to begin. It doesn’t have to begin immediately, but what had been holding it back will be out of the way.
Yes, God could have chosen to remove us before the final and most horrible part of the Tribulation takes place when He pours out His judgment on the wickedness of this world.
But in 2 Thessalonians 2 He has told us when it takes place. The Great Tribulation begins when the man of sin, the one often referred to as the anti-christ, confirms a covenant as spoken of in Daniel 9, and yet he isn’t revealed until the restrainer is removed. And at least in my mind, the best, in fact really the only possible identity of the restrainer is the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church.
How are you restraining evil?
So if The Restrainer is you, clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, filled with the Holy Spirit, I want to ask you a very important question. What are you doing about it? How is the way you are living your life today holding back the evil that is in the world and coming upon the world?
People are perishing. At best they are about to be plunged into the Great Tribulation. At worst, well we know that it is so much worse. We need to be praying! We need to be growing in relationship with Jesus! We need to be seeking His will and His purposes each and every single day. We need to be gathering and exalting Jesus and inviting others to Know Him before it is too late.
This day is coming, I believe it is coming really fast, and God is looking for people to stand in the gap today. Stand in the gap for the people in our community, in our families, in our neighbourhoods.
Now I know that talking about hell and judgment and the wrath of God are not popular topics. No one likes to think about bad news, and especially bad things happening to those we know. Nothing has changed there, I think that is exactly how Abraham felt when the Lord gave him the news. But we need to understand, to have clear in our minds that God cannot and will not tolerate evil forever. That’s the reality. And He has made a way for our sin to be forgiven and for us to escape that judgment.
We’ll be taken out before the judgment comes, of that I am confident, but we are here right now with a purpose. To restrain the evil in this world. Let’s do that! Let us be found faithful.