Will the Rapture be a Surprise and Who is the Restrainer of 2 Thesselonians?

The pre-tribulation rapture position is widely taught in our churches today.  One of the key ingredients of that viewpoint is that the rapture can happen at any time and will come as a surprise to both believers and unbelievers alike.  If we can know that the rapture will occur at the sixth seal as my previous post would suggest than can it be true that the rapture will come as a surprise for the believer?  While only God the father knows the exact day that the rapture will occur is it fair to say that we can know the season?  1 Thessalonians speaks of the day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night but can this truly be said if Matthew, Mark and Daniel include the rapture in their order of events?

"We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.  Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don't really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord's return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, "Everything is peaceful and secure," then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman's labor pains begin. And there will be no escape." {1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 5:1-3 NLT}

Here we have the classic support for the unexpected, unknowable rapture.  The argument following this verse claims that if the rapture is to remain a surprise then we cannot tie it to any timeline of end-time events.  What the proponents of this argument fail to acknowledge, however, is that Paul is not done writing on this subject.  The very next verse states that believers wont be surprised by His coming.

"But you aren't in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won't be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don't belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded." (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 NLT)

Those in darkness, the unbelievers, will be surprised when the Day of the Lord comes, but believers should not be surprised.  We have been warned and given signs to look for and we will be able to recognize the day drawing near.

""Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. ... "However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows." {Matthew 24:32-34, 36 NLT}

Another main argument of the pre-trib rapture position is that there are no prerequisites to the rapture, that there is nothing which must happen before we are caught up to join Jesus in the clouds.  For this argument they utilize the “thief in the night” of 1 Thessalonians but we have already seen in that same passage that believers won’t be surprised by Jesus’ coming.  If we are not surprised by this event it must be that we can anticipate its approach by recognizing other fulfilled prophecies.  But which prophesies would those be?  Are there any specific events that must happen immediately before the rapture occurs?

The church at Thessalonica was concerned that their loved ones who died before the rapture occurred would be left out of the glorious event only to join the Lord after everything had been concluded.  To encourage them Paul sent the clarification quoted above and found in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.  That same church then received letters from false teachers informing them that the day of the Lord was already here and that they had somehow managed to miss the rapture.  In response Paul writes a second letter to the church at Thessalonica in which he gives some guidelines that can be used to judge if such an event has indeed taken place.

"Don't be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don't believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don't be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed--the one who brings destruction." {2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT}

The day of the Lord is a day of God’s wrath and judgment and the church is to be spared God’s wrath so we know that the rapture must occur before the day of the Lord, and from the verse above we know that such events cannot occur until the man of lawlessness, the antichrist, is revealed.  The next question then is, does Paul give us any specifics about when or how this person is to be revealed and how can he be identified?

"He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God." {2 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT}

So the antichrist will reveal himself by entering the temple, declare himself to be God and demand everyone worships him as God, in other words, the desecration that causes desolation three and half years into the final seven years of this age.

"The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about--the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place." (Reader, pay attention!)" (Matthew 24:15 NLT)

"The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him."" (Daniel 9:27 NLT)

When will this revealing act take place?  What is Satan waiting for, or is God actively preventing it?  Let us return to 2 Thessalonians:

"And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming." {2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 NLT}

So the rapture and the Day of the Lord cannot happen until after the antichrist reveals himself by demanding to be worshiped in the temple.  The temple had not yet been destroyed when this was written so we can add a rebuilt temple to the prerequisites of the rapture.  On top of that there also is something or someone preventing the antichrist from beginning his campaign.  Who or what is holding back the man of lawlessness?

To this question many have answered “the holy spirit through its work in the church.” The reasoning here is that the work of the church is to improve the world by preventing the spread of sin and by doing so prevent the spread of the spirit of the antichrist and thus prevent the antichrist.  By this line of reasoning, “the one holding him back stepping out of the way” is the rapture.  The presence of the church prevents the antichrist so the rapture of the church allows the man of lawlessness to be revealed.  The problem with this idea, however, is I cannot find a single verse that suggests that the Holy Spirit or even the church prevents anything.

"But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don't, the Advocate won't come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world's sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged." {John 16:7-12 NLT}

John 16 describes the work of the Holy Spirit as convicting people of their unbelief with the goal of leading them to belief, it does not mention restraint.  In my search I did find verses which describe the presence of the church and thus the Holy Spirit provokes sin and violence, not preventing it.

""Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. 'I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!'" {Matthew 10:34-36 NLT}

"Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you." {John 15:20 NLT}

Sin and persecution and lawlessness are on the rise, and the church is still here.  The world seeks to put out the light of the church; they are not being restrained by it.  Who then is the restrainer?

""At that time Michael, the archangel who stands guard over your nation, will arise. Then there will be a time of anguish greater than any since nations first came into existence. But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued." {Daniel 12:1 NLT}

Daniel 11 speaks of the activities of the antichrist during the last days, Daniel 12 opens with the verse quoted above.  After Michael arises then will be the time of unparalleled anguish.  In Matthew and Mark this same anguish happens after antichrist desecrates the time.  There can only be one time of anguish that is greater than any other time of anguish in history so each of the great anguish references must be referring to the same event.

Here Michael is said to “step aside” from his current job of guarding the Israelites.  The word translated here as “step aside” is עָמַד (amad).  It is a Hebrew word which means to “stand still,” “desist,” or “be inactive.” 

 ""Shall I wait, because they do not speak, Because they stop (amad) [and] no longer answer?" {Job 32:16 NASB} 

 "Then the king said, "Turn aside and stand here." So he turned aside and stood still (amad)." {2 Samuel 18:30 NASB}

"And she conceived again and bore a son and said, "This time I will praise the LORD." Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped (amad) bearing." {Genesis 29:35 NASB}

At that time Michael, the archangel who stands guard over your nation, will amad (stop, stand aside / still, desist his work as guardian).

So it is not the holy Spirit through the church which prevents the antichrist, it is Michael the Archangel. It is not the rapture which allows the man of lawlessness to be revealed, it is Michael who stops preventing him from advancing.

This means that the church will not be surprised by the rapture if we are paying attention to what is going on in the world and God’s Word.  We should be able to recognize that once the temple has been rebuilt and Michael is called to amad / stop his guard duty over Israel then antichrist will demand to be worshiped in the temple, followed by a great anguish in persecution and tribulation through which our great hope which will enable us to endure torture and martyrdom most cruel, will be the knowledge that Jesus is soon returning to rescue us on the clouds.

Further reading on amad :