Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,1. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ] Lit., But we beseech you, brethren, on behalf of the coming. The prospect of this Coming has been held out in language of ardent hope (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:10, &c.); “but” the readers must not entertain wild and unreasonable notions respecting it. The preposition (touching, R. V.) signifies “in the interest of,” and not merely “with reference to;” for the confusion of mind and the alarm existing at Thessalonica upon this matter tended to discredit the Second Advent; they obscured the features of “the blessed hope” which the Apostle has just delineated (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12).
He adds and our gathering together unto Him, remembering what he has written in 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:10 concerning the reunion of the living with departed saints at Christ’s coming. The corresponding verb appears in the promise of Jesus (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27): “He shall gather together His elect from the four winds;” comp. the echoes of our Lord’s sayings on the Last Things noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The intense sorrow of the Apostle at his separation from the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:11) may also have prompted this thought; comp. note on “rest with us” ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:7.
On beseech (or ask) see note to 1 Thessalonians 4:1.
Section III. The Revelation of the Lawless One Ch. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12In this Epistle, as in the former, the specfic object of the letter comes into view at the beginning of the second chapter, so soon as the introductory prayer and thanksgiving have been offered. The Thessalonians were too eager and positive in their expectation of the Parousia, and the Apostle begs them “for its sake” to be cautious (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Some of their teachers declared that “the day of the Lord was already come;” and it was reported that Paul himself had written to this effect (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The Church was in danger of falling into mischievous deception (2 Thessalonians 2:3). That they may “prove the prophesyings” addressed to them on this subject (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21), the Apostle gives them a token or omen of the Second Coming, which indeed he had already supplied in his previous ministry (2 Thessalonians 2:5). He foresees that before Christ’s return in judgement there must be a supreme manifestation of evil (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). This development, as he indicates, will be twofold—producing (1) within the Church “the apostasy;” and (2) the “revelation” of “the Man of Lawlessness” (or “Sin”), a personage in whom the sin of humanity will be consummated, reaching its furthest possibilities and taking on an absolutely Satanic character (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). This gigantic impersonation of evil is exhibited as the personal antagonist and antithesis of Christ, in such a way that though the Apostle does not himself give to his conception the name of Antichrist, yet it is probable that the designation, afterwards made familiar by St John’s use of it in his great Epistle, was derived in the first instance from the passage before us. Meanwhile, we are told, there exists a “withholding” influence, that delays the appearance of Antichrist, although the lawlessness which in him will reach its climax “is already actively at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). When the revelation of the “mystery” at last takes place, while on the one hand it will herald the return of the Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:8), on the other it will prove to be for His rejecters a signal means of judgement, captivating by its magical delusions all who are not armed against them by “love or the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
This paragraph is the most obscure to us in St Paul’s Epistles. It is written in a reserved and elliptical fashion, and bears reference throughout to the Apostle’s oral communications, without which, in fact, he did not expect what he wrote to be fully understood. In their recollection of the writer’s words the Thessalonian Church had a key to his meaning not transmitted to our hands. We must grope for it as best we can. We find, however, considerable light thrown on this dark passage by its relation to other prophetical teachings of Scripture, and to the history of the Apostle’s own time. Yet this added light casts its shadows over the field. We shall return to the subject in the Appendix attached to these Notes, on “The Man of Lawlessness.”
The Man of Lawlessness (or Man of Sin)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12To give a full account of the interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 would be almost the same thing as to write a history of Christendom. This is one of those dark passages of Scripture which in ordinary Christian teaching, and in peaceful and prosperous times, receive little attention; they are traversed with hasty step, and willingly dismissed as things hard to be understood. But in seasons of conflict and danger, such as those which gave them birth, and when some critical struggle arises between the kingdoms of God and Satan, the Church turns to these neglected prophecies; from their obscurity there breaks out a new and awful light; again she hears in them the “voices and thunders” that “proceed out of the Throne” and the shout of His coming Who “brings forth judgement unto victory.” To such epochs we must look for the interpretation of these words of destiny. History is the expositor of Prophecy. For the seeds of the future lie in the past; and not the seeds alone, its buddings and beginnings, its leaves and blossomings are there, if we had eyes to see them. “First the blade, then the ear,” said Jesus,—“then the full corn in the ear.” The growth is continuous, until full ripeness.
Let us endeavour, therefore, to trace in its historical outline the development of the doctrine of Antichrist—first, as it appears in Scripture; and secondly, as it has been unfolded in the belief and teaching of the Church.
1. The Apocalypse of Daniel
We must go back to the Book of Daniel for the origin of St Paul’s conception of the Man of Lawlessness, as well as for that of the kindred visions of St John. Daniel’s Apocalypse has its starting-point in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 2): the Fourfold Metal Image, with its feet of mixed iron and clay, broken in pieces by the “Stone cut out of the mountain without hands.” This dream takes another and enlarged form in Daniel’s first Vision, that of the Four Wild Beasts (ch. 7). Amidst the “ten horns” of the fourth Beast there springs up “a little horn,” before which “three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots,” having “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things” (Daniel 7:8). In a moment the scene is changed: the “thrones” of the Last Judgement are placed; “the Ancient of Days” is beheld sitting; and there is “brought near before Him” the “One like unto a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven,” whom the Lord Jesus at the High Priest’s tribunal identified with Himself. To Him the prophet assigns universal and everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:9-14). As the judgement is proceeding, and before the appearance of the glorified Son of Man, the fourth Beast is slain and “his body destroyed, and given to be burned with fire” (Daniel 7:11), “because of the voice of the great words which the little horn spake.” The idea is here presented of a cruel, haughty and triumphant military power, to be overthrown suddenly by the judgement of God, whose fall, apparently, gives the signal for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, which is to be ruled by one like unto a son of man yet sharing the Divine attributes.
 See the article in Smith’s Bible Dictionary, by Bishop Westcott, on the Book of Daniel. There is nothing written on the subject, within our knowledge, more penetrating and suggestive.
In the next vision, ch. 8, of the duel between the Ram and the He-goat the Little Horn reappears, and takes on a distinct personal shape. He becomes “a king of fierce countenance and understanding dark sayings,” who will “destroy (or corrupt) the people of the saints … and stand up against the Prince of princes; but shall be broken without hand” (Daniel 8:22-25). The third vision, ch. 11—of the wars of North and South—leads up to a further description of the great Oppressor, in which his atheism forms the most conspicuous feature: “Arms shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary … and they shall set up the abomination that maketh desolate … And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods: and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished” (Daniel 11:31-36). This series of tableaux gives a continuous view of a polity or empire evolved out of the warring kingdoms of this world, from which emerges at last a monster of wickedness armed with all earthly power and bent on the destruction of Israel’s God and people, in whose person the realm of evil receives its decisive judgement.
2. The Messianic Times
Antiochus Epiphanes, it is agreed, was the primary subject of Daniel’s visions of judgement. In his overthrow, and in the Maccabean revival of the nationality of Israel, this Apocalypse had its verification; it received a fulfilment adequate and appropriate to the age. But when the period of the Maccabees was past, and no further sign appeared of the Messiah, it grew plain to believing readers that the revelation had a further Import. In this faith the sufferings of the Jewish people under the Herodian and Roman oppression were endured, as “birth-pangs of the Messiah;” it was felt that Israel’s hope was nigh at hand, even at the doors. Our Lord by assuming the title Son of Man appealed to and justified the expectations of those who in His day “looked for Israel’s redemption,”—expectations founded to no small extent upon the Apocalypse of Daniel, and coloured by its imagery. Again “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” was to “stand in the Holy Place” (Matthew 24:15); and the “sign of the Son of Man” would be “seen in heaven,” and at last the Son of Man Himself, “coming with the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64).
 Antiochus IV., or Antiochus Epiphanes—i.e. the Brilliant, called also in mockery Epimanes, the Madman—was the seventh king of the Græco-Syrian dynasty of the Seleucids, and reigned from 175 to 164 b.c. His father was Antiochus III. (called the Great), after whose defeat by the Romans (188 b.c.) he was given to them as a hostage, and brought up at Rome. He returned to take his father’s throne, full of wild ambition and of reckless impiety and prodigality. On the character and career of Antiochus Epiphanes see Stanley’s History of the Jewish Church, vol. iii; Ewald’s History of Israel, vol. v. (Eng. Trans.); Smith’s Bible Dictionary.
But the Messianic anticipations of our Lord’s time, being drawn from this source, could hardly fail to be attended with their counterpart in the image of Daniel’s Antichrist. In later Judaism Antichrist was known as Armillus (or Armalgus), under which name he figures largely in the Jewish fables of the Middle Ages, the Rabbinical conception being developed in forms partly analogous and partly hostile to the Christian doctrine. Armillus appears already in the Targum of Jonathan upon Isaiah 11:4, the passage quoted by our Apostle in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 above: “With the breath of His lips shall He (Messiah) slay Armillus, the wicked one.” This interpretation was traditional, and may have been older than Christianity. The existence of an earlier Jewish doctrine of Antichrist, in however incipient a form, would make it easier to understand the rapid development which this conception receives in the New Testament, and the manner in which it appeals to the mind of the Apostolic Church.
The words of Christ fixed the attention of His first disciples upon Daniel’s prophecies, and supplied the impulse and starting-point from which proceeded the revival of the O.T. Apocalypse in the teaching of SS. Paul and John. Besides His express citations of Daniel, there were other traits in our Lord’s picture of the Last Things—the predictions of national conflict, of persecutions from without and defections within His Church (Matthew 24:3-13)—which reproduced the general characteristics of this prophet’s visions, and lent emphasis to the specific and most solemn references that He made to them. His use of this obscure and suspected Book has raised it to a position of high honour and importance in the regard of His Church.
3. Antichrist in the Book of Revelation
St Paul treats the subject in the passage before us in an incidental fashion, and nowhere in his extant Epistles does he again advert to it. His language, so far as it goes, is very positive and definite. There is scarcely a more matter-of-fact prediction in the Bible. While he refuses to give any chronological datum, his description of the personality of Antichrist is vividly distinct; and he asserts the connection between his appearance and Christ’s return from heaven with an explicitness that leaves no room for doubt as to his meaning. But John’s Apocalypse was cast in a different mould. Like that of Daniel, his revelation came through visions, received apparently in a passive and ecstatic mental state, and clothed in a mystic robe of imagery through which It is difficult and indeed impossible altogether to distinguish the body and substance of truth, which one feels nevertheless to be everywhere present underneath it. St John’s visions border upon those “unspeakable things” of “the third heaven,” which it may be lawful for the human soul in rare moments of exaltation to see and hear, but not “to utter” in clear discourse of reason (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
The visions of the Wild Beast, contained in Revelation 13-20, do nevertheless present a tolerably distinct and continuous picture; and it is just in this part of John’s Apocalypse that it comes into line with the Apocalypses of Daniel and Paul, and, as at least It seems to us, into connection with the course of secular history then proceeding. It accords with the nature of the two Revelations that St John’s mind is possessed by the symbolic idea of the Horned Wild Beast of Daniel (chh. 7, 8), while St Paul reflects in his Man of Lawlessness the later and more definite form which Daniel’s conception of the great enemy of God assumes in ch. 11. But the representations of the two Apostles coincide in their essential features. The first Beast of St John, seven-headed and ten-horned, receives the “power and throne of the Dragon and great authority,” from “him that is called Devil and the Satan, that deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 13:1-2), just as St Paul’s Lawless One comes “according to the working of Satan” and “in all deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). He “opens his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and tabernacle” and everything Divine; and “all that dwell in the earth worship him,” whose names were “not written in the book of life;” and “torment” is promised to them, who “worship the Beast and his image” (Revelation 13:5-8; Revelation 14:11): so the Man of Lawlessness “exalts himself against all that is called God or worshipped,” he “takes his seat in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God;” and men are found to “believe the lie,” who will be “judged” for their “pleasure in unrighteousness” and are of “them that perish” (Revelation 14:4; Revelation 14:10-12). Again, the authority of the Wild Beast is vindicated by means of “great signs,” through which “they that dwell on the earth are deceived” (Revelation 13:13-14): similarly, in our Apostle, Satan’s great emissary “comes with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood” (Revelation 13:9-10). This token of false miracles was furnished by our Lord as the sign of “false Christs and false prophets” generally (Matthew 24:24). Finally, having “come up out of the abyss,” the Wild Beast “goes into perdition” (Revelation 17:8), like the Lawless One, with his Satanic coming, who is “the son of perdition” (Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:9).
The ten-horned Beast of John is set forth as the secular antagonist of the Man-child, son of the Woman, who was born “to rule all the nations,” as His would-be destroyer and the usurper of His throne; by Whom at last when He appears as Conqueror upon the “white horse,” the Beast is taken and cast with his followers “into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone” (comp. Revelation 12 with 13, and then see ch. Revelation 19:11-21). This conflict translates Into an expanded picture the antagonism between the Lord Jesus and the Lawless One, Christ and Antichrist, which breathes in every syllable of St Paul’s condensed and pregnant lines. The outlines etched in rapid strokes by Paul’s sharp needle, are thrown out upon the glowing canvas of the Apocalypse in idealized and visionary shape; but the same conception dominates the imagination of the seer of Patmos which haunts the writer of this sober and calm Epistle.
 Mr W. H. Simcox with good reason sees the woman who brings forth the Man-child, and then “flies into the wilderness unto her place” till the appointed time, in the Jewish Church: see his notes, in Cambridge Bible for Schools, on Revelation 12. Comp. Romans 9:5, “of whom is the Christ according to flesh.”
 In the Conqueror’s name of Faithful and True, and in the “righteousness” with which “He judges and makes war,” and “the righteous acts of the saints”—the “fine linen, clean and white” which clothes His army—we may see another antithesis to the moral picture given in Revelation 19:10-12.
The first Wild Beast of Revelation 13 is the centre of a group of symbolic figures. There “comes up out of the earth another Beast,” kindred to him, and called afterwards the “false prophet,” who acts as his apostle, re-establishing his power after the deadly wound he received, and performing the “signs” by which his worship is supported and enforced. To this second actor, therefore, a religious part is assigned, resembling that of a corrupt Church serving a lawless, despotic State. The False Prophet supplies a necessary link between the Apostasy and the Lawless One of a 2 Thessalonians 2:3; by his agency the “lying miracles” of 2 Thessalonians 2:10 are provided, and superstition is enlisted in the service of atheism.
While the Beast has the False Prophet by his side for an auxiliary, he carries on his back the Harlot-woman, the antithesis of the Church, Christ’s Bride. She is identiied in the plainest manner with the imperial city of Rome. On her forehead stands written the legend, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth.” This is but Paul’s “mystery of iniquity” writ large and illuminated. What Babylon was to O.T. prophecy, that Rome became to the prophets of the New, being the centre of the world’s evil and the nidus of its future development. And the imperial house of Rome—Nero in particular for St Paul, and Domitian, probably, as Nero redivivus for St John—held to the prophetic spirit of the Apostles a relation similar to that of the Syrian monarchy and Antiochus Epiphanes toward the prophecy of Daniel, serving as a proximate and provisional goal of its anticipations, the object around which the secular forces of evil were about to gather and the fittest type of their further and ultimate evolution. But as history pursued its course and the Church passed beyond its Apostolic horizon, the new Apocalypse was found like the old to have a wider scope. The Wild Beast survived many wounds; it survived the fall of the great city, mistress of the earth,—the Woman whom John saw riding upon its back. The end was not yet; the word of prophecy must run through new circles of fulfilment.
It is only in the barest outline that we may pursue the subsequent history of the doctrine of Antichrist. It has passed through four principal stages.
 For the history of this question, see the Article Antichrist, Vol. i. (2nd ed.) of Smith’s Bible Dictionary, also Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie (2nd ed.). There are valuable dissertations on “The Man of Sin” by Lûneroaon (Meyer’s Handbook), Riggenbach (Lunge’s Commentary), and Olshausen ad loc., also in Alford’s Prolegomena to the Epp. Döllinger elucidates the subject with great learning and exactness in Appendix I. to his First Age of the Church (translated by Oxenham); and Eadie in the Appendix to his Commentary on Thessalonians. For the interpretation of the parallel texts in the Apocalypse, see Simcox’s Notes in this Series and his most interesting and valuable Introduction. As to the bearings of the subject on the doctrines of Eschatology at large, see the profound remarks of Domer in his System of Christian Doctrine, vol. iv., 373–401 (Eng. Trans.). We find ourselves in general agreement with Dorner, Olshausen, Rigeenbach, Alfard, Ellicott, Eadie; and, to a large extent, with Hofmann.
4. Antichrist in the Early Church
In the age of the early Church, ending with the conversion of the Empire and the Fall of Rome (410 a.d.), one consistent view prevailed upon this subject,—viz. that Antichrist was an individual destined one day to overthrow the Roman Empire and to establish a rule of consummate wickedness, which would quickly be terminated by the appearing of the Lord jesus from heaven. Chrysostom probably represents the popular belief when he speaks of Nero as “a type of Antichrist,” and “the mystery of iniquity already working.” In the earliest times men associated with this tradition the expectation, long current in the East, of Nero’s return and re-inthronement.
Many of the Fathers, after the manner of 1 John 2:18-22, pointed ont the workings of Antichrist in the various forms of heresy. It was frequently inferred from 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that the Jewish Temple would in the last days be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and made the seat of Antichrist’s empire and worship. In connection with this opinion, a Jewish origin (from the tribe of Dan, Genesis 49:17) was assigned to the Man of Sin. Others regarded the Church, either in a spiritual or local sense, as “the temple of God” signified by St Paul (see note on 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
“The withholder” was commonly understood to be the Roman Empire, with its fabric of civil polity,—Romanus status, as Tertullian says; its downfall imported the end of the world to the Church of the first three centuries. By some the withholding influence was seen in the Holy Spirit, or in His miraculous gifts.
5. Antichrist in the Middle Ages
The Western Empire was submerged under barbarian invasions. But the fabric of society still held together; and out of the chaos of the early Middle Ages there gradually arose the modern polity of the Romanized European nations, with the Papal See for its spiritual centre, and the revived Roman Empire of Charlemagne—magni nominis umbra—holding the leadership of the new world (800 a.d.). Meanwhile the ancient Empire maintained a sluggish existence in the New Rome of Constantino on the Bosphorus, where it arrested for centuries the destructive forces of Mohammedanism, until their energy was comparatively spent. This change in the current of history, following upon the union of Church and State under Constantine, disconcerted the Patristic reading of prophecy. And the interpretation of Scripture, along with the general cultivation of the human mind, fell into decline after the fourth century. Things present absorbed the energy and thought of the Church to the exclusion of things to come. The Western Church was occupied In converting and assimilating the Barbarian hordes, the Eastern Church was struggling for its very existence against Islam; while they contested with each other for supremacy. For the most part, the teaching of the Fathers respecting Antichrist was repeated by medieval divines, and embroidered with their fancies.
Gradually new interpretations forced themselves to the front. The Greeks naturally saw “the lawless one” in Muhammad, and “the apostasy” in the falling away of so many Eastern Christians to his delusions. In the West, the growing arrogance of the Bishops of Rome and the traditional connection of Antichrist with Rome united to suggest the idea of a Papal Antichrist. This view has high Papal authority in its favour; Gregory I. (or the Great, 590 a.d.), denouncing the assumptions of the contemporary Byzantine Patriarch, wrote as follows: “Ego autem fidenter dico quia quisqnis se universalem sacerdotem vocat, vel vocari desiderat, in elatione sua Antichristum præcurrit;” he further styles the title of Universal Priest “erroris nomen, stultum ac superbum vocabulum … nomen blasphemiæ.” By this just sentence the later Roman Primacy is marked out as another type of Antichrist.
In the 13th century, when Gregory VII. (or Hildebrand, 1073–1085 a.d.) and Innocent III. (1198–1210 a.d.) had raised the power of the Roman See to its highest point, this doctrine was openly declared by the supporters of the Hohenstaufen Emperors; and the German State resumed the office of the Roman State as “the restrainer” of the Man of Sin. This century witnessed a general revival of religious zeal, of which the rise of the Waldenses, the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the founding of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, the immortal poem of Dante, and the widespread revolt and protest against the corruptions of Rome were alike manifestations. This awakening was attended with a renewal of Apocalyptic study. The numbers of Daniel 12:6-13, Revelation 12:6, &c., gave rise to the belief that the year 1260 would usher in the final conflict against Antichrist and the end of the world; while the invasion of the Mongols and the intestine divisions of Christendom threatened it with destruction. In the East, by adding 666, “the number of the Beast” (Revelation 13:18) to 622, the date of the Hejira, it was calculated that Mohammedanism was about to meet its doom. This crisis also passed, and the world went on its way. But it remained henceforth a fixed idea, proclaimed by every dissenter from the Roman See, that Antichrist would be found on the Papal throne. So the Waldenses, Huss, Savonarola, and our own Wickliff taught.
 We must distinguish, however, between an Antichrist and the Antichrist. A sincere Roman Catholic might assign to this or that unworthy Pope a place amongst the “many Antichrists,” adopting St John’s expression in Revelation 13:18; as indeed Romanists have done in the case of Luther and others of their opponents, without supposing the Apostle’s prophecy to be in this way absolutely fulfilled.
6. The Lutheran Doctrine of Antichrist
Martin Luther’s famous protest adversus execrabilem bullam Antichristi inaugurated the Protestant Reformation (1520 a.d.). It was one of his firmest convictions, shared by all the great Reformers, that the Papal system was the Antichrist of prophecy; Luther expected that it would shortly be destroyed by Christ in His second advent. This belief was made a formal dogma of the Lutheran Church by the standard Articles of Smalkald (1537 a.d.). It has a place in the English Bible; the translators in their address to King James I. credit that monarch with having given, by a certain tractate he had published, “such a blow unto that Man of Sin, as will not be healed.” Bishop Jewel’s Exposition of the Thessalonian Epistles, delivered in the crisis of England’s revolt from Rome, gives powerful expression to the Lutheran view. In the 17th Century, however, this interpretation was called in question amongst English Divines. Amongst its recent advocates, the late Bishop Wordsworth, in his Lectures on the Apocalypse and Commentary on the Greek Testament, has supplied a learned and most earnest vindication.
 Melanchthon admitted a second Antichrist in Muhammad. He distinguished between the Eastern and Western Antichrists. The conjunction of Pope and Turk was common with our Protestant forefathers.
This theory has impressive arguments in its favour, drawn both from Scripture and history. It contains large elements of truth. But many reasons forbid us to identify the Papacy with the Man of Lawlessness. Two must here suffice. (1) St Paul’s words describe, as the early Fathers saw, a personal Antichrist; they cannot be satisfied by any mere succession of men, or system of Antichristian evil. (2) His Man of Lawlessness is to be the avowed opposer and displacer of God. Now, however gross the idolatry of which the Pope has been made the object, and however daring and blasphemous the arrogance of some occupants of the Papal Chair, one must seriously weaken and distort the words of the Apostle to adjust them to the Romanist pretensions. It is not true, in any strict sense of the words, that the Bishop of Rome “exalts himself against every one called God and every object of worship.” The Roman Catholic system has multiplied, instead of abolishing objects of worship; its ruling errors have been those of superstition, not of atheism. At the same time, its exaltation of the Pope and the priesthood has debased the religious instinct of Christendom, and has nursed the spirit of anthropolatry—the man-worship, which St Paul believed was to have in the Man of Lawlessness its supreme object. Romanist teaching has prepared a fruitful soil for the seeds of atheism. It enervates the conscience, and loosens the bonds of moral obligation.
 Whatever is said In condemnation of the Romanist system, is said in remembrance and joyful recognition of the fact that within the Roman communion there are multitudes of sincere and exemplary Christians.
7. Antichrist in Modern Times
It would occupy several pages merely to state the various theories promulgated upon this mysterious subject in recent times.
Not the least plausible is that which saw “the apostasy” in the later developments of the French Revolution, with its apotheosis of an abandoned woman in the character of Goddess of Reason, and which identified Napoleon Buonaparte with the Man of Sin. The Empire of Napoleon was essentially a restoration of the miliary Cæsarism of the first century. He came within a little of making himself, Iike Julius Cæsar, dictator of the civilized world. To our minds, this unscrupulous despot, with his superb genius and insatiable egotism—the offspring and the idol, till he became the scourge of a godless democracy—is in the true succession of Antiochus Epiphanes and Nero Cæsar. He has set before our times a new and commanding type of the Lawless One.
Nor is godlessness wanting in a bold and typical modern expression. Following upon the negative and destructive atheism of the last century, the scientific, constructive and humanistic atheism of this century has built up for itself an imposing system of thought and life. The theory of Positivism, as it was propounded by its great apostle, Auguste Comte, culminates in the doctrine that “Man is man’s god.” God and immortality, with the entire world of the supernatural, this philosophy abolishes in the name of science and modern thought. It sweeps them out of the way in order to make room for le grand être humain, or collective humanity; which is to command our worship through the memory of its heroes and men of genius, and in the person of woman, adored within the family. This scheme of religion Comte worked out with the utmost seriousness, and furnished with an elaborate hierarchy and ritual, based on the Roman Catholic model. Although Comte’s religion of humanity is disowned by many of his followers, it is a phenomenon of great significance and interest. It testifies to the persistence of the religious instinct in our nature; and it shews the direction which that instinct is compelled to take when deprived of its rightful Object (see the Apostle’s words in Romans 1:23). Comte would carry us back, virtually, to the Pagan adoration of deified heroes and deceased Emperors, or to the Chinese worship of family ancestors. Moreover, Positivism provides in its Great Being an abstraction which, so far as it takes possession of the human mind, must inevitably tend to realise itself in concrete personal shape. It sets up a throne of worship which the man of destiny will be forthcoming “in his season” to occupy.
Since the time of Hugo Grotius (1583–1645 a.d.), the famous Dutch Protestant scholar, theologian, and statesman, numerous attempts have been made to demonstrate the fulfilment of N.T. prophecy within the Apostolic, or Post-apostolic age. This line of interpretation was adopted by Catholic theologians, as by Bossuet in the 17th century and Döllinger in our own times, partly by way of return to the Patristic view, and partly in defence against Protestant exegesis. These præterist theories, restricting the application of St Paul’s prediction to the first age of the Church, in various ways strain and minimize his language, in attempting to make it square with actual events. Or else they assume, as rationalistic interpreters complacently do, that such prophecies were incapable of real fulfilment, and have been refuted by the course of history. Almost every Roman Emperor, from Caligula down to Trajan—some even of later times—has been adopted in turn for the Man of Sin or the Restrainer by one or other of the commentators. Nero figures in both characters; so does Vespasian. Others hold—and this view is partly combined with the last, as e.g. by Grotius—that Simon Magus, the traditional father of heresy, was the Lawless One; while others, again, see “the mystery of iniquity” in the Jewish nation of the Apostle’s time. Outside the secular field, the power of the Holy Spirit, the decree of God, the Jewish Law, the believing remnant of Judaism, the Christian Church, and even Paul himself have been put into the place of “that which withholdeth,” by earlier or later authors. But these fancies have never obtained much acceptance.
 Döllinger sees “the Lawless One” in Nero, in the first instance; and “the Withholder”—or, as he prefers to render the word, “the Occupier” (viz. of the seat of power)—in Claudius, Nero’s predecessor; the latter a very improbable identification. He does not suppose the meaning of the prophecy exhausted by this first fulfilment, but expects a second at the end of the world, All intermediate applications he regards as speculative and illegitimate.
Like other great prophecies of Scripture, this word of the Apostle Paul has, it appears to us, a progressive fulfilment. It is carried into effect from time to time, under the action of Divine laws operating throughout human history, in partial and transitional forms, which prefigure and may contribute to its final realization. For such prophecies are inspired by Him Who “worketh all things after the counsel of His will;” and they rest upon the principles of God’s moral government, and the abiding facts of human nature. We accept, with Chrysostom, an earnest of the accomplishment of St Paul’s prediction in the person of Nero. We recognize, with the later Greek Fathers and Melanchthon, that there are plain Antichristian tokens and features in the polity of Muhammad. We recognize, with Gregory I. and the Protestant Reformers, a prelude of Antichrist’s coming and conspicuous traits of his character in the spiritual despotism of the See of Rome; and we sorrowfully mark in the history of the Church how the tares ever grow beside the wheat, and in what manifold forms “the apostasy” which prepares the way of Antichrist and lays the foundations of his rule, has continued its baleful working. We agree with those who discern in the Napoleonic idea an ominous revival of the lawless absolutism and worship of human power that prevailed in the age of the Cæsars; while Positive and materialistic philosophy, with sensualistic ethics, unless we are much deceived, are making for the same goal.
 The following extract from Comte’s Catéchisme Positiviste is a striking proof of the readiness with which scientific atheism may join hands with political absolutism: “Au nom du passé et de l’avenir, les serviteurs théoriques et les serviteurs pratiques de L’Humanité viennent prendre dignement la direction générale des affaires tesrrestres, pour construire enfin la vraie providence, morale, intellectuelle, et matérielle; en excluant irrévocablement de la suprématie politique tous les divers esclaves de Dieu, Catholiques, protestants, ou déistes, comme étant à la fois arrières et perturbateurs.”—The true Pontifical style! It Is not a very long step from these words to that which the Apostles intimate in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 13:16-17, &c. It is significant that Comte issued this Catechism of the new religion Just after the coup d’ état of Louis Napoleon, whom he congratulates on “the happy crisis”! In the same preface he does homage to the Emperor Nicholas of Russia, as “the sole truly eminent chief of whom our century can claim the honour, up to the present time.” Comte’s ignorance of politics is some excuse for these blunders; bat the conjunction remains no less significant. Faith in God and faith in freedom are bound up together. See Arthur’s Physical and Moral Law, pp. 231–237; and his Religion without God, on Positivism generally.
The history of the world is one; the first century lives over again in the nineteenth. All the factors of evil co-operate, as do those of good. There are, in truth, but two kingdoms, of Satan and of Christ; though to our eyes their forces lie scattered and confused, and we distinguish ill between them. But the course of time quickens its pace, as if nearing some great issue. Science has given an immense impetus to human progress in all directions, and moral influences propagate themselves with greater speed than, heretofore. There is going on a rapid interchange and interfusion of thought, a unifying of the world’s life, and a gathering together of the forces on either side to “the valley of decision,” that seem to portend some world-wide spiritual crisis, in which the glorious promises, or dark forebodings of revelation, or both at once, will be anew fulfilled. But still Christ’s words stand, as Augustine said, to “put down the fingers of all the calculators.” It is not for us to know times or seasons. What backward currents may arise in our secular progress, what new seals are to be opened in the book of human fate, and through what cycles the evolution of God’s purpose for mankind has yet to run, we cannot guess.
 “Omnes calculantium digitos resolvit:” on Matthew 24:36.
The first disciples deemed themselves to live already in the dawn of the world’s closing day. We in its later hours keep watch for the Lord Who said, “Behold, I come quickly,”—yet seems to tarry. Be it ours, none the less, with unwearied love and faith to repeat the cry which has never ceased from the lips of the Church, the Bride of Christ:
COME, LORD JESUS!
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.2. that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled] Lit., to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind (R. V.):—more freely rendered: we beseech you … not to lose your balance of mind under any sudden shock; or keeping nearer to the Greek, not to be shaken out of your wits.
“Quickly” points, as probably in Galatians 1:6, to the speedy effect of the disturbing cause. Starting declarations were made about the Second Advent; the Thessalonians must take care that they are not carried away by them. Let them resist the first impression of these sensational announcements, and put them to the test of cool judgement and enquiry, as men who “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21); they will find out how baseless they really are.
nor yet, he continues, be kept in alarm. The former clause describes the overthrow of one’s mental equilibrium; this deprecates a continued agitation, a nervous, fluttered condition of mind. The word occurs in the like connection in Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7 : “When ye shall hear of wars, &c., be not troubled”—i.e. alarmed, discomposed. From the words that follow it is evident that various attempts were made to disturb the Church upon this subject; and while some would be startled at once out of their self-possession, others, less excitable, would still by the recurrence of the rumours be kept in perturbation.
neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us] There is a contrast in the Greek between the two states of mind just referred to (shaken, nor yet troubled), but not between the various means by which they were produced; for the latter were used not as alternatives, but in combination. Hence the R. V. renders: either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us.
The import of the phrase “by spirit” is apparent from 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (see notes). Gifts of prophecy were possessed by various members of the Church, and men professing to speak “through Spirit”—i.e. under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by a supernatural influence—were declaring, “The Day of the Lord is come!”
“Word” stands in contrast with “spirit,” just as “word of wisdom” and “of knowledge” with “prophecy,” and “doctrine” with “revelation,” in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11; 1 Corinthians 14:26. It denotes the ordinary expression of rational thought and judgement, in distinction from the ecstatic or prophetic utterances of supernaturally inspired persons.
“As from us”—strictly, as through (or by) us; the preposition is the same that has been used thrice already in the clause. But this phrase appears to qualify epistle alone, not spirit or word; for these latter modes of communication belonged to others besides the Apostle. It was by letter that his authorisation was claimed for the rumour in question. “As through us” signifies as though on our authority; comp. “through the Lord Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 4:2.—Was this opinion ascribed to the Apostle from misinterpretation of his previous letter, or of some other letter to the Thessalonians not preserved for us? or on the, authority of a pretended, or even forged Epistle? It is impossible to answer with certainty. His reference is vague, perhaps intentionally so. He surmised that his authority was being abused in this way, but possibly had no precise information on the point. If some members of the Church had not had the former Epistle communicated to them, as when writing 1 Thessalonians 5:27 he feared might happen, it may easily have been misrepresented, or misquoted, to the effect indicated. On the other hand, the fact that at the close of this Epistle (ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:17) he guards his readers against imposture, suggests to us that actual deceit was attempted; comp. the words of the next verse, “Let no one cheat you.” The authors of the false announcement must at least have hinted at the existence of another letter in their favour, if they wished to persuade those well acquainted with our First Epistle; for 1 Thessalonians lends no countenance to their views. A hint of this kind, brought to the Apostle’s knowledge, would put him at once upon his guard.
as that the day of Christ is at hand] Both reading and rendering are at fault here. As that is equal to supposing that: the agitation which the Apostle deprecates being such as this belief would naturally create. Day of Christ should be day of the Lord, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (see note), and elsewhere (of Christ, however, in Php 1:10; Php 2:16). And the verb means more than is at hand,—rather, is now present (R. V.), is upon us; under the same verb (in its participle) “things present” are contrasted with “things to come” in Romans 8:38, and 1 Corinthians 3:22.
This enthusiastic Church, full of the thought of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, was ready to believe what it wished, and lent too credulous an ear to those who in such a time of spiritual tension and exaltation were sure to be found crying out, “Lo here!” or “Lo there!” Against this class of agitators the Lord warned His people. When He does return. He will have no need of heralds or forerunners; “For as the lightning shines out, flashing from the one side of heaven unto the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day” (Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:14).
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;3. Let no man deceive you by any means] beguile you,—as the Revisers commonly render this Greek verb, and the A. V. in 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14, and Romans 7:11 (comp. Genesis 3:13, “the serpent beguiled Eve”). It implies a thorough, commonly a wicked deception; comp. also Romans 16:18. The kindred noun (deceit) appears in 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
in any wise (R. V.) points to the variety of ways (“by spirit, word,” &c., 2 Thessalonians 2:2) in which the readers were being plied with this delusion.
for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first] The R. V. supplies the ellipsis more simply: for it will not be. The Apostle’s mind becomes absorbed in his description of “the Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:4), and he forgets to complete the sentence; but his meaning is clear enough. For a similar dropped, or broken sentence comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:11 (see note, and Introd. Chap. VI, on the Style of St Paul). His manner is that of a speaker rather than a studied writer, and such lapses are natural in the freedom of conversation.
“A falling away” is a mistranslation. The Apostle uses the definite article; he refers to the apostasy of which he had spoken distinctly to his readers (2 Thessalonians 2:5). This word in common Greek denotes a military or political revolt, a defection; then in the LXX it is applied to revolting from God—e.g. in Jeremiah 29:32 (“rebellion against the Lord”), 1Ma 2:15 (“revolt,” consisting in sacrificing to idols): so the corresponding verb in Hebrews 3:12; comp. Acts 21:21 (“thou teachest apostasy from Moses”), 1 Timothy 4:1. Here this ominous expression appears for the first time within the Christian Church, as signifying revolt from Christ, the faithless defection of men “denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). It is sad to find such a prediction in the earliest writings of the N. T. It originated, doubtless, in the words of Christ, Matthew 24:10-13 : “Then shall many stumble … Many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of the many shall wax cold.” Comp. the mournful prophecy of Moses concerning the future of his people (Deuteronomy 31:28-29, &c.). This presentiment of St Paul grew in distinctness and was expressed with increasing emphasis, as time went on; comp. Romans 16:17-20; Acts 20:29-30; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 4:1, &c. Such words as those of 1 Corinthians 16:22 (“If any man love not the Lord, let him be anathema”), and Colossians 2:19 (“not holding fast the Head”), shew that in his view personal loyalty to Christ was the safeguard of Christianity.
As to the particular form and direction of the apostasy, nothing is said, nor as to the time of its rise or duration. Disloyalty to Christ confronted St Paul in his later years in many forms; and ever since the Church has had to straggle with inward corruption, as well as with outward foes. The Apostle anticipates this conflict; he foresees that tares will spring up along with the wheat, and “both” must “grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:24-30). Such development of internal evil had not yet taken place, and by this the Thessalonians might be sure that the Day of the Lord had not dawned.
and that man of sin be revealed] Lit., and there be revealed the man of sin; or, according to the reading of the Greek preferred by Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, in agreement with the two oldest MSS, the man of lawlessness. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the writer speaks of “the mystery of lawlessness,” as of something present to his readers’ minds; and in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 this same “man” is styled “the lawless one.” Throughout St Paul lays the utmost stress upon this attribute of the system of evil, with which he apprehends that the Kingdom of Christ must have a final and conclusive struggle. Lawlessness is the essence of that system, and “the man of lawlessness” its complete impersonation (comp. 1 John 3:4).
Now “lawlessness” is in the Apostle’s eyes a characteristic of the Gentile world, which “knew not God” (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:5) and had cast off moral restraint. But he looked beneath the formal and outward possession of God’s law in the letter, and recognized in the Jewish people the like lawlessness of spirit (Romans 2:1; Romans 2:17-19); while “Gentiles not having law,” sometimes “shewed the work of the law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15). “The man of lawlessness” is therefore one in whom St Paul sees the lawlessness of a godless world culminating—the ne plus ultra of “the carnal mind” that is “enmity against the law of God,” which “is neither subject to His law nor can be” (Romans 8:7). And he is emphatically “the man of lawlessness” (with no distinction of Jew or Gentile; comp. Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23), being the person in whom human nature, in so far as it is separated from and opposed to God (see next ver.), finds its ultimate realisation.
We must distinguish, then, between “the apostasy” and “the man of lawlessness,” in that the former is the corruption of the church, while the latter is the culmination of the evil of the world. (Comp. “the wild beast” of Revelation 13:1, “rising out of the” murmuring and restless “sea” of the nations, the “many waters” of ch. Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:15.) But the two influences, though not identical, are in combination. The former naturally contributes to the latter, an apostate Church paving the way for the advent of an atheistic world-power. We shall find in the next verse an echo of the prophecies of Daniel, so clear as to justify us in regarding these two evil powers as analogous to those of Daniel 8:23 : “When the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance shall arise;” where, as it proved in the Maccabean times, the apostasy within Israel gives the signal for the rise of the heathen despot.
“The man of lawlessness” is “the son of perdition,” being the one to whom this doom peculiarly belongs, who like Judas Iscariot (John 17:12) in going to “perdition” will “go to his own place” (Acts 1:25). For the Hebraistic phrase “son of” comp, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, and note.
Perdition is synonymous with destruction, ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:9; there it falls on the godless, here on the Lawless One—lawlessness being the moral counterpart of godlessness, and both fatal to man’s true life.
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.4. who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped] Better, as in R. V. he that opposeth, &c.; for this is a third and distinct designation of the personality in question. Also against, in place of above. And the comma after “God” in A.V. should be cancelled; the phrase object-of-worship (a single word in the Greek, found also in Acts 17:23) extends the idea of God to include everything religious: comp. 1 Corinthians 8:5, “There are that are called gods … gods many and lords many.” The Man of Lawlessness embodies not merely an Anti-christian, but an Anti-theistic revolt. His aim will be to abolish religion in every existing form. This is made still clearer by the next clause.
“He that opposeth” renders the Greek word elsewhere translated the adversary, and is the equivalent of the Hebrew Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18, see note); so that the Lawless One bears the name of him “after” whose “working” he will come (2 Thessalonians 2:9). He will be, therefore, in the most absolute sense, the enemy of God, concentrating in himself all that in human life and history is hostile and repugnant to the Divine nature.
For exalteth himself comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7, where the same compound verb is twice used, and is rendered “exalted-above-measure.” The above description recalls the language of Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:36-37, concerning the great enemy and persecutor of the Church delineated in that prophecy: “He shall magnify himself in his heart; … he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes … He shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods … Neither shall he regard the god of his fathers, … nor any god; for he shall magnify himself above all.” (Comp. the similar language of Ezekiel 28:2, respecting the worldly pride of Tyre.) St Paul takes up and carries forward this O.T. prediction; and as the figure sketched in the Book of Daniel found its proximate realisation in the heathen tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiled the Temple at Jerusalem and attempted to crush the Jewish religion, it is along the same line that we must look for the accomplishment of this prophecy. In the words that follow we are carried, however, beyond the horizon of the Book of Daniel.
so that he as God sitteth, &c.] Omit as God (R. V.) More lit., in the Greek order, so that he in the temple of God takes his seat, showing off himself, to the effect that he is God.
So that the Man of Lawlessness will not only seek to abolish Divine worship, but will substitute for it the worship of himself (see the passages quoted from Daniel, p. 144), declaring his rule the supreme power and exhibiting his person to receive in place of Almighty God the reverence of mankind. Such atheism is, after all, but egotism full-blown, the kind of egotism to which men are tempted who have great power over the minds of their fellows.
The deification of the Roman Emperors suggested this trait of the description. Never has the world witnessed so blasphemous a usurpation, and so abject a prostration of the human spirit as the Cæsar-worship of St Paul’s time—the only real religion now left to Rome. This passage reflects the horror inspired by it in the mind of the Apostle. So far-reaching was the impression produced by the Emperor-worship, that Tacitus represents the German barbarians as speaking in ridicule of ille inter numina dicatus Augustus—“Augustus, forsooth, enrolled amongst the gods!” (Annals, I. 59). The destructive effect which this cultus had on what remained of natural religion in the rites of Paganism is indicated by the pregnant words of Tacitus (Annals, I. 10): Nihil deorum honoribus relictum, cum se templis et effigie numinum per flamines et sacerdotes coli vellet—“The gods were stripped of their honours, when he (Augustus) consented to be worshipped with temples and statues as a deity, with flamens and with priests.” Compare the words of Suetonius referring to Julius Cæsar, with whom the deification of the dead Cæsars began: “Omnia simul ei divina atque humana decreverat (senatus) … Periit sexto et quinquagesimo aetatis anno atque in deorum numerum relatus est, non ore modo decernentium, sed et persuasione volgi” (De vita Caesarum, I. 84, 88). The unconscious irony of the last sentence is finely pointed by the exclamation ascribed to the dying Emperor Vespasian (VIII. 23): Vae, puto deus fio!—“Woe’s me! I think I am turning god!” The shout of the Greek populace at Cæsarea, hailing “the voice” of Herod Agrippa as that “of a god and not of a man,” indicates the lengths to which a corrupt and servile heathenism was prepared to go in this direction (Acts 12:20-24). Deep and wide-spread was the execration caused by the attempt of the mad Emperor Caius (Caligula), in the year 40, to place his statue in the Jewish Temple, an attempt only frustrated by the perpetrator’s death. This was a typical event, showing of what the intoxication of supreme power might make a man capable. It was but the last of many similar outrages on “every so-called god.” Amongst other monstrous profanities of Caligula, Suetonius relates (IV. 22) that he transported the statue of Olympian Jupiter to Rome, and put his own head upon it in place of the god’s! Also, that he built his palace up to the Temple of the ancient Roman gods. Castor and Pollux, making of it a kind of vestibule, where he exhibited himself standing between their twin godships for the adoration of those who entered. Even this, as Olshausen remarks, was “modesty” compared to what the Apostle ascribes to Antichrist. The very name Sebastos, the Greek rendering of the Imperial title Augustus—to which Divus was added at death—signifying “the one to be worshipped” (comp. sebasma, “object-of-worship, in the previous clause), was an offence to the religious mind. In later times the offering of incense to the deity of the Emperor became the crucial test of fidelity to Christ. Cœsar or Christ was the martyr’s alternative.
When he speaks of “the temple of God,” without other qualification, St Paul appears to refer to the existing Temple of Jerusalem (comp. Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11, cited by our Lord in Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). Attempts have been made to show that the Apostle’s words were literally fulfilled by certain outrages committed by Nero or Vespasian upon the sacred building. This does not seem to us clearly made out; and it will be evident from what has been said, that even the worst of the Roman Emperors was only a type, or adumbration of the Antichrist. The Jewish Temple being still, while it stood, God’s holy place, St Paul naturally associates with it this crowning act of profanation. But we have learnt from 1 Thessalonians 2:16 that he believed national Judaism to be immediately coming to an end; and its Temple was the type and representative of all places consecrated to the worship of the true God. The great Usurper who claims for himself that he “is God,” appropriates consequently the sanctuaries of religion and prostitutes them to his own worship. “Within the temple of God—not in Jerusalem alone,” says Chrysostom, “but in every church.”
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?5. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?] More precisely, I used to tell you; comp. 1 Thessalonians 3:4, for the tense.
This reminder serves two purposes:—(1) It is a gentle reproof to the readers, who ought not to have been so easily unsettled by the alarmists, after what the Apostle had told them, (2) It obviates the necessity of explanation by letter. Any more explicit statement would probably have raised political suspicion, exposing the Apostle to a renewal of the charges which led to his expulsion from Thessalonica (see Acts 17:6-7; Introd. pp. 15, 20, 21). St Paul had watchful enemies, who would be quick to seize on anything that might compromise him with the Roman Government.
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.6. And now ye know] After this allusion: “now that yon call to mind what I used to say about the final struggle with the powers of evil, that will precede Christ’s coming.”
(ye know) what withholdeth] Better, that which restraineth—rendered “letteth” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7; only it is masculine there, denoting personal agency; here neuter, indicating a principle or power. The Thessalonians not only knew what the restraining influence was, they were acquainted with it; it lay within, the range of their experience. We have not therefore to look far a-field for this “restraint.” A hint was sufficient, verbum sapientibus; more than a hint would have been dangerous.
that he might be revealed in his time] The R. V. is more exact: to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. The unnamed subject is the dread personality whose form looms through this paragraph in ever-growing proportions.
With this ver. comp. 1 Timothy 6:14-15; where we read of “the appearing of the Lord Jesus, which in its own times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate” (comp. Acts 1:7). As Christ’s advent has its proper season reserved for it, so has that of Antichrist. To this end the restraining power operates, holding back and setting bounds to human lawlessness, until the set time has come for its final outbreak and revelation.
This order of things belongs to God’s purposes. If He allows moral evil to exist in His creatures (and its possibility seems to be inseparable from moral freedom), yet He knows how to control its activity, till the time shall come when its full manifestation will best subserve its overthrow and judgement. This “season” of the Man of Lawlessness, in whom the bad element in human nature gets at length full play, will be the last and worst of many such crises; chiefest of which was that of Luke 22:53 : “This is your hour,” said Jesus to His enemies, “and the power of darkness.”
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.7. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work] Better, of lawlessness (R. V.)—same word as that we adopted from the marginal Revised reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:3; comp. “the lawless one,” 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
“Doth work,” i.e. is operative, or in operation. See note on “working,” 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
Lawlessness has indeed been “at work” ever since man fell from God by sin. But this “mystery of lawlessness” is surely some embodiment of the universal principle of sin which it has assumed in times recent to St Paul (“doth already work”), and which contained, in his belief, the germ and potency of the supreme revelation of evil reserved for the eve of Christ’s advent.
A mystery is not some secret knowledge or practice reserved to a select few, like the Mysteries of Greek Paganism; it is, in St Paul’s dialect, the counterpart of revelation, and the word here takes up again the “revealed” of 2 Thessalonians 2:6 : “until he be revealed, I say; for the mystery (the thing to be revealed) doth already work.” It denotes something by its nature above man’s knowledge, which can only be understood when and so far as God reveals it Comp. note on “revelation,” ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; also the various “mysteries” of Colossians 2:2-3; Ephesians 3:4-6; Romans 11:25, &c. So monstrous and enormous are the possibilities of sin in humanity, that with all we know of its present and past effects, the character of the Man of Lawlessness must remain beyond comprehension,—till he be “revealed in his season.”
only he who now letteth will let, untill he be taken out of the way] Again, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, there is a hiatus in the Greek, due perhaps to the excitement raised by the apparition of this awful personality in the writer’s mind. The R. V. completes the sense more simply and naturally: only there is one that restraineth now,—or, there is at present the Restrainer. “Let” has this sense in the Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, as often in old writers: “We are sore let and hindered in running the race set before us.”
On “the Restrainer” see note, 2 Thessalonians 2:6. It passes from neuter to masculine; while the thing restrained makes an opposite transition, and appears predominantly in a personal form (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 with 7, and again with 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9). For the Apostle contemplates the power of Lawlessness in its ultimate manifestation, as embodied in some one human antagonist of Christ; whereas the restraint that delays his appearance is thought of rather as a general influence, or principle, which at the same time has its personal representatives. We prefer, therefore, to render St Paul’s phrase he that restraineth rather than one that restraineth; for it signifies not an individual, but a class.
Where then are we to look, amongst the influences prevalent in the Apostle’s time and known to his Thessalonian readers, for the check and bridle of Lawlessness? Where but to law itself (Staat und Gesetz Dorner)? The fabric of civil law and the authority of the magistrate formed a bulwark and break water against the excesses both of autocratic tyranny and of popular violence. For this power St Paul had a profound respect (see Romans 13:1-7). He was himself a citizen of Rome, and had reason to value the protection of her laws. (See Acts 16:35-39; Acts 22:23-29; Acts 25:10-12.) About this very time he found in the upright Proconsul, Gallio (brother of Seneca, the tutor and ill-fated “restrainer” of Nero), a shield from the lawlessness of the Jewish mob at Corinth; the Thessalonian “politarchs” at least tried to do him justice (Acts 17:5-9). We must distinguish between the laws of the Roman State and the personal power of the Emperor, whose despotism habitually trampled on the laws and yet was checked by them. Within a year of the writing of this letter Nero assumed the purple, who pushed the principle of lawless autocracy, the idolatry of a wicked human will, to lengths unimagined before. In Nero’s reign it seemed as though St Paul’s vision of the Man of Lawlessness were already realised. This monster of depravity, “the lion” of 2 Timothy 4:17, stood for the portrait of “the wild beast” of St John’s Apocalypse, which carries forward Paul’s image of the Lawless One, as the latter takes up Daniel’s conception of the godless king, impersonated In Antiochus Epiphanes. The absolutism of the bad Cæsars found, after all, its limit in the strong framework of civil legalism and the sense of public justice, native to the Latin race. Nero fell, and did not drag down Rome with him, nor bring about the final ruin. Wiser rulers and better times remained for the Empire. In the crisis of the 8th Century, “the laws of Rome saved Christianity from Saracen domination more than the armies … The torrent of Mohammedan invasion was arrested”—for 700 years. “As long as Roman law was cultivated in the Empire, and administered under proper control, the invaders of the Byzantine territory were everywhere unsuccessful” (Finlay, Hist. of Byzantine Empire, pp. 27, 28). Nor did Roman Law fall with the Empire itself, any more than it rose from it. It has been in spirit, and to a large extent in substance, the parent of the legal systems of Christendom. Meanwhile Cœarism survives, a legacy from Rome and a word of evil omen,—the title and model of illegal sovereignty.
The lawlessness of the world holds this “mystery” of St Paul In solution, ready to precipitate itself. It betrays itself in many partial and transitional manifestations, until “in its season” it shall crystallize into its complete expression. Let reverence for law disappear in public life, along with religious faith, and there is nothing to prevent a new Cæsar becoming master and god of the civilized world, armed with infinitely greater power.
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:8. And then shall that Wicked be revealed] Then, “in his own season” (2 Thessalonians 2:6), in contrast with the now of the last clause, the time of his restraint: then shall be revealed the lawless one (R. V.).
It is essential that we keep in mind the identity of the figure depicted from 2 Thessalonians 2:3 onwards. The variety, of synonyms employed by the A.V. is distracting. This “revealing of the Lawless One” is the unveiling of “the mystery of lawlessness already at work;” he is no other than “the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition” announced in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Three times, with persistent emphasis, the word revealed is repeated (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8), as of some unearthly and portentous object, that holds the gazer spell-bound. Comp. note on “mystery,” 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
“The lawless” (anomos) is a term frequently occurring in the LXX, both in the singular and plural; it denotes the typical “sinner,” or “wicked person” of the O.T.
whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth] According to the true reading, and better rendering, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth (R. V.).
On the title “Lord Jesus” and its relation to the Second Advent, see note to 1 Thessalonians 2:19. Jesus, the human Name, could not be wanting here, where the overthrow of “the man of lawlessness” is in question.
The words that follow come from the prophecy of the judgement of the Rod of Jesse, Isaiah 11:4 : “He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.” Such predictions had not been accomplished in the humble, suffering Messiah,—or but in foretaste, by the denunciations of Jesus (Matthew 23. &c.); they remain to be verified in His triumph. The Lawless One, being the ultimate embodiment of the world’s wickedness and defiance of God, must suffer the conclusive fulfilment of the prophet’s words.
Just as the sight of the Lord Jesus will suffice to bring ruin on cruel persecutors (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:9), so it will need but the breath of His mouth to lay low the haughty and Titanic Antichrist: “A word shall quickly slay him!”
and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming] More exactly, and shall bring to nought with the manifestation of his coming (or presence: Greek parousia; see note on this word, 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
The Greek verb signifies to make inoperative, destroy in effect; it is a favourite word with St Paul: comp. 2 Timothy 1:10, “having abolished death;” and Galatians 3:17, “to make the promise of none effect.” The elect of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus will be to paralyse the Lawless One and strip him of his power. See note on ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “destruction (coming) from the presence of the Lord.”
The word rendered “manifestation” (epiphaneia, our Epiphany) is not found in St Paul again till we come to his latest Epistles, where it is applied to the Second, and once to the First Coming: 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 2:13. It signifies by usage an extraordinary, commonly a superhuman, divine apperance. Similarly the corresponding adjective, rendered “notable’ in Acts 2:20 (from Joel 2:31 : Hebrew, “terrible”). Prima ipsius adventus emicatio (Bengel).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 we are told (1) of the agency which brings about the coming of the Man of Lawlessness and the means employed for the purpose, (2) of the victims of his ascendancy (2 Thessalonians 2:10), and (3) of the issue for which in the sovereignty of Divine judgement his power is overruled (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,9. even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan] Rather, even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan (R. V.); for this sentence does not qualify the last clause of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 by itself, it looks back to the principal subject of the paragraph,—“then shall be revealed the lawless one … whose coming,” &c.
The two “comings” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9]—the parousia of the Lord Jesus and that of the Man of Lawlessness—are set in contrast. The second forms the dark background to the glory of the first. “According to the working of Satan” is not, therefore, subordinate to the clause that follows, but forms a chief predicate. It is Satan that inspires and directs the advent of the Lawless One; hence the “powers and signs” which attend it: “who comes as one empowered by Satan, attended by all kinds of lying miracles.” For “Satan” comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and “he that opposeth” in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 above.
“Working” (Greek energeia, energy) is a word that St Paul uses elsewhere of the operation of God; comp. note on “manifestation” above; and see e.g. Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 1:19; similarly the kindred verb, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 (see note, and on 1 Thessalonians 2:13). With studied emphasis and precision he borrows for the coming of Antichrist the terms proper to the coming of Christ, making the one appear as a frightful mimicry and mocking prelude of the other. The Lawless One has his “mystery, “his “revelation,” his “parousia,” and his “power and signs and wonders,” in which the “working of Satan” in him apes the working of God in Christ. This systematic, and as one might suppose, calculated adoption by Antichrist of the attributes of Christ is a most appalling feature in the Apostle’s representation. Satan himself, through his agent, usurps God’s throne amongst men. And the Man of Lawlessness holds a relation towards Satan the counterpart of the relation of Christ to God.
with all power and signs and lying wonders] Lit., in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood. There is no reason in grammar why the conducing epithet should not be referred to the three synonyms alike; it suits them all. St Paul does not mean to say that the miracles in question are pretended miracles, but that they aid and abet falsehood. They come from “the father of falsehood” (John 8:44), to whose realm all lies belong. Comp. Matthew 24:14, and Revelation 13:13, for predictions of Satanic miracles.
The three terms by which these manifestations are designated, are precisely those used of the miracles of Christ and the Apostles; comp. Acts 2:22; Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4, where they are variously combined. Of the three, signs is the most frequent, unfortunately rendered “miracles” in the A.V. of the Fourth Gospel (corrected in R.V.); occasionally signs and wonders (never wonders alone) are combined; more frequently power is used, or powers, rendered in the Gospels “mighty works”. The Greek word for wonder, nearest in sense to our “miracle,” denotes the outward effect of such deeds, the astonishment or fear they excite; while power points to the Divine (in this instance Satanic) agency that effects them, and signs calls attention to the significance of the event, its spiritual import.
While the last clause delineates the nature of the operations of Antichrist and the means by which he is accredited, the next verse goes on to describe their fatal effect:—
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.10. and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish] Both reading and rendering need to be amended; it is rather, and in all deceit of unrighteousness for the perishing—the opposite of “them that are being saved,” or “the subjects of salvation” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15). They follow, alas, the guidance of “the son of perdition,” and share his ruin (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
“Deceit of unrighteousness” is a phrase compounded similarly to “good pleasure of goodness,” ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:11; it signifies such deceit as belongs to unrighteousness, that which it is wont to employ. These devices are “deceit for the perishing,” for men without the lie of God, whose spiritual perception is destroyed by sin and who therefore fall a prey to deceit. The children of God are not imposed upon by these means; they know how to “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Read carefully 1 John 4:1-6, and compare with this context.
because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved] Placing himself amid the scenes of the triumph of Antichrist and viewing the sad fate of his victims, St Paul explains their ruin. They had no “love of the truth.” This sentiment they never “entertained.” And so—in compensation for this—they believe wicked lies, to their undoing: in return for their refusal to entertain the love of the truth. On receive, see note to 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (second “received”); there is implied a want of heart to receive.
It is not “the truth” simply, but “the love of the truth” that these unhappy men repudiate. Their unbelief is not of the reason so much as of the heart. Those of whom the Apostle speaks resist “the truth” with an instinctive, invincible prejudice; for they have no desire to “be saved” from the sins it condemns. Christ found in this moral prepossession the reason why so many rejected His word. “Every one that doeth evil,” He said, “hateth the light” (John 3:20; comp. John 10:26; &c.). So St Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “Our gospel is a veiled thing amongst them that perish. The god of this world has blinded their minds … that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ may not shine upon them.” It is a just, but mournful result, that rejecters of Christ’s miracles become believers in Satan’s, and that atheism should be avenged by superstition. So it has been, and will be.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion] Rather sents to them, the present standing for the future by anticipation of the predicted certainty; or better explained as the statement of a principle already at work. What will take place in those deceived by Antichrist, is seen on a smaller scale every day.
For strong delusion read, with R.V., working of error, parallel to “working of Satan,” 2 Thessalonians 2:9 (see note on working); a superhuman force and fascination is implied, that of Satan’s miraculous working in the Antichrist. “Delusion” is deceit accepted, falsehood taken for truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). And “God sends” this effectual deceit, with the very purpose that they should believe the lie. “O Lord, why dost Thou make us to err from Thy ways?” (Isaiah 63:17).
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, therefore, ascribe to God the great delusion that we have been all along regarding as the masterpiece of Satan. Three things must be borne in mind here: (1) that Satan is never represented in Scripture as an independent power, or rival deity of evil, like the Persian Ahriman. However large the activity allowed to him in this world, it is under Divine control (see Job 1, 2; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 10:13; &c.). (2) St Paul teaches that God makes sin work out its own punishment. In Romans 1:24-25, he represents the loathsome vice of the Pagan world as a Divine chastisement for its long-continued idolatry: “For this cause God sends eftectual delusion” is parallel to “For this cause God gave them up to vile passions.” In each case the result is inevitable, and comes about by what we now call a natural law. That persistent rejection of truth destroys the sense of truth and results in fatal error, is an ethical principle and a fact of experience as certain as any in the world. Now he who believes in God as the Moral Ruler of the Universe, knows that its laws are the expression of His will. Since this Satanic delusion is the moral consequence of previous and wilful rejection of the truth, it is manifest that God is here at work; He makes Satan and the Lawless One His instruments in punishing false-hearted men. As they loved lies, God “sends them” lies for their portion. Comp. Ezekiel 14:9, and 1 Kings 22. “Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the ages!” (Revelation 15:3). (3) The advents of Christ and of Antichrist are linked together (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:9); they are parts of the same great process and drama of judgement. God sends “the working of error” in the Lawless One, Who will quickly send His Son to be Judge of the lawless and Avenger of His elect.
For “a lie” the Greek reads “the lie” (same word as falsehood, 2 Thessalonians 2:9), which probably means here not falsehood in general, but this particular falsehood—“the lie” par excellence, in which all previous delusions of Satan are consummated, viz. that the Lawless One is himself God (2 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). Similarly Idolatry is called “the (great) lie,” in contrast with “the truth of God” (Romans 1:25).
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.12. that they all might be damned who believed not the truth] that they may be judged is what the Apostle says.
Here is the further, judicial purpose of the great imposture. God intends that men who are so disposed should “believe the lie,” so that their false belief may be a touchstone and demonstration of their falseness. Men without love of truth naturally believe the lie when it comes; there is nothing else for them. And this is a terrible judgement upon them. As Christ came at first “for judgement into this world” (John 9:39, &c.), by His presence discriminating the lovers of truth and falsehood, so it will be with Antichrist at his coming. He will attract his like; and this attraction will be the exposure of their hatred of the truth. Comp. Romans 2:8 : “To those who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness … wrath and indignation.”
This is not yet the Last Judgement, and it is possible that some under this retribution may yet repent, seeing how shameful is the delusion into which they have fallen by rejecting Christ.
all (probably all together, in the Greek) marks the universal range of this judgement; the delusion takes effect everywhere; it will be the one thing in which the enemies of Christ agree, and it furnishes a decisive test of their character. Comp. “the mark of the Wild Beast” in Revelation 13:3; Revelation 13:16 : “The whole earth wondered after the beast … All that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
That they had pleasure in unrighteousnes explains the readiness of these unhappy men to accept the “deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). They are credulous of that which falls in with their evil inclination. Wicked men are the dupes of wickedness. Comp. Romans 1:32, where the fact that men not only do the vilest things, but “take pleasure in those who do them,” adds the finishing touch to the Apostle’s black picture. Such an one does wrong not through force of passion or example or habit, but out of sheer delight in wrong. “The light that is in him has become darkness.” He says with Milton’s Satan,
“Farewell remorse, all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my good!”
Men of this type will welcome eagerly the reign of Antichrist. But their triumph will prove shortlived.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:13. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you] Comp. ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:3, and notes. The strain of the opening thanksgiving of the two Epistles is here blended. For while this clause repeats the first words of 2Th, the sentence that follows echoes 1 Thessalonians 1:4.
Here the subject, we, bears emphasis: “we, with this sad prospect of apostasy and delusion in view.” Those who see deeply into the evil of the world, its immense power and untold possibilities, turn with the greater satisfaction to that which “speaks better things.”
brethren beloved by the Lord (R.V.) is parallel to “beloved by God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4 : see note).
“The Lord” is surely Christ, as distinguished from “God” in the adjoining clauses. The Church assailed by persecution, and appalled by the thought of Antichrist, finds in the love of Christ her refuge (comp. Romans 8:35; Romans 8:39). To the same Divine Protector the Apostle commits his “brethren,” so dear to him (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). He recalls in this expression the blessing pronounced on Benjamin, his own tribe, in Deuteronomy 33:12 : “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; He covereth him all the day long, and he dwelleth between His shoulders.” The two phrases correspond precisely in the Greek.
because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation] Better, in that God chose you; see note on ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:3.
These words are partly borrowed from Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 26:18 : “Thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God. He hath chosen you to be a peculiar people unto Himself … He set His love upon yon;” &c.
The Apostle’s thanksgivings in the First Epistle centred in the fact of the “election” of the Thessalonian believers in Christ. (See note on election, 1 Thessalonians 1:4; and context.) To this his grateful thoughts now revert. God deals with them far otherwise than He will do with those to whom He “sends effectual delusion … that they may be judged” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12): He “chose you for salvation … not for wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). How safe and high above fear are “God’s elect” (Romans 8:33-39)!
“From the beginning” points to the time when the Gospel first visited the Thessalonians; so the “election” of 1 Thessalonians 1:4 is associated with the “coming of our gospel to you” (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Then it was that, practically and in human view, God chose this people—i.e. selected them for His own out of the world in which they moved. In later Epistles this “beginning” is traced back, on its Divine side, to “the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4, &c.), and shown to be a part of that which was absolutely “from the beginning” (comp. 1 John 1:1). There is an absolute beginning of salvation, hidden in the nature and eternal counsels of God; this is its relative, historical and manifest beginning (comp. Php 4:15; Acts 15:7).
And this choice is “unto salvation,” in the utmost sense of the word, extended in 2 Thessalonians 2:14 to “the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ;” comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (see note).
This salvation rests on God’s election; at the same time it has its human conditions: salvation (experienced) in sanctification of spirit and faith in the truth. God chooses none to salvation apart from these qualifications; the end implies the way. It is believing and sanctified men who wear “for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Comp. 1 Peter 1:2 : “Elect … in sanctification of spirit” (or the Spirit).
“Chosen unto salvation” stands in contrast with “son of perdition” and “the perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10); “sanctification of spirit” and “belief in truth” on the part of God’s elect, with the “pleasure in unrighteousness” and “belief in the lie” that mark the dupes of Antichrist. These are the moral preconditions of final salvation and perdition respectively.
St Paul writes sanctification of spirit, without the definite article. No doubt “spirit” may grammatically denote “the (Holy) Spirit,” but the Apostle can scarcely have so intended here. For (1) the intimate connection of this phrase with “belief of truth” inclines us to read the two (Greek) genitives alike—“truth” being the object of “faith,” and “spirit” of “sanctification.” (2) “Your spirit” is the primary object of the sanctification prayed for in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. That memorable prayer is probably in the mind both of writer and readers. (3) “Sanctification of spirit,” understood as an inward state of the Thessalonians, is a condition of “salvation” the opposite of the disposition described in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 as marking “those who perish” at the coming of Antichrist. For this reason sanctification is put first; but it depends in turn upon faith,—“belief in the truth.” See Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:13. The normal order therefore is that of 1 Timothy 2:15, “in faith and sanctification.”—For sanctification, see note to 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
Lit., belief of truth. The Apostle is not stating what the truth is that saves, but that it is truth which saves, and faith in it as truth. A truth-accepting faith is the root of salvation, while the disposition to “believe the lie” is the root of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). “Sanctify them in the truth,” prayed Jesus for His disciples; “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The trustful acceptance of the truth revealed by Christ brings with it the consecration of our spirit to God. In such faith and consecration our salvation lies.
Section IV. Words of Comfort and Prayer
Ch. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 to 2 Thessalonians 3:5Passing from the last Section, we breathe a sigh of relief, and gladly join in thanksgiving for those who will “prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Under the solemn feelings awakened by his contemplation of the image of Antichrist, the Apostle turns to his readers, blending thanksgiving with exhortation and renewed prayer on their account. (1) He renders thanks to God Who had chosen and called them to salvation, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; (2) he urges them to be steadfast, 2 Thessalonians 2:15; (3) he prays that God’s love may be their comfort, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. In turn he (4) requests their prayers for himself, ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; (5) he assures them of God’s faithfulness, and of his own confidence in them, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; and (6) prays once more for Divine guidance on their behalf, 2 Thessalonians 2:5.
Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.14. whereunto (to which end, including the whole salvation described in 2 Thessalonians 2:13) he called you by our gospel] i.e., “through the good news we brought.” On our gospel see note to 1 Thessalonians 1:5; and on the call of God, 1 Thessalonians 2:12-13 (where mark its connection with the Divine glory), 1 Thessalonians 4:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:24. The connection of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 resembles that of 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4 in 1 Thessalonians 1, and of Romans 8:29-30 : “whom He foreordained, He also called.” God’s election is the moving spring of human salvation; but His call came to the Thessalonians, when the good tidings first sounded in their ears. That summons declared God’s good will toward them, and His loving choice of each believing heart.
to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ] More freely rendered, that you might win the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. This defines more closely the “whereunto” just above, and brings to a climax the “salvation” contemplated in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 : “To which end God sent yon through us the gospel message, that so you might have Christ’s glory at last for your own.”
In ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:12 (see note) the glory of Christ and that of His saints were declared to be mutual. Here they are identified. In the glory which the exalted and perfect “Lord Jesus Christ” receives, the Thessalonians were called each of them finally to share. This is the goal of their salvation, “the prize of their high calling” (Php 3:14).
“Obtaining of glory” is therefore synonymous with the “obtaining of salvation” of 1 Thessalonians 5:9, where the same rare verbal noun is used (see note). Christ’s glory is already won in principle, in its ground and beginning, both for Himself and His people. So He said, leaving the world, “Now was the Son of Man glorified” (John 13:31); yet He prays further, “Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me;” while He says of His disciples, “The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given them” (John 17:5; John 17:22). His glory is ever advancing and, as it unfolds itself, ever anew imparting itself to men, till it is consummated in “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-12, 2 Thessalonians 2:8; comp. Titus 2:13; Matthew 24:30, &c.). Then the glory of His saints will be complete and secure, in the completeness of His: “with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4; comp. Php 3:20-21; and His own words in John 17:24). “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 2:2).
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.15. Therefore, brethren, stand fast) So then (R.V.), as in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 (see note): the practical conclusion in which the Apostle gathers up all he has been saying in this letter. “Since the Lord’s return is delayed and its time uncertain, and in prospect of the coming of Antichrist, whose deceptive influence is already secretly at work,—inasmuch as God by our means has made you heirs of His glorious kingdom—Stand Fast.” Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 1:23,—where, as in this place, hope is the incentive to steadfastness.
and hold the traditions which ye have been taught] “Hold” is an emphatic word: stand firm and hold fast (Ellicott) gives the Greek sense more adequately.
In traditions which you were taught there is no suggestion of the Romanist idea of Tradition, conceived as an authority distinct from the written Word of God; for the Apostle continues, whether by word or latter of ours (the pronoun belongs to both nouns). He bids them hold by what he had taught, whether it came through this channel or that, provided it were really from himself (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:2, and ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). He is now beginning to communicate with the Churches by letter, and stamps his Epistles with the authority of his spoken word. The sentence asserts the claim of the true Apostolic teaching, as against any who would “beguile” the Church away from it. Comp. 1 Corinthians 11:2 : “I praise you that in all things you remember us, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.”
The Apostle’s “traditions” included, besides doctrine, also the “charges” (or “commands”) he gave on matters of morals and practical life (ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:2). The body of Christian doctrine, brought to its finished form, he calls in his last letters “the deposit” (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:14); while his practical teaching is “the charge” (or “commandment”), 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:18.
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,16. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father] This remarkable invocation corresponds both in form and place in the Epistle to that of 1 Thessalonians 3:11 (see note). But here Christ’s name comes first, a circumstance indicating the Divinity with which the writer invests it: “Where now are those who would lower the Son of God?” (Chrysostom). Comp. 2 Corinthians 13:14.—Again the Subjects are united by the singular number of the following verbs (comfort, &c., 2 Thessalonians 2:17).
As in 1 Thessalonians 3:11, we prefer to render the particle of transition But (rather than Now) may our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father. On “Lord Jesus Christ,” see note to 1 Thessalonians 1:1. St Paul invokes our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as their stablisher, with God our Father, in contrast with the efforts on their own part to which he has exhorted his readers (2 Thessalonians 2:15); comp. the transition in 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23 (see note).
St Paul prays with confidence for his emperilled brethren at Thessalonica, because of the grace which Christ and God had already bestowed both on them and him: Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort (or encouragement) and good hope.
“God our Father, Who loved us and gave,” &c. There is the tenderest connection of thought in these words. God’s Fatherly love prompts His great gifts. See the words of Christ in Matthew 7:11; Luke 12:32 : “Your Father who is in heaven shall give (you) good things,” &c.; comp. John 3:16; 1 John 3:1; also Romans 5:8. While the Thessalonians are “beloved of God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4), they are also “beloved by the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:13); and this clause, though singular, may include Christ in its reference, He and the Father being one in love as in comfort (2 Thessalonians 2:17).
In His love the Father had already given the readers gladness of heart in trouble (ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:6), such as the Apostle often acknowledges in his own case (e.g. in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6)—an “eternal comfort,” which the sorrows of time will never waste. To know that God loves us is in itself a comfort infinitely rich. “Consolation” (A.V.) represents the Greek noun corresponding to the verb “comfort” of 2 Thessalonians 2:17. It is comfort in its older sense of heartening, encouragement, rather than consolation: see note on “comfort,” 1 Thessalonians 3:2.
A “good hope” is such a hope as it is good to have, that gives worth and joy to life. See note on “hope,” 1 Thessalonians 1:3.
These kindred blessings flowing from the love of God, are given in grace—not out of merit, and as to the worthy; but in the way of bounty to the undeserving. See notes on “grace,” ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:12 and 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.17. comfort your hearts] Comp. ch. 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; and the similar expression in Colossians 2:2. The “heart” is the inward man, the seat of our thoughts and emotions (see note, 1 Thessalonians 2:4); there doubt and fear arise, which can be allayed only by Divine comforting. For this verb, comp. note on “consolation” above, and on 1 Thessalonians 3:2.
and stablish you in every good word add work] Rather, establish them, i.e. your hearts, understood from the last clause. This expression was previously used in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, see note. The Apostle does not mean, “May God make you steadfast in saying and doing all that is good,” for the “heart” neither speaks nor works; but rather, “May God give you courage and confidence of heart in all good that you say or do.” He knows that they are busy in doing good (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:10), and he would have them do it with a good and cheerful heart (comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).