Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The first chapter had encouraged the Thessalonians under persecution by the thought of the reality of the Advent. The author has not in the least changed his opinion about the Advent since writing the First Epistle. It is still a matter of most practical comfort: “a very present help.” But now, in clear tones, he warns the Thessalonians against supposing that the “end” was “by-and-by” (Luke 21:9). He had, in fact, taught them so from the outset, and had even then pointed out to them a sign, unaccomplished as yet, which they must see accomplished before the Advent should come.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,(1) Brethren.—The Apostles have won a hearing for the true Advent doctrine by their sympathetic treatment of it in the former chapter; now they soften their correction of the false doctrine by using tender names.
By the coming.—Literally, for the sake of the coming, just as in English we adjure persons to do a thing “for God’s sake.” It is a stronger form of adjuration than the simple “by,” inasmuch as it implies that the thing or person adjured by will suffer if the action be left unperformed. The Coming of Christ and the meeting with the beloved dead would not be so bright, so perfect, perhaps so soon, if the Thessalonians allowed themselves to be misled with regard to it.
Our gathering together.—The peculiar Greek word is the same as that used in Hebrews 10:25 of the assembling to the Lord’s Supper, and nowhere else, so that some have interpreted it in the same sense here. In verb form it is thus used in 1Thessalonians 4:17. The close connection between the two “gatherings together” may be seen in 1Corinthians 11:26. The “our” means the meeting of the dead and the quick together.
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) Not soon shaken.—The meaning would be clearer if we inserted “so” before “soon,” for it does not mean vaguely that they were for the future not to be lightly shaken, but (as in Galatians 1:6) that they had already been shaken, and that in an unconscionably short time since their first teaching on the subject.
In mind.—In the original it is, from your mind; from your reason,
Be troubled.—The tense of the verb “be troubled” differs in the Greek from that of “be shaken”; for the “driving out of their wits” is regarded as a single act; the “agitation,” or being troubled, as a chronic condition, into which there was fear of their falling. This shaking and trouble probably brought about the disorders spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 3. The instruments by which men had partly driven the Thessalonians out of their wits already were three:—(1) “Through spirit,” i.e., by pretended manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power, whether through false signs or, more probably, through “prophesyings.” (See 1Thessalonians 5:20-22, where the fear of some abuse of prophecy is clearly marked already.) (2) “Through word,” i.e., Word of mouth, as opposed to the written letter next mentioned. Most modern commentators seem rightly to take the words “as from us” with this clause as well as with the next; some persons misrepresented what they had heard the Apostles say on the topic, or pretended to have been intrusted with a message from them. (3) “Through letter;” apparently forged letters, purporting to be from (or, literally, through) St. Paul, had been circulated. (See Note on 2Thessalonians 3:17.) “Word” and “letter” occur again in 2Thessalonians 2:15 as his ordinary means of teaching.
As that the day of Christ is at hand—i.e., “to the effect that it is, ”—giving the contents of the pretended revelation; for “as that” follows grammatically upon “spirit, word, letter,” not upon “shaken, troubled.” The word for “is at hand” implies a very close proximity indeed, the participle, in fact (like our word “instant”), being used for “present,” e.g., Galatians 1:4. Probably the form which the false doctrine at Thessalonica was beginning to take was that the day of the Lord had already set in, thus confusing the whole idea of a personal, visible Advent, just as, at a later period, Hymenæus and Philetus confused the true doctrine of resurrection by affirming that it was already past (2Timothy 2:18). St. Paul not only denies vigorously that the day is come, but proceeds in the next verse to show that the signs of its approach are not yet exhibited. The best reading gives “the day of the Lord,” not “of Christ.” (See Note on 1Thessalonians 5:2.)
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 . . . by any means.—“Whatever device they may adopt—spirit, letter, or what not—they are deceivers or deceived; do not be duped by them.” The form of warning is a mark of St. Paul’s style. (Comp. 1Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 5:6)
For . . . except.—The words between are rightly supplied in our version. Probably, St. Paul’s first intention was to turn 2Thessalonians 2:5 differently, as, for instance:” For, except that Man of Sin, &c, ye remember that I told you the day would not come.” The length of the sentence made him break off (as he often does) without regard for grammatical completeness.
A falling away.—A great change in the purpose of the sentence will be felt directly “the” is substituted for “a.” Only one insignificant MS. omits the definite article; the same article in our version is vigorously rendered “that” before “man of sin.” In both cases the purpose is by no means to utter a new, strange prophecy, or to add to the knowledge of the readers, but to remind them of careful teaching given during the first few weeks after their conversion. “That falling away” must undoubtedly imply that the persons so apostatising had formerly held (or, perhaps, still professed to hold) the Christian faith: men cannot fall from ground which they never occupied. This vast and dreadful Apostasy (see Luke 18:8), so clearly and prominently taught of to the ancient Church, and so mysterious to us, is further defined by the following words, as the Apocalypse or Manifestation of the Man of Sin. Of this revelation of Antichrist the same word (apocalypsis) is used which is often used of Christ, as, e.g., 2Thessalonians 1:7; Luke 17:30; and thrice in St. Peter; so that we may expect to recognise him when he comes as clearly as we shall recognise Christ. The conception of the Antichrist is not merely that of an opponent of the Christ, but of a rival Christ: there is a hideous parallelism between the two.
That man of sin.—It is not absolutely certain from the Greek, but the context makes it tolerably clear that the “Man of Sin” is the head and centre of the Apostasy itself, and does not form a separate movement from it. The “Man of Sin,” then, will have at one time formed (or will still profess to form) part of the Christian Church, and the Apostasy will culminate in him. Thus, for instance, the requirements of the passage would not be fulfilled by (with Hammond) interpreting the Apostasy to mean the early Gnostic movement, followed up by the independent appearance of Nero as the Man of Sin. The phrase, “the Man of Sin,” might, perhaps, be only a poetical personification of a movement, or of a class of men, or of a succession of men (as, e.g., Psalm 89:22; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 17:3); but the analogy of the parallel passages in Daniel 8, 11 leads rather to the supposition that St. Paul looked for the coming of some actual individual man who should be the impersonation of the movement of Apostasy. The genitive (see Note on 1Thessalonians 1:3) is like a forcible epithet:” A man so wicked that, bad as other men are, wickedness should be his mark by which he is distinguished from all others; a man who belongs to sin, in whom the ideal of sin has become realised and incarnate.” What kind of sin will be most prominent in him is not expressed in the word itself; but the context points clearly to that which is, in fact, the crowning sin—spiritual pride and rebellious arrogancy (Ephesians 6:12).
The son of perdition.—The phrase which is used, in John 17:12, of the false Apostle; it suits well with the description of the Man of Sin, who, like Judas, will have “fallen away” from high Christian privileges: according to one popular interpretation, like Judas, from the privileges of the Apostolate itself. The expression signifies one who belongs by natural ties to perdition—who from his very birth chooses evil, and in such a sense may be said to be born to be lost (Matthew 26:24; 2Peter 2:12). Both his malignity and his doom are thus implied in it.
EXCURSUS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PROPHECY, 2Thessalonians 2:3-12
IN order to deal fairly with this difficult passage, it will be necessary sternly to exclude from our view all other passages of the New Testament which speak of a final manifestation of evil, and, reviewing the words simply as they stand, to consider what St. Paul himself meant when he so assiduously (2Thessalonians 2:5, Note) taught the Thessalonian Church on the subject, and what the Thessalonian Church was likely to gather from his Letter. For though such a passage as Hebrews 6:2 shows that the whole Apostolic Church was definitely at one in the eschatological instruction given to its converts at a very early stage of their Christian life; and though the language of 1Timothy 4:1; James 5:3-7; 2Peter 3:1-2; 1John 2:18; 1John 4:3; Jude 1:17 (not to mention the Apocalypse)—passages representing the most different schools of thought in the early Church—fully bring out this agreement, so that Christians may fairly use those passages to explain each other, yet, on the other hand, we need to put ourselves in the position of the young Church of Thessalonica, which was expected by St. Paul to make out the significant hints of his Letter with no other help than the recollection of his oral teaching and the observation of events. We, therefore, ought to be able in like manner to catch the same significant hints by a like knowledge of the then history of the world, and of the sources from which St. Paul was likely to draw his doctrine of the “Last Things.”
I. Sources of the Apostolic Doctrine of the Last Things.—The prophecy of St. Paul does not appear to be—at least, exclusively—the result of a direct internal revelation of the Spirit. Such direct revelations were, when necessary, made to him, and we have seen him claim that kind of inspiration in 1Thessalonians 4:15. But God’s ordinary way of making prophets seems to be different. He gives to those who are willing to see an extraordinary insight into the things which lie before the most ordinary eyes; He throws light upon the meaning of occurrences, or of words, which are familiar to every one externally (see Maurice’s Prophets and Kings, pp. 141-145). Even for doctrines like those of the true divinity or the true humanity of our Lord, or of the indwelling of the Spirit, or the Church’s mission, the Apostles do not rest solely on direct revelation made to their own consciences, but rather dwell on the significance of historical facts (e.g., Romans 1:4; 2Peter 1:17), or, still more frequently and strongly, on the interpretation of Old Testament Scriptures (e.g., Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 2:12-13; 2Peter 1:19). If, therefore, we can find material in the Old Testament which, taken in conjunction with our Lord’s own words, could have supplied St. Paul—or rather, the catholic consent of the early Church—with the doctrine of the Last Things as we find it stated in the apostolic writings, we shall be justified in using those Old Testament materials in the explanation of the New.
II. The Book of Daniel.—Such materials we find, not only in the general threatenings of Joel, Zechariah (Zechariah 14.), and Malachi, but most clear and definite in the Book of Daniel. Into the question of the date of that book it is not necessary here to inquire. It suffices for the present purpose to know that it was much older than St. Paul’s time, and was accepted as prophetic in the ordinary sense. In fact, there was, probably, no other book of the Old Testament which received so much attention among the Jews in the apostolic age (Westcott, in Smith’s Dict. Bible, Art. “Daniel”). It was regarded with full reverence as an inspired revelation; and our Lord Himself (according to Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14) either drew from it (humanly speaking) His own doctrine of the Last Things, or at least used it emphatically for His disciples’ benefit as a corroboration. The taste for apocalyptic literature was at this time very strong, and the prophecies of Daniel attracted especial attention, inasmuch as the simplest interpretation of some of the most explicit of them pointed unmistakably to the time then present. Tacitus (Hist. v. 13) and Suetonius (Vesp. chap. 4), as is well known, speak of the certainty felt through the whole East, about that time, that universal empire was on the point of passing into the hands of men of Jewish origin. This belief, says Tacitus, was “contained in the ancient literature of the priests”—i.e., in the Scriptures, kept and expounded by them; and there can be no doubt that first and foremost of those Scriptures (for this purpose) stood the Book of Daniel. For every reason, then, we may well try to find what a believing Jew of the apostolic age would make out of the visions of Daniel, in order to throw light on this passage of St. Paul.
III. The Five Monarchies.—Now, in the Book of Daniel there are four main predictions of what was then the future history of the world. These predictions are contained in Daniel 2, 7, 8, 11. The first two visions, vouchsafed to Nebuchadnezzar and to Daniel respectively, both describe Five Monarchies, which were successively to arise and flourish in the world. Amidst a good deal which is matter of controversy, three facts remain agreed upon by all: first, that the Five Monarchies of the one vision are intended to correspond to the Five Monarchies of the other, each to each; secondly, that the earliest of these five represents the Babylonian empire, then standing, with Nebuchadnezzar at its head; thirdly, that the last of the series portrays the establishment of the Theocracy in its full development—that is, the “Kingdom of God” (which had been the main subject of St. Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica), or the visible government of the world by the Christ.
IV. The Fourth Monarchy.—But the question which most directly concerns us now is how to identify the Fourth of these monarchies. In Nebuchadnezzar’s vision it was to be “in the days of these kings”—i.e., the kings of the Fourth Monarchy, while the Fourth Monarchy was still standing—that the Kingdom of Heaven was to come (Daniel 2:44). In Daniel’s vision this Fourth Monarchy (or rather, its continuation and development) was to exist side by side with the saints of the Most High, and between them and one outgrowth of the Fourth Monarchy a struggle was to take place before the final establishment of the Kingdom of the Saints (Daniel 7:25). What, then, was this Fourth Monarchy intended by the Seer (or by “the Spirit of the Christ,” 1Peter 1:11) to represent? Or, to be still more practical, What was in St. Paul’s own day, among his own countrymen, the received interpretation of this part of Daniel’s prophecy? The question is not hard to answer. With irrefragable clearness Dr. Pusey has proved, in the second of his Lectures on Daniel the Prophet, the plausibility and minuteness with which the words concerning the Second and Third Monarchies may respectively be applied to the Medo-Persian and the Macedonian empires; and if even this point be established, there can be no hesitation in naming the Fourth. It can only be the empire of Rome. But Dr. Pusey shows, with the same force, how applicable the description itself is to the Roman empire. Whether, however, this interpretation has any ground in the original intention of the Prophet, or of Him who, we believe, spoke by him, is for our present purpose a matter of secondary importance. We have already mentioned an unimpeachable piece of evidence furnished by two great Roman historians. It was in their days a “long-established and uniform belief,” entertained not in Judæa only, but “in the whole of the East,” and drawn from the Jewish literature, that a great Jewish empire was destined to appear. But that is not all. Such a belief might have been drawn from Numbers or Isaiah. But Suetonius adds, Eo tempore, “at that time;” Tacitus adds, Eo ipso tempore, “at that very time.” From what Jewish literature could the date have been made out, except from the calculation of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel? And as the same prophecy spoke of a world-wide empire, in the days of whose kings this new Jewish power was to arise, that same “long-established and uniform belief” must have recognised in the Roman empire the Fourth Monarchy which was to be shattered by it. Hence, doubtless, the hopefulness, with which insurgent leaders one after another rose in rebellion against the Roman arms. It was not only that they themselves were the Lord’s own people. Was not this vast system, “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly,” definitely doomed in Scripture to utter extinction before their arms? But we have, besides, a less indirect testimony than the foregoing. The Jew Josephus (Ant. x. 11, § 7) speaks at length of the prophecies of Daniel, and how he himself was watching their gradual verification. After mentioning the prophecy about Antiochus Epiphanes and its complete fulfilment, he adds:” In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the empire of the Romans, and that our country should be made desolate by them.” He then passes on to speak of the comfort afforded by seeing so plainly the Providence of God, with true Jewish irony not disclosing that his comfort lay in the promised revenge upon Rome as well as upon Antiochus. In another place (Ant. x. 10, § 4) he is recording the vision in the second chapter of Daniel, and after describing the universal dominion of the Iron Kingdom, he proceeds:” Daniel also declared the meaning of the Stone to the king, but this I do not think proper to relate, as I have undertaken to describe things past and present, not things that are future. Yet if any one be so very desirous of knowing truth as not to waive such curious points, and cannot refrain his desire to understand the uncertain future, and whether or no it will come to pass, let him give heed to read the Book of Daniel, which he will find among the Holy Scriptures.” No doubt can be entertained that this writer understood the Fourth Monarchy to be the Roman empire, and did not wish to be suspected of encouraging sedition by speaking openly of its predicted downfall. This, then, was the common interpretation which St. Paul must have learned from a child: that Daniel’s Fourth Monarchy, which was to break up before the Kingdom of God, was the Roman empire.
V. The Fifth Monarchy.—We may then assume that St. Paul believed Daniel to foretell the coming of the Kingdom of God in the days of the kings of the Roman empire. In one sense, indeed, the prophecy was already fulfilled. The Kingdom was already come. Heralded by the Baptist (Matthew 3:2, et seq.), and expounded by our Lord (Matthew 9:35, et seq.), it had been established by the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Mission of the Holy Ghost, while the Roman empire actually stood (Psalms 2; comp. Acts 4:25; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:33). St. John regards the world as already virtually subdued in his own lifetime (1John 5:4, Note). But the Church as at present constituted does not answer completely to Daniel’s prophecy of the Kingdom of the Saints. To the Christian there are two comings of the Kingdom, not only one. In the Prophets the two are fused into one. We may almost say the same of the words of Christ Himself. Even the apostolic writers do not separate the two so sharply as God has historically taught subsequent ages of the Church to separate them. The early Church lived in a daily expectation of the return of Christ. For them, therefore, there was no difficulty in interpreting Daniel’s prophecies as applying at the same moment to the First and Second Advent. It would not be unfair, therefore, to assume that St. Paul expected the Second Advent to take place, as the First had done, “in the days of these kings” of the Fourth or Roman Monarchy.
VI. What withholdeth.—Turning now to the statement of St. Paul, we see that he is cautioning the Thessalonians not to expect the Second Coming of Christ immediately, because, as they can see, a certain great power is still in the world, which (as they have been carefully taught) must be removed before the way for Christ’s return is open. This great power—with the aspect of which his readers are perfectly familiar, though they may have forgotten its significance (“Ye know that which withholdeth”)—is summed up in a person who wields it. This person is “he which with holdeth.” His removal “out of the midst” is still a matter of futurity, yet assuredly destined to take place; and the date, though unknown to men, is fixed. The great opponent, who cannot develop so long as “he that with holdeth” remains, is to be revealed “in his time”—i.e., at the time which Divine Providence has assigned to him. It seems impossible to doubt that this great opponent is the same as the “Little Horn” of Daniel (whose “time” is very definitely marked out in Daniel 7:25), and that the power which withholds his development is the Fourth Monarchy of Daniel, and, therefore, the Roman empire. A few considerations will make the latter point clearer:—
(1) There was only one power in the world at that time, represented by a single person, in “the midst,” before all eyes, of sufficient importance to restrain the development of Antichrist. It was the Roman empire and the Roman emperor.
(2) The word rendered “withholdeth,” or “letteth,” does not necessarily imply that the obstruction actively, consciously, or designedly obstructs the way. His presence in the midst is quite sufficient for the requirements of the word. Indeed, it would, perhaps, not be necessary that Antichrist’s delay should even be directly caused by the obstruction; St. Paul might only mean that in prophecy the one thing was destined to come first, and that, therefore, so long as the first thing existed, it (in a manner) kept the second back. Now if Antichrist be the Little Horn of Daniel, and the obstruction the Fourth Monarchy, we get exactly what we want; for (unless the prophecy is to be falsified) before the Little Horn can spring up the Fourth Monarchy must have so totally changed its appearance as to have passed into ten simultaneous kingdoms: therefore, so long as the solid empire stood it was a sign that Antichrist must wait.
(3) Notice the extreme reserve with which St. Paul begins to speak on the subject. He does not teach, but prefers appealing to their memory of words already spoken: “Remember ye not?” His clauses become intricate and ungrammatical—in strange contrast with the simple structure which characterises these two Epistles. He names nothing, only hints. Nor can we account for this sudden ambiguity by saying that St. Paul is adopting the prophetic style; for his purpose is entirely practical, and he wishes not to awe his readers, but to recall to them plain facts which they knew and ignored. Now recollect the similar reticence of Josephus in speaking of the destiny of the Roman empire when it comes in contact with the Messianic Kingdom, and it will be felt almost impossible to doubt the truth of St. Chrysostoin’s shrewd observations: “A man may naturally seek to know what ‘that which letteth’ is; and after that, what possible reason St. Paul had for putting it so indistinctly. What, then, is ‘that which letteth’—i.e., hindereth—him from being revealed? Some say the grace of the Spirit, others the Roman empire. Among the latter I class myself. Why so? Because, had he meant to say the Spirit,’ he would not have said it indistinctly, but straight out; that now he is restrained by the grace of the Spirit, i.e., the supernatural gifts [presumably that of discerning of spirits in particular; comp. 1John 4:1-3]. Otherwise, Antichrist ought to have presented himself ere now, if he were to present himself at the failure of those gifts; for, as a matter of fact, they have long failed. But seeing that he says this of the Roman empire, he naturally put it enigmatically and very obscurely, for he had no wish to subject himself to unnecessary hostilities and unprofitable perils. For had he said that shortly after the Roman empire would be dissolved, they would soon have transfixed him for a miscreant, and all the believers with him, as living and fighting for this end.” Was it not, indeed, for expounding this very prophecy that he had fled for his life from Thessalonica?” These all do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another emperor, Jesus.” Does not the history give startling point to his question, “Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you these things “?
VII. The Man of Sin.—We have stated our belief that “the Man of Sin” is not only to be identified with Daniel’s “Little Horn,” but that St. Paul consciously drew the doctrine from that passage. But it may be objected that some of the words in which St. Paul most narrowly describes him are taken, not from the description of the Little Horn in Daniel 7, but from that of the Little Horn of Daniel 8:5, which represents quite a different person, viz., Antiochus Epiphanes. It might be thought, therefore, that St. Paul was only borrowing Daniel’s language, and not adopting his prophecy. The answer is, that even those prophecies of Antiochus in many points do not suit Antiochus at all; and not only so, but the Jewish expositors themselves held that Antiochus had not exhausted the meaning of the prophecy. They themselves applied it to some Antichrist, whose coming should precede, and be defeated by the Christ’s. Even in St. Jerome’s time, “From this place onwards” (he is commenting on Daniel 11:36) “the Jews think that Antichrist is spoken of, that, after the little help (Daniel 11:34) of Julian, a king shall arise who shall do according to his own will, and lift himself up against all which is called God, and speak great things against the God of gods, so that he shall sit in the Temple of God and make himself god, and his will be performed, until the wrath of God be fulfilled: for in him shall the end be. Which we, too, understand of Antichrist.” Thus, according to the current explanation of the Jews, Antiochus was looked upon as a type of the Antichrist, whom they expected to arise (in fulfilment of Daniel 7:8) at the overthrow of the Roman empire, whose coming was to precede the Christ’s. The only change made by the Christian Church is to apply to the Second Advent a prophecy which the Jews applied to the one Advent which they recognised. It is impossible not to do so when, in Daniel 12:2, we have the Resurrection made to follow close upon the development of this Antiochus-Antichrist. So far, then, as St. Paul’s date is concerned, the doctrine is drawn from Daniel 2, 7; traits of character are added (in accordance with Jewish interpretation) from Daniel 8, 11.
VIII. St. Paul’s probable Personal Expectation.—Dr. Lightfoot argues, with great probability (Smith’s Dict. Bible, Art. “II. Thessalonians”), that, as a personal matter, St. Paul expected to witness in his own day the development of the Antichrist (whose “secret working” was already visible to him), and that he saw in the Jews the makings of the foe to be revealed. Theirs was the apostasy—professing to cleave to God and to Moses, but “departing from the living God, through an evil heart of unbelief,” and “making the word of God to be of none effect through their traditions.” Theirs was the lawlessness—setting the will of God at naught in the self-willed assertion of their privilege as the chosen people, and using the most unscrupulous means of checking those who preached the more liberal gospel of St. Paul. And if to St. Paul the final Antichrist was represented by the Jews, the Roman Government, which had so often befriended him, might well be called the withholder or restrainer. If such was the personal expectation of St. Paul, it was, indeed, literally frustrated; but if the Judaic spirit, of exclusive arrogance, carnal reliance on spiritual promises, innovating tradition, should pass into the Christian Church, and there develop largely, St. Paul’s expectation would not be so far wrong.
IX. The Development of the Horns.—The question naturally arises whether the prophecy has not been falsified. The Roman empire has disappeared, and Antichrist is not yet revealed. We do not need to answer with some interpreters that Roman law still rules the world. A closer observation of the two passages of Daniel already mentioned would in itself suggest the true answer. In Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, indeed, the Roman empire simply comes into collision with the Catholic Church, and falls before it. There is no hint of a protracted struggle between them. The long duration of the Roman empire is perhaps suggested by the words, “Thou wast gazing until that a stone” (Daniel 2:34); the division into the Eastern and Western empires may be symbolised by the two legs of the colossal figure; the ten toes may bear the same interpretation as the ten horns of the later vision: these points, however, are not the most obvious or prominent points of the dream. But in Daniel’s vision all is quite different. There, the final triumph of the Church is won only after a long struggle, and that struggle is not with the Roman empire itself. Though the Beast which symbolises the Roman empire is said to continue throughout (Daniel 7:11), it is only in the same sense, apparently, as the three other Beasts are said to have their lives prolonged (Daniel 7:12). The empire itself has altogether changed its form, and developed into ten kingdoms, among which, yet after which (Daniel 7:8, Dan_7:24), an eleventh has arisen, dissimilar from the other kingdoms, and uprooting some of them. With this power it is that the struggle which ends in the Church’s final victory takes place, and not with the old imperial power of Rome. If, therefore, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar may be said to have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, in the days of the Roman emperors, the vision of Daniel must wait for its fulfilment until the Roman empire has passed away into an even more different form than it has at present reached.
X. Characteristics of Antichrist.—(1) He is a human being. The title “Man of Sin” excludes Satan, as Chrysostom remarks: Satan acts through the man (1Thessalonians 2:9) to the full extent of his power—“enters into him,” as he entered into an earlier “Son of Perdition”—but does not destroy his humanity.
(2) He is a single person. This, too, is involved in the phrase “Man of Sin,” especially when followed by the “Son of Perdition.” It is not to be denied that poetically the first title, at any rate, might be a personification of a movement, or (as the “kings” in Daniel mean “kingdoms”) the title of a wicked power, the head of which might even be more innocent than his subjects. But not only is it simpler to understand the phrases themselves (especially the second) of a single person, but the sharp dramatic contrast between the Christ and the Antichrist seems to require a personal exhibition of evil. The Antichrist is to have a coming (2Thessalonians 2:9) and a manifestation (2Thessalonians 2:3), so as to be instantly recognised, and will display himself by significant acts (2Thessalonians 2:4), which all require a person. Besides, the types of him—Antiochus, Caligula, Nero, &c.—could hardly be said, according to Scriptural analogy, to be “fulfilled” in a mere headless movement. The application of the name “Man of Sin” to any succession of men (as, for instance, all the Popes of Rome) is peremptorily forbidden by the fact that the detection and destruction of the Man of Sin by the Advent of Christ follows immediately upon his manifestation of himself.
(3) This person, though single, heads a movement. He is the captain of “the Apostasy.” He has a large and devoted following (2Thessalonians 2:10). Indeed, though his dominion is “diverse” from other kingdoms, yet he is almost called a king in Daniel 7:24 : the word, however, is (perhaps) carefully avoided. The diversity between his monarchy and theirs might, for instance, consist in its not being, like theirs, territorial or dynastic; it might be a spiritual or an intellectual dominion, interpenetrating the territorial kingdoms.
(4) The movement of Antichrist is not atheistic. The Man of Sin super-exalts himself, indeed, against every God, true or false, but it is not by denial of the Divine existence. On the contrary, he claims himself to be the true God, and exacts the homage due to the true God; thereby acknowledging the existence and working of God, which he avers to have become his own.
(5) The antichristian movement does not even break openly with the Catholic Church. It is an “apostasy,” indeed, but the same Greek word is used in Hebrews 3:12, and in 1Timothy 4:1, in neither of which cases will it suit the context to understand the word of an outward leaving of the Christian Church. The persons must at any rate have been Christians, or they could not be apostates. And the apostasy is all the more terrible if, while the forms of the Church are kept to, there is a departure from the inward spirit. And in this case several points seem to indicate an apostasy within the Church. In the first place, as we have seen above, the movement is distinctly not an atheistic movement, like the German Socialism. Then, the act of session in the “Temple of God” cannot mean anything else than an attempt to exact divine homage from the Christian Church, which, of course, could only be hoped for through adopting Christian forms. The account of the Satanic miracles which the Man of Sin will work in attestation of his claim shows that the persons who follow him are duped into believing that he actually is the Lord. An atheistic materialism would deny miracles altogether. Now we may venture to say that, even if St. Paul had not (as Bishop Wordsworth supposes) St. Luke’s Gospel in his hands, yet he was familiar with the eschatological discourses of our Lord contained in the Synoptic Gospels. In these (which so frequently use the language of the Book of Daniel) our Lord holds up as the greatest terror of the last days, the constant danger, waiting even upon the “elect,” of being seduced into mistaking certain pretenders for Himself. An Antichrist (in its full meaning) expresses more than an opponent of Christ; like the compound Anti-Pope, it implies a rival claimant to the honours which he himself acknowledges to be due only to Jesus Christ. Antichrist pretends to be actually Jesus. Such pretensions would, of course, be meaningless and ridiculous to all except believers in Jesus Christ and His Church. (See Matthew 24:4-5; Matthew 24:10-12; Matthew 24:23; Matthew 24:26, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.) The same would even appear, on close inspection, to be the teaching of the Book of Daniel itself. The Church is “given into his hand” (Daniel 7:25), a much more powerful expression, supposing the Church to be constitutionally bound to him, and not accidentally subject as to a Decius or a Galerius.
(6) Daniel’s Antichrist is characterised by ecclesiastical innovation. “He shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws” (Daniel 7:25)—not to stamp Christianity out altogether, but arbitrarily to alter the Church’s worship (see Pusey, p. 81) and traditional constitution. The same departure from primitive tradition characterises him in Daniel 11:37 : “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers: a God whom his fathers knew not shall he honour.” The constant interpretation of “new gods” among the primitive Fathers is “new doctrines “: for, as a matter of fact, whatever materially alters our conception of God may be said to make us worship a different Being: the God of the extreme Calvinist, for instance, who creates millions of immortal beings for the express purpose of being glorified by their endless pains, can hardly be called the same as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this arbitrary innovation is, in fact, the very feature which St. Paul selects. It is the “lawlessness” or “rebellion” which marks both his movement (2Thessalonians 2:7) and himself (2Thessalonians 2:8)—which lawlessness, or sell-will, is perfectly compatible with exaggerated external reverence for laws and discipline, as is proved by Dr. Lightfoot, who thinks that St. Paul had the Jews specially in mind (Smith’s Bible Dict., Art. “II. Thessalonians”). Other more obvious kinds of “sin” can hardly be said to characterise the Man of Sin; for (not to mention 1Timothy 4:1, which refers expressly to Daniel) in Daniel 11:37 he is given an ascetic character. This spirit of innovation within the Church, implying as it does that his fiat is as good as God’s, which finally leads him to claim divine honours from the Church, is his characteristic sin.
(7) It may be added that the teaching of the Apocalypse is evidently drawn from Daniel, thereby corroborating our belief that St. Paul’s is also, and that such an interpretation as is here suggested has almost the catholic consent of the early Fathers, who almost all teach that the fall of the Roman empire will usher in the Antichrist, and that the Antichrist will be professedly Christian. Their testimony is valuable, inasmuch as some of them seem not merely to be offering an exegesis of particular texts of Scripture, but recording a primitive tradition coeval with the New Testament.
XI. Identification of the Man of Sin.—It is not solely a Protestant interpretation, but one which indirectly derives more or less support from several eminent names in past ages in communion with the Roman. See (for instance, St. Gregory the Great, and Robert Grosseteste), that the final Antichrist will be a Bishop of Rome. And the present writer does not hesitate to assert his conviction that no other interpretation will so well suit all the requirements of the case. This is by no means the same as the vulgar doctrine that the Pope—i.e., any and every Pope—is the Man of Sin. The Man of Sin has not yet made his appearance. But the diversity and yet resemblance between his kingdom and the kingdoms of the world; the firm hand over the Church; the claims made upon her homage; the unrecognised movement of rebellion against God while still He is outwardly acknowledged (the “mystery of lawlessness”); the restless innovation upon the Church’s apostolic traditions; the uncompromising self-assertion: all these are traits which seem to indicate a future Roman pontiff, more clearly than any other power which we could at present point to,—and this, without having recourse to those more superficial coincidences which may be found in the Notes of Bishop Wordsworth’s Greek Testament, or Dr. Eadie’s Commentary on these Epistles. To those who are familiar with the way in which modern Reman dogmas have been formed—exaggerations, at first condemned, becoming more and more popular, till they acquired the consistency of general tradition, and were then stamped with authoritative sanction—and who now watch the same process at work in the popular theology of Italy and France, there would be nothing surprising in the literal fulfilment of the prophecies of Antichrist in some future Pope. Already one Divine attribute has been definitely claimed by and conceded to the occupant of the Roman See, in defiance of primitive tradition, and yet so plausibly as to suggest rather an implicit faith in God than an explicit denial of Him. Comparisons ex aequo between the Life and Passion of our Lord and that of Pius the Ninth formed a large proportion of the spiritual diet of foreign Papists towards the close of his pontificate. Even eminent prelates of the Roman obedience are reported not to have scrupled already to use of the Papacy such phrases as “Third Incarnation of the Deity “; and it would be only following analogies of “development,” if, in process of time, these last exaggerations also should be formulated into dogma, as has been the case with the dogma of Infallibility, and some Pope to come should in some way claim to be actually identified with Jesus Christ.
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.—The original continues a quasi-substantival form:—“the opposer and exalter of himself”—well-known descriptions (doubtless) of the Antichrist; several of the details are drawn directly from the description of Antiochus in Daniel 11. Being merely descriptive epithets, we are not at liberty to press the present tense, and say that the Man of Sin was already thus acting at the time St. Paul wrote. The word for “the opposer,” or “adversary,” is a pretty close rendering of the name “Satan,” and passed, in ecclesiastical Greek into a synonym for it. The acts here attributed to the Man of Sin are peculiarly Satanic. (Comp. Isaiah 14:12-14; 2Timothy 3:6.) Of course, however, we must not confound Satan himself with his human minister.
Above all that is called God.—The translation here is not quite exact. The word “above” in the original is compounded with “exalteth”; it should be, and super-exalteth, or exhalteth himself above measure (2Corinthians 12:7, where the same compound is used) against every God so called. Probably the clause “against every God” is to be taken only with “super-exalteth “; the description “who opposeth” stands absolutely: it is one characteristic of the Man of Sin to be always in opposition, and to have concord with no one. “Every God so called” includes the false gods with the true God (comp. 1Corinthians 8:5): true or false, it matters not to jealous Antichrist, who would have nothing worshipped but himself. This explains the addition of the little clause, “or that is worshipped.” Many things received religious homage from men without being called gods; and the original word (sebasma) may perhaps be designed to hint at one such worship, viz., the worship of the Augustus (Sebastos). It would be far-fetched, however, to see in this a direct prophecy of conflict between Antichrist and the Civil Power; although it must be admitted that even the word “gods” is sometimes used of secular rulers (e.g., Psalm 82:1-6; John 10:34), in which sense some take it here.
So that he as God.—The words “as God” are not part of the original text, and should be struck out. In several other points, however, our version does not bring out the profanity of the act as clearly as the Greek. Literally it would be, “so as to seat himself in the shrine of God, showing himself off that he is God.” The “himself” brings out the spontaneous arrogancy of the deed; the Man of Sin does not merely yield to servile flatterers. The “sitting” is not in the tense of habitual custom, but indicates one expressive act of taking possession. The “in” (literally, into) brings out the idea of actual intrusion; while the word for “temple” is not the general name for the whole group of buildings with their courts, but the sacred house itself: it is the word which would describe the Holy and Holy of Holies (see Matthew 23:35; Matthew 27:5; Matthew 27:51; Acts 17:4) of the Jewish temple; and probably it is the Mercy Seat that supplies the image to St. Paul’s mind (Psalm 99:1).
The temple of God.—Though the image is drawn from the Jewish temple, we may say with some confidence that St. Paul did not expect the Antichrist as a prose fact to take his seat in that edifice. Neither is the metaphor to be pressed into a mere synonym of “the Church” (1Corinthians 3:17). The words, so far need not necessarily mean that the Man of Sin will make special claims upon the Christian community as such. Rather, the whole phrase, “taking his seat in the temple of God,” is a poetical or prophetical description of usurping divine prerogatives generally: not the prerogatives of the true God alone, but whatever prerogatives have been offered to anything “called God.” Though the prophecy might be fulfilled without any symbolical act (e.g., of assuming any material throne), yet the spontaneousness (“himself ) and the openness (“showing himself”) seem so essentially parts of the prophecy as of necessity to imply that the Man of Sin will make formal claim to occupy that central seat in men’s minds and aspirations which is acknowledged to be due to God alone. The formal making of this claim seems to be identical with the apocalypse of the Man of Sin, the act by which he is manifested or revealed.
Shewing himself.—Or, thus showing himself off. It does not mean that he makes any attempt to prove that he is God; the word only carries on the pictorial representation of the Man of Sin enthroning himself upon the Mercy Seat, and by that act of session parading his pretended divinity. As has been said, the performance of a typical act is not of vital consequence to the accomplishment of the prophecy (as, e.g., Zechariah 9:9 might have been truly accomplished without the literal riding of Matthew 21:7), though there are few great movements which do not express themselves in outward typical acts; but these words show that (unless St. Paul was mistaken) an explicit claim will be made for submission, like that of creature to Creator. Even if the “Man of Sin” only signifies a tendency, not a person, yet this “exhibition of himself as God” would hardly be satisfied by a social concession, however widespread, to a general spirit of (say) fleshly luxury or atheistic intellectualism, without the claims of these ideals being eo nomine put forward and consciously admitted. But it is hard to believe that anything avowedly atheistic would be spoken of as explicitly claiming or receiving divine honours. It seems, therefore, most probable that the great Apostasy will not become avowedly atheistic, but will be an apostasy (so to speak) within the Church, and that the Man of Sin, who heads that Apostasy, will make especial claim upon the Christian Church to accord consciously the very honours which she pays to the living God.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?(5) Remember ye not.—A rebuke of the same character as Romans 6:3; 1Corinthians 6:19, and, like those, levelled at ignorance of what in apostolic days were thought the six fundamental points of Christian teaching (Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6:1-2). The doctrine of Antichrist would naturally form part of the course on resurrection and judgment. This explains how the doctrine was enforced (1) so early in the education of the Christian churches: “while I was yet with you” (see Introduction to the First Epistle to Thessalonians); and (2) so emphatically and repeatedly:” my habit was to tell you these things”—for the word translated “told” is in the imperfect tense, which means more than a single action. Notice that in St. Paul’s eager personal recollection, of thus teaching, he for once (and nowhere else) forgets Silas and Timothy: not “we,” but “I.” Imagine a forger who should forge with such subtlety! Mark also how erroneous is the opinion that St. Paul in this Epistle recedes from his former teaching about the Advent and its date.
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.(6) And now ye know.—Not “now, because of what I have just said,” for nothing has yet been said in the Letter from which the Thessalonians could gather what withheld the premature manifestation of the Man of Sin. The word “now” is not used exactly in a temporal sense, but as introducing another item. “You remember about Antichrist and his characteristics: very good; and now, what keeps Antichrist back? You know that too.” Knowing not only that Antichrist’s apocalypse must precede Christ’s, but also that Antichrist could not reveal himself yet, because the way was blocked by something still (as they saw) unremoved, the Thessalonians were absurd in acting as if the day of the Lord was come.
What withholdeth.—Rather, that which withholdeth: they did not merely know it as a dogma, but as a familiar object. “You are perfectly acquainted with the thing which acts as a check upon the Man of Sin.” Unlike the Man of Sin himself, who was a dim figure in the mysterious future, the Obstacle was present and tangible. They may have forgotten what the thing is, but St. Paul stirs their memory by telling them that they well know the thing itself. It must needs be a marked and mighty power which can prevent the development of the great Antichrist. At the same time, St. Paul’s doctrine is that this marked power is destined by-and-by to be removed (2Thessalonians 2:7). Possibly, then, St. Paul may shrink from naming it in writing, not only because he wishes to exercise the Thessalonians’ memories, but also for fear the power should discover and disapprove of his prophecies. For the question what the withholding power is, see the Excursus on the Interpretation of the Prophecy.
That he might . . . in his time.—Or, with a view to his being revealed at his proper moment. Not that the withholding power is conscious of such desire, but God’s design is to use that power for the purpose.
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.—Logically, the “for” belongs to the clause “he that letteth;” thus:” For, although the mystery is already at work, the wicked one will not be revealed until he that now withholds shall disappear.”
The mystery of iniquity doth already work.—Both “mystery” and “iniquity” have the article in the Greek, perhaps (as in 2Thessalonians 2:3) because the phrase was well known to the Thessalonians. Lawlessness is a more literal rendering than “iniquity”; the same word in 1John 3:4 is rendered “the transgression of the law.” The word “mystery” in Greek does not necessarily involve any notion of mysteriousness in our modern sense. It means a secret (which may be, in its own nature, quite simple) known to the initiated, but incapable of being known until it is divulged. Here the whole emphasis is thrown, by a very peculiar order of the Greek words, upon the word “mystery.” It may be paraphrased thus:—“For as a secret, into which the world is not yet initiated, that lawlessness is already at work.” Thus the word “mystery” stands in sharp contrast with the word “revealed” in 2Thessalonians 2:6; 2Thessalonians 2:8 : the time for publishing, openly avowing, the secret is not yet come. To whom, then, is the mystery of that lawlessness now known? Not to all those who are contributing to its ultimate manifestation, for most of them are deceived by it (2Thessalonians 2:10), and, while sharers in the Apostasy, still believe themselves members of the Church. The mystery is known to God, and (1) to enlightened Christians like St. Paul; (2) to Satan and a few Satanic men who avow to themselves their real object in joining the movement. Though the mystery is said to work (the verb expresses an inward activity, e.g., 1Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 7:5, like that of leaven on the lump), it is not a personal thing, not (like “Man of Sin,” “that which withholdeth,”) a covert description of any person or set of persons; it is solely the unavowed design which is gradually gaining influence over men’s hearts: it is the same movement as the “falling away” of 2Thessalonians 2:3. In several places (e.g., 2Peter 2:1 et seq.; Jude 1:18 et seq.) the coarser side of the “falling away” is spoken of, but here the “lawlessness” seems not so much to mean ordinary antinomianism as insubordination to God—rebellion.
Only he. . . .—More correctly, Only [it cannot be revealed] until he that now withholdeth disappear from the midst. The English version has obscured the meaning by putting “letteth,” although the word is precisely the same as in 2Thessalonians 2:6—the only difference being that there it was neuter: “the thing which withholdeth;” while here it is masculine:” he.” Evidently to St. Paul’s mind there was a great obstructive power, which was gathered up in, and wielded by, the person so described:” he that withholdeth.” How this potentate would “disappear out of our midst” St. Paul gives no hint; but obviously not by death: for, unless the power itself was to disappear with him, his successor would equally be “he that now withholdeth.” We may therefore say that the prophecy would be satisfied if “he that withholdeth” proved to be a whole succession of persons; we have hardly the same right to say so of the “Lawless One.”
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.—Then at length, when the obstructor is gone, two things shall happen: (1) the Lawless One shall be revealed, and (2) then the Lord will come and destroy him. The purpose with which St. Paul began this chapter was to show relatively the date of our Lord’s Advent; but he is now so engrossed in describing the events which must precede it, that when he does mention the Advent again he does so in a parenthetical relative clause.
That Wicked.—Or, the Lawless One. The English version has again obscured the passage by not keeping the same word as in 2Thessalonians 2:7. The general tendency to “lawlessness” or “rebellion” will be brought to a head in the person of “the Lawless One” or “the “Rebel,” just as the “obstruction” is impersonated in “the Obstructor.” The publication of the “secret of rebelliousness” will be effected by the manifesto of the Rebel-in-chief. Of course, this Rebel is the same person with the Man of Sin, the change of title being due to the particularising of his sin by the word “lawlessness” in 2Thessalonians 2:7; the specification of the time is the only additional intelligence; all the emphasis of the sentence, therefore, rests on “And then.”
The Lord.—The best text adds the name Jesus, which serves more clearly to contrast Him with His rival. The word “whom” might be more pointedly paraphrased by “and him.”
With the spirit of his mouth.—St. Paul is quoting roughly from Isaiah 11:4 (comp. Job 4:9; Psalm 18:15; Wisdom Of Solomon 11:20 : “might have fallen down with one blast, . . . scattered abroad through the breath of Thy power”); and therefore we are to understand it to signify the perfect ease with which Christ will destroy Antichrist. Even when the phrase is used of speech (as it may perhaps be here), the absence of labour is the point to be noticed (e.g., Psalm 33:6).
With the brightness of his coming.—Rather, with the appearing of His presence. Here, again, it is the mere fact of the true Christ’s showing Himself, which will reduce to nothingness (such is the meaning of the Greek for “destroy”) the false Christ. When they shall stand face to face there will be no possibility of delusion any more.
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,(9) Even him, whose coming.—The “even him” does not stand in the Greek; and “whose” might, again, be rendered by for his own, or perhaps “though his own.” The purpose of the verses following is not merely to describe Antichrist more fully, but to compare word for word his coming with that which will annihilate him. Again is used of Antichrist a peculiar word consecrated to the Christ: “coming” (literally presence), being the word used in 2Thessalonians 2:8, as well as 2Thessalonians 2:1, and often. In spite of the sham being well got up, it will be seen to be a sham.
Is . . . with all power.—“Is:” St. Paul sees the future as present. The predicate is not “after the working,” but “in all power,” &c. The advent of Antichrist will be in (i.e., surrounded with, accompanied by) all kinds of miracles, “according to the working of Satan:” i.e., not only wrought by Satan, but up to the full capacity of Satan to work them. The word “lying” (literally, of falsehood) should go with all three names, “all counterfeit power and signs and wonders.” The three words are piled up to heighten the terror of the description; if you press them they mean that there will be a display of power, to attest Antichrist’s doctrine (signs), and to keep men spellbound in admiration of him (wonders). Antichrist, like Christ (1Timothy 6:15), has one to support him—Satan instead of God; he, like Christ (Luke 21:25), will have his miracles—but miracles of trickery, not of truth.
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.—“Deceivableness” does not mean “readiness to be deceived,” but, according to old English usage, has an active meaning; the words include and expand the list just given “in all sham power and signs and wonders, and, in fact, in every iniquitous fraud.”
In them that perish.—Rather, for them. These are not the persons who exercise the fraud, but the objects of it. The word depends not only on “deceivableness,” but on the whole sentence:” his coming (for them) is,” &c. St. Paul adds the words as a consolation to “them that are saved”: it will not be possible to seduce the elect (Mark 13:22). “They that perish” (1Corinthians 1:18; 2Corinthians 2:15; 2Corinthians 4:3; comp. also Acts 2:47) is a phrase which contains no reference whatever to the doctrine of predestination, but merely describes the class; the men who let themselves be thus duped are, as a plain matter of fact, in course of perishing.
Because.—Here does come in the question of God’s decree. The phrase rendered “because” means “in requital of the fact that,” which at once implies that their being duped by Antichrist’s coming is a judicial visitation. (See next verse.) “They did not receive,” i.e., it was offered them, and they refused it; not, as Calvinism would teach, because it was not given them. The grace of love of the truth is offered us along with every new presentment of truth; if we are too indolent to examine whether it be truth, we are rejecting the love of the truth. This is a worse thing than not accepting the truth itself: if they had only aspired to know what was the truth they would have been saved, even if, in fact, they had been in error.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:(11) And for this cause—i.e., because they did not care whether things were true or not. This verse is not a mere repetition of 2Thessalonians 2:9-10. There we were told of external dangers which would attend Antichrist’s coming for them that perish: because they had not cared for truth, therefore the presence of the Man of Sin, which could not even imperil the truth-lovers, would for them be full of special marvels and frauds by which they might be misled. Here is set forth the effect upon their own selves of refusing to accept God’s gift of love of truth: God takes from them (by His natural law) their power of discerning the true from the false, and thus (as it were) actually deceives them. Every wilful sin does this double mischief: it strengthens the power of the temptation without; it weakens the power to resist within. For an illustration, see 2Chronicles 18:7; 2Chronicles 18:22 : Ahab cares only for the pleasant, not the true, and the Lord requites him by sending forth a lying spirit to entice him.
Shall send.—The Greek has sendeth: so “is” in 2Thessalonians 2:9 : St. Paul sees it all going on before his eyes. “A strong delusion” should be “an effectual inward working of error”—no longer a mere indifference to truth, but a real influence of error upon their hearts. This inward work of error is sent “with a view to their believing the lie” (the Greek has the definite article)—the lie (that is) which Antichrist would have them believe. A terrible combination when God and Satan are agreed to deceive a man! Yet what an encouragement to see God using Satan for His own purposes.
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.(12) That they all.—This is God’s purpose in making them believe the lie—“in order that, one and all, they might be judged.” He who desireth not the death of a sinner, now is said actually to lay plans with the intention of judging him: such are the bold self-contradictions of the Bible! It must not, however, be forgotten for a moment that God did not begin to will the sinner’s judgment till after He had offered him freely the love of His own blessed truth, and had been rejected. When once the sinner is incurable, the only way to vindicate truth and righteousness is by hastening on his condemnation, whatever that condemnation may mean.
Who believed not the truth. . . .—Once more the offence for which they are condemned is insisted upon. Theirs is no fancy sin. What God wanted them to believe was not some fantastical dogma, some fiction between which and the fictions of the Man of Sin there was nothing morally to choose, but the inviolable truth by which God Himself is bound. But had pleasure in the unrighteousness (so runs the Greek): i.e., consciously gave their moral consent to the unrighteousness of 2Thessalonians 2:10, the unrighteousness which sought to impose itself upon them, and which they would never have been led into had they loved the truth.
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.—This may be called a recurrence to the subject dropped at 2Thessalonians 1:3. The pronoun is somewhat emphatic. It might have seemed more natural to have sharpened the contrast between the Thessalonian Christians and the unhappy people just mentioned by beginning “But you.” It is, however, part of St. Paul’s delicacy of sympathy to describe rather the effect upon himself and his two companions of observing that contrast. He sets himself to work the contrast out.
Beloved of the Lord.—Precisely the same phrase as in 1Thessalonians 1:4, except for the substitution of “the Lord” for “God,” which shows the concurrence of the Eternal Son in His Father’s predestinations. As in the former passage, the tense (“who have been loved”) makes the reader think of the everlasting duration of that love (Jeremiah 31:3), and is again connected with the mystery of election.
“O love, who ere life’s earliest dawn
On me thy choice hast gently laid.”
Hath . . . chosen.—The Greek tense should be rendered by chose, referring to the definite moment (so to speak) in the divine counsels when the choice was fixed. This moment is defined as “from the beginning,” i.e., from the eternity preceding the origin of time, called by the same name in Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, and 1John 1:1. It does not simply mean “from the outset,” i.e., from the moment of first thinking at all about you. The identical phrase is said not to occur again in St. Paul. It may be noticed that there is a striking various-reading in some of the MSS., involving the change of only one letter, which would give us (instead of “chose you from the beginning”) “chose you as firstfruits.” Comp. James 1:18; but the reading in the text is better supported.
To salvation.—This “salvation” is in contrast with the “destruction” (2Thessalonians 1:9), “perdition” (2Thessalonians 2:3), or “perishing” (2Thessalonians 2:10), all of which represent the same word in the Greek. Out of the wreck of a world, God had from eternity chosen these Thessalonians to come off safely.
Through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.—This again teaches us the apostolic idea of election. It is not an absolute irreversible predestination to a particular state of happiness on which the elect is to enter after death. The “salvation” is present, begun in this life (Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:8), and carried on along fixed lines, namely, “in sanctification of spirit and belief of truth” (such is the literal rendering). The preposition “in” has here the same force as in 1Thessalonians 4:4; 1Thessalonians 4:7, namely, “by way of,” “by a course of.” If, therefore, God chose the Thessalonian Christians to salvation by a course of sanctification and belief, one thing, at any rate, is clear: that if any of them should leave that course, and fall into the errors and sins denounced in the foregoing verses, then, in the Apostle’s mind, they would have forfeited their salvation, in spite of God’s choice of them. Consequently, we are forced to one of two theories: either that the man has no free will at all, the moral character of his actions depending as entirely upon God as his final destiny; or else, that the man is free, and that God singles him out to enjoy special opportunities of sanctification and of correct belief, which the man may accept or reject as he pleases. The first of these theories lies open to the question, why, if God is responsible for the moral character of the actions of His elect and for their belief, He does not sanctify them at once and completely, and make each one infallible in doctrine; but, in any case, lax morality or creed is as incompatible with the hope of a Calvinist as with that of an orthodox Christian. “Sanctification of spirit” seems to mean “spiritual sanctification:” an inward process, not merely outward change of conduct. This is, of course, wrought by the action of the Holy Spirit upon our spirits; but the omission of the definite article in the Greek is difficult to explain if the “spirit” mentioned be other than the spirit acted upon. “Belief of truth” is opposed to “believing the lie,” of 2Thessalonians 2:11 : acceptation of facts as they are, especially the deep facts of revelation, is always the great means of sanctification in Holy Scripture (John 17:17).
Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.(14) Whereunto.—From the neuter gender of the relative in the Greek we see that the antecedent in St. Paul’s mind is not exactly “belief of truth,” nor exactly “sanctification of spirit,” nor yet exactly “salvation,” but the general state of life which is compounded of these three notions—“to which thing He called you.” The election or choice takes place in eternity (2Thessalonians 2:13); the call at that point of time when the men first hear the gospel. (See Romans 8:30.)
By our gospel—i.e., of course, “by our bringing you the happy message”—the historical delivery of the message is dwelt on rather than its contents.
To the obtaining of the glory of our Lord.—Almost all the ancient commentators render it, “for obtaining of glory to our Lord;” and St. Chrysostom says, beautifully:” No small thing this either, if Christ esteems our salvation His glory. It is, indeed, a glory to the lover of men that the number of those who are being saved should be large.” But this version is not so easy grammatically as our own, nor does it suit so well with the context. St. Paul is encouraging his readers with the same thought of their destiny which he has put forward in 2Thessalonians 1:11-12—the identity of the joy of the Redeemer and the redeemed (Matthew 25:23). It is well to be observed that God did not call them straight “to the glory of our Lord,” but “to the obtaining” of the same. This “obtaining” does not mean an otiose receiving of glory in the last day, but a laborious course of “earning” or “purchasing” it during this life. The word is the same as that used in 1Thessalonians 5:9, where see Note.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.(15) Therefore, brethren, stand fast.—Such an exhortation is, in itself, conclusive against a theory of irreversible predestination. “Because God chose you from eternity, and called you in time, therefore stand your ground.” If it were impossible for them to quit their ground, it would be needless to exhort them to maintain it. If it were possible for them to quit their ground, and yet be as well off after all, it would be needless also. At the same time, the “therefore” draws a conclusion, not from 2Thessalonians 2:14 alone, but sums up the whole disquisition of the chapter: “Now that you are reminded of the true Advent doctrine.”
Hold the traditions.—The very same word as in Mark 7:3-4; Mark 7:8, “holding the tradition of the elders;” also in the same metaphorical sense in Colossians 2:19; Revelation 2:13. The action expressed is a vigorous and pertinacious grasp, as (for instance) of the lame man clutching the Apostles in Acts 3:11. St. Chrysostom remarks: “It is plain from hence that they used not to deliver all their tradition by letter, but much without writing besides, and that both are equally worthy of belief. Therefore, let us consider the Church’s tradition worthy of belief. It is tradition: ask no further questions.” What were these “traditions” which it was so essential to keep? The context shows that the particular traditions which were most consciously in St. Paul’s mind at the moment, were his eschatological teachings, given to them while he was among them—the lore of which he has been briefly reminding them in this chapter (2Thessalonians 2:5-6): for the exhortation is practically a resumption of that given in 2Thessalonians 2:2-3. “Instead of being seduced by the forgers of prophecies or of communications from us, remember the careful instructions we gave you once for all.” At the same time, he speaks generally, and we must not limit his words to that particular tradition. Whatever can be traced to apostolic-origin is of the essence of the faith. They are to “hold tenaciously” all his traditions, and these would include instructions doctrinal (as 1Corinthians 15:3; Jude 1:3), ceremonial (1Corinthians 11:2; 1Corinthians 11:23), and moral (2Thessalonians 3:6; 2Peter 2:21). As a matter of controversy, it is not so remarkable that he should exhort his converts to cling to his own oral teaching (“whether by word”) as that he should at so early a period call their special attention to what was gradually to supplant (at least, in doctrinal matters) all independent unwritten tradition—the Holy Scripture (“our Epistle”). St. Paul can speak on occasion as contemptuously of the “traditions of men” as our Lord did (Colossians 2:8). Of course, it depends entirely on the individual character of any tradition whether, and to what extent, it is to be “held” or condemned as “human.” In the Church no mutually contradictory traditions can be held together’; and therefore any tradition “by word” which is in disagreement with the written tradition (i.e., Scripture) stands necessarily condemned.
By word, or our epistle.—The “our” belongs to both:” whether by word or epistle of ours.” Unless, St. Paul had written them some other letter, now lost, this proves that the “First” Epistle was in reality the earlier written. “Have been taught” should be “were taught”—the historic tense.
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.—Better, And, connecting closely the prayer with the exhortation, just as in 1Thessalonians 5:23. “Again,” says St. Chrysostom, “prayer after advice: this is to help in earnest.” The word “Himself,” as in the passage cited, contrasts the Almighty power of our Lord with the partial instructions and feeble help which even Apostles could give, and with the impotence of the Thessalonian Christians to stand firm in their own strength.
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father.—The order of mention is unusual. (See, however, 2Corinthians 13:3.) It is not designedly meant to show the equality of the Blessed Persons, which is done only incidentally by the fact that the same aspiration is directed to both. Probably, in fact, the names are arranged to form a climax: St. Paul having spoken first of the Person whose work on the heart is the more immediate, and then jealously watching lest he should in any way make the Eternal Father seem less deeply interested in our welfare than the Son is. All primitive devotion and doctrine are markedly opposed to the tendency to rest in the Mediator without a real lively faith in the Father who sent Him.
Which hath loved us.—Love to us is specially (so fearfully wrong is much of the popular language about the Atonement) the characteristic of the Father. (See, for instance, John 3:16; John 17:23; 2Corinthians 13:3; Ephesians 2:4; 1John 4:10.) It is in the thought of this tender love of God to us that the writer adds immediately the endearing title “Our Father.” This love seems to be mentioned here as being the ground on which the writer rests his hope for the fulfilment of his prayer. It should literally be translated, which loved us, and gave—the moment being apparently (as in John 3:16) the moment of providing the Atonement for our sins.
Everlasting consolation.—This means “an ever present source of comfort,” of which no persecution can rob us. This giving of comfort is the proof or explanation of the statement that He “loved us,” and refers to the same act. Our unfailing comfort lies in the thought of God’s love exemplified in the Incarnation of His Son.
Good hope through grace.—These words must be closely joined. God gave us not only a consolation under present trials, but a sweet prospect in the future; but this sweet prospect belongs to us only “in grace” (the literal version). All our hope is based on the continuance of the spiritual strength imparted by the Father through the Son and the Spirit. The qualifying words “in grace” are added to “hope” in just the same way as the words “in sanctification” are added to “salvation” in 2Thessalonians 2:13.
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.(17) Comfort your hearts . . .—“Comfort,” in reference to the “unending comfort” of 2Thessalonians 2:16; and “stablish,” in reference to the “good hope in grace.” The “heart” needs comfort as the seat of emotions. “In every good word and work” (it should be, work and word) means in the maintenance of every good doctrine (as opposed to the false teaching which had got abroad about the Advent, and to the lies of the Apostasy), and in the performance of every good practice (as opposed to the lawlessness of the Apostasy, and to the disorderly conduct of which the next chapter treats: for here, as in 1Thessalonians 3:13, the prayer forms an introduction of the next subject). The singular number of the verbs “comfort” and “stablish” (which, of course, does not appear in the English), may perhaps be explained as in 1Thessalonians 3:12, where see Note, though it is not necessary so to understand it, inasmuch as the intervening relative (in the Greek, participial) clauses have turned the whole attention to the Father, who may be considered exclusively as the grammatical subject of the verbs. It would, however, have been painful to orthodox ears; however justifiable doctrinally, to have used a plural verb. It is by these little incidental touches, still more than by express doctrinal statements, that we learn what was the real belief of the Apostles concerning the Divinity of Christ; and we may say the same with regard to many other great doctrines.