Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,2 Thessalonians 2:1 Paul warneth the Thessalonians against the groundless
surmise that the day of Christ was near at hand,
2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 showing that it would be preceded by a great apostacy,
and that the man of sin would be first revealed, and
by his wicked impostures draw many into perdition.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 He repeateth his good hopes concerning them,
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 exhorting them to stand fast in his doctrine, and
praying God to comfort and stablish them in all goodness.
The apostle now comes to refute the opinion that some at least of these Thessalonians had received, as if the day of Christ was near at hand. He having said, 1 Thessalonians 4:17: We which are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, & c., then some might think his coming would be in the apostle’s time, or some other way they might fall into this conceit; and some do conceive this was the chief reason of the apostle’s writing this Epistle. And because this mistake might be of dangerous consequence, therefore he is very vehement and particular in refuting it: for hereupon they might be brought to question the truth of the whole gospel when this should not come to pass: they might be unprepared for the sufferings that were to come upon the church; their patience might fail in expecting this day, and their minds be doubting about the coming of Christ at all. This opinion also would much narrow their thoughts about Christ’s kingdom, and the enlarging of the gospel among other Gentiles; and the profane might abuse it to sensuality, as 1 Corinthians 15:32: Let us eat and drink, & c. That he might the better persuade, he calls them brethren, and beseeches them, &c. And next, conjures them, using the form of an oath, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, & c. We conjure men either by what they love, or by what they fear; as they would enjoy the one, or avoid the other. The coming of Christ was what they desired and rejoiced in, as that which would bring rest to them, and tribulation to their adversaries; and by this he doth therefore beseech or adjure them: and therefore we must understand this of Christ’s last coming, as the word parousia, in the text, is still applied to this coming, 1 Thessalonians 2:19 3:13, &c.; and not of his coming to destroy the Jewish church and state, for that coming was at hand.
And by our gathering together unto him; at his last coming, when the whole body of Christ shall be gathered to him, to meet him in the air, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. And then the sense is: As ye hope ever to see such a blessed meeting, and to be of that number, so take heed of this opinion. Yet some read the text otherwise, because in the Greek it is not dia, but uper thv parousiav, and so the same with peri, not
we beseech you by, but concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, as denoting only the subject matter treated of. I prefer the former; and so the apostle conjures them not to be soon shaken in mind, but to stand fast in the truth about the doctrine of Christ’s coming, which they had been taught, and very lately taught, and therefore it was the greater evil to be soon shaken; as the apostle upbraids the Galatians, Galatians 1:6, and God the Israelites, Psalm 106:13.
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.That ye be not soon shaken in mind; saleuyhnai it is an allusion to the waves of the sea that are tossed with the winds, as false doctrines tend to unsettle the mind, as Ephesians 4:14 Hebrews 13:9; and to be established in the truth is often commanded, 1 Corinthians 16:13 Philippians 4:1 Colossians 1:23, &c. And by mind here is either meant the faculty itself; and then the apostle beseecheth them to keep company with their understanding, not to be removed from their mind: as false doctrine is said to bewitch men, Galatians 3:1, and to make men foolish, 2 Thessalonians 2:3; as madness is called amentia, or dementia, as that which doth as it were unmind men, and corrupt the mind, and pervert the judgment, 2 Timothy 3:8,9, as Jannes and Jambres deceived the people by their enchantments, as the apostle there mentions. Or else, the sentence and judgment of the mind; and then he beseecheth them to hold fast the right judgment they had entertained about Christ’s coming, and not to hesitate and waver about it; so the word is taken, 1 Corinthians 2:16.
Or be troubled; yroeisyai, alluding to soldiers affrighted with a sudden alarm. We find the word, Matthew 24:6 Mark 13:7, used in this allusion. And the opinion of Christ’s coming to be at hand might occasion this trouble in them, either lest they might be surprised by it, and unprepared for it, or by judging themselves mistaken in their former apprehensions about it; and those false teachers that broach this opinion, did also perhaps so represent this coming in such terror as to cause this trouble; as false teachers in general are such as are said to cause trouble, Galatians 1:7 5:12; though the coming of Christ is in itself rather the saints’ hope and joy, than ground of trouble, as 1 Thessalonians 1:10 4:18, &c. And it may be some did pretend for this opinion the Spirit, or some letter from the apostle, either the former Epistle to them, or some letter that was forged, or some word he had spoken, or preached. And those words as from us may refer to all these: the Spirit,
as from us; or word, as from us; or letter, as from us.
Neither by spirit; some extraordinary revelation of the Spirit, which the false teachers pretended to, especially in the primitive times, when they were more ordinary; as in the church of Corinth, 1 Corinthians 14:6, and the churches of Galatia, Galatians 3:2,5: some would pretend the Spirit that called Jesus accursed, 1 Corinthians 12:3, and therefore the apostle bids: Try the spirits, 1Jo 4:1. Simon Magus pretended to it, and had his Helene, Montanus his Paraclete, Mahomet his Dove: and the man of sin pretends to this Spirit, though it is in truth the spirit of antichrist, 1Jo 4:3, and the spirit of Satan, in the next chapter of this Epistle, as was foretold that in the last times there would arise seducing spirits, 1 Timothy 4:1; as there was in the times of the Old Testament false prophets that pretended to the Spirit, as 1 Kings 22:24 Micah 2:11. And the very heathen would pretend to divine oracles, inspirations, and revelations, especially their kings and lawgivers, as Numa Pompilius, Lycurgus, &c.; and still there are enthusiasts who make these pretences.
Nor by word; dea logou, whereby some understand calculation by astrological rules, that the day of Christ was at hand; others render the word reasoning; and so from the declining of the vigour of the earth, and the nearer approach of the sun to it, as Ptolemy observed in his time, or some other natural causes, they reasoned the coming of Christ and the dissolution of the world to be nigh at hand: but rather we understand by it some word from the apostle’s own mouth, which was pretended he had spoken or preached some where, though not written. As the Church of Rome pretends to traditions, besides the written word, upon which they ground many of their superstitions and idolatries, not warranted by Scripture. As the Jews had a second Mishneh, and their Cabbala, collected in part from the sayings of Moses, or some other of their prophets, which they did not write.
Nor by letter; some letter that was sent to them from some other hand, or else by some forged letter as from the apostle himself, or his former Epistle misunderstood.
As that the day of Christ is at hand.
Objection. But is it not said that the day of the Lord, or the coming of the Lord, is at hand, 1 Corinthians 10:11 Philippians 4:5 Jam 5:7,8 1 Peter 4:2?
Answer. The word used in those places differs from this in the text; for it signifies either that which is actually present, or very near it, as Romans 8:38 Galatians 1:4; as that which is to be done presently is spoken of as done, John 17:4 2 Timothy 4:7. Or those places mean his coming is at hand, as to God’s account of time, though not as to man’s. And in that sense Christ saith: Behold, I come quickly, Revelation 22:7. But the error the apostle warns them of is, as if the coming of Christ would be in the age in which they lived. The apostles all said that the coming of the Lord was at hand, but their right meaning was perverted to a false sense, as seducers usually do.
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;Let no man deceive you: here the apostle urgeth again his charge against this error, though in other words, and begins his arguments to refute it. He had adjured them not to be shaken, and here he cautions them against being deceived, for the one makes way for the other; so also not to be troubled, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, for troubled minds are apt to be made a prey to seducers. And the caution in the text proves that their shaking and trouble did arise from some deceivers that were amongst them, rather than any misunderstanding of their own of what he wrote in the former Epistle about Christ’s coming. To be shaken in mind is bad, hut to be deceived is worse, for it is a going out of the path, as the word signifies; and thercfin’e his caution against it is universal, both as to persons and ways: Let no man deceive you, though he pretend to revelations, or be of the greatest reputation in the church.
By any means; either of era craft, flattery, pretending love, or plausible arguments, or misrepresenting our words, or forging of letters, or misintering our Epistle to you or any other part of Scripture, or feigned miracles, &c. Then he enters the arguments to confute it, which are.
1. The general apostacy.
2. The revelation of the man of sin.
Neither of these are yet, nor will be in this age; and yet that day shall not come till these both first come.
For that doth shall not come, except there come a falling away first; there is a supplement in our translation, for in the Greek it is only,
for, except there come a falling away first, & c., or an apostacy, a recession, a departing, or a standing off, as the world imports; so that apostacy may be either good, when it is from evil to good, or evil, when it is from good to evil: it is always used in this latter sense in Scripture. Again, it is either civil or spiritual: civil, as when people fall off from the civil government they were under, and so some would interpret the text of the defection from the Roman empire, the east part from the west, and the ten kingdoms that arose out of it; which was the opinion of Hierom, Epist. ad Algasiam. But the apostle writing to the church speaks not of civil government, and the affairs of state, and speaks of such an apostacy which would give rise to the man of sin, and the revelation of him. And this man of sin riseth up in the church, not in the civil state; and the consequence of this apostacy is giving men up to strong delusions to believe a lie, and then follows their damnation; and the cause of it is said to be, not receiving the truth in the love of it; so that it is not a civil, but a spiritual apostacy, as the word in Scripture is always (I suppose) so taken. And it is not of a particular person, or of a particular church, but a general apostacy of the church, though not of every individual; that church that is afterwards called the temple of God, where the man of sin sitteth, and is exalted above all that is called God; which cannot be in any particular church; and would not the apostle have specified that particular church? Neither is it some lesser apostacy which may befall the best church; but such as would be eminent, called h apostasia, that apostacy, greater than that of some believing Jews to Judaism, or of some Christians to Nicolaitanism, which some think is meant. Much less can it be Caius Caesar, as Grotius interprets, or any one person, for the apostle saith not apostate, but apostacy; else a man of sin could not rise out of it, and exalt himself above all that is called God, and worshipped. It is an apostacy from sound doctrine, instituted worship, church government, and true holiness of life, as may be further considered afterwards. Neither is the apostacy all at once, but gradual; for out of it ariseth a man of sin, who grows up to this manhood by degrees; and sin and wickedness are not completed at first, as well as holiness. Much less is this apostacy a falling off from the Church of Rome, as some papists affirm, and make the Reformation to be the apostacy, which was a return from it. Doth the man of sin rise out of the Reformation? Did any of the first Reformers oppose and exalt themselves above all that is called God, or is worshipped? Or, as God sat in the temple of God, &c.? Was any of their coming with all power, and signs, and lying wonders? Or did any of them forbid to marry, and to abstain from meats, &c.? Which is the character our apostle gives of this apostacy, 1 Timothy 4:1-3. Neither is the Mahometan religion this apostacy, for Mahomet sitteth not in the temple of God. Neither is it in the falling of the converted Jews from the Jewish church to the gospel church; the apostle would never call that an apostacy. And that man of sin be revealed: the next argumnent is from the revelation of the man of sin; this is also to precede Christ’s last coming: it is a Hebraism. A warlike man is styled a man of war; a bloody man, a man of bloods; a deceitful man, a man of deceit, &c.: so a man eminent in sin is here called a man of sin; not only personally so, but who doth promote sin, propagate it, countenance it, command it. See Platina, Sigebert, Blonetas, Beuno Uspregensis, Matt. Paris. In sins of omission, forbidding what God requireth; in sins of commission, requiring or allowing what God hath forbidden. In sins of the first table; corrupting God’s worship by superstition and idolatry, taking God’s name in vain by heartless devotion, dissembling piety, dispensing with perjury and false oaths, taking away the second commandment and the morality of the fourth commandment, and making men’s faith and obedience to rest upon a humau authority, &c. In sins of the second table; to dispense with duties belonging to superiors and inferiors; with murder, adultery, fornication, incest, robbery, lying, equivocation, &c. And besides all these, promoting a false religion, and destroying the true, by fines, imprisonments, banishments, tortures, poisons, massacre, fire, and faggot. And this man of sin is not a single person, but a company, order, and succession of men; because all are acted by the same spirit, therefore called a man; as the man of the earth, Psalm 10:18, is all men of an earthly spirit, and a man of the field, Genesis 25:27, is men whose minds and employments are in the field. Or, it is a sinful state. As the civil state of the four monarchies in Daniel is represented by four single beasts, and the antichristian state by a beast rising out of the sea, Revelation 13:1; so by man of sin is meant a sinful state, which though it consisteth of many people and nations, yet, being under the influence and government of one man, may be also styled the man of sin upon that account; impietatis Coryphaeus. Moulin. And because the sin of the whole community is chiefly centred in him, and springs out from him; a man in whom is the fountain of all sins. Hierein ad Algasiam. And the sin of this state is called a mystery of iniquity, 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and so differing from the sin in all other political states; and therefore may well be judged to be the same with the whore sitting on many waters, that hath mystery written in her forehead, Revelation 17:1,5. And as no expositor takes the whore to be meant of a single woman, and the true apostolic church is represented by a woman in travail, Revelation 12:1,2, why then should we take the man of sin to be a single man, as the papists do? viz. a Jew of the tribe of Dan, that shall erect his kingdom and temple in Jerusalem, seduce the Jews, continue three years and a half, make great havoc of the church, to be opposed by Enoch and Elias, and is to come a little before the end of the world. Ridiculous! Neither call this man of sin be Simon Magus and his followers, for he was revealed in the apostle’s time, seeing the mystery of iniquity belonging to this man of sin began to work in the apostle’s days, as 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and he is the same whom St. John calls antichrist, 1Jo 2:18; and the spirit of antichrist began to be in the world in his time, 1Jo 4:3; and the nations are to be made drunk with the cup of his fornication, and to serve and obey him, &c., Revelation 13:8 17:4; all which requires more time than is allotted by them: but they set him a great way off, that none may suspect him to be among themselves; but he that will compare the Church of Rome in the apostle Paul’s times with what it is now, and the doctrine of the council of Trent with that laid down in his Epistle to the Romans, may say: How is the faithful city become a harlot! And this man of sin is to
be revealed also, which shows that he is not a single person, not yet born: revealing relates not so much to a person, as a thing; in particular to the mystery of iniquity, mentioned 2 Thessalonians 2:7: his revealing is either quoad existentiam, or apparentiam. The former is meant here, and the latter 2 Thessalonians 2:8. He grows up into an existence, as the apostacy grows, as vermin grows out of putrefaction. As the church’s purity, faith, love, holiness declined, and as pride, ambition, covetousness, luxury prevailed, so he grew up: and which was the direct point and time of his full revelation in this first sense is conjectured by many, but determined by none; it is most generally referred to the tithe of Boniface the Third, to whom Phocas granted the style of oecumenical bishop, and to the Church of Rome to be the mother church. But as the apostacy brings forth this man of sin, so as he riseth he helps it forward; so that he both causeth it, and is caused by it. As corruption in doctrine, worship, discipline, and manners brought him forth, so he was active in corrupting them more and more.
The son of perdition; another Hebraism, where sometimes that which any way proceeds from another, as its cause, is called its son, as sparks the sons of the coal, Job 5:7, and branches sons of the tree, Genesis 49:22, and the learner the son of the teacher, Proverbs 3:1; and sometimes that which a man is addicted to, as a wicked man is the son of wickedness, Psalm 89:22. Again, that which gives forth what it hath in itself, as the branches of the olive trees giving oil are called the sons of oil, Zechariah 4:14; and in the text, the man of sin is
the son of perdition, as Judas is called, John 17:12: and he is so either actively, as he brings others to destruction, and so may be called Apollyon, Revelation 9:11; or rather passively, as devoted to perdition; as Revelation 19:20, the beast and false prophet are both cast into the lake of fire and brimstone; and the beast that was, and is not, is said to go into perdition, Revelation 17:11. The destroyer of others both in soul and body will be destroyed himself: first, morally, by the word and Spirit, as 2 Thessalonians 2:8; and then judicially, by God’s revenging justice in this world, and that to come. The apostle, at the very first mentioning him, declares his destiny; at his first rising and revealing, mentions his fall and ruin.
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.A further description of this man of sin, by his opposition and exaltation.
Who opposeth; or, o antikeimenov, the opposer; or rather, opposing, expressed in the participle of the present tense, denoting a continued act, or that which he bends himself strongly to. But against what? The same that he exalteth himself above, as some conceive; but the grammar will not well admit that sense, and we should not so restrain it; and therefore we will take the word indefinitely, as expressed in the text. But we may well conceive, it is Christ himself whom he opposeth; as his name given him by the apostle John doth evidence, when he is called antichrist, or the antichrist, one that is against Christ; not that he openly and professedly opposeth him, but as Judas kissed his Master, and betrayed him: see those that have written of antichrist, as Philip Nicholas, Whitaker, Danaeuns, Chamier, Moulin, Junius, &c. It is iniquity in a mystery. He serveth Christ, but it is to serve himself upon him. He acknowledgeth him in all his offices, and yet doth virtually deny and oppose him in them all: called antichrist, as opposite to the unction of Christ: Christ signifies anointed, and so he opposeth him in the offices to which he is anointed, while he owns his natures. He professeth himself a "servant of the servants of God," and yet persecutes, curseth, proscribes, and killeth them, opposing Christ in his members. He maketh war with the saints, Revelation 13:7. He hath two horus like a lamb, and speaks as a dragon, 2 Thessalonians 2:11; speaks lies in hypocrisy, 1 Timothy 4:2. And then he is described by his exaltation; uperairomenov, exalted, which is well supplied, he exalteth himself: it is not from God. He
exalteth himself, or lifteth himself,
above all that is called God, though not really and essentially God. The apostle well knew that in the Old Testament magistrates were called gods, Psalm 82:1,6; and 1 Corinthians 8:5: There be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth. Magistrates and rulers are of several degrees; some inferior, some superior; some supreme, as kings and emperors; but he exalteth himself above them all, and that not only in spirituals, by excommunications, but in civils, by deposing kings, disposing kingdoms, yea, making emperors to wait at his gate, hold his stirrup, prostrate themselves to kiss his toe, and then to tread upon their neck, as Alexander the Third did to Frederic Barbarossa; and this not condemned as the extravagancy of some particular persons, but allowed and justified by the doctrine and doctors of the Romish Church. And Bellarmine, de Rom. Pont. lib. 5. c. 8, gives it as the reason why the pope would not come to the council of Nice, lest if the emperor should come thither he should attempt to sit above him. So that by these two words in the text, the apostle describes him both in his enmity and pride, opposition and exaltation. Observe, first: He assumeth to himself a higher power than those that are only called gods; theirs is human, his is Divine; theirs on the bodies or estates of men, his over the conscience; theirs only to the living, his to men’s souls after death. Next, he makes himself like God, and is
as God, as the king of old Babylon said, I will be like the Most High, Isaiah 14:14. As God’s residence of old was in the temple of Jerusalem, so he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God: not that temple that was built by Solomon, and afterwards rebuilt, and to be built again, as the popish doctors speak: for it is now destroyed, and if it be built again by this man of sin, as they say, at his coming, would the apostle call that
the temple of God? 2 Corinthians 6:16 Revelation 3:12, &c. But it is a spiritual temple, as the church is called, 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. So Augustine, Jerome, Hilary, Chrysostom, understand it. And he is said here to sit, to have here his cathedra. The apostle speaks of him as a bishop, whose episcopal see is called a seat, or cathedra; and here he sitteth as God: the popish writers give the pope that and suchlike titles, Dominus Deus noster Papa, Idem est Dominium Dei et Papae, Tu es alter Deus in Terra, " Thou art another God on earth." Concil. Later. sess. 4. And as God he maketh laws to bind the conscience, and dispenseth with laws natural and moral; pardons sin as he pleaseth, past, present, and to come; can deliver souls out of purgatory, and translate them to heaven: so that this man of sin is not to be looked for among the Turks, pagans, or infidels. He
sitteth in the temple, the church, of God; not that it can be the true church where he thus sitteth and acteth, but rather the synagogue of Satan; but that which he calleth so, and which beareth that name, and which before the falling away was really so, Romans 1:8. As Jerusalem is called the holy city after it had lost its holiness, Matthew 4:5; and the faithful city, when become an harlot, Isaiah 1:21; and Mount Tabor a holy mount, 2 Peter 1:18; because once so: or called so according to men’s opinion; as idols, that are nothing, are yet called gods, 2 Chronicles 28:23 1 Corinthians 8:5. Some read the words, eiv ton naon, in templum Dei, as we say, in amicum, i.e. velut amicus, he sitteth for the temple of God, as if he himself was the temple and church of God. So Aug. de Civ. Dei, lib. 20. c. 19. And so some of our protestant writers, applying it to the pope, who, as the head of the church, hath the whole church virtually in himself, and doth exercise all church power.
Showing himself that he is God; not saying it with his mouth, as CEcumenius saith, but making such a show before men; though Bellarmine interprets it of an open boasting and vaunting himself to be God, which, saith he, the pope doth not; but by pretended miracles, signs, and wonders, by pardons, indulgences, canonizing saints, dominion over princes and kingdoms, he shows himself as a God before men, and claimns a power to be judged of no man, and to be judge of all men. A seculari potestate non solvi posse nec ligari pontificem, quem constat a Constantino Deum appellatum, cum nee Deum ab hominibus judicari manifestum sit. Decret. distinct. 96. c. 7. Yea, lastly, he exalteth himself above God himself, when he maketh the Scriptures to derive their authority more from the pope’s canonizing, than God himself; and without it no man is bound to believe them. Decret. lib. 2 Tit 23 Again: If the pope should err by commanding vice and forbidding virtue, the church was bound to believe vice to be good and virtue to be evil. Bellarm. lib. 4. de Summo Pont. c. 5. And it is frequent among their divines and canonists to say, that the pope can dispense against the apostles and the Old Testament, and the Scriptures are inferior to his decrees, and without the authority of the church are a nose of wax, paper, and parchment, &c.; so that upon the whole, as John’s disciples asked concerning Christ: Art thou he that should come, or must we look for another? So, may we not say to the pope concerning antichrist: Art thou he, &c.? I will speak boldly, either there is no antichrist, or the bishop of Rome is he. Chamier. 1.16. c. 8.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?The apostle tacitly upbraids them for their forgetfulness. To forget the things that have been taught us, is a great evil: Solomon often cautions against it, Proverbs 3:1 4:5; and it is often reproved, Hebrews 12:5 Jam 1:24; and the contrary required, Malachi 4:4 John 16:4 Judges 1:17 Revelation 3:3. David hid the word in his heart, Psalm 119:11, and the virgin Mary kept the angel’s sayings, Luke 2:19. The apostles did take care to tell the churches of the apostacy that would come, and of false prophets and teachers that would arise, as Paul the elders of Ephesus, Acts 20:29,30, and Peter, 2 Peter 2:1, and St. John of the coming of antichrist, 1Jo 2:18; and more fully, though obscurely, in the book of the Revelation; and the apostle here in this verse minds these Thessalonians that he told them of the coming of the man of sin before the coming of Christ, so that they should not have been shaken in their minds about Christ’s coming in that present age. And they told the churches of these things, that they might not be surprised by them, or offended at them, when they came.
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.And now ye know what withholdeth: the apostle it seems had told them, as of his coming, so of what at present withheld the revealing of him. And what this was is difficult to know now, though it seems these Thessalonians knew it: there are many conjectures about it. This I shall say in general:
1. It was something that the apostle thought not safe openly to declare in writing; else he would not have written of it so obscurely.
2. It was both a thing, and a person; a thing, to katecon, in this verse, that which withholdeth; and a person, as in the next verse, o katecwn, he who letteth.
3. It was also such a thing and such a person as were to be removed out of the way, not totally, but as they were hinderances of this revelation.
Expositors, both popish and protestant, pitch upon the Roman emperor and empire as most probably meant here by the apostle; and therefore he wrote not plainly, lest by writing of the taking away that empire, which the Romans thought to be eternal, he might stir up their hatred against the Christians. Some understand it of the removing only the seat of the emperor from Rome to Constantinople, whereby the bishop of Rome had opportunity to grow up into greater power. The popish writers understand it of the total destruction of the empire, which because they see not yet done they conclude the man of sin is not yet revealed. Our protestant writers understand it only of such a weakening of the empire and imperial dominion, as gave the bishop and clergy of Rome advantage to rise up into power both spiritual and secular; as some learned writers have given an account thereof. When the empire was broken into ten kingdoms, the imperial power of the emperors was much weakened; and being afterwards united in the pope as an ecclesiastical monarch, he grew up, and the imperial power declined, the grandeur of them both could not stand together. And this is the beast with the ten horns, and ten crowns upon the horns, which is spoken of, Revelation 13:1; whereupon this beast is worshipped, and the voice is: Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Some of the ancient fathers had this sense of the text: see Tertul. de Resurrect. 1. 4. c. 24. Chrysost. in locum. Aug. de Civ. Dei, 1. 19. c. 20. Jerome, when he heard of the taking of Rome by Alaricus, expected the coming of antichrist not far off. Whereupon the ancient church did pray that the Roman empire might continue long, that his coming might be delayed: Tertul. Apol. c. 32,39. But it is now evident how it is fallen from what once it was. The eastern part is under the dominion of the Turk; the western divided into ten distinct kingdoms under distinct governments; and in Germany, where it is most remaining, the empire is little more than titular; and Italy and Rome wholly in the pope’s possession: and hence this man of sin hath been long since revealed.
That he might be revealed in his time: as God appoints seasons for all his works, so for the revealing of him, as also for his ruin.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; the way was prepared by degrees for the man of sin, before he came actually to be revealed, or constituted in his complete existence; and this was by the working of the mystery of iniquity. A mystery is something in general which is abstruse, intricate, and not easily discerned. And there are mysteries in doctrine, and in practice; mysteries of godliness, and mysteries of iniquity; mysteries of the kingdom of God, and of the devil’s kingdom. So there are the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:10, and the depths of Satan, Revelation 2:24. The mystery ushering in the man of sin is a mystery of iniquity. It is not open sin and wickedness, but dissembled piety, specious errors, wickedness under a form of godliness cunningly managed, that is here meant: see the book called The Mystery of Jesuitism, or the Provincial Letters. And it is a mystery that worketh; it doth exert and put forth itself, but secretly, as a mole which worketh under ground. And its working is not against the being, providence, and attributes of God, or natural religion; but to undermine Christianity in the peculiar doctrines, worship, and practice of it. In doctrines are brought in privily damnable heresies, 2 Peter 2:1. In worship, inventions and commandments of men, under pretences of greater reverence, devotion, and humility, Colossians 2:22,23. In practice, dispensations to moral impieties under colour of service to the catholic church. And this mystery, saith our apostle, already worketh; in the false doctrines of the false teachers of his time, in the traditions and inventions of men obtruding themselves into the worship of God in his time, in the affectation of pre-eminence in the church in his time, and making merchandise of the gospel in his time, and gain godliness; and in mingling philosophical notions with the simplicity of the gospel, and gratifying the flesh under a form of godliness, and pretence of gospel liberty. And it was not among the heathen, or the Jews, but among the professors of Christianity, that this mystery was then working, as I suppose the apostle meaneth. And when the man of sin was fully revealed all these corruptions did centre in him, as sinks in the common sewer; the lesser antichrists in the great antichrist.
Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way: the idolatries and persecutions of the heathen emperors must be taken out of the way, to make way for those that arise under a Christian, or rather antichristian, state, the dragon giving his seat, spirit, and power to the beast. And the power that was in the Roman emperor, whether heathen or Christian, must be taken out of the way to make room for the exaltation of this man of sin. For notwithstanding all corruptions; in doctrine, worship, or practice which might be introduced before, yet he is not fully revealed till he hath his jurisdiction and secular power also in his hand. And then this mystery of iniquity is arrived to its height; which St. John saw written in the forehead of the great whore, Revelation 17:5: Mystery, Babylon the great, & c., and which, some have said, was written anciently in the pope’s mitre.
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:And then shall that Wicked be revealed: this revealing I think differs from that mentioned before, 2 Thessalonians 2:3; he is first revealed, as I said: quoad existentiam, when he comes forth into being, and then quoad apparentiam, when he comes to be discovered. And this I suppose is meant here, because his destruction is mentioned as following upon it; for the discovering of him is the first step to his ruin, and here is called by another name. At his first rising he is a man of sin; but after he hath violated the laws of God and the laws of Christ by setting up his own, he is well called anomov, that lawless one; and now he that pretended so highly for Christ is discovered to be antichrist. The mystery of iniquity that before lay hid comes to be revealed, God enlightening the eyes of many learned ministers and princes, yea, and of multitudes of people herein; the Scriptures, before shut up in an unknown tongue, being now translated to the understanding of the common people; those that were made drunk with the wine of her fornication, Revelation 17:2, now put away their wine from them, as Eli said to Hannah; and the kings and kingdoms that gave their power to the beast, now come to hate the whore, & c., the time being come for the fulfilling the words of God herein, Revelation 17:17. And this revelation is signified and foretold when the angel said to John, I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, Revelation 17:7. There is need of a Divine revelation to know the mystery of iniquity, as well as the mystery of godliness. And the woman is the same with the man of sin mentioned before, once the spouse of Christ, but now by her idolatry become a whore, and divorced from him; said to be also that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth, Revelation 17:18. By the understanding these thngs this wicked one comes to be revealed.
Whom the Lord shall consume; which is not done all at once; his consumption goes before his destruction. As Jezebel, the prophetess who seduced the servants of God to commit fornication, is said to be cast into a bed of languishing, Revelation 2:20,22; as he rose up by degrees, so shall he be consumed gradually. His power declines by degrees, both civil and ecclesiastical, and the authority he had got both in and over the consciences of men. The seven vials are the seven last plagues, which do gradually consume him. And this is said to be done by the Lord himself, which is the Lord Jesus. He that made war with the Lamb is overcome by the Lamb, Revelation 17:14; though many instruments may be employed herein; for he is said to have those with him who are called chosen and faithful; and it belongs to him, as all power of heaven and earth is given to him, to save his people, and to destroy his adversaries; as it is said of him, Psalm 97:3: A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. As he is a refreshing, directing light to his people, so a consuming fire to his adversaries. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands, Daniel 2:34, smites the image in the time of the fourth monarchy, when Christ came into the world, and in the latter end of it, under the antichristian state, it is broken in pieces.
With the spirit of his mouth; as was prophesied of him, Isaiah 11:4: With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked, even this wicked one here in the text, Revelation 18:8 19:15. And this, as some interpret, he shall do with ease, as by a word speaking; or by a word of command, saying: Let it be done, and it shall be done. Or, as we may read it, with the spirit of his lips, because of the power or spirit that goes along with his word. But this breath of Christ’s mouth Cajetane and others understand of the word of the gospel, which is the breath of Christ’s mouth in the mouths of his ministers, called the everlasting gospel, Revelation 14:6, which an angel flying through the midst of heaven is said to have, to preach to them that dwell upon the earth; and then followed by another angel, saying: Babylon is fallen, is fallen, 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The mystery of iniquity will be unveiled by the clear preaching of the word; and the primitive pure institutions of Christ, and doctrines of the gospel: will be vindicated from the antichristian corruptions and innovations. And the spirit of Christ going forth with the gospel, will make it effectual hereunto. These are the rod of his strength, whereby he rules in the midst of his enemies, Psalm 110:2, and whereby he shall consume this man of sin. Nations and people will fall off from him as they come to understand the truth by the word preached.
And shall destroy; after is consuming follows his destruction, katarghsei, the word destroy here signifies to abolish, enervate, to make of no force; and so used often in the New Testament: sometimes applied to the law, Romans 3:31, sometimes to the body of sin, Romans 6:6, sometimes to persons to whom Christ will not be effectual, Galatians 5:4; here to the man of sin: so that whatever remains there may be of him in the world, they shall be without any efficacy or power: his jurisdiction shall be abolished, his keys shall not be able to open or shut, the edge of both his swords shall be quite blunted, his triple crown shall fall off his head, his purgatory fire shall be put out, his images shall lose their veneration; the spell of the cross shall be detected, the intercession of saints shall be found to be a fiction, infallibility shall be fonnd to be a deceit, supremacy of the church shall fall to the ground; the rivers of his large revenues shall be dried up, &c., and the beast that was, and is not, and yet is, Revelation 17:8, shall now utterly cease to be.
With the brightness of his coming: the breath of his mouth wasted him, and the brightness of his coming destroys him. Some interpret this of Christ’s personal coming to judgment, which will be with great brightness, as Matthew 24:27: As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be; coming in the glory of heaven, and every eye shall see him; and of his coming he spake 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, and in this chapter also, as that which was not so near at hand as some imagined. And without question his coming will destroy him, if not destroyed before, as well as the rest of the wicked, 2 Thessalonians 1:9; but whether judgment may not first proceed against the antichristian state, and those that have sinned under the gospel, is a question. It is sometimes mentioned particularly with respect to them: as in the parable of the tares and wheat, Matthew 13:1-30, of the ten virgins, and the talents, Matthew 25:1-46. And the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 19:20, before the general judgment, mentioned Revelation 20:12. So that at Christ’s personal coming his judgment will, as some conceive, begin here, and then proceed to the rest of the world; whereupon many assign some great length of time to Christ’s stay upon earth, and judging the world. Others take
the brightness of his coming in a spiritual sense, for a clearer manifestation of Christ in the world. As the kingdom of antichrist, or of this man of sin, is founded in darkness, so the brightness of this coming will dispel and destroy it. With respect to his eternal generation, Christ is said to be
the brightness of his Father’s glory, Hebrews 1:2; but this is a brightness with respect to men. And though he hath come in his Spirit to enlighten his church from the beginning of the world, and more eminently after his ascension, yet this will exceed all the former, and is peculiarly styled
the brightness of his coming. And so they expect this destruction of this man of sin before Christ’s coming to judgment; for if it be the same with the fall of Babylon, mentioned in the Revelation, many things are to be done here upon earth after that, before Christ’s last coming, and they mention the calling of the Jews, the destruction of those enemies called Gog and Magog, the coming down of the new Jerusalem from heaven, which is some glorious state of the ctmrch here upon earth. However, the apostle here mentions nothing of a destruction by the material sword; what princes may do of different religions upon a civil account, I do not know, but as this man of sin rose out of the apostacy of the church, so he will not be consumed and destroyed but by a return from it, which is done by the breath of Christ’s mouth, and the brightness of his coming. But yet, by some instruments or other, God will avenge the blood of his servants upon this man of sin in the time and way appointed of him.
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,The apostle still continues his discourse about this man of sin. He had declared whence he arose, and to what height of power, and the manner and place of his exercising it, and what opened him the way to it, and also his destruction, with the means of it. But he thought it needful to explain particularly the manner of his rising into all this power, and preserving himself in it, and the persons over whom he doth exercise it.
Whose coming is after the working of Satan; Kat’ energeian Christ’s coming is in power, and so is his: Christ comes with the Spirit of God, and his is with a spirit also, but it is of Satan: and the Spirit of God worketh with Christ in his coming, and the spirit of Satan with the man of sin in his coming; which implies either the principle of this working in his coming, it is the devil; or the similitude of it, it is like the working of Satan. If in the first sense, it shows by what spirit the antichristian church was first formed, and by which it is still informed and acted; as in natural bodies the matter is formed and informed by the spirit within it. The true church hath the Holy Spirit, that forms it into a spiritual temple, Ephesians 2:21,22; the false church hath the spirit of the devil, forming it into the synagogue of Satan, Revelation 2:9. The dragon is said to give the beast his power, seat, and great authority, Revelation 13:2; and this dragon is the devil in the heathen empire, who being cast out of his seat and power when the emperor became Christian, found the antichristian church, and here exercised that power and authority which he did formerly in the imperial seat of the heathen emperors; whence we may see whence all the furious zeal and bloody cruelties appearing in the popish church do spring, notwithstanding all their outward shows of devotion. If we take the words in the latter sense, then his coming is like the working of Satan; either with great power and energy, as the word imports: the Greek word is often used in a good sense; for God’s working in the heart, Philippians 2:13, for the working of the word, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, for the working of the heart in prayer, Jam 5:17: or by the same methods; by pretences of piety and devotion, as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light; or by keeping men in blindness and ignorance, so doth Satan by setting before men secular grandeur, and the pomp of the world, as thus Satan dealt with our Saviour, Matthew 4:1-11; or by suggesting lies instead of truth, so he dealt with our first parents, and is called a liar from the beginning.
With all power; en pash dunamei. Besides that energy of Satan that works inwardly in this man of sin, which was mentioned before, he hath outward strength or power wherein he comes; which may be here meant. He hath the secular power to assist him, the kings of the earth giving their power to the beast; and we read of ten horns upon his head, which are the emblems of strength and power, Revelation 13:1; whereupon it is said: Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? Revelation 13:4.
And signs, and lying wonders: some, by the figure called hendyadis, read it, by the power of signs and lying wonders: but not properly. Observe how Satan is God’s ape; God confirmed the gospel with
signs and wonders, Romans 15:19; God bearing them witness, with signs and wonders, & c. Hebrews 2:4; and Satan brings this man of sin into the world in the same manner: God did it to confirm the truth, but Satan to countenance a falsehood. But though he comes with signs and wonders, yet not properly with miracles, as the Greek word is rendered in Hebrews 2:4; because though the devil can work the one, he cannot the other: he can by his great natural knowledge and experience improve natural causes to their utmost, but he cannot effect things above all possibility of nature, which is the same power as creating. The schoolmen give their distinction between wonders and miracles, which is not needful here to insert: all miracles are wonders, but all wonders are not miracles; and yet are esteemed miracles when their cause is not known. The Romish legends are full of stories of miracles wrought to confirm their false doctrines of purgatory, of relics, invocation of saints, &c.; which might be wonders really wrought by the devil; such as were wrought by Jannes and Jambres in Egypt, and by Simon Magus, and Apollonius Tyaneus, &c.; who used magic arts, and the people, not knowing them in their causes, might judge them miracles. And being wrought for such ends, they are termed signs, for a sign is any thing that is used to make signification, whether it be a natural or artificial, an ordinary or extraordinary sign; used either for a good end, as those shown by Christ and the apostles, or for a bad end, as those used by this man of sin. People are apt to be affected with signs.
The Jews, saith the apostle, require a sign, 1 Corinthians 1:22, as they often desired Christ to show them a sign, and therefore this man of sin comes with signs. Some signs are only for representation, as the sign of the cross, and the images of Christ, and of his death and resurrection, &c.; and he comes in these: others are for confirmation, which are either real miracles, or such as seem so; and he comes in these latter also, which are here called terasi qeudoiv, lying wonders, or wonders of a lie, Hebrew. Though the Greek word is oft used for a real miracle, yet not so, here; for miracles are the effects of a Divine power only, Romans 15:19 Hebrews 2:4, and not diabolical. And called lying wonders, either because they are used to confirm a lie, or because they are not real, but feigned wonders; impostures, to cheat the people, and make them wonder; whereof we have account in Gregory’s Dialogues, and in Paulus Diaconus, and others; and yet such miracles as these the papists boast of as marks of their church to be true, though they are here by the apostle made the marks of the man of sin. And Christ foretells of false prophets that should show great signs and wonders, to deceive, if possible, the very elect, Matthew 24:24. See Deu 13:1 Revelation 13:13,14.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness; or, deceit of unrighteousness, unrighteous deceit, or deceitful unrighteousness. And it is universal, all. It is unrighteousness managed with great subtlety to deceive; and so the same with the mystery of iniquity, mentioned before, or the mystery of unrighteousness, as we may read it. All sin is unrighteousness, whether against God or man, as all virtue is comprehended in righteousness. The apostle here means unrighteousness so cloaked and covered, that men discern it not, but are deceived by it: as the Pharisees, who devoured widows’ houses, and for pretence made long prayers; and so also they tithed mint and cummin as exactly religious, built the sepulchres of the prophets, made broad their phylacteries, would not eat with unwashen hands, &c. The like we find in the Church of Rome, as I mentioned before, where men are ambitious, covetous, cruel, superstitious, &c., and all under a pretence of righteousness, and for honour to Christ and the church: make use of Peter’s keys to open rich men’s coffers; and for a sum of money, to absolve men in this world, or to redeem them out of purgatory in the other worid; which is a mere cheat, &c. Thus comes this man of sin, and by such ways he hath advanced himself.
In them that perish: this shows who they are that are deceived by him. Reprobates are often so described, 2 Corinthians 2:15 4:3; and it is the same as elsewhere signifies damnation. The word signifies men that are lost, so used Matthew 18:11, or destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9. They are such as have not their names written in the book of life, Revelation 13:8; and who shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever, Revelation 14:10,11.
Because they received not the love of the truth: and the apostle gives the reason why they are thus deceived. He saith not they had not received the truth, but the love of it, and so hold it not fast, but are carried away with the general apostacy. Truth is either natural, which the heathen had, and detained in unrighteousness, Romans 1:18; or supernatural, from Divine revelation. This is meant, for he speaks not of heathens, but Christians; not the world, but the church.
That they might be saved: and the truth here meant is saving truth, as the gospel is called the word of truth, Ephesians 1:13 Colossians 1:5; for had they received it in love they might have been saved, but for want of that they perish; so that it is unsound, notional professors that are carried away by the man of sin, and deceived by him. Truth, if it be not received into the heart as well as the head, will not secure against apostacy or popery, nor prevent perishing. And the amiableness that is in gospel truth calls for love, as the certainty of its revelation calls for faith; and had they so received the truth they might have been saved.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion: we had account in the former verse of such as are deceived by the man of sin, of their sin, and here of their punishment. They were first deluded, which was their sin; and God sends them strong delusion, and that is their punishment. They did not receive the truth in the love of it, which was their sin; and therefore are given up to believe a lie, which is their punishment. Had they received the truth aright, they might have been saved; but not receiving it, they are damned. And they were said to be such as perish, and their perishing is here called damnation. So that though God is not the author of sin or falsehood: Deus non est auctor cujus est ultor, Fulgent.; yet he may in justice give men up to them, which the apostle here calls God’s sending, &c.; which imports either:
1. Tradition, delivering men to Satan to tempt and deceive.
2. Desertion, withholding or withdrawing that grace that might preserve them.
3. A judicial permission, God purposing not to hinder men to fall into that sin or delusion which he seeth their own hearts incline them to.
God concurs to evil, not positive, but privative; not efficienter, but deficienter; Schoolmen. God in Scripture is often said to do that which he permits to be done; as in the case of Joseph’s selling unto Egypt, Genesis 45:7, David’s numbering the people, 2 Samuel 24:1, compared with 1 Chronicles 21:1; and the ten kings giving their power to the beast, by God’s putting it into their hearts, Revelation 17:17: and it is not a bare permission, for what evil God permits, he decreed to permit it; and he decreed the circumstances attending it, and the end to which he would order and dispose it, and the degree to which it should break forth. They were deceived into error, and God gave them up to it. And it did work with great efficacy; which either relates to the man of sin, that did lead them strongly into it, or to them that were led by him. When error doth vitiate the life, and one error begets another, and makes men violent against the truth, then it is the efficacy of error. And thus God doth judicially punish sin with sin, and delusion with delusion; and then they are always most operative, and most incurable. But men fall not presently under these judicial acts; men first refitse to see, before God sends blindness, and first harden their own hearts, before God hardens them. These in the text first refused to receive the truth, before they were given up to believe a lie: see Romans 1:24. So that both God and this man of sin, and themselves also, are concerned in these evils; but they sinfully and unrighteously, but God judicially and in righteousness.
That they should believe a lie: and the lie they were given up to believe, is a doctrinal lie: false speaking is a lie in words, hypocrisy is a lie in fact, and error is a lie in doctrine, Hosea 11:12 Acts 5:3. Some by lie here suppose is meant the lying wonders before mentioned; and this sense need not be excluded, but I rather interpret it of false doctrine, as that which stands opposite to the truth before mentioned, and again mentioned in this verse. Sometimes idols are called lies, Isaiah 44:20; sometimes, the things of the world, Psalm 4:2; sometimes, the great men of the world, Psalm 62:9; sometimes, false divinations, Ezekiel 22:28 Zechariah 10:2; sometimes, false prophesyings and predictions, Jeremiah 14:14 23:25,26; and sometimes, false doctrines, as 1 Timothy 4:1,2, where we read of false prophets, who shall arise in the last time, and speak lies in hypocrisy, & c. And false apostles are said to be liars upon that account, Revelation 2:2. And such are many popish doctrines, which the apostle here probably refers to. What is transubstantiation but a lie? Purgatory, infallibility of the church, mediation of saints, their opus operatum, & c.? Men must be strongly deluded to believe such doctrines, and it is mentioned as a great judgment of God upon them to believe such lies, as it is a great mercy to believe the truth, especially if we consider what follows upon it.
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.That they all might be damned, or condemned. The Greek is, judged, but often translated as in the text; the simple verb being taken for the compound: so John 3:17 1 Corinthians 11:29 Judges 1:4. It is true a man may be judged and not condemned, but the judgment of the wicked is condemnation; and damnation is here mentioned either as the event, or the effect of their believing lies, or as the purpose of God in sending them strong delusions. They are first justly punished with spiritual judgment, and then eternal, and God is just in both; whence we see that there are some errors in judgment which are damnable. As we read of damnable heresies, 2 Peter 2:1, or heresies of destruction; such are many in the Romish Church; and the apostle speaks of such, Colossians 2:19, not holding the Head, & c.; not meant of a total rejection of Christ, but of voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, mingled with the true worship of the gospel; and such cannot be saved.
Who believed not the truth: where we have a further description of these persons who are to be damned, which is added by the apostle, either to clear God’s justice, as in sending them strong delusions to believe a lie, so also in their condemnation; or to assign the cause why they believed a lie, because they believed not the truth. Those will easily be brought to believe a lie who believe not the truth; and the belief here mentioned is that of assent, yet snch an assent as is operative and practical, which they had not; for it was said before, they received not the truth in the love of it.
But had pleasure in unrighteousness; did not only practise, but had great complacence and contentment of mind in it, as the Greek word imports, and so had rather believe a false doctrine which will countenance their practice, than the truth which doth condemn it: see Proverbs 10:23 Romans 1:32. By unrighteousness some expositors understand false doctrine, or error, because it is set in opposition here to truth, as sin is set in opposition to it, John 8:46; and that the apostle hath peculiar reference to the corrupt doctrines of Simon Magus and the Nicolaitanes, that gave liberty to the lusts of the flesh. But why not rather to the doctrines of the man of sin, which he had been before speaking of? I rather take the word in the largest sense, so all sin is unrighteousness; and the apostle St. John saith, all unrighteosness is sin, 1Jo 5:17, where unrighteousness is expressed by anomia, a word which imports transgression of the law, as in this text by adikia, a word which signifies injustice. So that we see here an erroneous mind and a vicious life going together. And when sin is come to this height, that men take pleasure in it, it makes them ripe for damnation. And how well these things agree to the antichristian church, let men consider and judge.
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:The apostle here exempts these Thessalonians out of the number of those reprobates that he had before spoken of, and speaks of them as such as should be preserved from apostacy in faith or practice, and obtain salvation. And this he mentions for comfort to them, and with thanksgivings to God. He had often before given thanks for them, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 2:13 3:9; and in 2 Thessalonians 1:3; and both here and there mentions it as a debt he was bound unto, or a duty he owed, we ought to give thanks, as in the Greek. And here he styles them, not only
brethren, as often before, but beloved of the Lord, such as have been and are beloved; and therefore not in the number of them that should be damned, mentioned in the former verse.
Because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation: which words are either to give the reason of the apostle’s thanksgivings, or rather all arguments to evidence they were beloved of the Lord. And he instanceth in their election as a proof of it. There is an election to office, as David to be king, 2 Samuel 6:21, and Judas to be an apostle, John 6:70; and election to a visible church, and means of salvation, and thus the seed of Abraham were chosen, Deu 26:18 Psalm 135:4 Psalm 147:19; and election to salvation, as in the text; which is either that which follows faith, as some understand that place, Matthew 22:14, or rather that which goes before it, said here to be from the beginnning: not from the beginning of the gospel, as some say; nor from the beginning of our preaching to you, or of your effectual calling, as others say; no, nor yet is it meant from the beginning of the world, which was the beginning of time; or immediately upon Adam’s fall: but by beginning is here meant eternity itself, as election is said to be from before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, which is from eternity. Though beginning seems to relate to time, yet the Scriptures often express eternity by such words as relate to time: as when God is called the Ancient of days, Daniel 7:9, it signifies his eternity; and Jude speaks of some that were of old ordained to condemnation, Judges 1:4, palai progegrammenoi, God’s eternal decrees being compared to a book wherein names are written. When was their ordaining but from eternity? And it is election to salvation, complete salvation, which is here meant, in the full fruition of it; not in the title to it by faith, or the first-fruits of it in sanctification, because they are here mentioned as the means that tend to it.
Through sanctification of the Spirit: election is to the means as well as the end, as Ephesians 1:4. Holiness is not the cause of God’s election, but God hath decreed it to be the way to salvation; without holiness none shall ever see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14.
And belief of the truth: and therefore those were spoken of as persons to be damned who believed not the truth, in the former verse. And so it is evident, election is not upon the foresight of faith, it is through it we have salvation, but not election: but of this before, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18. And the apostle joins sanctification and faith together, for they are not and cannot be put asunder. Now by all this the apostle proves they were beloved of the Lord. He saw the fruits of election in their sanctification and belief of the truth, thence concludes they were elected, and therefore loved.
Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.Whereunto he called you by our gospel: before, the apostle mentioned their election, now their calling; which are often in Scripture put together, Romans 8:30 2 Peter 1:10; and are both applied to Christ himself, Isaiah 42:1,6. They are those two sovereign acts of God, prerequisite to a state of salvation; the one eternal, the other in time; the one immanent in God, the other transient upon the creature; and it is the first transient act that flows from election. And because there is an outward and inward civil mentioned in Scripture, we must here understand the apostle of both: for Eiv o: Whereunto, or to which thing, mentioned in the beginning of this verse, refers to all that he said in the former verse, which is, salvation, sanctification, belief of the truth, which they could not attain with a mere outward call, though they had that also; for the apostle mentions here the gospel, which he calls
our gospel, because preached by them, and intrusted to them, though the original of it is from God, and the matter of it from Jesus Christ. And he puts them in mind of the great mercy they had received in their preaching the gospel to them, for thereby they were called into a state of salvation; as also of the way wherein they are to obtain this salvation, which is through sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth, that they might be careful to persevere both in faith and holiness; and not to expect it from the law, or the speculations of philosophy, which some false teachers might suggest, for as faith cometh by hearing the gospel, Romans 10:17, so it is that only which is the power of God unto salvation, Romans 1:16. And by this he confirms to them also their election, because they had been thus effectually called by the gospel: for no man can conclude his salvation from election, if he hath not been also thus called, which is by feeling the power of the gospel in the heart, and yielding obedience to it in his life. What the apostle before called salvation, he here styles
the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, he had there also called it obtaining salvation, and by the same word here used in the text: yea, the word peripoihsiv, here rendered obtaining, sometimes signifies salvation itself, Hebrews 10:39, and, which is equivalent, the purchased possession, Ephesians 1:14; and it may signify in the text, the obtaining the glory of Christ in a way of purchase, as also by diligent endeavours after it, by way of acquisition, as the word seems to signify. And by the glory of Christ is not meant the glory we give to him, as some would strain the words to that sense; but rather, the glory we shall receive from him, which is the same which the Father hath given to him, and which he hath given to his people. John 17:22, whereby they are co-heirs with him, Romans 8:17. And so the apostle sets forth the greatness of this salvation, to which these believers were called, it is to the obtaining the same glory with Christ, in kind at least; and shows their different state from those that perish, and will be damned, mentioned in the former verses. Or if we read the words, ye are called to be a peculiar people, as the Greek word is so rendered, 1 Peter 2:9, laov eiv piripoihsin, a peculiar people, and understand by the glory of Christ, that glory of his grace he hath manifested herein, it shows also how God hath distinguished them from those before mentioned.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.The former verses contained consolation, this is an exhortation: the apostle had assured them of their being elected and called, yet exhorts them to their duty. Assurance of salvation doth not encourage negligence; the apostle takes his argument from thence to quicken them:
Therefore, & c. And that which he exhorts them to is:
1. To stand fast; a military word, speaking as a captain to his soldiers; so 1 Corinthians 16:13 Ephesians 6:14; having before foretold a great apostacy that would come. Or because he had told them of the great glory they had been called to the obtaining of by the gospel, he exhorts them to stand fast, which implies a firm persuasion of mind and constant purpose of will, and stands opposite to hesitation and despondency.
2. To hold the traditions which they had been taught. The word tradition signifies any thing delivered to another; especially meant of doctrines. The Pharisees’ doctrine is called tradition, Matthew 15:3; and so the true doctrines of the gospel, being such as the apostles delivered to the people; as the doctrine of the Lord’s supper is said to be delivered, 1 Corinthians 11:23; and so Romans 6:13.
Whether by word, or our epistle; by word of mouth in public preaching, or private instruction. The apostle had both preached and written to these Thessalonians, before he wrote this Second Epistle. And that the papists should hence infer that there are matters of necessary consequence in religion, not contained in the Scriptures, is without ground. These they call traditions, some whereof are concerning faith, others concerning manners, others ritual, with respect to the worship of God, or the external polity of the church. But who can assure us what these are? What a door is here opened to introduce what men please into the church, under pretence of tradition! Who were the persons the apostle intrusted to keep these traditions? Why should he not declare the whole system of gospel truths he had received from Christ in writing, as well as part? Why should he conceal some things, when he wrote others? And doth not the apostle assure Timothy that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof for correction, for instruction; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works? 2 Timothy 3:16,17. What need then traditions? And how can we know that they are by Divine inspiration, as we are assured all Scripture is? Our Saviour reproved the Pharisees about their traditions, when from hence they would observe and impose ceremonies of washing hands, cups, and platters, Matthew 15:2-6, yea, and by them make the commandments of God of none effect; which the apostle cautions the Colossians about, Colossians 2:8; and whereof Paul declares his zeal before his conversion, Galatians 1:14: and we find men’s zeal still more about them than moral duties, and express institutions of God’s worship. All the apostle’s doctrine,
whether by word or epistle, he calls by the name of traditions in the text here, and he commends the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 11:2, that they kept the traditions delivered to them; but were not they all committed to writing in some place or other of his Epistles? And which were, and which were not, who can be certain? And why should traditions be confined only to those things which the apostle did not write? He exhorts the Thessalonians to hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word or epistle. And if they hold them with strength, as the word is, by this means they would stand fast.
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,The apostle here addeth prayer to his exhortation: the word and prayer are to go together, whether it be written or preached; as the twelve told the disciples, Acts 6:4: We will give ourselves to the word and prayer. He had planted them a church, but he knew God gave the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:6. The persons he prays to are here, first,
our Lord Jesus Christ; which was a good argument in Athanasius’s time, for the dignity of Christ, against the Arians; and so it is still, and now against the Socinians: for God alone is the object of worship, and the bestower of those gifts which he here prays for. Only the apostle, when he mentions Christ, delights to mention him in his relation to his people; so he doth for the most part in all his Epistles, and so in this text. He useth a pronoun possessive, our, for it is relation and interest which commendeth and sweeteneth any good to us. And the other person is
God the Father, who is the Father of lights, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, Jam 1:17; and whom in his prayer he mentions together with Christ, because no access can be to God but through Christ, and no good gift descends to us but through him. And so God the Father is mentioned in his relation to his people also, God, even our Father; and when Christ is ours, in him God is ours also. And the apostle thus looking, and thus speaking of Christ and of God, strengthens his own and their faith, for the obtaining of the gifts he prays for.
Which hath loved us: another argument is from God’s love: our doubts in prayer arise more from unbelief in God’s will, than his power, which will vanish when we look upon him in his love to us; for the nature of love is velle bonum, to will good to whom we love. Another is, from gifts already received, which are, first,
everlasting consolation; whereby it appears, that God’s love is communicative, and that it is not common, but his special love he spake of. Outward comforts are common gifts, but these the apostle means not here, because they are not everlasting; they continue not beyond death; they begin in time and end with time: but this consolation begins in time, and abides to eternity; and this man cannot give, the world cannot give, nor we give it ourselves, God giveth it only; and he gives it to whom he loveth, as every man seeks to comfort those whom he loves: and though some whom God loves may not feel his consolation, yet they have a right, and God hath it in reserve for them: Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart, Psalm 97:11. And though sometimes it may be interrupted where it is felt, yet not so as to be destroyed in its foundation, and to hinder its return, either in the temporal or eternal world, where it will be everlasting; so that as God is styled the God of all grace, 1 Peter 5:10; so, the God of all comfort, 2 Corinthians 1:3. And by us in the text he means these Thessalonians as well as himself, for he had spoken before of their joy in the Holy Ghost, 1 Thessalonians 1:6. And the other gift is, good hope. Hope, as a natural affection, is the expectation of the soul; and the object of it is bonum futurum, arduum, possibile; good, future good, difficult, and possible. But, as a grace, it is the expectation of the good things God hath promised, and not yet exhibited. And it is called good hope, good by way of eminency; with respect to the objects of it, which are eminently good; the certainty of it, it will not make ashamed, Romans 5:5; compared to an anchor sure and stedfast, Hebrews 6:19: the regularness of it; things promised only, and as they are promised; else it is presumption, and not hope: the fruits of it; peace, purity, industry, and consolation also, and therefore joined with it here in the text: as the apostle speaks elsewhere of rejoicing in hope, Romans 5:2 Romans 12:12 Hebrews 3:6. Or, as some, it is called good hope, with respect to the degree they had attained of it in their hearts; though they had not yet the good things promised, yet they had good hope of enjoying them. And by this epithet he distinguisheth this hope from the carnal vain hope of the men of the world, and the false hope of hypocrites, Job 8:13; and themselves also from the state they were in when Gentiles, without hope, Ephesians 2:12. And this also is God’s gift, as he is called the God of hope, Romans 15:13, not only as the object, but the author of it. And both these gifts are here said to be through grace; for else we could have had no ground either of hope or comfort. Sin had shut up our way to both, it is only grace that hath opened it to us. What we enjoy at present, and what we hope to enjoy, is all through grace. And from these gifts already received the apostle strengthens his faith about the other things he here prays for.
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.Next, we have the things prayed for:
Comfort your hearts; though he said before, who hath given us everlasting consolation. The apostle means, either actual possession of what God had given title to, or a continued supply and increase of comfort already received. And he prays for this either in respect of the afflictions they suffered, that they might not faint; or to enable them the better to stand fast in the faith, and not fall away, as others. And so it agrees with the next petition for them.
And stablish you in every good word and work: the word of truth is this good word, Proverbs 4:2, as the gospel is called, 2 Corinthians 6:7. And the doctrines of it are all good, 1 Timothy 4:6; they are good for instruction, for correction, for reproof, for doctrine, 2 Timothy 3:16. All truth is an intellectual good, whether natural or moral; but evangelical truth is by way of eminence good. It is a good word which is a word of salvation, Acts 13:26; and to be established in it, is firmly to believe it, and to hold it fast against seducing opinion, or persecutions; and by every good word he means all Divine truth, especially the greater truths; not to hold some truths and let others go. And to word the apostle adds work, that there may be a harmony between faith and practice. As the doctrines of the gospel are true, so the works they require are good. And good works are manifold, respecting God, our neighbour, and ourselves. A Christian should not only practise them all, but be established in them, which implies constancy, perseverance, and resolution. True religion is not word only, but work; it is not only speculative, but practical. A sound mind ought to be joined with a holy life. And to make a work good, the principle, rule, manner, and end must all be good.