Analysis Of The Chapter
The main object of 2 Thessalonians 2 is to correct an erroneous impression which had been made on the minds of the Thessalonians respecting the second coming of the Saviour, either by his own former letter, or by one forged in his name. They had received the impression that that event was about to take place. This belief had produced an unhappy effect on their minds; 2 Thessalonians 2:2. It became, therefore, necessary to state the truth on the subject, in order to free their minds from alarm; and this purpose of the apostle leads to one of the most important prophecies in the New Testament. The chapter comprises the following points:
I. An exhortation that they would not be alarmed or distressed by the expectation of the speedy coming of the Saviour; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2.
II. A statement of the truth that he would not soon appear, and of the characteristics of a great apostasy which must intervene before his advent; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12.
In this part of the chapter, the apostle shows that he did not mean to teach that that event would soon happen, by stating that before that there would occur a most melancholy apostasy, which would require a considerable time before it was matured.
- That day would not come until there should be a great apostasy, and a revelation of the man of sin; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
- The character of this “man of sin” was to be such that it could not be mistaken: he would be opposed to God; would exalt himself above all that is called God; and would sit in the temple showing himself as God; 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
- There was a restraint then exercised which prevented the development of the great apostasy. There were indeed causes then at work which would lead to it, but they were then held in check, and God would restrain them until some future time, when he would suffer the man of sin to be revealed; 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7.
- When that time should come, then that “wicked” one would be revealed, with such marks that he could not be mistaken.
His coming would be after the working of Satan, with power and signs and lying wonders, and under him there would be strong delusion, and the belief of a lie; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12. This great foe of God was to be destroyed by the coming of the Saviour, and one object of his appearing would be to put an end to his dominion; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
III. The apostle then says, that there was occasion for thankfulness to God, that he had chosen them to salvation, and not left them to be destroyed; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.
IV. An exhortation to stand fast, and to maintain what they had been taught 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and a prayer that God, who had given them a good hope, would comfort their hearts, closes the chapter; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - The phrase “by the coming,” is not here, as our translators seem to have supposed, a form of solemn adjuration. It is not common, if it ever occurs, in the Scriptures, to make a solemn adjuration in view of an event, and the connection here demands that we give to the phrase a different sense. It means, respecting his coming; and the idea of Paul is: “In regard to that great event of which I spoke to you in my former epistle - the coming of the Saviour - I beseech you not to be troubled, as if it were soon to happen. As his views had been misunderstood or misrepresented, he now proposes to show them that there was nothing in the true doctrine which should create alarm, as if he were about to appear.
And by our gathering together unto him - There is manifest allusion here to what is said in the First Epistle 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “then we shall be caught up together with them in the clouds;” and the meaning is: “in reference to our being gathered unto him, I beseech you not to be shaken in mind, as if that event were near.”
That ye be not soon shaken in mind - The word here used signifies, properly, to be moved as a wave of the sea, or to be tossed upon the waves, as a vessel is. Then it means to be shaken in any way; see Matthew 11:7; Matthew 24:29; Luke 6:38; Acts 4:31; Hebrews 12:26. The reference here is to the agitation or alarm felt from the belief that the day of judgment would soon occur. It is uniformly said in the Scriptures, that the approach of the Lord Jesus to judge the world, will produce a great consternation and alarm. Matthew 24:30, “then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.” Revelation 1:7, “behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” Luke 23:30, “then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills Cover us;” compare Isaiah 2:21-22.
Of the truth of this, there can be no doubt. We may imagine something of the effects which will be produced by the alarm caused in a community when a belief prevails that the day of judgment is near. In a single year (1843) 17 persons were admitted to the Lunatic Asylum in Worcester, Mass., who had become deranged in consequence of the expectation that the Lord Jesus was about to appear. It is easy to account for such facts, and no doubt, when the Lord Jesus shall actually come, the effect on the guilty world will be overwhelming. The apostle here says, also, that those who were Christians were “shaken in mind and troubled” by this anticipation. There are, doubtless, many true Christians who would be alarmed at such an event, as there are many who, like Hezekiah Isaiah 38:1-2, are alarmed at the prospect of death. Many real Christians might, on the sudden occurrence of such an event, feel that they were not prepared, and be alarmed at the prospect of passing through the great trial which is to determine their everlasting destiny. It is no certain evidence of a want of piety to be alarmed at the approach of death. Our nature dreads death, and though there may be a well-founded hope of heaven, it will not always preserve a delicate physical frame from trembling when it comes.
Or be troubled - That is, disturbed, or terrified. It would seem that this belief had produced much consternation among them.
Neither by spirit - By any pretended spirit of prophecy. But whether this refers to the predictions of those who were false prophets in Thessalonica, or to something which it was alleged the apostle Paul had himself said there, and which was construed as meaning that the time was near, is not certain. This depends much on the question whether the phrase “as from us,” refers only to the letters which had been sent to them, or also to the “word” and to the “spirit,” here spoken of; see Oldshausen on the place. It would seem, from the connection, that all their consternation had been caused by some misconstruction which had been put on the sentiments of Paul himself, for if there had been any other source of alarm, he would naturally have referred to it. It is probable, therefore, that allusion is made to some representation which had been given of what he had said under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and that the expectation that the end of the world was near, was supposed to be a doctrine of inspiration. Whether, however, the Thessalonians themselves put this construction on what he said, or whether those who had caused the alarm represented him as teaching this, cannot be determined.
Nor by word - That is, by public instruction, or in preaching. It is evident that when the apostle was among them, this subject, from such causes, was prominent in his discourses; see 2 Thessalonians 2:5. It had been inferred, it seems, from what he said, that he meant to teach that the end of the world was near.
Nor by letter - Either the one which he had before written to them - the First Epistle to the Thessalonians - or one which had been forged in his name. “As from us.” That is, Paul, Silas, and Timothy, who are united in writing the two epistles 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, and in whose names a letter would be forged, if one of this description were sent to them. It has been made a question, whether the apostle refers here to the former epistle which he had sent to them, or to a forged letter; and on this question critics have been about equally divided. The reasons for the former opinion may be seen in Paley’s Herin Paulinae, in loc. The question is not very important, and perhaps cannot be easily settled. There are two or three circumstances, however, which seem to make it probable that he refers to an epistle which had been forged, and which had been pretended to be received from him. (1.) one is found in the expression “as from us.” If he had referred to his own former letter, it seems to me that the allusion would have been more distinct, and that the particle “as” (ὡς hōs) would not have been used. This is such an expression as would have been employed if the reference were to such a forged letter.
(2) A second circumstance is found in the expression in the next verse, “Let no man deceive you by any means,” which looks as if they were not led into this belief by their own interpretation of his former epistle, but by a deliberate attempt of some one to delude them on the subject.
(3) Perhaps a third circumstance would be found in the fact that it was not uncommon in early times of Christianity to attempt to impose forged writings on the churches. Nothing would be more natural for an impostor who wished to acquire influence, than to do this; and that it was often done is well known. That epistles were forged under the names of the apostles, appears very probable, as Benson has remarked, from chap. 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Galatians 6:11; and Philemon 1:19. There are, indeed, none of those forged epistles extant which were composed in the time of the apostles, but there is extant an epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, besides the two which we have; another to the Laodiceans, and six of Paul’s epistles to Seneca - all of which are undoubted forgeries; see Benson in loc. If Paul, however, here refers to his former epistle, the reference is doubtless to 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, which might easily be understood as teaching that the end of the world was near, and to which those who maintained that opinion might appeal with great plausibility. We have, however, the authority of the apostle himself that he meant to teach no such thing. “As that the day of Christ is at hand.” The time when he would appear - called “the day of Christ,” because it would be appointed especially for the manifestation of his glory. The phrase “at hand,” means near. Grotius supposes that it denotes that same year, and refers for proof to Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22; Galatians 1:4.Hebrews 9:9. If so, the attempt to fix the day was an early indication of the desire to determine the very time of his appearing - a disposition which has been so common since, and which has led into so many sad mistakes.
Let no man deceive you by any means - That is, respecting the coming of the Lord Jesus. This implies that there were then attempts to deceive, and that it was of great importance for Christians to be on their guard. The result has shown that there is almost no subject on which caution is more proper, and on which men are more liable to delusion. The means then resorted to for deception appear from the previous verse to have been either an appeal to a pretended verbal message from the apostle, or a pretended letter from him. The means now, consist of a claim to uncommon wisdom in the interpretation of obscure prophecies of the Scriptures. The necessity for the caution here given has not ceased.
For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first - Until an apostasy (ἀποστασία apostasia) shall have occurred - the great apostasy. There is scarcely any passage of the New Testament which has given occasion to greater diversity of opinion than this. Though the reference seems to be plain, and there is scarcely any prophecy of the Bible apparently more obvious and easy in its general interpretation; yet it is proper to mention some of the opinions which have been entertained of it.
Some have referred it to a great apostasy from the Christian church, particularly on account of persecution, which would occur before the destruction of Jerusalem. The “coming of the Lord” they suppose refers to the destruction of the holy city, and according to this, the meaning is, that there would be a great apostasy before that event would take place. Of this opinion was Vitringa, who refers the “apostasy” to a great defection from the faith which took place between the time of Nero and Trajan.
Whitby also refers it to an event which was to take place before the destruction of Jerusalem, and supposes that the apostasy would consist in a return from the Christian to the Jewish faith by multitudes of professed converts. The “man of sin,” according to him, means the Jewish nation, so characterized on account of its eminent wickedness.
Hammond explains the apostasy by the defection to the Gnostics, by the arts of Simon Magus, whom he supposes to be the man of sin, and by the “day of the Lord” he also understands the destruction of Jerusalem.
Grotius takes Caius Caesar or Caligula, to be the man of sin, and by the apostasy he understands his abominable wickedness. In the beginning of his government, he says, his plans of iniquity were concealed, and the hopes of all were excited in regard to his reign; but his secret iniquity was subsequently “revealed,” and his true character understood.
Wetstein understands by the “man of sin,” that it referred to Titus and the Flavian house. He says that he does not understand it of the Roman Pontiff, who “is not one such as the demonstrative pronoun thrice repeated designates, and who neither sits in the temple of God, nor calls himself God, nor Caius, nor Simon Gioriae, nor any Jewish impostor, nor Simon Magus.”
Koppe refers it to the King mentioned in Daniel 11:36. According to him, the reference is to a great apostasy of the Jews from the worship of God, and the “man of sin” is the Jewish people.
Others have supposed that the reference is to Muhammed, and that the main characteristics of the prophecy may be found in him.
Of the Papists, a part affirm that the apostasy is the falling away from Rome in the time of the Reformation, but the greater portion suppose that the allusion is to Antichrist, who, they say, will appear in the world before the great day of judgment, to combat religion and the saints. See these opinions stated at length, and examined, in Dr. Newton on the Prophecies, Dissertation xxii.
Some more recent expositors have referred it to Napoleon Bonaparte, and some (as Oldshausen) suppose that it refers to some one who has not yet appeared, in whom all the characteristics here specified will be found united.
Most Protestant commentators have referred it to the great apostasy under the papacy, and, by the “man of sin,” they suppose there is allusion to the Roman Pontiff, the Pope. It is evident that we are in better circumstances to understand the passage than those were who immediately succeeded the apostles.
Eighteen hundred years have passed (written circa 1880’s) away since the Epistle was written, and the “day of the Lord” has not yet come, and we have an opportunity of inquiring, whether in all that long tract of time any one man can be found, or any series of men have arisen, to whom the description here given is applicable. If so, it is in accordance with all the proper rules of interpreting prophecy, to make such an application. If it is fairly applicable to the papacy, and cannot be applied in its great features to anything else, it is proper to regard it as having such an original reference. Happily, the expressions which are used by the apostle are, in themselves, not difficult of interpretation, and all that the expositor has to do is, to ascertain whether in any one great apostasy all the things here mentioned have occurred. If so, it is fair to apply the prophecy to such an event; if not so, we must wait still for its fulfillment.
The word rendered “falling away” (ἀποστασία apostasia, apostasy), is of so general a character, that it may be applied to any departure from the faith as it was received in the time of the apostles. It occurs in the New Testament only here and in Acts 21:21, where it is rendered “to forsake” - “thou teachest all the Jews which are among us to forsake Moses” - apostasy from Moses - ἀποστασίαν ἀπὸ Μωῦσέως apostasian apo Mōuseōs. The word means a departing from, or a defection; see the verb used in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Some shall depart from the faith” - ἀποστήσονται apostēsontai; compare the notes on that passage; see also Hebrews 3:12; Luke 8:13; Acts 5:37. The reference here is evidently to some general falling away, or to some great religious apostasy that was to occur, and which would be under one head, leader, or dynasty, and which would involve many in the same departure from the faith, and in the same destruction. The use of the article here, “the apostasy” (Greek), Erasmus remarks, “signifies that great and before-predicted apostasy.” It is evidently emphatic, showing that there had been a reference to this before, or that they understood well that there was to be such an apostasy. Paul says 2 Thessalonians 2:5, that when he was with them, he had told them of these things. The writers in the New Testament often speak of such a defection under the name of Antichrist; see Revelation 13:14; 1Jo 2:18, 1 John 2:22; 1Jo 4:3; 2 John 1:7.
And that man of sin - This is a Hebraism, meaning a man of eminent wickedness; one distinguished for depravity; compare John 17:12; Proverbs 6:12, in Heb. The use of the article here - ὁ ἄνθρωπος ho anthrōpos - “the man of sin,” is also emphatic, as in the reference to “the falling away,” and shows that there is allusion to one of whom they had before heard, and whose character was well known; who would be the wicked one by way of eminence; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:8, “that wicked” - ὁ ἄνομος ho anomos. There are two general questions in regard to the proper interpretation of this appellative; the one is, whether it refers to an individual, or to a series of individuals of the same general character, aiming at the accomplishment of the same plans; and the other is, whether there has been any individual, or any series of individuals, since the time of the apostle, who, by eminence, deserved to be called “the man of sin.” That the phrase, “the man of sin,” may refer to a succession of men of the same general character, and that it does so refer here, is evident from the following considerations:
(3) The same is true of the “woman arrayed in purple and scarlet” Revelation 17:4, which cannot refer to a single woman, but is the emblem of a continued corrupt administration.
(4) It is clear that a succession is intended here, because the work assigned to “the man of sin,” cannot be supposed to be that which could be accomplished by a single individual. The statement of the apostle is, that there were then tendencies to such an apostasy, and that the “man of sin “would be revealed at no distant period, and yet that he would continue his work of “lying wonders” until the coming of the Saviour. In regard to this “man of sin,” it may be further observed:
(1) That his appearing was to be preceded by “the great apostasy;” and,
(2) That he was to continue and perpetuate it. His rise was to be owing to a great departure from the faith, and then he was to be the principal agent in continuing it by “signs and lying wonders.” He was not himself to originate the defection, but was to be the creation, or result of it. He was to rise upon it, or grow out of it, and, by artful arrangements adapted to that purpose, was to perpetuate it. The question then is, to whom this phrase, descriptive of a succession of individuals so eminent for wickedness that the name “the man of sin” could be applied, was designed by the spirit of inspiration to refer. Dr. Newton has shown that it cannot refer to Caligula, to Simon Magus, to the revolt of the Jews from the Romans, or to the revolt of the Jews from the faith, or to the Flavian family, or to Luther, as some of the papists suppose, or to one man who will appear just before the end of the world, as others of the Romanists suppose; see his Dissertations on the Prophecies, xxii, pp. 393-402; compare Oldshausen, in loc. The argument is too long to be inserted here. But can it be referred to the papacy? Can it denote the Pope of Rome, meaning not a single pope, but the succession? If all the circumstances of the entire passage can be shown to be fairly applicable to him, or if it can he shown that all that is fairly implied in the language used here has received a fulfillment in him, then it is proper to regard it as having been designed to be so applied, and then this may be numbered among the prophecies that are in part fulfilled.
The question now is on the applicability of the phrase “the man of sin” to the Pope. That his rise was preceded by a great apostasy, or departure from the purity of the simple gospel, as revealed in the New Testament, cannot reasonably be doubted by any one acquainted with the history of the church. That he is the creation or result of that apostasy, is equally clear. That he is the grand agent in continuing it, is equally manifest. Is the phrase itself one that is properly applicable to him Is it proper to speak of the Pope of Rome, as he has actually appeared, as “the man of sin?” In reply to this, it might be sufficient to refer to the general character of the papacy, and to its influence in upholding and perpetuating various forms of iniquity in the world. It would be easy to show that there has been no dynasty or system that has contributed so much to uphold and perpetuate sins of various kinds on the earth, as the papacy. No other one has been so extensively and so long the patron of superstition; and there are vices of the grossest character which have all along been fostered by its system of celibacy, indulgences, monasteries, and absolutions. But it would be a better illustration of the meaning of the phrase “man of sin,” as applicable to the Pope of Rome, to look at the general character of the popes themselves. Though there may have been some exceptions, yet there never has been a succession of men of so decidedly wicked character, as have occupied the papal throne since the great apostasy commenced.
A very few references to the characters of the popes will furnish an illustration of this point. Pope Vagilius waded to the pontifical throne through the blood of his predecessor. Pope Joan (the Roman Catholic writers tell us) a female in disguise, was elected and confirmed Pope, as John VIII. Platina says, that “she became with child by some of those that were round about her; that she miscarried, and died on her way from the Lateran to the temple.” Pope Marcellinus sacrificed to idols. Concerning Pope Honorius, the council of Constantinople decreed, “We have caused Honorius, the late Pope of Old Rome, to be accursed; for that in all things he followed the mind of Sergius the heretic, and confirmed his wicked doctrines.” The Council of Basil thus condemned Pope Eugenius: “We condemn and depose Pope Eugenius, a despiser of the holy canons; a disturber of the peace and unity of the church of God; a notorious offender of the whole universal church; a Simonist; a perjurer; a man incorrigible; a schismatic; a man fallen from the faith, and a willful heretic.”
Pope John II, was publicly charged at Rome with incest. Pope John XIII usurped the Pontificate, spent his time in hunting, in lasciviousness, and monstrous forms of vice; he fled from the trial to which he was summoned, and was stabbed, being taken in the act of adultery. Pope Sixtus IV licensed brothels at Rome. Pope Alexander VI was, as a Roman Catholic historian says, “one of the greatest and most horrible monsters in nature that could scandalize the holy chair. His beastly morals, his immense ambition, his insatiable avarice, his detestable cruelty, his furious lusts, and monstrous incest with his daughter Lucretia, are, at large, described by Guicciardini Ciaconius, and other authentic papal historians.” Of the popes, Platina (a Roman Catholic) says: “The chair of Saint Peter was usurped, rather than possessed, by monsters of wickedness, ambition, and bribery. They left no wickedness unpracticed;” see the New Englander, April, 1844, pp. 285, 286. To no succession of men who have ever lived could the appellative, “the man of sin, be applied with so much propriety as to this succession. Yet they claim to have been the true “successors” of the apostles, and there are Protestants who deem it of essential importance to be able to show that they have derived the true “succession” through such men.
Be revealed - Be made manifest. There were, at the time when the apostle wrote, two remarkable things:
(1) That there was already a tendency to such an apostasy as he spoke of; and,
(2) There was something which as yet prevented the appearance or the rise of the man of sin; 2 Thessalonians 2:7. When the hindrance which then existed should be taken out of the way, he would be manifested; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
“The son of perdition.” This is the same appellation which the Saviour bestowed on Judas; see it explained in the notes on John 18:12. It may mean either that he would be the cause of ruin to others, or that he would himself be devoted to destruction. It would seem here rather to be used in the latter sense, though this is not absolutely certain. The phrase, whichever interpretation be adopted, is used to denote one of eminent wickedness.
Who opposeth - That is, he is distinguished as an opposer of the great system which God has revealed for human salvation, and of those who would serve God in purity in the gospel of his Son. No Protestant will doubt that this has been the character of the papacy. The opposition of the general system to the gospel; the persecution of Wycliffe, of John Huss, of Jerome of Prague, of the Waldenses and the Reformers; the Inquisition, the cruelties in the reign of Mary (Queen of Scots), and the massacre of Bartholomew in France, are obvious illustrations of this.
And exalteth himself above all that is called God - That is, whether among the pagans or the Jews; above a false God, or the true God. This could be true only of one who set aside the divine laws; who undertook to legislate where God only has a right to legislate, and whose legislation was contrary to that of God. Any claim of a dominion over conscience; or any arrangement to set aside the divine laws, and to render them nugatory, would correspond with what is implied in this description. It cannot be supposed that any one would openly claim to be superior to God, but the sense must be, that the enactments and ordinances of the “man of sin” would pertain to the province in which God only can legislate, and that the ordinances made by him would be such as to render nugatory the divine laws, by appointing others in their place. No one can reasonably doubt that all that is here affirmed may be found in the claims of the Pope of Rome. The assumptions of the papacy have related to the following things:
(1) To authority above all the inferior orders of the priesthood - above all pastors, bishops, and primates.
(2) Authority above all kings and emperors, “deposing some, and advancing others, obliging them to prostrate themselves before him, to kiss his toe, to hold his stirrup, to wait barefooted at his gate, treading even upon the neck, and kicking off the imperial crown with his foot” - Newton. Thus, Gregory VII made Henry IV wait barefooted at his gate. Thus, Alexander III trod upon the neck of Alexander I. Thus, Celestin kicked off the imperial crown of Henry VI. Thus, the right was claimed, and asserted, of laying nations under interdict, of deposing kings, and of absolving their subjects from their oaths of allegiance. And thus the Pope claimed the right over all unknown lands that might be discovered by Columbus, and apportioned the New World as he pleased - in all these things claiming prerogatives which can pertain only to God.
(3) To authority over the conscience, in matters which can pertain only to God himself, and where he only can legislate. Thus, it has been, and is, one of the claims set up for the Pope that he is infallible. Thus, he “forbids what God has commanded,” as the marriage of the clergy, communion in both kinds, the use of the Scriptures for the common people. Thus, he has set aside the second commandment by the appointment of image-worship; and thus he claims the power of the forgiveness of sins. Multitudes of things which Christ allows his people are forbidden by the papacy, and many things are enjoined, or allowed, directly contrary to the divine legislation.
Or that is worshipped - σέβασμα sebasma. This word means “an object of worship;” see Acts 17:3, where it is rendered devotions. It may be applied to the worship of a pagan divinity, or of the true God. “It may refer to a person, an idol, or a place. Probably Paul refers here to the heroes and other subordinate divinities of the heathen mythology” - Oldshausen. No one can doubt that the Pope has claimed higher honors, as the vicegerent of Christ, than was ever rendered in the ancient “hero worship.”
So that he, as God - That is, claiming the honors due to God. This expression would not imply that he actually claimed to be the true God, but only that he sits in the temple, and manifests himself as if he were God. He claims such honors and such reverence as the true God would if he should appear in human form. It should be observed here, however, that there is much reason to doubt the genuineness of this phrase - “as God” - ὡς Θεον hōs Theon. Mill supposes that it was inserted from the context. It is marked with an asterisk in the Vulgate, the Coptic, and the Syriac, and is omitted by many of the fathers; see Mill and Wetstein. It is rejected by Griesbach and Lachmann, and marked as doubtful by Hahn. It is defended, however, by Matthaei, Koppe, Knapp, and Schott. The sense is not materially affected whether it be regarded as genuine or not.
Sitteth in the temple of God - That is, in the Christian church. It is by no means necessary to understand this of the temple at Jerusalem, which was standing at the time this Epistle was written, because:
(2) The temple was the proper symbol of the church, and an apostle trained amidst the Hebrew institutions would naturally speak of the church as the temple of God. The temple at Jerusalem was regarded as the peculiar dwelling-place of God on earth. When the Christian church was founded, it was spoken of as the peculiar dwelling-place of God; see the passages referred to above. He dwelt among His people. He was with them, and walked with them, and manifested himself among them - as he had done in the ancient temple. The usage in the New Testament would not lead us to restrict this language to an edifice, or a “church,” as the word is now commonly used, but rather to suppose that it denotes the church as a society, and the idea is, that the Antichrist here referred to would present himself in the midst of that church as claiming the honors due to God alone. In the temple at Jerusalem, God himself presided. There he gave laws to his people; there he manifested himself as God; and there he was worshipped. The reign of the “man of sin” would be as if he should sit there. In the Christian church he would usurp the place which God had occupied in the temple. He would claim divine attributes and homage. He would give laws and responses as God did there. He would be regarded as the head of all ecclesiastical power; the source from which all authority emanated; the same in the Christian church which God himself was in the temple. This does not then refer primarily to the Pope as sitting in any particular church on any particular occasion, but to his claiming in the Church of Christ the authority and homage which God had in the temple at Jerusalem. In whatever place, whether in a cathedral or elsewhere, this authority should be exercised, all that the language here conveys would be fulfilled. No one can fail to see that the authority claimed by the Pope of Rome, meets the full force of the language used here by the apostle.
Showing himself that he is God - This does not necessarily mean that he actually, in so many words, claimed to be God; but that he usurped the place of God, and claimed the prerogatives of God. If the names of God are given to him, or are claimed by him; if he receives the honors due to God; if he asserts a dominion like that of God, then all that the language fairly implies will be fulfilled. The following expressions, applied to the Pope of Rome by Catholic writers, without any rebuke from the papacy, will show how entirely applicable this is to the pretended Head of the Church. He has been styled “Our Lord God the Pope; another God upon earth; king of kings and lord of lords. The same is the dominion of God and the Pope. To believe that our Lord God the Pope might not decree as he decreed is heresy. The power of the Pope is greater than all created power, and extends itself to things celestial, terrestrial, and infernal. The Pope doeth whatsoever he listeth, even things unlawful, and is more than God;” see the authority for these extraordinary declarations in Dr. Newton book on the Prophecies, Dissertations xxii. How can it be doubted that the reference here is to the papacy? Language could not be plainer, and it is not possible to conceive that anything can ever occur which would furnish a more manifest fulfillment of this prophecy. Indeed, interpreted by the claims of the papacy, it stands among the very clearest of all the predictions in the Sacred Scriptures.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? - The whole subject of the second coming of the Saviour seems to have constituted an important part of the instructions of Paul when at Thessalonica. He now refers them to what he had told them respecting the great apostasy, to show that his views had not changed, and that he did not mean to have them understand that the world would soon come to an end. He had stated these things to them implying that a considerable interval must elapse before the Saviour would appear. Much of the obscurity of this prophecy arises from the fact, that the apostle alludes to things which he had told them when with them, of which we have now no knowledge. Hence, what would be perfectly clear to them, on reading this letter, is now difficult to be understood.
And now ye know what withholdeth - Margin, “holdeth.” The reference is, to something that then operated to constrain or hold back the obvious tendency of things, so that the “man of sin” should not at once appear, or so that things should not soon so develop themselves as to give rise to this anti-Christian power. There were causes at work even then, which would ultimately lead to this; but there was also something which checked the tendency of things, so that the revelation or development of the “man of sin” was put off to a future period. The obvious meaning of this would be, that, when the apostle wrote, there was a tendency to what would occur under the great apostasy, and that this would soon develop itself if it were not restrained. If the reference is to the papacy, this would consist in corruptions already existing in the church, having a resemblance to those which afterward existed under that system, or which were the germ of that system.
If there was a tendency toward the concentration of all power in an individual in the church, - if there was an assumption of authority by one class of ministers above another, - if there was a denial of the “parity of the clergy,” the tendency would have been to that ultimate assumption of authority which is found in the Romish hierarchy. But conjecture is useless as to what was the precise form in which this tendency then began to develop itself. That the corruptions early began in the church which terminated in the papacy, and which led on directly to it, we know; and that the apostle was able to foresee and predict such a final development, shows that he was under the influence of inspiration. It is not known precisely what is referred to by the phrase “what withholdeth,” τὸ κατέχον to katechon. The phrase means properly, something that “holds back,” or “restrains.”
The word here is in the neuter gender, “What withholdeth.” In the following verse it is in the masculine gender, ὁ κατέχων ho katechōn - “he that letteth,” or withholdeth; and the reference would seem to be to some agency or state of things under the control of an individual, or of some civil power, that then operated as a restraint on the natural tendency of things. Of this, the apostle says, they had had full information; but we can only conjecture what it was. The restraining power of anything controlled by an individual, or of any government, or the restraining power of God, would meet all that the phrase implies. The most natural interpretation is that which refers it to civil power, meaning that there was something in the form of the existing administration which would prevent this development until that restraint should be removed. The supposition that there was even then a tendency to concentrate all ecclesiastical power at Rome, and that while the civil authority remained there it would not suffer ecclesiastical power to grow to the exorbitant height which it ultimately reached, will meet all that is implied in the language.
That he might be revealed in his time - The man of sin. The meaning is, that there was then a restraint operating which would prevent the development of this anti-Christian power until the proper time; that is, until the state of the world should be such that in the divine arrangements it would be proper to permit it. It was not to be permitted until the gospel should be extensively preached, and had had an opportunity of showing its fair effects on the nations; until it had become so planted and established that even the rise of this anti-Christian power could not effectually uproot it. If the “man of sin” had been permitted to rise at once, the consequence might have been that the new religion would have been crushed, so that it could never have revived again. There was then a providential arrangement by which this growth of wickedness should be checked and restrained, until the new religion should take deep root in the earth, and its perpetuity should be secured. Then the great trial was to be permitted under the “man of sin.”
For the mystery of iniquity - On the meaning of the word mystery, see the notes on Romans 11:25; compare 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:3; Colossians 1:26. It means properly what is hidden or concealed; not necessarily that which is unintelligible. The “mystery of iniquity” seems here to refer to some hidden or concealed depravity - some form of sin which was working secretly and silently, and which had not yet developed itself. Any secret sources of iniquity in the church - anything that tended to corrupt its doctrines, and to destroy the simplicity of the faith of the gospel, would correspond with the meaning of the word. Doddridge correctly supposes that this may refer to the pride and ambition of some ministers, the factious temper of some Christians, the imposing’ of unauthorized severities, the worship of angels, etc.
Doth already work - There are elements of these corruptions already existing in the church. Dr. Newton maintains that the foundations of popery were laid in the apostle’s days, and that the superstructure was raised by degrees; and this is entirely in accordance with the statements of the apostle Paul. In his own time, he says, there were things which, if not restrained, would expand and ripen into that apostasy. He has not told as particularly to what he refers, but there are several intimations in his writings, as well as in other parts of the New Testament, that even in the apostolic age there existed the elements of those corruptions which were afterward developed and imbodied in the papacy. Even then, says Dr. Newton, “idolatry was stealing into the church 1 Corinthians 10:14, and a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.” (Colossians 2:18; see, however, my note on that passage.) “There existed strife and divisions 1 Corinthians 3:3, an adulterating and handling the word of God deceitfully 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2, a gain of godliness, teaching of things for filthy lucre’s sake 1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:11, a vain observation of festivals Galatians 4:10, a vain distinction of meats 1 Corinthians 8:8, a neglecting of the body Colossians 2:23, traditions, and commandments, and doctrines of men Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:22; compare 3 John 1:9, “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence.” These things constituted the elements of the corruptions which were afterward developed in the papacy, and which are imbodied in that system. An eye that could see all, would even then have perceived that if there were no restraint, these incipient corruptions would grow up into that system, and would be expanded into all the corruptions and arrogant claims which have ever characterized it; compare 1 John 4:3.
Only he who now letteth - Who now hinders, or restrains - ὁ κατέχων ho katechōn. This is the same word which is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and rendered “withholdeth,” except that it is there in the neuter gender. There can be no doubt that there is reference to the same restraining power, or the same power under the control of an individual; but what that was, is not quite certain. It was some power which operated as a check on the growing corruptions then existing, and which prevented their full development, but which was to be removed at no distant period, and whose removal would give an opportunity for these corruptions to develop themselves, and for the full revelation of the man of sin. Such a supposition as that the civil power of Rome was such a restraint, operating to prevent the assumption of the ecclesiastical claims of supremacy which afterward characterized the papacy, will correspond with all that is necessarily implied in the language.
Will let, until he be taken out of the way - This will be an effectual check on these corruptions, preventing their full development, until it is removed, and then the man of sin will appear. The supposition which will best suit this language is, that there was then some civil restraint, preventing the development of existing corruptions, but that there would be a removal, or withdrawing of that restraint; and that then the tendency of the existing corruptions would be seen. It is evident, as Oldshausen remarks, that this resisting or restraining power must be something out of the church, and distinguished from the anti-Christian tendency itself; yon der Kirche und vom Antichristenthum. It is necessary, therefore, to understand this of the restraints of civil power. Was there, then, any fact in history which will accord with this interpretation? The belief among the primitive Christians was, that what hindered the rise of the man of sin was the Roman empire, and therefore “they prayed for its peace and welfare, as knowing that when the Roman empire should be dissolved and broken in pieces, the empire of the man of sin would be raised on its ruins.”
Dr. Newton. How this revolution was effected, may be seen by the statement of Machiavel. “The emperor of Rome, quitting Rome to dwell at Constantinople” (in the fourth century, under Constantine), “the Roman empire began to decline, but the church of Rome augmented as fast. Nevertheless, until the coming in of the Lombards, all Italy being under the dominion of either emperors or kings, the bishops assumed no more power than what was due to their doctrine and manners; in civil affairs they were subject to the civil power. But Theodoric, king of the Goths, fixing his seat at Ravenna, was that which advanced their interest, and made them more considerable in Italy, for there being no other prince left in Rome, the Romans were forced for protection to pay greater allegiance to the Pope. The Lombards having invaded and reduced Italy into several cantons, the Pope took the opportunity, and began to hold up his head. For being, as it were, governor and principal of Rome, the emperor of Constantinople and the Lombards bare him a respect, so that the Romans (by mediation of their Pope) began to treat and confederate with Longinus (the emperor’s lieutenant), and the Lombards, not as subjects, but as equals and companions; which said custom continuing, and the Pope’s entering into alliance sometimes with the Lombards, and sometimes with the Greeks, contracted great reputation to their dignity.” (History of Florence, B. i., p. 6, of the English translation.) A more extended quotation on the same subject, may be seen in Newton on the Prophecies, pp. 407, 408. To anyone acquainted with the decline and fall of the Roman empire, nothing can be more manifest than the correspondence of the facts in history respecting the rise of the papacy, and the statement of the apostle Paul here. The simple facts are these:
(1) There were early corruptions in the church at Rome, as there were elsewhere, but peculiarly there, as Rome was the seat of philosophy and of power.
(2) There were great efforts made by the bishop of Rome to increase his authority, and there was a steady approximation to what he subsequently claimed - that of being Universal Bishop.
(3) There was a constant tendency to yield to him deference and respect in all matters.
(4) This was kept in check as long as Rome was the seat of the imperial power. Had that power remained there, it would have been impossible for the Roman Bishop ever to have obtained the civil and ecclesiastical eminence which he ultimately did. Rome could not have had two heads, both claiming and exercising supreme power; and there never could have been a “revelation of the man of sin.”
(5) Constantine removed the seat of empire to Constantinople; and this removal or “taking away” of the only restraint on the ambitious projects of the Roman bishops, gave all the opportunity which could be desired for the growth of the papal power. In all history there cannot, probably, be found a series of events corresponding more accurately with a prophetic statement than this; and there is every evidence, therefore, that these are the events to which the Spirit of inspiration referred.
And then shall that Wicked be revealed - ὁ ἄνομος ho anomos - “the wicked one,” referring to the “man of sin,” and called “the wicked one” because of the eminent depravity of the system of which he was to be the head; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
Whom the Lord shall consume - The Lord Jesus; see the notes on Acts 1:24. The word “consume” here - ἀναλώσει analōsei - means “to destroy;” see Galatians 5:15; Luke 9:54. The word would be applicable to any kind of destruction. The methods by which this will be done are immediately specified - and it is of much importance to understand them, if this refers to the papacy. “With the spirit of his mouth.” What goes out of his mouth, or what he speaks; that is, word, truth, command, or gospel - all of which he may be regarded as speaking. In Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19:15, Revelation 19:21, it is said of the Redeemer that “a sharp two-edged sword goeth out of his mouth;” that is, his word, doctrine, or command - what he speaks - is like a sharp sword. It will cut deep; will lay open the heart; will destroy his enemies. Compare Isaiah 11:4, “With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” The reference in the passage before us is to one of the methods which would be employed to “destroy” the man of sin; and the sense is, that it would be by what is spoken by the Redeemer. This may refer either to what he will say at his coming, or to his truth - already spoken; to what has gone from his lips, by whomsoever uttered; and the meaning then is, that one of the grand agencies for destroying this anti-Christian power is the truth spoken or revealed by the Saviour - that is, his pure gospel.
If this latter is the true interpretation, it may mean that the process for his destruction may have commenced long anterior to the personal appearing of the Redeemer, but that the complete destruction of this power will be accomplished by the splendor of his second coming. It cannot be denied, however, that the most obvious interpretation is that which refers both clauses in the sentence to the same period - that of his second coming. Still, it is not improper to suppose that it may be implied that his power will be weakened and diminished by the influence of the gospel, though it may not be wholly destroyed until the second coming of the Saviour.
And shall destroy - καταργήσει katargēsei. Shall bring to nothing; cause to cease; put an end to. This is, in some respects, a stronger word than that which in the former part of the verse is rendered “consume.” It denotes a more entire destruction than that, though it does not refer so much to any positive agency by which it will be done. In the former word, the attention is directed more to the agency by which the destruction will be effected - to the exertion of some kind of power to do it; in this word the attention is directed rather to the entireness or totality of the destruction. The anti-Christian domination will wholly cease, or be entirely destroyed. The words would naturally harmonize with the idea that there would be a somewhat gradual process under the operation of truth toward the destruction of the man of sin, but that the complete annihilation of his power would be by some more manifest exhibition of the personal glory of the Saviour.
With the brightness of his coming - This is evidently a Hebraism, meaning his splendid or glorious appearing. The Greek word, however, rendered “brightness” (ἐπιφανεία epiphaneia - epiphany) - means merely “an appearing,” or “appearance.” So it is used in 1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13, in all which places it is rendered appearing, and refers to the manifestation of the Saviour when he shall come to judge the world. It is used nowhere else in the New Testament. There is no necessary idea of splendor in the word, and the idea is not, as our translation would seem to convey, that there would be such a dazzling light, or such unsufferable brightness that all would be consumed before it, but that he would appear, and that this anti-Christian power would be destroyed by his appearing; that is, by himself when he would return. The agency in doing it would not be his brightness, but himself. It would seem to follow from this, that, however this enormous power of wickedness might be weakened by truth, the final triumph over it would be reserved for the Son of God himself on his second return to our world. Yet, if this be so, it need not lessen our zeal in endeavoring to diminish the power of these corruptions; to establish and spread the truth, or to convert the defenders of these errors to a better faith.
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan - Greek, κατ ̓ ἐνέργειαν τοὺ Σατανᾶ kat' energeian tou Satana. According to the energy of Satan; that is, the energetic or efficient operation of Satan. The word rendered “after,” it need not be said to one who looks at the Greek, does not refer to time, but is a preposition, meaning according to; in conformity with; meaning that the manner of his appearing would be accompanied by such works as would show that the agency of Satan was employed, and such as he only could produce. It does not mean that the coming of the Lord Jesus would be after Satan had worked in this manner, but that the manifestation of that wicked one would be with such demonstrations of power and wonder as Satan only could effect. The system over which he presides is originated by Satan, and sustained by those things which he alone can perform. On the word “Satan,” see the notes on Job 1:6. The idea is, that it would be under the direction and control of the great enemy of God, and that the things on which it would rely for support could be traced to his agency. In all the pretended miracles to which it would appeal, there would be nothing which Satan could not accomplish.
With all power - With all the power which Satan can exhibit; meaning also, that there would be a great exertion of power in the case. It would not be a feeble and imbecile dominion. The dominion of the papacy has been one of the most powerful on earth. There has been none which has been more dreaded by the nations of the earth - and there have been times when nations trembled, and kings turned pale on their thrones at the frown of the Pope.
And signs - This word frequently denotes real miracles, but not necessarily so. It may be applied to pretended miracles as well as real, and is undoubtedly so used here, as it is connected with “lying wonders,” and as it is said that the thing done would be “after the working of Satan.” There is doubtless reference to such “signs and wonders” as the Saviour mentions in Matthew 24:24; see the notes on that passage. It is hardly necessary to remark that the papacy has always relied for support on its pretended miracles. Even in our own age the wonders performed by the Prince Hohenloe, and by the pretended seamless garment of the Saviour, have been proclaimed as true miracles, and as furnishing indubitable evidence of the truth of the Roman Catholic system. The dissolving of the blood of Januarius, the removal of Pilate’s stairs to Rome, and the transportation to Italy of the “house of our Lady,” are among the miracles to which there is a constant reference in the papal communion. In addition to these and to all similar pretensions, there is the power claimed of performing a miracle at the pleasure of the priest by the change of bread and wine into the “body and blood, the soul and divinity” of the Lord Jesus. In 1756, there was published in London a book entitled, “The miraculous power of the Church of Christ, asserted through each successive century, from the apostles down to the present time.” The power of working miracles has been one of the standing claims of the papacy.
And lying wonders - False or pretended miracles. They would be such as would be claimed to be miracles; such as would excite wonder; and yet such as were false and delusive. No Protestant assuredly needs to be convinced that this is just the character of the pretended miracles of the papacy. It would be impossible for language to describe them more clearly, in the apprehension of all Protestants, than is done in this language of the apostle Paul.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness - There are two ideas here. The first is, that there would be deceit; and the other is, that it would be for the purpose of promoting unrighteousness or iniquity. The iniquitous system would be maintained by fraudulent methods. No one who has read Pascal’s Provincial Letters can ever doubt that this description is applicable to the system of the Jesuits; and no one familiar with the acts of the papacy, as they have always been practiced, can doubt that the whole system is accurately described by this language. The plausible reasoning by which the advocates of that system have palliated and apologized for sins of various kinds, has been among its most remarkable features.
In them that perish - Among those who will perish; that is, among the abandoned and wicked. The reference is to men of corrupt minds and lives, over whom this system would have power; countenancing them in their depravity, and fitting them still farther for destruction. The idea is, that these acts would have special reference to men who would be lost at any rate, and who would be sustained in their wickedness by this false and delusive system.
Because they received not the love of the truth - They prefer this system of error and delusion to the simple and pure gospel, by which they might have been saved.
And for this cause - Because they choose error, or their hearts love that more than they do truth. The original reason then of their embracing and adhering to the system was not an arbitrary decree on the part of God, but that they did not love the truth. Hence, he gave them up to this system of error. If a man strongly prefers error to truth, and sin to holiness, it is not wrong to allow him freely to evince his own preference.
God shall send them strong delusion - Greek: “energy of deceit;” a Hebraism, meaning strong deceit, The agency of God is here distinctly recognised, in accordance with the uniform statements of the Scriptures, respecting evil; compare Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:20, Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:8. Isaiah 45:7. On the nature of this agency, see the notes on John 12:40. It is not necessary here to suppose that there was any positive influence on the part of God in causing this delusion to come upon them, but all the force of the language will be met, as well as the reasoning of the apostle, by supposing that God withdrew all restraint, and suffered men simply to show that they did not love the truth. God often places people in circumstances to develop their own nature, and it cannot be shown to be wrong that He should do so. If people have no love of the truth, and no desire to be saved, it is not improper that they should be allowed to manifest this. How it happened that they had no “love of the truth,” is a different question, to which the remarks of the apostle do not appertain; compare Romans 9:17-18, note; Romans 1:24, note.
That they should believe a lie - This does not affirm that God wished them to believe a lie; nor that He would not have preferred that they should believe the truth; nor that He exerted any direct agency to cause them to believe a lie. It means merely that He left them, because they did not love the truth, to believe what was false, and what would end in their destruction. Can anyone doubt that this constantly occurs in the world? People are left to believe impostors; to trust to false guides; to rely on unfounded information; to credit those who live to delude and betray the innocent; and to follow those who lead them to ruin. God does not interpose by direct power to preserve them. Can anyone doubt this? Yet this is not especially the doctrine of revelation. The fact pertains just as much to the infidel as it does to the believer in Christianity, and he is just as much bound to explain it as the Christian is. It belongs to our world - to us all - and it should not be charged on Christianity as a doctrine pertaining especially to that system.
That they all might be damned - The word “damned” we commonly apply now exclusively to future punishment, and it has a harsher signification than the original word; compare the notes, 1 Corinthians 11:29. The Greek word - κρίνω krinō - means to judge, determine, decide; and then to condemn; Romans 2:27; Romans 14:22; James 4:11; John 7:51; Luke 19:22; Acts 13:27. It may be applied to the judgment of the last day John 5:22; John 8:50; Acts 17:31; Rom 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:1, but not necessarily. The word “judged” or “condemned,” would, in this place, express all that the Greek word necessarily conveys. Yet there can be no doubt that the judgment or condemnation which is referred to, is that which will occur when the Saviour will appear. It does not seem to me to be a necessary interpretation of this to suppose that it teaches that God would send a strong delusion that they should believe a lie, in order that all might be damned who did not believe the truth; or that he desired that they should be damned, and sent this as the means of securing it; but the sense is, that this course of events would be allowed to occur, “so that” ἵνα hina - not εἰς τὸ eis to all who do not love the truth would be condemned.
The particle here used, and rendered “that” (ἵνα hina), in connection with the phrase “all might be damned” is employed in two general senses, either as marking the end, purpose, or cause for, or on account of, which anything is done; to the end that, or in order that it may be so and so; or as marking simply the result, event, or upshot of an action, so that, so as that. Robinson, Lexicon. In the latter case it denotes merely that something will really take place, without indicating that such was the design of the agent, or that what brought it about was in order that it might take place. It is also used, in the later Greek, so as neither to mark the purpose, nor to indicate that the event would occur, but merely to point out that to which the preceding words refer. It is not proper, therefore, to infer that this passage teaches that all these things would be brought about in the arrangements of Providence, in order that they might be damned who came under their influence. The passage teaches that such would be the result; that the connection between these delusions and the condemnation of those who were deluded, would be certain. It cannot be proved from the Scriptures that God sends on men strong delusions, in order that they may be damned. No such construction should be put on a passage of Scripture if it can be avoided, and it cannot be shown that it is necessary here.
Who believed not the truth The grounds or reasons why they would be damned are now stated. One would be that they did not believe the truth - not that God sent upon them delusion in order that they might be damned. That people will be condemned for not believing the truth, and that it will be right thus to condemn them, is everywhere the doctrine of the Scriptures, and is equally the doctrine of common sense; see the notes on Mark 16:16.
But had pleasure in unrighteousness - This is the second ground or reason of their condemnation. If men have pleasure in sin, it is proper that they should be punished. There can be no more just ground of condemnation than that a man loves to do wrong.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you; - see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 1:3. “Because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation.” The following important things are affirmed or implied here:
(1) That God had chosen or elected them (εἵλετο heileto) to salvation. The doctrine of election, therefore, is true.
(2) That this was from “the beginning” ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς ap' archēs; that is, from eternity; see the John 1:1 note; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 3:9-11 notes. The doctrine of eternal election is, therefore, true.
(3) That this was the choice of the persons to whom Paul referred. The doctrine of personal election is, therefore, true.
(4) That this is a reason for thanksgiving. Why should it not be? Can there be any higher ground of praise or gratitude than that God has chosen us to be eternally holy and happy, and that he has from eternity designed that we should be so? Whatever, therefore, may be the feelings with which those who are not chosen to salvation, regard this doctrine, it is clear that those who have evidence that they are chosen should make it a subject of grateful praise. They can have no more exalted source of gratitude than that they are chosen to eternal life.
Through sanctification of the Spirit - Being made holy by the Divine Spirit. It is not without respect to character, but it is a choice to holiness and then to salvation. No one can have evidence that he is chosen to salvation except as he has evidence that he is sanctified by the Spirit; see the notes on Ephesians 1:4.
And belief of the truth - In connection with believing the truth. No one who is not a believer in the truth can have evidence that God has chosen him.
Whereunto he called you by our gospel - He made the gospel as preached by us the means of calling you to salvation. That is, God has chosen you to salvation from eternity, and has made the gospel as preached by us the means of carrying that eternal purpose into effect.
Therefore - In view of the fact that you are thus chosen from eternity, and that you are to be raised up to such honor and glory.
Stand fast - Amidst all the temptations which surround you; compare the notes on Ephesians 6:10-14. And hold the traditions which ye have been taught On the word “traditions,” see the notes on Matthew 15:2. It means properly things delivered over from one to another; then anything orally delivered - any precept, doctrine, or law. It is frequently employed to denote that which is not written, as contradistinguished from that which is written (compare Matthew 15:2), but not necessarily or always; for here the apostle speaks of the “traditions which they had been taught by his epistle;” compare the notes, 1 Corinthians 11:2. Here it means the doctrines or precepts which they had received from the apostle, whether when he was with them, or after he left them; whether communicated by preaching or by letter. This passage can furnish no authority for holding the “traditions” which have come down from ancient times, and which profess to have been derived from the apostles; because:
(1)There is no evidence that any of those traditions were given by the apostles;
(2)Many of them are manifestly so trifling, false, and contrary to the writings of the apostles, that they could not have been delivered by them;
(3)If any of them are genuine, it is impossible to separate them from those which are false;
(4)We have all that is necessary for salvation in the written word; and,
(5)There is not the least evidence that the apostle here meant to refer to any such thing.
He speaks only of what had been delivered to them by himself, whether orally or by letter; not of what was delivered from one to another as from him. There is no intimation here that they were to hold anything as from him which they had not received directly from him, either by his own instructions personally or by letter. With what propriety, then, can this passage be adduced to prove that we are to hold the traditions which professedly come to us through a great number of intermediate persons? Where is the evidence here that the church was to hold those unwritten traditions, and transmit them to future times?
Whether by word - By preaching, when we were with you. It does not mean that he had sent any oral message to them by a third person.
Or our epistle - The former letter which he had written to them.
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself - This expression is equivalent to this: “I pray our Lord Jesus, and our Father, to comfort you.” It is really a prayer offered to the Saviour - a recognition of Christ as the source of consolation as well as the Father, and a union of his name with that of the Father in invoking important blessings. It is such language as could be used only by one who regarded the Lord Jesus as divine.
And God even our Father - Greek: “And God, and (και kai) our Father;” though not incorrectly rendered “even our Father.” If it should be contended that the use of the word “and” - “our Lord Jesus Christ, and God,” proves that the Lord Jesus is a different being from God - the use of the same word “and” would prove that the “Father” is a different being from God. But the truth is, the apostle meant to speak of the Father and the Son as the common Source of the blessing for which he prayed.
And hath given us everlasting consolation. - Not temporary comfort, but that which will endure forever. The joys of religion are not like other joys. They soon fade away - they always terminate at death - they cease when trouble comes, when sickness invades the frame, when wealth or friends depart, when disappointment lowers, when the senses by age refuse to minister as they once did to our pleasures. The comforts of religion depend upon no such contingencies. They live through all these changes - attend us in sickness, poverty, bereavement, losses, and age; they are with us in death, and they are perpetual and unchanging beyond the grave.
Comfort your hearts; - see the notes, 1Th 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:14. The Thessalonians were in the midst of trials, and Paul prayed that they might have the full consolations of their religion.
And stablish you - Make you firm and steadfast; 1Th 3:2, 1 Thessalonians 3:13.
In every good word and work - In every true doctrine, and in the practice of every virtue.
This chapter is very important in reference to the rise of that great anti-Christian power which has exerted, and which still exerts so baleful an influence over the Christian world. Assuming now that it refers to the papacy, in accordance with the exposition which has been given, there are a few important reflections to which it gives rise:
(1) The second advent of the Redeemer is an event which is distinctly predicted in the Scriptures. This is assumed in this chapter; and though Paul corrects some errors into which the Thessalonians had fallen, he does not suggest this as one of them. Their error was in regard to the time of his appearing; not the fact.
(3) The course of reasoning in 2 Thessalonians 2 would lead to the expectation that a considerable time would elapse before the Saviour would appear. The apostles, therefore, did not believe that the end of the world was very near, and they did not teach false doctrine on the subject, as infidels have often alleged. No one, who attentively and candidly studies 2 Thessalonians 2, it seems to me, can suppose that Paul believed that the second coming of the Saviour would occur within a short time, or during the generation when he lived. He has described a long series of events which were to intervene before the Saviour would appear - events which, if the interpretation which has been given is correct, have been in fact in a process of development from that time to the present, and which, it must have been foreseen, even then, would require a long period before they would be completed. There was to be a great apostasy.
There were at that time subtle causes at work which would lead to it. They were, however, then held in check and restrained by some foreign influence. But the time would come, when that foreign power would be withdrawn. Then these now hidden and restrained corruptions would develop themselves into this great anti-Christian power. That power would sustain itself by a series of pretended miracles and lying wonders - and, after all this, would be the second coming of the Son of man. But this would require time. Such a series of events would not be completed in a day, or in a single generation. They would require a succession - perhaps a long succession - of years, before these developments would be complete. It is clear, therefore, that the apostle did not hold that the Lord Jesus would return in that age, and that he did not mean to be understood as teaching it; and consequently it should not be said that he or his fellow-apostles were mistaken in the statements which they have recorded respecting the second coming of the Lord Jesus and the end of the world.
(4) The apostle Paul was inspired. He has recorded in this chapter a distinct prediction of an important series of events which were to occur at a future, and most of them at quite a remote period. They were such that they could have been foreseen by no natural sagacity, and no human skill. There were, indeed, corruptions existing then in the church, but no mere natural sagacity could have foreseen that they would grow up into that enormous system which would overshadow the Christian world, and live for so many ages.
(5) If these predictions referred to the papacy, we may see how we are to regard that system of religion. The simple inquiry, if this interpretation is correct, is, how did the apostle Paul regard that system to which he referred? Did he consider it to be the true church? Did he regard it as a church at all? The language which he uses will enable us easily to answer these questions. He speaks of it as “the apostasy;” he speaks of the head of that system as “the man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” “the wicked one,” and as “opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God;” he says that his “coming is after the working of Satan, with lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness.” Can it be believed then that he regarded this as a true church of Jesus Christ? Are these the characteristics of the church as laid down elsewhere in the Scriptures? Wherever it may lead, it seems clear to me that the apostle did not regard that system of which he spoke as having any of the marks of a true church, and the only question which can be raised on this point is, whether the fair interpretation of the passage demands that it shall be considered as referring to the papacy. Protestants believe that it must be so understood, and papists have not yet disproved the reasons which they allege for their belief.
(6) If this be the “fair interpretation,” then we may see what is the value of the pretended “succession” of the ministry through that system. If such a regular “succession” of ministers from the apostles could be made out, what would it be worth? What is the value of a spiritual descent from Pope Alexander VI? How would it increase the proper respect for the ministerial office, if it could be proved to be derived in a right line from those monsters of incest, ambition, covetousness, and blood, who have occupied the papal throne? A Protestant minister should blush and hang his head if it were charged on him that he held his office by no better title than such a derivation. Much less should he make it a matter of glorying and an argument to prove that he only is an authorized minister, that he has received his office through such men.
(7) From this chapter we may see the tendency of human nature to degeneracy. The elements of that great and corrupt apostasy existed even in apostolic times. Those elements grew regularly up into the system of the papacy, and spread blighting and death over the whole Christian world. It is the tendency of human nature to corrupt the best things. The Christian church was put in possession of a pure, and lovely, and glorious system of religion. It was a religion adapted to elevate and save the race. There was not an interest of humanity which it would not have fostered and promoted; there was not a source of human sorrow which it would not have mitigated or relieved; there were none of the race whom it would not have elevated and purified. Its influence, as far as it was seen, was uniformly of the happiest kind. It did no injury anywhere, but produced only good. But how soon was it voluntarily exchanged for the worst form of superstition and error that has ever brooded in darkness over mankind! How soon did the light fade, and how rapidly did it become more obscure, until it almost went out altogether! And with what tenacity did the world adhere to the system that grew up under the great apostasy, maintaining it by learning, and power, and laws, and dungeons, and racks, and faggots! What a comment is this on human nature, thus “loving darkness more than light,” and error rather than truth!
(8) The chapter teaches the importance of resisting error at the beginning. These errors had their foundation in the time of the apostles. They were then comparatively small, and perhaps to many they appeared unimportant; and yet the whole papal system was just the development of errors, the germs of which existed in their days, Had these been crushed, as Paul wished to crush them, the church might have been saved from the corruption, and woes, and persecutions produced by the papacy. So error now should always be opposed - no matter how small or unimportant it may appear. We have no right to connive at it; to patronize it; to smile upon it. The beginnings of evil are always to be resisted with firmness; and if that is done, the triumph of truth will be certain.
(9) The church is safe. It has now passed through every conceivable form of trial, and still survives, and is now more vigorous and flourishing than it ever was before. It has passed through fiery times of persecution; survived the attempts of emperors and kings to destroy it, and lived while the system of error described here by the apostle Paul has thrown its baleful shade over almost the whole Christian world. It cannot reasonably be supposed that it will be called to pass through such trials again as it has already endured; but whether it does or not, the past history of the church is a guarantee that it will survive all that it is destined to encounter. None but a religion of divine origin could have continued to live amidst so many corruptions, and so many attempts to destroy it; and in the view of the past history of that church it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that it has been founded by God himself.