on 2-thessalonians 2 :17
Comfort your hearts - Keep your souls ever under the influence of his Holy Spirit: and stablish you - confirm and strengthen you in your belief of every good word or doctrine, which we have delivered unto you; and in the practice of every good work, recommended and enjoined by the doctrines of the Gospel. It is not enough that we believe the truth; we must love the truth.
Antinomianism says: "Believe the doctrines, and ye are safe." The testimony borne by the Gospel is: Believe, love, obey: none of these can subsist without the other. The faith of a devil may exist without loving obedience; but the faith of a true believer worketh by love; and this faith and love have not respect to some one commandment, but to all; for God writes his whole law on the heart of every genuine Christian, and gives him that love which is the fulfilling of the law.
The reader will have observed that, in going through this chapter, while examining the import of every leading word, I have avoided fixing any specific meaning to terms: the apostasy or falling away; the man of sin; son of perdition; him who letteth or withholdeth, etc. The reason is, I have found it extremely difficult to fix any sense to my own satisfaction; and it was natural for me to think that, if I could not satisfy myself, it was not likely I could satisfy my readers. But, as something should be said relative to the persons and things intended by the apostle, I choose to give rather what others have said, than attempt any new mode of interpretation. The great variety of explanations given by wise and learned men only prove the difficulty of the place.
1. The general run of Protestant writers understand the whole as referring to the popes and Church of Rome, or the whole system of the papacy.
2. Others think that the defection of the Jewish nation, from their allegiance to the Roman emperor, is what is to be understood by the apostasy or falling off; and that all the other terms refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.
3. The fathers understood the Antichrist to be intended, but of this person they seem to have formed no specific idea.
4. Dr. Hammond refers the apostasy to the defection of the primitive Christians to the Gnostic heresy; and supposes that, by the man of sin and son of perdition, Simon Magus is meant.
5. Grotius applies the whole to Caius Caesar.
6. Wetstein applies the apostasy to the rebellion and slaughter of the three princes that were proclaimed by the Roman armies, previously to the reign of Vespasian; and supposes Titus and the Flavian family to be intended by the man of sin and son of perdition.
7. Schoettgen contends strongly that the whole refers to the case of the Jews, incited to rebellion by the scribes and Pharisees, and to the utter and final destruction of the rabbinic and Pharisaic system; and thinks he finds something in their spirit and conduct, and in what has happened to them, to illustrate every word in this prophecy. Dr. Whitby is nearly of the same sentiments.
8. Calmet follows, in the main, the interpretation given by the ancient fathers; and wonders at the want of candour in the Protestant writers, who have gleaned up every abusive tale against the bishops and Church of Rome; and asks them, would they be willing that the Catholics should credit all the aspersions cast on Protestantism by its enemies?
9. Bishop Newton has examined the whole prophecy with his usual skill and judgment. The sum of what he says, as abridged by Dr. Dodd, I think it right to subjoin. The principal part of modern commentators follow his steps. He applies the whole to the Romish Church: the apostasy, its defection from the pure doctrines of Christianity; and the man of sin, etc. the general succession of the popes of Rome. But we must hear him for himself, as he takes up the subject in the order of the verses.
2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:4. For that day shall not come, except, etc. - "The day of Christ shall not come except there come the apostasy first." The apostasy here described is plainly not of a civil but of a religious nature; not a revolt from the government, but a defection from the true religion and worship. In the original, it is the apostasy, with an article to give it an emphasis; the article being added signifies, "that famous and before-mentioned prophecy." So likewise is the man of sin with the like article, and the like emphasis. If, then, the notion of the man of sin be derived from any ancient prophet, it must be derived from Daniel 7:25; Daniel 11:36. Any man may be satisfied that St. Paul alluded to Daniel's description, because he has not only borrowed the same ideas, but has even adopted some of the phrases and expressions. The man of sin may signify either a single man, or a succession of men; a succession of men being meant in Daniel, it is probable that the same was intended here also. It is the more probable, because a single man appears hardly sufficient for the work here assigned; and it is agreeable to the phraseology of Scripture, and especially to that of the prophets, to speak of a body or number of men, under the character of one: thus, a king, Daniel 7:8; Revelation 17:1-18, is used for a succession of kings. The man of sin being to be expressed from Daniel 7:24, according to the Greek translation, He shall exceed in evil all that went before him; and he may fulfill the character either by promoting wickedness in general, or by advancing idolatry in particular, as the word sin signifies frequently in Scripture. The son of perdition is also the denomination of the traitor Judas, John 17:12, which implies that the man of sin should be, like Judas, a false apostle; like him, betray Christ; and, like him, be devoted to destruction. Who opposeth, etc., is manifestly copied from Daniel, He shall exalt himself, etc. The features exactly resemble each other: He opposeth and exalteth himself above all; or, according to the Greek, above every one that is called God, or that is worshipped. The Greek word for worshipped is σεβασμα, alluding to the Greek title of the Roman emperors, σεβαστος, which signifies august or venerable. He shall oppose; for the prophets speak of things future as present; he shall oppose and exalt himself, not only above inferior magistrates, (who are sometimes called gods in holy writ), but even above the greatest emperors; and shall arrogate to himself Divine honors. So that he, as God, sitteth in the temple, etc. By the temple of God the apostle could not well mean the temple of Jerusalem; because that, he knew, would be destroyed within a few years. After the death of Christ the temple of Jerusalem is never called by the apostles the temple of God; and if at any time they make mention of the house or temple of God, they mean the Church in general, or every particular believer. Who ever will consult 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Timothy 3:15; Revelation 3:12; will want no examples to prove that, under the Gospel dispensation, the temple of God is the Church of Christ; and the man of sin sitting implies this ruling and presiding there; and sitting there as God implies his claiming Divine authority in things spiritual as well as temporal; and showing himself that he is God, implies his doing it with ostentation.
2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Remember ye not, etc. - The apostle thought it part of his duty, as he made it a part of his preaching and doctrine, to forewarn his new converts of the grand apostasy that would infect the Church, even while he was at Thessalonica. From these verses it appears that the man of sin was not then revealed; his time was not yet come, or the season of his manifestation. The mystery of iniquity was indeed already working; the seeds of corruption were sown, but they were not grown up to maturity; the man of sin was yet hardly conceived in the womb; it must be some time before he could be brought forth; there was some obstacle that hindered his appearing. What this was we cannot determine with absolute certainty at so great a distance of time; but if we may rely upon the concurrent testimony of the fathers, it was the Roman empire. Most probably it was somewhat relating to the higher powers, because the apostle observes such caution; he mentioned it in discourse, but would not commit it to writing.
on 2-thessalonians 2 :17
Comfort your hearts; - see the notes, 1 Thessalonians 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; 1 Thessalonians 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.
(2) the time when he will appear is not made known to mankind. The apostles did not pretend to designate it, noR did the Saviour himself; Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7.
(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.
on 2-thessalonians 2 :17