Adam Clarke Commentary
2 Thessalonians 2
He exhorts the Thessalonians to stand fast in the faith, and not to be alarmed at the rumors they heard concerning the sudden coming of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2. Because, previously to this coming, there would be a great apostasy from the true faith, and a manifestation of a son of perdition, of whose unparalleled presumption he gives an awful description; as well as of his pernicious success among men, and the means which he would use to deceive and pervert the world; and particularly those who do not receive the love of the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. He thanks God for their steadfastness; shows the great privileges to which they were called; and prays that they may be comforted and established in every good word and work, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.
We beseech you - by the coming of our Lord - It is evident that the Thessalonians, incited by deceived or false teachers, had taken a wrong meaning out of the words of the first epistle, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, etc., concerning the day of judgment; and were led then to conclude that that day was at hand; and this had produced great confusion in the Church: to correct this mistake, the apostle sent them this second letter, in which he shows that this day must be necessarily distant, because a great work is to be done previously to its appearing.
Be not soon shaken in mind - Απο του νοος· From the mind; i.e. that they should retain the persuasion they had of the truths which he had before delivered to them; that they should still hold the same opinions, and hold fast the doctrines which they had been taught.
Neither by spirit - Any pretended revelation.
Nor by word - Any thing which any person may profess to have heard the apostle speak.
Nor by letter - Either the former one which he had sent, some passages of which have been misconceived and misconstrued; or by any other letter, as from us - pretending to have been written by us, the apostles, containing predictions of this kind. There is a diversity of opinion among critics concerning this last clause, some supposing that it refers simply to the first epistle; others supposing that a forged epistle is intended. I have joined the two senses. The word σαλευθηναι , to be shaken, signifies to be agitated as a ship at sea in a storm, and strongly marks the confusion and distress which the Thessalonians had felt in their false apprehension of this coming of Christ.
As that the day of Christ is at hand - In the preface to this epistle I have given a general view of the meaning of the phrase the coming of Christ. Now the question is: Whether does the apostle mean, the coming of Christ to execute judgment upon the Jews, and destroy their polity, or his coming at the end of time, to judge the world? There are certainly many expressions in the following verses that may be applied indifferently to either, and some seem to apply to the one, and not to the other; and yet the whole can scarcely be so interpreted as to suit any one of these comings exclusively. This is precisely the case with the predictions of our Lord relative to these great events; one is used to point out and illustrate the other. On this ground I am led to think that the apostle, in the following confessedly obscure words, has both these in view, speaking of none of them exclusively; for it is the custom of the inspired penmen, or rather of that Spirit by which they spoke, to point out as many certain events by one prediction as it was possible to do, and to choose the figures, metaphors, and similes accordingly; and thus, from the beginning, God has pointed out the things that were not by the things that then existed, making the one the types or significations of the other. As the apostle spoke by the same Spirit, he most probably followed the same plan; and thus the following prophecy is to be interpreted and understood.
Except there come a falling away first - We have the original word αποστασια in our word apostasy; and by this term we understand a dereliction of the essential principles of religious truth - either a total abandonment of Christianity itself, or such a corruption of its doctrines as renders the whole system completely inefficient to salvation. But what this apostasy means is a question which has not yet, and perhaps never will be, answered to general satisfaction. At present I shall content myself with making a few literal remarks on this obscure prophecy, and afterwards give the opinions of learned men on its principal parts.
That man of sin - Ὁ ανθρωπος της ἁμαρτιας· The same as the Hebrew expresses by איש און (ish aven), and איש בליעל (ish beliyaal); the perverse, obstinate, and iniquitous man. It is worthy of remark that, among the rabbins, Samael, or the devil, is called איש בליעל ואיש און (ish beliyaal veish aven), the man of Belial, and the man of iniquity; and that these titles are given to Adam after his fall.
The son of perdition - Ὁ υἱος της απωλειας· The son of destruction; the same epithet that is given to Judas Iscariot, John 17:12 (note). The son of perdition, and the man of sin, or, as some excellent MSS. and versions, with several of the fathers, read, ανθρωπος της ανομιας , the lawless man, see 2 Thessalonians 2:8, must mean the same person or thing. It is also remarkable that the wicked Jews are styled by Isaiah, Isaiah 1:4, בנים משחיתים (benim mashchithim), “children of perdition;” persons who destroy themselves and destroy others.
Who opposeth and exalteth - He stands against and exalts himself above all Divine authority, and above every object of adoration, and every institution relative to Divine worship, σεβασμα , himself being the source, whence must originate all the doctrines of religion, and all its rites and ceremonies; so that sitting in the temple of God - having the highest place and authority in the Christian Church, he acts as God - taking upon himself God‘s titles and attributes, and arrogating to himself the authority that belongs to the Most High.
I told you these things - In several parts of this description of the man of sin, the apostle alludes to a conversation which had taken place between him and the members of this Church when he was at Thessalonica; and this one circumstance will account for much of the obscurity that is in these verses. Besides, the apostle appears to speak with great caution, and does not at all wish to publish what he had communicated to them; the hints which he drops were sufficient to call the whole to their remembrance.
And now ye know what withholdeth - I told you this among other things; I informed you what it was that prevented this man of sin, this son of perdition, from revealing himself fully.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work - There is a system of corrupt doctrine, which will lead to the general apostasy, already in existence, but it is a mystery; it is as yet hidden; it dare not show itself, because of that which hindereth or withholdeth. But when that which now restraineth shall be taken out of the way, then shall that wicked one be revealed-it will then be manifest who he is, and what he is. See the observations at the end of this chapter (note).
Whom the Lord shall consume - He shall blast him so, that he shall wither and die away; and this shall be done by the spirit of his mouth - the words of eternal life, the true doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus; this shall be the instrument used to destroy this man of sin: therefore it is evident his death will not be a sudden but a gradual one; because it is by the preaching of the truth that he is to be exposed, overthrown, and finally destroyed.
The brightness of his coming - This may refer to that full manifestation of the truth which had been obscured and kept under by the exaltation of this man of sin.
Whose coming is after the working of Satan - The operation of God‘s Spirit sends his messengers; the operation of Satan‘s spirit sends his emissaries. The one comes κατ ‘ ενεργειαν του Θεου , after or according to the energy or inward powerful working of God; the other comes κατ ‘ ενεργειαν του Σατανα , according to the energy or inward working of Satan.
With all power - Πασῃ δυναμει· All kinds of miracles, like the Egyptian magicians; and signs and lying wonders: the word lying may be applied to the whole of these; they were lying miracles, lying signs, and lying wonders; only appearances of what was real, and done to give credit to his presumption and imposture. Whereas God sent his messengers with real miracles, real signs, and real wonders; such Satan cannot produce.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness - With every art that cunning can invent and unrighteousness suggest, in order to delude and deceive.
In them that perish - Εν τοις απολλυμενοις· Among them that are destroyed; and they are destroyed and perish because they would not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. So they perish because they obstinately refuse to be saved, and receive a lie in preference to the truth. This has been true of all the Jews from the days of the apostle until now.
God shall send them strong delusion - For this very cause, that they would not receive the love of the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness, therefore God permits strong delusion to occupy their minds; so that they believe a lie rather than the truth, prefer false apostles and their erroneous doctrines to the pure truths of the Gospel, brought to them by the well-accredited messengers of God; being ever ready to receive any false Messiah, while they systematically and virulently reject the true one.
That they all might be damned - Ἱνα κριθωσι· So that they may all be condemned who believed not the truth when it was proclaimed to them; but took pleasure in unrighteousness, preferring that to the way of holiness. Their condemnation was the effect of their refusal to believe the truth; and they refused to believe it because they loved their sins. For a farther and more pointed illustration of the preceding verses, see the conclusion of this chapter (note).
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, etc. - In your calling, God has shown the purpose that he had formed from the beginning, to call the Gentiles to the same privileges with the Jews, not through circumcision, and the observance of the Mosaic law, but by faith in Christ Jesus; but this simple way of salvation referred to the same end - holiness, without which no man, whether Jew or Gentile, can see the Lord.
1.They were to hear the truth - the doctrines of the Gospel.
2.They were to believe this truth when they heard it preached.
6.They were to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ - that state of felicity for which they were fitted, by being saved here from their sins, and by being sanctified by the Spirit of God.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast - Their obtaining eternal glory depended on their faithfulness to the grace of God; for this calling did not necessarily and irresistibly lead to faith; nor their faith to the sanctification of the spirit; nor their sanctification of the spirit to the glory of our Lord Jesus. Had they not attended to the calling, they could not have believed; had they not believed, they could not have been sanctified; had they not been sanctified they could not have been glorified. All these things depended on each other; they were stages of the great journey; and at any of these stages they might have halted, and never finished their Christian race.
Hold the traditions which ye have been taught - The word παραδοσις , which we render tradition, signifies any thing delivered in the way of teaching; and here most obviously means the doctrines delivered by the apostle to the Thessalonians; whether in his preaching, private conversation, or by these epistles; and particularly the first epistle, as the apostle here states. Whatever these traditions were, as to their matter, they were a revelation from God; for they came by men who spake and acted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and on this ground the passage here can never with any propriety be brought to support the unapostolical and anti-apostolical traditions of the Romish Church; those being matters which are, confessedly, not taken from either Testament, nor were spoken either by a prophet or an apostle.
Now our Lord Jesus - As all your grace came from God through Christ, so the power that is necessary to strengthen and confirm you unto the end must come in the same way.
Everlasting consolation - Παρακλησιν αιωνιαν· The glad tidings of the Gospel, and the comfort which ye have received through believing; a gift which God had in his original purpose, in reference to the Gentiles; a purpose which has respected all times and places, and which shall continue to the conclusion of time; for the Gospel is everlasting, and shall not be superseded by any other dispensation. It is the last and best which God has provided for man; and it is good tidings, everlasting consolation - a complete system of complete peace and happiness. The words may also refer to the happiness which the believing Thessalonians then possessed.
And good hope through grace - The hope of the Gospel was the resurrection of the body, and the final glorification of it and the soul throughout eternity. This was the good hope which the Thessalonians had; not a hope that they should be pardoned or sanctified, etc. Pardon and holiness they enjoyed, therefore they were no objects of hope; but the resurrection of the body and eternal glory were necessarily future; these they had in expectation; these they hoped for; and, through the grace which they had already received they had a good hope - a well-grounded expectation, of this glorious state.
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.
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.
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 2:9. He should likewise practice all other wicked acts of deceit; should be guilty of the most impious frauds and impositions upon mankind; but should prevail only among those who are destitute of a sincere affection for the truth; whereby they might attain eternal salvation.
Upon this survey there appears little room to doubt of the genuine sense and meaning of the passage. The Thessalonians, as we have seen from some expressions in the former epistle, were alarmed as if the end of the world was at hand. The apostle, to correct their mistake and dissipate their fears, assures them that a great apostasy, or defection of the Christians from the true faith and worship, must happen before the coming of Christ. This apostasy all the concurrent marks and characters will justify us in charging upon the Church of Rome. The true Christian worship is the worship of the one only God, through the one only Mediator, the man Christ Jesus; and from this worship the Church of Rome has most notoriously departed, by substituting other mediators, and invocating and adoring saints and angels, nothing is apostasy, if idolatry be not. And are not the members of the Church of Rome guilty of idolatry in the worship of images, in the adoration of the host, in the invocation of angels and saints, and in the oblation of prayers and praises to the Virgin Mary, as much or more than to God blessed for ever? This is the grand corruption of the Christian Church: this is the apostasy as it is emphatically called, and deserves to be called; which was not only predicted by St. Paul, but by the Prophet Daniel likewise. If the apostasy be rightly charged upon the Church of Rome, it follows of consequence that the man of sin is the pope; not meaning any pope in particular, but the pope in general, as the chief head and supporter of this apostasy. He is properly the man of sin, not only on account of the scandalous lives of many popes, but by reason of their most scandalous doctrines and principles; dispensing with the most necessary duties; and granting, or rather selling, pardons and indulgences to the most abominable crimes. Or, if by sin be meant idolatry in particular, as in the Old Testament, it is evident how he has perverted the worship of God to superstition and idolatry of the grossest kind. He also, like the false apostle, Judas, is the son of perdition; whether actively, as being the cause of destruction to others; or passively, as being devoted to destruction himself. He opposeth - he is the great adversary of God and man; persecuting and destroying, by croisades, inquisitions, and massacres, those Christians who prefer the word of God to the authority of men. The heathen emperor of Rome may have slain his thousands of innocent Christians; but the Christian bishop of Rome has slain his ten thousands. He exalteth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped - not only above inferior magistrates, but likewise above bishops and primates; not only above bishops and primates, but likewise above kings and emperors; deposing some, obliging them to kiss his toe, to hold his stirrup, treading even upon the neck of a king, and kicking off the imperial crown with his foot; nay, not only kings and emperors, but likewise above Christ and God himself; making even the word of God of none effect by his traditions - forbidding what God has commanded; as marriage, the use of the Scriptures, etc.; and also commanding or allowing what God has forbidden, as idolatry, persecution, etc. So that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, etc.; he is therefore in profession a Christian, and a Christian bishop. His sitting in the temple of God implies plainly his having a seat or cathedra in the Christian Church; and he sitteth there as God, especially at his inauguration, when he sits upon the high altar in St. Peter‘s church, and makes the table of the Lord his footstool, and in that position receives adoration. At all times he exercises Divine authority in the Church, showing himself that he is God - affecting Divine titles, and asserting that his decrees are of the same or greater authority than the word of God. So that the pope is evidently, according to the titles given him in the public decretals, The God upon earth; at least there is no one, like him, who exalteth himself above every god; no one, like him, who sitteth as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. The foundations of popery were laid in the apostle‘s days, but of which the superstructure was raised by degrees; and several ages passed before the building was completed, and the man of sin revealed in full perfection. The tradition that generally prevailed was that that which hindered was the Roman empire: this tradition might have been derived even from the apostle himself; and therefore the primitive Christians, in the public offices of the Church, 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 upon its ruins. In the same proportion as the power of the empire decreased, the authority of the Church increased, and the latter at the expense and ruin of the former; till at length the pope grew up above all, and the wicked, or lawless one, was fully manifested and revealed. His coming is after the energy of Satan, etc; and does it require any particular proof that the pretensions of the pope, and the corruption of the Church of Rome, are all supported and authorized by feigned visions and miracles, by pious frauds and impositions of every kind? But how much soever the man of sin may be exalted, and how long soever he may reign, yet at last the Lord shall consume him, etc. This is partly taken from Isaiah 11:4, And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked one; where the Jews put an emphasis upon the words the wicked one; as appears from the Chaldee, which renders it, “He shall destroy the wicked Roman.” If the two clauses, as said in the note on 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (note), relate to two different events, the meaning is, “that the Lord Jesus shall gradually consume him with the free preaching of the Gospel; and shall utterly destroy him at his second coming in the glory of the Father.” The former began to take effect at the Reformation; and the latter will be accomplished in God‘s appointed time. The man of sin is now upon the decline, and he will be totally abolished when Christ shall come in judgment. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom, give much the same interpretation that has here been given of the whole passage. And it must be owned that this is the genuine meaning of the apostle; that this only is consistent with the context; that every other interpretation is forced and unnatural; that this is liable to no material objection; that it coincides perfectly with Daniel; that it is agreeable to the tradition of the primitive Church; and that it has been exactly fulfilled in all its particulars; which cannot be said of any other interpretation whatever. Such a prophecy as this is an illustrious proof of Divine revelation, and an excellent antidote to the poison of popery.
10.Dr. Macknight proceeds, in general, on the plan of Bishop Newton; but, as he thinks that the apostle had the prophecy of Daniel, in Dan. 7, and 8, particularly in view, he collates his words with those of the prophet in the following way: -
2 Thessalonians 2:3. That man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition - Ὁ ανθρωπος της ἁμαρτιας, ὁ υἱος της απωλειας· “The article,” says he, “joined to these appellations, is emphatical, as in the former clause, importing that the ancient prophets had spoken of these persons, though under different names; particularly the Prophet Daniel, whose description of the little horn and blasphemous king agrees so exactly in meaning with Paul‘s descriptions of the man of sin, and son of perdition, and lawless one, that there can be little doubt of their being the same persons; but this will best appear by a comparison of the passages: -
After entering into great detail in his notes, he sums up in the following manner: - “Now as, in the prophecies of Daniel, empires governed by a succession of kings are denoted by a single emblem; such as, by a part of an image, a single beast, a horn, etc., of a beast; so in Paul‘s prophecy, the man of sin, and son of perdition, and the lawless one, may denote an impious tyranny, exercised by a succession of men who cause great misery and ruin to others; and who, at length, shall be destroyed themselves. It is true, the papists contend that one person only is meant by these appellations, because they are in the singular number, and have the Greek article prefixed to them. But in Scripture we find other words in the singular number, with the article, used to denote a multitude of persons; for example, Romans 1:17; ὁ δικαιος , the just one, by faith, shall live; that is, all just persons whatever: Titus 1:7; ὁ επισκοπος , the bishop must be blameless; that is, all bishops must be so: 2 John 1:7; ὁ πλανος , the deceiver, signifies many deceivers, as is plain from the preceding clause, where many deceivers are said to have gone out. In like manner the false teachers, who deceived Christ‘s servants to commit fornication and idolatry, are called that woman Jezebel, Revelation 2:20, and the whore of Babylon, Revelation 17:5; and in this prophecy, Revelation 17:7, the Roman emperors, and magistrates under them, are called ὁ κατεχων , he who restraineth. Farther, a succession of persons, arising one after another, is denoted by appellations in the singular number with the article; for example: the succession of the Jewish high priests is thus denoted in the laws concerning them, Leviticus 21:10, Leviticus 21:15; Numbers 35:25-28. As also the succession of the Jewish kings, Deuteronomy 17:14; 1 Samuel 8:11. From these examples, therefore, it is plain that the names, man of sin, son of perdition, lawless one, although in the singular number, and with the article prefixed, may, according to the Scripture idiom, denote a multitude, and even a succession of persons arising one after another.
With all this evidence before him, the intelligent reader will now be enabled to judge for himself, and to adopt for his own that opinion which appears to be the best supported by circumstances and facts. The labors of the above learned men have certainly narrowed the principal subjects of inquiry; and we may now safely state that, in this very obscure prophecy, the Spirit of God had in view either the Jewish or an apostate Christian Church, possessing great spiritual and secular influence and jurisdiction. That the words appear to apply best to the conduct of many of the popes, and the corruptions of the Romish Church, needs no proof; but to which of these Churches, or to what other Church or system, we should apply them, some men, as eminent for their piety as for their learning, hesitate to declare: yet I must acknowledge, that the most pointed part of the evidence here adduced tends to fix the whole on the Romish Church, and on none other.
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