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Section IV. ( continued ). Ch. 3:1 5
1. Finally ] See note, 1 Ephesians 4:1 . The chief topic of the letter is disposed of, and the wishes and hopes immediately arising out of it have been expressed. For what remains :
brethren, pray for us ] So in 1 Ephesians 5:25 (see note): a frequent request with St Paul addressed to “brethren,” concerned in everything that concerns their Apostle and the Christian cause. Their prayers, desired generally in 1 Ep., are now to have a more specific object, viz., that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified (R.V.)
On “the word of the Lord,” see note to 1 Ephesians 1:8 .
This singular metaphor of the running word is probably suggested by Psalms 19:5 , where the course of the sun is pictured in glowing poetic language “rejoicing as a hero to run a race” (ver. 5), while the latter part of the Psalm sets “the law of the Lord” in comparison with his glorious career. St Paul applies ver. 4 of the Psalm in Romans 10:18 , with striking effect, to the progress of the Gospel. See also Psalms 147:15 , “His word runneth very swiftly.” Through “running” the word is “glorified,” and that is true of it which Virgil writes in his splendid lines on Fama ( Aeneid IV. 173 ff.):
“Mobilitate viget viresque adquirit eundo.”
even as it is with you ] Lit., even as also with you . They are to pray that the work of the missionaries may be as successful in Achaia as it was in Macedonia: comp. 1 Ephesians 1:5 ; Ephesians 2:1 . From Thessalonica “the word of the Lord has sounded forth” over all the neighbouring region, and “in every place your faith is gone forth:” might it only be so in Corinth! Reading Acts 18:5-11 , we gather that St Paul’s work in the Achaian capital was at first discouraging in its results; and it was during the earlier period of his residence there that he wrote these letters (comp. 1 Ephesians 3:7 , Ephesians 3:8 , and notes).
2. and (pray) that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men ] Better, perverse and evil men . The Apostle is thinking, no doubt, of the fanatical Jews at Corinth (see Acts 18:5-17 ), who stood in the way of the Gospel; when Gallio’s judgement removed this obstacle, Christianity appears to have spread rapidly in this city. Comp. Romans 15:31 , “that I may be delivered from the disobedient in Judæa.” From Ephesus four years later he writes (1 Corinthians 16:9 ), “A great and effectual door is opened” to me, notwithstanding “many adversaries.” Through this open door the word gloriously ran ; at Corinth it was not so as yet.
For “wicked” (or “evil”), see notes on 1 Ephesians 5:22 , and also ver. 3 below. For “delivered” (or rescued ) comp. 1 Ephesians 1:10 (note), where the same word is used. It points to enemies who seemed to have the writer in their power. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for a graphic description of the Apostle’s perils.
for all men have not faith ] Or, not to all does the faith belong . There are those, alas, with “no part nor lot in the matter” (Acts 8:21 ). The Apostle puts his meaning in a pathetically veiled and softened way (see note on “not pleasing,” 1 Ephesians 2:15 ). “It is not all who share our faith: many are its enemies, and bear us on its account a deadly hatred. Will you pray that we may be delivered from their power?” Their unbelief in Christ made the Corinthian opposers “perverse and evil.” Not being for Him, they came to be furiously against Him (Matthew 12:30 ). This is enough, in the Apostle’s view, to explain their conduct; comp. ver. 10, “they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
With relief he turns from these perverse unbelievers to think of the safety and confidence that abide within the Church of Christ:
3. But the Lord is faithful ] In the Greek order, But faithful is the Lord . Man’s want of faith suggests by contrast the faithfulness of our Divine Lord (Faith and Faithfulness are alike denoted by pistis in Greek; as Believing and Faithful Trusting and Trusty alike by pistos ). Comp., for this contrast, Romans 3:3 ; 2 Timothy 2:13 .
“The Lord” appears to be throughout these Epistles the Lord Christ , Ruler and Defender of His people. Comp. 2 Timothy 4:17 , “The Lord stood by me … The Lord shall save me into His heavenly kingdom.” So he continues: who will establish you, and guard you from the Evil One .
On “stablish,” see notes to 1 Ephesians 3:2 , Ephesians 3:13 , and ch. 2:17 above. It denotes the settled, steady confidence which this young Church required, assailed by persecution from without and alarms from within.
While the unbelief of men made the Apostle think of the faith-keeping Lord, behind these “evil men” (ver. 2) he saw another and mightier enemy, “the Evil One” (R.V.). The Greek adjective may be read either in the neuter ( the evil, evil in general ), as by A.V. and R.V. margin ; or in the masculine, as by the R.V. text . There is the same ambiguity in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, and in the Sacramental Prayer of Jesus (Matthew 6:13 ; John 17:15 ); in which instances also the Revisers, rightly as we think, prefer the personal rendering. Both our Lord and the Apostle John, in passages where the termination of the adjective is unequivocal Matthew 13:19 ; 1 John 2:13 , 1 John 2:14 , 1 John 2:5 :18 point out the Evil One as the enemy of Christ and His people and injurer of their work; and in Ephesians 6:16 , while the grammatical form is ambiguous, it is “the Evil One ” who shoots “the fire-tipped darts.” So, surely, here; and in the two prayers of Jesus, echoed seemingly in this passage. The conflict of the Church and of the Christian life is not a matter of principles alone and abstract forces; it is a personal encounter, and behind all forces there are living wills . This is the plain teaching of Christ and the New Testament. The Evil One is “the Satan” of ch. 2:9; 1 Ephesians 2:18 ; and “the Tempter” of 1 Ephesians 3:5 .
“The Lord will guard you;” comp. the words of Jesus in John 17:12 , “I guarded them (the disciples), and not one of them perished, except the son of perdition.” Like rescue (ver. 2), guard is a military word, implying conflict and armed protection: Vulgate, custodiet . Though St Paul began by asking the Thessalonians to pray for him, yet “it is plain that he was more anxious for them than for himself” (Calvin).
Their safety is ensured by the Lord’s fidelity: but it requires their own obedience ; and this the Apostle counts upon:
4. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you ] “The Lord” is not, as the English phrase may suggest, the object of this confidence ver. 3 declared the Apostle’s trust in Him but the ground on which rests his confidence in the Thessalonian Church. His relations with them and feelings towards them have the common relationship of both to Christ for their foundation and background, their vital underlying bond; comp. 1 Ephesians 3:2 ; Ephesians 4:1 , Ephesians 4:16 ; Ephesians 5:12 and ver. 12 below. No idiom is more frequent or characteristic of St Paul than this in the Lord, in Christ . But it is “to you ” that his confidence is now directed; the construction of the Greek is identical with that of 2 Corinthians 2:3 , “having confidence in you all.” Let us accordingly read here, in the Lord we have confidence in you . Such is the trust that all true Christians should give to each other.
For command read charge , as in 1 Ephesians 4:2 ‚ 11 (see notes). The word is taken up again in ver. 6. The Apostle seems to have an eye already to the “charge” that he is about to give, which will put to the test his readers’ obedience. The like satisfaction he has repeatedly expressed (ch. 1:3, 5; 2:13; 1 Ephesians 1:3 ; Ephesians 3:6-10 ; Ephesians 4:1 , Ephesians 4:9 , Ephesians 4:10 ; Ephesians 5:11 ).
5. And (or But ) the Lord direct your hearts ] “The Lord” is still Christ: see note, ver. 3.
“May He direct (or guide ) you as Lord of His people, Shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:0 ). The Apostle expects his Thessalonian flock to follow his directions (ver. 4); but above both himself and them is the Supreme Director of hearts, Whose guidance he invokes. For the transitional, contrastive But , comp. notes on ch. 2:16 and 1 Ephesians 3:11 . “Direct your hearts” is a Hebraism, used in the LXX to translate the words rendered “set” or “prepare the heart” in our Version (Psalms 78:8 ; 1 Chronicles 29:18 ‚ &c.) It denotes giving a fixed direction , a steady purpose, as to “stablish the heart” (ch. 2:17) signifies to give a sure position . On direct see also 1 Ephesians 3:11 .
into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ ] A. V. margin and R.V., patience of Christ . Patience (or endurance ) is what the Greek noun signifies in ch. 1:4; 1 Ephesians 1:3 (see note), and in the other numerous examples of its use in the N.T. For the way in which “Christ’s endurance” is made a model for our own, see 1 Peter 2:19-24 ; 1 Peter 3:17 , 1 Peter 3:18 ; 1 Peter 4:1 , 1 Peter 4:2 , and Hebrews 12:2 , Hebrews 12:3 . Elsewhere St Paul speaks of His sufferings as shared by His people (2 Corinthians 1:5 ; Philippians 3:10 , &c.); and if the sufferings, surely the patience . The Thessalonians were eagerly awaiting His return (1 Ephesians 1:10 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 2:1 , Ephesians 2:2 ); let them wait for it in His patient spirit. Had the Apostle wished to speak of waiting for the glorified Christ, he would surely have called Him, as so often in these Epistles, “the Lord Jesus.”
Christ is in this place the patient Christ, who “endured the cross” and the “contradiction of sinners,” fulfilling the prophetic ideal of Jehovah’s suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:0 ; comp. 1 Peter 2:21-25 ; Matthew 11:29 , Matthew 11:30 , &c. The Greek article is therefore not otiose, but has its distinctive and graphic force Christ as the prophets foresaw Him, and we know Him : the patience of the Christ . Comp. Romans 15:3 , “ The Christ did not please Himself;” Ephesians 4:20 , “You did not so learn (get to know) the Christ ,” the great Ideal. We wish that the Revisers had seen their way to restore to us the expressive definite article in such passages.
To “love God” was the Lord’s “great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38 ); it is the soul of religion (see Romans 8:28 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ; and 1 John, passim ). “God our Father has loved” the Thessalonian believers (ch. 2:16); Christ must teach them to reciprocate the Divine love, and in the strength of this love to endure evil and sorrow even as He Himself endured.
Section V. Discipline for the Disorderly
Ch. 3:6 15
In his former letter St Paul had found it needful to exhort his readers to live a quiet life and to attend to their daily duties and pursuits. Some members of the Church were of an idle and improvident disposition. The Day of the Lord, they supposed, was imminent, and worldly occupations would therefore soon be at am end; the only business worth minding any longer, so they said, was to prepare for His coming. Their conduct was likely to bring discredit on the whole community; and they did it a material injury, by throwing the burden of their maintenance on their hard working and charitable brethren (see notes on 1 Ephesians 4:11 , Ephesians 4:12 ). These men were “the disorderly” of 1 Ephesians 5:12-14 (comp. vv. 7, 8 below); they gave trouble to the officers of the Church, whom the Apostle in the First Epistle urges the Thessalonians loyally to support (ch. 5:12), while they united to “admonish” the offenders. This evil, which should have been checked by the reproofs of the first letter, had grown to larger proportions. The startling announcements that were made respecting the Second Advent, tended to aggravate the mischief. Indeed these rumours so unhinged the minds of some of the Thessalonian Christians, that it must have been difficult for them, however diligently inclined, to pursue their common avocations. And the Apostle, having calmed the agitation of his readers by what he has written in the second chapter, proceeds now in strong terms to rebuke the disorder which had thus been unhappily fostered and stimulated.
The chief points in St Paul’s charge on this subject are the following: (1) First, and last, he enjoins the avoidance of those who persist in disorder, vv. 6, 14 (whom notwithstanding he still, and pointedly, calls “brethren,” vv. 6, 15); (2) he recalls his personal example and teaching in their bearing on this matter, vv. 7 10; and (3) he solemnly charges the offenders to amend , ver. 12.
6. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ] Or, But we charge you, brethren . See note, ver. 4.
St Paul has declared his confidence that the readers will do what he enjoins. Well! his injunction is this: that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly . It is uttered “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a solemn judicial sentence (comp. 1 Corinthians 5:4 , 1 Corinthians 5:5 ) pronounced by the Apostle who acts as judge in his Sovereign’s name, and with the deepest sense of his responsibility; similarly, “through the Lord Jesus” in 1 Ephesians 4:2 (see note).
He does not wish these troublesome persons to be expelled; nor does he invoke supernatural penalties upon them, as in the vastly worse case of discipline at Corinth; he directs the loyal Thessalonians not to associate with them, nor lend countenance in any way to their proceedings. On “walk,” see note to 1 Ephesians 2:12 ; and on “disorderly,” ver. 7; 1 Ephesians 5:14 .
The rule of order or disorder in the case in question is thus laid down: and not after the tradition which they received of us (R.V.).
“ They received” is the older reading, referring to the class of persons just described as “ every brother walking disorderly.” This slight grammatical discord the ancient copyists corrected, some by writing “ ye received” (R.V. margin ), and others “ he received” (A.V.).
On tradition (or instruction ), see note to ch. 2:15. The nature of Paul’s “tradition” at Thessalonica on Christian behaviour may be gathered from the verses that follow, and from 1 Ephesians 2:9-12 ; Ephesians 4:1-12 ; Ephesians 5:12-24 . It consisted of example equally with precept:
7. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us ] Lit., imitate us : see note on 1 Ephesians 1:6 ; and again, ch. 2:14, and ver. 9 below. you know of yourselves “without our needing to tell it all again.” Such references are frequent in these Epistles; see note on 1 Ephesians 2:1 .
“ How you ought to imitate us” points beyond the mere duty to the spirit and manner of the imitation desired “with what diligence and devotion.”
for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you ] This “for” differs from that at the beginning of the verse; it is a specifying for giving not a reason for what has just been said, but a definition of its meaning: in that we did not play a disorderly part among you . The readers’ attention is called to this feature of the missionaries’ conduct, and imitation is recommended. There is a meiosis (or litotes ) in the expression, resembling that of ver. 2, and of 1 Ephesians 2:15 (see notes). “Far indeed was our walk from giving an example of disorder!” How far, the next line shows.
To-be-disorderly (a single verb in the Greek) is a word applied to soldiers out of rank . Officers in the army are as much subject to its discipline as the rank and file; and the Apostle Paul felt it to be due to the Churches over which he presided, that he should set an example of a strictly ordered and self-denying life.
8. neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought ] This clause follows up and makes application of the last, showing by contrast in what lay the chief complaint against the “brethren walking disorderly.” They would not work for their bread, and seemingly expected the Church to support them. The Church officers very properly resisted this demand, telling them to return to their occupations; so the Apostle himself had directed in 1 Ephesians 4:11 , Ephesians 4:12 . This some of them refused to do; and they went up and down (ver. 11) retailing their supposed grievances, allying themselves with the false prophets of the Parousia, and making all kinds of mischief. Such is the picture of this unruly faction that we draw from the two Epistles. The fraternal spirit of the Primitive Church and the readiness of its members to put their goods at the common service (see Acts 2:44 , Acts 2:45 ; Acts 4:32-35 ) were thus abused by idlers and fanatics qualities not unfrequently united by men impatient of the monotony of daily toil, and who found in spiritual excitement at once a diversion from irksome duty and an excuse for its neglect.
To correct this morbid tendency was one reason of many for which the Apostle practised manual labour. He tries to make these ill-conducted men feel by his own example the disgrace of living, without an effort, at the cost of others: neither did we eat bread for nought at any man’s hand (R.V.) There was a manly pride about St Paul in this matter. Comp. 2 Corinthians 11:9 , 2 Corinthians 11:10 , and 1 Corinthians 9:15 : “No man shall stop me of this glorying.” “To eat bread” is a Hebraistic synonym for receive maintenance ; comp. 2 Samuel 9:7 .
but wrought with labour and travail night and day ] Rather, but in labour and travail, night and day working (R.V.). Here are two clauses, the former standing in opposition to the foregoing sentence: “It was not for nought that we ate our bread, but in labour and travail;” then he continues, “working night and day.” Dearly, and with hard labour did St Paul and his comrades earn their daily bread. The Thessalonians had seen him at his task. For the particular words of this clause see 1 Ephesians 2:9 , which it repeats almost identically.
that we might not be chargeable to any of you ] More lit., that we might not put a burden on any of you . Comp. again 1 Ephesians 2:9 .
“The disorderly,” without any right, were leaning heavily on their brethren and taxing their charity; the orderly apostles, with every right to do so, had never charged them anything.
9. not because we have not power ] Better, have not the right (moral power, authority) viz., “to lay the charge of our maintenance upon the Church;” see note on 1 Ephesians 2:6 . In the other Epistle St Paul refers to this matter in order to prove his earnest care for the Thessalonian Church; but here, for the sake of making his behaviour an example to them. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 10:33 ; 1 Corinthians 11:1 ; and Acts 20:34 , Acts 20:35 ; compare with 2 Corinthians 12:14 , 2 Corinthians 12:15 .
but to make ourselves an ensample unto you, &c .] Or, more freely rendered: to furnish you with an example in ourselves, so that you might imitate us . The apostles sacrificed their own rights and comfort for the benefit of the Thessalonians (comp. 1 Ephesians 2:8 , also 1:5), wishing to supply them with the kind of example most suitable for their imitation; and we learnt from 1 Ephesians 1:5-7 , that this purpose had in most respects been realised.
On example (or pattern ), see note to 1 Ephesians 1:7 ; and on imitate ( follow , A.V.), 1 Ephesians 1:6 , and ver. 7 above.
10. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you ] Better, For also : St Paul’s present charge on the subject repeats and reinforces what he said in his oral teaching; this we used to charge you same verb as in vv. 4 and 6 (see note), and same tense as in ch. 2:5 (“I was wont to tell you”), and 1 Ephesians 3:4 (see note). To this original “charge” the Apostle referred in 1 Ephesians 4:11 , touching the same point; it formed part of “the tradition” which he and his fellow-missionaries “delivered” to the Thessalonians (ver. 6, ch. 2:15).
that if any would not work, neither should he eat ] In the Greek this is put vividly in direct narration: If any will not work, neither let him eat . A stem, but necessary and merciful rule, the neglect of which makes charity demoralising. But this law of St Paul’s touches the idle rich, as well as the poor; it makes that a discredit which one hears spoken of as if it were a privilege and the mark of a gentleman, to “live upon one’s means,” to live without settled occupation and service to the community “natus consumere fruges.”
The form of the Greek implies in this case a positive refusal to labour: the man wont work (Latin nonvult operari ). Then it is God’s law that he shall starve.
11. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly ] Rather, we hear of some walking , &c. It was not simply that the Apostle heard that there were such people at Thessalonica; he knew about them, who they were, and how they were behaving. Further news had come since he wrote the First Epistle, in which he touched briefly, in mild and general terms, upon the subject (1 Ephesians 4:11 , Ephesians 4:12 ; Ephesians 5:14 ). Now he is compelled to single out the offenders and to address them with pointed censure. For similar allusions to reports from a distant Church, comp. 1 Corinthians 1:11 ; 1 Corinthians 10:18 .
He writes, “some which walk among you disorderly” (not “ some among you which walk,” &c.), which implies that their public conduct and relations with the rest of the Church were irregular.
On “walk disorderly,” see note to ver. 6.
This disorder was not merely negative, consisting in refusal to work: mischief and idleness are proverbially companions; and we are not surprised to find the Apostle adding the further condemnation, that work not at all, but are busybodies (R.V.).
There is a play of words in the Greek, which gives to this reproach a keener edge, whose one business is to be busybodies ; or rendered still more freely, minding everybody’s business but their own , idly busy with the concerns of others. These mischief-makers the Apostle had already bidden to “study to be quiet and to do their own work” (1 Ephesians 4:11 ); comp. the extended note on ver. 8 above. For the same disposition St Paul in 1 Timothy 5:13 reproves certain “younger widows” “not only idlers, but tattlers also and busybodies.”
For similar examples of paronomasia in St Paul, see vv. 2, 3 (“faith … faithful”), Romans 1:20 (“The unseen … clearly seen”); Introd. p. 33.
12. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ ] The “exhort” of the first Epistle (4:10) is now charge and exhort , put with a new tone of sternness.
Not by but in the Lord Jesus Christ (R.V.); on this phrase both as to the preposition , and the triple name see notes to vv. 4, 5 above, also 1 Ephesians 4:1 , Ephesians 1:1 (p. 47). The appeal assumes a character of the most grave urgency.
These idle meddlers, a burden and scandal to the Church, the Apostle “charges, and appeals” to them, on the ground of their relationship to Christ and with all the weight of Christ’s authority committed to him, that working with quietness, they eat their own bread not the bread of their honest and laborious brethren. See notes to ver. 8, and 1 Ephesians 4:11 .
In the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (ch. 1), probably the oldest Post-Apostolic writing extant, there is a remarkable warning addressed both to givers and receivers of alms, which illustrates this passage: “Blessed is he that giveth according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him that takes! For if indeed one takes out of necessity, he will be guiltless; but he who takes without need shall give account why he took, and for what purpose; and thrown into prison he will be examined respecting his conduct, and will not come out thence until he has paid the uttermost farthing. Moreover, concerning this matter it has been said: Let thine alms sweat into thy hands, until thou knowest to whom thou shouldst give.”
13. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing ] From this do-nothing, or ill-doing fraction of the Church the Apostle turns to the rest, who were busy in “well-doing,” and bids them persevere. Comp. ch. 2:17, and note; also 1 Ephesians 1:3 , Ephesians 1:4 :1, Ephesians 1:10 , for the diligent and honourable character which in the main this Church bore.
The pronoun bears marked emphasis: But as for you, brethren , in contrast with “them that are such,” ver. 12.
On “well-doing,” see note to 1 Ephesians 5:21 . The word rendered “well” here is “good” there; it implies a fine quality of action.
The Greek verb for “be not weary” appears in other passages (e.g. Luke 18:1 ; Galatians 6:9 ) as “faint not,” and signifies failure of courage rather than of strength: do not falter in well-doing ; comp. notes on “stablish your hearts,” ch. 2:17 and 1 Ephesians 3:13 . Perhaps the Apostle’s rebuke of “busy-bodies” and commendation of “quietness” might have damped the ardour of some whose activity was praiseworthy, had it remained unqualified. The misconduct of the unruly was of a kind to disappoint and grieve all zealous friends of the Church.
14. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle ] More strictly, But if any one obeys not , &c. As the writer passes, by a contrasting But in ver. 13, from the disorderly fraction to the well-conducted majority of the Church, so he returns again from the latter to the former, in order to give his final directions concerning them. “Obeys not” (indicative): the Apostle is not providing for a contingency, but dealing with the existing case. The matter is put, according to the Greek epistolary idiom, from the standpoint of the readers. The letter has been read to the assembled Church; the disorderly have received the Apostle’s message; some acknowledge their fault, and submit; others one or more are still refractory; and he tells the Church how it must now proceed.
“Our word through the Epistle,” i.e. what we say by this letter . Word and Epistle were distinguished in ch. 2:2, 15, here identified; the letter has the force and authority of the writer’s spoken word (see note on ch. 2:15).
note that man, and have no company with him ] Better reading: note that man, that ye have no company with him (R.V.); i.e., “mark him as a man with whom you are not to associate,” literally, not to be mixed up with him : comp. the use of the same verb in 1 Corinthians 5:9 , 1 Corinthians 5:11 . The “noting,” one imagines, would be effected by publicly naming the culprit in the Church as one disobedient to the Apostle’s command.
This “mark” set on the obstinate breaker of rule is intended for his good to the end that he may be ashamed (R.V.), or abashed . This is all the punishment desired for him. If shame is awakened in him, when he finds himself condemned by the general sentiment and left alone, this may be the beginning of amendment. Compare the directions given in the extreme case of offence at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 . The door for repentance is left wide open.
15. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother ] Lit., And do not regard him as an enemy , &c. The R.V. retains “yet” in italics (“And yet ”); but the contrast thus implied is not in St Paul’s thought, any more than in his language. The measure which he directs to be taken in ver. 14 is a saving measure, designed to bring the intractable man to a better mind “that be may be ashamed.” Hence there must be no unkind feeling towards him, no bitter expression. This would provoke him to sullenness instead of shame, defeating the Apostle’s purpose. In its sympathy with St Paul the assembly might easily be stirred, on reading this letter, to some hostile demonstration that would cause a decisive rupture; this he deprecates.
The instruction of ver. 6 was general in its terms, and would apply to any sort of disorder; so the direction of 1 Ephesians 5:14 , “Admonish the unruly.” Those two injunctions are here combined, and enforced in this specific instance. For in such a case the disorder takes the form of open and avowed disobedience to the Apostle, such as the Church is bound to deal with publicly and to put an end to. But even now expulsion is not so much as named.
Conclusion of the Letter. Ch. 3:16 18
16. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means ] Lit., But may the Lord , &c.; for there is a contrast between the directions just given and the peace for which the Apostle prays. Peace was disturbed by an irritating kind of disorder in the Church, by wild rumours and alarms respecting the Parousia (ch. 2:1, 2), as well as by the unrelenting persecution from without. St Paul has done his best to tranquillize his readers’ minds, and bring them all to a sober and orderly condition. But he looks to “the Lord of peace Himself” to shed on them His all-controlling and all-reconciling influence. Christ is invoked as the Lord of peace (comp. ver. 5), just as God was called “the God of peace” in 1 Ephesians 5:23 (see note; and on the import of “peace” in St Paul, note to 1 Ephesians 1:1 ). Christ is Lord and Disposer of the peace which the Gospel brings (comp. Colossians 3:15 , R.V.). This St Paul asks, first (ch. 1:2) and last, for the troubled and harassed Thessalonians.
“Always” represents a different Greek adverb from that so often used in these letters (1 Ephesians 1:2 , &c.); it denotes not on every occasion , but through all , “continually,” as the same adverb is rendered in Luke 24:53 , Hebrews 13:15 : the Lord … give you peace at all times in all ways (R.V.).
Nor is it the Lord’s sovereign peace alone, but the Lord Himself, in His personal presence and authority (comp. Matthew 28:18 , Matthew 28:20 ), Whom the Apostle invokes. The Lord be with you all , as in ver. 18, not excluding the “brother walking disorderly,” who even more than others needs the presence of the Lord and the virtue of His peace . Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:24 , 2 Corinthians 13:14 , where the “all” of the Benediction has a like pointed significance; also note on 1 Ephesians 5:27 .
17. The salutation of Paul with mine own hand ] Lit., The salutation with my own hand of PAUL . In the last word the Apostle’s formal signature is attached. Pen in hand, he adds the brief concluding sentences to the letter, lying now all but complete before him.
The Apostle commonly employed one of his helpers as amanuensis. “I Tertius, who wrote this letter,” e.g., in Romans 16:22 ; comp. Galatians 6:11 , Philemon 1:19 , where he notifies his writing sua manu . But it was needful that he should sign his name, with a few words of greeting written by himself, in order to authenticate the Epistle. In other Epistles we find the autograph conclusion without the final signature, which was not usual in ancient letters. There is no reference of this kind at the close of his First Epistle; but since that time his written authority had been alleged for statements he had never made (ch. 2:2). He is careful to guard against this possibility in writing to Thessalonica a second time. He calls attention, as he pens this attestation, to his handwriting, and gives notice that no document bearing his name will be genuine without this seal: which is the token in every epistle (“Paul’s mark,” as one might say) thus I write .
There was something peculiar and noticeable in the Apostle’s penmanship, which could not he mistaken. Some infer from Galatians 6:11 that St Paul’s script was distinguished by its large and bold appearance; but it may be that he used large characters in that passage for the sake of emphasis. Further allusions to the autograph conclusion are found in 1 Corinthians 16:21 , and Colossians 4:18 .
18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all ] This sealing Benediction is identical with that of 1 Ephesians 5:20 (see note), and is repeated in Romans 16:20 , and Revelation 22:21 . Only the Apostle adds here, as in ver. 16 (see note), the “all” which is fitting where some had been objects of censure.
The Amen of the Received Text is absent in the oldest copies; comp. 1 Ephesians 5:28 .
On the subscription, see note in 1 Epistle, and Introd. p. 27.
The Man of Lawlessness ( or Man of Sin)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
To give a full account of the interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 would be almost the same thing as to write a history of Christendom. This is one of those dark passages of Scripture which in ordinary Christian teaching, and in peaceful and prosperous times, receive little attention; they are traversed with hasty step, and willingly dismissed as things hard to be understood. But in seasons of conflict and danger, such as those which gave them birth, and when some critical struggle arises between the kingdoms of God and Satan, the Church turns to these neglected prophecies; from their obscurity there breaks out a new and awful light; again she hears in them the “voices and thunders” that “proceed out of the Throne” and the shout of His coming Who “brings forth judgement unto victory.” To such epochs we must look for the interpretation of these words of destiny. History is the expositor of Prophecy. For the seeds of the future lie in the past; and not the seeds alone, its buddings and beginnings, its leaves and blossomings are there, if we had eyes to see them. “First the blade, then the ear,” said Jesus, “then the full corn in the ear.” The growth is continuous, until full ripeness.
Let us endeavour, therefore, to trace in its historical outline the development of the doctrine of Antichrist first , as it appears in Scripture; and secondly , as it has been unfolded in the belief and teaching of the Church.
1. The Apocalypse of Daniel
We must go back to the Book of Daniel 1 1 See the article in Smith’s Bible Dictionary , by Bishop Westcott, on the Book of Daniel. There is nothing written on the subject, within our knowledge, more penetrating and suggestive. for the origin of St Paul’s conception of the Man of Lawlessness, as well as for that of the kindred visions of St John. Daniel’s Apocalypse has its starting-point in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 2): the Fourfold Metal Image , with its feet of mixed iron and clay, broken in pieces by the “Stone cut out of the mountain without hands.” This dream takes another and enlarged form in Daniel’s first Vision, that of the Four Wild Beasts (ch. 7). Amidst the “ten horns” of the fourth Beast there springs up “a little horn,” before which “three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots,” having “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things” (ver. 8). In a moment the scene is changed: the “thrones” of the Last Judgement are placed; “the Ancient of Days” is beheld sitting; and there is “brought near before Him” the “One like unto a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven,” whom the Lord Jesus at the High Priest’s tribunal identified with Himself. To Him the prophet assigns universal and everlasting dominion ( vv. 9 14). As the judgement is proceeding, and before the appearance of the glorified Son of Man, the fourth Beast is slain and “his body destroyed, and given to be burned with fire” (ver. 11), “because of the voice of the great words which the little horn spake.” The idea is here presented of a cruel, haughty and triumphant military power, to be overthrown suddenly by the judgement of God, whose fall, apparently, gives the signal for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, which is to be ruled by one like unto a son of man yet sharing the Divine attributes.
In the next vision, ch. 8, of the duel between the Ram and the He-goat the Little Horn reappears, and takes on a distinct personal shape. He becomes “a king of fierce countenance and understanding dark sayings,” who will “destroy ( or corrupt) the people of the saints … and stand up against the Prince of princes; but shall be broken without hand” ( vv. 22 25). The third vision, ch. 11 of the wars of North and South leads up to a further description of the great Oppressor, in which his atheism forms the most conspicuous feature: “Arms shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary … and they shall set up the abomination that maketh desolate … And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods: and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished” ( vv. 31 36). This series of tableaux gives a continuous view of a polity or empire evolved out of the warring kingdoms of this world, from which emerges at last a monster of wickedness armed with all earthly power and bent on the destruction of Israel’s God and people, in whose person the realm of evil receives its decisive judgement.
2. The Messianic Times
Antiochus Epiphanes 1 1 Antiochus IV., or Antiochus Epiphanes i.e. the Brilliant, called also in mockery Epimanes, the Madman was the seventh king of the Græco-Syrian dynasty of the Seleucids, and reigned from 175 to 164 b.c. His father was Antiochus III. (called the Great ), after whose defeat by the Romans (188 b.c.) he was given to them as a hostage, and brought up at Rome. He returned to take his father’s throne, full of wild ambition and of reckless impiety and prodigality. On the character and career of Antiochus Epiphanes see Stanley’s History of the Jewish Church , vol. iii; Ewald’s History of Israel , vol. v. (Eng. Trans.); Smith’s Bible Dictionary . , it is agreed, was the primary subject of Daniel’s visions of judgement. In his overthrow, and in the Maccabean revival of the nationality of Israel, this Apocalypse had its verification; it received a fulfilment adequate and appropriate to the age. But when the period of the Maccabees was past, and no further sign appeared of the Messiah, it grew plain to believing readers that the revelation had a further Import. In this faith the sufferings of the Jewish people under the Herodian and Roman oppression were endured, as “birth-pangs of the Messiah;” it was felt that Israel’s hope was nigh at hand, even at the doors. Our Lord by assuming the title Son of Man appealed to and justified the expectations of those who in His day “looked for Israel’s redemption,” expectations founded to no small extent upon the Apocalypse of Daniel, and coloured by its imagery. Again “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” was to “stand in the Holy Place” (Matthew 24:15 ); and the “sign of the Son of Man” would be “seen in heaven,” and at last the Son of Man Himself, “coming with the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30 , Matthew 26:64 ).
But the Messianic anticipations of our Lord’s time, being drawn from this source, could hardly fail to be attended with their counterpart in the image of Daniel’s Antichrist . In later Judaism Antichrist was known as Armillus (or Armalgus ), under which name he figures largely in the Jewish fables of the Middle Ages, the Rabbinical conception being developed in forms partly analogous and partly hostile to the Christian doctrine. Armillus appears already in the Targum of Jonathan upon Isaiah 11:4 , the passage quoted by our Apostle in ver. 8 above: “With the breath of His lips shall He (Messiah) slay Armillus, the wicked one.” This interpretation was traditional, and may have been older than Christianity. The existence of an earlier Jewish doctrine of Antichrist, in however incipient a form, would make it easier to understand the rapid development which this conception receives in the New Testament, and the manner in which it appeals to the mind of the Apostolic Church.
The words of Christ fixed the attention of His first disciples upon Daniel’s prophecies, and supplied the impulse and starting-point from which proceeded the revival of the O.T. Apocalypse in the teaching of SS. Paul and John. Besides His express citations of Daniel, there were other traits in our Lord’s picture of the Last Things the predictions of national conflict, of persecutions from without and defections within His Church (Matthew 24:3-13 ) which reproduced the general characteristics of this prophet’s visions, and lent emphasis to the specific and most solemn references that He made to them. His use of this obscure and suspected Book has raised it to a position of high honour and importance in the regard of His Church.
3. Antichrist in the Book of Revelation
St Paul treats the subject in the passage before us in an incidental fashion, and nowhere in his extant Epistles does he again advert to it. His language, so far as it goes, is very positive and definite. There is scarcely a more matter-of-fact prediction in the Bible. While he refuses to give any chronological datum, his description of the personality of Antichrist is vividly distinct; and he asserts the connection between his appearance and Christ’s return from heaven with an explicitness that leaves no room for doubt as to his meaning. But John’s Apocalypse was cast in a different mould. Like that of Daniel, his revelation came through visions , received apparently in a passive and ecstatic mental state, and clothed in a mystic robe of imagery through which It is difficult and indeed impossible altogether to distinguish the body and substance of truth, which one feels nevertheless to be everywhere present underneath it. St John’s visions border upon those “unspeakable things” of “the third heaven,” which it may be lawful for the human soul in rare moments of exaltation to see and hear, but not “to utter” in clear discourse of reason (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ).
The visions of the Wild Beast , contained in Revelation 13 20, do nevertheless present a tolerably distinct and continuous picture; and it is just in this part of John’s Apocalypse that it comes into line with the Apocalypses of Daniel and Paul, and, as at least It seems to us, into connection with the course of secular history then proceeding. It accords with the nature of the two Revelations that St John’s mind is possessed by the symbolic idea of the Horned Wild Beast of Daniel (chh. 7, 8), while St Paul reflects in his Man of Lawlessness the later and more definite form which Daniel’s conception of the great enemy of God assumes in ch. 11. But the representations of the two Apostles coincide in their essential features. The first Beast of St John, seven-headed and ten-horned, receives the “power and throne of the Dragon and great authority,” from “him that is called Devil and the Satan, that deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 , Revelation 12:13 :1, Revelation 12:2 ), just as St Paul’s Lawless One comes “according to the working of Satan” and “in all deceit of unrighteousness” ( vv. 9, 10). He “opens his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and tabernacle” and everything Divine; and “all that dwell in the earth worship him,” whose names were “not written in the book of life;” and “torment” is promised to them, who “worship the Beast and his image” (Revelation 13:5-8 ; Revelation 14:11 ): so the Man of Lawlessness “exalts himself against all that is called God or worshipped,” he “takes his seat in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God;” and men are found to “believe the lie,” who will be “judged” for their “pleasure in unrighteousness” and are of “them that perish” ( vv. 4, 10 12). Again, the authority of the Wild Beast is vindicated by means of “great signs,” through which “they that dwell on the earth are deceived” (Revelation 13:13 , Revelation 13:14 ): similarly, in our Apostle, Satan’s great emissary “comes with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood” ( vv. 9, 10). This token of false miracles was furnished by our Lord as the sign of “false Christs and false prophets” generally (Matthew 24:24 ). Finally, having “come up out of the abyss,” the Wild Beast “goes into perdition” (Revelation 17:8 ), like the Lawless One, with his Satanic coming, who is “the son of perdition” ( vv. 3, 9).
The ten-horned Beast of John is set forth as the secular antagonist of the Man-child, son of the Woman 1 1 Mr W. H. Simcox with good reason sees the woman who brings forth the Man-child, and then “flies into the wilderness unto her place” till the appointed time, in the Jewish Church : see his notes, in Cambridge Bible for Schools , on Rev. 12. Comp. Rom. 9:5, “of whom is the Christ according to flesh.” , who was born “to rule all the nations,” as His would-be destroyer and the usurper of His throne; by Whom at last when He appears as Conqueror upon the “white horse 1 1 In the Conqueror’s name of Faithful and True, and in the “righteousness” with which “He judges and makes war,” and “the righteous acts of the saints” the “fine linen, clean and white” which clothes His army we may see another antithesis to the moral picture given in 2 Thess. 2:10 12. ,” the Beast is taken and cast with his followers “into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone” (comp. Revelation 12:0 with 13, and then see ch. 19:11 21). This conflict translates Into an expanded picture the antagonism between the Lord Jesus and the Lawless One, Christ and Antichrist, which breathes in every syllable of St Paul’s condensed and pregnant lines. The outlines etched in rapid strokes by Paul’s sharp needle, are thrown out upon the glowing canvas of the Apocalypse in idealized and visionary shape; but the same conception dominates the imagination of the seer of Patmos which haunts the writer of this sober and calm Epistle.
The first Wild Beast of Revelation 13:0 is the centre of a group of symbolic figures. There “comes up out of the earth another Beast,” kindred to him, and called afterwards the “false prophet,” who acts as his apostle, re-establishing his power after the deadly wound he received, and performing the “signs” by which his worship is supported and enforced. To this second actor, therefore, a religious part is assigned, resembling that of a corrupt Church serving a lawless, despotic State. The False Prophet supplies a necessary link between the Apostasy and the Lawless One of a 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ; by his agency the “lying miracles” of ver. 10 are provided, and superstition is enlisted in the service of atheism.
While the Beast has the False Prophet by his side for an auxiliary, he carries on his back the Harlot-woman, the antithesis of the Church, Christ’s Bride. She is identiied in the plainest manner with the imperial city of Rome . On her forehead stands written the legend, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth.” This is but Paul’s “mystery of iniquity” writ large and illuminated. What Babylon was to O.T. prophecy, that Rome became to the prophets of the New, being the centre of the world’s evil and the nidus of its future development. And the imperial house of Rome Nero in particular for St Paul, and Domitian, probably, as Nero redivivus for St John held to the prophetic spirit of the Apostles a relation similar to that of the Syrian monarchy and Antiochus Epiphanes toward the prophecy of Daniel, serving as a proximate and provisional goal of its anticipations, the object around which the secular forces of evil were about to gather and the fittest type of their further and ultimate evolution. But as history pursued its course and the Church passed beyond its Apostolic horizon, the new Apocalypse was found like the old to have a wider scope. The Wild Beast survived many wounds; it survived the fall of the great city, mistress of the earth, the Woman whom John saw riding upon its back. The end was not yet; the word of prophecy must run through new circles of fulfilment.
It is only in the barest outline that we may pursue the subsequent history of the doctrine of Antichrist 2 2 For the history of this question, see the Article Antichrist , Vol. i. (2nd ed.) of Smith’s Bible Dictionary , also Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie (2nd ed.). There are valuable dissertations on “The Man of Sin” by Lūneroaon (Meyer’s Handbook), Riggenbach (Lunge’s Commentary), and Olshausen ad loc ., also in Alford’s Prolegomena to the Epp. Döllinger elucidates the subject with great learning and exactness in Appendix I. to his First Age of the Church (translated by Oxenham); and Eadie in the Appendix to his Commentary on Thessalonians . For the interpretation of the parallel texts in the Apocalypse, see Simcox’s Notes in this Series and his most interesting and valuable Introduction . As to the bearings of the subject on the doctrines of Eschatology at large, see the profound remarks of Domer in his System of Christian Doctrine , vol. iv., 373 401 (Eng. Trans.). We find ourselves in general agreement with Dorner, Olshausen, Rigeenbach, Alfard, Ellicott, Eadie; and, to a large extent, with Hofmann. . It has passed through four principal stages.
4. Antichrist in the Early Church
In the age of the early Church, ending with the conversion of the Empire and the Fall of Rome (410 a.d.), one consistent view prevailed upon this subject, viz. that Antichrist was an individual destined one day to overthrow the Roman Empire and to establish a rule of consummate wickedness, which would quickly be terminated by the appearing of the Lord jesus from heaven . Chrysostom probably represents the popular belief when he speaks of Nero as “a type of Antichrist,” and “the mystery of iniquity already working.” In the earliest times men associated with this tradition the expectation, long current in the East, of Nero’s return and re-inthronement.
Many of the Fathers, after the manner of 1 John 2:18-22 , pointed ont the workings of Antichrist in the various forms of heresy . It was frequently inferred from 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that the Jewish Temple would in the last days be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and made the seat of Antichrist’s empire and worship. In connection with this opinion, a Jewish origin (from the tribe of Dan, Genesis 49:17 ) was assigned to the Man of Sin. Others regarded the Church, either in a spiritual or local sense, as “the temple of God” signified by St Paul (see note on ver. 4).
“The withholder” was commonly understood to be the Roman Empire, with its fabric of civil polity, Romanus status , as Tertullian says; its downfall imported the end of the world to the Church of the first three centuries. By some the withholding influence was seen in the Holy Spirit, or in His miraculous gifts.
5. Antichrist in the Middle Ages
The Western Empire was submerged under barbarian invasions. But the fabric of society still held together; and out of the chaos of the early Middle Ages there gradually arose the modern polity of the Romanized European nations, with the Papal See for its spiritual centre, and the revived Roman Empire of Charlemagne magni nominis umbra holding the leadership of the new world (800 a.d.). Meanwhile the ancient Empire maintained a sluggish existence in the New Rome of Constantino on the Bosphorus, where it arrested for centuries the destructive forces of Mohammedanism, until their energy was comparatively spent. This change in the current of history, following upon the union of Church and State under Constantine, disconcerted the Patristic reading of prophecy. And the interpretation of Scripture, along with the general cultivation of the human mind, fell into decline after the fourth century. Things present absorbed the energy and thought of the Church to the exclusion of things to come. The Western Church was occupied In converting and assimilating the Barbarian hordes, the Eastern Church was struggling for its very existence against Islam; while they contested with each other for supremacy. For the most part, the teaching of the Fathers respecting Antichrist was repeated by medieval divines, and embroidered with their fancies.
Gradually new interpretations forced themselves to the front. The Greeks naturally saw “the lawless one” in Muhammad , and “the apostasy” in the falling away of so many Eastern Christians to his delusions. In the West, the growing arrogance of the Bishops of Rome and the traditional connection of Antichrist with Rome united to suggest the idea of a Papal Antichrist . This view has high Papal authority in its favour; Gregory I. (or the Great, 590 a.d.), denouncing the assumptions of the contemporary Byzantine Patriarch, wrote as follows: “Ego autem fidenter dico quia quisqnis se universalem sacerdotem vocat, vel vocari desiderat, in elatione sua Antichristum præcurrit ;” he further styles the title of Universal Priest “erroris nomen, stultum ac superbum vocabulum … nomen blasphemiæ .” By this just sentence the later Roman Primacy is marked out as another type of Antichrist.
In the 13th century, when Gregory VII. (or Hildebrand, 1073 1085 a.d.) and Innocent III. (1198 1210 a.d.) had raised the power of the Roman See to its highest point, this doctrine was openly declared by the supporters of the Hohenstaufen Emperors; and the German State resumed the office of the Roman State as “the restrainer” of the Man of Sin. This century witnessed a general revival of religious zeal, of which the rise of the Waldenses, the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the founding of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, the immortal poem of Dante, and the widespread revolt and protest against the corruptions of Rome were alike manifestations. This awakening was attended with a renewal of Apocalyptic study. The numbers of Daniel 12:6-13 , Revelation 12:6 , &c., gave rise to the belief that the year 1260 would usher in the final conflict against Antichrist and the end of the world; while the invasion of the Mongols and the intestine divisions of Christendom threatened it with destruction. In the East, by adding 666, “the number of the Beast” (Revelation 13:18 ) to 622, the date of the Hejira, it was calculated that Mohammedanism was about to meet its doom. This crisis also passed, and the world went on its way. But it remained henceforth a fixed idea, proclaimed by every dissenter from the Roman See, that Antichrist would be found on the Papal throne. So the Waldenses, Huss, Savonarola, and our own Wickliff taught 1 1 We must distinguish, however, between an Antichrist and the Antichrist. A sincere Roman Catholic might assign to this or that unworthy Pope a place amongst the “many Antichrists,” adopting St John’s expression in 1 Ep. 2:18; as indeed Romanists have done in the case of Luther and others of their opponents, without supposing the Apostle’s prophecy to be in this way absolutely fulfilled. .
6. The Lutheran Doctrine of Antichrist
Martin Luther’s famous protest adversus execrabilem bullam Antichristi inaugurated the Protestant Reformation (1520 a.d.). It was one of his firmest convictions, shared by all the great Reformers, that the Papal system was the Antichrist of prophecy; Luther expected that it would shortly be destroyed by Christ in His second advent. This belief was made a formal dogma of the Lutheran Church by the standard Articles of Smalkald (1537 a.d.) 1 1 Melanchthon admitted a second Antichrist in Muhammad. He distinguished between the Eastern and Western Antichrists. The conjunction of Pope and Turk was common with our Protestant forefathers. . It has a place in the English Bible; the translators in their address to King James I. credit that monarch with having given, by a certain tractate he had published, “such a blow unto that Man of Sin, as will not be healed.” Bishop Jewel’s Exposition of the Thessalonian Epistles, delivered in the crisis of England’s revolt from Rome, gives powerful expression to the Lutheran view. In the 17th Century, however, this interpretation was called in question amongst English Divines. Amongst its recent advocates, the late Bishop Wordsworth, in his Lectures on the Apocalypse and Commentary on the Greek Testament , has supplied a learned and most earnest vindication.
This theory has impressive arguments in its favour, drawn both from Scripture and history. It contains large elements of truth. But many reasons forbid us to identify the Papacy with the Man of Lawlessness. Two must here suffice. (1) St Paul’s words describe, as the early Fathers saw, a personal Antichrist ; they cannot be satisfied by any mere succession of men, or system of Antichristian evil. (2) His Man of Lawlessness is to be the avowed opposer and displacer of God . Now, however gross the idolatry of which the Pope has been made the object, and however daring and blasphemous the arrogance of some occupants of the Papal Chair, one must seriously weaken and distort the words of the Apostle to adjust them to the Romanist pretensions. It is not true, in any strict sense of the words, that the Bishop of Rome “exalts himself against every one called God and every object of worship.” The Roman Catholic system has multiplied , instead of abolishing objects of worship; its ruling errors have been those of superstition, not of atheism. At the same time, its exaltation of the Pope and the priesthood has debased the religious instinct of Christendom, and has nursed the spirit of anthropolatry the man-worship, which St Paul believed was to have in the Man of Lawlessness its supreme object. Romanist teaching has prepared a fruitful soil for the seeds of atheism. It enervates the conscience, and loosens the bonds of moral obligation 2 2 Whatever is said In condemnation of the Romanist system, is said in remembrance and joyful recognition of the fact that within the Roman communion there are multitudes of sincere and exemplary Christians. .
7. Antichrist in Modern Times
It would occupy several pages merely to state the various theories promulgated upon this mysterious subject in recent times.
Not the least plausible is that which saw “the apostasy” in the later developments of the French Revolution , with its apotheosis of an abandoned woman in the character of Goddess of Reason, and which identified Napoleon Buonaparte with the Man of Sin. The Empire of Napoleon was essentially a restoration of the miliary Cæsarism of the first century. He came within a little of making himself, Iike Julius Cæsar, dictator of the civilized world. To our minds, this unscrupulous despot, with his superb genius and insatiable egotism the offspring and the idol, till he became the scourge of a godless democracy is in the true succession of Antiochus Epiphanes and Nero Cæsar. He has set before our times a new and commanding type of the Lawless One.
Nor is godlessness wanting in a bold and typical modern expression. Following upon the negative and destructive atheism of the last century, the scientific, constructive and humanistic atheism of this century has built up for itself an imposing system of thought and life. The theory of Positivism, as it was propounded by its great apostle, Auguste Comte, culminates in the doctrine that “Man is man’s god.” God and immortality, with the entire world of the supernatural, this philosophy abolishes in the name of science and modern thought. It sweeps them out of the way in order to make room for le grand être humain , or collective humanity ; which is to command our worship through the memory of its heroes and men of genius, and in the person of woman, adored within the family. This scheme of religion Comte worked out with the utmost seriousness, and furnished with an elaborate hierarchy and ritual, based on the Roman Catholic model. Although Comte’s religion of humanity is disowned by many of his followers, it is a phenomenon of great significance and interest. It testifies to the persistence of the religious instinct in our nature; and it shews the direction which that instinct is compelled to take when deprived of its rightful Object (see the Apostle’s words in Romans 1:23 ). Comte would carry us back, virtually, to the Pagan adoration of deified heroes and deceased Emperors, or to the Chinese worship of family ancestors. Moreover, Positivism provides in its Great Being an abstraction which, so far as it takes possession of the human mind, must inevitably tend to realise itself in concrete personal shape. It sets up a throne of worship which the man of destiny will be forthcoming “in his season” to occupy.
Since the time of Hugo Grotius (1583 1645 a.d.), the famous Dutch Protestant scholar, theologian, and statesman, numerous attempts have been made to demonstrate the fulfilment of N.T. prophecy within the Apostolic, or Post-apostolic age. This line of interpretation was adopted by Catholic theologians, as by Bossuet in the 17th century and Döllinger 1 1 Döllinger sees “the Lawless One” in Nero , in the first instance; and “the Withholder” or, as he prefers to render the word, “the Occupier” (viz. of the seat of power) in Claudius , Nero’s predecessor; the latter a very improbable identification. He does not suppose the meaning of the prophecy exhausted by this first fulfilment, but expects a second at the end of the world, All intermediate applications he regards as speculative and illegitimate. in our own times, partly by way of return to the Patristic view, and partly in defence against Protestant exegesis. These præterist theories, restricting the application of St Paul’s prediction to the first age of the Church, in various ways strain and minimize his language, in attempting to make it square with actual events. Or else they assume, as rationalistic interpreters complacently do, that such prophecies were incapable of real fulfilment, and have been refuted by the course of history. Almost every Roman Emperor, from Caligula down to Trajan some even of later times has been adopted in turn for the Man of Sin or the Restrainer by one or other of the commentators. Nero figures in both characters; so does Vespasian. Others hold and this view is partly combined with the last, as e.g. by Grotius that Simon Magus , the traditional father of heresy, was the Lawless One; while others, again, see “the mystery of iniquity” in the Jewish nation of the Apostle’s time. Outside the secular field, the power of the Holy Spirit , the decree of God , the Jewish Law , the believing remnant of Judaism, the Christian Church , and even Paul himself have been put into the place of “that which withholdeth,” by earlier or later authors. But these fancies have never obtained much acceptance.
Like other great prophecies of Scripture, this word of the Apostle Paul has, it appears to us, a progressive fulfilment. It is carried into effect from time to time, under the action of Divine laws operating throughout human history, in partial and transitional forms, which prefigure and may contribute to its final realization. For such prophecies are inspired by Him Who “worketh all things after the counsel of His will;” and they rest upon the principles of God’s moral government, and the abiding facts of human nature. We accept, with Chrysostom, an earnest of the accomplishment of St Paul’s prediction in the person of Nero. We recognize, with the later Greek Fathers and Melanchthon, that there are plain Antichristian tokens and features in the polity of Muhammad. We recognize, with Gregory I. and the Protestant Reformers, a prelude of Antichrist’s coming and conspicuous traits of his character in the spiritual despotism of the See of Rome; and we sorrowfully mark in the history of the Church how the tares ever grow beside the wheat, and in what manifold forms “the apostasy” which prepares the way of Antichrist and lays the foundations of his rule, has continued its baleful working. We agree with those who discern in the Napoleonic idea an ominous revival of the lawless absolutism and worship of human power that prevailed in the age of the Cæsars; while Positive and materialistic philosophy, with sensualistic ethics, unless we are much deceived, are making for the same goal 1 1 The following extract from Comte’s Catéchisme Positiviste is a striking proof of the readiness with which scientific atheism may join hands with political absolutism: “Au nom du passé et de l’avenir, les serviteurs théoriques et les serviteurs pratiques de L’Humanité viennent prendre dignement la direction générale des affaires tesrrestres, pour construire enfin la vraie providence, morale, intellectuelle, et matérielle; en excluant irrévocablement de la suprématie politique tous les divers esclaves de Dieu, Catholiques, protestants, ou déistes, comme étant à la fois arrières et perturbateurs.” The true Pontifical style! It Is not a very long step from these words to that which the Apostles intimate in 2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 13:16, 17, &c. It is significant that Comte issued this Catechism of the new religion Just after the coup d’ état of Louis Napoleon, whom he congratulates on “the happy crisis”! In the same preface he does homage to the Emperor Nicholas of Russia, as “the sole truly eminent chief of whom our century can claim the honour, up to the present time.” Comte’s ignorance of politics is some excuse for these blunders; bat the conjunction remains no less significant. Faith in God and faith in freedom are bound up together. See Arthur’s Physical and Moral Law , pp. 231 237; and his Religion without God , on Positivism generally. .
The history of the world is one; the first century lives over again in the nineteenth. All the factors of evil co-operate, as do those of good. There are, in truth, but two kingdoms, of Satan and of Christ; though to our eyes their forces lie scattered and confused, and we distinguish ill between them. But the course of time quickens its pace, as if nearing some great issue. Science has given an immense impetus to human progress in all directions, and moral influences propagate themselves with greater speed than, heretofore. There is going on a rapid interchange and interfusion of thought, a unifying of the world’s life, and a gathering together of the forces on either side to “the valley of decision,” that seem to portend some world-wide spiritual crisis, in which the glorious promises, or dark forebodings of revelation, or both at once, will be anew fulfilled. But still Christ’s words stand, as Augustine said, to “put down the fingers of all the calculators 1 1 “Omnes calculantium digitos resolvit:” on Matt. 24:36. .” It is not for us to know times or seasons . What backward currents may arise in our secular progress, what new seals are to be opened in the book of human fate, and through what cycles the evolution of God’s purpose for mankind has yet to run, we cannot guess.
The first disciples deemed themselves to live already in the dawn of the world’s closing day. We in its later hours keep watch for the Lord Who said, “Behold, I come quickly,” yet seems to tarry. Be it ours, none the less, with unwearied love and faith to repeat the cry which has never ceased from the lips of the Church, the Bride of Christ:
COME, LORD JESUS!
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"Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany