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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

2 Thessalonians 2

Verse 1

2 Thessalonians 2:1 . ἐπισυν ., a term whose verb was already in use for the muster of saints to the messianic reign. σαλ . “get unsettled”. Epictetus uses ἀποσαλεύεσθαι for the unsettling of the mind by sophistries (3:25), and the nearest equivalent for νοῦς here is our “mind”. This mental agitation (aor.) results in θροεῖσθαι = nervous fear (Wrede, 48 f.) in prospect of the imminent end.

Verse 2

2 Thessalonians 2:2 . ὡς διʼ ἡμῶν , “purporting to come from us,” goes with ἐπιστολῆς alone, for, while λόγος (Lünemann) might be grouped under it, πνεῦμα cannot. A visionary would claim personal, not borrowed, authority for his revelation. If ὡς δ . ἡ . went with the preceding verbs (so Dods, Askwith, 92 f., Wohl. = “we are the true interpreters of Paul’s meaning”), an active (as in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ) not a passive turn might have been expected to the sentence. ἐνέστηκεν = “were already present”. The cry was, ὁ κύριος πάρεστι . The final period had already begun, and the Thessalonians were probably referred to their sufferings as a proof of this. Paul could only guess the various channels along which such a misconception had flowed into the local church; either, e.g. , πνεύματος , the hallucination of some early Christian prophet at Thessalonica; or λόγου , oral statement, based in part perhaps on some calculation of contemporary history or on certain logia of Jesus; or ἐπιστολῆς , i.e. , the misinterpretation of some passage in 1 Thess. or in some lost letter of Paul. Possibly Paul imagined an epistle had been forged purporting to come from him or his companions, but we have no means of knowing whether his suspicion was well-founded or not. In any case the allusion is quite credible within his lifetime. Such expectations may have been excited in a more or less innocent fashion, but Paul peremptorily (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ) ranks them all as dishonest; he is concerned not with their origin but with their mischievous effects upon the church ( cf. Matthew 24:4 ). Probably his suspicions of misinterpretation were due to his recent experiences in Galatia, though the Macedonian churches seem to have escaped any infusion of the anti-Pauline propaganda which soured Corinth not long afterwards.

Verse 3

2 Thessalonians 2:3 . καὶ ἀποκ ., the apostasy and the appearance (so of Beliar, Asc. Isa. , iv. 18) of the personal anti-Christ or pseudo-Christ form a single phenomenon. From the use of ἡ ἀποστασία as a Greek equivalent for Belial (LXX of 1 Kings 21:13 , A, and Aquila), this eschatological application of the term would naturally flow, especially as אישׁ בליעל might well be represented by ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας on the analogy of 2 Samuel 22:5 (LXX) = Psalms 17:0 (18):4. Lawlessness was a cardinal trait in the Jewish figure of Belial, as was persecution of the righteous (2 Thessalonians 1:4 , 2 Thessalonians 2:7 , see Asc. Isa. , ii. 5, etc.). The very order of the following description ( ἀπωλείας set between ἀνομίας and ὁ ἀντικείμενος , etc., unchronologically, but dramatically) suggests that this incarnation of lawlessness was a doomed figure, although he challenged and usurped divine prerogatives. He is another Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:36 , καὶ ὑψωθήσεται ἐπὶ πάντα θεὸν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν θεὸν τῶν θεῶν ἔξαλλα λαλήσει , though Paul carefully safeguards himself against misconception by inserting λεγόμενον in his quotation of the words). This conception of a supernatural antagonist to Jesus Christ at the end is the chief element of novelty introduced by Paul, from Jewish traditions, into the primitive Christian eschatology. The recent attempt of Caligula to erect a statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem may have furnished a trait for Paul’s delineation of the future Deceiver; the fearful impiety of this outburst had sent a profound shock through Judaism, which would be felt by Jewish Christians as well. But Paul does not identify the final Deception with the Imperial cultus, which was far from a prominent feature when he wrote. His point is that the last pseudo-Messiah or anti-Christ will embody all that is profane and blasphemous, every conceivable element of impiety; and that, instead of being repudiated, he will be welcomed by Jews as well as pagans ( cf. Acts 12:21-22 ).

Verse 5

2 Thessalonians 2:5 . It was no after-thought, on Paul’s part (the singular rules out Spitta’s idea that Timothy wrote this apocalyptic piece). Nor was it an idiosyncrasy of his teaching. Especially since the days of Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 7:11 ; cf. Gunkel’s Schöpfung u. Chaos , 221 f.), a more or less esoteric and varied Jewish tradition had pervaded pious circles, that the last days would be heralded by a proud uprising against God. The champion of this movement was no longer the Dragon or cosmic opponent of God, as in the older mythology (though traces of this belief still linger), but an individual ( ὁ ἄνομος ) who incorporates human wickedness ( τὸ μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας ) and infernal cunning in his own person, and who essays to supplant and suppress the worship of the true God, by claiming divine honours for himself. He is Satan’s messiah, an infernal caricature of the true messiah. Cf. Asc. Isa. , iv. 6, where it is said that Belial “will do and speak like the Beloved and he will say, I am God and before me there has been none”.

Verse 6

2 Thessalonians 2:6 . Well now, you know what restrains him from being manifested (coming fully into play and sight) before his appointed season . Νῦν probably goes with οἴδατε , not with τὸ κατέχον (as e.g. , in John 4:18 , so Olshausen, Bisping, Wieseler, Zahn, Wrede), and καὶ νῦν is not temporal, but “a mere adverb of passage” (Lünemann, Alford) in the argument (so with οἶδα in Acts 3:17 ). Were νῦν temporal, it would mean ( a ) that during the interval between Paul’s teaching and the arrival of this letter fresh circumstances (so Zimmer) had arisen to throw light on the thwarting of the adversary. But of this there is no hint whatsoever in the context. Or ( b ), preferably, it would contrast with the following ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ καιρῷ , as an equivalent for “already” (Hofmann, Wohl., Milligan, etc.).

Verse 7

2 Thessalonians 2:7 . γὰρ , explaining οἴδατε . The κατέχων is a fact of present experience and observation, which accounts for the ἀνομία being as yet a μυστήριον , operating secretly, and not an ἀποκάλυψις . Paul does not say by whom (the ἄνομος himself?) the restraint is removed. μόνον , the hiatus must be filled up with some phrase like “it cannot be manifested”. Its real character and full scope are not yet disclosed. For ἄρτι = νῦν , cf. Nägeli’s note in der Wortschätz des Apostels Paulus (36, 37), and for omission of ἄν , Blass, § 65, 10.

Verse 8

2 Thessalonians 2:8 . ὅν , κ . τ . λ ., his career is short and tragic. The apparition ( cf. 1 Timothy 6:14 , etc., Thieme, Die Inschriften von Magnesia , 34 f.) of Jesus heralds his overthrow. ἐπιφανείᾳ = sudden appearance of a deity at some crisis ( cf. Diod., Sicul. , i. 25), as the god in 2Ma 2:21 ; 2Ma 3:24 , etc. “In hieratic inscriptions the appearing of the god in visible form to men is commonly expressed by the same word” (Ramsay, Exp. Ti. , x. 208). This passage, with its fierce messianic anticipation of the adversary’s doom interrupts the description of his mission which is resumed (in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 ) with an account of the inspiration ( κατὰ ), method ( ἐν ) and results (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ), of this evil advent. Galen ( de facult. nat. , 1. 2, 4 5) physiologically defines ἐνέργεια as the process of activity whose product is ἔργον . The impulse to ἐνέργεια is δύναμις . The δύναμις of this supernatural delusion is specially manifested in signs and wonders . The power of working miracles in order to deceive people (2 Thessalonians 2:11 ) was an accepted trait in the Jewish and early Christian ideas of such eschatological opponents of God ( cf. on Revelation 13:13 , and Friedländer’s Geschichte d. jüd. Apolog. , 493 f.).

Verse 10

2 Thessalonians 2:10 . ἀγάπη ( cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:12 ) here, as Luke 11:42 , with obj. gen. Cf. Asc. Isa. , iv. 15, 16: “And He will give rest [above, ch. 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ] to the godly whom He shall find in the body in this world, and to all who because of their faith in Him have execrated Beliar and his kings”. ἀλήθεια , not = “truth” in the general sense of the term (Lünemann, Lightfoot, Zimmer) but = “the truth of the gospel” (as usual in Paul) as against ἀδικία and ψεῦδος (Romans 1:15 f., 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ). The apostle holds that the refusal to open one’s mind and heart to the gospel leaves life a prey to moral delusion; judicial infatuation is the penalty of disobedience to the truth of God in Christ.

Verse 11

2 Thessalonians 2:11 . An echo of the primitive Semitic view (still extant, cf. Curtis’s Prim. Sem. Religion To-Day , pp. 69 f.), that God may deliberately lead men astray, or permit them to be fatally infatuated, as a penal discipline ( cf. Ps. Sol. 8:15; Test. XII. Patr. Dan. ix.). A modern would view the same phenomenon as wilful scepticism issuing in superstition, or in inability to distinguish truth from falsehood. Delusions of this kind cannot befall believers ( cf. Mark 13:22 ; Test. Issach. iii.). In Test. Napht. iii. 3, idols are πνεύματα πλάνης ( cf. Test. Levi. iii. 3, etc.).

Verse 12

2 Thessalonians 2:12 . Like the prophet John half a century later (John 13:2 f.), Paul distinguishes his anti-Christ or antitheistic hero from the Satan whose campaign he executes; but, unlike John, the apostle has nothing to say about the fate of Satan. The tools and the victims of Satan are destroyed, and they alone. εὐδοκ . not with ἐν as usual, but with the less common ( cf. e.g. , 1Ma 1:43 , καὶ πολλοὶ ἀπὸ Ἰσραὴλ ηὐδόκησαν τῇ λατρίᾳ αὐτοῦ ) dative. “And the greater number of those who shall have been associated together in order to receive the Beloved he [ i.e. , Beliar] will turn aside after him” ( Asc. Isa. , iv. 9).

Verse 13

2 Thessalonians 2:13 . God has chosen you ( εἵλατο , another LXX expression, implying that Christians had now succeeded to the cherished priviliges of God’s people) to be saved, instead of visiting you with a deadly delusion (10, 11) which ends in judgment (12); your discipline is of sanctification (contrast 12 b ) and belief in what is true (contrast 11, 12 a ), these forming the sphere and the scope ( cf. 1 Timothy 2:15 , and for ἐν ἁγιασμῷ in this sense Ps. Sol. 17:33) for salvation being realised. Those who are sanctified and who truly believe shall be saved. Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 and Apoc. Bar. , liv. 21: “in fine enim saeculi uindicta erit de iis qui improbe egerunt, iuxta improbitatem eorum, et glorificabis fideles iuxta fidem eorum”. πνεύματος may be either ( a ) = “wrought by the (holy) Spirit” ( cf. 1 Peter 1:2 ), the divine side of the human πίστει , or ( b ) = “of the spirit” ( cf. I. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ; 2 Corinthians 7:1 ), as of the heart (I., 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ). The absence of the article is not decisive against the former rendering, but the latter is the more probable in view of the context; the process of ἁγιασμός involves a love of the truth and a belief in it ( i.e. , in the true gospel) which is opposed to religious delusions ( cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ).

Verse 14

2 Thessalonians 2:14 . To be saved ultimately (12) is to possess or rather to share the glory of Christ ( cf. I., 1 Thessalonians 2:12 ).

Verse 15

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . The divine purpose does not work automatically, but implies the cooperation of Christians in this case, a resolute stedfastness resting on loyalty to the apostolic gospel. In view of passages like 1 Corinthians 11:23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:5 , it is gratuitous to read any second-century passion for oral apostolic tradition into these words or into those of 2 Thessalonians 3:6 .

Verse 16

2 Thessalonians 2:16 . αὐτὸς δὲ , perhaps with a slight implicit apposition to the you or we of the previous sentence. ἀγαπήσας καὶ δοὺς , κ . τ . λ ., connection as in John 3:16 . παράκλησιν for this world, ἐλπίδα for the world to come; all hope is encouragement, but not vice-versa.

Verse 17

2 Thessalonians 2:17 , in contrast to the disquiet and confusion of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 . ἔργῳ as in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 , 2Th 3:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:7 f., λόγῳ as 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:15 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:8 . See the fulsome pagan inscription of Halicarnassus, which after giving thanks for the birth of Augustus, σωτῆρα τοῦ κοινοῦ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένους , declares that men now are full of ἐλπίδων μὲν χρηστῶν πρὸς τὸ μέλλον , εὐθυμίας δὲ εἰς τὸ παρόν . Contrast also the κενὴ ἐλπίς of the impious in Sap. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 .

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Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.