2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord, the only hope of the saints, and by our gathering together to him. By the coming of our Lord reference must be had to the promise made to the disciples. After he had said that the gospel must first be preached to all nations, before the stones of the temple should be thrown down, and that the then surviving generation should see that event, he made a climax, and spake of the Son of man’s coming in the clouds of heaven. Matthew 24:30. Now, as the first coming corresponded with prophecy, we rest on the certainty of the second coming of Christ at the end of time. St. Paul therefore beseeches the church not to be shaken in mind, as though the coming of the Lord were delayed, by any such visionary teachers as attend not to the distinction of the sacred text, between the first and the second coming of our Lord. No, nor to be moved, though mistaken zealots should declare that they spake by the Holy Spirit, or though they should affirm that Paul himself spake such words, or even that they had read such an idea in some letter pretended to be his. Thus it was that this illustrious man rebutted the hurtful errors of some in the open face of the church, and with a plenitude of luminous predictions, which before he had imparted but to few.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Let no man deceive you, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. These words, like most of those that follow, are taken from prophecies in the old testament, as is the manner of St. John in the revelation. By consequence they have the fairest claims to our study and full investigation. Know then, as I stated when with you, as if the apostle should say, that the day of the jews is near, and it shall come suddenly upon them as the lightning from the east; but that the coming of the Lord to judge the world, though it should be accounted ever near, and kept before our eyes, is yet at the distance of many ages. For the Spirit speaketh ρητως, desertè, learnedly, expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, as has been named in the preseding verse, that “God was manifest in the flesh;” namely, the Arians in the east; and also that the Pontificate in the west shall set up the commandments of men above the pure and unadulterated word of God, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats. 1 Timothy 4:1-3. These apostasies shall remove the candlestick from the east, and cause a deathful gloom to overspread the west.
And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, sitting in the temple of God. What is meant by the temple of God? Answer, the christian church; for this having succeeded the Hebrew temple, is called the church of the firstborn, and the temple of the living God. What is meant by the son of perdition, which the Targum on Isaiah 11:4 calls, Armillum improbum, the armed wicked one? Answer: not an individual, but an ecclesiastical body. So Christ is repeatedly called, in connection with the church. 1 Corinthians 12. “As the body is one, and hath many members, so also is (the) Christ.” The Mons testament quotes a reading, L’ enfant, the child of perdition. He was born in the apostolic age, and from infancy loved the preëminence. His father was an Amorite, and his mother a Hittite. Some of the christian fathers thought they saw him in Nero; others in Trajan, and in Caligula. All these indeed were armed wicked ones, but they were only his cousins. He did not come to maturity to be declared, ο υιος, the son, till all his cousins were removed from their iron thrones. Then, when the Goths, the Huns, and the Vandals, had broken up the pagan empire and deluged Europe with blood, and spread the cloud of northern darkness and dreary winter over the church, leaving her in the hands of benighted ecclesiastics to do just what they pleased with religion; then, I say, this son appeared in strong characters, and took heaven and earth into his own hands, and assumed the title of Vice Deo.
Peter Jurieu, a French protestant minister, whose works are comprised in seven volumes, 8vo., affirms that the Waldenses were the first who in the twelfth century descried the Man of Sin, and gave the alarm to the christian world. They exposed his pride, and the bloody cruelties of his persecutions, as the Antichrist, the enemy of the saints, who would not worship the image of the beast which had conceded to him his power. They depicted him as the little horn of Daniel, who thought to change the times and the laws: Daniel 7:25.
Others descried him as the foolish shepherd, foreseen by the prophet Zechariah. “Lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, who shall not visit those that are cut off, neither shall seek the young ones, nor heal that which is broken, nor feed that which standeth still, but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their limbs in pieces.” Zechariah 11:16. Who opposeth and exalteth himself, et se efferens, and carries himself above all that is called God; whether Numen, or Dii, or angels, or idols adored by the gentiles. The word σεβασμα, designates, not the deity alone, but whatever is divine, august, adorable, venerable. The emperors of Rome were adored after death, but the Man of sin, like Nebuchadnezzar, caused all men to worship the image of the beast, as the only condition on which he allowed them to exist.
So that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God, and the sole lawgiver of the church. To whatever deity a temple was dedicated, the image of that deity was elevated on a pedestal, that the crowd might prostrate before the statue. Similar to this is the fine satire of the prophet, addressed to the power of Babylon. “Thou hast said — I will sit upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north.” Isaiah 14:13. Here we see him enthroned amid the legion of honour, of cardinals, legates, archbishops, princes, priests and friars, whose orders and numbers are countless, keeping the garrisons of all the earth, each having sworn to his god, “that without subjection to the church of the Romans no human creature can be saved.”
2 Thessalonians 2:5-7. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things. To you in particular who are elders, I also mentioned what hindered this child, this son, this man of sin from being revealed, though it is not prudent to say more at this time.
Erasmus, three hundred years ago, gave the following paraphrase on the words of Paul. “Remember, I told you before that the wicked man would appear, the child of perdition, who is as much dissimilar to Christ as he is hostile to his kingdom, and is exalted above the Son of God, and above every name by which deity is known and adored. I told you indeed that this wicked one may in his time exercise his tyranny over the saints, for even now, wickedness works under him, and Satan by the aid of wicked men grievously assaults the professors of the gospel. And as you perceive by the delicacy of my words, that there is nothing that lets or hinders this antichrist from showing himself in his proper character, but he who holds the power of the world; or until that power which holds all others in subjection be superseded, and taken quite out of the way. When that is effectuated, then shall that wicked one show himself without disguise, and furnished with all the nets and hooks of anglers, and wily deceits, to subjugate the souls of men to destruction. But with all his diabolical rage, the Lord Jesus shall suffocate him with the breath of his mouth, notwithstanding all his counterfeit glare of mock divinity; and shall utterly obscure and extinguish his power by the brightness of his glory.” — Many great names understand by “the spirit of his mouth,” the preaching of the gospel with the Holy Ghost, which shall illuminate the public mind, and convert the people to the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10. Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders. Here we are taught that Satan himself is the author and instigator of all the apostasy of the church, whether of the Arian departure from the faith, or of the cloud of pagan darkness and pagan immoralities, which overspread the darker ages of the church. He mimics and imitates the works of God.
As to real miracles, the calm enquirer can scarcely be persuaded to believe that the Hebrews, destitute and oppressed, could have escaped the power of Egypt, and conquered the belligerent nations of Canaan in that strong and military country, without the special intervention of Jehovah’s arm. And in Ahab’s time, when the prophets were murdered, how could religion subsist without miracles; and how could the Mosaic economy, established with miracles, be conceded to christianity without the equal seals of divine power and authority.
The papal miracles which overspread Europe, and very much contributed to the contempt of revelation, exhibited the weak side of human nature, and brought contempt upon the ministers of religion, who in their day did not protest against the superstition of the people. The elegant Ganganelli, the pious Fenelon, the eloquent Massillon, Bourdaloue, and Flechère, are silent, I grant, about miracles; but courage was denied them to protest against the errors of the age. The faith of the credulous, gained by imposture, is ruined by discovery. These are the artifices of Satan foreseen by the spirit of prophecy, and the church was fairly and strongly warned against them. Matthew 24:24. Revelation 13:13.
Concealment was another artifice of the man of sin, the son of perdition. No sooner was his infancy, his growth, his strength and character exposed to public view, than he took away from the people the sacred volume, the word of life, a crime never before committed. He began to burn the bibles, to burn the translators, and martyrs of every name and nation.
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12. For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. The man of sin and his adherents, against whom the awful threatening is here denounced, had not their origin in mere ignorance, but in something worse; they are not said to have been ignorant of the truth, but having known it they believed it not, nor loved it, for they had pleasure in unrighteousness. Having rejected the truth as an encumbrance to their vicious course, it was easy to believe a lie, and greedily to receive or invent whatever became subservient to their secular interests or depraved propensities. Error as well as sin will encrease to more ungodliness; and he that takes a step downward, knows not where he shall stop, till he finds himself in the gulph of perdition.
For this cause, God shall send them strong delusion. To men in such a state nothing is too gross for their belief, however inconsistent or absurd; and as they loved darkness rather than light, error shall be their ruin. When Ahab rejected the prophet Micaiah, and preferred the prophets of Baal, “the Lord put a lying spirit into the mouth of all his prophets, to persuade him to go up to Ramoth-gilead,” where he was slain in battle. 1 Kings 22:22-23. When Pharaoh also hardened his heart against the express command of God to let Israel go, the Lord suffered his delusion to be confirmed by the enchantments and lying wonders of the Egyptian sorcerers. When men choose their own ways, and delight in their abominations, the Lord will choose their delusion, and bring their fears upon them. Isaiah 66:3-4.
The enormous errors, cruelty, and wickedness of the apostate antichristian church had but a small beginning, which was noticed in the apostle’s day, but it went on and grew into a hideous mass of impiety, till it became the habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit; and in it was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. Revelation 18:2; Revelation 18:24. Such is the progress of error and of sin; the beginning of it is like the letting out of water, which rises to a flood, in which men are drowned in destruction and perdition. 1 Timothy 6:9.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. We are bound to give thanks — because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. In these verses are contained the sweet cup of consolation which Paul administered to revive the spirit of the fainting church, from the awful aspects of the antichristian empire. He declares two things. First, that God had chosen them in the purposes of his paternal love, and by the good pleasure of his will, as declared to Adam, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, and that the Messiah, Abraham’s heir, should bless all the families, or gentile nations, of the earth. He declares, secondly, that this grace had already distinguished them from the antichristian world by sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. So everywhere, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
This is the good pleasure of our Father’s will. Why then should the children disagree about the liberal legacies it contains? The gates of Zion are always open; there is room in her courts. Why should our commentaries be full of gloomy doctrines, nowhere known to the primitive church? They all contend that we err in making faith and holiness foreseen the cause of our election, and the calling of God. Certainly, this is playing an unfair game. Who denies that grace is the cause of grace? By grace we are saved through faith; not of works, nor of any mixture of human merit, lest any man should boast. The inestimable love of God, in the redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ, is the sole fountain of grace. When we say, that believers should be to the praise of his grace which hath made us accepted in the beloved, a sentiment which the apostles always associate with the like passages, we never dream of substituting the effect for the cause. This we call an unfair mode of reasoning, because it evades the grand question to prove a point which no wise man would deny. That point or touchstone, the total exclusion of a reprobate world from salvation by Jesus. This is nowhere done by St. Paul. — See the three Lambeth articles of faith, as quoted on Romans 8:38.
The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. St. Paul saw the man of sin in all his developement of character. He saw the child, early born in the church, gradually coming to maturity as the Roman beast declined, and taking advantage of all political changes, he being always united, whatever discords rent the nations. Paul saw his concupiscence, a word comprising every vice, discovering itself in every revolting form. He caused Rome, as Mr. Howell observes in his history of the popes, to be called “the impious refuge of the clergy.” Distant nations began to hear his bullas, and feel his thunderbolts. They trembled at his name. Thrones were shaken by his power, and the greatest of princes could have no higher title than that of sons of the church. God sent strong delusion on the nations, greedily to drink the wine of his golden cup, full of abominations.
Thank God, he is now come to feeble and declining years. The church, so long a wilderness, begins to revive, and again become the garden of the Lord. Our Zion, once the joy of the whole earth, and long the city of Sodom and of Babylon, where the “two witnesses” have lain in a gore of blood, for they could not be buried, begins to arise from the dust; and her witnesses, like Abel, being dead, they still speak, and shall rise again to honour.
In this antichrist, the armed wicked one, with two swords, temporal and spiritual, we see a luminous attestation, that St. Paul was a true prophet, and a faithful watchman over the gentile fold. He kept back nothing that was profitable, and shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany