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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 2

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

The section before us expresses the principal object of this Epistle, which was to correct the misapprehension that the Lord was about to come at once. Without professing to set forth all the events which would intervene between the date of his Epistle and the Lord’s coming, the apostle enumerates three: 1. A great apostasy. 2. The removal of that power which hindered the manifestation of the lawless one. 3. The manifestation of the lawless one, and his reign. Since Paul gives us only a bird’s-eye view of events, which covers a very extended range of history, it would be injudicious to fill in his outlines with elaborate details. The full outline of prophecy covering the Christian dispensation is given in Revelation, and will be discussed when that book is reached. Now we beseech you, brethren [having just prayed for the Thessalonians, Paul now passes to entreaties to them], touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him [the final gathering (1 Thessalonians 4:17). He entreats them to be soberminded both as to the coming and the gathering, for each of these events had been used to generate error and fanaticism-- 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:11];

Verse 2

to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind [Shaken is a figurative expression taken from waves agitated by a storm. The minds of the Thessalonians having been instructed by Paul, and having a thorough apprehension of the entire subject, ought not to have been so readily, and with such small reason, confused-- Ephesians 4:14], nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that [as teaching that] the day of the Lord is just at hand [Paul here enumerates the three forces which had produced the fanatical unrest at Thessalonica. The first was probably the cause of this unrest, and the second and third were more likely used to excuse or justify it. Some highly wrought souls, laboring under morbid excitement, had delivered exhortations or discourses which were professedly inspired. While these men ought not to have been despised without due consideration, neither ought they to have been believed without being thoroughly tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1). The Thessalonians, however, despite the apostle’s warning, had imprudently accepted both the prophet and the prophecy, and had permitted, and perhaps aided and encouraged, the justification of the prophecy. The prophecy was justified by "words," by which we may understand misapplications or misquotations either of the apostle’s own teaching while he was with them, or of the words of Christ orally communicated by him to them, as, for instance, the sayings at Matthew 16:28; Matthew 24:34 . It was also justified by a misuse of certain phrases in Paul’s first Epistle, as for instance the passages cited in our introduction, Commentators almost universally contend that by the phrase "epistle as from us" Paul means a spurious or forged epistle which had been palmed off upon the church as if it had come from him. In support of this notion it is urged that if Paul had referred to his first Epistle he would not have disowned it, but would have explained it. But to this it may be answered that Paul does explain his first Epistle by thus tersely and emphatically disowning the misconstruction placed upon it. Against the idea of forgery, four points may be considered: 1. Ought any of the church at Thessalonica to be lightly accused of such a fraud? 2. Was there any sufficient inducement for their committing such a fraud? 3. Was such an event likely to be made the subject of fraud? 4. Would Paul have passed over such a sacrilegious outrage without a syllable of rebuke, while in verse 5 he even rebukes their forgetfulness, and in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 he orders the excommunication of any man who fails to give heed to his Epistle? Had there been a forgery we would reasonably have expected some such language as that of Galatians 1:6-12 . Moreover, had there been a forgery Paul could not have repudiated it without explanation, else his repudiation might have been shrewdly used by the forgers to cast discredit upon his first Epistle. Paul taught that the day of the Lord was at hand (Romans 13:12; Philippians 4:5), as did other of the apostles (1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:3), John using a very strong expression (John 2:18); but the phrase "just at hand" is stronger still; it denotes an imminence nothing short of the actual appearing of the Lord the next instant--an imminence answering to the fanaticism of the Thessalonians, and one which Paul had not taught. In teaching us to be always prepared for the Lord’s coming, the Scripture nowhere justifies or excuses us in letting the thoughts of his coming absorb our mind, or the expectation of his coming interfere with the most trivial duty];

Verse 3

let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first [Paul uses the article "the" because this apostasy was well known to the church, its coming having been announced by Jesus (Matthew 24:10-12), and reiterated by Paul while at Thessalonica. This apostasy, or falling away, may be defined to be a desertion of the true religion and the true God], and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition [Literally, son of perishing. The man of sin is identical with the antichrist of 1 John 2:18 . Though he is distinguished from Satan in verse 9, yet is he in a sense an incarnation of Satan, for as Satan entered into the heart of Judas (John 13:27), who was the first great apostate and son of perdition (John 17:12), so he shall enter into the heart of this second apostate and son of perdition, who shall be a man made up of sin, a veritable manifestation of concrete wickedness, and thus self-fitted for perdition. The language clearly shows that he is a person, but there is nothing to forbid us from regarding him as an official rather than an individual personality, as, for instance, a line of popes rather than an individual pope. Those who have denied the right to thus construe his personality, have for the most part straightway fallen into the solecism of interpreting the phrase "one that restraineth," of verse 7, so as to make it mean a line of emperors, or succeeding generations of rulers in our human polity, or some other official personality that existed in Paul’s day and long afterward, though the assertion of personality is as strong in verse 7 as it is in verse 3. Antichrist does not cause the apostasy, but is rather the cap-sheaf of it, being revealed in connection with it, and exalted by it],

Verse 4

he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. [The antichrist will be antagonistic to God, and will exalt himself as a rival to everything that is worshiped, whether it be king or emperor, mythical god or true God, even entering, not only into the outer courts of the temple, but penetrating to the inner sanctuary, and taking his seat where God alone has a right to rest, and there making an arrogant display of himself as an object of worship (comp. Acts 12:21-23). The Greek word for "worship" is sebasma: from it came Sebastus or Augustus (i. e., the Worshipful), which was the title of the Roman emperors. A man of that age could hardly see this word in such a connection without thinking that Paul meant to convey the idea that the antichrist would arrogate to himself all the reverence then claimed by the great civil lords of the earth, such as emperors, kings, etc. The temple is Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church-- 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21]

Verse 5

Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? [Literally, was telling. He had repeated the instruction often, and now reproves the Thessalonians for forgetting what he did say, and being agitated by false reports of what he did not say.]

Verse 6

And now ye know [because Paul had told them verbally] that which restraineth [i. e., retards and delays the antichrist], to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. [And not prematurely. Thus we see that the Thessalonians had a key to Paul’s prophecy that we do not possess. His probable reason for withholding from his Epistle that which he freely stated verbally will be given later.]

Verse 7

For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. [In verse 6 we have a thing ("that which") restraining the person of antichrist, and in this verse we have the thing ("mystery of lawlessness") which would produce the antichrist restrained by a person. This nicety of expression is important, and should be noted. The traces of that spirit which overrules God’s laws and substitutes its own were abundant in the church. It showed itself in attempts to engraft both Judaism and paganism into Christianity, thus paving the way for an apostasy, with a great head apostate. Romans and Galatians were written to correct Judaizing tendencies, and the Epistle to the Hebrews was an attempt to wean weak Christians from the sensuous ritualism of Moses. Tendencies to lapse into paganism are also frequently reproved. See especially Colossians 2:16-23; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8]

Verse 8

And then shall be revealed the lawless one whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming [After the removal of the hinderer, the vague spirit or mystery of lawlessness will become an embodied personality--a Christ-rival. At the mere thought of his thus being revealed, Paul, in his fervent zeal for Christ, at once announces the triumph of the Lord over this adversary, though he has not yet finished describing him. In the next verse we shall find the apostle returning to tell what manner of ruler the antichrist was to be, and the quality and destiny of those who should follow him. Breath, etc., does not mean that Jesus shall slay antichrist by converting, and thus cutting off, his followers; for breath does not signify God’s truth or instruction, but the execution of his judgment (2 Samuel 22:16; Job 4:9; Job 15:30; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 30:27-33). The manifestation (Greek, epiphany) of his coming is undoubtedly the divine excellency, radiance, glory and sublimity of the revealed Godhead; for the word "epiphany" conveys this idea (Titus 2:13; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; comp. Revelation 20:11). The destruction of antichrist will be caused by the judgment of God, and be effected by the appearing of God. The manifestation of the real and perfect will stand in awful, consuming contrast to the revelation of the sham and lie];

Verse 9

even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders [To give full force to the Greek we should here translate "all lying power, all lying signs, all lying wonders." Antichrist shall employ the methods of Satan, and shall prove his claims by false miracles, like those of Jannes and Jambres-- Exodus 7:10-13; 2 Timothy 3:1-8],

Verse 10

and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. [Antichrist comes with lies, to those who love not the truth as to right and wrong, etc., that they may be saved by it; but sentence themselves to perish by preferring that deception leading to unrighteousness--which makes unrighteousness appear the better course.]

Verse 11

And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error [the threefold working of error mentioned in verse 9], that they should believe a lie:

Verse 12

that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [God permits Satan to present lies to those who, because of their love for sin, desire to be deceived (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Having given our exposition of the above passage, we should like also to give a history of its exposition, but must content ourselves with referring the reader to those given by Newton, Lunemann, Alford, Gloag, etc. We should like also to discuss the theory of most commentators who identify the man of sin with the beast at Rev. 13, and the Roman Empire with the red dragon at Rev. 12, and who find in the Antiochus of Daniel the prototype of this lawless one. See Newton on the Prophecies, Dissertation 22. But we will content ourselves with the presentation of the antichrist, and remarks on this prophecy. The term "antichrist" conveys not only the idea of one who is opposed to Christ, but also of one who is the antithesis of Christ. This latter idea has been touched upon, but not fully developed. The antichrist is a counterfeit or caricature of Christ, and his life is an elaborate parody of that part of the Christ life which may be so contradicted, contorted and adapted so as to comport with worldly ambition. The antichrist is the personification of sin (verse 3), whereas Christ is the incarnation of righteousness (Acts 3:14). He is the son of perdition (verse 3), just as Jesus is the Prince of life (Acts 3:14). He opposes his will against God, and exalts himself against God, and enthrones himself in the temple of God, and displays himself as God (verse 4), while Jesus resigned himself to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42) and humbled himself in complete obedience (Philippians 2:5-8), and, though truly claiming to be divine (John 14:8-11), waited until he was exalted of God (Phil 2:9), when he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in the true temple on high, because he was divine (Hebrews 1:3-5; Hebrews 8:1-2). Antichrist has a season or time for revelation (verse 6), just as Jesus had (Galatians 4:4), and still has a proper time for revealing himself (Acts 1:6-7). He first exists as a mystery, and then has his open revelation (Greek, apocalypse)--verses 7, and 3, 6, 8; and so also did Jesus (Romans 16:25-26). Moreover, as a mystery the antichrist existed as lawlessness, and finally came forth the lawless one, while Jesus was first concealed in the mysterious types of the law (John 5:46; Romans 3:21-22), and was born under the law (Galatians 4:4) and was the very incarnation of law (Romans 10:4; Matthew 5:17-18), and is the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). He has a coming (Greek, parousia)--verse 9, just as Christ has (verse 8). His coming is according to the working of Satan with lying power, signs and wonders (verse 9), while Jesus came after the working of God (John 5:19-20; Ephesians 1:19-20), with God’s real powers, signs and wonders-- Acts 2:22 ("powers" being translated "mighty works"). With these lying miracles he established an anti-gospel, formed in the deceit of unrighteousness and producing death (verse 10); while Jesus, as is shown by the same verse, brought the gospel of truth that men might he saved. And finally, his kingdom rests on belief--the belief of a lie (verse 11)--just as Christ’s rests upon the belief of the truth. Thus, step by step, the antichrist parodies the glories, but not the humiliations of the Christ, but he fails to rise to the last step, for he has no manifestation (Greek, epiphany) answering to that which Christ has, as shown by verse 8. That is to say, he has no divinity to subdue all things by the outburst of its glory. He can assume the figure of Christ, but can not rival Christ transfigured. In interpreting this passage commentators divide themselves into three parties: 1. Those who think the prophecy long since fulfilled. 2. Those who regard it as in process of fulfillment. 3. Those who look upon it as yet to be fulfilled in the future. The first class fail to note that the antichrist is to be destroyed by the epiphany of Christ’s coming. Hence antichrist can not have come and gone, since this epiphany is yet to take place. The great body of Protestant commentators are found in the second class, who look upon the long line of popes as the antichrist, and the church of Rome as the apostasy. The third class, of whom Alford and Olshausen are exponents, look upon the pope as a prefiguration or forerunner of the antichrist, having many of his characteristics, but not filling up all the Scripture details by which he is described; Olshausen urging that the pope can not be antichrist, because, contrary to John 2:22; he confesses that Jesus is the Christ; and Alford objecting on the two grounds that the pope does not oppose God, and exalt himself above God, according to verse 4, for the pope is found to be very worshipful; and because the Papacy has existed for some fifteen hundred years, and Christ has not yet come, though the revelation of the antichrist is to immediately precede the coming of Christ. Taking up these three objections in their order, we would note, first, that a mere verbal, formal or ceremonial confession of Christ certainly will not relieve any one from being charged by the Spirit with having denied Christ. To really confess Jesus as Christ, is to look to him as the supreme Priest, to be guided by him as the all-authoritative Prophet or Teacher, to be ruled by him utterly as the divine and absolute King. Does the pope’s confession answer to this? Secondly, the language of verse 4 should not be so strained as to make it stronger than it is. It must be borne in mind that antichrist is a man, and not a deity, and hence his opposition to God, exaltation of self against God, etc., must be such as is possible to man. Alford so construes verse 4 as to demand not only one who lifts himself against God, but even above God, so as to make himself the sole object of worship. But Whedon justly remarks, "If this prophecy is to wait for a being who literally exalts himself above the Omnipresent and Omnipotent, it waits for an impossibility." Moreover, in permitting the worship of saints and of the virgin, the pope does not avoid the charge of opposing all that is worshiped, for it must be borne in mind that the very spirit of worship demands an unseen element. If the pope should entirely deny all the unseen, then worship itself would be at an end. Since he must permit some continuance of this unseen element or defeat his own purposes, he contents himself with dictating as to it, deciding for himself in what it shall consist. Too rigorous a denial of all worship would destroy that which he seeks to parody, and obliterate his title as antichrist, Lastly, the third objection, that the Papacy has existed for fifteen hundred years, carries no weight; for the word "immediately," on which Alford founds it, is neither in the text nor in the thought, and prophecy has very little perspective at best. It is sufficient that the Papacy still exists, and if it continues to exist till the Lord comes, and is brought to naught by that event, it will fulfill that part of the prophecy under consideration. In short, while we will not attempt to say that the final form of antichrist, Papal or otherwise, may not exceed in wickedness all that we have yet seen (for prophecies are certainly iterative), yet we are constrained to contend that if no other form appears, the Papacy has already fulfilled the prophecy, for it agrees in all the points, as follows: 1. It has one official man ever at its head, and the arrogancy of its claims are centered in him. 2. That man came with and out of all apostasy, and the very kind of an apostasy which Paul elsewhere describes (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9). Can that apostacy exist for all these centuries, and antichrist be still unborn of it? 3. The spiritual pride and lawlessness which worked and would have produced antichrist in Paul’s day, was curbed by the person of the Cæsar whose superior spiritual pride and lawlessness restrained that of the church by contempt and persecution. 4. When, notwithstanding the overshadowing emperor, the bishops of Rome began to assert themselves spiritually, they were still checked and restrained from revealing themselves as earthly potentates by the temporal power of the empire, just as the language of verses 6 and 7 so carefully distinguishes. 5. When the power of the Roman Empire was taken away, the pope appeared, and has since been unceasingly in evidence. Paul’s readers could readily see how the emperor and the empire would check the antichrist; but Paul could not openly write that emperor and empire were to fall, for, had he done so, the Romans would have appealed to his words as affording a just cause for persecuting the church. So thought Tertullian (A. D. 150-240), Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386), Ambrose (340-397), Jerome (342-420), Chrysostom (347-407), Augustine (354-430), etc. 6. The pope is careful to keep up his line of succession, so as to establish his identity and claims; and arising out of the fall of Rome and the apostasy of the church, which accompanied that event, he has continued for centuries with little change, and certainly none for the better. 7. He exalts himself against God and Christ, calling himself the vicar, or infallible substitute for Christ, and permitting and encouraging his followers to speak of him thus: "Our Lord God the Pope, another God upon earth . . . doeth whatsoever he listeth, even things unlawful, and is more than God." Under these titles he presumes to set aside divine laws in favor of his own. Thus as a substitute person he makes substitute laws, and arrogates to himself divine power, as did Pope Clement VI. when he commanded the angels to admit certain souls to paradise. 8. He sits in the temple of God, i. e., he has his sphere of dominion in the church, and the temple or church which he occupies is still a temple erected to God, albeit the Spirit and presence of God may have long since departed from it. 9. He proves his supreme claims by fraudulent miracles, signs and wonders; of which cures effected by relics and shrines and pictures; prayers, made effectual by blessed beads; indulgences; souls prayed out of purgatory for money; absolution, and transubstantiation are fair samples.]

Verse 13

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth [From the sad picture of those who, through love of unrighteousness, were given over to the working of error unto perishing, Paul turns to give thanks for the Thessalonians, who were chosen from the beginning (though Gentiles) unto salvation--a salvation which is worked out on the divine side in the sanctification of the Spirit, and on the human side in the belief of the truth. From the beginning God had determined that the Gentiles should be saved, and had arranged his plans to that end-- Romans 9:23-26; Ephesians 3:5-6]:

Verse 14

whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. [To this working of salvation God had called the Thessalonians, not by an arbitrary election, but by the gospel which Paul had preached to them, and he had called them that they might be possessors, or sharers, in the glory of Christ--"joint heirs" with him-- Romans 8:17]

Verse 15

So then, brethren, stand fast [in contrast to being shaken, as stated in verse 2], and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. [God was doing his part in calling and in sanctifying, and so the Thessalonians are here exhorted to do their part in firmly adhering to the truth which they had believed. For if one would hold the gospel salvation he must hold the gospel truths. These truths are here called traditions; for, though inspired truths, they were as yet falling from the lips of living men, and were not yet reduced to writing, though we see by these two epistles of Paul that the New Testament record was in process of construction.]

Verse 16

Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,

Verse 17

comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. [Paul, as a minister of Christ, was endeavoring to comfort and establish the Thessalonians in their words and deeds, and he here prays that Christ himself and God the Father may thus comfort and establish them; and he describes the Father as one who loved them (John 3:16), and through mere grace had given them the means of never failing consolation, and a good hope of a final salvation, which is more than consolation.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/2-thessalonians-2.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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