|Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832)|
|Preface to the Second Epistle
Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
|For an account of
Thessalonica, and St. Paul’s labors there, the reader is requested
to consult the preface to the preceding epistle. That this second
epistle was written shortly after the first, and from the same place
too, is very probable, from this circumstance, that the same
persons, Paul, Silvanus, and Timotheus, who addressed the Church at
Thessalonica in the former epistle, address the same Church in this;
and as three such apostolic men were rarely long together in the
same place, it is very likely that the two epistles were written not
only in the same year, but also within a very short time of each
other. It appears that the person who carried the first epistle
returned speedily to Corinth, and gave the apostle a particular
account of the state of the Thessalonian Church; and, among other
things, informed him that many were in expectation of the speedy
arrival of the day of judgment; and that they inferred from his
epistle already sent, 1Th 4:15,
that it was to take place while the apostle and themselves should be
yet alive. And it appears probable, from some parts of this epistle,
that he was informed also that some, expecting this sudden
appearance of the Lord Jesus, had given up all their secular
concerns as inconsistent with a due preparation for such an
important and awful event; see
2Th 3:6-13. To
correct such a misapprehension, and redeem them from an error,
which, if appearing to rest on the authority of an apostle, must in
its issue be ruinous to the cause of Christianity, St. Paul would
feel himself constrained to write immediately; and this is a
sufficient reason why these epistles should appear to have been
written at so short a distance from each other. What rendered this
speedy intervention of the apostle’s authority and direction the
more necessary, was, that there appear to have been some in that
Church who professed to have a revelation concerning this thing, and
to have endeavored to confirm it by a pretended report from the
apostle himself, and from the words already referred to in the
former epistle; see here on
2Th 2:1-2 (note): “We beseech you, brethren,
be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by Spirit, nor
by Word, nor by Letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at
hand.” As the apostle, in this epistle,
entreats the Thessalonians to pray the Lord that he and his
companions might be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, Dr.
Macknight supposes that the epistle was written soon after the
insurrection of the Jews at Corinth, in which they dragged Paul
before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, and accused him of
persuading men to worship God contrary to the law;
Act 18:13. This
argument places it also in the year 52, or 53, in the twelfth or
thirteenth of Claudius the successor of Caius.
As there have been some eminent Christian writers who have entertained the same opinion with those at Thessalonica, that not only St. Paul, but other apostles of Christ, did believe that the day of general judgment should take place in their time, which opinion is shown by the event to be absolutely false; it appears to be a matter of the utmost consequence to the credit of Divine revelation, to rescue the character of the apostles from such an imputation. Dr. Macknight has written well on this subject, as the following extract from his preface to this epistle will prove: -
“Grotius, Locke, and others,” says he, “have affirmed that the apostles believed that the end of the world was to happen in their time; and that they have declared this to be their belief in various passages of their epistles. But these learned men, and all who join them in that opinion, have fallen into a most pernicious error; for thereby they destroy the authority of the Gospel revelation, at least as far as it is contained in the discourses and writings of the apostles; because, if they have erred in a matter of such importance, and which they affirm was revealed to them by Christ, they may have been mistaken in other matters also, where their inspiration is not more strongly asserted by them than in this instance. It is therefore necessary to clear them from so injurious an imputation.
“And first, with respect to Paul, who was an apostle of Christ, and Silvanus, who was a prophet, and a chief man among the brethren, and Timothy, who was eminent for his spiritual gifts, I observe that the epistle under our consideration affords the clearest proof that these men knew the truth concerning the coming of Christ to judge the world; for in it they expressly assured the Thessalonians that the persons who made them believe the day of judgment was at hand were deceiving them; that, before the day of judgment, there was to be a great apostasy in religion, occasioned by the man of sin, who at that time was restrained from showing himself, but who was to be revealed in his season; that, when revealed, he will sit, that is, remain a long time in the Church of God, as God, and showing himself that he is God; and that, afterwards, he is to be destroyed. Now, as these events could not be accomplished in the course of a few years, the persons who foretold they were to happen before the coming of Christ certainly did not think the day of judgment would be in their lifetime. Besides, St. Paul,Rom 11:23-26, by a long chain of reasoning, having showed that, after the general conversion of the Gentiles, the Jews, in a body, are to be brought into the Christian Church, can any person be so absurd as to persevere in maintaining that this apostle believed the end of the world would happen in his lifetime?
“Next, with respect to the Apostle Peter, I think it plain, from the manner in which he has spoken of the coming of Christ, that he knew it was at a great distance;2Pe 3:3, 2Pe 3:4, 2Pe 3:8, 2Pe 3:9 : ‘Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For, from the time the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as at the beginning of the creation. But this one thing, let it not escape you, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord, who hath promised, doth not delay, in the manner some account delaying.’ Now, seeing Peter has here foretold that, in the last age, the wicked will mock at the promise of Christ’s coming, on account of its being long delayed; and, from the stability and regularity of the course of nature during so many ages, will argue that there is no probability that the world will ever come to an end; it is evident that he also knew the coming of Christ to judgement was at a very great distance at the time he wrote that epistle.
“The same may be said of James; for, in the hearing of the apostles, elders, and brethren assembled in the council of Jerusalem, he quoted passages from the Jewish prophets, to show that all the Gentiles were, at some future period, to seek after the Lord;Act 15:17. But, if James looked for the general conversion of the Gentiles, he certainly could not imagine the end of the world would happen in his time.
“Lastly, the Apostle John, in his book of the Revelation, having foretold a great variety of important events respecting the political and religious state of the world, which could not be accomplished in a few years, but required a series of ages to give them birth; there cannot be the least doubt that he likewise knew the truth concerning his Master’s second coming; and therefore, to suppose that he imagined the day of judgment was to happen in his own lifetime, is a palpable mistake.
“Upon the whole, seeing the apostles and other inspired teachers of our religion certainly knew that the coming of Christ to judgment was at a great distance, every impartial person must be sensible they have been much injured, not by the enemies of revelation alone, but by some of its friends; who, upon the strength of certain expressions, the meaning, of which they evidently misunderstood, have endeavored to persuade the world that the apostle ignorantly believed the day of judgment was at hand. These expressions may all be applied to other events, as shall be showed in the next section, and therefore they ought to be so applied; because candour requires that sense to be put on an author’s words which renders him most consistent with himself.” As the term coming of Christ has several acceptations in the sacred writings, and the applying any one of these to the subject to which in a given place it does not belong, may lead to very erroneous if not dangerous conclusions, as it appears to have done at Thessalonica; it is necessary to consider the different senses in which this phrase is used, that we may know its specific meaning in the different places where it occurs. Dr. Macknight, in the fourth section of his preface, intitled, Different Comings of Christ are spoken of in the New Testament, has treated this subject also with considerable judgment, as the reader will at once perceive.
“In this article I propose to show that there are other comings of Christ spoken of in Scripture besides his coming to judgement; and that there are other things besides this mundane system whose end is there foretold; and that it is of these other matters the apostles speak, when they represent the day of their Master and the end of all things as at hand.
“First, then, in the prophetic writings of the Jews (
“Farther, that the apostles, by the coming of Christ, which they represented as at hand when they wrote their epistles, meant his coming to establish his spiritual kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, and not his coming to put an end to this mundane system, is evident from what Christ himself told them,Mat 16:28 : ‘There be some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’ And, agreeably to this account of the coming of Christ and of the end of all things, I observe that every passage of their epistles, in which the apostles have spoken of these things as at hand, may with the greatest propriety be interpreted of Christ’s coming to establish his everlasting kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, by destroying Jerusalem, putting an end to the law of Moses, and spreading the Gospel through the world. Thus, 1Co 11:11 : ‘These things - are written for our admonition, upon whom τα τελη των αιωνων, the ends of the ages are come,’ means the end of the age under the law, and the beginning of the age under the Messiah. Phi 4:5 : ‘Let your moderation be known to all men: the Lord is nigh;’ namely, to destroy the Jews, your greatest adversaries. Heb 9:26 : ‘But now once επι συντελειᾳ των αιωνων, at the conclusion of the ages, (the Jewish jubilees), hath he been manifested to abolish sin-offering by the sacrifice of himself.’ Heb 10:25 : ‘Exhorting one another daily; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching,’ the day of Christ’s coming to destroy Jerusalem and the Jewish state. Heb 10:37 : ‘For yet a little while, and he who is coming will come, and will not tarry.’ Jam 5:7 : ‘Wherefore, be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.’ Jam 5:8 : ‘Be ye also patient, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord (to destroy the Jews, your persecutors) draweth nigh.’ Jam 5:9 : ‘Behold the Judge standeth before the door.’ 1Pe 4:7 : ‘The end of all things (the end of Jerusalem, and of the temple, and of all the Mosaic institutions) hath approached. Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.’ 1Jo 2:18 : ‘Young children, it is the last hour of the Jewish state; and as ye have heard (from Christ, in his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem) that antichrist cometh, so now there are many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour of the Jewish state.’
2. “There is another coming of Christ spoken of by the apostles, different likewise from his coming to judge the world, and to put an end to the present state of things; viz. his coming to destroy the man of sin.2Th 2:8 : ‘Him the Lord will consume by the breath of his mouth, and will render ineffectual by the bright shining of his coming.’ This singular event, which will contribute greatly to the honor of God and the good of his Church, being accomplished by a visible and extraordinary interposition of the power of Christ in the government of the world, is, agreeably to the Scripture style, fitly called the coming of the Lord, and the bright shining of his coming; but this coming is nowhere in the Scriptures said to be at hand.
3. “There is likewise a day or coming of Christ, spoken of by Paul, different from his coming to judgment, and from both the former comings; I mean his releasing his people from their present trial by death.1Co 1:8 : ‘He also will confirm you unto the end, without accusation, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Phi 1:6 : ‘He who hath begun in you a good work, will be completing it until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ It is true, the release of Christ’s servants from their present trial by death is accomplished, for the most part, by no extraordinary display of his power; yet it is fitly enough called his day and coming, because by his appointment all men die, and by his power each is carried to his own place after death. Besides, his servants in particular being put on their duty, like soldiers, must remain at their several posts till released by their commander: and when he releases them, he is fitly said to come for that purpose.
4. “Besides all these, there is a day or coming of the Lord to judge the world, and to put an end to the present state of things. This coming Christ himself has promised.Mat 16:27 : ‘The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his holy angels; and then shall he reward every man according to his work.’ Now this, being a real, personal appearing of Christ in the body, is, more properly than any other of his comings, called the day and coming of Christ. And the purposes of it being more important than those of his other comings, the exertions of his power for accomplishing them will be most signal and glorious. Hence this coming is, with great propriety, termed the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the day of his revelation, when he shall be glorified in his saints, and admired of all them who believe.
“Thus it appears that, when the apostles wrote, there were four comings of Christ to happen, three of them figurative, but the fourth a real appearance; that these different comings are frequently spoken of in Scripture; and that, although the coming of Christ to destroy Jerusalem, and to establish his everlasting kingdom, be represented by the apostles as then at hand, no passage from their writings can be produced in which his personal appearance to judge the world is said, or even insinuated, to be at hand. The truth is, if the different comings of Christ are distinguished as they ought to be, we shall find that the apostles have spoken of each of them according to truth; and that the opinion which some Christians have unadvisedly espoused, to the great discredit of the inspiration of the apostles, has not the least foundation in Scripture.” The epistle naturally divides itself into three parts, and each is contained in a separate chapter.
Part 2. Chap. 2 - Is partly prophetical, and partly didactic. It contains the doctrine concerning Christ’s coming to judgment, and a prophecy concerning some future but great apostasy from the Christian faith.
Part 3. Chap. 3 - Is wholly hortatory; and contains a number of important advices relative to Christian virtues, and a proper behavior in those situations in life in which it had pleased God to call them.
This is the shortest of all St. Paul’s epistles to the Churches, but is of very great importance, and in many places very sublime, especially in the second part; and in this there are several very great difficulties, and some things hard to be understood. After all the pains and labor of learned men, it would be hazardous to say, the meaning of every part is now clearly made out. What increases the difficulty is, that the apostle refers to some private communication with themselves, no part of which is on record, and without which it would require St. Paul’s inspiration to be able to fix the sense and meaning of all we find here. May the Father of lights give the reader a wise understanding in all things! Amen.
Taken from "Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible" by Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832)