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2 Thessalonians 2:2

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 320 - January 1883

 

2 Thessalonians 2:2

The misleaders at Thessalonica were not so infatuated as to imagine that the Lord had come, and by His presence gathered to Himself on high all the saints, whether departed, or alive and waiting for Him. Even they never dreamt that He had descended into the air, and translated all the once suffering children of God to be with Him glorified in heaven. Since it was patent to all eyes that the saints in Thessalonica, and their brethren throughout the world, were still on earth, they could hold no such suicidal thought as that the deceased saints were already raised from their graves, and that they themselves were left behind. The truth is that they were not thinking about the Lord's presence: their delusion was not on this score at all, but about " the day of the Lord," as verse 2 makes clear and indisputable. They did conceive that this " day" was not merely "at hand," which is true, but "present" which is false. Identify the coming with the day of the Lord, and all is confusion; distinguishing between them, you forthwith receive light, and need put no strain on the words, which are instructive in proportion to the discernment of their exact force.

For the Authorised Version is here wholly astray, and even inconsistent with its own rendering of every occurrence of the word elsewhere. The reader can compare Rom. viii. 38; 1 Cor iii. 22; vii. 26; Gal. i. 4; 2 Tim. iii. 1; and Heb. ix. 9), which form the entire range of the word in the New Testament. Not only does it not convey "at hand" in any one of the other cases, but such a sense would be everywhere absurd and impossible. In the first two references ' ░ things present" (ἐνεστῶτα) are contrasted with "things to come." This could not be if the word really bore the sense of "just coming, imminent, or at hand." So again in the third instance the distress was actually " present," not merely threatening but already come. Just as evidently in the fourth it is "the present age, evil as it is," ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος or ὁ νῦν αἰών as the apostle calls it in Rom. xii. 2 and 1 Tim. vi. 17, contrasted with "that" or "the coming age" (Luke viii. 20; xx. 35; Heb. vi. 5), which is the very reverse, being good, righteous, peaceful, and glorious. Nor should we wonder; since Satan shall no longer be the prince of the power of the air or god of the next age as he is of this (2 Cor. iv. 4), but cast out and restrained, and the Lord reigning in displayed power and glory instead of being as now hid in God. So even the different and future form, ’ἐνστήσονται in 2 Tim. iii. 1, does not mean that difficult or grievous times "impend," but shall actually "come." "Shall be soon coming" would altogether enfeeble the sense and ruin its force. Not otherwise is it with the last reference, where the meaning beyond controversy is "for the present time." One can hardly conceive any reasonable man construing the phrase of the time soon to come or at hand. The future will be regulated on distinct principles, as to which Scripture is not silent.

Thus, on the ground of the New Testament usage, the weightiest help of all for our guidance in translating a disputed word, there can be no hesitation that the Revised Version is justified, and the Authorised Version at fault, as to the very important word at the end of the verse, the hinge of all sound exposition of the passage. But what of its use in the Septuagint, of such approved and acknowledged value as being the Hellenistic forerunner of New Testament Greek? The first instance which Trom (Concord. Gr. in Sept. i. 529) cites from Theodotion's version of Dan. vii. 5 is a ridiculous blunder, εἰς καίρους ἐνεστάθη. The Aldine texts not so far wrong, yet reading εἰς μέρους which is hardly intelligible, and it has the same error as to the verb. The Complutensian gave it rightly, εἰς μέρος ἓν ἐστάθη as in the Alexandriań and Vatican MSS. The Chisian copy of the true Septuagint gives ἐπὶ τοῦ ἑνὸς πλευροῦ ἐστάθη. But this effaces the only instance save in the Apocryphal books; where Trom gives 3 Esdras 5, 72 [47], 9, 6, 1 Mac. xii. 44; 2 Mac. iii. 17; iv. 43; xii. 3, every one of which confirms the Revised Version in all respects, and the Authorised Version in every case save the unfounded " is at hand" before us.

It may be added that the word, at least in the perfect, is used in ordinary classical authors precisely as in the New Testament. See Herod. i. 83; Isoc. 82 B; Polyb. i. 71, 4; Plut. Lucull. 13; Dem. 255, 10, of 274, 6. The three instances, like the rest cited by Deans Liddell and Scott, in their admirable Lexicon (Aristoph. Nub. 779, Isaeus 88. 40, Dem. 896, 29), are of the usual import, not "imminent " but "present," actually begun and going on. In each the suit was already begun, even if still pending. . It is the same beyond doubt with ὁ νῦν ἐνεστηκῶς ἀγών, Lycurg. 148, 32; τοῦ ἐνεστ. μηνός, Phil. ap. Dem. 280. 12 means the present month, ι of one soon coming; and so does ἐνεστ. πόλεμος in Aesch. 35, 27. And χρόνος ἐν means the present, not future tense; as τραύματα ἐν., Plat. Legg. 378 B, means wounds inflicted, not merely threatened; and τὰ ἐν., or ἐν. πράγματα, Xen. Hell. 2. 1, 6; Polyb. 2. 26, 3, means present circumstances, in no case "at hand." Not any instance has been produced where the word in the perfect can be shown to mean a state of things not yet commenced. The sense therefore, in writings as well profane as sacred, is "present," not "at hand."

This may suffice in a well-grounded way to assure the reader that the error so unscrupulously taught by fanatics in Thessalonica was, not that the day is "at hand" (for the apostle himself taught this expressly in Rom. xiii. 12), but that it had "actually come." The mischievous men were probably of similar type as HymenŠus and Philetus, "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. ii. 18). The resurrection could be only thus explained away as accomplished, by reducing it allegorically to some spiritual privilege already received. Some such attenuation by giving a present bearing is as easily understood, if not more so, as of the day of the Lord. For while that day can never be fulfilled in all its scope, till Jehovah executes judgment on the quick here below and brings in His own reign, when all things rejoice instead of groaning as now, yet judicial inflictions in God's ways on Israel or the heathen were designated by "that day" in the Old Testament. Take Isaiah iii., vii., and still more evidently xiii., and xix.; and what can be clearer than that a then sweeping and exterminating judgment on a people and country, as then on Babylon or on Egypt, is called the "day of the Lord" on them, though no doubt there remained momentous elements as yet unfulfilled which await "the day" in the fullest sense at the end of the age?

Joel i., ii., illustrates this same thing. The day of the Lord is similarly introduced and with similar characteristics. It is a day that comes as a destruction from the Almighty; a day of darkness and of gloominess; a day of cloud and of thick darkness; great and very terrible, and who can abide it? but a day which, however it might fall on any in a measure though Medes or Persians, though Greeks or Romans, looks onward to its completeness really whon the Lord rises up to shake not the earth only but also heaven. Compare Zeph. i. 7-18 with iii. 8-20, Zech. xii.—xiv.

Now it is very intelligible that a misleador might avail himself of this germinant or partial application of the prophecies in ancient times to affirm that the sore troubles and persecution the Thessalonians were then enduring along' with external distress, and political convulsion, &c., were the proof (not indeed of Christ's presence, or that the saints were translated to heaven, which twofold event could not of course be pretended in any way to have taken place, for it is here pleaded as a self-evident guard against the error in circulation, but) that the day of the Lord's dealing with the living on earth bad begun, and that the saints were involved in its terrors. So far in fact were any from so egregious a fancy as that Christ had come, that I must reiterate the apostle could entreat them by1 (or, for the sake of) His presence mid our gathering together unto Him, that they should not credit the alarming rumour that His day was there. That is, every believer in his senses could not but know that Christ had not come, but sat in heaven still, and that the saints were still on earth instead of being caught up to Him above. Therefore the apostle does make this a ground of appeal why they should not receive the mischievous report, no matter how strongly in appearance commended, that His day had actually dawned. Christ's presence and our gathering unto Him on high must precede that day. That en the one hand so great a joy, so bright a hope, was not yet the portion of the saints, and that on the other while Christ was still absent they themselves and their brethren were as yet on earth, were obvious facts and irrefragable reasons why the day could not be come. They are to appear from heaven following Christ to bring in that day. See Rev. xvii. 14; six. 14. In order to this they must be translated there before; and we see them symbolised as in heaven from Rev. iv. and onward.

The phraseology too, if scrutinised, will be found consistent only with this view, irreconcilable with the popular confusion which clouds these verses. For the apostle is beseeching the Thessalonians, as we have seen, "that ye be not quickly shaken in [lit. . from your] mind2 nor yet troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from [lit. by] us, as that. the day of the Lord is present." As it is an offence against every sound exegetical principle to imagine that "the coming of the Lord" in verse 1 differs from that which had been so distinctly revealed in the first Epistle, ch. iv., so equally are we bound to interpret "the day of the Lord" here with what was laid down ill ch. v. Providential or figurative applications are thus out of the question. The New Testament at least employs both terms in the full and final sense.

Those who in our day speak of a figurative coming of the Lord are on the same ground with the fabulists of Thessalonica who insinuated a figurative day of the Lord, with this difference (it is true) that the former apply that coning to the future, the latter to the time then present. Consistency of interpretation refutes both. A partial meaning of either term is excluded from these epistles, which in all fairness cannot be allowed consistently to teach anything short of the complete events. The resurrection of the saints bound up with Christ's coming, and the awful depth mid extent of the judgment to be executed en the apostate powers of evil and on all who, believing not the truth, had pleasure in unrighteousness, point unmistakably to the intervention of the Lord in person.

We are told by excellent and intelligent Christians that the apostle's object here ‚vas to calm down the too ardent or wild anticipation of the Lord's immediate return. But as to this the prevalent confusion meets us. It took a stirring form, says its champion, in the Thessalonica church. Their inexperienced minds and warns hearts were plied with the thrilling proclamation that the day of Christ [rather, "of the Lord"] was at hand or imminent [not so, for ἐνέστηκεν never means this but "is present"]. Is it net passing strange that able Christian men who differ very widely as to Christ's advent and reign should coalesce in an evident misapprehension of what the apostle does say and mean? He "fearlessly crushed" the delusion that the day was came. He, besought them by (or, for the sake of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him not to be troubled by that false alarm. This was a powerful motive against believing the dreaded day to have arrived: but how could such a hope disprove the view that the day was "at hand," oven if he did not himself sο teach elsewhere? It is exactly a pre-millennialist who could most fully be expected to make or appreciate that entreaty. A post-millennialist does not even comprehend it as it stands, but instinctively slips off into false rendering and bad exegesis, and this from the necessity of a starting-point which effectually bars intelligence of the moaning. He therefore naturally and utterly mistakes both what the Thessalonians thought, and what the apostle says in opposition to their thought. Those alone are right who affirm that the apostle meant only to deny that the day of the Lord had begun or was actually present; and one may hope that the passage is on the way to be so understood, now that the Revisers have corrected this faulty verse.4

The "long and complicated series of events" to be developed, the very commencement of which was retarded by an obstacle then in being while the apostle wrote, was to crush, not the waiting for Christ's coming as a proximate hope, but the false statement that the day of the Lord was there already. The designing men in question did not set themselves systematically to urge the nearness of His coming, which all the New Testament does; their pretension to spiritual inspiration, their solemn utterance, their forgery of a letter under Paul's name, were all to give colour and currency to the wholly distinct arid false insinuation that the day of the Lord was conie.

Hence it was not enthusiastic and feverish excitement associated with the expectation of Christ's coming and the fruition of the Christian's joy with Him in glory; it was the operation of dismay and terror, as if that day of unsparing judgment and of inevitable horror had set in on them. To be "shaken" from their [or, in- mind or " agitated" (σαλευθῆναι) is descriptive of the disquiet and perturbation caused by fear; still more plainly does it flow from the same source to be "frightened," or "troubled" (θροεῖσθαι), which (less, if possible, than σ.) suits the impatient and impetuous enthusiasm of a wrongly excited hope. It is in a quite different connexion that we read in the last chapter of disorderly brethren who did not work as became them: spurious fear or hope might produce this result; but nothing of the kind is implied here in chapter ii.

It will be seen that all this warping of details, as well as false teaching as a whole, by men otherwise to be respected, turns on the erroneous assumption that the express subject of discourse is the second personal coming of our Lord; and that it is to guard against the notion that His personal coming was at hand" or imminent. Not so: this is divine truth everywhere taught in the New Testament, and nowhere so constantly, clearly, and urgently as in these epistles. The apostle is really exposing and uprooting the delusion that the day of the Lord was now present. Do those confusing expositors aver that the Thessalonian dealers in judgment-day false alarm thought or pretended that the Lord Himself was come or present in power and glory? The fact is, that on the contrary the apostle begs the saints, by His coming which would gather them together to Him in perfect peace and endless joy, not to be troubled with the deceptive cry that the day so awe-inspiring had begun. This cry is nowhere imputed to a misconstruction of the apostle's words in the first epistle. Even if we punctuate with Lachmann, and Theile, &c., or with Webster and Wilkinson, the only real meaning is the claim of a spirit of communication, oral ministry, and a letter, falsely attributed to the apostle; and it in no way emanated from really earnest Christians, but from fraudulent men who misled them. Tertullian and Chrysostom are right, Whitby &c. quite wrong.

A Christian writer of late contends for a figurative sense here only to be given to the coming or presence of our Lord in verse 1, supplemented by verse 8, because, he rightly thinks, the destruction of Antichrist immediately precedes not the eternal state but the millennial reign. Hence, as he will not have the reign of our Lord to be personal, he construes His antecedent coming as a figure. Now the decisive answer is, not only that in other New Testament cases (and notably in these epistles, as he himself allows) the presence (παρουσία) of our Lord is invariably personal and in grace, and not merely providential and in judgment, but that His presence is inseparably joined to "our gathering together to Him." Will he venture to say that the translation of the saints to heaven is hero figurative?5 and why should both be literal in 1 Thess. iv. where they are also (though in another way) shown to be indissolubly bound as immediate cause and consequence? Such a figurative force given to our Lord's coming is overturned by our gathering together. unto Him conjoined to it; as it would also nullify the apostle's appeal grounded) on that blessed hope not yet realised) against the imposture that the day of the Lord was come. The truth is that the post-millennial coming is a myth, not less certainly than the Thessalonian delusion about the day, and every form of the popular misinterpretation based on the false translation of these verses, especially of ἐνέστηκεν in verse 2. To argue on π. of the man of sin in verse 9, as if it is assuredly to be impersonal, shows how prejudice can blind a usually vigorous reasoner to build one assumption on another, without one element of solid truth more than in the fabled piling of Ossa on Pelion. The coming of our Lord and our gathering to Him above; which all must have known to be yet future, is the motive to dispel the delusion that His day had arrived; and hence His coming is not identified with His day, the real subject in question (which would be senseless), but contra-distinguished from it. Never can there be an intelligent grasp of the Apostle's reasoning, never a comprehensive view of the context, till this distinction is seized, an immense help to the understanding of other scriptures.

 

 

1) It may be remarked here that not only older scholars like Erasmus and Beza hold to "by" as the true sense in this connection, but Wahl of recent years adds his high authority, as also Matthiae and Jelf allow the principle, and the late Greek Professor Scholefield of Cambridge, though preferring "concerning" from not understanding the argument and context.

2) It would seem scarce credible to intelligent Christians if happily ignorant of the dreary comments written on Scripture, that Dr. Macknight interprets this as "shaken from any honest purpose which they had formed concerning their worldly affairs "! But his translation, popular as the work has been, is as incompetent as his commentary is worldly-minded throughout,

3) (footnote not linked in original) Brown's Christ's Second Coming, sixth edition, pp. 42- 49, 425-433; Elliott's Hone ApocalypticŠ, fifth edition, iii. 91 et seqq., iv. 184-187.

4) Mr. Mode and Bishop Horsley wrote when the misrendering is "at hand" supplanted "present" to the total darkening of the apostolic argument. The latter in particular quite misconceives the occasion of the second epistle, fur it was an error, backed up by forgery, about the living saints as if involved in the day of the Lord; whereas the first epistle corrected the mistake about the dead saints at Christ's coming, which may not have had any such unhappy source.

5) I am aware that Dr. Whitby, the father of the popular theory of a future reign of the saints on earth without Christ, interprets, as a primary explanation, the π. of Christ's coming to destroy Jerusalem! and the ἐπισ. as the gathering of Jewish converts to Christian churches!! as they often worshipped in the synagogues till that destruction. Did Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, the Thessalonian saints so worship, and so need to be gathered then? The figurative view of blessed facts is false,