Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 321 - February 1883
2 Thessalonians 2:3
It will have been observed that the subject-matter was no new revelation to the Thessalonians. It had particularly occupied the apostle's spirit when he had visited their city, not only in teaching the saints but even in the public preaching to the world. And his first epistle had set out carefully for all the saints, asleep or alive, the circumstances, order, character, and issue of the Lord's "coming" (especially since some misapprehension had sprung up in their minds touching the deceased); as he had not kept back the solemn nature of the judgment awaiting men in their unbelief when His "day" comes suddenly upon them. He had now applied His coming in all its joyful associations to dispel the fresh and alarming error that the "day" had arrived—an error for which its propaganulists falsely alleged the highest authority, spirit, word, and letter even of the apostle himself. For it is sad to see that, when the truth is lost, those who depart from it are apt to be no longer truthful, and become the dupes of Satan by unscrupulous perversion to give zealous currency to their error. But the apostle entreats the saints by Christ's coming and their consequent gathering unto Him on high not to be shaken or troubled by any such dream as that His day was come. They must be with Him before it, in order to appear with Him in glory when that day comes for the judgment of the quick. When men are saying Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, so that they shall not escape. Nothing like this had happened as yet: rather the converse of trouble and persecution for the. saints, and of ease for their troublers, which is to be exactly reversed when that day comes.
From verse 3 begins a new line of disproof, not a motive from their blessed hope, but a reason founded on the positive fact that the stupendous evil about to work in its successive steps must be developed and manifested in its last and ripened form, with which "the day of the Lord" is to deal according to the prophetic word.
"Let none deceive you in any way; because [it will not be] except the falling away shall have come first, and the man of sin1. be revealed, the son of perdition." (Verse 3.)
Not a hint drops. as to "the coming of the Lord." Tyndale's Version of 1534 and Cranmer's of 1539 are therefore inexcusable in supplying the ellipse with the words, "for the Lord shall not come," &c. Wiclif and the Rhemish avoid the matter by their usual adherence to the Vulgate, which literally reflects the incomplete structure of the Greek. The Geneva and Authorised Versions so far rightly cleave to " the day." It is a question of "the" day of the Lord. His "coming" is kept apart from these predicted enormities, which must surely be fulfilled, each in its season, but both before that "day" come, in which the Lord is to punish them. But there is a careful reserve as to His coming, which is kept outside prophetic times and seasons as a constant hope, having only been introduced as emotive why the saints should not lend an ear to the unfounded and absurd rumour, whatever the authority claimed for it, that "the day" had come already. The Lord at any rate had clearly not come: else the saints had been at once gathered together unto Him above. But His presence indisputably was not yet a fact; and it would, when fulfilled, preserve them from the overwhelming experiences of that day, as the hope of it in their souls would deliver them from those vain fables and fears. His coming, or presence, is net the opening but precursor of the day of the Lord; His appearing does synchronise with that day.
But the saints were liable to be beguiled in other ways: hence the fresh warning, and the distinct instruction that the apostasy must come before that day, and the revelation of the man of sin. Let us consider both in the light of the word. They are assumed to be more or less known already. Scripture has furnished light as to both; and the apostle had not been silent as to either when personally with them.
Our Authorised translators have utterly weakened the sense by rendering; ἡ ἀπ. " a" falling. away. Beyond doubt it is "the apostasy," and there is no ground whatever for depriving the phrase of its intentionally definite force. Nobody cam pretend that it is abstract: and a quality mould not have the article in Greek more than in English; so that Archbishop Newcome was as wrong in the principle as in the particular case. In the New Testament. the word occurs only in Acts xxi. 21, and there is anarthrous, which testifies to the emphasis here expressed. There however it means "apostasy," though not " the apostasy" as here. This is better than softening it to falling away or forsaking. A verbal form occurs in 1 Tim. iv. 1, where "apostatize" should have been preserved both for the sake of consistency, and to maintain the definite expression of religious defection. For this it means, not corruption but abandonment, as politically it expresses revolt from authority. See the Septuagint for its use in both these ways.
Here then we have in this brief but expressive phrase the Holy Spirit's expression of that state of things which must precede the day of the Lord. (1) The apostasy must come first; and (2) the man of sin must be revealed, the son of perdition.
(1) In 1 Tim. iv. it is only some in later times who apostatize from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies branded in their own conscience, &c. It is an' ascetic departure from the faith in the pretension to superior sanctity, but real denial of God's rights as Creator and grace as Saviour. Here it is no such partial turning away, but the extreme and general defection from the gospel, which will boldly issue in the abandonment of all revealed truth and of what may be called natural religion, the testimony to the Godhead in creation and man's- conscience. It is the revolt which the prophetic word declares shall characterise the end -of this age, as is so largely and variedly revealed in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, in the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation. Deut. xxxi., xxxii., Psalms x.—xiv., Isaiah lxv., lxvi., Dan. vii. 8, 11, 25, ix. 27, may suffice for the Old Testament. In the New one may cite Matt. xii. 31, 32, 43-45, Luke xvii. 26-30, xviii. 8, 2 Tim. iv. 4, besides 2 Thess. ii., 2 Pet. iii., Jude, and Revelation throughout. These Scriptures warrant the awful expectation that both Jews and Christians will abandon their profession of the truth for which they are respectively responsible, and God be left publicly and in general without a witness of His truth and glory here below, save in the confession of a persecuted remnant and in the execution of His solemn and ever deepening strokes of judgment.
Sad to say, the graver men among Jews and Mohammedans (probably instructed indirectly by Old Testament prophecy) allow more of the ruin here below and the approaching apostasy than many Christians do. Even the Mussulmans own that the Jews are for the mass to abandon the law, themselves the Koran, and the Christians the gospel, before God sends Jesus to judge the world. Certain Christians, misguided alas! by the infidel dream of progress, look for a gradual advance of Christendom to extend itself over all the world, if they do not, like some beguiled yet more by human vanity, expect a state of semi-perfection here below. Scripture however, though it proclaims the gospel of the kingdom, never admits for one moment a kingdom of the gospel, the common delusion of Papists and Protestants. The truth is, that Christendom returns rapidly to that pride, self-will, contempt of the truth and of real godliness, with moral degradation, which characterised the world before the gospel; and 2 Tim. iii. had already prepared us for it. Hint " the apostasy" goes farther still and supposes the general renunciation of the public profession of the truth here below.
(2) Nor is this all; for the abandonment of the Christian faith leads to another and worse development of evil: the revelation of "the man of sin, the son of perdition." He is to be the evident and personal contrast of Christ, the Man of righteousness, the Saviour of the lost. He will concentrate in himself the wickedness of man and the destructive power which Satan wields, the antagonist of the Lord in a fulness which Judas Iscariot had only in measure, though both are designated alike by the same tremendous name (John xvii. 12) which points to a doom most signal.
Of this personage also Scripture speaks in both the Old Testament and the New. Without citing types in the Law, there is .a wicked one within (not merely an enemy outside) who is everywhere prominent in the Psalms. Isaiah xi. 4 (formally in view of the Holy Spirit in our chapter 8) identifies him with the man of sin; and xxx. 33, lvii. 9, describe him as "the king," the usurper of His throne whose right it is, Dan. xi. 36-39 yet more fully. The Lord speaks of him in John v. 43, as the Epistles of John call him "the Antichrist," and Rev. xiii. the second beast from the earth and false prophet who in Rev. xix. perishes with the last head of the fourth empire revived, or first beast from the sea.
Irreligious as he is, he none the less is a religious power, and is indeed such distinctively as compared with the then Emperor, the great political head of the West, as he is the religious chief in the East. Though he is a king, his main and marked influence is not as a secular power but in a religious way. None can doubt this who weighs the various passages of holy writ here brought together, or even this one capital revelation in our chapter. No doubt he is really as infidel as the secular power in the West, his wicked ally; but his characteristic is spiritual, backed by every sort of power and signs and wonders of falsehood according to the working of Satan, and by every sort of deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish.
It is notorious that unbelief has wrought in divers ways to divert this prophecy from its true object and real scope. Thus a little before and at and since the Reformation those who struggled against the papacy applied freely the man of. sin to that corrupt hierarchy; as the later Greeks understood the apostasy of many oriental churches which fell into Islamism, and the man of sin to be Mohammed. So, when the French . revolution broke out, and Napoleon Bonapaste rose on its fall, many applied the chapter to those stirring events; just as earlier men like Grotius, Wetstein, Whitby, &c., had applied it to the evils of the Jews and the destruction of their city and temple. But there remains the undeniable fact that the oldest extant interpretation, which survived for centuries among the ever darkening fathers Greek and Latin, recognised the yet future apostasy just before the close, and the personal Antichrist to be overthrown by the Lord Jesus returning for judgment. I attach no authority whatever to the statements of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, of Tertullian and Lactantius. But even such as. Jerome and Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem and Chrysostom, held firmly to a personal Antichrist to be destroyed by Christ appearing from heaven. As an expositor no ancient writer excels the eloquent Archbishop of Constantinople in simplicity and perhaps understanding of Scripture. Here is his comment on the verse before us: "Concerning the Antichrist, he discourses here and reveals great mysteries. What is the apostasy? Him he calls apostasy, as about to destroy many, and cause them to revolt so that, He says, if possible, the very elect should be stumbled. And he calls him man of sin; for he shall work countless things, and provide things dreadful. And he calls him son of perdition because of his being destroyed himself. Who is he then? Satan? By no means, but a man receiving all his energy; for he is a man." (S. Io. Chrys. in loco, v. 465, 466, Field, Oxon. 1865.) This confusion of the apostasy with the man of sin is not intelligent; but the main statement is correct, and the personality of the Antichrist evident, as in the mind of the fathers generally.
Bellarmine and other Romish advocates, who would parry the application to the papacy by the argument that "the" man of sin, "the" son of perdition, &c., necessarily means an individual, not a succession or class, some excellent men of what is called the Protestant school essay to meet by quoting "the" priest, "the" king, &c., as sufficiently establishing a class, not an individual. But these are words of office, and so differ from the very definite and singular description in our chapter; and assuredly as "many antichrists" elsewhere, so "many deceivers," cannot swamp the unity of "the deceiver and the antichrist" in 2 John. It is in vain also to urge "the one that hinders, or restrains," and "that which restrains" in our chapter, which may be well, and I believe is really, meant to express one who is both a person and a power, as may be shown in its place.
And though it be true that "the king of the north" and " the king of the south" are in Dan. xi. applied to several kings of Syria and of Egypt, yet is neither used vaguely for a line of kings there, as this argument would insinuate and require; but in each several instance circumstances are connected so as to mark off one king from another, and make every one individually recognisable. Next, after the full account of Antiochus Epiphanes from verses 21 to 32, closing with a transition (in 33-35) where we hear of neither the north nor the south, a break occurs which carries us down "to the time of the end." Then with notable abruptness we are confronted from verse 36 with the king that shall do according to his will, &e. That is, the analogy of the chapter is dead against the desired succession or class; for, to warrant it in 36-39, a class ought to be intended in each of verses 5, 6, 7, and so on. But the truth is that each speaks of a distinct king of the south: in verse 5 meaning Ptolemy Soter; in 6 the daughter of Ptolemy Philadephus; in 7 Ptolemy Euergetes. On the same principle which had applied uniformly elsewhere in the chapter, verses 36-39 ought to describe a single individual, and net a class, even if a king of the north or of the south had been intended. The fact is, however, that here "in the time of the end" culminates the main interest of all the previous series; and we have a king characteristically different from all else, who becomes in a future day the object of attack to the king of the north and the king of the south " in the land," i.e., of Palestine, which lies between them, and thus becomes in that day once more the battle-ground of nations. And, what makes this absolutely conclusive, this very king in "the land " is described by the prophet in terms which the apostle so applies to the man of sin as to prove that they both mean the precisely same object; and this, not a succession of men, but. a single individual, yet, to appear and oppose the Lord Jesus, and to be destroyed by the manifestation of His coming. In this way light is cast mutually on these remarkable passages of Old and New Testament scripture; and certainly, if the reader of 2 Thessalonians derives help from comparing the epistle with the prophecy, he who studies the bearing of Dan. xi. 36-39 may and ought to receive yet fuller light from the later writing of the apostle.
There is also a simple and complete answer to the unbelieving civil of a late Oxford Essayist to the effect that there is "not only minute description of Antiochus' reign, but a stoppage of such description at the precise date 169 B.C." For we are conducted step by step down to that which exactly gives the general description of the Jewish state, which will reappear at the time of the end. Then suddenly is brought before us, in that time of the end., a lawless king in. Judea, setting himself up above every god, and speaking words against the God of gods; regarding neither Jehovah nor Messiah, yet, while magnifying himself above all, honouring a gad of his own. Had there not been a stoppage at that point, the prophecy could not have been stamped with its actual perfection. The same Spirit gives minute predictions of the contending Lagidae and Seleucidae for centuries after the prophet's day, stopped at the only just point, and resumes with at least equal minuteness the solemn crisis in the land, with the kings of north and south once more joining ill that strife, which only closes in the day of blessing for the land and the earth and man to God's glory which shall not pass away. Are we content to become fools that we may be wise? " None of the wicked shall understand; hut the wise shall understand."
1) Tischendorf, in his last edition, and Westeott and Hont follow אΒ, some 9 or 10 cursive; and severs! ancient versions &c., in preferring "lawlessness" to "sin" in this phrase.