Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 324 - May 1883
2 Thessalonians 2:8
The withdrawal of the obstacle, of him who restrains, leaves the door open for the man of sin to make his appearance in Satan's power.
"And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall destroy with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming " (verse 8).
It will be no longer the mystery or secret of lawlessness, but his own time for the son of perdition to be revealed (6). The restrainer gone is the signal for the revelation of the lawless one. We are not here to look for the steps or stages by which he is led of Satan to his bad pre-eminence: this belongs rather to the details of the prophetic word, which is far from silent in the Old Testament or in the New. Here it was df urgent moment for the young believers in Thessalonica to be delivered from the perturbation and even terror caused by the false gloss that the day of the Lord was actually come. The apostle was inspired of God to correct the error by casting a flood of light on that which still seems hidden from most, though clearly revealed in the instructive words of the Holy Spirit to the Thessalonians—the relation between the coming, and the day, of the Lord. So far are they from being identical or inseparable, though surely and nearly connected, that wherever the popular confusion prevails it renders the apostolic handling of the matter unintelligible, and Paul is made as vague in his argument as most of his commentators in expounding it. For if the coming and the day be practically the same thing, where is the propriety of the apostle's beseeching them for the sake of (or "by") the Lord's coming not to be troubled by the cry that His day had arrived? The balance, beauty, and force of truth are restored when we know that he entreats them, for their blessed hope which was surely future, not to be alarmed as if the dreaded day which follows it were come; and then he proceeds to show that not Christ, but) that day with its judicial terrors could not come till the evil, now veiled and as its worst development suppressed, break fully out into its most audacious contempt and lawless defiance of God. When, by the departure of the actual and mighty hindrance, it shall reach this climax in the assumption of supreme divine honour here below, the Lord Jesus as it were accepts the challenge, and displays Himself to the destruction of His enemy. This will be " the day" not the coming or presence merely, but His appearing.
Hence the reader will do well to take note of the striking precision in the inspired language, and of the marked change from verse 1 to verse 8. It is not that a mere dealing in providence can be seriously entertained as the sense of verse 7. "The coming of the Lord" is demonstrably His personal presence, in Ver. 1. inseparably bound up with the gathering to Himself of the saints deceased or then alive. It is now admitted, by all expositors of the least weight, however opposed to premillennialism, that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ here spoken of can admit of no figurative or secondary sense, but points simply, unmistakably, and exclusively to His future advent in person. This dears away at once the darkening cloud of præterists, such as Grotius, Wetstein, Hammond, Whitby, le Clerc, Schöttgen, Hardouin, &c,. who, though differing in details, agreed in interpreting the Lord's coming of Jerusalem's destruction.
It is well known that the late G. S. Faber in his Sacred Calendar of Prophecy (iii. 434, &c.) sets himself to disprove what he calls the identicality of the coming of Christ in the two Epistles. He allowed of course, as all must, that in 1 Thess. iv. 11-18 it is Christ's personal advent from heaven, but he denied that there is anything that can warrant the thought that St. Paul in the second Epistle refers to the advent which he had mentioned in the first Epistle! He reasoned en the spurious letter as the sole source of any speedy expectation of Christ! But he really overlooked the egregious violence of his own assumption. For the first Epistle gave no little light from God, both as to Christ's coming for the joy of the saints (iv. 13-18), and as to His day for the surprise and judicial destruction of the world (v. 1-3). How unnatural to suppose a change of meaning for either in the second Epistle! For these are the very topics which he resumes in exposing the, fraud of false teachers. How monstrous to suppose them used in any other sense than in the First! Such inconsistency would be unworthy of a human author, still less of inspiration. The truth is that the apostle applies them with fresh light to expose the imposture of those who in that spurious letter misused the day as if already come (in some figurative way doubtless), so as to alarm all who heeded them. And most strengthening it is to see that, after explaining in chap. i. that the revelation of the Lord in that day will be to the punishment of His foes and the display of His friends in glory with Himself, He beseeches them by (or for the sake of) His coming, which is to gather all the saints to be with Him on high, not to credit the false rumour that His day had arrived below, adding the most solemn changes and developed evils, which must be (not before His "coming" but) before "the day" which is to judge those evils. How can any unbiassed person fail to see that the coming in 2 Thess, ii. 1 is self-evidently identical with the same terms in 1 These iv? The spurious epistle made out that the day of the Lord was present. The apostle first appeals (verses 1, 2) to the necessary translation of the saints to Christ at His coming as refuting this; and then he shows (verses 3 et seqq.) what appalling events must come to pass before that day, not only the utter and general renunciation of Christianity, but the open antagonism of the man of sin to God. For, as he explains, it is secret lawlessness which already works, kept down for the present by God's power whilst He is calling out His own for heaven; once the restraint is withdrawn, the revelation of the lawless one follows, and the Lord shines forth from heaven in overwhelming judgment.
Dr. D. Brown differs but is no less unsatisfactory. For he separates verse 8 from verse 1, argues from such scriptures as Isa. xiii. 6-19, xix. 1, xxx. 27-33, Micah i. 3-5, Joel ii. 30, 31, compared with Acts ii. 16-20, Matt. x. 23, Rev. iii. 3, that "a bright coming of Christ" (!) to destroy the Antichristian power points to a figurative providential coming, rather than to His personal advent.
The great defect in both is the common fault from early days to our own times. Neither Mr. F. nor Dr. B. understood the precise nature of the error combated, nor consequently the real correction of the Holy Spirit. Both imagined, 4s one of them expressly says, that the time of Christ's personal advent was what excited and unsettled the Thessalonians. But it is not so: they were shaken and troubled by the pretence that (not His advent but) His day was come, which delusion could only have been by insinuating some such figurative notion of that day as Dr. Β. pleads for, The apostle dispels it by recalling them to their bright hope of Christ's personal coming to gather His own to Himself, which all know is not yet the fact: a connexion and motive quite lost sight of by both to the ruin of the apostle's reasoning, and to the obscuring of the truth in question. To confound two objects, not only distinct but in contrast, is the surest way to spoil the proper character of each.
The day of the Lord is a further step of His advent, not merely His coming, but the appearing or manifestation of His coming, as the phrase in verse 8 really means. This would naturally admit of a striking difference. His presence to gather His own to Himself is never so called. He comes to translate the saints dead or living to heaven. It is not merely His coming, but the appearing or manifestation of it which destroys the lawless one, This last is, or coalesces with, His day; which therefore could not be, till the lawlessness that brings down the swift and final judgment of the Lord is fully revealed. "A bright coming" is weak and vague, though no one doubts its awful and penetrating brightness. Probably "illustration" in the Vulgate helped on looseness of interpretation; which first found expression in Wiclif and last in the Authorised Version, all the intervening English versions being correct like the Revised Version.
We are told that the one object of the apostle expressed by himself as plainly as possible was to dissipate the notion that " the day of Christ was at hand" or "imminent." Strange mistake, we must repeat, on the part of scholars—hardly possible if they were not also held in the meshes of tradition. It was really to deliver from the false cry that the day of the Lord " was actually there." The errorists said nothing about the Lord's coming to gather the saints on high. The apostle first beseeches them .by it not to believe so unfounded a rumour. Then he tells them of what must be, not before the Lord's coming, but before the manifestation of it in judgment of Antichrist. The subject in discussion is not His coming, but His day; and the light given on what must be developed before that day (not before His coming) is a most necessary part of the truth revealed in order to disabuse them thoroughly.
There is another impression which has to be guarded against in much that is taught about His day. Who has not heard of the effort to persuade souls that the destructive judgment of the lawless one is to be gradual rather than immediate, the result of many blows rather than of one? Hence stress is laid on " consume"1 as well as " destroy " in Dan. ii. 44, vii. 26, and here also in our verse, as indicating the successive steps by which the extermination of the Antichrist is to be effected. And Macknight, like others, tells us that by "spirit, or breath, of His mouth" are predicted the preaching of true doctrine, and its efficacy in destroying the man of sin. Now one has only to compare Asa. xxx. 33 with xi. 4 to expose the unsoundness of such an explanation. The gospel, the truth preached, is in no way like "a stream of brimstone," as the prophet explains himself; arid smiting the earth or slaying the wicked is not Christ's speech in the Scriptures, nor is it a mere "rendering ineffectual the vile arts of a corrupt priesthood." It is instant and extreme judgment executed by the Lord in person; the truth of which is confirmed, if anything were needed to confirm it, not only by the explicit phrase, manifestation of His coming, but by the critical addition of " Jesus," the Lord Jesus, on the authority of א A Dpm Εpm F G Lcorr. P, mime cursives, all the ancient versions, and abundant early citations.
The importance of all this is that, if it be, as we are assured, the same seining of the Lord through out both Epistles, followed by the further stage of its "manifestation" or that " day," there is no room for the kingdom or millennial reign till after the Lord comes and executes judgment on the quick. " When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." Then follows that blessed period, to His glory alone, and not to the praise of poor fallen Christendom as it fondly dreams; an unworthy hope, the bride reigning without the Bridegroom! What so distasteful to a true spouse who derived all from Him?
For the scope of the context is as conclusive as it is plain. The hope of the saints- is kept distinct from prophecy. The coming of the Lord, which is to gather us to Himself, is not mixed up with His day, but a motive for the heart against the delusion that the day was come, as some alleged. No one pretended or believed that the Lord had come, nor that the saints were translated to Him on high, which nevertheless must be before His day dawns for the destruction of His enemies. Of His coming neither the misteachers nor the mistaught had ever thought till the apostles recalled the saints to this their hope in order to dispel the error about His day. Meanwhile lawlessness works secretly to corrupt the testimony of God's grace and truth; and more than this Satan cannot yet do, because there is one that restrains till he withdraw, when the aροstacy shall come and, the lawless one be then revealed, not before. His defiant opposition to God, usurping His glory in His temple, is the signal for the Lord Jesus in person to destroy him with the breath of His mouth and to annul him by the manifestation of His presence. So perverse are men that here (8) where publicity of judicial intervention is most emphatically expressed, they are ready to conceive of secret providence; whilst in verse 1, where not a word implies manifestation, they will not hear of aught else. His coming gathers the saints to Himself; the manifestation or appearing of His coming it is which makes an end of the lawless one. The saints are with Him and come from heaven for that judgment, as we may see in Rev. xvii. 14, Rev. xix. 14; they had been caught up to heaven at His coming before the day. The distinction is as clear as it is important; the Revelation as a whole can scarcely be understood without it, as the future is otherwise vague indeed, and mistranslation follows with false interpretation in its train.
The connexion excludes all room for an intervening millennium. The mystery of lawlessness is distinctly shown to have been even then at work, and to pursue its corrupting course, till the apostasy comes, and the man of sin be revealed; the very reverse of a reign of righteousness on the earth for ever so short a while, much less for a time so considerable. There is an evident and solemn link between the secret energy of lawlessness that wrought ruin from the apostolic days, till (the restraint being gene) it merges in the lawless one whom the Lord destroys by the manifestation of His coining. All scripture points to, and is alone coexistent with, the appearing of the Lord, as the necessary means, on the one hand, of divine judgment in destroying those that destroy the earth, and Of the other of rewarding the suffering saints as well as blessing the world, especially Ibis ancient people at the head of all the nations. It will be the administration of the fulness of times, when God shall gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in Him in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh ell things after the counsel of His own will, that we should be to the praise of His glory who first trusted in Christ. It is neither the present age, nor is it eternity, but the age to come, when the glorified Son of man with His heavenly Eve shall have dominion visibly over the subjected universe of God. Of this, His present exaltation (when we see not yet all things put under Him) is the pledge, as the Holy Ghost given is its earnest to the joint-heirs. For while He shall inherit all things, according to the glory of His person and His rights as well by creation as by redemption, there is an especial fitness, that over the earth, which cast Him out when He came down in infinite love, He should reign in power and glory, all kings falling down before Him, and all nations serving Him. But this state of things is as distinct from the present as from eternity; yet, as it has never been accomplished, so it surely must be, for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken it, and it is due to His Anointed.
1) The reading which is so translated here, even if it really implied gradual waste which it does not, is very doubtful, and "take away" or "slay' is a variant preferred by many, the Re. risers included. But the ordinary text means a sudden consumption, as by fire, in Luke ix. 54, and so in our verse, were it certain. Even in Gal. v. 16, it is the result in the climax, not the process. The reader of, the Greek Bible can compare Jer. xxvii. (I.) 7, Ezek. xv. 4, 6; xix. 12; xxiii. 25; Joel i. 19; ii. 3; where all but the first means destruction by fire. Α few other instances more general might be added. But clearly the Sept. refutes the preparatory and slow process no less than the N. Τ.