Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 325 - June 1883
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
It is hardly conceivable then to find language more explicitly opposed to the notion of mere providential instrumentality or of covert judgments than the words we have just had to weigh. "The spirit of his mouth" is expressive of the inner energy of divine power (whether creative, Ps. xxxiii. 6, or judicial, 2 Sam. xxii. 16, Job iv. 9, Ps. xviii. 15, ea. xi. 4, xxx. 33) with which the Lord shall dispatch the lawless one. "The appearance of His coming " declares that it will not be annulling him from a distance or by secret action any more than by secondary means, but by the shining forth of His presence. And, as if to cut off all excuse for un belief, the best text of authority demands our reading, not " the Lord" only, but " the Lord Jesus." Even the too common attempt to maintain a distinction between "consume" and "destroy," can only be through force of habitual prejudice, not to say ignorance; for the Greek term in the first member of the sentence no more implies a gradual waste than in the second. On every ground then the gospel is out of the question. Together they mean an overwhelming and utter judgment inflicted by the Lord Jesus personally before all the world, as both related to one and the same destruction.
The apostle now turns to explain the connection of Satan, as also of God's retribution, with the lawless one, "whose coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness for1 those that, perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe falsehood, that all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (Ver. 9.-12.)
The Lord Jesus is the Son of God, and in Him all the fulness was pleased to dwell. The man of sin, the son of perdition, is the awful counterpart of the enemy; and the picture would not be complete if we had not the dark addition of the unseen power of evil at work in him. Here it is given in a few energetic words of the Holy Ghost, falsehood being the universal characteristic: " in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood," the very terms (with the blessed unquestionable contrast of grace and truth) in which the apostle Peter (Acts ii.) set out the Messiah, •' a man demonstrated of God to you by deeds of power and wonders and signs, which God wrought by him in your midst, even as ye yourselves know." Row amazingly solemn that here we have the Anti-Messiah described beforehand in language so similar!
The application of all this to the Papacy has quite enervated the force of the Scripture among Protestants generally. For they, with such an object before them as the Popes of Rome, naturally think of unreal miracles, and false pretensions to power, and signs which have it as their aim to support their ambitious designs in the world. Macknight as well as another may illustrate this kind of interpretation:—" After the heathen magistrates were taken out of the way by the conversion of Constantine, and after he and his successors called the Christian bishops to meet in general council, and enforced their assumption of divine authority by the civil power, then did they in these councils arrogate to themselves the right of establishing what articles of faith and discipline they thought proper, and of anathematising all who rejected their decrees; a claim which in after times the bishops of Rome transferred from general councils to themselves. It was in this period that worship of saints and angels and images was introduced; celibacy was praised as the highest piety; meats of certain kinds were prohibited; and a variety of superstitious mortifications of the body were enjoined by the decrees of councils in opposition to the express laws of God. In this period likewise idolatry and superstition were recommended to the people by false miracles, and every deceit which wickedness could suggest; such as the miraculous cures pretended to be performed by the bones and other relics of martyrs, in order to' induce the ignorant vulgar to worship them as mediators; the feigned visions of angels who, they said, had appeared to this or that hermit, to recommend celibacy, fastings, mortifications of the body, and living in solitude; the apparition of souls from purgatory, who begged that certain superstitions might be practised for delivering them from that confinement. By all which, those assemblies of ecclesiastics, who by their decrees enjoined these corrupt practices, showed themselves to be the man of sin and lawless one in his first form, whose coming was to be with all power and signs and miracles of falsehood, and who opposed every one that is called God or an object of worship. For these general councils, by introducing the worship of saints and angels as mediators in the place of Christ, they degraded Him from His office of Mediator, or rendered it altogether useless. However, though they thus opposed God and Christ by their unrighteous decrees, they did not yet exalt themselves above every one that is called God or an object of worship. Neither did they yet sit in the temple of God as God, and openly show themselves to be God. Then blasphemous extravagances were to be acted in after times by a number of particular persons in succession; I mean by the bishop of Rome, after the power of the Christian Roman emperors, and of the magistrates under them, should be taken out of the way.
"This height, however, of spiritual and civil power united the bishops of Rome did not attain till, as the apostle foretold, that which restrained was taken out of the way; or till an end was put to the authority of the Roman emperors in the West by the inroads of the barbarous nations; and more especially till the western empire was broken into the ten kingdoms of the fourth beast For then it was that the bishops of Rome made themselves the sovereigns of Rome, and of its territory, and so became the little horn which Daniel beheld coming up among the ten horns which had 'the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things,' to show that its dominion was founded in the deepest policy, and that its strength consisted in the bulls, excommunications, and anathemas it uttered against all who opposed its usurpations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . But this impious scheme of false doctrine, and the spiritual tyranny founded thereon, agreeably to the predictions of the prophet Daniel and of the apostle Paul, began at the Reformation to be consumed by the breath of the Lord's mouth; that is, by the preaching of true doctrine out of the Scriptures. . . . . . In short, the annals of the world cannot produce persons and events to which the things written in this passage can be applied with so much fitness as to the bishops of Rome. Why then should we be in any doubt concerning the interpretation and application of this famous prophecy? At the conclusion of our explication of prophecy concerning the man of sin, it may be proper to observe, that the events foretold in it, being such as never took place in the world before,, and in all probability never will take place in it again, the foreknowledge of them was certainly a matter out of the reach of human conjecture or foresight. It is evident therefore that this prophecy, which from the beginning hath stood on record, taken in conjunction with the accomplishment of it verified by the concurrent testimony of history. affords an illustrative proof of the Divine original of that revelation of which it makes a part, and of the inspiration of the person from whose mouth it proceeded." (Macknight's Apost. Epp. 496, 497, ed. Tegg, 1835.)
This copious statement, tersely presenting the scheme of the Protestant school in as good a shape as I know, is given here, and falls before the truth. For the first beast of Rev. xiii. (which coalesces with the little horn of Dan. vii.) is the Roman empire risen out of the abyss—the beast that was, is not, and shall come or be present. Now this cannot apply to the north-eastern hordes who first broke up the Western Roman empire, and then formed, say, ten kingdoms out of its ruins. Whereas the ten horns of prophecy are to reign for one hour with the beast, to which they give their power as suzerain; as all perish together at the appearing of the Lord Jesus from heaven. Rev. xvii. xix. It is is the second beast, who is the religious seducing chief or false prophet, doing great signs, and exercising all the authority of the first beast in his sight, and thus clearly answers to 2 Thess. ii., being distinct from the apostate imperial power, though its staunchest ally. We have had imperial unity without the ten kingdoms; we have had the ten kingdoms which dismembered the empire without imperial unity, though Charlemagne and Napoleon Buonaparte ardently sought it. There is to be the combination of that imperial power (revived by Satanic power) with the ten kingdoms of the west; and along with this an apostate religious power in Palestine (Dan. xi. 36- 39), that is certainly identical with the apostle's man of sin, and as clearly the Antichrist of the future (not the papacy, wicked as this may have been). It is he whose coming shall be in falsehood what Christ's was in truth, with all powers and signs and wonders to support his lie as the Lord was proved to be of God thereby. And just as Elijah brought down fire from heaven in demonstration that Jehovah, not Baal, was God, so will the Lamb-like beast do "in the sight of men " to accredit the beast and the false prophet, setting himself forth as God in the temple of God.
Plainly the Protestant view confounds in the past things differing much (whatever analogy be traceable, for even now, says John, there have arisen many antichrists), and Dr. M. goes farther than a wise man ought in saying that in all probability such events will never take place. The interpretation limps, as error naturally does; for first the general councils that introduced superstition are treated as "the man of sin"; then, as this is defective as well as vague, the pope of Rome. And when men prophesy who are not prophets, can one wonder that they prophesy falsely? Even the world allows that it is the unexpected that happens; as the believer knows that every word of God must be fulfilled: these scriptures have not yet been. Mehemet is excluded, impostor though he was, as pretending to no miracle. The false prophet of the future in the land will do great signs such as no Pope ever wrought or claimed to work. Mid he will work "ix all deceit of unrighteousness for those that perish," as Christ by God's word, in righteousness and holiness of truth for those that are to be saved. Deceit of unrighteousness characterises every false religion, but here it is "in all deceit of unrighteousness," and men are lost " because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved." For here we are given to see the activity of the lawless one in seducing men to their ruin in Satan's power; as before we had his blasphemous and self-exalting antagonism against God whose glory on earth he had arrogated to the exclusion of every object of worship. And into this men will fall, so much the more because they had the truth familiarly enough before their ears to desise it, never receiving the love of it unto salvation. Lawlessness secretly at work prepares the way for the apostacy; as the utter renunciation of Christianity does for the Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son, as well as that Jesus is the Christ, confirms the resurrection-beast of the dragon's power at Rome, and sets up as "the king" in the Holy land.
But there is another feature of moment to be added, judicial hardening from God in His abhorrence of Jewish and Gentile infidelity in their apοstacy from the gospel and rebellion against Himself. "And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe falsehood." So there was with Pharoah in Egypt after slighting ample appeals and solemn signs; so there was among the Jews, partially before the Babylonish captivity, fully in the rejection of the Messiah, and (we may add) of the Holy Ghost and the gospel; so there will be when Christendom becomes apostate and amalgamates with the infidel Jews in worshipping as the true God him who comes in his own name; "that all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Let me say that, though undoubtedly the Received Text is wrong, and the best authorities exclude the future, it is simply absurd to say that the verb is present ("sendeth"), because the mystery of lawlessness is already working. It is ethical, not historic, as often, and indeed like " is" in verse 9. Even Dean Alford and Bishop Ellicott could not hold that the lawless one is revealed, as the context proves his revelation to be contrasted as a future thing with the actual and secret working of lawlessness. Compare Rev. xiv. 9-11. "Damned" in the Authorized Version is false as a rendering; but the result of being " judged " is damnation, for only unbelievers come into judgment; and therefore, pleads the Psalmist, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Salvation is by grace through faith, Good having already not only pardoned the believer, but condemned sin in the flesh by Christ as a sacrifice for sin, that there might be no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. Rom. viii. 1-4.
1) The Received Text has ἐν "in" contrary to the best and oldest witnesses; so also in verse 12, though "in" be meant here.