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THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 3

Verse 3. Let no man deceive you by any means. That is, respecting the coming of the Lord Jesus. This implies that there were then attempts to deceive, and that it was of great importance for Christians to be on their guard. The result has shown that there is almost no subject on which caution is more proper, and on which men are more liable to delusion. The means then resorted to for deception appear, from the previous verse, to have been either an appeal to a pretended verbal message from the apostle, or a pretended letter from him. The means now, consist of a claim to uncommon wisdom in the interpretation of obscure prophecies of the Scriptures. The necessity for the caution here given has not ceased.

For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first. Until all apostasy apostasia shall have occurred—the great apostasy. There is scarcely any passage of the New Testament which has given occasion to greater diversity of opinion than this. Though the reference seems to be plain, and there is scarcely any prophecy of the Bible apparently more obvious and easy in its general interpretation; yet it is proper to mention some of the opinions which have been entertained of it. Some have referred it to a great apostasy from the Christian church, particularly on account of persecution, which would occur before the destruction of Jerusalem. The "coming of the Lord" they suppose refers to the destruction of the holy city; and, according to this, the meaning is, that there would be a great apostasy before that event would take place. Of this opinion was Vitringa, who refers the" apostasy to a great defection from the faith which took place between the time of Nero and Trajan. Whitby also refers it to an event which was to take place before the destruction of Jerusalem, and supposes that the apostasy would consist in a return from the Christian to the Jewish faith by multitudes of professed converts. The "man of sin," according to him, means the Jewish nation, so characterized on account of its eminent wickedness. Hammond explains the apostasy by the defection to the Gnostics, by the arts of Simon Magus, whom he supposes to be the man of sin; and by the "day of the Lord" he also understands the destruction of Jerusalem. Grotius takes Gaius Caesar, or Caligula, to be the man of sin, and by the apostasy he understands his abominable wickedness. In the beginning of his government, he says, his plans of iniquity were concealed, and the hopes of all were excited in regard to his reign; but his secret iniquity was subsequently "revealed," and his true character understood. Wetstein understands by the "man of sin, Titus and the Flavian house." He says that he does not understand it of the Roman Pontiff, who "is not one such as the demonstrative pronoun thrice repeated designates, and who neither sits in the temple of God, nor calls himself God; nor Caius, or Simon Gioriac, nor any Jewish impostor, nor Simon Magus." Koppe refers it to the king mentioned in Da 11:36. According to him, the reference is to a great apostasy of the Jews from the worship of God, and the "man of sin" is the Jewish people. Others have supposed that the reference is to Mohammed, and that the main characteristics of the prophecy may be found in him. Of the Papists, a part affirm that the apostasy is the falling away from Rome in the time of the Reformation; but the greater portion suppose that the allusion is to Antichrist, who, they say, will appear in the world before the great day of judgment, to combat religion and the saints. See these opinions stated at length, and examined, in Bishop Newton on the Prophecies, Diss. xxii. Some more recent expositors have referred it to Napoleon Bonaparte; and some (as Oldshausen) suppose that it refers to some one who has not yet appeared, in whom all the characteristics here specified will be found united. Most Protestant commentators have referred it to the great apostasy under the Papacy; and by the "man of sin," they suppose there is allusion to the Roman Pontiff the Pope. It is evident that we are in better circumstances to understand the passage than those were who immediately succeeded the apostles. Eighteen hundred years have passed away since the epistle was written, and the "day of the Lord" has not yet come, and we have an opportunity of inquiring, whether in all that long tract of time any one man can be found, or any series of men have arisen, to whom the description here given is applicable. If so, it is in accordance with all the proper rules of interpreting prophecy, to make such an application. If it be fairly applicable to the Papacy, and cannot be applied in its great features to anything else, it is proper to regard it as having such an original reference. Happily, the expressions which are used by the apostle are, in themselves, not difficult of interpretation, and all that the expositor has to do is, to ascertain whether in any one great apostasy all the things here mentioned have occurred. If so, it is fair to apply the prophecy to such an event; if not so, we must wait still for its fulfilment. The word rendered "falling away," (apostasia, apostasy) of so general a character, that it may be applied to any departure from the faith as it was received in the time of the apostles It occurs in the New Testament only here and in Ac 21:21, where it is rendered "to forsake"—" thou teachest all the Jews which are among us to forsake Moses"— apostasy from Moses— apostasian apo mwsewv. The word means a departing from, or a defection. See the verb used in 1 Ti 4:1, "Some shall depart from the faith"—aposthsovtai. See Barnes on "1 Ti 4:1".

See also Heb 3:12; Lu 8:13; Ac 5:37.

The reference here is evidently to some general falling away, or to some great religious apostasy that was to occur, and which would be under one head, leader, or dynasty, and which would involve many in the same departure from the faith, and in the same destruction. The use of the article here, "the apostasy," (Gr.,) Erasmus remarks, "signifies that great and before-predicted apostasy." It is evidently emphatic, showing that there had been a reference to this before, or that they understood well that there was to be such an apostasy. Paul says 2 Th 2:5, that when he was with them, he had told them of these things. The writers in the New Testament often speak of such a defection under the name of Antichrist. Re 13:14; 1 Jo 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 Jo 1:7.

 

And that man of sin. This is a Hebraism, meaning a man of eminent wickedness; one distinguished for depravity. Comp. Joh 17:12; Pr 6:12, in Heb. The use of the article here— o anyrwpov —"the man of sin," is also emphatic, as in the reference to "the falling away," and shows that there is allusion to one of whom they had before heard, and whose character was well known; who would be the wicked one by way of eminence. See also 2 Th 2:8, "that wicked" o anomov. There are two general questions in regard to the proper interpretation of this appellative: the one is whether it refers to an individual, or to a series of individuals of the same general character, aiming at the accomplishment of the same plans; and the other is, whether there has been any individual, or any series of individuals, since the time of the apostle, who, by eminence, deserved to be called "the man of sin." That the phrase, "the man of sin," may refer to a succession of men of the same general character, and that it does so refer here, is evident from the following considerations:

(1.) The word "king" is used in Da 7:25; 11:36, to which places Paul seems to allude, to denote a succession of kings.

(2.) The same is true of the beast mentioned in Daniel Chapters 7, 8. Rev 13., representing a kingdom or empire through its successive changes and revolutions.

(3.) The same is true of the "woman arrayed in purple and scarlet," (Re 17:4,) which cannot refer to a single woman, but is the emblem of a continued corrupt administration.

(4.) It is clear that a succession is intended here, because the work assigned to "the man of sin," cannot be supposed to be that which could be accomplished by a single individual. The statement of the apostle is, that there were then tendencies to such an apostasy, and that "the man of sin" would be revealed at no distant period, and yet that he would continue his work of "lying wonders" until the coming of the Saviour.

In regard to this "man of sin," it may be further observed,

(1.) that his appearing was to be preceded by "the great apostasy;? and

(2.) that he was to continue and perpetuate it. His rise was to be owing to a great departure from the faith, and then he was to be the principal agent in continuing it by "signs and lying wonders." He was not himself to originate the defection, but was to be the creation, or result of it. He was to rise upon it, or grow out of it, and, by artful arrangements adapted to that purpose, was to perpetuate it. The question then is, to whom this phrase, descriptive of a succession of individuals so eminent for wickedness that: the name "the man of sin" could be applied, was designed by the Spirit of inspiration to refer. Bishop Newton has shown that it cannot refer to Caligula, to Simon Magus, to the revolt of the Jews from the Romans, or to the revolt of the Jews from the faith, or to the Flavian family, or to Luther, as some of the Papists suppose, or to one man who will appear just before the end of the world, as others of the Romanists suppose. See his Dissertations on the Prophecies, xxii. pp. 393—402. Comp. Oldshansen, in loc. The argument is too long to be inserted here. But can it be referred to the Papacy? Can it denote the pope of Rome, meaning not a single pope, but the succession? If all the circumstances of the entire passage can be shown to be fairly applicable to him, or if it can be shown that all that is fairly implied in the language used here has received a fulfilment in him, then it is proper to regard it as having been designed to be so applied, and then this may be numbered among the prophecies that are in part fulfilled. The question now is on the applicability of the phrase "the man of sin" to the pope. That his rise was preceded by a great apostasy, or departure from the purity of the simple gospel, as revealed in the New Testament, cannot reasonably be doubted by any one acquainted with the history of the church. That he is the creation or result of that apostasy, is equally clear. That he is the grand agent in continuing it, is equally manifest. Is the phrase itself one that is properly applicable to him? Is it proper to speak of the pope of Rome, as he has actually appeared, as "the man of sin?" In reply to this, it might be sufficient to refer to the general character of the Papacy, and to its influence in upholding and perpetuating various forms of iniquity in the world. It would be easy to show that there has been no dynasty or system that has contributed so much to uphold and perpetuate sins of various kinds on the earth, as the Papacy. No other one has been so extensively and so long the patron of superstition; and there are vices of the grossest character which have all along been fostered, by its system of celibacy, indulgences, monasteries, and absolutions. But it would be a better illustration of the meaning of the phrase "man of sin," as applicable to the pope of Rome, to look at the general character of the popes themselves. Though there may have been some exceptions, yet there never has been a succession of men of so decidedly wicked character as have occupied the Papal throne since the great apostasy commenced. A very few references to the characters of the popes will furnish an illustration of this point. Pope Vagilius waded to the pontifical throne through the blood of his predecessor. Pope Joan—the Roman Catholic writers tell us—a female in disguise, was elected and confirmed pope, as John VIII. Platina says, that "she became with child by some of those that were round about her; that she miscarried, and died on her way from the Lateran to the temple." Pope Marcellinus sacrificed to idols. Concerning pope Honorius, the council of Constantinople decreed, "We have caused Honorius, the late pope of Old Rome, to be accursed; for that in all things he followed the mind of Sergius the heretic, and confirmed his wicked doctrines." The council of Basil thus condemned pope Eugenius: "We condemn and depose pope Eugenius, a despiser of the holy canons; a disturber of the peace and unity of the church of God; a notorious offender of the whole universal church; a Simonist; a perjurer; a man incorrigible; a schismatic; a man, fallen from the faith, and a wilful heretic." Pope John II was publicly charged at Rome with incest. Pope John XIII usurped the pontificate, spent his time in hunting, in lasciviousness, and monstrous forms of vice; he fled from the trial to which he was summoned, and was stabbed, being taken in the act of adultery. Pope Sixtus IV licensed brothels at Rome. Pope Alexander VI was, as a Roman Catholic historian says, "one of the greatest and most horrible monsters in nature that could scandalize the holy chair. His beastly morals, his immense ambition, his insatiable avarice, his detestable cruelty, his furious lusts, and monstrous incest with his daughter Lucretia, are, at large, described by Guicciardini Ciaconius, and other authentic papal historians." Of the popes, Platina, a Roman Catholic, says: "The chair of Saint Peter was usurped, rather than possessed, by monsters of wickedness, ambition, and bribery. They left no wickedness unpractised." See the New Englander, April, 1844, pp. 285, 286. To no succession of men who have ever lived could the appellative, "the man of sin," be applied with so much propriety as to this succession. Yet they claim to have been the true "successors" of the apostles; and there are Protestants that deem it of essential importance to be able to show that they have derived the true "succession" through such men.

Be revealed. Be made manifest. There were at the time when the apostle wrote, two remarkable things,

(1.) that there was already a tendency to such an apostasy as he spoke of; and

(2.) there was something which as yet prevented the appearance or the rise of the man of sin, 2 Th 2:7. When the hinderance which then existed should be taken out of the way, he would be manifested. See Barnes "2 Th 2:7".

 

{*} "falling away" "the apostasy" {b} "except" 1 Ti 4:1 {c} "man of sin" Da 7:25 {d} "son of perdition" Joh 17:12 ¶ The son of perdition. This is the same appellation which the Saviour bestowed on Judas. See it explained in the Notes on John 17:12. It may mean either that he would be the cause of ruin to others, or that he would himself be devoted to destruction. It would seem here rather to be used in the latter sense, though this is not absolutely certain. Tile phrase, whichever interpretation be adopted, is used to denote one of eminent wickedness.

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