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2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

3. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

3. Ne quis vos decipiat ullo modo; quia nisi prius venerit discessio, et nisi revelatus fuerit sceleratus ille filius perditus,

4. Who opposeth and exhalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

4. Adverserius, et qui se extollit adversus omne, quod dicitur Deus, aut numen: ita ut ipse in templo Dei tanquam Deus sedeat, ostendens se ipsum quasi sit Deus.

 

3 Let no man deceive you. That they may not groundlessly promise themselves the arrival in so short a time of the joyful day of redemption, he presents to them a melancholy prediction as to the future scattering of the Church. This discourse entirely corresponds with that which Christ held in the presence of his disciples, when they had asked him respecting the end of the world. For he exhorts them to prepare themselves for enduring hard conflicts, 639639     “Merveilleux et durs combats;” — “Singular and hard conflicts.” (Matthew 24:6,) and after he has discoursed of the most grievous and previously unheard of calamities, by which the earth was to be reduced almost to a desert, he adds, that the end is not yet, but that these things are the beginnings of sorrows. In the same way, Paul declares that believers must exercise warfare for a long period, before gaining a triumph.

We have here, however, a remarkable passage, and one that is in the highest degree worthy of observation. This was a grievous and dangerous temptation, which might shake even the most confirmed, and make them lose their footing — to see the Church, which had by means of such labors been raised up gradually and with difficulty to some considerable standing, fall down suddenly, as if torn down by a tempest. Paul, accordingly, fortifies beforehand the minds, not merely of the Thessalonians, but of all the pious, that when the Church should come to be in a scattered condition, they might not be alarmed, as though it were a thing that was new and unlooked for.

As, however, interpreters have twisted this passage in various ways, we must first of all endeavor to ascertain Paul’s true meaning. He says that the day of Christ will not come, until the world has fallen into apostasy, and the reign of Antichrist has obtained a footing in the Church; for as to the exposition that some have given of this passage, as referring to the downfall of the Roman empire, it is too silly to require a lengthened refutation. I am also surprised, that so many writers, in other respects learned and acute, have fallen into a blunder in a matter that is so easy, were it not that when one has committed a mistake, others follow in troops without consideration. Paul, therefore, employs the term apostasy to mean — a treacherous departure from God, and that not on the part of one or a few individuals, but such as would spread itself far and wide among a large multitude of persons. For when apostasy is made mention of without anything being added, it cannot be restricted to a few. Now, none can be termed apostates, but such as have previously made a profession of Christ and the gospel. Paul, therefore, predicts a certain general revolt of the visible Church. “The Church must be reduced to an unsightly and dreadful state of ruin, before its full restoration be effected.”

From this we may readily gather, how useful this prediction of Paul is, for it might have seemed as though that could not be a building of God, that was suddenly overthrown, and lay so long in ruins, had not Paul long before intimated that it would be so. Nay more, many in the present day, when they consider with themselves the long-continued dispersion of the Church, begin to waver, as if this had not been regulated by the purpose of God. The Romanists, also, with the view of justifying the tyranny of their idol, make use of this pretext — that it was not possible that Christ would forsake his spouse. The weak, however, have something here on which to rest, when they learn that the unseemly state of matters which they behold in the Church was long since foretold; while, on the other hand, the impudence of the Romanists is openly exposed, inasmuch as Paul declares that a revolt will come, when the world has been brought under Christ’s authority. Now, we shall see presently, why it is that the Lord has permitted the Church, or at least what appeared to be such, to fall off in so shameful a manner.

Has been revealed. It was no better than an old wife’s fable that was contrived respecting Nero, that he was carried up from the world, destined to return again to harass the Church 640640     “Pour tourmenter griefuement l’Eglise;” — “To torment the Church grievously.” by his tyranny; and yet the minds of the ancients were so bewitched, that they imagined that Nero would be Antichrist. 641641     The strange notion here referred to by Calvin as to Nero, is accounted for by Cornelius à Lapide in his Commentary on the Revelation, from the circumstance that Alcazar having explained the expression which occurs in Revelation 13:3, “I saw one of the heads as it were killed to death,” as referring to Nero killed, and soon afterwards raised up, as it were, and reviving in the person of Domitian his successor, some of the ancients, understanding literally what was meant by him figuratively, conceived the idea that Nero would be Antichrist, and would be raised up, and appear again in the end of the world. — Ed. Paul, however, does not speak of one individual, but of a kingdom, that was to be taken possession of by Satan, that he might set up a seat of abomination in the midst of God’s temple — which we see accomplished in Popery. The revolt, it is true, has spread more widely, for Mahomet, as he was an apostate, turned away the Turks, his followers, from Christ. All heretics have broken the unity of the Church by their sects, and thus there have been a corresponding number of revolts from Christ.

Paul, however, when he has given warning that there would be such a scattering, that the greater part would revolt from Christ, adds something more serious — that there would be such a confusion, that the vicar of Satan would hold supreme power in the Church, and would preside there in the place of God. Now he describes that reign of abomination under the name of a single person, because it is only one reign, though one succeeds another. My readers now understand, that all the sects by which the Church has been lessened from the beginning, have been so many streams of revolt which began to draw away the water from the right course, but that the sect of Mahomet was like a violent bursting forth of water, that took away about the half of the Church by its violence. It remained, also, that Antichrist should infect the remaining part with his poison. Thus, we see with our own eyes, that this memorable prediction of Paul has been confirmed by the event.

In the exposition which I bring forward, there is nothing forced. Believers in that age dreamed that they would be transported to heaven, after having endured troubles during a short period. Paul, however, on the other hand, foretells that, after they have had foreign enemies for some time molesting them, they will have more evils to endure from enemies at home, inasmuch as many of those that have made a profession of attachment to Christ would be hurried away into base treachery, and inasmuch as the temple of God itself would be polluted by sacrilegious tyranny, so that Christ’s greatest enemy would exercise dominion there. The term revelation is taken here to denote manifest possession of tyranny, as if Paul had said that the day of Christ would not come until this tyrant had openly manifested himself, and had, as it were, designedly overturned the whole order of the Church.

4 An adversary, and that exalteth himself. The two epithets — man of sin, and son of perdition — intimate, in the first place, how dreadful the confusion would be, that the unseemliness of it might not discourage weak minds; and farther, they tend to stir up the pious to a feeling of detestation, lest they should degenerate along with others. Paul, however, now draws, as if in a picture, a striking likeness of Antichrist; for it may be easily gathered from these words what is the nature of his kingdom, and in what things it consists. For, when he calls him an adversary, when he says that he will claim for himself those things which belong to God, so that he is worshipped in the temple as God, he places his kingdom in direct opposition to the kingdom of Christ. Hence, as the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, so this tyranny must be upon souls, that it may rival the kingdom of Christ. We shall also find him afterwards assigning to him the power of deceiving, by means of wicked doctrines and pretended miracles. If, accordingly, you would know Antichrist, you must view him as diametrically opposed to Christ. 642642     “The name of the Man of Sin is not Antitheos, but ἀντίχριστος — not one that directly invadeth the properties of the supreme God, but of God incarnate, or Christ as Mediator. [...] he usurpeth the authority due to Christ.” — Dr. Manton’s Sermons on 2 Thessalonians. — Ed

Where I have rendered — everything that is called God, the reading more generally received among the Greeks is, every one that is called. It may, however, be conjectured, both from the old translation 643643     The rendering of the Vulgate is as follows,— “Supra omne quod dicitur Deus aut quod colitur;” — “Above everything that is called God, or that is worshipped.” Wyclif (1380) renders thus: “Ouer alle thing that is seid God, or that is worschipid.” — Ed. and from some Greek commentaries, that Paul’s words have been corrupted. The mistake, too, of a single letter was readily fallen into, especially when the shape of the letter was much similar; for, where there was written πᾶν τὸ, (everything,) some transcriber, or too daring reader, turned it into πάντα, (every one.) This difference, however, is not of so much importance as to the sense, for Paul undoubtedly means that Antichrist would take to himself those things that belonged to God alone, so that he would exalt himself above every divine claim, that all religion and all worship of God might lie under his feet. This expression then, everything that is reckoned to be God, is equivalent to everything that is reckoned as Divinity, and σέβασμα, that is, in which the veneration due to God consists.

Here, however, the subject treated of is not the name of God himself, but his majesty and worship, and, in general, everything that he claims for himself. “True religion is that by which the true God alone is worshipped; that, the son of perdition will transfer to himself.” Now, every one that has learned from Scripture what are the things that more especially belong to God, and will, on the other hand, observe what the Pope claims for himself — though he were but a boy of ten years of age — will have no great difficulty in recognizing Antichrist. Scripture declares that God is the alone Lawgiver (James 4:12) who is able to save and to destroy; the alone King, whose office it is to govern souls by his word. It represents him as the author of all sacred rites; 644644     “Que c’est a luy seul d’establir seruice diuin, et ceremonies qui en dependent;” — “That it belongs to him alone to establish divine worship, and the rites that are connected with it.” it teaches that righteousness and salvation are to be sought from Christ alone; and it assigns, at the same time, the manner and means. There is not one of these things that the Pope does not affirm to be under his authority. He boasts that it is his to bind consciences with such laws as seem good to him, and subject them to everlasting punishment. As to sacraments, he either institutes new ones, according to his own inclination, 645645     “Selon son plaisir et fantasie;” — “According to his own pleasure and fancy.” or he corrupts and deforms those which had been instituted by Christ — nay, sets them aside altogether, that he may substitute in their place the sacrileges 646646     “Sacrileges abominables;” — “Abominable sacrileges.” which he has invented. He contrives means of attaining salvation that are altogether at variance with the doctrine of the Gospel; and, in fine, he does not hesitate to change the whole of religion at his own pleasure. What is it, I pray you, for one to lift up himself above everything that is reckoned God, if the Pope does not do so? When he thus robs God of his honor, he leaves him nothing remaining but an empty title of Deity, 647647     “Le titre de Dieu par imagination;” — “The title of God by imagination.” while he transfers to himself the whole of his power. And this is what Paul adds shortly afterwards, that the son of perdition would shew himself as God. For, as has been said, he does not insist upon the simple term God, but intimates, that the pride 648648     “L’orgueil et arrogance;” — “The pride and arrogance.” of Antichrist would be such, that, raising himself above the number and rank of servants, and mounting the judgment-seat of God, 649649     “Auec vne fierete intolerable;” — “With an intolerable presumption.” would reign, not with a human, but with a divine authority. For we know that whatever is raised up into the place of God is an idol, though it should not bear the name of God.

In the temple of God. By this one term there is a sufficient refutation of the error, nay more, the stupidity of those who reckon the Pope to be Vicar of Christ, on the ground that he has his seat in the Church, in whatever manner he may conduct himself; for Paul places Antichrist nowhere else than in the very sanctuary of God. For this is not a foreign, but a domestic enemy, who opposes Christ under the very name of Christ. But it is asked, how the Church is represented as the den of so many superstitions, while it was destined to be the pillar of the truth? (1 Timothy 3:15.) I answer, that it is thus represented, not on the ground of its retaining all the qualities of the Church, but because it has something of it remaining. I accordingly acknowledge, that that is the temple of God in which the Pope bears rule, but at the same time profaned by innumerable sacrileges.


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