2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
1. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
1. Rogo autem vos, fratres, per adventum (vel, de adventu) Domini nostri Iesu Christi, et nostri in ipsum aggregationem,
2. That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
2. Ne cito dimoveamini a mente, neque turbemini vel per spiritum, vel per sermonem, vel per epistolam, tanquam a nobis scriptam, quasi instet dies Christi.
As he had in his former Epistle adverted to some extent to the resurrection, it is possible that some fickle and fanatical persons took occasion from this to mark out a near and fixed day. For it is not likely that this error had taken its rise earlier among the Thessalonians. For Timothy, on returning thence, had informed Paul as to their entire condition, and as a prudent and experienced man had omitted nothing that was of importance. Now if Paul had received notice of it, he could not have been silent as to a matter of so great consequence. Thus I am of opinion, that when Paul's Epistle had been read, which contained a lively view of the resurrection, some that were disposed to indulge curiosity philosophized unseasonably as to the time of it. This, however, was an utterly ruinous fancy, 1 as were also other things of the same nature, which were afterwards disseminated, not without artifice on the part of Satan. For when any day is said to be near, if it does not quickly arrive, mankind being naturally impatient of longer delay, their spirits begin to languish, and that languishing is followed up shortly afterwards by despair.
This, therefore, was Satan's subtlety: as he could not openly overturn the hope of a resurrection with the view of secretly undermining it, as if by pits underground, 2 he promised that the day of it would be near, and would soon arrive. Afterwards, too, he did not cease to contrive various things, with the view of effacing, by little and little, the belief of a resurrection from the minds of men, as he could not openly eradicate it. It is, indeed, a plausible thing to say that the day of our redemption is definitely fixed, and on this account it meets with applause on the part of the multitude, as we see that the dreams of Lactantius and the Chiliasts of old gave much delight, and yet they had no other tendency than that of overthrowing the hope of a resurrection. This was not the design of Lactantius, but Satan, in accordance with his subtlety, perverted his curiosity, and that of those like him, so as to leave nothing in religion definite or fixed, and even at the present day he does not cease to employ the same means. We now see how necessary Paul's admonition was, as but for this all religion would have been overturned among the Thessalonians under a specious pretext.
"Try the spirits, whether they are of God." (1 John 4:1.)
Watch, says he, for ye know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 24:32.)
On the other hand, those false prophets whom Paul exposes, while they ought to have kept men's minds in suspense, bid them feel assured of his speedy advent, that they might not be wearied out with the irksomeness of delay.
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 loose 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.
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.
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 8 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
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
1 "Vne fantasie merueilleusement pernicieuse, et pour ruiner tout;"--"A fancy that was singularly destructive, and utterly ruinous."
2 See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1. p. 38.
3 "Des grands personnages;"--"Of great personages."
4 "Merveilleux et durs combats;"--"Singular and hard conflicts."
5 "Pour tourmenter griefuement l'Eglise;"--"To torment the Church grievously."
6 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.
7 "The name of the Man of Sin is not Antitheos, but
8 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.
9 "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."
10 "Selon son plaisir et fantasie;"--"According to his own pleasure and fancy."
11 "Sacrileges abominables;"--"Abominable sacrileges."
12 "Le titre de Dieu par imagination;"--"The title of God by imagination."
13 "L'orgueil et arrogance;"--"The pride and arrogance."
14 "Auec vne fierete intolerable;"--"With an intolerable presumption."