Book Overview - 2 Thessalonians
by Henry Alford
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS
1. THE recognition of this Epistle has been as general,—and the exceptions to it for the most part the same,—as in the case of the last.
2. The principal testimonies of early Christian writers are the following:
( α) Irenæus, adv. Hær. iii. 7. 2, p. 182:
“Quoniam autem hyperbatis frequenter utitur Apostolus (Paulus, from what precedes) propter velocitatem sermonum suorum, et propter impetum qui in ipso est Spiritus, ex multis quidem aliis est invenire.… Et iterum in secunda ad Thessalonicenses de Antichristo dicens, ait: Et tunc revelabitur,” &c. ch. 2:8, 9.
( β) Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 2 Corinthians 11:3 (17), p. 655 P.:
οὐκ ἐν πᾶσι, φησὶν ὁ ἀπόστολος, ἡ γνῶσις, προσεύχεσθε δὲ ἵνα ῥυσθῶμεν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀτόπων καὶ πονηρῶν ἀνθρώπων· οὐ γὰρ πάντων ἡ πίστις (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
( γ) Tertullian, de resurr. carnis c. 24, vol. ii. p. 828: following on the citation from the first Epistle given above, ch. v. § i. 3, … “et in secunda, pleniore sollicitudine ad eosdem: obsecro autem vos, fratres, per adventum Domini nostri Jesu Christi,” &c. (ch. 2:1, 2.)
3. The objections brought by Schmidt (Einl. ii. p. 256 ff.), Kern (Tübing. Zeitschrift für 1839, 2 heft.), and Baur (Paulus, u.s.w. p. 488 ff.) against the genuineness of the Epistle, in as far as they rest on the old story of similarities and differences as compared with St. Paul’s acknowledged Epistles, have been already more than once dealt with. I shall now only notice those which regard points peculiar to our Epistle itself.
4. It is said that this second Epistle is not consistent with the first: that directed their attention to the Lord’s coming as almost immediate: this interposes delay,—the apostasy,—the man of sin, &c. It really seems as if no propriety nor exact fitting of circumstances would ever satisfy such critics. It might be imagined that this very discrepancy, even if allowed, would tell most strongly in favour of the genuineness.
5. It is alleged by Kern, that the whole prophetic passage, ch. 2:1 ff., does not correspond with the date claimed for the Epistle. It is assumed, that the man of sin is Nero, who was again to return, Revelation 17:10,— ὁ κατέχων, Vespasian,—the ἀποστασία, the falling away of Jews and Christians alike. This view, it is urged, fits a writer in A.D. 68–70, between Nero’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem. But than this nothing can be more inconclusive. Why have we not as good a right to say, that this interpretation is wrong, because it does not correspond to the received date of the Epistle, as vice versâ? To us (see below, § v) the interpretation is full of absurdity, and therefore the argument carries no conviction.
6. It is maintained again, that ch. 3:17 is strongly against the genuineness of our Epistle: for that there was no reason for guarding against forgeries; and as for πάσῃ ἐπιστολῇ, the Apostle had written but one. For an answer to this, see note in loc. where both the reason for inserting this is adduced, and it is shewn, that almost all of his Epistles either are expressly, or may be understood as having been, thus authenticated.
7. See the objections of Schmidt, Schrader, Kern, and Baur, treated at length in Lünemann’s Einleitung to his Commentary, pp. 161–167: and in Davidson, Introd. vol. ii. pp. 484, end.
FOR WHAT READERS, AND WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN
1. The former particular has been already sufficiently explained in the corresponding section of the Prolegomena to the first Epistle. But inasmuch as the condition of the Thessalonian Church in the mean time bears closely upon the object of the Epistle, I resume here the consideration of their circumstances and state of mind.
2. We have seen that there were those among them, who were too ready to take up and exaggerate the prevalence of the subject of Christ’s coming among the topics of the Apostle’s teaching. These persons, whether encouraged by the tone of the first Epistle or not, we cannot tell (for we cannot see any reference to the first Epistle in ch. 2:2, see note there), were evidently teaching, as an expansion of St. Paul’s doctrine, or as under his authority, or even as enjoined in a letter from him (ib. note), the actual presence of the day of the Lord. In consequence of this, their minds had become unsettled: they wanted directing into the love of God and the imitation of Christ’s patience (ch. 3:5). Some appear to have left off their daily employments, and to have been taking advantage of the supposed reign of Christ to be walking disorderly.
3. It was this state of things, which furnished the occasion for our Epistle being written. Its object is to make it clear to them that the day of Christ, though a legitimate matter of expectation for every Christian, and a constant stimulus for watchfulness, was not yet come: that a course and development of events must first happen, which he lays forth to them in the spirit of prophecy: shewing them that this development has already begun, and that not until it has ripened will the coming of the Lord take place.
4. This being the occasion of writing the Epistle, there are grouped round the central subject two other general topics of solace and confirmation: comfort under their present troubles (ch. 1): exhortation to honesty and diligence, and avoidance of the idle and disorderly (ch. 3).
PLACE AND TIME OF WRITING
1. In the address of the Epistle, we find the same three, Paul, Silvanus, and Timotheus, associated together, as in the first Epistle. This circumstance would at once direct us to Corinth, where Silas and Timotheus rejoined St. Paul (Acts 18:5), and whence we do not read that they accompanied him on his departure for Asia (Acts 18:18). And as we believe the first Epistle to have been written from that city, it will be most natural, considering the close sequence of this upon that first, to place the writing of it at Corinth, somewhat later in this same visit of a year and a half (Acts 18:11).
2. How long after the writing of the first Epistle in the winter of A.D. 52 (see above, ch. v. § iii. 3) we are to fix the date of our present one, must be settled merely by calculations of probability, and by the indications furnished in the Epistle itself.
3. The former of these do not afford us much help. For we can hardly assume with safety that the Apostle had received intelligence of the effects of his first Epistle, seeing that we have found cause to interpret ch. 2:2 not of that Epistle, but of false ones, circulated under the Apostle’s name. All that we can assume is, that more intelligence had arrived from Thessalonica: how soon after his writing to them, we cannot say. Their present state, as we have seen above, was but a carrying forward and exaggerating of that already begun when the former letter was sent: so that a very short time would suffice to have advanced them from the one grade of undue excitement to the other.
4. Nor do any hints furnished by our Epistle give us much more assistance. They are principally these. (a) In ch. 1:4, the Apostle speaks of his ἐγκαυχᾶσθαι ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τοῦ θεοῦ concerning the endurance and faith of the Thessalonians under persecutions. It would seem from this, that the Achæan Churches (see 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Romans 16:1) had by this time acquired number and consistence. This however would furnish but a vague indication: it might point to any date after the first six months of his stay at Corinth. (b) In ch. 3:2, he desires their prayers ἵνα ῥυσθῶμεν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀτόπων καὶ πονηρῶν ἀνθρώπων. It has been inferred from this, that the tumult which occasioned his departure from Corinth was not far off: that the designs of the unbelieving Jews were drawing to a head: and that consequently our date must be fixed just before his departure. But this inference is not a safe one: for we find that his open breach with the Jews took place close upon the arrival of Silas and Timotheus (Acts 18:5-7), and that his situation immediately after this was one of peril: for in the vision which he had, the Lord said to him, οὐδεὶς ἐπιθήσεταί σοι τοῦ κακῶσαί σε.
5. So that we really have very little help in determining our date, from either of these sources. All we can say is, that it must be fixed, in all likelihood, between the winter of 52 and the spring of 54: and taking the medium, we may venture to place it somewhere about the middle of the year 53.
1. The style of our Epistle, like that of the first, is eminently Pauline. Certain dissimilarities have been pointed out by Baur, &c. (see above, § i. 3): but they are no more than might be found in any one undoubted writing of our Apostle. In a fresh and vigorous style, there will ever be, so to speak, librations over any rigid limits of habitude which can be assigned: and such are to be judged of, not by their mere occurrence and number, but by their subjective character being or not being in accordance with the writer’s well-known characteristics. Professor Jowett has treated one by one the supposed inconsistencies with Pauline usage (vol. i. p. 139 f.), and shewn that there is no real difficulty in supposing any of the expressions to have been used by St. Paul. He has also collected a very much larger number of resemblances in manner and phraseology to the Apostle’s other writings. The student who makes use of the references in this edition will be able to mark out these for himself, and to convince himself that the style of our Epistle is so closely related to that of the rest, as to shew that the same mind was employed in the choice of the words and the construction of the sentences.
2. One portion of this Epistle, viz. the prophetic section, ch. 2:1–12, as it is distinguished from the rest in subject, so differs in style, being, as is usual with the more solemn and declaratory paragraphs of St. Paul, loftier in diction and more abrupt and elliptical in construction. The passage in question will be found on comparison to bear, in style and flow of sentences, a close resemblance to the denunciatory and prophetic portions of the other Epistles: compare for instance Acts 18:3 with Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:16; Colossians 2:8-9 with 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; 1 Corinthians 15:10 with Romans 1:18, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 2:11 with Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:12 with Romans 2:5; Romans 2:9, and Romans 1:32.
ON THE PROPHETIC IMPORT OF CH. 2:1–12
1. It may be well, before entering on this, to give the passage, as it stands in our rendering in the notes(70).
“(1) But we entreat you, brethren, in regard of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him,—(2) in order that ye should not be lightly shaken from your mind nor troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle as from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is present. (3) Let no man deceive you in any manner: for [that day shall not come] unless there have come the apostasy first, and there have been revealed the man of sin, the son of perdition, (4) he that withstands and exalts himself above every one that is called God or an object of adoration, so that he sits in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (5) … (6) And now ye know that which hinders, in order that he may be revealed in his own time. (7) For the MYSTERY ALREADY is working of lawlessness, only until he that now hinders be removed: (8) and then shall be REVEALED the LAWLESS ONE, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by the breath of His mouth, and annihilate by the appearance of His coming: (9) whose coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, (10) and in all deceit of unrighteousness for those who are perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth in order to their being saved. (11) And on this account God is sending to them the working of error, in order that they should believe the falsehood, (12) that all might be judged who did not believe the truth, but found pleasure in iniquity.”
2. It will be my object to give a brief résumé of the history of the interpretation of this passage, and afterwards to state what I conceive to have been its meaning as addressed to the Thessalonians, and what as belonging to subsequent ages of the Church of Christ. The history of its interpretation I have drawn from several sources: principally from Lünemann’s Schlussbemerkungen to chap. ii. of his Commentary, pp. 204–217.
3. The first particulars in the history must be gleaned from the early Fathers. And their interpretation is for the most part well marked and consistent. They all regard it as a prophecy of the future, as yet unfulfilled when they wrote. They all regard the παρουσία as the personal return of our Lord to judgment and to bring in His Kingdom. They all regard the adversary here described as an individual person, the incarnation and concentration of sin(71).
IRENÆUS, adv. hær. v. 25. 1, p. 322: “Ille enim (Antichristus) omnem suscipiens diaboh virtutem, veniet non quasi rex justus nec quasi in subjectione Dei legitimus: sed impius et injustus et sine lege, quasi apostata, et iniquus et homicida, quasi latro, diabolicam apostasiam in se recapitulans: et idola quidem seponens, ad suadendum quod ipse sit Deus: se autem extollens unum idolum, habens in semetipso reliquorum idolorum varium errorem: ut hi qui per multas abominationes adorant diabolum, hi per hoc unum idolum serviant ipsi, de quo apostolus in Epistola quæ est ad Thessalonicenses secunda, sic ait” (Romans 1:3-4).
Again, ib. 3, p. 323: “ ‘Usque ad tempus temporum et dimidium temporis’ (Daniel 7:25), hoc est, per triennium et sex menses, in quibus veniens regnabit super terram. De quo iterum et apostolus Paulus in secunda ad Thess., simul et causam adventus ejus annuntians, sic ait” (Daniel 7:8 ff.).
Again, ib. 30. 4, p. 330: “Cum autem devastaverit Antichristus hic omnia in hoc mundo, regnabit annis tribus et mensibus sex, et sedebit in templo Hierosolymis: tum veniet Dominus de cœlis in nubibus, in gloria Patris, illum quidem et obedientes ei in stagnum ignis mittens: adducens autem justis regni tempora, hoc est requietionem, septimam diem sanctificatam; et restituens Abrahæ promissionem hæreditatis: in quo regno ait Dominus, multos ab Oriente et Occidente venientes, recumbere cum Abraham, Isaac et Jacob.”
TERTULLIAN, de Resurr. c. 24, vol. ii. p. 829, quoting the passage, inserts after ὁ κατέχων, “quis, nisi Romanus status? cujus abscessio in decem reges dispersa Antichristum superducet, et tum revelabitur iniquus.” See also his Apol. c. 32, vol. i. p. 447.
JUSTIN MARTYR, dial. cum Tryph. c. 110, p. 203: δύο παρουσίαι αὐτοῦ κατηγγελμέναι εισί, μία μὲν ὲν ᾗ παθητὸς καὶ ἄδοξος καὶ ἄτιμος καὶ σταυρούμενος κεκήρυκται, ἡ δὲ δευτέρα ἐν ᾗ μετὰ δόξης ὰπὸ τῶν οὐρανῶν πάρεσται, ὅταν καὶ ὁ τῆς ἀποστασίας ἄνθρωπος, ὁ καὶ εἰς τὸν ὕψιστον ἔξαλλα λαλῶν, ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἄνομα τολμήσῃ εἰς ἡμᾶς τοὺς χριστιανούς.
ORIGEN, contra Cels. vi. 45 f. vol. i. p. 667 f.: ἔχρην δὲ τὸν μὲν ἕτερον τῶν ἄκρων, καὶ βέλτιστον, υἱὸν ἀναγορεύεσθαι τοῦ θεοῦ, διὰ τὴν ὑπεροχήν· τὸν δὲ τούτῳ κατὰ διάμετρον ἐναντίον, υἱὸν τοῦ πονηροῦ δαίμονος, καὶ σατανᾶ, καὶ διαβόλου … λέγει δὲ ὁ παῦλος, περὶ τούτου τοῦ καλουμένου ἀντιχρίστου διδάσκων, καὶ παριστὰς μετά τινος ἐπικρύψεως τίνα τρόπον ἐπιδημήσει, καὶ πότε τῷ γένει τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ διὰ τί. He then quotes this whole passage.
CHRYSOSTOM in loc.: τίς δὲ οὗτός ἐστιν; ἆρα ὁ σατανᾶς; οὐδαμῶς· ἀλλʼ ἄνθρωπός τις πᾶσαν αὐτοῦ δεχόμενος τὴν ἐνέργειαν. καὶ ἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπός, φησιν, ὁ ὑπεραιρόμενος ἐπὶ πάντα λεγόμενον θεὸν ἢ σέβασμα. οὐ γὰρ εἰδωλολατρείαν ἄξει ἐκεῖνος, ἀλλʼ ἀντίθεός τις ἔσται, καὶ πάντας καταλύσει τοὺς θεούς, καὶ κελεύσει προσκυνειν αὐτὸν ἀντὶ τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ καθεσθήσεται εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ θεοῦ, οὐ τὸν ἐν ἱεροσολύμοις μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ εἰς τὰς πανταχοῦ ἐκκλησίας.
And below: καὶ τί μετὰ ταῦτα; ἐγγὺς ἡ παραμυθία. ἐπάγει γάρ· ὃν ὁ κύριος ἰησοῦς κ. τ. λ. καθάπερ γὰρ κ. τ. λ. See the rest cited in the note on Daniel 7:8.
CYRIL OF JERUS., Catech. xv. 12, p. 229: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ προειρημένος ἀντίχριστος οὗτος, ὅταν πληρωθῶσιν οἱ καιροὶ τῆς ῥωμαίων βασιλείας, καὶ πλησιάζει λοιπὸν τὰ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου συντελείας. δέκα μὲν ὁμοῦ ῥωμαίων ἐγείρονται βασιλεῖς, ἐν διαφόροις μὲν ἴσως τόποις, κατὰ δὲ τὸν αὐτὸν βασιλεύοντες καιρόν. μετὰ δὲ τούτους ἑνδέκατος ὁ ἁντίχριστος ἐκ τῆς μαγικῆς κακοτεχνίας τὴν ῥωμαϊκὴν ἐξουσίαν ἁρπάσας.
Theodoret’s interpretation agrees with the above as to the personality of Antichrist and as to our Lord’s coming. I shall quote some portion of it below, on ὁ κατέχων, and τὸ μυστήριον.
AUGUSTINE, de civ. Dei, xx. 19. 4, vol. vii. p. 687: “Non veniet ad vivos et mortuos judicandos Christus, nisi prius venerit ad seducendos in anima mortuos adversarius ejus Antichristus.”
JEROME, Epist. cxxi., ad Algasiam, qu. 11, vol. i. p. 887 f.: “Nisi, inquit, venerit discessio primum … ut omnes gentes quæ Romano imperio subjacent, recedant ab his, et revelatus fuerit, id est, ostensus, quem omnia prophetarum verba prænunciant, homo peccati, in quo fons omnium peccatorum est, et filius perditionis, id est diaboli: ipse est enim universorum perditio, qui adversatur Christo, et ideo vocatur Antichristus; et extollitur supra omne quod dicitur Deus, ut cunctarum gentium deos, sive probatam omnem et veram religionem suo calcet pede: et in templo Dei, vel Hierosolymis (ut quidam putant), vel in ecclesia, ut verius arbitramur, sederit, ostendens se, tanquam ipse sit Christus et filius Dei: nisi, inquit, fuerit Romanum imperium ante desolatum, et Antichristus præcesserit, Christus non veniet: qui ideo ita venturus est, ut Antichristum destruat.”
4. Respecting, however, the minor particulars of the prophecy, they are not so entirely at agreement. Augustine says (de civ. Dei, xx. 19. 2, p. 685: cf. also Jerome in the note),—‘in quo templo Dei sit sessurus, incertum est: utrum in illa ruina templi quod a Salomone rege constructum est, an vero in Ecclesia. Non enim templum alicujus idoli aut dæmonis templum Dei Apostolus diceret(72).’ And from this doubt about his ‘session,’ a doubt about his person also had begun to spring up; for he continues, ‘unde nonnulli non ipsum principem sed universum quodammodo corpus ejus, id est, ad eum pertinentem hominum multitudinem simul cum ipso suo principe hoc loco intelligi Antichristum volunt.’
5. The meaning of τὸ κατέχον, though, as will be seen from the note; generally agreed to be the Roman empire, was not by any means universally acquiesced in. Theodoret says, τινὲς τὸ κατέχον τὴν ῤ ωμαϊκὴν ἐνόησαν βασιλείαν, τινὲς δὲ τὴν χάριν τοῦ πνεύματος. κατεχούσης γάρ, φησί, τῆς τοῦ πνεύματος χάριτος ἐκεῖνος οὐ παραγίνεται, ἀλλʼ οὐχ οἷόν τε παύσασθαι παντελῶς τὴν χάριν τοῦ πνεύμαγος … ἀλλʼ οὐδὲ τὴν ῥωμαϊκὴν βασιλείαν ἑτέρα διαδέξεται βασιλεία͵· διὰ γὰρ τοῦ τετάρτου θηρίου καὶ ὁ θειότατος δανιὴλ τὴν ῥωμαϊκὴν ᾐνίξατο βασιλείαν. ἐν δὲ τούτῳ τὸ μικρὸν κέρας ἐβλάστησε τὸ ποιοῦν πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων. αὐτὸς δὲ οὗτός ἐστι περὶ οὗ τὰ προῤῥηθέντα εἶπεν ὁ θεῖος ἀπόστολος. οὐδέτερον τούτων οἶμαι φάναι τὸν θεῖον ἀπόστολον, ἀλλὰ τὸ παρʼ ἑτέρων εἰρημένον εἶναι ἀληθὲς ὑπολαμβάνω. ἐδοκίμασε γὰρ ὁ τῶν ὅλων θεὸς παρὰ τὸν τῆς συντελείας αὐτὸν ὀφθῆναι καιρόν. ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ τοίνυν ὅρος νῦν ἐπέχει φανῆναι. And so also Theodor.-Mops.(73) Another meaning yet is mentioned by Chrysostom, or rather another form of that repudiated above by Theodoret, viz., that the continuance of ἡ τοῦ πνεύματος χαρις, τουτέστι χαρίσματα, hindered his appearing. And remarkably enough, he rejects this from a reason the very opposite of that which weighed with Theodoret,—viz., from the fact that spiritual gifts had ceased: ἄλλως δὲ ἔδει ἤδη παραγίνεσθαι, εἴ γε ἔμελλε τῶν χαρισμάτων ἐκλειπόντων παραγίνεσθαι· καὶ γὰρ πάλαι ἐκλέλοιπεν(74). Augustine’s remarks (ubi supra) are curious: “Quod autem ait, et nunc quid detineat scitis, … quoniam scire illos dixit, aperte hoc dicere noluit. Et ideo nos, qui nescimus quod illi sciebant, pervenire cum labore ad id quod sensit Apostolus, cupimus, nec valemus: præsertim quia et illa quæ addidit, hunc sensum faciunt obscuriorem. Nam quid est, ‘Jam enim,’ &c. (Daniel 7:7)? Ego prorsus quid dixerit, fateor me ignorare.” Then he mentions the various opinions on τὸ κατέχον, giving this as the view of some, that it was said “de malis et fictis qui sunt in ecclesia, donec perveniant ad tantum numerum qui Antichristo magnum populum faciat: et hoc esse mysterium iniquitatis quia videtur occultum …” then again quoting Daniel 7:7, adds, “hoc est, donec exeat de medio ecclesiæ mysterium iniquitatis, quod nunc occultum est.”
6. This μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας was also variously understood. Chrysostom says, νέρωνα ἐνταῦθα φησίν, ὡσανεὶ τύπον ὄντα τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου· καὶ γὰρ οὗτος ἐβούλετο νομίζεσθαι θεός. καὶ καλῶς εἶπε τὸ μυστήριον· οὐ γὰρ φανερῶς ὡς ἐκεῖνος, οὐδʼ ἀπηρυθριασμένως. εἰ γὰρ πρὸ χρόνου ἐκείνου ἀνευρεθη, φησίν, ὃς οὐ πολὺ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου ἐλείπετο κατὰ τὴν κακίαν, τί θαυμαστὸν εἰ ἤδη ἔσται; οὕτω δὴ συνεσκιασμένως εἶπε, καὶ φανερὸν αὐτὸν οὐκ ἠθέλησε ποιῆσαι, οὐ διὰ δειλίαν, ἀλλὰ παιδεύων ἡμᾶς μὴ περιττὰς ἔχθρας ἀναδέχεσθαι ὅταν μηδὲν ᾖ τὸ κατεπεῖγον. This opinion is also mentioned by Augustine, al., but involves of course an anachronism. Theodoret, also mentioning it, adds: ἐγὼ δὲ οἶμαι τὰς ἀναφυείσας αἱρέσεις δηλοῦν τὸν ἀπόστολον· διʼ ἐκείνων γὰρ ὁ διάβολος πολλοὺς ἀποστήσας τῆς ἀληθείας, προκατασκευάζει τῆς ἀπάτης τὸν ὄλεθρον. μυστήριον δὲ αὐτοὺς ἀνομίας ἐκάλεσεν, ὡς κεκρυμμένην ἔχοντας τῆς ἀνομίας τὴν πάγην … ὃ κρύβδην ἀεὶ κατεσκεύαζε, τότε προφανῶς καὶ διαῤῥήδην κηρύξει.
7.(75) The view of the fathers remained for ages the prevalent one in the Church. Modifications were introduced into it, as her relation to the state gradually altered; and the Church at last, instead of being exposed to further hostilities from the secular power, rose to the head of that power; and, penetrating larger and larger portions of the world, became a representation of the kingdom of God on earth, with an imposing hierarchy at her head. Then followed, in the Church in general, and among the hierarchy in particular, a neglect of the subject of Christ’s coming. But meanwhile, those who from time to time stood in opposition to the hierarchy, understood the Apostle’s description here, as they did also the figures in the Apocalypse, of that hierarchy itself. And thus arose,—the παρουσία being regarded much as before, only as an event far off instead of near,—first in the eleventh century the idea, that the Antichrist foretold by St. Paul is the establishment and growing power of the Popedom.
8. This view first appears in the conflict between the Emperors and the Popes, as held by the partisans of the imperial power: but soon becomes that of all those who were opponents of the hierarchy, as wishing for a freer spirit in Christendom than the ecclesiastical power allowed. It was held by the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the followers of Wickliffe and Huss. The κατέχον, which retarded the destruction of the papacy, was held by them to be the Imperial power, which they regarded as simply a revival of the old Roman Empire.
9. Thus towards the time of the Reformation, this reference of Antichrist to the papal hierarchy became very prevalent: and after that event it assumed almost the position of a dogma in the Protestant Churches. It is found in Bugenhagen, Zwingle, Calvin, &c., Osiander, Baldwin, Aretius, Erasm.-Schmid, Beza, Calixtus, Calovius, Newton, Wolf, Joachim-Lange, Turretin, Benson, Bengel, Macknight, Zachariæ, Michaelis, &c.: in the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church, and in Luther’s own writings: and runs through the works of our English Reformers(76).
10. The upholders of this view generally conceive that the Papacy will go on bringing out more and more its antichristian character, till at last the παρουσία will overtake and destroy it. The ἀποστασία is the fall from pure evangelical doctrine to the traditions of men. The singular, ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας, is taken collectively, to signify a ‘series et successio hominum,’ inasmuch as it is a monarchical empire which is in question, which remains one and the same, though its individual head may change. The godlessness of Antichrist, described in Daniel 7:4, is justified historically by the Pope setting himself above all authority divine and human, the words πάντα λεγόμενον θεόν, &c. being, in accordance with Scriptural usage, taken to mean the princes and governments of the world, and an allusion being found in σέβασμα to σεβαστός, the title of the Roman Emperors. The ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ is held to be the Christian Church, and the καθίσαι to point to the tyrannical power which the Pope usurps over it. By τὸ κατέχον is understood the Roman Empire, and by ὁ κατέχων the Roman Emperor,—and history is appealed to, to shew that out of the ruins of that empire the papacy has grown up. The declaration, τὸ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας, is justified by the fact, that the “semina erroris et ambitionis,” which prepared the way for the papacy, were already present in the Apostle’s time. For a catalogue of the τέρατα ψεύδους, Daniel 7:9, rich material was found in relics, transubstantiation, purgatory, &c. The annihilation of Antichrist by the πνεῦμα τοῦ στόματος of the Lord, has been understood of the breaking down of his power in the spirits of men by the opening and dispersion of the word of God in its purity by means of the Reformation; and the καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ, of the final and material annihilation of Antichrist by the coming of the Lord Himself.
11. In the presence of such a polemical interpretation directed against them, it could hardly be expected that the Roman Catholics on their side would abstain from retaliation on their opponents. Accordingly we find that such writers as Estius, al., interpret the ἀποστασία of the defection from the Romish Church and the Pope, and understand by Antichrist the heretics, especially Luther and the Protestant Church.
12. Even before the reference to the papacy, the interpreters of the Greek Church took Mohammed to be the Antichrist intended by St. Paul, and the ἀποστασία to represent the falling off of many Oriental and Greek Churches to Islamism. And this view so far influenced the Protestant Church, that some of its writers have held a double Antichrist,—an Eastern one, viz. Mohammed and the Turkish power,—and a Western, viz. the Pope and his power. So Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Piscator, &c.
13. Akin to this method of interpretation is that which in our own century has found the apostasy in the enormities of the French Revolution, Antichrist in Napoleon, and τὸ κατέχον in the continuance of the German Empire: an idea, remarks Lünemann, convicted of error by the termination of that empire in 1806.
14. One opinion of modern days has been, that it is objectionable to endeavour to assign closely a meaning to the single details of the imagery used by St. Paul. This has led to giving the whole description a general, ideal, or symbolic sense. So Koppe, who thinks that the Apostle is only following the general import of the Jewish expectations, resting on the prophecy of Daniel, that there should be a season of godlessness before the time of the end, the full eruption of which he expects after his own death: he himself being ὁ κατέχων. Similarly Storr,—who sees in ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας ‘potestas aliqua, Deo omnique religioni adversaria, quæ penitus incognita et futuro demum tempore se proditura sit,’ and in τὸ κατέχον, the ‘copia hominum, verissimo amore inflammatorum in Christianam religionem.’ Nitzsch again believes the ‘man of sin to be the power of godlessness’ come to have open authority, or the general contempt of all religion. Pelt, comm. in Thess. p. 204, sums up his view thus: “Mihi igitur cum Koppio adversarius ille principium esse videtur, sive vis spiritualis evangelio contraria, quæ hue usque tamen in Pontificiorum Romanorum operibus ac serie luculentissime sese prodiit, ita tamen, ut omnia etiam mala, quæ in ecclesiam compareant, ad eandem Antichristi ἐνέργειαν sint referenda. Ejus vero παρουσία, i.e. summum fastigium, quod Christi reditum, qui nihil aliud est nisi regni divini victoria(77), antecedet, futurum adhuc esse videtur, quum illud tempus procul etiam nune abesse putemus, ubi omnes terræ incolæ in eo erunt ut ad Christi sacra transeant. κατέχον vero cum Theodoreto putarim esse Dei voluntatem illud Satanæ regnum cohibentem, ne erumpat, et si mediæ spectantur causæ, apostolorum tempore maxime imperii Romani vis, et quovis ævo illa resistentia, quam malis artibus, quæ religionem subvertere student, privati commodi et honoris augendorum cupiditas opponere solet.” And Pelt thinks that the symptoms of the future corruption of the Christian Church were already discernible in the apostolic times, in the danger of falling back from Christian freedom into Jewish legality, in the mingling of heathenism with Christianity, in false γνῶσις and ἄσκησις, in angelolatry, in the “fastus a religione Christiana omnino alienus.”
15. Olshausen’s view is, that inasmuch as the personal coming of Christ is immediately to follow this revelation of Antichrist, such revelation cannot have yet taken place: and consequently, though we need not stigmatize any of the various interpretations as false, none of them has exhausted the import of the prophecy. The various untoward events and ungodly persons which have been mentioned, including the unbelief and godlessness of the present time, are all prefigurations of Antichrist, but contain only some of his characteristics, not all: it is the union of all in some one personal appearance, that shall make the full Antichrist, as the union in one Person, Jesus of Nazareth, of all the types and prophecies, constituted the full Christ. And the κατέχον is the moral and conservative influence of political states, restraining this great final outbreak. See more on this below.
16. On the other hand, some have regarded the prophecy as one already fulfilled. So Grotius, Wetstein, Le Clerc, Whitby, Schöttgen, Nösselt, Krause, and Harduin. All these concur in referring the παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου to the coming of Christ in the destruction of Jerusalem.
17. Grotius holds Antichrist to be the godless Caligula, who (Suet. Calig. 22, 33) ordered universal supplication to himself as the High God, and (Jos. Antt. xviii. 8. 2. Philo, Leg. ad Cai. § 31, vol. ii. p. 576) would have set up a colossal image of imself in the temple at Jerusalem: and in ὁ κατέχων he sees L. Vitellius, the proconsul of Syria and Judæa, whose term of office delayed the putting up of the statue,—and in ὁ ἄνομος, Simon Magus. This theory is liable to the two very serious objections, 1) that it makes ὁ ἄνθρ. τῆς ἁμαρτ. and ὁ ἄνομος into two separate persons: 2) that it involves an anachronism, our Epistle having been written after Caligula’s time.
18. According to Wetstein, the ἄνθρ. τῆς ἁμαρτίας is Titus, whose army (Jos. B. J. vi. 6. 1), καιομένου αὐτοῦ τοῦ ναοῦ, καὶ τῶν πέριξ ἁπάντων, κομίσαντες τὰς σημαίας εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, καὶ θέμεναι τῆς ἀνατολικῆς πύλης ἄντικρυς, ἔθυσάν τε αὐταῖς αὐτόθι, καὶ τὸν τίτον μετὰ μεγίστων εὐφημιῶν ἀπέφηναν αὐτοκράτορα. His κατέχων is Nero, whose death was necessary for the reign of Titus,—and his ἀποστασία, the rebellion and slaughter of three princes, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, which brought in the Flavian family. But this is the very height of absurdity, and surely needs no serious refutation.
19. Hammond(78) makes the man of sin to be Simon Magus, and the Gnostics, whose head he was. The ἐπισυναγωγὴ ἐπʼ αὐτόν, Daniel 7:1, he interprets as the “major libertas coëundi in ecclesiasticos cœtus ad colendum Christum:” the ἀποστασία, the falling off of Christians to Gnosticism (1 Timothy 4:1): ἀποκαλυφθῆναι, the Gnostics “putting off their disguise, and revealing themselves in their colours, i.e. cruel, professed enemies to Christ and Christians:” 1 Timothy 4:4 refers to Simon “making himself the supreme Father of all, who had created the God of the Jews” (Iren. i. 24. 1, 2, p. 100 f.). By τὸ κατέχον, he understands the union yet subsisting more or less between the Christians and the Jews in the Apostle’s estimation, which was removed when the Apostles entirely separated from the Jews: and ὁ κατέχων he maintains to be virtually the same with τὸ κατέχον, but if any masculine subject must be supplied, would make it ὁ νόμος. The μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας he refers to the wicked lives of these Gnostics, but mostly to their persecution of the Christians. 1 Timothy 4:8 he explains of the conflict at Rome between Simon and the Apostles Peter and Paul, which ended in the death of the former. Lünemann adds, “The exegetical and historical monstrosity of this interpretation is at present universally acknowledged.”
20. Le Clerc holds the ἀποστασία to be the rebellion of the Jewish people against the yoke of Rome: the man of sin, the rebel Jews, and especially their leader Simon, son of Giora, whose atrocities are related, in Josephus:— πᾶς λεγόμ. θεὸς κ. τ. λ., denotes the government:— τὸ κατέχον is whatever hindered the open breaking out of the rebellion,—partly the influence of those Jews in office who dissuaded the war,—partly fear of the Roman armies: and ὁ κατέχων, on one side, the “prœses Romanus,”—on the other, the “gentis proceres, rex Agrippa et pontifices plurimi.” The μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας is the rebellious ambition, which under the cloke of Jewish independence and zeal for the law of Moses, was even then at work, and at length broke openly forth.
21. Whitby takes the Jewish people for Antichrist, and finds in the apostasy the falling away of the Jewish converts to their old Judaism, alluded to in the Epistle to the Hebrews (3:12–14; 4:11; 6:4–6; 10:26, 27 al. fr.). His κατέχων is “the Emperor Claudius, who will let till he be taken away, i.e. he will hinder the Jews from breaking out into an open rebellion in his time, they being so signally and particularly obliged by him, that they cannot for shame think of revolting from his government.”
22. Schöttgen (vol. i. p. 861 ff.) takes Antichrist to be the Pharisees, Rabbis, and doctors of the law, who set up themselves above God, and had impious stories tending to bring Him into contempt: the ἀποστασία, the rebellion against Rome: the κατέχον, “Christiani, qui precibus suis rem aliquando distulerunt, donec oraculo divino admoniti Hierosolymis abierunt, et Pellam secesserunt:” the μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας, “ipsa doctrina perversa,” referring to 1 Timothy 3:16.
23. Nösselt and Krause understand by Antichrist the Jewish zealots, and by the κατέχον, Claudius, as Whitby. Lastly, Harduin makes the ἀποστασία the falling off of the Jews to paganism,—the man of sin, the High Priest Ananias (Acts 23:2),—the κατέχων, his predecessor, whose term of office must come to an end before he could be elected. From the beginning of his term, the ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας was working as a prophet of lies, and was destroyed at the taking of Jerusalem by Titus.
24. All these prœterist interpretations have against them one fatal objection:—that it is impossible to conceive of the destruction of Jerusalem as in any sense corresponding to the παρουσία in St. Paul’s sense of the term: see especially, as bearing immediately on this passage, 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
25. A third class of interpretations is that adopted by many of the modern German expositors, and their followers in England. It is best described perhaps in the words of De Wette (Einl. Handb. ii. 132): “He goes altogether wrong, who finds here any more than the Apostle’s subjective anticipation from his own historical position, of the future of the Christian Church;” and expanded by Mr. Jowett (vol. ii. p. 178), “Such passages (Ephesians 6:12) are a much safer guide to the interpretation of the one we are considering, than the meaning of similar passages in the Old Testament. For they indicate to us the habitual thought of the Apostle’s mind: ‘a falling away first,’ suggested probably by the wavering which he saw around him among his own converts, the grievous wolves that were entering into the Church of Ephesus (Acts 20:29): the turning away of all them of Asia (2 Timothy 1:15). When we consider that his own converts, and his Jewish opponents, were all the world to him,—that through them, as it were in a glass, he appeared to himself to see the workings of human nature generally, we understand how this double image of good and evil should have presented itself to him, and the kind of necessity which he felt, that Christ and Antichrist should alternate with each other. It was not that he foresaw some great conflict, decisive of the destinies of mankind. What he anticipated far more nearly resembled the spiritual combat in the seventh chapter of the Romans. It was the same struggle, written in large letters, as Plato might have said, not on the tables of the heart, but on the scene around: the world turned inside out, as it might be described: evil as it is in the sight of God, and as it realizes itself to the conscience, putting on an external shape, transforming itself into a person.”
26. This hypothesis is so entirely separate from all others, that there seems no reason why we should not deal with it at once and on its own ground, before proceeding farther. It will be manifest to any one who exercises a moment’s thought, that the question moved by it simply resolves itself into this: Was the Apostle, or was he not, writing in the power of a spirit higher than his own? In other words, we are here at the very central question of Inspiration or no Inspiration: not disputing about any of its details, which have ever been matters of doubt among Christians: but just asking, for the Church and for the world, Have we, in any sense, God speaking in the Bible, or have we not? If we have,—then of all passages, it is in these which treat so confidently of futurity, that we must recognize His voice: if we have it not in these passages, then where are we to listen for it at all? Does not this hypothesis, do not they who embrace it, at once reduce the Scriptures to books written by men,—their declarations to the assertions of dogmatizing teachers,—their warnings to the apprehensions of excited minds,—their promises to the visions of enthusiasts,—their prophecies, to anticipations which may be accounted for by the circumstances of the writers, but have in them no objective permanent truth whatever?
27. On such terms, I fairly confess I am not prepared to deal with a question like that before us. I believe that our Lord uttered the words ascribed to Him by St. John (ch. 16:12, 13); I believe the apostolic Epistles to be the written proof of the fulfilment of that promise, as the apostolic preaching and labours were the spoken and acted proof: and in writing such passages as this, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, and 1 Corinthians 15, I believe St. Paul to have been giving utterance, not to his own subjective human opinions, but to truths which the Spirit of God had revealed to him: which he put forth indeed in writing and in speaking, as God had placed him, in a Church which does not know of the time of her Lord’s coming,—as God had constituted his own mind, the vessel and organ of these truths, and gifted him with power of words,—but still, as being the truth for the Church to be guided by, not his own forebodings, for her to be misled by. What he may have meant by his expressions, is a question open to the widest and freest discussion: but that what he did mean, always under the above necessary conditions, is truth for us to receive, not opinion for us to canvass, is a position, the holding or rejecting of which might be very simply and strictly shewn to constitute the difference between one who receives, and one who repudiates, Christian revelation itself.
28. I now proceed to enquire, which, or whether any of all the above hypotheses, with the exception of the last, seems worthy of our acceptance. For the reason given above (24), I pass over those which regard the prophecy as fulfilled. The destruction of Jerusalem is inadequate as an interpretation of the coming of the Lord here: He has not yet come in any sense adequate to such interpretation: therefore the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.
29. The interpretations of the ancient Fathers deserve all respect, short of absolute adoption because they were their interpretations. We must always in such cases strike a balance. In living near to the time when the speaking voice yet lingered in the Church, they had an advantage over us: in living far down in the unfolding of God’s purposes, we have an advantage over them. They may possibly have heard things which we have never heard: we certainly have seen things which they never saw. In each case, we are bound to enquire, which of these two is likely to preponderate?
30. Their consensus in expecting a personal Antichrist, is, I own, a weighty point. There was nothing in their peculiar circumstances or temperament, which prevented them from interpreting all that is here said as a personification, or from allegorizing it, as others have done since. This fact gives that interpretation a historical weight, the inference from which it is difficult to escape. The subject of the coming of Antichrist must have been no uncommon one in preaching and in converse, during the latter part of the first, and the second century. That no echoes of the apostolic sayings on the matter, should have reached thus far, no savour of the first outpouring of interpretation by the Spirit penetrated through the next generation, can hardly be conceived. So far, I feel, the patristic view carries with it some claim to our acceptance.
31. The next important point, the interpretation of τὸ κατέχον and ὁ κατέχων, rests, I would submit, on different grounds. Let us for a moment grant, that by the former of these words was imported the temporal political power, and by the latter, he who wielded it. Such being the case, the concrete interpretation most likely to be adopted by the Fathers would be, the Roman Empire, which existed before their eyes as that political power. But we have seen that particular power pass away, and be broken up: and that very passing away has furnished us with a key to the prophecy, which they did not possess.
32. On the μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας, as has been seen, they are divided: but even were it otherwise, their concrete interpretations are just those things in which we are not inferior to them, but rather superior. The prophecy has since their time expanded its action over a wide and continually increasing historic field: it is for us to observe what they could not, and to say what it is which could be thus described,—then at work, ever since at work, and now at work; and likely to issue in that concentration and revelation of evil which shall finally take place.
33. On looking onward to the next great class of interpretations, that which makes the man of sin to be the Papal power, it cannot be doubted, that there are many and striking points of correspondence with the language of the prophecy in the acts and professions of those who have successively held that power. But on the other hand it cannot be disguised that, in several important particulars, the prophetic requirements are very far from being fulfilled. I will only mention two, one subjective, the other objective. In the characteristic of 1 Corinthians 15:4, the Pope does not and never did fulfil the prophecy. Allowing all the striking coincidences with the latter part of the verse which have been so abundantly adduced, it never can be shewn that he fulfils the former part, nay so far is he from it, that the abject adoration of and submission to λεγόμενοι θεοί and σεβάσματα has ever been one of his most notable peculiarities.(79) The second objection, of an external and historical character, is even more decisive. If the Papacy be Antichrist, then has the manifestation been made, and endured now for nearly 1500 years, and yet that day of the Lord is not come, which by the terms of our prophecy such manifestation is immediately to precede.(80)
34. The same remarks will apply even more forcibly to all those minor interpretations which I have enumerated above. None of them exhausts the sense of the prophecy: and the taking any one of them to be that which is here designated, would shew the failure of the prophecy, not its fulfilment: for they have been and have passed away, and the Lord is not yet come.
35. We are thus directed to a point of view with regard to the prophecy, of the following kind. The ἄνομος, in the full prophetic sense, is not yet come. Though 1800 years later, we stand, with regard to him, where the Apostle stood: the day of the Lord not present, and not to arrive until this man of sin be manifested: the μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας still working, and much advanced in its working: the κατέχον still hindering. And let us ask ourselves, what does this represent to us? Is it not indicative of a state in which the ἀνομία is working on, so to speak, underground, under the surface of things,—gaining, throughout these many ages, more expansive force, more accumulated power, but still hidden and unconcentrated? And might we not look, in the pro gress of such a state of things, for repeated minor embodiments of this ἀνομία,— ἄνομοι, and ἀντίχριστοι πολλοί (1 John 2:18) springing up here and there in different ages and countries,—the ἀποστασία going onward and growing,—just as there were of Christ Himself frequent types and minor embodiments before He came in the flesh? Thus in the Papacy, where so many of the prophetic features are combined, we see as it were a standing embodiment and type of the final Antichrist—in the remarkable words of Gregory the Great, the ‘prœcursor Antichristi:’ and in Nero, and every persecutor as he arose, and Mohammed, and Napoleon, and many other forms and agencies of evil, other more transient types and examples of him. We may, following out the parallelism, contrast the Papacy, as a type of Antichrist, having its false priesthood, its pretended sacrifices, its ‘Lord God’ the Pope, with that standing Jewish hierarchy of God’s own appointing, and its High Priesthood by which our Lord was prefigured: and the other and personal types, with those typical persons, who appeared under the old covenant, and set forth so plainly the character and sufferings and triumphs of the Christ of God.
36. According then to this view, we still look for the man of sin, in the fulness of the prophetic sense, to appear, and that immediately before the coming of the Lord. We look for him as the final and central embodiment of that ἀνομία, that resistance to God and God’s law, which has been for these many centuries fermenting under the crust of human society, and of which we have already witnessed so many partial and tentative eruptions. Whether he is to be expected personally, as one individual embodiment of evil, we would not dogmatically pronounce: still we would not forget, that both ancient interpretation, and the world’s history, point this way. Almost all great movements for good or for ill have been gathered to a head by one central personal agency. Nor is there any reason to suppose that this will be otherwise in the coming ages. In proportion as the general standard of mental cultivation is raised, and man made equal with man, the ordinary power of genius is diminished, but its extraordinary power is increased; its reach deepened, its hold rendered more firm. As men become familiar with the achievements and the exercise of talent, they learn to despise and disregard its daily examples, and to be more independent of mere men of ability; but they only become more completely in the power of gigantic intellect, and the slaves of pre-eminent and unapproachable talent. So that there seems nothing improbable, judging from these considerations, and from the analogy of the partial manifestations which we have already seen, that the centralization of the antichristian power, in the sense of this prophecy, may ultimately take place in the person of some one of the sons of men.
37. The great ἀποστασία again will receive a similar interpretation. Many signal apostasies the world and the Church have seen. Continually, those are going out from us, who were not of us. Unquestionably the greatest of these has been the Papacy, that counterfeit of Christianity, with its whole system of falsehood and idolatry. But both it, and Mohammedanism, and Mormonism, and the rest, are but tentamina and foreshadowings of that great final apostasy ( ἡ ἀποστασία), which shall deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect.
38. The particulars of 1 John 2:4 we regard variously, according as the ἄνομος is a person or a set of persons, with however every inclination to take them literally of a person, giving out these things respecting himself, and sitting as described in the temple of God, whether that temple is to be taken in the strictly literal signification of the Jerusalem-temple (to which we do not incline), or as signifying a Christian place of assembly, the gathering-point of those who have sought the fulfilment of the divine promise of God’s presence,—and so called the temple of God.
39. The κατέχον and κατέχων, the one the general hindrance, the other the person in whom that hindrance is summed up, are, in this view, very plain. As the Fathers took them of the Roman Empire and Emperor, standing and ruling in their time, repressing the outbreak of sin and enormity,—so have we been taught by history to widen this view, and understand them of the fabric of human polity, and those who rule that polity, by which the great up-bursting of godlessness is kept down and hindered. I say, we have been taught this by history: seeing that as often as these outbursts have taken place, their course and devastations have been checked by the knitting up again of this fabric of temporal power: seeing that this power, wherever the seeds of evil are most plentiful, is strictly a coercive power, and that there only is its restraining hand able to be relaxed, where the light and liberty of the Gospel are shed abroad: seeing that especially has this temporal power ever been in conflict with the Papacy, restraining its pretensions, modifying its course of action, witnessing more or less against its tyranny and its lies.
40. The explanation of the μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας has been already anticipated. It, the ἀνομία, in the hearts and lives, in the speeches and writings of men, is and ever has been working in hidden places, and only awaits the removal of the hindering power to issue in that concentrated manifestation of ὁ ἄνομος, which shall usher in the times of the end.
41. When this shall be, is as much hidden from us, as it was from the Apostles themselves. This may be set, on the one hand, as a motive to caution and sobriety; while on the other let us not forget, that every century, every year, brings us nearer to the fulfilment,—and let this serve to keep us awake and watchful, as servants that wait for the coming of their Lord. We are not to tremble at every alarm; to imagine that every embodiment of sin is the final one, or every falling away the great apostasy: but to weigh, and to discern, in the power of Him, by whom the prince of this world is judged: that whenever the Lord comes He may find us ready,—ready to stand on His side against any, even the final concentration of His adversaries; ready, in daily intercourse with and obedience to Him, to hail His appearance with joy.
42. If it be said, that this is somewhat a dark view to take of the prospects of mankind, we may answer, first, that we are not speculating on the phænomena of the world, but we are interpreting God’s word: secondly, that we believe in One in whose hands all evil is working for good,—with whom there are no accidents nor failures,—who is bringing out of all this struggle, which shall mould and measure the history of the world, the ultimate good of man and the glorification of His boundless love in Christ: and thirdly, that no prospect is dark for those who believe in Him. For them all things are working together for good; and in the midst of the struggle itself, they know that every event is their gain; every apparent defeat, real success; and even the last dread conflict, the herald of that victory, in which all who have striven on God’s part shall have a glorious and everlasting share.
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34