Tuesday, December 01, 2009

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5

V1-5 – 1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness [or sin] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

Paul begins now, after his introduction, to expound the end times for his concerned audience. He speaks of the end times as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him.” Vincent Cheung says, “The matter [of] ‘our being gathered to Him’ …is easily confused with our being ‘caught up…to meet the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17), but the terms are not the same. Rather, it resembles the language used in Matthew 24, where Jesus says that His angels with ‘gather His elect from the four winds’ (v31). But the prophecy there concerns the destruction of Jerusalem (see Matthew 23:35; 24:2), which would happen in ‘this generation’ (Matthew 23:36; 24:34), that is, within His own generation in the first century.” Cheung, a postmillennialist, relies on Keith Mathison for this comparison, which is good, but the only way I see to align “our being gathered to Him” and Jesus’ angels “gather[ing] His elect” as something other than the eschatological rapture is to say that elect martyrs will be gathered to Christ as the persecution hits Jerusalem in 70 AD. This may fit, but I still believe that Paul is speaking more about the final Judgment Day, which seems to correspond with the rapture and second coming of Christ.

Furthermore, Calvin paraphrases Paul saying to the Thessalonians, “As you set a high value on the coming of Christ, when he will gather us to himself, and will truly perfect that unity of the body which we cherish as yet only in part through means of faith, so I earnestly beseech you by his coming not to be too credulous, should any one affirm, on whatever pretext, that his day is at hand.” Calvin continues, saying that since Paul, “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.” In other words, Paul doesn’t want his audience to jump to conclusions about the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Moving on, some false teachers had apparently taught – even claiming to be Paul – “that the Day of the Lord has already come” (v2), but Paul denies that teaching, and instead implies that the day of the Lord (along with the second coming of Christ and rapture – 1 Thessalonians 4:17) will happen after antichrist is revealed (v3). (Again, some commentators allow for double fulfillment of “the day of the Lord,” temporally being at the destruction of the Temple and finally / eternally at the Judgment Day.) The Thessalonians, and we as well, are to guard against false prophecies, reports, and letters (v2).

In v3, Paul speaks of rebellion. The word is “apostasia,” but scholars aren’t sure what he means. It could be the falling away of many professing believers in the church (Matthew 24:6; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; Jude 17-19), the apostasy of Jewish people, their political revolt against Rome that brought the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, or a general, worldwide rebellion against God, such as the neo-atheism of the 21st century. Whatever the meaning, religious or political rebellion, notice that Paul does not actually use the term “antichrist,” as John does (1 John 2:22), but his description of “the man of lawlessness” nevertheless is undeniably identical to John’s antichrist. And as some scholars believe, the identity of this man is Roman Emperor Nero. But others see some person in the future, or even a particular earthly kingdom, to fill this role. Calvin says that Paul’s use of these descriptive and terrible terms “tend to stir up the pious to a feeling of detestation, lest they should degenerate along with others.” He has much more to say on this passage:

“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.”

Paul’s prophecy of the antichrist’s behavior in v4 reminds of Daniel’s little horn (Daniel 7:8,20-21; 8:9-12; 11:31-36) and foreshadows John’s apocalyptic sea beast (Revelation 13:1-8). See also the imagery of Isaiah 14:13-14 and Ezekiel 28:2. Whichever interpretation we choose here actually impacts our views of the end times. If these signs Paul gives have already happened (fulfilled by Nero), then nothing remains to precede Christ’s second coming. If however, we still await “the man of lawlessness,” then Christ’s return is not as imminent as we might like it to be, for he must become revealed to the public, set himself up in the “Temple” (either figurative or literal), proclaim to be God, and work fraudulent miraculous signs before Christ returns to destroy him. And some, including Calvin (and maybe MacArthur), would suggest that the office of Pope in the Roman Catholic Church fits this description perfectly.

Finally, Paul expects the Thessalonians to remember that he already explained this when he was with them (v5). His passion and memory for the truths of God extend far beyond the average layperson. But the expectation is that we will all strive to be like Paul in both his passion for the things of God and his efforts to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. Just found a hot Google item titled "Pre-Trib Expert John Walvoord Melts Ice" which might interest you since it touches on the Thessalonian letters. Lord bless.