William Kelly Major Works Commentary - 2 Thessalonians

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William Kelly Major Works Commentary - 2 Thessalonians


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Verse Commentaries:


2 Thessalonians



W. Kelly

The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians



2 Thessalonians 1

The first Epistle to the Thessalonians dealt with a mistake of the saints there as to those who fall asleep in Christ. In their immature and absorbing occupation with the coming or presence of the Lord, they had too hastily affirmed that such saints as were not found alive and waiting for Him would lose their part, not of course in eternal life and salvation, but at that blessed moment of His advent. This error was dissipated, not only by bringing in the grand principle of a dead and risen Christ with whom we are associated, and of especial cheer to those who are put to sleep by Him, but by a special revelation which discloses the Lord descending to raise the dead in Christ, and change the believers surviving till His coming, in order to their all coming together along with Him.

In the second Epistle, the delusion which false teachers sought to foist on the saints, and even with the claim of the Spirit, and a pretended letter of the apostle, concerned the living whom the enemy endeavoured to shake and trouble under the apprehension of the presence of the day. All knew that the day of the Lord is to be ushered in by darkness and divine judgments, and these Satan sought to inflict on the saints so as to fill them with terror and distress. Clearly this is the natural expectation of a Jew, who even if he fully confided in the faithfulness of God, cannot but look for an awful season of tribulation and of judicial dealings to precede the kingdom of glory for Israel on the earth. (Isa. 2 - 4: 13; Jer. 30, Joel 2, 3. Amos 5; Zeph. 1 - 3). As the enemy is ever at work to draw back the heart of the Christian to the law, if he cannot entice him into lawlessness, so did he at Thessalonica, and ever since, put forth his wiles to judaise the hope, presenting the Lord as about to appear in judgment, instead of letting him rejoice in His coming as the Bridegroom for the bride. The deception is the more perilous, because the day of the Lord is a weighty truth in itself, and the revealed period of divine intervention and blessing for the ancient people of God. How the coming of the Saviour, for us who now believe and wait for Him from heaven, would fit in with the prophetic testimony, must have been as yet vague, for there was no written word to define the matter or solve the difficulty. Hence the importance of this fresh communication. For the question was raised by Satan's attempt to pervert the saints from the enjoyment of their own proper hope. They were agitated under the false alarm that the day was actually come. This more or less completely obscured from their eyes their bright and longing expectation of the Saviour's coming to receive them to Himself, and present them, perfectly like Him in glory, before the Father with exceeding joy.

As in the first Epistle, the apostle does not immediately grapple with the error, but prepares the hearts of the saints gradually and on all sides so as to clench the truth and exclude the error once it is exposed. This is the way of divine grace and wisdom; the heart is set right, and not the mere point of error or evil dealt with. The very snare is thus made the occasion of fresh and deeper blessing; and as all truth is consolidated, so the Lord is more enjoyed.

"Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace from God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ."

"We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, even as it is meet, because your faith increaseth exceedingly, and the love of each of you all toward one another aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the assemblies of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and the tribulations which ye are enduring" (ver. 1-4).

It is impossible to accept as sound and satisfactory Chrysostom's remarks on the address to "the church" rather than to "the saints," as in other epistles. (Field's ed. v. 314, Oxon. 1855). It has nothing to do with comparative paucity of numbers, and their aggregation in a single company. For in no city perhaps were the saints more numerous than in Jerusalem, when we read of the church or assembly there (Act_5:11; Act_8:1; Act_11:22; Act_15:4; Act_15:22). A similar remark applies to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, or to any other place where we know the numbers were great comparatively, and there might be, as in Jerusalem, not a few houses where the saints met to break bread, but all composed "the assembly" there. Never, in short, whatever the number do we in Scripture hear of "assemblies" in a city (as of a province), but always of "the assembly." No doubt the apostle addresses those at Ephesus and Colosse and Philippi and Rome as "saints", but this, because of the truth he was communicating by the Spirit of God, and not because of their greater numbers. In fact, we read of "the assembly in Ephesus" (Rev_2:1) after his Epistle to "the saints" as well as before (Act_20:17). Nobody can deny that a long time had passed and the organisation was complete, when St. John wrote to "the assembly" there; and therefore Chrysostom's reason is invalid. The true ground lies in the perfection of wisdom with which the Holy Spirit addresses according to the nature of that which He is making known.

Thus the apostle again associates with himself in the salutation those dear fellow-labourers whom the saints in Thessalonica knew already when the assembly was founded there: and he again characterises the assembly as in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: the one severing them from Gentiles, as the other from Jews. Indeed at bottom both contrasted them with both. For what did a Jew more than a Gentile know of such a new living, and intimate relationship with God as Father? And what knew a Gentile more than a Jew of a rejected but risen Lord and Saviour in heaven? "Our" is added here, as compared with the opening formula in the first Epistle. Is is not to rivet emphatically those saints, who, however well they walked in most respects, needed to be reminded more than ever of their common relationship with him who wrote, and with all saints, to Him whose grace is the source of all blessing?

Thanks as before he owns as due to God always for them, not simply because they were objects of His grace, but as was meet because their faith was greatly growing, and the love of each individually and of all mutually was abounding. This was much; but what of their joy of hope in the Holy Ghost? Of this he says nothing. And the absence is the more striking, because in the introduction to the first Epistle he had spoken of remembering without ceasing, not only their work of faith and labour of love, but also their patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, to the close observer, there is an ominous silence on any such enduring constancy of hope. Yet there is nothing said to damp their hearts, but all he could say to encourage. The fact is that their hope of Christ was consciously but seriously undermined and clouded, not by undue excitement but by agitation and trouble of mind as if the awful day of the Lord were upon them. This brought in fear which darkened their experience of persecution and of outwardly trying circumstances, though the apostle could boast in them among the assemblies of God for their patience and faith in all their persecutions, and the tribulations they were sustaining.

But patience and faith need the power of hope to sustain in freshness. There will and must be a lack when Christ is not personally before the heart as One who may at any moment come to receive His own to Himself. But yet more, there cannot but be an exposure, as we shall find here, to the counter and disturbing influence of fear, which leaves the soul open to the positively delusive power of the enemy. Even in the first Epistle the apostle was not without apprehension on that side; and therefore did he send Timothy to establish them and comfort them concerning, their faith, that none might be moved by these afflictions; knowing as they did that hereunto we are appointed. For they had surely not forgotten that Paul, when with them, told them beforehand that we are to suffer affliction, even as, they knew full well, it came to pass. But this did not hinder, rather did it draw out, the solicitude of the apostle on their behalf, "lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain" (1Th_3:5).

For the enemy has, of course, no real good or blessing to hold out; but he can and does work most effectively through fear of evil, especially where the conscience is bad or gets troubled. Therein lies his great power in awakening terror, availing himself of God's own threatened judgments on a guilty world. He may deceive the unbeliever by flattering him with false peace and false hopes from this the believer is freed by the gospel, but if not filled with the hope of Christ, he might easily be distressed by the pressure and the variety and the continuance of affliction, especially if Satan got him under the fear that they were judicial inflictions from God on the world in which he was involved like others. Where the heart is kept in peace and confidence before God, the mind can judge soundly. Fear unnerves the soul that is occupied with painful circumstances and throws all into confusion; for God and the word of His grace no longer guide, in the calm trust of a love that never fails, and that gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle, on the contrary, would have them take fresh courage from all their persecutions and the afflictions they were enduring, as he lets them know that he himself was boasting in them on that very account. So he bade the Philippians at a later day be in nothing affrighted by the adversaries which is for such an evident token of perdition, as it is for the saints of salvation, and this from God; because it is a real privilege on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake. It is part of the great conflict ever raging between Satan and those who are of Christ. This the Thessalonians had to learn more perfectly; and we shall see in what follows how skilfully the apostle sets their souls right on general grounds before he broaches the direct correction of the error in the second chapter.

It would seem that the Thessalonian saints had been engrossed with the day of the Lord, as indeed it occupies a large part, and is the grand issue, of Old Testament prophecy. If grace, righteousness, and blessing characterise that day, there can be no doubt that darkness, trouble, change and judgments beyond all previous experience are to usher it in. Hence the apostle felt the need of preparing the way, by a just determination of its true nature, for his correction of this special error foisted on them. This he proceeds to set before them that they might be clear in what was indisputable, and so the better able to judge the delusion.

Their endurance and faith in all their persecutions and the distresses they were then enduring had been already treated as, to him and those like-minded, an object of glorying in them among the assemblies of God. He adds now, "a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that ye be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which ye also suffer; if so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to those that know not God and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (ver. 5-8).

This moral dealing with their troubles was of the deepest moment. For even saints easily miss their way in the prophetic word: but God abides and cannot deny Himself, as these saints ought not to have forgotten. Now they might be to the uttermost tried, and evil in unrighteousness, deceit, or oppression, might prosper for awhile; but even so the faithful are called to trust confidently and rejoice exceedingly, reaping better blessings far than if all ran smoothly as the heart could wish. But the righteous judgment of God is unshaken, and faith rests on it without wavering, but with a solemn sense of what is at hand for violence no less than corruption, and especially for the hatred which cannot endure the objects of God's love in an evil world, where they, however unwelcome, are seen as lights, holding forth the word of life, not overcome of evil but overcoming it with good, and so much the more intolerable to the evil heart of unbelief which either rejects God or departs from Him.

Does God then regard with indifference His children's persecutions and distresses? On the contrary their patience and faith in all they are enduring is a demonstration of the just judgment of God; who, if He tries the righteous, loves righteousness, beholds the upright, and will surely rain fire and brimstone and a tempest of burning on the wicked. If he sees mischief, it is to requite it with His own hand. But His children meanwhile are being disciplined in the ways of Christ; and as faith perseveres without a sign, it may be, so patience must have its perfect work, that they may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. And is it not well worth while? "To the end that ye be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also ye suffer." So it is His good and holy will: through many tribulations we must enter into that kingdom. It was Christ's way, it is or should be ours. In that day the darkness will pass for the world. All will be plain that is now obscure: uncertainty and complication will be no more. For us the darkness passes away and the true light now shines; and we who were once darkness are light in the Lord. Then for the world, and especially for that portion of it which is now darkest and most embittered, the light will have come and the glory of Jehovah be risen there.

But the very contrariety of the world now to God and to His children only the more proves that the righteous Lord will surely intervene and vindicate in that day all that looks tangled now. One understands easily that, if Satan is as God calls him the god of this age, it can only be in the age to come when the Lord Jesus governs publicly and in power, that as a rule the wicked shall be put down and the righteous prosper. The unbeliever is hardened at the sight of the just man perishing in his righteousness, and of a wicked man prolonging his life in his wickedness. The believer awaits the kingdom of God and suffers for its sake. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Unto the sons of God it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but to suffer for Him. When the day comes all will be changed.

"If so be [it is] a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those that trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us." This none can dispute who believes that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those that seek Him out, and an avenger of all wrong against God and man. He is now dealing in grace; in that day He will judge the habitable world (and the dead also in due time) in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance to all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead. In that day, as even a godly Jew did know, He will be merciful to His land and to His people, as surely as He will render vengeance to His enemies and reward those that hate Him. What then will be His attitude toward the persecutors of His children and to those of them who thus suffered? He will dispense to such as troubled them tribulation, and rest to His now troubled children - rest with Paul and His companions in loving service for their sakes.

The danger is of allowing in this day of grace a judicial spirit, and this not only in our own minds like the sons of Zebedee who would have called down fire from heaven to consume the adversaries, but also in our interpretation of God's dealings with others if not with ourselves. The apostle would have the saints bright in their severest troubles, joyfully anticipating the day of requital when the sufferings of the saints shall be swallowed up in the glorious rest of the saints, the rest of God we may add, while their troublers become the objects of His unsparing judgment. For it will be the day of God's righteous award, in reversal of this day when Satan blinds princes and peoples, as he did when they crucified the Lord of glory.

This being so, persecutions and trouble were no indications of the day of the Lord; rather were they proofs that that day had not yet dawned and that grace still calls and would arm the saints unto all endurance with joyfulness. How different it will be for saints and for sinners when that day of the Lord is really come! How solemn yet blessed the change when the wicked fall into the hands of the living God, who is not unrighteous to forget the work of faith and the labour of love on the part of His children meanwhile called as they are to endure a great fight of afflictions!

For in that day of righteous judgment it will be a "revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to those that know not God, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

It will be observed that not a word here hints that this is the moment when the Lord comes to gather the saints to Himself. It is not the action of sovereign grace which translates the saints waiting for Him to heaven, but the display of judicial righteousness by the Lord when He appears in glory. Then, and not till then, will be the day of divinely apportioned trouble to the troublers, and of rest to the troubled who suffered for Christ's sake and for righteousness. How unsuitable to be revealed "in flaming fire with angels of power" to receive unto Himself the children of God, His bride, and to present them with Himself in the Father's house!

Here it is a question of rendering vengeance, not to unbelievers distinguished by two marks, as Calvin says, but to two distinct objects of judgment, "to those that know not God," the Gentiles, described thus expressly in 1Th_4:5, and in substance throughout Scripture; "and to those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus," as the Jews might well be regarded, who, outwardly owning the true God and boasting of His law, were now the most resolute, whether vehement or sullen, in disobeying the gospel.

God is never indifferent to good or evil, and His children learn this and bow to it in His word now knowing that, if they suffer with Christ, they shall also reign together. Their adversaries despise, hate, and persecute His unwelcome witnesses of grace and truth, who seek to adorn the teaching of their Saviour God in all things. Is this day of grace to go on indefinitely? Not so; that day hastens when His judgment will be revealed. And as glory, honour, and peace will be the portion of every soul that does good, so tribulation and anguish upon every one that doeth evil, to Jew and Gentile, for there is no respect of persons: evil will be treated as nothing but evil, when the Lord arises to judge, and this in the most manifest way before the universe.

Hence the importance, not only that sovereign grace should take to heaven the saints that are awaiting Him, but that righteous judgment should be displayed at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power in flaming fire. For the day will then have come to render vengeance to His and their enemies, whether they be Gentiles that know not God or they be Jews, who (if not so ignorant as the nations) cannot deny that they obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

As a man cannot shake off his responsibility according to what he once knew of God (Rom_1:19-21) and his conscience also as well as the law (Rom_2:12-15), so he must then be made to feel the guilt of his unbelief in his insubjection to God's glad tidings concerning His Son. And this suitably comes into manifestation before the world when Christ is no longer hidden in God but revealed from heaven, in order to bring out and display the government of God in power and righteousness and peace; as all the prophets bore witness from early days, and now the New Testament (so-called) sets its seal to the Old.

Thus was the balance of truth readjusted in the souls of the Thessalonians, who had been led to fear that their grievous troubles were the beginning of the day of the Lord. They were now to learn that this could not possibly be true from the essential character of that day, as one of rest to the troubled saints and of retributive trouble to their foes. For as it will be the time of divine recompence, so infallibly the Judge of all the earth will do right. It is not that the saints might not individually go to be with Christ meanwhile, nor even that He might not previously come for our gathering together unto Him. But there will be no public display of their righteously awarded rest and of vengeance on their adversaries till He is revealed thus in flaming fire. Such is the solemn fact, and this the distinctive principle therein, and the result of the revelation of the Lord from heaven, as here made known to the agitated saints in Thessalonica. The apostle too knew what tribulation was, and looked for this rest with them, as they were entitled to expect it with him, in that day which was still before them all. But as yet he and they were exposed to pass through trouble, and their persecutors were for the present in honour and ease and power without God. In that day the tables will be turned, His friends at rest and His enemies in trouble. It will be the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven in judgment of the quick.

We have had the objects of the Lord's dealing at His revelation from heaven; and they are clearly His enemies, in no way or degree His friends. It is His judgment of all the earth, Who cannot fail to do right. This is made yet more apparent by the solemn description which follows: - "Who (οτινες, men of the class which) shall pay as penalty everlasting destruction from [the] presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be wondered at in all that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day. Whereunto we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of the calling and fulfil every good pleasure of goodness and work of faith with power; so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ." (Ver. 9-12).

Present tribulation then through persecutors differs essentially from the trouble of that day, which shall fall not on saints but on those that hate and injure them. In that day their persecutors shall pay the penalty of everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. Like Mat_25:31-46, it is not the great white throne judgment of the wicked dead; it is the judgment of the quick, yet is it final. Their perdition is irretrievable, being everlasting from His presence and from the glory of His power; the wicked here (like apostates in Israel, Dan_12:2) are abandoned to shame and everlasting contempt.

On the other hand, the Lord shall have come at that time to be glorified in His saints and to be wondered at in all those that believed. Blessed prospect "in that day!" and comforting in this day for the Thessalonians to hear themselves included, among those to be thus a marvel to His praise, for this appears to be the gracious motive of the parenthesis, "because our testimony unto you was believed." The saints in Thessalonica might have erred as to the dead, and been misled as to the living; yet the apostle fails not to confirm their souls by the intimation that the divine testimony borne by himself and others had not been in vain, but had really taken effect upon them.

The careful reader will observe that the Lord is not said in that day to come for the saints and receive them to Himself, and present them in the Father's house, as in John 14. Here He will have come to be glorified in them, and to be marvelled at in all those that believed. It is an evidently different and subsequent part of His advent: not the hidden scene, so near to the Lord's desire, that where He is, they also may be with Him, that they may behold His glory which the Father had given Him, but the outer display, Christ in them and the Father in Him, when they are in glory thus perfected in one. So we see in Rev_21:23-24. The world will then know thereby that the Father sent the Son and loved the saints, appearing with Him in glory, even as He loved Him. Compare Joh_17:22-23. The translation of His saints to heaven is one thing; quite another and subsequent is their appearing with Him in glory and judgment of the world.

Further, it is interesting to notice the accuracy of the preterite "believed," instead of the "believe" of the Received Text, in verse 10. The former is not only the reading in the Complutensian edition, but that of all the uncials, almost all cursives, as well as the ancient versions and Fathers, unless a Latin copy or two. Erasmus seems to have misled Stephens, Beza, and others, and so our Authorised translators. No doubt the present is much the most frequent, but when the aorist occurs, there is always a special propriety as here. For the glorious display, which is predicated of the saints, refers with this reading expressly to the past believers' The importance of this becomes the more impressive, on our learning that the great harvest of blessing for man on earth follows, He and the glorified reigning over the world, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah (and of His glory, Hab_2:14) as the waters cover the sea, Isa_11:9. In that day it will be no longer a question of faith as now, and hence the monstrous error of the Peschito (not the Philoxenian) Syriac, etc., which connect the believing of "our testimony" with that day, and thus make it future, in Pat contradiction of the very Scripture before them. Whatever may be the dealings of grace in that day, the apostle carefully restricts the faith and the glorious reward here described to a reception of the testimony before the display of glory and of righteous judgment arrives.

Thus was the way gradually made plain for the more complete and decisive correction of the error which had been foisted in at Thessalonica. The true nature of God's intervention has been cleared. That day will be characterised by the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire. This it would be hard for the most resolute spiritualiser to apply to any such providential events as were then in progress, of which the enemy was taking advantage to mislead the saints. Nor had men gone so far in those early days as in later, for such as Macknight to say, that, when the apostles wrote, there were four comings of Christ to happen - three of them figurative, but the fourth a real and personal appearing; that these different comings are frequently spoken of in Scripture; and that, although the coming of Christ to destroy Jerusalem (!), and to establish His everlasting kingdom! be represented by His apostles as then at hand, no passage from their writings can be produced in which His personal appearance to judge the world is said or even insinuated to be at hand! The truth is that it is one and the same appearing of the Lord which shall overthrow the last head of Gentile power, destroy the man of sin, and display the saints in glory, as He will judge the world in righteousness in that day also. Nothing can be farther from the truth than that the Spirit does not speak of one and the same day, which is invariably declared to be at hand, not at a great distance. Moreover, the presence of the Lord to gather His own to be with Him on high is not separate from the various aspects of His appearing we have just enumerated, though necessarily anterior to them; for they follow Him out of heaven for that day and appear with Him in glory, instead of being just then caught up to meet Him. His coming for the saints is sovereign grace completing its work for us; His revelation from heaven is to render vengeance to His enemies and be glorified in His saints in the righteous and retributive government of that day.

Now the apostle lets the saints know his prayer for them, of course in view of their existing circumstances and need. "Whereunto we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of the calling, and fulfil every good pleasure of goodness and work of faith in power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." He had already, while introducing the preliminary topic of their persecutions, sought to lift up their hearts by speaking of their endurance and faith in all such troubles. It was a manifest token of God's righteous judgment to the end of their being counted worthy of His kingdom, for which they too suffered, as the apostle might well remind them, instead of their tribulation being an indication that God's judgments were let loose upon them. So now he also prays always for them that God would count them worthy of the calling. Elsewhere we hear of "His" calling, and of "your" calling, and again of "the calling wherewith ye are called." Here it seems better to leave "the" in its own generality than to restrict it simply to "your."

The next clause is that He would bring to completion every good pleasure of goodness end work of faith in power. Certainly this could not be, if they were driven from their steadfastness by listening to the delusions of false teachers. Confidence in the Master's grace produces faithful service, and loves to own that, whatever purpose of goodness may be, whatever work of faith, it is only God that fulfils each and all in power; "so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." As He is not here in fact nor yet reigning over the universe, the name of our Lord, the revelation of Himself, is given us that it may in the power of the Spirit be glorified in us, as we serve the true God and await His Son from heaven. It is a question of keeping His word and not denying His name, whatever the difficulty or discouragements.

But the apostle adds, "and ye in him," for his eye was ever on the bright day, and he would have theirs drawn from their troubles, and every possible misconstruction of them, to that manifestation of the glory of His might and righteousness. For as surely as His name is glorified in the saints now, still more fully, yea absolutely, in that day shall they be glorified in Him, as He is in them (ver. 10). It is no mere iteration of the previous intimation of the apostle, but fresh thoughts completing all, such as only the inspiring Spirit could furnish. To say "in it," for "in Him," would be havoc with the truth in general as well as the context; yet it has been said, doubtless through rage for novelty and lack of appreciating the truth. May we be kept walking firmly in the truth according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ, even as the apostle prayed for his dear Thessalonians. It is an admirable introduction, before directly touching the error by which they had been drawn aside from the freshness of hope into agitation and fear, the result of a misjudgment of the deep trials that were pressing on them.

It is needless to discuss here at length the true bearing of the last clause, which some, out of zeal for the divine glory of our Lord, would have to designate His person only: "of our God and Lord Jesus Christ." But, though this be grammatically a quite possible construction, as it is dogmatically also true in itself, its contextual suitability is another matter. That one article in the singular rightly in Greek designates even distinct persons if the object be to express their union in a common category (as here in "grace"), ought to be known not only to scholars in general, but familiarly to all students of the later body of revelation in its original tongue. Supposing God the Father to be here meant, as well as the Lord Jesus Christ, the insertion of the Greek article was not required, though English needs "the" before Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, its insertion in Greek would have been an intrusive error, if both were expressly to be united in a common object; for the repeated article would have had for its effect to present the persons as separate agents rather than as joined. And the nature of the case, as well as the clearly revealed truth of Scripture, shows abundantly that the joint agency of these blessed persons could not be, save in - that which lies behind all - the unity of the divine nature.



2 Thessalonians 2

The apostle now enters on the correction of the error which, as we shall see, false teachers had foisted in among the Thessalonians. It cannot be doubted that the early believers, whether those directly addressed or others elsewhere who received these epistles, understood and profited by the instruction conveyed. But it seems demonstrable that too soon afterwards the bare meaning of the apostle's words was lost, if we may judge from ancient versions and comments, and it is equally plain that modern translators and christian writers in general have not recovered its real scope till this day. In the verse before us, as is sometimes the case, the misunderstanding of a single word is the cause and proof of confusion prolific and irremediable For if Scripture, however unintentionally, be made to speak not alone ambiguously but in a way that misleads, the result, as far as it goes, is fatal. With the strongest desire to avoid exaggeration and, yet more, falsely accusing any soul, one is bound for the truth's sake to record the conviction that grave mischief is here done in the Revised Version, by the introduction of "touching" into their text, and "in behalf of" into their margin (2: 1). It will be shown that neither suits the context. We are in no way limited to these reflections of the Greek, especially where connected with words of entreaty. The Authorised Version, in the main point before us, is substantially better; yet the misrendering has been considered by not a few as a decided improvement: so thoroughly has the aim or argument of the apostle been for the most part misapprehended.

In a comparatively minor detail that follows in the verse, the Revisers have shown better scholarship; for neither "by" nor any substitute for it has a right to stand in the last clause. The structure of the phrase not only requires no such insertion but absolutely precludes and condemns any supplement of the kind. Christ's coming and our gathering together unto Him are expressly bound together, as closely associated events of the deepest moment to the saints. The older translation shows that those responsible for it paid no heed to this, the unequivocal import of the construction, for they have, on the contrary, interpolated a word which however small, severs the objects, which the form of the original does and could not but intimate to be in the strictest union. The Revisers were therefore at liberty and indeed responsible as faithful translators to expunge the second "by." They thereby represent the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him as two parts of the joint idea brought before us by the Holy Spirit.

But the great question is, what is the real bearing in this connection, of that joint object before the reader? and what in particular is the true force of the preposition employed by the Spirit of God? The Authorised Version says "by," the Revisers give "touching" in the text, and in the margin they add "Gr. in behalf of." The usage of πρ, if we come to facts even in the New Testament alone, is pretty wide; but the context as ever has immense and distinct and decisive control in helping us to determine the intended import. There is the difficulty that ρωτν πρ is only found here, whereas π. περ is of frequent occurrence and unquestioned meaning. Compare John 17 where it is found repeatedly, and can have but one force - to pray or make request for - in the sense of "touching" or "concerning." Is it critical, or reasonable, that π. πρ should mean the same? It appears to me beyond doubt that it is not. The Revisers themselves give us not only "in behalf of" but "for the sake of," or more briefly and far more commonly "for." Now "in behalf of" renders no just sense in this context; but what of "for" i.e. "for the sake of?" "Now we beseech you, brethren, for (or, for the sake of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him," etc.

Here we have a definite sense which fits in admirably with the connection. It is the bright object of hope and assured comfort, whereby the apostle besought the saints not to be distracted by the agitating apprehension, spread by false teachers, that the day of the Lord had actually dawned. flow far the Authorised translators may have so regarded the context, it is difficult to say; but the transition from "for the sake of," or "for," to "by reason of" or "by" is easy, and in this case might perhaps be allowed to approximate. Even Bishop Ellicott, who adopted "touching" for want of duly appreciating the contextual bearing if not necessity, admits that an adjurative meaning is grammatically tenable; and certain it is that, from the Vulgate to Erasmus, Zwingle, Calvin, Piscator, Beza, Estius, etc., a crowd of others hold to this as the true scope. Meyer first assumes that it is strange to the New Testament, and then argues against the reasonableness of the apostle's choosing for the object of adjuration the very point he is going to instruct them on. But this is his own oversight. They are distinct and even contrasted objects.

I cannot but think therefore that, while the Authorised Version in substance gives the sense, the Revisers have missed it completely, and substituted a meaning which tends to obscure and falsify the passage. The adjurative force "by" with a verb of entreaty is known from the earliest extant remains of classical Greek; and none can deny that the force of a motive or a plea ("for the sake of" or "for") abode to the last, and is nowhere more usual than in the Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament. So rendered, the phrase runs consistently, and the argument or ground of entreaty yields a meaning in perfect accordance with the verse that follows, and the entire paragraph. The blessed hope of being caught up to the Lord at His coming or presence is a most intelligible preservative against the false and disquieting rumour that the day of His judgment of the earth had come. Everyone can understand when it is brought before him, that such a consolatory and transporting prospect, if always in view, is calculated to deliver from the agitation and fear created by the delusive cry that the terrible day of the Lord was there. And so the apostle conjures them, not by "the day of the Lord" concerning which he was about to teach them (as he had been laying a ground for it in the previous chapter), but by "His presence" to gather them to Himself above, which was full of joyful associations. The subject-matter he treats of is that "day," and very full of terror, especially when misrepresented by some at Thessalonica as actually set in.

But where is the propriety of the supposition that the apostle beseeches them touching the coming of the Lord and the gathering of the saints unto Him? The error was about "the day of the Lord."

Did not the Revisers, like others who have thus translated the clause, assume that the presence (or coming) of our Lord is identical with His day, and render πρ here "touching," either because they quite identified these events in their thoughts, or because they had no distinct notion of the context? Now if the coming of the Lord be treated as the same as His day, what is the sense of beseeching them touching the same matter as is denied to be then present? If the day of the Lord be a source of disquiet and awful anxiety, nothing can be more appropriate than to beg them, for the sake of their most longed-for blessing in hope, not to be troubled by the false teaching that the dreaded epoch was come. The two objects are contrasted as in 1 Thess. 4, 5.

Thus, it is quite incorrect that "the coming of the Lord and our gathering together unto Him" is the subject-matter either before or after the entreaty in the verses before us. The reader has only to examine the preceding chapter 1 in order to be satisfied that the apostle has been laying bare the character of the day of the Lord, when (not the hope of the saints shall be realised, but) the righteous judgment of God shall be manifested. It is for this last they are here exhorted to wait, in patience and faith enduring all present persecution and affliction; for then are the glorified saints to reign with Christ in the kingdom of God, for which they were yet suffering. Then, and not before, will God recompense affliction to those that afflict the saints, and to the afflicted saints rest with Paul and his fellow-labourers. Neither will be when the saints are caught up to heaven, but when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with the angels of His power, rendering vengeance to those that know not God, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. For then the day will have come for His and their enemies to suffer as punishment everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He shall come, not to translate His saints to the Father's house, but to be glorified in them, and to be marvelled at in all those that believed, in that day,

Such is the real matter in hand: not in a single phrase is it the coming of the Lord to have us changed into His glorious likeness and in the Father's presence, but our appearing with Him in glory to the confusion of His adversaries overthrown before the wondering world, the day of righteous award for both to God's glory. Hence, if the apostle had been beseeching the saints "touching" the subject in discussion, and as to which they needed rectification, it ought to have been the day of the Lord and of our reigning in the kingdom with Him. Those who so render appear to have confounded "the coming" with "the day" of the Lord; whereas the one is the comforting hope against the fear of the other.

Equally plain is the bearing of what follows. For the apostle tells the saints that the day, of which the misleaders had falsely spoken as actually there could not be, however men may beguile about it, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed; and of course therefore the power or person that restrains meanwhile must à fortiori be gone out of the way. For the mystery of lawlessness already works; not yet is the lawless one revealed till the restraint is away. Once it is, the full display of Satan's power takes its course in the revelation of the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought, not by His coming simply, but by "the manifestation of His coming." Here again it is "the day of the Lord," when righteous judgment deals publicly with friends and adversaries, and not His "coming" or presence, when He gathers His saints to Himself on high.

Can evidence then be asked more complete than what the context before and after furnishes, that the apostle beseeches the saints for (or by) their inspiriting hope, not to be upset in mind nor to be troubled about the day of the Lord as if there with its terrors? To beseech them touching that day, which he was going to paint in the most vivid colours, not to be uneasy as if it were now present is opposed to his words! as unlike the accustomed energy and precision of the apostle as can be conceived. He entreats by their hope against their fear.

That there is a marked distinction between the Lord's coming and His day respectively had already been laid before the Thessalonians in chapters 4 and 5 of the First Epistle. 1Th_4:15-17 explicitly show us the character and circumstances, the aim and consequences, of the coming of our Lord Jesus when the saints, dead or living, are gathered unto Him; as 1Th_5:1-3 plainly opens out the dread effect of that day when it overtakes the wicked. There is the strongest contrast between them, and not a word intimates that they occur at the same moment, though, no doubt, when the day arrives, it is still the coming of the Lord, and indeed not this only, "but the manifestation of His coming," and therefore with the utmost suitability called His "day." On the other hand, neither here nor in any part of Scripture is there a trace of the saints being caught up to meet the Lord in His day; for this is a further and subsequent step of His presence, when it is not the consummation of His love to His own, but the outpouring of His just indignation on His enemies as well as the no less righteous display of His friends with Himself in the same glory.

The misleaders at Thessalonica were not so infatuated as to imagine that the Lord had come, and by His presence gathered to Himself on high all the saints, whether departed, or alive and waiting for Him. Even they never dreamt that He had descended into the air, and translated all the once suffering children of God to be with Him glorified in heaven. Since it was patent to all eyes that the saints in Thessalonica, and their brethren throughout the world, were still on earth, they could hold no such suicidal thought as that the deceased saints were already raised from their graves, and themselves were left behind. The truth is that they were not thinking about the Lord's presence: their delusion was not on this score at all, but about "the day of the Lord," as verse 2 makes clear and indisputable. They did conceive that His "day" was not merely "at hand," which is true, but "present," which is false. Identify "the coming" with "the day" of the Lord, and all is confusion; distinguishing between them, you forthwith receive light, and need put no strain on the words, which are instructive in proportion to the discernment of their exact force.

For the Authorised Version is here wholly astray and even inconsistent with its own rendering of every occurrence of the word elsewhere. The reader can compare Rom_8:38, 1Co_3:22, 1Co_7:26; Gal_1:4; (2Ti_3:1;) and Heb_9:9, which form the entire range of the word in the New Testament. Not only does it not convey "at hand" in any one of the other cases, but such a sense would be everywhere absurd and impossible. In the first two references "things present" (νεσττα) are contrasted with "things to come." This could not be if the word really bore the sense of "just coming, imminent or at hand." So again in the third instance the distress was actually "present," not merely threatening but already come. Just as evidently in the fourth it is "the present age, evil as it is," αἰὼν οτος or νν αἰών as the apostle calls it in Rom_12:2 and 1Ti_6:17, contrasted with "that" or "the coming age" (Luk_18:30; Luk_20:35; Heb_6:5), which is the very reverse, being good, righteous, peaceful, and glorious. Nor should we wonder; since Satan shall no longer be the prince of the power of the air or god of the next age, as he is of this (2Co_4:4), but cast out and restrained, while the Lord reigns in displayed power and glory, instead of being as now hid in God. So even the different and future form in 2Ti_3:1, νστσονται, does not mean that difficult or grievous times "impend," but shall actually "come." "Shall be soon coming" would altogether enfeeble the sense and ruin its force. Not otherwise is it with the last reference, where the meaning beyond controversy is "for the present time." One can hardly conceive any reasonable man construing the phrase of the time soon to come or at hand. The future will be regulated on distinct principles, as to which Scripture is not silent.

Thus, on the ground of the New Testament usage, the weightiest help of all for our guidance in translating a disputed word, there can be no hesitation that the Revised Version is justified, and the Authorised Version at fault, as to the very important word at the end of the verse, the hinge of all sound exposition of the passage. But what of its use in the Septuagint, of such approved and acknowledged value as being the Hellenistic forerunner of New Testament Greek? The first instance, which Tromm (Concord. Gr. lxx. Interp. i. 529) cites from Theodotion's version of Dan_7:5, is a ridiculous blunder, ες καρους νεστθη. The Aldine text was not so far wrong, yet reading ες μρους which is hardly intelligible; and it has the same error as to the verb. The Complutensian gave it rightly, ες μρος ν στθη as in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. The Chisian copy of the true Septuagint gives π το νς πλευρο στθη. But this effaces the only instance save in the Apocryphal books; where Tromm gives 3 Esdras 5 72 [47], 9, 6; 1 Mac. xii. 44; 2 Mac. iii. 17, iv. 43; xii. 3, every one of which confirms the Revised Version in all respects, and the Authorised Version in every case save the unfounded "is at hand" before us, which means, and can only mean, "is present."

It may be added that the word, and in the perfect too, is used in ordinary classical authors precisely as in the New Testament. See Herod. i. 83, Isoc. 82 B; Polyb. i. 71, 4; Plut. Lucull. 13; Dem. 255, 10, cf. 274, 6. The three instances, like the rest cited by Deans Liddell and Scott, in their well-known Lexicon (Aristoph. Nub. 779, Isaeus 88. 40, Dem. 896, 29), are of the usual import not "imminent" but "present," actually begun, literally set in. In each the suit was already commenced, even if still pending. It is the same beyond doubt with νν νεστηκς γν, Lycurg, 148, 32; το νεστ. μηνς, Phil. apt Dem. 280. 12 means the present month, not one soon coming; and so does νεστ. πλεμος in Aesch. 35, 27. And χρνος ν., means the present, not future tense; as τραματα ν., Plat. Legg. 378 B, means wounds inflicted, not merely threatened; and τ ν., or ν πργματα, Xen. Hell. 2. 1, 6; Polyb. 2. 26, 3, means present circumstances, in no case "at hand." Not any instance has been produced where the word in the perfect can be shown to mean a state of things not yet commenced. The sense then, in writings as well profane as sacred, is uniformly "present," not "at hand." The rendering was therefore inexcusable.

This may suffice in a well-grounded way to assure the reader that the error so unscrupulously taught by fanatics in Thessalonica was, not that the day is "at hand" (for the apostle himself taught this expressly in Rom_13:12), but that it had "actually come." These mischievous men were probably of similar type as Hymenaeus and Philetus, "who concerning the truth erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some" (2Ti_2:18). The resurrection could be only thus explained away as accomplished, by reducing it allegorically to some spiritual privilege already received; as many writers, and even commentators, counted orthodox, have misinterpreted "the first resurrection" in Rev. 20. Some such attenuation by giving a present bearing is as easily understood, as of the day of the Lord, if not more so. For while that day can never be fulfilled in all its scope, till Jehovah executes judgment on the quick here below and brings in His own reign, when all things rejoice instead of groaning as now, yet judicial inflictions in God's ways on Israel or the heathen were designated by "that day" in the Old Testament. Take Isaiah 3, 7, and still more evidently 13, and 19. For what can be clearer than that a then sweeping and exterminating judgment on a people and country, as of old on Babylon or on Egypt, is called the "day of the Lord" on them? Yet no doubt there remained momentous elements as yet unfulfilled which await "the day" in the fullest sense at the end of the age.

Joel 1, 2 may illustrate this same thing. The day of the Lord is similarly introduced and with similar characteristics. It is a day that comes as a destruction from the Almighty; a day of darkness and of gloominess; a day of cloud and of thick darkness; great and very terrible, and who can abide it? It is a day which, however it might fall on any in a measure through Medes or Persians, through Greeks or Romans, looks onward to its completeness at length, when the Lord rises up to shake not the earth only but also heaven. Compare Zep_1:7-18 with Zep_3:8-20, Zech. 12-14.

Now it is very intelligible that a misleader might avail himself of the germinant or partial application of the prophecies in ancient times to affirm that the sore troubles and persecution the Thessalonians then endured along with external distress and political convulsion, etc., indicated that day. It was not indeed Christ's presence, nor were the saints translated to heaven, which twofold event could not of course be pretended in any way to have taken place; for it is here pleaded as a self-evident guard against the error in circulation, that the day of the Lord's dealing with the living on earth had begun, and that the saints were involved in its terrors. So far in fact were any from so egregious a fancy as that Christ had come, that beyond controversy the apostle could entreat them by* (or, for the sake of) His presence and our gathering together unto Him, that they should not credit the alarming rumour that His day was there. That is, every believer in his senses was fully aware that Christ had not come, but was in heaven still, and that the saints were as yet on earth instead of being caught up to Him above. Therefore the apostle does make this a ground of appeal why they should not receive the mischievous report, no matter how strongly in appearance commended, that His day had actually dawned. Christ's presence and our gathering unto Him on high must precede that day. That on the one hand so great a joy, so bright a hope, was not the actual portion of the saints and that on the other (while Christ was still absent; they themselves and their brethren were as yet on earth, were obvious facts and irrefragable reasons why the day could not be come. The saints are to appear from heaven following Christ to bring in that day, See Rev_17:14; Rev_19:14. In order to this they must be translated there previously; and so we see them symbolised as in heaven from Rev. 4 and onward.

*It may be remarked here that not only older scholars like Erasmus and Beza hold to "by" as the true sense in this connection, but Wahl of recent years adds his high authority, as also Matthiae and Jelf allow the principle, and the late Greek Professor Scholefield of Cambridge, though preferring "concerning" from not understanding the argument and context.

The phraseology too, if scrutinised, will be found consistent only with this view, irreconcilable with the popular confusion which clouds these verses. For the apostle beseeches the Thessalonians, as we have seen, "that ye be not quickly shaken in [lit. from your] minds* nor yet troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from [lit. by] us, as that the day of the Lord is present." As it is an offence against every sound exegetical principle to imagine that "the coming of the Lord" in verse 1 differs from that which had been so distinctly revealed in the first Epistle (1 Thess. 4), so equally are we bound to interpret "the day of the Lord" here with what was laid down in 1 Thess. 5. Providential or figurative applications are thus out of the question. The New Testament at least employs both terms in the full and final sense.

* It would seem scarce credible to intelligent Christians if happily ignorant of the dreary comments written on Scripture, that Dr. Macknight interprets this as "shaken from any honest purpose which they had formed concerning their worldly affairs"! But his