The Coming and the Day of the Lord: Part 2

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Here are the two opening verses of the chapter according to the ascertained ancient text, and correctly translated; for in the Text. Rec. and in the A. V. there are faults in both respects— “Now we beseech you, brethren, by (or, for the sake of) the presence (or, coming) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in (or, from) your mind, nor yet troubled, either by Spirit, or by word, or by letter as through (or, from) us, as that the day of the Lord is present.” As in ver. 1 there is but one article binding together our gathering and the Lord's presence, the second “by” in the A. V. must therefore disappear. Again, in the last clause of ver. 2 “Christ” is read only in inferior copies and versions; “Lord” is incontestable diplomatically, and alone expresses the true aim. Lesser points we may dismiss.
But there remain the grave questions of rendering ὑπὲρ in the first verse, and ἐνέστηκεν in the second. As to the first, the connection with a verb of entreaty has not been adequately considered, and that connection the peculiar one of a motive from joy and hope to counteract a false alarm. As there is no other instance in the N.T., it is not surprising that the rendering “by” or some equivalent should be unexampled there. So therefore all our older English translations, with the Vulgate and most of the other ancient versions. Wahl in his N. T. Lexicon refers to 2 Cor. v. 20 as another instance of “by;” but the context there favors “for,” in the.sense of “on behalf of” Christ. Here such a force yields not this sense exactly, but “by” or “for the sake of,” as it appears to me for good reason.
As to the true and only legitimate meaning of ἐνέστηκεν, there ought to be no doubt. It was a word every day in Attic use, as we may gather from the Clouds (779) of Aristophanes, where it is said of a suit going on, and not merely close at hand.
Can anything be more decisive, outside the N. T., than the technical phrase of ὁ ἐνεστὼς χρόνος among grammarians for the “present tense”? Indeed it is the one and only meaning of the word in the known authors of Greece. Thucydides does not employ this form of the word; but it occurs in Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, and Dion Cassius; and in no sense save as actually existing or present. It is the same with the orators Isaeus and Isocrates, Aeschines and Demosthenes. So again the philosophers, Aristotle and Plato, employ it, but in this sense only. It would be easy to add more, but is not this enough? Where is a single instance of “imminent”? It does not occur in the Septuagint save in the Apocryphal writings; but there it occurs in 3 Esdras ix. 6; 1 Mace. xii. 44; 2 Mace. iii. 17; xii. 3, in all which it can only mean “actually there,” nowhere “imminent."1
But say Webster and Wilkinson (G. T.), ἐνέστηκε everywhere else in N.T. means “present “; here, however, it has doubtless (!) the more ordinary classical meaning, “imminence,” to be close” at hand.” Now not only “the more ordinary” but the invariable classical meaning perfectly agrees with its uniform sense in the N. T. The instances adduced by Liddell and Scott (even in the seventh edition of their Greek Lexicon) for “pending” or “instant” really mean what was actually begun or present. And their vacillation in giving both for the same quotation is just like Bengel's, who here says, “great nearness is signified by this word; for ἐνεστὼς is present!”
Exactly so; and therefore great nearness is not meant. They seem all to have been misled by taking for granted that here “imminent” must be intended to make any tolerable sense.
In short the R. V. has here corrected a sure and evident misrendering, which owed its origin to theological error ancient and modern: the assumption latent and unsuspected, that the misrendering alone makes sense here; whereas it alters the meaning of the text and throws the reasoning into confusion. The sense it imposes is purely traditional, and opposed to the truth intended. The bad exegesis was probably what led to the unsound philology.
I am aware that the American revisers, though often right, here cleave to the misconception, and render it “is just at hand “; but can they point to a single case where any correct Greek writer ever employs the verb in this tense save for “present”? Long as the notion has prevailed, it is without foundation in fact.
Further, it is notorious that there is a quite different phrase (ἐγγύς) for “nearness” in the N. T. and in all other writings; and if emphasis were sought, the verb in the perfect was used (ἤγγικε); as also ἐφέστηκε (2 Tim. 4:66For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. (2 Timothy 4:6)). But one had hoped that no exact scholar would sanction the laxity of supposing that the apostle confounds the meaning of two kindred words, each of which has its own precise sense, ἐνέστ. “is present,” and ἐφέστ. “is close at hand.” On the face of it the erroneous rendering makes the apostle contradict himself; for in Rom. 13:1212The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12) he tells the saints that the day is at hand, meaning no other than the day of the Lord, as all surely must admit. How could the misleaders in Thessalonica be charged with error, if they had only taught that the day of the Lord is at hand?
It is thus evident that these divines, like others before them, venture to conceive that the errorists gave out the substantially same thing that the apostle urged later as the truth of God. But no: the false teachers fraudulently alleged the apostle himself, as we shall see, for the untruth that the day of the Lord was (not ever so soon, but) actually arrived. And this error was filling the saints, not with enthusiasm of joy or the excitement of a spurious hope, but with panic, especially as inspiration was pretended, oral word, and even a suppositious letter as from Paul himself for it. Who can deny its effect according to the apostle to be agitation and trouble that the dreaded day was present, and in no way over-wrought warmth about His coming as very near? Thus in every point of view the old rendering is a manifest blunder which would set the apostle at war with himself, as it also conceives a state among the deceived Thessalonians which disagrees with what is clearly described in the same verse. Such a sense is really owing to theological bias, and the assumption (latent and unsuspected perhaps) that the unexampled rendering alone gives sense here. In fact it destroys the text and perplexes the context.
There is an indubitable sign of false teachers which is here commended to the notice of all Christians; for we need it in the days, and may need it yet more if the Lord tarry. Observe then that the false teacher ordinarily does one of two things, sometimes both. Either he lulls asleep those who ought to be roused, keeping them entranced in the deadly slumber of fallen nature; or he tries to alarm true believers by endeavoring to shake their confidence in the grace and truth of God, filling their minds with groundless alarm. Not possessing peace himself, he is often deceived as well as a deceiver; for he knows not in his own experience peace and joy in believing. The false teacher then either injures the children of God by weakening their confidence in God, or, along with this, he lulls with opiates those whom God would have to be awakened from their dangerous insensibility. In short false teachers flatter the world, or seek to alarm the true children of God. Very often they essay mischief in both ways.
The truth does exactly the contrary. It always has for its effect to rouse men from their state of guilty indifference or their self-confidence, setting before them their fearful danger for eternity. But it tells them of a divine Savior and a present salvation. Along with this there is the comforting, establishing, and leading on of the believers into all their privileges and responsibilities, their proper joys in communion with the Lord and one another, and their growth in the knowledge of His mind and ways for worship and service. For all these latter things pertain to the believer only.
It is striking in more ways than one, how John Howe (Works, v. 252, Hunt's ed. 1822) felt in his measure the force of this appeal, and commended it to others. “You shall hardly meet with a more solemn, earnest obtestation in all the Bible than this is: that is the thing I reckon it so very remarkable for. ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;' by what he knew was most dear to them, and the mention whereof would be most taking to their hearts; if you have any kindness for the thoughts of that day, any love for the appearance and coming of our Lord; if ever any such thoughts have been grateful to your hearts: we beseech you by that coming of His, and by your gathering together unto Him, that you be not soon shaken in mind, that you do not suffer yourselves to be discomposed by an apprehension, as if the day of Christ were at hand. It may be thought very strange, why the apostle should lay so mighty a stress upon this matter, to obtest in it so very earnestly. And really I could not but think it exceeding strange, if I could be of the mind, that the coming of Christ here spoken of were only the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the man of sin afterward spoken of were only meant of Simon Magus and his impostures, the feats that he was at that time supposed and believed to do; which certainly could be things of no such extraordinary concernment unto them that lived so far off as Thessalonica at that time, and much less to the whole Christian church.”
Not that Howe had any special light of scripture on the glorious counsels of God for Christ and the church. No Puritan was instructed in these truths more than Greeks, Romanists, Anglicans, Lutherans, or others; and his adoption of independency injured his intelligence of the church, as it must all Congregationalists in particular. But he was beyond comparison the most spiritual and profound of his class. At any rate I here quote him to show how a soul who loved the Lord and His word rose above the prejudices of his fellows, and that addiction to Plato, Plutarch, and other heathen, to which the Cambridge school of philosophic divines such as Cudworth and H. More, helped him. Though confused like all the rest as to the distinction of the Lord's Presence, and its appearing (or, the day), his logical and subtle mind could not overlook that the ground of the apostle's appeal in verse 1 was laid in the brightest hope and the deepest affections of the saints. Now this is peculiar to the Lord's presence for gathering His own unto Himself, as distinct from the subject treated of in the verses of chap. i. that precede, and in the verses 2 &c. of chap. ii. that follow.
The rendering of the Revisers, and many others, is avowedly because they assume that the apostle is entreating the saints in verse 1 in respect of what he had been just writing and was about to teach them more, for which περὶ would be the correct preposition, as we may see in John 17 and elsewhere. But if he besought them, as I am persuaded he did, by their joyful hope against the false notion of the day with its terrors as actually come, it is no mere question of the sense of here required, important as this is in such a context, of which there is no parallel known to me in the N. T. In other words, what led to the choice of “touching” here was an erroneous exegesis of the verse in which the preposition occurs. Had the real difference been seen, all would have acquiesced, if not in the “by” of the A.V. with most translators till of late, in the nearly equivalent for “the sake of,” which is its frequent usage.
What were those about who misled the Thessalonians? They pretended to Spirit, and word, for their cry that the day of the Lord was come. False teachers fall into such ways. But these did more; growing bolder in their impiety they pretended to have a letter of the apostle, affirming that “the day of the Lord was present.” I am aware that some learned and able men have conceived that they only alluded to the former Epistle. Thus Paley 2 says that the apostle writes here, among other purposes, to quiet their alarm, and to rectify the misconstruction that had been put on his words; in that the passage in the Second Epistle relates to the passage in the first. But this is an oversight. It is certain from the terms employed that the epistle alluded to was not his; for he says “that ye be not soon shaken in your mind or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter AS from (or, through) us.” He thus intimates, not the letter that he had written, but a letter “as by us,” or purporting to be from us, with which he had nothing to do. It was a forged letter, not his First Epistle which we have.
The pretended letter was to the effect that the day of the Lord was (not “at hand” merely but) already there. Now the day of the Lord, according to the Bible in general, is to be one of trouble and anguish, a day of clouds and darkness for the world. You may read this abundantly in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and the prophets generally. On what pretext then was the cry raised by the forger? The Thessalonians were suffering great trouble and persecution for the truth's sake. Indeed the apostle had in 1 Thess. 3:4, 54For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. 5For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain. (1 Thessalonians 3:4‑5), expressed his concern lest the tempter might tempt them somehow through the tribulation they were passing through. But he gives no license for calling it the day of the Lord. The false teaching seems to have converted this (the existing fact of much trial) into that day, alleging that the day of the Lord was actually arrived. For in the O. T. certainly the “day of Jehovah” is repeatedly applied in a partial or incipient sense, e.g., in Isa. 13; 19, &c. All there indeed knew from 1 Thess. 5 that it would be a day of fearful trial, everything meanwhile growing worse and worse, till the evil is at length put down by the victorious power of the Lord.
Accordingly the apostle in 2 Thess. 1 points to the revelation of the Lord from heaven, with angels of His might, in flaming fire rendering vengeance to those that know not God (the Gentiles), and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (wicked Christians or Jews, &c.), when He shall come [not to take up the saints for the heavenlies, but] to be glorified in His saints, and to be wondered at in all that believed.... “in that day.” Why fear it then?
On this occasion the misleaders had contrived to excite no little anxiety and trouble as if the day of the Lord had actually come. Not at all, says the apostle: how can you forget the bright hope that the Lord is coming to gather you to Himself? “We beseech you, brethren, by (or, for the sake of) the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, that ye be not soon shaken in your mind nor troubled.” He thus appeals in ver. 1 to a known motive of joy and confidence in their hope; and from ver. 3 he goes into the prophetic reasons which demonstrate its complete refutation. But, we may notice, it is never said that the saints await the day of the Lord to be taken up and meet Him in the air. The coming of the Lord effects their translation before His day as we shall see.3 They are to be an object of wonder in that day when seen glorified with Him.
Thus “the presence of the Lord” and “his day” represent two connected but different thoughts often confounded by men: the one (being said of the heavenly saints) consummating grace, the other executing judgment. There is the less reason why they should be, because the apostle had already spoken with clearness on them both in his First Epistle. In chap. iv. 15-17, he describes the coming of the Lord, not His day. “For this we say to you in the Lord's word, that we the living that remain (or, are left) unto the presence of the Lord shall in no wise precede those put to sleep. Because the Lord Himself with call of command, with archangel's voice, and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then (ἒπειτα) we the living that remain shall be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in [the] air; and thus we shall ever be with the Lord.” This was a new revelation, as he implies in opening the subject (15). Not such was the day of the Lord; for there is scarce any great topic more frequent in the O. T. prophets from Isaiah to Malachi. Even where this phrase may not be employed, it is involved habitually. But in no case did it make known what the Thessalonian saints are here taught by the apostle. They are distinct truths.
Hence having finished the statement of the new truth at the end of chap. 4, the apostle turns to the old in the beginning of chap. 5 “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that ye should be written to” [what a contrast with the foregoing new revelation!] “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they may say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you as a thief,” &c. Is it possible to conceive a sharper distinction? We see on its face what a mighty difference there is between “the coming of the Lord” and “the day of the Lord,” as the apostle describes them. Where among ancients and moderns does one find the same discrimination? or anything but the grossest confusion? Chrysostom had not his equal among the Greek fathers as an expositor; yet he (was he the first?) was so dark as to count death the Lord's coming to the saint! If it was, how many thousands of times He must have come! No, it is just the inverse: our going to Him, not His coming for us, when all saints up to then departed, and we the living that remain, are caught up to meet Him in the air. That is “the day of the Lord” comes later; His presence is to our everlasting joy, our great triumph over death, as the day is His unsparing judgment of the wicked quick. How astonishing that any saints should lump them in one!
This is confirmed by what was written some time after to the Corinthian Church in their First Epistle, xv. 51, 52. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all be put to sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in an eye's twinkling, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” The resurrection he does not call “a mystery,” when he wrote of it in this 'very chapter. Nor was it justly one; for the O. T. had revealed it. The early book of Job tells us the resurrection of man (14.); not only the privileged one of the just in chapter 19., but that of “man,” who must die and rise; yet not till the heavens be no more, in perfect accord with the two resurrections of Rev. 20. There is no “mystery” in the two resurrections. It was a truth for both just and unjust, which the Jewish adversaries also received, as Paul told them before Felix the governor. But the coming of the Lord, not only to raise the dead saints, but to change the living, and translate both to Himself, is the fresh word of the Lord in 1 Thess. 4 and the “mystery” in 1 Cor. 15.
One of these objects for the earth which appear to have made the rapture to heaven requisite is the divine purpose to prepare a people here below for the Lord at His appearing. As grace had by the gospel and in the church brought in suitably for each the call of Gentiles to rejoice with His people, God would still work for a remnant from both during the frightful crisis when He would fill with His chastening judgments, which culminate in the Lord's personal infliction when He comes to judge and reign. The Psalms and the Prophets shed much light from God, especially on the godly remnant of the Jews, working by His Spirit on their hearts before and during the great tribulation. The evidence is so abundant that, if this were the time to furnish proofs, the difficulty would be which to select effectively to convince those to whom this side of the truth is not familiar. The Revelation is as plain at the end of the N. T., as the Gospel of Matthew at its beginning, that there is to be a wave of blessing for Jews and Gentiles during that brief and awful space, after the Christian witnesses are withdrawn and seen in heaven. Take Rev. 7 and xiv. as distinct testimonies to this, along with the fact that there is no longer a hint of a church on earth, and that a new sight is beheld above, the twenty-four crowned and enthroned elders, who, as is generally allowed, represent in symbol the saints of O. and N.T. in heaven round God and the Lamb. “The things which are” will then be past, and “the things which are about to happen after these” will be next accomplished.