The Coming and the Day of the Lord: Part 3

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The sealed of Israel's tribes, and the countless crowd out of all the nations are in different ways objects of divine goodness at that season of trouble. They are not joined together in one body, as it must be in the church. They are separately blessed at this preparatory epoch, as they will be in the millennial reign, when (as will not be disputed) Israel will form the nearest circle on earth, the nations blessed richly but willing and glad that the firstborn son of Jehovah should have the first place in honor and dominion here below. What confusion it would make to conceive the church here co-existing with this! Take a Jew converted by the gospel of the kingdom, and looking up for Christ's redemption by power; and consider the perplexity, if he heard the church with Jewish and Gentile distinctions effaced, praising in the Spirit, for a redemption by His blood already enjoyed, and for Christ in each the hope of heavenly glory with Himself on high. Which, says he, am I to receive and confess? These heavenly glories with Christ the Heir of all things, and this union in one body, so opposed to Law, Psalms, and Prophets? Or my portion in distinction from the Gentiles, and waiting for the Messiah to accomplish, for us the children, the promises to the fathers and the new covenant to both houses of Israel?
The book of Revelation clears all up, as it presents the saints of the heavenly calling on high, and earthly saints, Jewish and Gentile, on earth during the tribulation, both awaiting the Lord's appearing for the glory to be manifested both in heaven and on earth.
There is also one evident reason on the heavenly side which calls for the heavenly saints to be with the Lord above before He and they are manifested in glory. Each of us shall give an account concerning himself to God. We shall therefore all be placed, though in differing times and for opposite ends also, before the judgment-seat of God (Rom. 14); and it is to Christ personally that we shall then bow. For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] through (or, in) the body, according to those he did whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5). Now this will evidently take place for the saint in his glorified state (and what a comfort this will be, however solemn!), but as evidently before the Lord comes in His kingdom; for the respective place of each in the kingdom is determined by that manifestation of us to Christ. How very striking it is that the glorified saints are shown as perfectly at home above in God's presence, from Rev: 4 to 19, during the sad season of earth's greatest darkness and abomination and misery; and that only before the bridals of the Lamb come we hear of His wife making herself ready! Can anyone suggest anything but that manifestation to Christ as needful for her? Then the marriage of the Lamb is followed by His appearing and His saints with Him. They had been caught up and in the Father's house long before, as is evident.
It is only lack of spiritual perception which has pitched on the Lord's coming or presence in one particular form to deny it in others equally but distinctly revealed in scripture. There are three applications of His presence at three separate occasions—to the Christians, to Israel, and to the Gentiles. Even the hottest partisans for merging all in one must on calmer reflection allow that Matt. 24:3131And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31) wholly differs from that in Matt. 25:3131When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: (Matthew 25:31). The latter is severed from the former by an interval of some, and probably from the nature of the case considerable, length. If the Jews, or Israel rather, be thus plainly dealt with before the Gentiles, it is the right order for the earth. But proof is at least as strong that the Lord's first and highest object is to receive to Himself on high those destined to be with Him where He is in the intimacy of divine love and heavenly glory, as well as to reign over those delivered Jews and saved Gentiles.
Ample proof is given in scripture that the heavenly saints take precedence and are caught up to be with the Lord for the Father's house before these Jews or Gentiles on earth are converted. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so surely is Christ's taking His bride above; and this, because Christ's rejection by Jews and Gentiles on the earth gave occasion to God's highly exalting Him above after a new sort. To rail at this clear truth of God as “a new god come newly up,” “as a Jewish fabrication,” with many another equally childish, unfounded, and unseemly imputation, must be treated as at best mere and impotent ill-feeling.
The ignorance too is fathomless; as, for instance, the impossibility of “preaching the gospel [of the kingdom] to the world while actually keeping satanic saturnalia.” It is the Lord who predicts this very fact at the very time, “before the end,” when Satan, the Beast, and the False prophet prevail. Can any instructed Christian deny it? See where a false system leads its votaries.
Those who assume the identity of the Lord's presence here with that in Matt. 24 and kindred scriptures would do well to weigh what has satisfied their brethren that they refer to distinct acts, and differ in nature, each with its own personal object, the latter for the earth and the former for heaven. That there will be points of resemblance between them is natural, because their respective objects are to be blessed after a new and wondrous sort above and below. But ours will be by a rapture on high characterized only by grace; theirs by a judgment that overwhelms their enemies below. In 1 Thess. 4 none are spoken of but the risen and changed saints to be with Him, then and always. Only those are concerned who hear His call, and, seeing Him as He is, are henceforth like Him, their body of humiliation transformed into conformity to His body of glory. In Matt. 24. it is a question of “flesh” being saved through the antecedent perils, without a hint of resurrection or change when they see the Son of man, for it is in this character He appears. And then shall all the tribes of the earth or land mourn, which is plainly foreign to 1 Thess. 4 “And they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;” yet nobody then is said to be changed by it. On the contrary after this He is said to send His angels with a great sound of trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect (from context here, of Israel) from the four winds from one end of heaven to the other: a description widely differing from the heavenly saints changed and caught up to Him on high, as in 1 Cor. 15, Phil. 3, and 1 Thess. 4.
But Col. 3:3, 43For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3‑4) goes farther and positively excludes Matt. 24 from the possibility of being classed with these scriptures. For it definitely lays down, that there is no appearance of the Lord to any alien eye of all mankind, when He comes for His joint-heirs, till they are already changed and manifested with Him. Whenever Christ, our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory. Till then our life is hid with Christ in God. When He appears, we (are not caught up, but) appear with Him in glory. How God-fearing men can refuse submission to the evidence of His word in distinguishing these two acts of the Lord's presence might well seem beyond belief, if we did not know the fact, and its sorrowful consequence, both in its darkening power on the subject generally, and in the sore feeling it engenders.
Do you doubt that this is so? Hear then some words of an aged and respected clergyman: “Are the scriptures in these days tortured by any evangelical believers? wrested, at least, to their own injury? in union with scorners or heretics? What degree, &c., exists of the temper that God loves, of trembling at His word? &c. Are there in these last days any supplemental addenda to the Holy Word to be received as God's revelation as the book of Mormons is received? Was the faith once for all delivered to the saints? or was it not? “Do I wish to give pain to him or his friends who have deemed such utterances becoming or justifiable? Not in the least degree, more than they affect one with other feelings than sorrow for themselves, and a solemn sense of the false teaching which produces such bitter fruits, utterly out of measure, place, and season. For they know that we are no neutrals in divine truth, but appreciate the strongest indignation where Christ and His work are assailed, or any other vital truth. Another fact is clear. The apostle had in 1 Thess. 5 explained the contrast of “the day” with “the presence” or coming of the Lord for His own. The latter was a new revelation which they had not known before. As to the former, they knew accurately that it comes as a thief in the night. Whenever they may say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as the throes upon her that is with child, and they shall in no wise escape. But the apostle's assurance is distinct that this was for the sleeping world, not for sons of light and day as they all were. Hence it was as inexcusable, for the Thessalonian saints to listen to the fraudulent alarm of their misleaders that the day of sudden destruction had arrived, as for others who to our day confound these two things so different, the joyful meeting of the Savior and the saved above, and the day of terrible destruction on the men of the world. It is this confusion that underlies the misrendering of ὑρὲρ in 2 Thess. 2:11Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2 Thessalonians 2:1), and of ἐνέστηκεν in 2:2.
Nearly all teachers take for granted that in the former the apostle alluded to that concerning which he was about to teach them. It is, on the contrary, an appeal to the comforting hope of the Lord's coming and their gathering together unto Him, as a motive for rejecting the false teaching about His day. Further, from ver. 3 he shows the prophetic grounds why that day, not His coming, could not arrive till the evils were fully and openly out which are to be then judged. The Revisers, like Bp. Ellicott and Dean Alford, have corrected ver. 2; but they left ver. 1 worse than in the A. V.
Again, it is urged with unwarranted confidence, that the saints only go up into the air to meet the Lord there, and forthwith come down with Him. For this where is any attempt at proof? They may press into the service Matt. 24:3131And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31). But this demonstrably applies to the gathering of the elect of Israel after the Son of man is seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. In this connection there is no hint of the resurrection nor yet of the translation above.
As this chapter of Matthew has been examined rather closely of late, there is the less need for discussion now. But Col. 3:44When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4) seems plain and conclusive that the words of Matthew do not and cannot legitimately apply to the risen saints. For the apostle there lays down that “when Christ, our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also (not be caught up, but) be manifested with Him in glory.” The reference of Matt. 24:3131And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31) cannot be to the glorified ones spoken of by Paul. For this Gospel treats of elect Israelites gathered from all parts of the earth to the Son of man after His manifestation; the apostle treats beyond doubt of Christians manifested along with Christ in glory when He who is now hidden is manifested. In short, the Epistle excludes all question of Israel here, as all would admit, and means only the saints changed into the likeness of Christ's glory; whereas the context of the text in the Gospel is occupied with the future saints of the chosen people on the earth, and has nothing to do with the risen for their rapture or their manifestation with Christ. The earthly people are in view, and the Son of man coming to judge and establish His kingdom here below.
Nor is this by any means all. In the latter half of Rev. 19 we have the beginning of the day of the Lord (or the presence of the Son of man). It is the prophetic description of what the apostle briefly sketched in 2 Thess. 2:88And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (2 Thessalonians 2:8), when the Lord Jesus shall destroy the lawless one with the breath of His mouth and shall annul Him by the appearing of His coming. As to this there can be no fair question. But here we are told, not of the saints being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, but of the armies in heaven following the Lord when He emerges to judge and make war in righteousness. That those armies are saintly and not angelic (though angels are not to be wanting then) is clear, among other proofs of special association with Christ, from their garb of “white pure byss” ( just before interpreted as “the righteousnesses of the saints”). The glorified saints therefore follow the Warrior-King out of heaven: a truth which had been already and necessarily implied in Rev. 17:1414These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14) of which more will be said anon.
Indeed, the just preceding scene (19. 6-9), the marriage supper of the Lamb beyond controversy in heaven, proves still more strongly, that the saints who form the Bride were already there; and if the evidence be traced in the book, they are seen there from chaps. 4, 5, where they are symbolically shown to be. For who but the least intelligent can think of separate spirits being seated on thrones? So little is it scriptural to say as in a little tract on “The Time of the End,” that “when His presence—His Parousia—as announced by Himself is ‘seen like the lightning from the east even to the west,’ the wedding feast shall be kept.” No, my brother, prejudice and passion have misled you. The marriage is in heaven and before that day. Dare you deny it in flat contradiction of God's word? Tremble for yourself, and beware of such temerity.
The coming or presence (παρουσία) of the Lord is a wider term, embracing the day as well as what is just before the day. It may be qualified by “the Son of man,” that is of the Lord in a judicial point of view, so as to coalesce with “the day,” and imply not His presence only but its display, as in the phrase, “the coming of the Son of man.” His coming applies to His day; but the appearing, manifestation, revelation or day, is fixed to the time when He comes with all His saints to set up His kingdom by judgments. The first object is to gather home those He loves. Love would always secure the object of affection first. Think how blind one must be to assume that taking vengeance is the primary object.
The coming of the Lord then is bound up closely with the gathering of the saints; the day of the Lord as clearly with the judgment inflicted on His enemies here below. Hence we find here, “let no man deceive you by any means.” It is evident there might be a great deal of mistake on this subject; “for it [will not be] except there come the falling away (or apostasy) first.” “That day shall not come” is an insertion of our translators, marked therefore by italics, though substantially correct. The day was not to be till the apostasy have first arrived, the public abandonment of Christianity throughout Christendom. O how men deceive themselves when they think that all goes on to progress and triumph for the gospel or the church through existing means!
Victory will be when Christ comes, not before. What is revealed is a very different and more humbling prospect. God's distinct intimation is that “the day” is not to be except the apostasy come first. And what is the character of modern infidelity, but preparing the way for the apostasy? people bearing the Christian name, yet giving up all the Christian substance? leaders who still carry on the dead forms while the spirit has fled? This will grow and extend, and men little think that they rapidly get ready for it. The outward and public recognition of the truth is being destroyed everywhere on earth. There will soon be no outward homage paid to Christianity in Europe.1 It is too plain that the governments of the world are gradually stripping off all real respect for the Bible as God's revelation, even if they yet keep up their connection with the Christian name. How many even in England think this a great boon! Though without practical interest in or affinity for an established religion, I cannot but think its rejection criminal and profane; and that this will turn out more serious than the so-called reformers expect.
It was a most seductive evil when the Christians accepted an alliance with the world; but it is a totally different and most solemn issue for the world, when it casts off all its profession of Christianity. Deep was the Christians' loss when they sought the world's recognition; but what an awful day for the world when it is so tired of the union as to throw off Christianity! The consequence will be that the very slender tie which binds and attaches men severally to the reading of the Bible or attending service will be broken. Granted that there is no reality, no divine life, no true or acceptable honor paid to the Lord, in carrying on a merely outward profession; but people who go to church (as it is called) hear the word of God and Christ named with honor. When this is no longer recognized, they will give it up as an antiquated prejudice, and go to shoot, fish, ride, or drink on His day. They will occupy themselves in reading anything but the Bible. The most rapid decay will ensue. Not so with the elect of God. As the evil progresses, the real saints will then become the more evident. They will by the Holy Spirit rest only on the word of God and such testimony of Jesus as is then rendered; but unbelieving men will be engulphed in the apostasy.
Is not this what is before the world as its doom? Is it not the written word which says so? What is the worth of any human forecast? Men prefer to look for a pleasant prospect, because they dislike and dread the divine warning. But this unbelief only hastens the evil day.
The first Epistle to the Thessalonians was the first written by the apostle; the second, from the nature of the case, was written shortly after. Thus, from the beginning of revealed Christianity, from the first communications of the Spirit of God to the churches, such is the solemn result of which they were warned. Those who profess the gospel will abandon it ere the end come as it surely will. For that day is not to be “except there come the falling away first.” It is not merely “a” falling away here, and a falling away there, but the falling away, the apostasy in the fullest sense.
Further, “That man of sin will be revealed, the son of perdition.” There was once a man of righteousness, the Savior; but He was rejected. There will be a man of sin, the son of perdition, “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.” We are aware that many people apply this to the Pope of Rome. Now we cannot honestly accept this, though regarding the system as a frightful delusion, even Babylon. How can men believe that “the apostasy” has arrived yet?2 It is a sorrowful thing even unconsciously to use scripture with a party aim, or for controversial objects. In the presence of growing evil, which pervades both Protestant and Catholic countries alike, it is beneath the truth to cast such a stone from one to the other. No, the apostasy is the result of despising the gospel, of trifling with the truth, of keeping up forms that are unreal, and then rejecting them and all divine revelation with shame, or without it, in cold, proud, reckless, and definite unbelief.
The apostasy will be the result as far as Christendom extends. Wherever the gospel has been preached, or at any rate the Lord professed, the apostasy will be the issue, whether of Romanists (for none are really Catholics) or Protestants” whether of Lutherans or of Calvinists, Greeks, Nestorians, or any others; such will be the result, not outside but within Christendom. It does not mean the end of the Jews, or of the heathen. The apostle is here speaking of that broad scene wherein the Lord's name has been professed. No doubt Papists are now and long the most opposed to the gospel and the most persecuting in spirit; and therefore Protestants assume that theirs is the apostasy But not yet is it come for Christendom to abandon openly and avowedly the N. T. as a falsehood and the Savior as an impostor. It is surely coming for Protestants as well as Papists, and all the rest. The day which is to judge the lie, and worse still, cannot be till all is fully out. “Because [it will not be] except the falling away shall have first come, and the man of sin been revealed.”
It is still the mystery of lawlessness at work, which was working when the apostle wrote: so early had the principle of utter ruin entered. There is piety in all orthodox sects, and even in Popery, where, spite of its corruption and idolatry, the fundamental truths of the Trinity and even of the atonement are owned more than in many Protestant sects. The present mixed state is not what is here meant by the apostasy, any more than the Gnostic departure of “some” from the faith referred to in 1 Tim. 4:1-31Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1‑3). It is general, complete, and open.
The climax is the lawless one who “exalteth himself.” Jesus humbled Himself, and only exalted God, Himself God but become man, the Man of righteousness. Here is a man, the man of sin pre-eminently, the opposer, and self-exalter against all called God, or object of reverence, the personal adversary of the Lord Jesus. And, as the Lord said to the Jews, they would not have Him who came in His Father's name, so they will receive him who comes in his own name (John 5:4343I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43)). At the end of this age he will come, and accordingly he is found as Satan's winding-up, not merely of apostate Christendom, but of apostate Judaism also, indeed of man, Jew, and professing Christian in revolt.
The connection with Christendom has been already shown; but now we may briefly touch on Judaism. For this personage “opposeth and exalteth himself exceedingly above all that is called God or object of veneration; so that he himself sitteth down in the temple of God, showing forth himself that he is God.” As the true church began in Jerusalem, the great result of the apostasy will find itself conspicuously in Jerusalem. It was this city which saw Pentecost; so far as the world could discern, it beheld on the earth the assembly which belongs to heaven. Jerusalem will see the judgment of that which, long a counterfeit, will end in a manifestation of hell—the fruit of the amalgam of Christendom with Judaism.
Those who are under the impression that the apostasy is already consummated, and that it is thus found in Romanism, do not assuredly think worse of it than myself, who may speak without presumption of being farther from its evil dogmas, forms, ways and worship, than they even profess. But, while we utterly abhor the Papist system, scripture, and the chapter before us with others, speak of a still more awful revolt from the gospel, the church, the Christ, the Trinity and of God's revelation as a whole before the end comes, or even the revelation of the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus is to destroy, personally appearing for this purpose though for other blessed objects.
Under that impression they consider that the Papacy is this adversary and enemy, of course a succession during the centuries, and not the haughty individual antagonist of Christ, the last antichrist of John's Epistles, who denies the Lord Jesus as the Christ, and yet more as the Son, and of course the Father, both the hope of Israel and the truth of Christianity. Hence they adopt the view of the Fathers from Irenaeus to Cyril Hier., Chrysostom, and Theodoret, &c., among the Greeks, and to Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, Lactantius, &c., among the Latins, that the Roman empire is the restraining power, which when broken would leave all open for the man of sin. There is however this great difficulty for the Protestant view, that the Fathers with one consent looked for a single personage to fulfill this and other predictions, to be destroyed by the Lord, the son of perdition by the Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Dr. Wordsworth makes much of Chrysostom's remark that, if the apostle had meant the Holy Spirit when he speaks of the power that restrained, he would have spoken plainly and said so. This is a hasty supposition; as it is hardly decorous to predicate why the apostle, or the inspiring Spirit rather, refrained from giving all that man might wish. It is assumed by him, like the Fathers and the moderns too, that the restraining means was some power which Paul had mentioned to them by word of mouth; that he practiced reserve concerning it in writing; and that the reason for this oral mention only must have been fear of the consequence from the empire for himself and his brethren if he had written of it openly in scripture.
But this reasoning is quite unfounded, and no bad instance of the slovenly way in which the scriptures are read and pressed into service. The apostle does not say that he had often spoken to the Thessalonians of the restraining power, or that he had told them what it was. He speaks in ver. 5 of what he had said of the coming apostasy, and of the man of sin, with his blasphemous assumption and defiance of God in His very temple. “Remember ye not that, being yet with you, I told you of these things?” It is after this that in ver. 6 he goes on, “And now ye know that which restraineth, that he may be revealed in his own season.” He does not say that he had mentioned or explained the restraining power to them, but that they knew that by its action the man of sin could not be revealed till his own season. They may have gathered it from the known place of the Holy Spirit as exercising power for good.
But without dwelling more on this, let us test the notion with what scripture does say of the time when there is no restraint more. When that evil hour arrives, the powers that be, at least as far as the Roman earth is concerned, will no longer be ordained of God. The dragon will give its emperor its power and his throne and great authority (Rev. 13:33And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. (Revelation 13:3)). For the ten horns, his satellites, as they receive authority as kings for one and the same hour with the Beast (the symbol of that Empire in its last form), so also have one mind and give their power to the Beast (Rev. 17:12, 1312And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. (Revelation 17:12‑13)). And Beast and False Prophet perish awfully together, as do the kings and their armies. The Fathers were right in seeing portentous personages with their followers, not a succession in history, but the divine judgment at the close, coming into collision with the Lamb appearing from heaven to their destruction. If the Beast that rises from the abyss were now and for more than a thousand years in power, there could be, where his influence extends, no powers ordained of God. This will follow when the restraint is gone. The Roman empire is long gone; but He that restraineth is still here. And He will restrain, till the moment comes for that very empire (which existed when the apostle wrote, and ceased to be as now for so many centuries) to emerge from the abyss, and is to be ordained of Satan on its revival, to its everlasting destruction.
So far from the truth of God is that patristic tradition as a scheme. Yet, as a passing fact, it is true that while the Empire was in power, God owned it, heathen though it was; and the restraint still wrought. But the Empire fell in the fifth century; and the man of sin did not yet rise. God's providence wrought, and owned in His providence the Teutonic hordes, and the kingdoms which took the shattered empire's place, as He did the Romans before, and does the powers that be still. The restraining power still works, and will till the dreaded time when the church joins her Head for heavenly glory. For a while too after that event the Holy Spirit will work and control, according to the Apocalyptic expression of “the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth.” For it is only in the latter half of the unfulfilled seventieth week of Daniel, the 1260 days of which the Revelation treats, that Satan plays that terrible game on earth, when he sets up the Beast, and the man of sin sits down in God's temple.
Now if this be simple and sure truth as scripture puts it, we can better understand why the apostle was reticent. God may not have revealed to him as He did through the beloved disciple, that strange quasi-resurrection of the fallen Roman empire (under the authority of which the Lord of glory came in His humiliation) destined to rise again under Satan's power, when the restrainer is gone, but to receive, from the same Lord appearing, its doom on the person of its eighth head in the lake of fire. The Spirit of God, as a spirit of government has restrained all through and will till just before the end of the age. When the dragon is allowed to govern, without a check for a brief space, He, will cease to restrain. To imagine that He has nothing to do with the powers that be, since the Papacy, is as great an error as to overlook the Satanic reign of terror and blasphemy during its allotted “little while,” before the Lord is revealed in flaming fire to destroy it, and to bring in His own world-kingdom in power, righteousness, and glory.
The truth of the Spirit governmentally restraining meanwhile may have been known to the Thessalonian saints in a general way, but not written down for wiser and better reasons than any dread of the Roman government. Daniel had already given its destruction, as foreshown to Nebuchadnezzar in chap. 2:34, 35, 40-44, and to himself in chap. 7:7, 8, 19-26; as it was yet more fully in Rev. 13; 14, 16, 17, 19, after the death of the apostle Paul, so that the dread imputed to the inspired writer can scarcely stand its ground.
At most the Roman empire may be said outwardly to have hindered the uprising of the last imperial adversary, because it was ordained by God as all powers are till Satan's short time, when he is permitted to ordain him. The traditional view has proved imperfect when examined in the light of scripture. It was a narrow and short-sighted application, in no way meeting what the word elsewhere says and demands, but provisionally true while the Empire held its place. “The son of perdition” suits the personal antichrist, not a succession of pontiffs, not a few of whom were the vilest of men, and the office itself an imposture. But to characterize the succession as denying the Father and the Son is not merely uncharitable but senseless. Why strain scripture derogatorily to God and dangerously for the man, however sincere and well-meaning, who is guilty of such a license? When the man of sin appears, there will be no doubt about it for all who have the fear of God.
The truth is that the old traditional view is not only unfounded as a question of full truth; it is also manifestly illogical. For if the Roman empire were the absolutely real barrier against antichrist, and the Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries prayed for its continuance against that dreaded foe, what could be in such a declaration, however open, to arouse its hatred and draw out persecution? It would naturally tend, if known, to give them confidence in the church as the warm and not quite disinterested supporter of the empire before God. It is extraordinary that men so able as Dr. W., and a crowd of others who are no friends of tradition as he was, should use an argument so suicidal.
The Thessalonian saints, like others, who believe in that unspeakably terrible consummation at the end of the age, knew that it will be the allowed apparent triumph of the lawless one, the instrument of Satan to the last degree. They knew therefore that God, working by His Spirit as He had ever done, and now especially to Christ's glory since Pentecost, alone could hinder that cherished aim of the arch-enemy. The Roman empire while it lasted might be and was an outward hindrance; and when it fell, other governors, ordained of God stood in its way. To have named it only would have been a mistake, which divine wisdom avoided. The particular barrier, τὸ κατέχον, might vary, as it did; but ὁ κατέχων, the restrainer, abides to use providentially the powers that be till the Roman empire rises from the abyss for the final crisis.
Further, being both a power and a person (that 4 is, spoken of as neuter as well as masculine) it is not rightly said of an empire, and can apply to none so well as to the Spirit of God. He still, to sustain His testimony to Christ, and for the sake of the children of God, continues to hinder the final manifestation of Satan's power. But when the church is gone up on high, it seems that the Spirit will act not only to convert souls, but as a spirit of government (Rev. 6) till God allows Satan to do his worst for his short time. The Spirit of God will then indeed cease to restrain the working of the Evil One, who will dare all things against the Lord.
“And then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall destroy with the breath of his mouth, and shall annul with the appearing of his coming.” The Lord Jesus is the appointed destroyer of this fearful being, the one who is elsewhere called the antichrist. Even now there are many antichrists, says John; when the antichrist comes, he will be brought to naught by the Lord Jesus in person appearing from heaven and publicly. The critical addition of “Jesus” is put in, because it is certainly genuine; and as it gives more definiteness to the expression, so it excludes any mere dealing in providence.
Here recall the first verse. The apostle does not say the day of the Lord, nor the appearing of His coming, when Christ gathers the saints. “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him.” And these two wondrous events are so closely associated by one article in the Greek, that the second “by” in the A. V. is an impertinent and injurious intrusion. But, when the destruction of the man of sin is in question, he speaks, not of His coming merely, but of the appearing, the epiphany, of His coming If it were a display when the Lord comes to gather His saints, why should “the appearing” of it be expressed in ver. 8 only? Why is its “appearing” avoided when He comes (ver. 1) to gather together His saints to Himself? Is it not manifest from the phrase itself that the coming of the Lord does not of itself imply His appearing? How else account for the difference in the wording of verse 8? It was necessary, when His appearing was meant, to say so; and this is when He judges. When it is the dealing of His grace in translating us to heaven, His coming or presence is named; but not a word about His appearing. When the lawless one shall be destroyed, it is not merely His presence or coming, but the appearing of it. He could not appear without coming; He might come without being seen beyond what He pleased; but now we hear of the display of His presence. When He comes to take up His saints, what will the world have to do with it? It was His own love which saved them. They belonged to Him, not to the world. He comes to claim His own. He does not make the world a spectator before He appears in glory for the destruction of the antichrist.