Verse 10. And indeed it is a just and righteous judgment of God, to give them over to vanities and lies in this world, and to condemnation in the next, who have no regard to truth and virtue, but delight in falsehood and wickedness; ver. 11, 12.
Upon this survey there appears little room to doubt of the genuine sense and meaning of the passage. The Thessalonians, as we have seen from some expressions in the former epistle, were alarmed as if the end of the world was at hand. The apostle, to correct their mistake and dissipate their fears, assures them that a great apostasy, or defection of the Christians from the true faith and worship, must happen before the coming of Christ.
This apostasy all the concurrent marks and characters will justify us in charging upon the Church of Rome. The true Christian worship is the worship of the one only God, through the one only Mediator, the man Christ Jesus; and from this worship the Church of Rome has most notoriously departed, by substituting other mediators, and invocating and adoring saints and angels, nothing is apostasy, if idolatry be not. And are not the members of the Church of Rome guilty of idolatry in the worship of images, in the adoration of the host, in the invocation of angels and saints, and in the oblation of prayers and praises to the Virgin Mary, as much or more than to God blessed for ever? This is the grand corruption of the Christian Church: this is the apostasy as it is emphatically called, and deserves to be called; which was not only predicted by St. Paul, but by the Prophet Daniel likewise. If the apostasy be rightly charged upon the Church of Rome, it follows of consequence that the man of sin is the pope; not meaning any pope in particular, but the pope in general, as the chief head and supporter of this apostasy. He is properly the man of sin, not only on account of the scandalous lives of many popes, but by reason of their most scandalous doctrines and principles; dispensing with the most necessary duties; and granting, or rather selling, pardons and indulgences to the most abominable crimes. Or, if by sin be meant idolatry in particular, as in the Old Testament, it is evident how he has perverted the worship of God to superstition and idolatry of the grossest kind. He also, like the false apostle, Judas, is the son of perdition; whether actively, as being the cause of destruction to others; or passively, as being devoted to destruction himself. He opposeth - he is the great adversary of God and man; persecuting and destroying, by croisades, inquisitions, and massacres, those Christians who prefer the word of God to the authority of men. The heathen emperor of Rome may have slain his thousands of innocent Christians; but the Christian bishop of Rome has slain his ten thousands.
He exalteth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped- not only above inferior magistrates, but likewise above bishops and primates; not only above bishops and primates, but likewise above kings and emperors; deposing some, obliging them to kiss his toe, to hold his stirrup, treading even upon the neck of a king, and kicking off the imperial crown with his foot; nay, not only kings and emperors, but likewise above Christ and God himself; making even the word of God of none effect by his traditions - forbidding what God has commanded; as marriage, the use of the Scriptures, &c.; and also commanding or allowing what God has forbidden, as idolatry, persecution, &c. So that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, &c.; he is therefore in profession a Christian, and a Christian bishop. His sitting in the temple of God implies plainly his having a seat or cathedra in the Christian Church; and he sitteth there as God, especially at his inauguration, when he sits upon the high altar in St. Peter's church, and makes the table of the Lord his footstool, and in that position receives adoration. At all times he exercises Divine authority in the Church, showing himself that he is God - affecting Divine titles, and asserting that his decrees are of the same or greater authority than the word of God. So that the pope is evidently, according to the titles given him in the public decretals, The God upon earth; at least there is no one, like him, who exalteth himself above every god; no one, like him, who sitteth as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. The foundations of popery were laid in the apostle's days, but of which the superstructure was raised by degrees; and several ages passed before the building was completed, and the man of sin revealed in fulI perfection. The tradition that generally prevailed was that that which hindered was the Roman empire: this tradition might have been derived even from the apostle himself; and therefore the primitive Christians, in the public offices of the Church, prayed for its peace and welfare, as knowing that, when the Roman empire should be dissolved and broken in pieces, the empire of the man of sin would be raised upon its ruins. In the same proportion as the power of the empire decreased, the authority of the Church increased, and the latter at the expense and ruin of the former; till at length the pope grew up above all, and the wicked, or lawless one, was fully manifested and revealed. His coming is after the energy of Satan, etc; and does it require any particular proof that the pretensions of the pope, and the corruption of the Church of Rome, are all supported and authorized by feigned visions and miracles, by pious frauds and impositions of every kind? But how much soever the man of sin may be exalted, and how long soever he may reign, yet at last the Lord shall consume him, &c. This is partly taken from Isaiah xi. 4, And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked one; where the Jews put an emphasis upon the words the wicked one; as appears from the Chaldee, which renders it, "He shall destroy the wicked Roman." If the two clauses, as said in the note on 2 Thess. ii. 8, relate to two different events, the meaning is, "that the Lord Jesus shall gradually consume him with the free preaching of the Gospel; and shall utterly destroy him at his second coming in the glory of the Father." The former began to take effect at the Reformation; and the latter will be accomplished in God's appointed time. The man of sin is now upon the decline, and he will be totally abolished when Christ shall come in judgment. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom, give much the same interpretation that has here been given of the whole passage. And it must be owned that this is the genuine meaning of the apostle; that this only is consistent with the context; that every other interpretation is forced and unnatural; that this is liable to no material objection; that it coincides perfectly with Daniel; that it is agreeable to the tradition of the primitive Church; and that it has been exactly fulfilled in all its particulars; which cannot be said of any other interpretation whatever.
Such a prophecy as this is an illustrious proof of Divine revelation, and an excellent antidote to the poison of popery. See the Dissertations on the Prophecies; and Dodd, as above.
10. Dr. Macknight proceeds, in general, on the plan of Bishop Newton; but, as he thinks that the apostle had the prophecy of Daniel, in Dan. 7, and 8, particularly in view, he collates his words with those of the prophet in the following way:-
Verse 3. That man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
- Ĉo anqrwpov thv amartiav, ouiov thv apwleiav? "The article," says he, "joined to these appellations, is emphatical, as in the former clause, importing that the ancient prophets had spoken of these persons, though under different names; particularly the Prophet Daniel, whose description of the little horn and blasphemous king agrees so exactly in meaning with Paul's descriptions of the man of sin, and son of perdition, and lawless one, that there can be little doubt of their being the same persons; but this will best appear by a comparison of the passages:-ver. 3. And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
Thess. ii. 4. Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
ver. 7. Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
Thess. ii. 8. And there shall that wicked one be revealed.
Tim. iv. 1. Giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.
Tim. iv. 3. Forbidding to marry.
Thess. ii. 8. Whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
Dan. vii. 21. And the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.
Dan. vii. 25. And he shall speak great words against the Most High; and shall wear out the saints of the Most High.
Dan. xi. 36. And the king shall do according to his will; and he; shall exalt himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods.
Dan. viii. 25. He shall also stand up against the Prince of princes.
Dan. vii. 8. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots.
Dan. vii. 25. And he shall think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into his hand. See Dan. viii. 24.
Dan. xi. 38. In his estate he shall honour the god of forces (Mahuzzim, gods who are protectors, that is, tutelary angels and saints.) Dan. xi. 37. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women.
Dan. vii. 11. I beheld then, because of his of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld, even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
Dan. vii. 26. And they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it unto the end.
Dan. viii. 25. He shall be broken without hand.
After entering into great detail in his notes, he sums up in the following manner:- "Now as, in the prophecies of Daniel, empires governed by a succession of kings are denoted by a single emblem; such as, by a part of an image, a single beast, a horn, &c., of a beast; so in Paul's prophecy, the man of sin, and son of perdition, and the lawless one, may denote an impious tyranny, exercised by a succession of men who cause great misery and ruin to others; and who, at length, shall be destroyed themselves. It is true, the papists contend that one person only is meant by these appellations, because they are in the singular number, and have the Greek article prefixed to them. But in Scripture we find other words in the singular number, with the article, used to denote a multitude of persons; for example, Rom. i. 17; o dikaiov, the just one, by faith, shall live; that is, all just persons whatever: Tit. i. 7; o episkopov, the bishop must be blameless; that is, all bishops must be so: 2 John i. 7; oplanov, the deceiver, signifies many deceivers, as is plain from the preceding clause, where many deceivers are said to have gone out. In like manner the false teachers, who deceived Christ's servants to commit fornication and idolatry, are called that woman Jezebel, Rev. ii. 20, and the whore of Babylon, Rev. xvii. 5; and in this prophecy, Rev. xvii. 7, the Roman emperors, and magistrates under them, are called o katecwn, he who restraineth. Farther, a succession of persons, arising one after another, is denoted by appellations in the singular number with the article; for example: the succession of the Jewish high priests is thus denoted in the laws concerning them, Lev. xxi. 10, 15; Num. xxxv. 25-28. As also the succession of the Jewish kings, Deut. xvii. 14; 1 Sam. viii. 11. From these examples, therefore, it is plain that the names, man of sin, son of perdition, lawless one, although in the singular number, and with the article prefixed, may, according to the Scripture idiom, denote a multitude, and even a succession of persons arising one after another.
"The facts and circumstances mentioned in these prophecies are, for the most part, so peculiarly marked, that they will not easily apply, except to the persons and events intended by the Spirit of God. And therefore, in every case where different interpretations have been given of any prophecy, the proper method of ascertaining its meaning is to compare the various events to which it is thought to relate with the words of the prophecy, and to adopt that as the event intended which most exactly agrees in all its parts to the prophetic description.
"According to this rule, though many different interpretations have been given of the prophecy under consideration, that, in my opinion, will appear the best founded which makes it a prediction of the corruptions of Christianity, which began to be introduced into the Church in the apostle's days, and wrought secretly all the time the heathen magistrates persecuted the Christians, but which showed themselves more openly after the empire received the faith of Christ, A. D. 312, and, by a gradual progress, ended in the monstrous errors and usurpations of the bishops of Rome, when the restraining power of the emperors was taken out of the way by the incursions of the barbarous nations, and the breaking of the empire into the ten kingdoms prefigured by the ten horns of Daniel's fourth beast. Now, to be convinced of this, we need only compare the rise and progress of the papal tyranny with the descriptions of the man of sin, and of the mystery of iniquity, given in the writings of Daniel and Paul.
"And first, we have shown in note 1, on ver. 7, that the mystery of iniquity, or the corrupt doctrines which ended in the errors and usurpations of the see of Rome, was working secretly in the apostle's days, as he affirms, ver. 7; and that the power of the Roman emperors, and of the magistrates under them, was that which then, and during the succeeding ages, restrained the mystery of iniquity in its working, and the man of sin from revealing himself. For, while the power of the state continued in the hands of the heathen rulers, and while they employed that power in persecuting the Christians, the corrupt doctrines and practices introduced by the false teachers did not spread so fast as otherwise they would have done. At least they were not produced to public view as the decisions of Heaven, to which all men were bound to pay implicit obedience. But, after the heathen magistrates were taken out of the way by the conversion of Constantine, and after he and his successors called the Christian bishops to meet in general councils, and enforced their assumption of Divine authority by the civil power; then did they in these councils arrogate to themselves the right of establishing what articles of faith and discipline they thought proper, and of anathematizing all who rejected their decrees; a claim which, in after times, the bishops of Rome transferred from general councils to themselves. It was in this period that the worship of saints and angels was introduced; celibacy was praised as the highest piety; meats of certain kinds were prohibited; and a variety of superstitious mortifications of the body were enjoined by the decrees of councils, in opposition to the express laws of God. In this period, likewise, idolatry and superstition were recommended to the people by false miracles, and every deceit which wickedness could suggest; such as the miraculous cures pretended to be performed by the bones and other relics of the martyrs, in order to induce the ignorant vulgar to worship them as mediators; the feigned visions of angels, who they said had appeared to this or that hermit, to recommend celibacy, fastings, mortifications of the body, and living in solitude; the apparitions of souls from purgatory, who begged that certain superstitions might be practised, for delivering them from that confinement: by all which, those assemblies of ecclesiastics, who by their decrees enjoined these practices, showed themselves to be the man of sin, and lawless one, in his first form, whose coming was to be with all power, and signs, and miracles of falsehood; and who opposed every one that is called god, or that is worshipped. For these general councils, by introducing the worship of saints and angels, robbed God of the worship due to him; and, by substituting saints and angels as mediators, in the place of Christ, they degraded him from his office as mediator, or rendered it altogether useless. However, though they thus opposed God and Christ by their unrighteous decrees, they did not yet exalt themselves above every one who is called God, or an object of worship; neither did they sit yet in the temple of God, as God, and openly show themselves to be God. These blasphemous extravagances were to be acted in after times by a number of particular persons in succession, I mean by the bishops of Rome, after the power of the Christian Roman emperors and of the magistrates under them, was taken out of the way.
For the bishops of that see, having very early obtained from the Christian emperors decrees in their own favour, soon raised themselves above all other bishops; and, by a variety of artifices, made the authority and influence of the whole body of the clergy center in themselves; and claimed that infallible authority which was formerly exercised by general councils, of making articles of faith; and of establishing rules of discipline for the whole Christian community; and of determining, in the last resort, all differences among the clergy; and of anathematizing every one who did not submit to their unrighteous decisions. In this manner did the bishops of Rome establish in their own persons a spiritual dominion over the whole Christian world. But not content with this height of power, by dexterously employing the credit and influence which the ecclesiastics, now devoted to their will, had over the laity in all the countries where they lived, they interfered in many civil matters also; till at length they reared that intolerable fabric of spiritual and civil tyranny conjoined, whereby the understandings, the persons, and the properties, not of the laity only, but also of the clergy themselves, have for along time been most grievously enthralled, in all the countries where Christianity was professed.
"This height, however, of spiritual and civil tyranny united, the bishops of Rome did not attain till, as the apostle foretold, that which restrained was taken out of the way; or, till an end was put to the authority of the Roman emperors in the west, by the inroads of the barbarous nations; and, more especially, till the western empire was broken into the ten kingdoms, prefigured in Daniel's vision by the ten horns of the fourth beast; for then it was that the bishops of Rome made themselves the sovereigns of Rome and of its territory, and so became the little horn which Daniel beheld coming up among the ten horns, and which had the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things; to show that its dominion was founded on the deepest policy, and that its strength consisted in the bulls, excommunications, and anathemas, which, with intolerable audacity, it uttered against all who opposed its usurpations. And in process of time, the bishops of Rome having got possession of three of the kingdoms into which the western empire was broken, signified by three of the horns of Daniel's fourth beast being plucked up by the roots before the little horn, they call themselves the vicars of Christ, on pretense that Christ had transferred his whole authority to them. They also thought to change times and laws, as Daniel foretold; for, as the vicars of Christ, they assumed the power of saving and damning men at their own pleasure; and altered the terms of salvation, making it depend, not on faith and holiness, but on the superstitious practices which they had established; and sold the pardon of sins past, and even the liberty of sinning for the future, for money.
Moreover, they openly made war with the saints who resisted their corrupt doctrines and practices, and prevailed against them, and wore out the saints of the Most High; for, by the cruel and bloody persecutions which they obliged the princes who acknowledged their authority to carry on against those who adhered to the pure doctrines and worship of Christ, they destroyed incredible numbers of them. Nay, by the terror of their excommunications and interdicts, they forced even the most powerful sovereigns to bend to their yoke: thus with their mouth did they speak very great things. At length they assumed the right of conferring kingdoms and of deposing princes, and actually deposed some, with the help of the potentates of their communion, who put their mandates in execution.
Lastly, to render this exercise of their tyranny the more effectual, they arrogated the power of loosing subjects from their oaths of allegiance; whereby they made void the most sacred of all moral obligations, the obligation of allegiance. But this impious scheme of false doctrine, and the spiritual tyranny built upon it, agreeably to the predictions of the Prophet Daniel and of the Apostle Paul, began at the Reformation to be consumed by the breath of the Lord's mouth; that is, by the Scriptures put into the hands of the laity, and by the preaching of true doctrine out of the Scriptures.
"Upon the whole, I think every impartial person who attentively considers the foregoing sketch must be sensible that, in the bishops of Rome, all the characters and actions ascribed by Daniel to the little horn, and by Paul to the man of sin and the lawless one, are clearly united. For, according to the strong workings of Satan, with all power, and signs, and miracles of falsehood, they have opposed Christ, and exalted themselves above all that is called god, or an object of worship; and have long sat in the temple of God, as God, showing themselves that they are God: that is, they exercise the power and prerogatives of God. And seeing, in the acquisition and exercise of their spiritual tyranny, they have trampled upon all laws, human and Divine; and have encouraged their votaries in the most enormous acts of wickedness; the Spirit of God has, with the greatest propriety, given them the appellations of the man of sin, the son of perdition, and the lawless one. Farther, as it is said the man of sin was to be revealed in his season, there can be little doubt that the dark ages, in which all learning was overturned by the irruption of the northern barbarians, were the season allotted to the man of sin for revealing himself.
Accordingly, we know that in these ages the corruptions of Christianity and the usurpations of the clergy were carried to the greatest height. In short, the annals of the world cannot produce persons and events to which the things written in this passage can be applied with so much fitness as to the bishops of Rome. Why then should we be in any doubt concerning the interpretation and application of this famous prophecy? "At the conclusion of our explication of the prophecy concerning the man of sin, it may be proper to observe, that the events foretold in it being such as never took place in the world before, and, in all probability, never will take place in it again; the foreknowledge of them was certainly a matter out of the reach of human conjecture or foresight. It is evident, therefore, that this prophecy, which from the beginning has stood on record, taken in conjunction with the accomplishment of it verified by the concurrent testimony of history, affords an illustrious proof of the Divine original of that revelation of which it makes a part, and of the inspiration of the person from whose mouth it proceeded." See Dr. Macknight's Commentary and Notes, vol. iii., p. 100, &c.
With all this evidence before him, the intelligent reader will now be enabled to judge for himself, and to adopt for his own that opinion which appears to be the best supported by circumstances and facts. The labours of the above learned men have certainly narrowed the principal subjects of inquiry; and we may now safely state that, in this very obscure prophecy, the Spirit of God had in view either the Jewish or an apostate Christian Church, possessing great spiritual and secular influence and jurisdiction.
That the words appear to apply best to the conduct of many of the popes, and the corruptions of the Romish Church, needs no proof; but to which of these Churches, or to what other Church or system, we should apply them, some men, as eminent for their piety as for their learning, hesitate to declare: yet I must acknowledge, that the most pointed part of the evidence here adduced tends to fix the whole on the Romish Church, and on none other.
Whatever may be intended here by the words mystery of iniquity, we may safely assert that it is a mystery of iniquity to deny the use of the sacred Scriptures to the common people; and that the Church that does so is afraid to come to the light. Nothing can be more preposterous and monstrous than to call people to embrace the doctrines of Christianity, and refuse them the opportunity of consulting the book in which they are contained. Persons who are denied the use of the sacred writings may be manufactured into different forms and modes; and be mechanically led to believe certain dogmas, and perform certain religious acts; but without the use of the Scriptures, they never can be intelligent Christians; they do not search the Scriptures, and therefore they cannot know Him of whom these Scriptures testify. The mystery of iniquity contained in this prohibition works now, and has worked long; but did it work in the apostles' times? Did it work in the Church at Thessalonica? Is it possible that the present crop should have been produced from so remote a seed? What does that most solemn adjuration of the apostle, 1 Thess. v. 27, mean? I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be READ unto ALL the holy brethren. Why was such a charge necessary? Why should it be given in so awful a manner? Does it not absolutely imply that there would be attempts made to keep all the holy brethren from seeing this epistle? And can we conceive that less was referred to in the delivery of this very awful adjuration? This mystery of iniquity did work then in the Christian Church; even then attempts were made to hide the Scriptures from the common people. And does not this one consideration serve more to identify the prophecy than any thing else? Let him that readeth understand. See the notes on 1 Thess. v. 27, and at the end of that chapter.