Apostasy - JND on 2 Thessalonians 1-2
In 2nd Thessalonians, the apostle corrects some errors into which these disciples had fallen with regard to the day of the Lord because of certain false teachers. Recall that in the first epistle he had enlightened the ignorance of the believers concerning the portion of the saints at the coming of Christ to take them to Himself. This was a point on which they were evidently little instructed.
Surely a measure of Jewish darkness was on their minds; and they were, in some points, still subjected to the influence of that unhappy nation, which was ever struggling to maintain a position it had lost through its unbelief.
This Jewish influence enables us to understand why the apostle spoke as he did in chapter 2:15, 16 of the first Epistle. At that time this influence showed itself in the tendency of the Thessalonians to lose sight of the heavenly side of the Lord's coming, to think that He would return to the earth and that they should then be glorified with Him-as a Jew might have believed-and that the dead saints would therefore not be present to share this glory.
I do not say that this thought had assumed a definite form in the minds of the Thessalonians. To them the principal and living object was the Lord Himself, and they were awaiting His return with hearts full of joy and life; but the heavenly side of this expectation had not become clear in their minds, and they connected the coming too much with the manifestation, so that the earthly character predominated, and the dead seemed to be shut out from it.
When the Second Epistle was written, this Jewish influence had another character; and the false teachers were more directly at issue.
The faithful at Thessalonica had learned to contemplate "the day of the Lord" as a day of judgment. The Old Testament had spoken much of this day of the Lord, a day of darkness and unparalleled judgment, a day of trial to men. (Compare Isaiah 13, Joel 2, Amos 5:18)
Now the Thessalonians were undergoing dreadful persecution. Perhaps their hope of an earthly intervention of the Lord, during their lifetime, was weakened. The apostle at least rejoiced at the increase of their faith, and the abundant exercise of their love, while he is silent with regard to their hope; and the joy of christian life is not found here as it was manifested in the First Epistle.
Nevertheless they were walking well, and the apostle gloried in them in the churches of God. But the false teachers profited by their condition to mislead them because of their sufferings, which weighed more heavily on their hearts from the joy of hope being a little weakened.
At the same time the continuing influence of Judaizing thoughts, furnished occasion for the assaults of the enemy. These instruments of subtle malice told them that the Day of the Lord, that fearful time, was already come - and all that the Thessalonians were suffering, and by which their hearts were shaken, seemed to confirm the words of the false teachers. Was it not written that day should be a day of trial and anguish? Was this that day?
The words of these teachers, moreover, had the pretension of being more than human reasoning; it was as if it was a word of the Lord, it was as if the Spirit who spoke, it was a letter from an inspired channel: and so bold and wicked were they in regard to this matter, that they did not fear to include the apostle's own name as being their authority for declaring that the day was come.
Now the dominion of fear, which Satan can exercise over the human mind, when it is not kept of God in peace and joy, is astonishing. "In nothing terrified by your adversaries," is the apostle's word to the Philippians, "which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God." In such a state of mind as this it is easy for everything (false) to be believed. Perhaps we should at least say that everything is feared, and nothing is believed. The heart gives itself up to this fear, and is ready to believe anything; for it is in darkness and knows not what to believe. Thus the apostle exhorts the Thessalonians (in chap. 2) not to be soon shaken in mind so as to lose their stability in the truth, and not to be troubled.
The apostle deals with the case in the same manner as in the First Epistle. Before entering on the error in chapter 2, he treats the same subject in its true light, building upon the knowledge which the Thessalonians already possessed. But he sets it forth with clearness in its application to the circumstances of the moment. By this means they were delivered from the influence of the error, and from the disturbance of mind which it had caused. They were thus rendered capable of looking at the error, as if being themselves outside it, and of judging it according to the instruction that the apostle gave them. This is the key to dealing with error when the pressure is on, ie... to know the truth, and reckon on the truth, and thereby being able to judge the error.
They were persecuted and were in distress and suffering, and the enemy took advantage of it. The apostle puts that fact in its right place. He encourages them with the thought that it was a kind of seal upon them of their being worthy of the kingdom for which they were suffering.
But even more, the "Day of the Lord" was the coming of the Lord in judgment. But it was not to make His own suffer that He was coming - it was to punish the wicked. Persecution therefore could not be the day of the Lord; for in persecution the wicked had the upper hand and did their own will and inflicted suffering on those whom the Lord loved. Could that be His day?! The apostle does not apply this argument to the question, but he puts the facts in their place; so that all the use which the enemy made of them fell to the ground.
The truth of the facts was there in its simplicity, exposing their evident and natural character. When God should take the thing in hand, He would recompense tribulation to those who troubled His children, and these should have rested - should have been in peace. The moment of their entering into this rest is not at all the subject here, but the contrast between their actual condition and that which it would be if Jesus were come.
It was not to persecute and harass His own that He was coming. In His day they should be at rest, and the wicked in distress; for He was coming to punish the latter by driving them away for ever from the glory of His presence. When we understand that the Thessalonians had been induced to believe that the day of the Lord was already come, the import of this first chapter is very plain.
Two principles are here established. First, the righteous judgment of God: it is righteous in His eyes, on the one hand, to reward those who suffer for His kingdom's sake: and, on the other, to requite those who persecute His children. In the second place, the glorious manifestation of the Lord Jesus: His own should be in rest and happiness with Him, when His power should be manifested.
We see also here two reasons for judgment of disobedient mankind - 1. they did not know God, and 2. they did not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of them were without excuse as to the testimony that God had ever given concerning Himself. And some among them had added their forgetfulness of His majesty.
Meanwhile the apostle presents in chapter 1 the positive result (in blessing) of the manifestation of Jesus in glory. He will come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that have believed in Him, and therefore in the Thessalonians. This was a clear and thorough proof that they were not to consider their present persecuted condition as a demonstration that the Day had come. By his teaching they were entirely delivered from the confusion by which the enemy sought to disquiet them. And the apostle could now treat the question of this error with hearts which were now set free from the pressures that hindered their correct apprehension. They could now view it at rest.
These considerations characterized his prayers on their behalf. He sought from God that they might always be worthy of this vocation, and that the Lord might be glorified in them by the power of faith, which would shine the brighter through their persecutions; and that afterwards they might be glorified in Him at the manifestation of His glory according to the grace of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that the apostle has placed their souls on the ground of truth, he discusses the subject of the error, revealing that which gave rise to his remarks.
In answering this error, and in guarding them from the wily efforts of seducers, he puts everything in its place here by appealing to precious truths of which he had already spoken.
Their gathering together unto Christ in the air was a demonstration of the impossibility of the Day of the Lord being already come.
With regard to this he presents two considerations: First, the day could not be already come, since Christians were not yet gathered to the Lord, and they were to come with Him; Second, the wicked one who has then to be judged had not yet appeared, so that the judgment could not be executed.
The apostle had already instructed the Thessalonians with regard to this wicked one, when at Thessalonica; and in the first epistle he had taught them concerning the rapture of the church. In order that the Lord should come in judgment, iniquity must have reached its height, and open opposition to God have been manifested. But the truth had another and more precious side: the saints were to be in the same position as Christ, to be gathered together unto Him, before He could manifest Himself in glory to those outside.
These truths require a thorough examination.
Their gathering together unto Christ before the manifestation was a truth known to the Thessalonians. The Lord Jesus was coming, but it was impossible that He should be without His church in the glory. The King would indeed punish His rebellious subjects; but, before doing so, He would bring to Himself those who had been faithful to Him amid the unfaithful, in order to bring them back with Him and publicly to honor them in the midst of the rebels.
But the apostle here speaks only of the rapture itself, and he adjures them only by that truth not to allow themselves to be shaken in mind as though the day were already come. What an assured truth must this have been to Christians, since the apostle could appeal to it as to a known point, on which the heart could rest! The relationship of the church to Christ...the church being in the same position with Him...made folly of such a thought that the Day of judgment was already come.
In the second place, the already known fact is asserted, that the apostasy must previously take place, and then the man of sin be revealed. Solemn truth! Everything takes its place.
The outward forms and the name of Christianity have long been maintained culturally in many places; while true Christians have been disowned in such contexts. But now there should be a public renunciation of the faith - an apostasy. True Christians should have their true place in heaven.
Besides this, there should be a person who would fully embody in sin the character of man without God. This is the man of sin. He does his own will - it is fallen Adam fully developed.
Incited by the enemy, he opposes himself to God (openly), and he exalts himself above all that bears the name of God; he assumes the place of God in His temple. So that there is apostasy, meaning the open renunciation of Christianity in general, and an individual who concentrates in his own person (as to the principles of iniquity) the opposition that is made against God.
It will be noticed that the character of the wicked one is religious here, or rather anti-religious. The apostle does not speak of a secular power of the world, whatever its iniquity may be. The man of sin assumes a religious character. He exalts himself against the true God, but he shews himself as God in the temple of God. Observe here that the sphere is on earth. It is not a god for faith. He shews himself as a god for the earth.
The profession of Christianity has been abandoned. Sin then characterises an individual, a man, who fills up the measure of the apostasy of human nature, and, as a man, proclaims his independence of God. The principle of sin in man is his own will. The Man of Sin arises, as we have already seen, out of the rejection of Christianity. In this respect evil is at its height.
This man of sin exalts himself above God, and, sitting as God in the temple of God, he defies the God of Israel. This last feature gives his formal character. He is in conflict with God, as placing himself publicly in this position - shewing himself as God in the temple of God. It is the God of Israel who will take vengeance on him.
Christianity, Judaism, natural religion, all are rejected. Man takes a place on earth, exalting himself above it all, in opposition to God; and, in particular, arrogating to himself (for man needs a God, needs something to worship) the place and the honors of God, and of the God of Israel.
These verses present the wicked one in connection with the condition of man, and with the different relationships in which man has stood towards God. In them all he shows himself as apostate, and then he assumes the place of God Himself - the first object of human ambition, as its attainment was the first suggestion of Satan.
In that which follows, we see not the condition itself of apostasy with regard to the different positions in which God had placed man, but simply man unrestrained, and the work of Satan. The man is but the vessel of the enemy's power.
The Man in whom is the fullness of the Godhead (the Lord Jesus), and man filled with the energy of Satan (The Man of Sin), are opposed to each other. Before, it was man forsaking God, man wicked, and man exalting himself. Here, it is opposition against God on the part of man, unrestrained, and inspired by Satan himself. Consequently we have (not merely the wicked one, but) the lawless -the unbridled-one. The principle is the same, for sin is lawlessness. (See 1 John 3:4-Greek.) But in this first case man is viewed in his departure from God, and in his guiltiness; in the second, as acknowledging none but himself.
To this condition in which all restraint will be removed, a barrier has yet existed.
The apostle had already told them of the apostasy, and of the manifestation of the man of sin. He now says that the Thessalonians ought to know the hindrance that existed to his progress and his manifestation before the appointed time. He does not say that he had told them, but they ought to know it.
Knowing the character of the wicked one, the barrier revealed itself. The main point here is that it was a barrier. The principle of the evil was already at work: a barrier alone prevented its development. Its character when developed, would be unbridled will which exalts and opposes itself. Unbridled self-will being the principle of the evil, that which bridles this will is the barrier.
Now it exalts itself above all that bears the name of God, or to which homage is paid.That which hinders this mystery of lawlessness is the power of God acting in government here below as authorized by Him. The grossest abuse of power still bears this last character. Christ could say to Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above." Wicked as he might be, Pilate's governmental power is affirmed to have come from God.
Thus, although men had rejected and crucified the Son of God, so that their iniquity appeared to be at its height, the hindrance still existed in full. Afterwards God, having sent His Spirit, gathers out the church, and, although the mystery of iniquity (early on in history) began to work mingling the will of men with the worship of God in Spirit, God had always (He still has) the object of His loving care upon the earth.
The Holy Ghost was here below; the assembly, whatever its condition might be, was still on earth, and God maintained the barrier - the Restrainer (ed...the Holy Spirit in the church and via government being the means of restraining).
And as the porter had opened the door to Jesus in spite of all obstacles, so The Restrainer sustains everything, however great the energy and progress of evil. The evil is bridled: God is the source of authority on earth. There is one who hinders until he be taken out of the way. Now when the assembly (composed of the true members of Christ) is gone, and consequently the Holy Ghost as the Comforter is no longer dwelling here below, then the full apostasy takes place.
The time then will have come to remove the hindrance, evil is unbridled, and at length (without saying how much time it will take) the evil assumes a definite shape in him who is its head. The beast comes up from the abyss. Satan -not God-gives him his authority; and in the second beast all the energy of Satan is present. The man of sin is there.
Here it is an outward and secular power that is spoken of, but the religious side of Satan's energy.
With regard to the individual instruments who compose the Restrainer/Barrier, they may change every moment, and it was not the object of the Holy Ghost to name the methods of restraint. What method of restraint used in that day when 1st Thessalonians was written, would not be the same as today. To have named him/it back then would have been of no use to us in the present day. The object was to declare that the evil which should be judged was already working, that there was no remedy for it, that it was only a hindrance on God's part which prevented its full development. This is a principle of the highest importance with regard to the history of Christianity.
Whatever form it might take, the apostasy of the men who would renounce grace would necessarily be more absolute than any other prior apostasies. Its final form is opposition to the Lord. It has the character of an adversary. The other principle of human iniquity enters into it, but this is the source of the "perdition." It is, the rejection of goodness; it is direct enmity.
"That which hinders" may be at a given time only an instrument, a means, which prevents the manifestation of the man of sin-the wicked one. So long as the assembly is on earth, the pretension to be God in His temple cannot take place or at least would have no influence. Satan has his sphere, and must needs have it, in the mystery of iniquity; but there is no longer a mystery when the place of God in His temple is openly taken. That which hinders is therefore still present. But there is a person active in maintaining this hindrance. Here I think indeed that it is God in the Person of the Holy Ghost, who, during the time called "the things that are," restrains the evil and guards divine authority in the world.
As long as that continues, the unrestrained exaltation of wickedness cannot take place. Consequently I do not doubt but that the rapture of the saints is the occasion of the hindrance being removed and all restraint loosed, although some of the ways of God are developed before the full manifestation of the evil.
This thought does not rest upon great principles only: the passage itself supplies elements which show the state of things when the power of evil develops itself.
1st, The apostasy has already taken place when the Man of Sin and Day of the Lord come. This could hardly be said if the testimony of the assembly still continued on earth.
2nd, Authority - as established of God, so far as exercising a restraint on man's will in God's name-has disappeared from the scene, for the wicked one exalts himself against all that is called God and to which homage is paid, and presents himself as God in the temple of God. Compare Psalms 82, where God stands among the gods (the judges) to judge them before He inherits the nations. Before that solemn hour when God will judge the judges of the earth, this wicked one, despising all authority that comes from Him, sets himself up as God: and that on the earth, where the judgment will be manifested.
And then, 3rdly, in place of the Holy Ghost and His power manifested on the earth, we find the power of Satan, and with precisely the same tokens that bore witness to the Person of Christ. So that the passage itself, whether as to man or as to the enemy, gives us (in the three points of which we have spoken) the full confirmation of that which we have ventured to set forth.
These three.... The assembly, and the governmental powers ordained by God upon the earth, and the Holy Ghost present here as the Comforter in lieu of Christ...these have all (as regards the manifestation of the government and the work of God) given place to the self-willed unbridled man, and to the power of the enemy. In saying this we speak of the sphere of this prophecy, which moreover embraces that of the public testimony of God on earth.
Definitively then we have man here in his own nature-as it has displayed itself by forsaking God- in the full pursuit of his own will in rebellion against God; the willful man, developed as the result of apostasy from the position of grace in which the assembly stood, and in contempt of all the governmental authority of God on the earth.
And since that authority had shewn itself directly and properly in Judea, this contempt and the spirit of rebellion in man, who exalts himself above everything, but who cannot be heavenly (heaven, and all pretension to heaven, is given up by man, and lost by Satan), display themselves by man taking the place of God in His temple under the most advanced form of Jewish apostasy and blasphemy.
At the same time Satan acts - God having loosed his bridle - with a power (a lying power indeed, but) which gives the same testimony before men as that which the works of Christ did to the Savior; and also with all the skill that iniquity possesses to deceive. It is in the wicked, the lawless one, that Satan works these things.
Our consideration of the development of the latter part of this solemn scene will come (God willing) in the Book of Revelation. We may add, that there we have this wicked one as the false Messiah, and as prophet, in the form of his kingdom - two horns like a lamb. He had been cast down from heaven where he had been anti-priest, and now takes up Christ's titles on earth of king and prophet. In Daniel 11 he is seen as king; here, as the unbridled man, and in particular as the result of the apostasy and the manifestation of Satan's power. In a word, instead of the assembly, the apostasy; instead of the Holy Ghost, Satan; and, instead of the authority of God as a restraint upon evil, the unbridled man setting himself up as God on the earth.
Another circumstance, already mentioned, demands particular attention. I have said that The man of sin presents himself as the Messiah (that is to say, in His two characters as king and prophet, which are His earthly characters). In heaven Satan has then nothing more to do; he has been cast out from thence, so that there is no imitation of the Lord's high-priesthood. In that respect Satan had, in his own person, acted another part. He was previously in heaven the accuser of the brethren. But, at the time of which we are speaking, the assembly is on high, and the accuser of the brethren is cast out never to return there. In a man inspired by him he makes himself prophet and king.
And in this character he does the same things (in falsehood) as those by which God had sanctioned the mission of Christ before men. (Compare Acts 2:22) In a Greek the words are identical. I would also recall here another solemn fact in order to complete this picture. In the history of Elijah we find that the proof of the divinity of Baal, or that of Jehovah, is made to rest upon the fact of their respective servants bringing down fire from heaven. Now in Revelation 3 we learn that the second beast brings down fire from heaven in the sight of men. So that we find here the marvelous works that sanctioned the Lord's mission, and there that which proved Jehovah to be the true and only God. And Satan performs both in order to deceive men.
This may give us an idea of the state in which they will be; and it indicates also that these things will take place in relation with the Jews, under the double aspect of their connection with Jehovah and their rejection of Christ and reception of Antichrist.
Thus, thank God, the truth is abundantly confirmed, that these things do not relate to the assembly, but to those who, having had opportunity to profit by the truth, have rejected it, and loved iniquity. Neither does it relate to the heathen, but only to those among whom the truth has been set forth. They refused it and God sends a lie, and an efficacious lie, that they may believe it. He does this in judgment: He did the same thing with the nations (Romans 1:24, 26 , 28 ); He did it also with the Jews (Is. 6:9 , 10 ); He does it here with nominal Christians.
But it does relate to the Jews as a nation that rejected the truth-the testimony of the Holy Ghost ( Acts 7 )-but still more to Christians (in name); in short to all those who will have had the truth presented to them.
With nominal Christians this has necessarily the character of apostasy, or at least it is connected with this apostasy, and is consequent upon it; as verse 3 teaches us, the apostasy takes place, and then the man of sin is revealed.~
In connection with his character of the man of sin he presents himself without restraint in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. In relation to the lying power of Satan and his efficient work, he presents himself in the character of Christ-he is the Antichrist, assuming consequently a Jewish character. It is not only the pride of man exalting itself against God, but the power of Satan in man deceiving men and the Jews in particular, by a false Christ; so that it it were possible, the very elect would be deceived.
We may remark that all these characters are precisely the opposite of Christ: -
falsehood instead of truth,
iniquity instead of righteousness,
perdition instead of salvation.
It is to a power like this, of lies and destruction that man-having forsaken Christianity and exalted himself in pride against God-will be given up. The apostasy (that is to say, the renunciation of Christianity) will be the occasion of this evil; Judea and the Jews, the scene in which it ripens and develops itself in a positive way.
The Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son (that is, Christianity); he will deny that Jesus is the Christ (that is, Jewish unbelief). With the burden upon him of sin against Christianity, grace, and the presence of the Holy Ghost, he will ally himself with Jewish unbelief, in order that there may be not only the full expression of human pride, but also for a time the Satanic influence of a false Christ, who will strengthen the throne of Satan among the Gentiles occupied by the first beast to whom the authority of the dragon has been given. He will also set up his own subordinate throne over the Jews, as being the Messiah, whom their unbelief is expecting; while at the same time he will bring in idolatry, the unclean spirit long gone out who then returns to his house which is devoid of God.
And now, with regard to his destruction (whom the Lord Jesus will consume with the spirit of His mouth and destroy with the manifestation of His presence, or of His coming), the first of these means characterizes the judgment; it is the word of truth applied in judgment according to the power of God.
In the Revelation, it says that the sword proceeds out of His mouth. Here He is not spoken of in the character of a man of war, as in Revelation 19. The spirit of His mouth is that inward and divine power which kindles and executes the judgment. It is not an instrument, it is the divine source of power which executes its purpose by a word. (compare Isa.33:33) But there is another aspect of this judgment. The Lord, the man Jesus, will return. His return has two parts-the return into the air to take His assembly to Himself, and the public manifestation in glory of His return.
In the first verse of our chapter we have read of His return and our gathering together unto Him. Here, verse 8, is the manifestation of His presence publicly in creation. At the time of this public manifestation of His coming He destroys the whole work and power of the wicked one. It is the Man formerly obedient and humbling Himself on the earth, exalted of God, and become Lord of all, who destroys the lawless man that has exalted himself above everything and made himself as God, instead of being, obedient to God.
This evil- on the side of Satan's influence-was already working in the apostle's time; only it was bridled and kept back, until that which restrained it should no longer be on the scene. Then should the wicked one be revealed. To sum up, the taking away of the assembly, and the apostasy, were first necessary; and then this man should present himself as an unbelieving Jew, and the power of Satan would be displayed in him.
Now this Satanic influence was for those who had rejected the truth. Of the Thessalonians -to whom he had given these explanations respecting the day which they fancied was come-the apostle thought very differently. God had chosen these "brethren beloved of the Lord " from the beginning for salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, to which He had called them by Paul's gospel (and that of His companions), and to the obtaining of the glory of the Lord Jesus. How different was this from the visitations of the day of the Lord, and the circumstances of which the apostle had spoken! They were numbered among those who should be the companions in that day of the Lord Jesus Himself.
-very, very gently edited, JND wrote in clauses and was hard to read.