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In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle corrects some
errors into which these disciples had fallen with regard to the day of the
Lord through certain false teachers; as in part of the first epistle he had
enlightened the ignorance of the believers themselves respecting the
portion of the saints at the coming of Christ to take them to Himself-a
point on which they were evidently but little instructed.
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 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
shewed 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 its place
clearly marked 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 concerned in it.
The faithful at Thessalonica had learnt 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 2i, 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 [see note #1]
in the churches of God. But the false teachers profited by their condition
to mislead them by means of their sufferings, which weighed more heavily on
their hearts from the joy of hope being a little weakened; and at the same
time the remains of the influence of Judaising thoughts or of habits of
mind formed through them, furnished occasion to the assaults of the enemy.
The instrument of the subtle malice told them that the day of the Lord,
that fearful time, was already come-the word (chap. 2:2) is not "at
hand,"but " come," "present " [see note #2]
-and all that the Thessalonians were suffering, and by which their hearts
were shaken, appeared like a testimony to prove it and to confirm the words
of the false teachers. Was it not written that it should be a day of trial
The words of these teachers, moreover, had the pretension of being more
than human reasoning; it was a word of the Lord, it was 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 adduce the
apostle's own name as their authority for declaring that the day was come.
Now the dominion of fear, which Satan can exercise over the 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 everything is believed; or rather
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 an knows
not what to believe. Thus the apostle exhorts the Thessalonians (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 he treats the same subject in its true light,
building upon the knowledge which the Thessalonians already possessed. Only
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; and were
rendered capable of looking at the error, as being themselves outside it,
and of judging it according to the instruction that the apostle gave them.
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 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
of itself to the ground. The truth of the facts was there in its
simplicity, giving them 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 rest-should be 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 in exercise.
We see also here two reasons for judgment-they did not know God, and they
did not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All being without excuse
as to the testimony that God had ever given concerning Himself, some among
them had added the rejection of the positive revelation of His grace in the
gospel of Christ to their abuse of their natural relationship with God and
their forgetfulness of His majesty.
Meanwhile the apostle presents 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: a thorough proof, at least that they were
not to view their persecuted condition as a demonstration that the day was
come. With regard to themselves, they werethus entirely delivered from the
confusion by which the enemy sought to disquiet them; and the apostle could
treat the question of this error with hearts which, as to their own
condition, were set free from it and at rest.
These considerations characterised 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
enters upon the subject of the error, shewing that which had occasioned his
remarks. Of this we have already spoken.