Monday, July 21, 2014

“Let no man deceive you…”

Bible Prophecy, Circa 1600

Excerpted and adapted from Matthew Poole’s Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7*

Read Part 1

When this commentary was written The Reformation was in its earlier years. There was much speculation about the popes being the antichrist (or, at least, antichrists). Poole himself indulges in some of the ideas swirling around about how these Scriptures might be fulfilled. These speculations are not included in the portions excerpted below since they are situation specific to his historical age. 

One thing is noticeably different in our era. We now have Jews restored to their native land of Israel. It is clear that this possibility was nearly inconceivable to the early Reformers. Therefore, things that we might take more literally in interpreting prophecy Scriptures in our day, were formerly viewed as allegorical or as a mystery. 

Interestingly, Poole believed that the man of sin arises in the context of the environment of a corporate apostasy of the entire church world. His comments, therefore, are very relevant to our postmodern prophecy era when there are many attempts being made to deceive the saints about the Second Coming of Christ, and by the same means  and methods as specifically warned about by the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. 

VERSE 3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”

“Let no man deceive you.” Here the Apostle Paul urges again his charge against this error, though in other words, and begins his arguments to refute it. He had adjured the Thessalonians not to be shaken (vs. 2), and here he cautions them against being deceived, for the one makes way for the other. So also not to be troubled (vs. 2), for troubled minds are apt to be made a prey to seducers.

And the caution in the text proves that their shaking and trouble did arise from some deceivers that were among them, rather than any misunderstanding of their own of what he wrote in the former Epistle [1 Thessalonians] about Christ’s coming.

To be shaken in mind is bad, but to be deceived is worse, for it is a going out of the path, as the word signifies. And therefore Paul’s caution against it is universal, both as to persons and ways. Let no man deceive you, though he pretend to revelations, or be of the greatest reputation in the church.

“By any means.” Either of craft [this includes the idea of witchcraft, ed.], flattery, pretending love, or plausible arguments, or misrepresenting the Apostle’s words, or forging of letters, or misinterpreting Paul’s Epistle or any other part of Scripture, or feigned miracles, etc.

Then Paul enters into arguments to confute it, which are:
  1. The general apostasy.
  2. The revelation of the man of sin.
“For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first….” or an apostasy, a recession, a departing, or a standing off, as the word imports…

[Apostasy] is either civil or spiritual.… But the Apostle writing to the church speaks not of civil government, and the affairs of state, and speaks of such an apostasy which would give rise to the man of sin, and the revelation of him. And this man of sin rises up in the church, not in the civil state; and the consequence of this apostasy is giving men up to strong delusions to believe a lie, and then follows their damnation. And the cause of it is said to be, not receiving the truth in the love of it, so that it is not a civil, but a spiritual apostasy….

And it is not of a particular person, or a particular church, but a general apostasy of the church (though not of every individual). That [apostate] church is afterwards called the temple of God, where the man of sin sits, and is exalted above all that is called God, which cannot be any particular church. And would not the Apostle have specified a particular church?

Neither is it some lesser apostasy which may befall the best church, but such as would be eminent, that greater apostasy.... [T]he Apostle says not apostate, but apostasy, else a man of sin could not rise out of it, and exalt himself above all that is called God, and worshipped. It is an apostasy from sound doctrine, instituted worship, church government, and true holiness of life…. Neither is the apostasy all at once, but gradual: for out of it arises a man of sin, who grows up to this manhood by degrees, and sin and wickedness are not completed at first, as well as holiness….

“And that man of sin be revealed.” The next argument is from the revelation of the man of sin. This is also to precede Christ’s last coming. It is a Hebraism. A warlike man is styled a man of war; a bloody man, a man of bloods; a deceitful man, a man of deceit, etc. So a man eminent in sin is here called a man of sin. Not only personally so, but who promotes sin, propagates it, countenances it, commands it.
  • In sins of omission, forbidding what God requires.
  • In sins of commission, requiring or allowing what God has forbidden.

In sins of the first table [first 5 Ten Commandments, ed.], corrupting God’s worship by superstition and idolatry, taking God’s name in vain by heartless devotion, dissembling piety, dispensing with perjury and false oaths, taking away the Second Commandment and the morality of the Fourth Commandment, and making men’s faith and obedience to rest upon a human authority, etc.

In sins of the second table [second 5 Ten Commandments, ed.], to dispense with duties belonging to superiors and inferiors; with murder, adultery, fornication, incest, robbery, lying, equivocation, etc. And besides all these, promoting a false religion, and destroying the true, by fines, imprisonments, banishments, tortures, poisons, massacre, fire and faggot….

But as this apostasy brings forth this man of sin, so as he rises he helps it forward, so that he both causes it, and is caused by it. As corruption in doctrine, worship, discipline and manners brought him forth, so he was active in corrupting them more and more.

“The son of perdition.” (Another Hebraism....) He is so either
  • actively, as he brings others to destruction, and so may be called Apollyon (Rev. 9:11), or rather
  • passively, as devoted to perdition (as Rev. 19:20), the beast and false prophet are both cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and the beast that was, and is not, it said to go into perdition (Rev. 17:11).

The destroyer of others both in soul and body will be destroyed himself. First, morally, by the Word and Spirit (2 Thess. 2:8), and then judicially, by God’s revenging justice in this world, and that to come. The Apostle, at the very first mentioning him, declares his destiny. At his first rising and revealing, mentions his fall and ruin.

VERSE 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, shewing himself that he is God.”

“Who opposeth,” [Poole here describes the Greek ἀντίκειμαι (antikeimai)]. A further description of this man of sin, by his opposition and exaltation. The oppose, or rather, opposing, expressed in the participle of the present tense, denoting a continued act, or that which he bends himself strongly to.

But against what?... [W]e may well conceive, it is Christ Himself whom he opposes, and his name given him by the Apostle John doth evidence, when he is called antichrist, or the antichrist, one that is against Christ. Not that he openly and professedly opposes Him, but as Judas kissed his Master, and betrayed Him…. It is iniquity in a mystery. He serves Christ, but it is to serve himself upon Him. He acknowledges Him in all His offices, and yet doth virtually deny and oppose Him in all.

Called antichrist, as opposite the unction of Christ. Christ signifies anointed, and so he opposes Him in the offices to which He is anointed, while he owns His natures. He professes himself a “servant of the servants of God,” and yet persecutes, curses, proscribes, and kills them, opposing Christ in his members. He makes war with the saints (Rev. 13:7). He hath two horns like a lamb and speaks as a dragon (Rev. 13:11), and speaks lies in hypocrisy (1 Tim. 4:2).

“Exalteth.” And then he is described by his exaltation [Poole describes the Greek word]. He exalteth himself: it is not from God. He exalteth himself, or lifts himself above all that is called God, though not really and essentially God. The Apostle knew that in the Old Testament magistrates were called gods (Ps. 82:1,6), and 1 Cor. 8:5: “There be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth.” Magistrates and rules are of several degrees, some inferior, some superior, some above them all—and that not only in spirituals, by excommunications, but in civils, by deposing kings, disposing kingdoms, yea, making emperors to wait at his gate, hold his stirrup, prostrate themselves to kiss his toe, and then to tread upon their neck…. So that by these two words in the text (opposeth and exalteth), the Apostle describes him both in his enmity and pride, opposition and exaltation.

  • First, he assumes to himself a higher power than those that are only called gods. Theirs is human, his is Divine; theirs on the bodies or estates of men, his over the conscience; theirs only to the living, his to men’s souls after death.
  • Next he makes himself like God, and is as God, as the king of old Babylon said, “I will be like the Most High” (Is. 14:14). As God’s residence of old was in the temple of Jerusalem, so he, as God, sits in the temple of God. Not that temple that was built by Solomon, and afterwards rebuilt, and to be built again… for it is now destroyed, and if it be built again by this man of sin,… would the Apostle call it “the temple of God”? (2 Cor. 6:16, Rev. 3:12, etc.). But it is a spiritual temple, as the church is called (1 Cor. 3:16-17)….. He sitteth in the temple, the church of God, not that it can be the true church where he thus sits and acts, but rather the synagogue of Satan….
  • [Then] “Showing himself that he is God.” Not saying it with his mouth… but making such a show before men…. He shows himself as a God before men, and claims a power to be judged of no men, and to be a judge of all men. 

VERSE 5: “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?”

The Apostle Paul tacitly upbraids them for their forgetfulness. To forget the things that have been taught us is a great evil. Solomon often cautions against it (Prov. 3:1; 4:5) and it is often reproved (Heb.12:5; James 1:24) and the contrary required (Mal. 4:4; John 16:4; Jude 17; Rev. 3:3).

David hid the Word in his heart (Ps. 119:19). The Apostles did take care to tell the churches of the apostasy that could come, and of false prophets and teachers that would arise, as Paul the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20: 29-30) and Peter (2 Pet. 2:1) and of the coming of antichrist (1 John 2:18). And more fully, although obscurely, in the book of Revelation.

And the Apostle here in this verse minds these Thessalonians that he told them of the coming of the man of sin before the coming of Christ, so that they should not have been shaken in their minds about Christ’s coming in that present age. And they told the churches of these things, that they might not be surprised by them, or offended at them, when they came.

VERSE 6: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.”

“And now ye know what withholdeth.” The Apostle it seems had told them, as of His coming, so of what at present withheld the revealing of him….
  1. It was something that the Apostle thought not safe openly to declare in writing; else he would not have written of it so obscurely.
  2. It was both a thing, and a person; a thing in this verse that which withholdeth; and a person, as in the next verse (verse 7) he who letteth. [There is an exposition of the Greek κατέχω (katechō) at this point, ed.]
  3. It was also such a thing and such a person as were to be removed out of the way, not totally, but as they were hindrances of this revelation….
“That he might be revealed in his time.” As God appoints seasons for all His works, so for the revealing of him, as also for his ruin.

VERSE 7: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”

“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” The way was prepared by degrees for the man of sin. Before he came actually to be revealed, or constituted in his complete existence, and this was by the working of the mystery of iniquity.

A mystery is something in general which is abstruse, intricate, and not easily discerned. And there are mysteries in doctrine, and in practice; mysteries of godliness and mysteries of iniquity, mysteries of the kingdom of God, and of the devil’s kingdom. So there are the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10) and the depths of Satan (Rev. 2:24).

The mystery ushering in the man of sin is a mystery of iniquity. It is not open sin and wickedness, but dissembled piety, specious errors, wickedness under a form of godliness cunningly managed that is here meant…. And it is a mystery that works. It doth and exert and put forth itself, but secretly, as a mole which works underground. And its working is not against the being, providence, and attributes of God, or natural religion; but is to undermine Christianity in the peculiar doctrines, worship, and practice of it.
  • In doctrines are brought in privily damnable heresies (2 Pet 2:1.
  • In worship, inventions and commandments of men, under pretense of greater reverence, devotion, and humility (Col 2:22-23).
  • In practice, dispensations to moral impieties under color of service to the church.
And this mystery, says our Apostle, already works;
  • in the false doctrines of the false teachers of his time,
  • in the traditions and inventions of men obtruding themselves into the worship of God in his time,
  • in the affectation of pre-eminence in the church in his time,
  • and making merchandise of the Gospel in his time,
  • and gain godliness;
  • and in mingling philosophical notions with the simplicity of the Gospel,
  • and gratifying the flesh under a form of godliness and pretense of Gospel liberty.

And it was not among the heathen, or the Jews, but among the professors of Christianity, that this mystery was then working…. And when the man of sin was fully revealed all these corruptions did center in him, as sinks in the common sewer; the lesser antichrists in the great antichrist.

“Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” The idolatries and persecutions of the heathen emperors must be taken out of the way, to make way for those that arise under a Christian, or rather antichristian, state, the dragon giving his seat, spirit, and power to the beast. And the power that was in the Roman emperor, whether heathen or Christian, must be taken out of the way to make room for the exaltation of this man of sin. For notwithstanding all corruptions in doctrine, worship, or practice which might be introduced before, yet he is not fully revealed till he hath his jurisdiction and secular power also in his hand. And then this mystery of iniquity is arrived to its height, which John saw written in the forehead of the great whore (Rev. 17:5), Mystery, Babylon the great, etc….

To Be Continued….

*From A Commentary on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole, Volume III: Matthew-Revelation (Hendrickson Publishers), p. 758-759. These excerpts have been amended, abridged, and reformatted for blog usage, along with some updated punctuation, spelling and word usage. 
Note to reader: This excerpt from Matthew Poole’s Commentary, circa 1600, is an example of what evangelical prophecy leaders and organizations used to teach 20-40 years ago. Not so long ago, before the postmodern prophecy paradigm era, this sort of article was commonplace. Writings such as this served as an encouragement to the reader to 1) expect the Lord's imminent return and 2) be ready to meet the Lord "here, there or in the air." Believers exhorted one another that He could return at any time because all events on earth were coinciding to fulfill Bible prophecy, and that before the end the Gospel of salvation should be shared far and wide, especially to family and friends. As yet another sign of the times we note that publishing such an article today, especially with this eschatology, is likely to be met with scoffings (2 Pet. 3:2), even open disbelief (2 Pet. 3:4). For some of you, this may be the first time you have ever encountered this (now) old-fashioned Bible prophecy teaching. Read and consider: what if it is true?