And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of His mouth and abolish by the majesty of His arrival.
I. THERE IS A MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. By this expression the apostle probably means a mystery the character of which is lawless.
1. We may expect to meet with new mysteries. While time and inquiry resolve some mysteries, they bring upon us fresh ones. We are not to expect to be able to understand all the forces and influences with which we are surrounded. It is enough that we are in the hands of God who knows all, and trusting in Christ who can lead us safely through the darkness.
2. New mysteries may be characterized by new lawlessness. The answer to our inquiries may be very unsatisfactory in revealing only evil. There are strange novelties which are obscure in all points but their moral character, and that is plainly evil. If so, we may hope for no good from them, and need not further interest ourselves in them.
3. All lawlessness is mysterious. How did it originate? How is its existence possible? Why does not God sweep it away? These questions have perplexed men in all ages. We bow before them in helpless, pained wonder.
II. THERE IS A RESTRAINT ON THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS.
1. Its full power is not yet revealed. There are those who treat all sin with unbecoming levity, because they do not yet see its terrible fruits. They are playing with a torpid adder, that may awake at any moment and inflict a fatal wound. No one knows what hidden possibilities of harm lurk in the deep caverns of undeveloped sin. There are volcanoes in the hearts of some quiet men which may burst into destructive fires.
2. Human means may be used to restrain the mystery of lawlessness. Government, law, society, healthy habits of the majority, keep it down for a time.
3. God holds the mystery of lawlessness in check. He is supreme over its wildest raging. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh." God restrains the superabundant wrath of man (Psalm 76:10).
III. THE HIDDEN MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS WILL BE REVEALED. The volcano must break into eruption some day. Evil cannot slumber forever. Hypocrisy will tire of its meek, innocent demeanour. The harvest of sin will have to be reaped. Let not any man put his confidence in the secretness or slowness of the processes of evil. The more they are hidden now, the worse will be the appalling outburst of them when the restraint under which they groan at present is released. The longer the wild horses are held in by the leash, the fiercer will be their mad gallop when they break loose.
IV. CHRIST WILL CONQUER THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. Evil will not long be rampant. One fearful rebellion and then a tremendous defeat.
1. Christ is to be the Conqueror of it. He came to destroy the works of the devil. We could not effect this great work. He, our Saviour, does it for us.
2. Christ is to come again for this object. When the mystery is revealed, Christ's "manifestation" follows.
3. Christ conquers with a breath. His first work was difficult, involving his death. His last work will be divinely simple, and yet sublimely successful. - W.F.A.
And then shall that wicked be revealedI. HIS TITLE. "That lawless one." It is the property of Antichrist to boast himself to be above all laws, in which he resembles Antiochus (Daniel 11:36). It cannot, therefore, be hard to find him out, for —
1. Who is that infallible judge that takes upon him to decide all controversies, who judges all things, is judged of none; who destroys with fire and sword those who question his authority, and who releases from their allegiance the subjects of those who dispute his supreme sovereignty?
2. Who is he that takes upon him, with faculties, licences, and pardons to dispense with the law of God, and to allow open and notorious sins?
3. Who is he that by his own writers is said to be freed from all human law, that has a paramount authority to all laws, that he cannot be bound by them? One expressly says that he is above law, against law, and without law; a plain description of the lawless one in the text; and another, not without a spice of blasphemy, "God and the Pope have their will for a law."
4. Who is he that has brought into the Church the worship of God by images, and the worship of saints and angels, which is the great lawlessness which is branded by the Christian law as such? If there be no such power extant, then we are yet to seek for Antichrist; but if there be, none so wilfully blind as they that cannot see wood for trees, and know not where to fix this character.
II. HIS REVELATION.
1. His appearance in the world. He shall be in the world as soon as a certain hindrance is removed.(1) The most learned argue that this impediment was the Roman empire: that gone, Antichrist was to be revealed or the prediction proved false.(2) Things of great moment cannot be removed nor established in a minute. The removing of the Roman empire was not all at once, nor the rising of the pontificate, but by degrees. When Constantine began to remove the imperial throne to Byzantium, though the majesty of the empire continued at Rome, yet this was a step in removing the impediment; it lessened the Emperor's authority there and increased that of the Pope's.(3) The progress of Antichristian tyranny is, in short, this: About A.D. 600 their ecclesiastical power began to be raised when the majesty of the empire was weak in Italy. When John of Constantinople had usurped the title of , said, "The king of pride is near, and an army of priests is prepared to serve him as their general;" and in about six years Phoeos conferred on Pope Boniface the same title. About the Pope obtained the Pantheon, or temple of all devils, and consecrated it to Mary and all saints. The temporal monarchy was long in hatching, but began in that century. Pope Constantine would have his foot kissed like another Diocletian, and openly resisted the Emperor Philippius, and encouraged the treason of Justine and Anastasius. In the eighth century, Gregorys II and III continued the rebellion, and caused all Italy to withdraw their obedience from the Emperor Leo; and later Zachary assisted Pepin to depose Childeric. Afterward Adrian took upon him to translate the empire of the Greeks to the Latins, and ever since the Popes have made broils in kingdoms and assumed the right of deposing kings.
2. God's discovery of him to the world was also by degrees, in raising up witnesses against the tyranny and usurpation of Rome in every age. Five hundred years before Luther, Peter Bruis began, and Henry, his scholar, succeeded him, and to both succeeded the and ; then Wicliffe, the , Savonarola, and lastly Luther and the German and English reformers.
III. HIS RUIN.
1. The manner of his fall.(1) "Consumed." Antichrist is not presently to be destroyed, but to waste away by a lingering consumption; as his rising was by degrees so he will lose his authority.(a) The reason for this is that God has a use for him as he has for the devil himself, and therefore permits him some limited power to scourge his people for their sins, to try his people's obedience, to cure their divisions, and to keep up a remembrance of His mercies.(b) Observe how this consumption is accomplished. The pomp and height was about 1,500 years after Christ, but what a decay has happened since by the revival of religion and learning.(c) Caution. Antichrist is being consumed, but he is not yet dead. What strength he may recover before his last destruction God knows; but it has re-entered many countries from which it was cast out, and made havoc among the evangelical Churches. What, then, shall we do? Watch and pray (Matthew 13:25); reform and repent (Revelation 2:5); be fortified and established by knowledge (2 Peter 3:17), by grace (Hebrews 13:9; 1 John 2:20).(d) The author and means of this consumption, "The Lord...with the breath of his mouth," which means either His providential Word (Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 1:3; John 18:6), or the efficacy of His Gospel (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 2:16). Antichrist's destruction is to be by the victorious evidence of truth. It must needs be so, for the tyranny is upheld by darkness which is dispelled by the light of truth; and therefore the Papists cannot endure the Scriptures. Again, his kingdom is carried on by falsehood, and his impostures are discovered by the simplicity of the gospel.(2) "Destroyed." The coming which is to accomplish this final annihilation is most likely the Second Advent (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Others conceive some notable manifestation of his presence and power in his Church, but it is certain that at the judgment the beast and false prophet shall be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).
2. The use to be made of this. Be not discouraged at the survival of Antichrist: his doom is sealed.
(T. Manton, D. D.)
1. The man of sin has usurped the place of God in the throne of the Church. What is required to depose the tyrant? The proclamation and reception of the gospel. This shows that St. Peter had no dominion over the consciences of his brethren or the faith of the Church to which he ministered, and consequently that he never transferred such power to others. The gospel shows that God is the only Lord of conscience: and as this is known and appreciated will man fall from the position he has usurped, and God be raised and worshipped.
2. The man of sin has dictated the creed of the Church and declared it to be the merit of human actions and sufferings. And what is necessary to consume this fatal error, but the knowledge of the gospel which declares that the just shall live by faith: that salvation is of grace, through faith, and the gift of God.
3. The man of sin has vended and sold pardons and future rewards, what is necessary to consume this power of the Pope, except the knowledge and belief that God only can forgive sins; that He forgives freely through the merits of Christ, and for His sake confers the kingdom of heaven on those that believe.
4. The man of sin assumes a dominion over the invisible world, and professes to have power to deliver souls from the flames of purgatory, what is necessary to consume this error, but to circulate the Scriptures, which most clearly show that God only has power to reach the inhabitants of the invisible world.
5. The man of sin labours to keep men in ignorance. What is necessary to dispel the darkness of the human mind, and thus to consume this his stronghold, but to send men the light of life.
(C. Lee.)1. In "Modern Painters" Ruskin reminds us of the delight we feel in view of a bright distance over a dark horizon. At sunrise, beyond some line of purple hills, we have seen the sky become a great space of light, and though the shadows of night were lingering in the valley we have looked into the dawn.
2. In the Bible we are always looking over a foreground in shadow into a bright distance.(1) In Old Testament prophecy the waste and tumult of history were seen against the far Messianic glory.(2) In the New Testament the apostles have learned to see all the wickedness of the world horizoned by the manifestation of the Coming of Christ.
3. In Christian vision, then, two aspects of Christian life and world history should be viewed together.(1) If we have been compelled to observe the evil of the world we need to look on until we see its darkness beneath the brightness of the Lord's presence.(2) On the other hand, we must not shrink from any knowledge of the evil of the world. The Good Shepherd will seek the lost sheep, and not wait for the coming dawn.
4. Observe how Jesus always seemed to see both aspects. Sin was an ever present fact to Him, but He saw it all set in the holy love of God; and because of this He could at once condemn sin and rejoice over it.
5. A similar juxtaposition characterizes this chapter. We do not know exactly of what Paul was thinking, but it is clear that he saw the darker foreground, and the bright distance, the mystery of iniquity still working, and the manifestation of the coming of Christ.
I. THE TEXT DISCOVERS THE LAW BY WHICH THE MANIFESTATION OF THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST FOLLOWS THE REVELATION OF THE MAN OF SIN. The revelation of sin is necessary for its judgment. As soon as the man of sin becomes revealed, then follows his destruction. Things have to grow worse in order that they may become better. We can discover this principle when we survey great historic masses of sin. When Babylon's abominations were full, God's judgment brought all her pomp down to hell. So with pagan and mediaeval Rome. The Goth and Vandals were let loose by Providence when the vices of a decayed civilization had filled the cup of wrath; and the Papal corruption was ripe for destruction when Luther sounded his appeal. What availed the voice of some New England divine to check the growing system of slavery in America? Both North and South were making money by letting it alone. But all the while it was growing up under the law of God's judgment. Providence lets wheat and tares grow till the harvest. And when at last that man of sin was fully revealed, the compromises which had restrained the full growth and revelation of slavery being taken away, then came the hour of its destruction.
II. THERE IS ALWAYS, THEREFORE, REASON FOR HOPE WHEN WE SEE SOME EVIL THING COMING OUT OF ITS CONCEALMENT, and making its power felt with a more shameless impudence. Whether it be intemperance, the power of the saloon, or greed, or lust, or monopoly, or anarchy. This law is a reason for hope and courage in all Christian work. Something may have given you a moment's revelation of the mystery of iniquity in your neighbourhood, and discouraged, you are tempted to say What is the use of our feeble endeavour against such powers of evil? Or you may have run against some dead wall of indifference, or custom, or wrong method entrenched in some good institution, and because rebuffed where you expected sympathy you either drop the work or continue with heartlessness. But you have furled to look up until you saw some bit of God's sky at the end of your way. If we are sure we have seen the wrong and harm, we may be sure that it will be manifest in time, and that in time what hinders its revelation will be removed, and then it shall be consumed in the brightness of the Lord's Coming. This is the reason why the men who really have seen evil things, and fought mightily against them, as a rule have been not only the bravest men, the self sacrificing, the martyrs, but also the cheeriest and most hopeful men. It is the indifferent man, he who does not lift a finger to take any burden from men's shoulders, who fears that his country is going to destruction, as it might do for aught he does.
III. THE SAME PRINCIPLE OBTAINS WITH REFERENCE TO OUR INDIVIDUAL SALVATION. Sins one after another come to revelation in our lives, and, as they are revealed will be consumed in some manifestation of Christ. A man goes on in a life that was not satisfactory to his conscience or heart. Something happens to bring that dissatisfaction to revelation. He sees a larger, diviner self rising before his present self, condemning it, and ready to consume it as by the presence of Christ. That is a crisis for any man. And if we disown the man of sin in us, and own the Christ self, we are converted. And every time any sin comes to revelation is God's opportunity of grace. When it Teaches its full measure it may not prove to be a vehement passion, or devouring beast, but only some little meanness, selfishness, etc. But at last we see it as an evil thing, contrary to God. Then let it be consumed in the presence of Christ. "Behold now is the accepted time." And the progress upward is one of ever increasing quickness of perception of evil and power over sin.
IV. Such is the benign law of growth and grace; BUT ITS ALTERNATIVE CANNOT BE ESCAPED. If the man of sin in us is revealed, and we will not let him go, what then? The sin must be punished. God cannot hold heaven safe in one hand, and let the sin of the world escape from the other. The man of sin must be destroyed, and if we cling to it how can God separate us from its fate? We must go where sin goes, if our hearts cleave to the sin. That is so in this world, why should it be different in any ether? All dishonesties go straight and sure towards ruin, and eventually carry the defaulters with them. Hence the urgency of the gospel to us now.
(Newman Smyth, D. D.)
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