Appendix C

Remarks on 1 and 2 Thessalonians Connected with the Revelation

As further evidence of the immense importance of rightly seizing the christian hope, not only for the soul’s fellowship with the Lord but for the due intelligence of prophecy, I present to the reader two letters I had from the late Mr. E. B. Elliott in 1851. From them it is plain enough how very defective were his views, not merely in detail but fundamentally; yet was he the acknowledged leader of the Protestant {historicalist} school in our day. But the reader will judge for himself, perusing first the paper which was given him to read, and his remarks with my comment; for I regret that I am unable to furnish the answers sent at the time.

There are few simple-minded Christians who, in searching into the prophetic word, have not felt the difficulty of reconciling the undoubtedly normal posture of the church in daily waiting for Jesus with the long train of successive events presented in the Revelation. The principle, if not the measure, of the difficulty is the same, whether you understand the Revelation to be fulfilled in a brief eventful crisis, or to extend over a course of many hundred years. In either way, I cannot truthfully expect Jesus from heaven from day to day if I am looking out for a series of numerous, and some of them unprecedented, and all of them solemn, incidents to occur on earth, the gradual and accumulative evidence of His approach.

But it is certain that in the apostolic times, when the grace of God was proclaimed in its real power and freshness, when His word was most prized and best understood, and when it produced its loveliest effects, the saints were habitually expecting Jesus to come. In Him they had redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, and they knew it. They were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise {Eph. 1:13}. Were they therefore satisfied? Was not the Spirit Himself, blessed divine Comforter though He be, yet was not He the earnest of still greater blessings? Doubtless they received Him as the Spirit of sonship, and not as a spirit of bondage unto fear (Rom. 8); but, instead of His leading them into rest and contentedness here below in the absence of Jesus, in the same chapter it is said: “Ourselves also, (besides the groaning creation) which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” It is the groaning of those who are justified by faith and have peace with God. It is the groaning of those who have the Holy Ghost dwelling in them, and bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. It is the groaning of the adopted, earnestly yearning for the full results of adoption: of those who, because they have known God’s grace in redemption forgiving their sins, look for more, for all, — for the redemption of the body in the actual presence of the Saviour, that they may be like Him and with Him for ever.

The aim, however, of these remarks is not to prove that the personal coming of the Lord was the hope of the church — proofs easily found elsewhere. My desire is rather to convince those who know what is and was meant to be the hope of the church, that God by no concurrent or subsequent revelation ever interfered with the practical power of that hope. That He might give fuller details as to the growing iniquity of man, of the Jew and especially of the outward professing body, and as to His own judgments upon each before the millennial reign; that He might describe in greater minuteness the circumstances of that reign and the events that succeed it, is not only possible but that which He has done. But that He, on this or any other theme, corrects in one part of His word what is affirmed in another, is that which every Christian ought surely to repudiate from the bottom of his soul, in whatever modified form it may be insinuated.

The word of our God needs no apologies from man. Unhesitatingly believed, every part of it will be found to be perfectly true, though (from the narrowness and imperfection of our apprehension) patient waiting on God is necessary to avoid the systematizing of the human intellect, and to discover in what order God puts things together. Haste in deciding such questions only leads to forcing scripture, which will not yield; and hence the danger of framing one-sided hypotheses, which are only tenable by shutting the eye to the plainest scripture which contradicts them as hypotheses, though there may be elements of truth in them.

To apply this to the matter in hand, it is undeniable that the apostle Paul (to say nothing of others) invariably speaks of the coming of the Lord to take the church to Himself as that which might be at any moment, however Jesus might tarry; but no necessary detention — no chain of occurrences involving a period virtually — no certain lapse of time — is ever presented to the church as keeping Him in heaven. On the contrary, if he writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15), it is: “Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Admitting that “we” is a representative word, not the persons addressed merely but those standing in the same privileges: still, will any one say that the apostle or the Corinthian saints knew that the moment would be deferred till they had fallen asleep? Was it not calculated, beyond all cavil, to keep them in simple constant expectancy of the Lord? And the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1), who were trained, from their birth to God, in looking for their Deliverer, were they mistaken enthusiasts? Or did not the blessed work of the Spirit in their case consist in turning them from idols, not only to serve the living and true God, but to wait for His Son from heaven? Did that wise and faithful servant, who knew what it was to mingle the service of a nurse with the affectionate care of a father — did he consider that blessed hope to be unsuited food for such babes? So far from it, that when he writes to them supplying some things that were lacking, the Holy Ghost impresses this great doctrine in so repeated and different modes as to demonstrate how cardinal a truth it is in the mind of God, and how influential as regards the walk and communion of His saints. It ramifies both epistles, being not only found at least once in every chapter, but in some chapters occupying the most conspicuous place. (See 1 Thess. 1:3, 10; 1 Thess. 2:19, 20; 1 Thess. 3:13; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Thess. 5:1-10, 23, 24; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; 2 Thess. 3:5.) They had rejoiced in this hope of our Lord Jesus Christ from their earliest christian career; they had patiently continued it through the Spirit, and the blessedness of such patience was sweet to the absent apostle, even as their work of faith and labour of love. True, they needed further light as to its circumstances, and the Lord granted it. So immediately were they awaiting the Lord, that the decease of some of their number plunged them into sorrow — not, I apprehend, that they for a moment doubted of the salvation of those who were gone. No one knowing the gospel in word only (much less knowing it in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, as it came to them,) could have such a doubt. But they feared that death had severed their departed brethren from the glorious hope they had so brightly burning before them, of being caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. They were gone — doubtless were happy; but would they not be absent from that crowning joy for which they themselves were waiting? Here was the place, if they had been mistaken in so waiting, to have corrected it. Here was the place for the apostle to say: We have been all wrong in living with our eyes heavenward till the Son of God comes to take us to Himself. He is not coming soon. We need not expect Him, for many ages must expire before He comes. Besides He has already given you some, and He now adds more signs of His advent. You have not seen these signs yet. You must wait for them, and not for His Son. But there is the exact reverse. The Holy Spirit deliberately keeps them in the same attitude of waiting which He had previously wrought, and sanctioned in them, though He gives them a comfort of which they were ignorant as to their brethren who had been put to sleep by Jesus. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [that is, go before] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

But it may be said, If the Holy Ghost did not here correct the excited notions of the Thessalonians, He did in the second chapter of the second epistle. I answer that the true question is, Does the Holy Ghost correct Himself? He may supply that which is suited to correct the undue sorrow of the believers in one epistle, or their fears in another epistle; but I insist upon it in the strongest manner, that, if the church is set in the position of waiting for Christ’s coming in one part of scripture, no other part can possibly alter such a position. It is necessarily right, whatever increase of instruction may be given. Let us only be well assured in the perfectness of every word of God, and we shall soon see how little the passage warrants the notion that the apostle Paul, in the second epistle, dissuades them from expecting Him, whom the first epistle had confirmed them in expecting.

In the first place, it is generally assumed that the day of Christ (or “of the Lord,” for this is the true reading ) is identical with “the coming (
παρουσία, presence) of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the verse before {2 Thess. 2:1, 2} But it is a groundless idea. If it be affirmed, let proofs be adduced. It is quite clear to me that the day of the Lord is a distinct though connected thing. In its full, ultimate sense, and no one disputes that such is its force here, it supposes the presence of the Lord; it is the judgment consequent upon that. But the presence, or the coming of the Lord, by no means necessarily supposes judgment. Is there a word of judgment, or wrath, or destruction, expressed or implied in the full description given in 1 Thess. 4 of the Lord’s coming for His own? So when the apostle says, “what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19, 20). Where is the word of judgment on evil? On the other hand, when the day of the Lord occurs, it is, whether used in a full or limited application, habitually connected with judgment and its consequences (compare 1 Thess. 5:24; Zeph. 1-3; Zech. 14; Mal. 3, 4). I conclude therefore that, though the coming of the Lord may include the day of the Lord, as the whole includes a part, the coming of the Lord {1 Thess. 4:15-18; 2 Thess. 2:1; etc.} is in itself presented in an aspect of grace, not of judgment, and that the terms and things are not be confounded.

In the second place, while it is true that the day of the LORD cannot come before the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin arrive {2 Thess. 2:3}, which are to be judged in that day [of the Lord, at its beginning], yet is there a serious error in the English rendering of the last clause of 2 Thess. 2:2, “is at hand.” The word usually rendered “at hand,” “near,” or “nigh,” is
ἐγγύς or
ἐνέστηκεν, as is known to scholars. The present word åç æ , on the other hand, is never so rendered in the New Testament, save in the passage before us. On the contrary, occurring several times, it is used invariably in a way which excludes the possibility of such a rendering (more especially when it is, as here, in the perfect tense). Let us briefly examine.

1. The first occurrence is in Rom. 8:38. It is evident that here
ἐνεστῶτα cannot mean things at hand. It is contrasted with
μέλλοντα, that is, “things to come.” It signifies only and emphatically “things present,” and is so rendered in the common Bible.

2. See the same words and the same contrast in 1 Cor. 3:22.

3. Again, in 1 Cor. 7:26,
διὰ τὴν ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην is properly translated “for the present distress.” A distress not actually come, but only at hand or coming, would spoil the meaning.

4. The next is Gal. 4, “this present evil world,” the only possible meaning of the word here. The next world, or age, will not be evil, and therefore “at hand” or “imminent” is shut out.

5. Compare also Heb.9:9,
εἰς τὸν καιρὸν τὸν ἐνεστηκότα “for the time then present,” not “at hand,” which cannot be the true force. All these are instances of the same tense as 2 Thess. 2:2.

6. The only other occurrence is 2 Tim. 3:1,
ἐνστήσονται, in the future middle. Here the English version renders it, “shall come.” Still the meaning indubitably is not “shall be at hand,” which could have no point, but “shall be present.” To be impending merely was little: the grave thing was, that perilous times should be actually there in the last days. It may be concluded therefore, from an induction thus complete, that in all the other instances the Authorized Version is right, but in 2 Thess. 2:2 it is wrong. It is not conceivable to uphold both; so that, if right in 2 Thess. 2:2, the version must be wrong everywhere else. But we have seen, from the intrinsic meaning of the word, as well as from the sense imperatively demanded by the context, that in all the other cases the translators are justified. They are therefore mistaken here, and the proper rendering, in conformity with their own translation of the word in the same tense elsewhere, ought to be “as that the day of the Lord is present.”

The Thessalonian saints had from the first known much affliction. They had notoriously suffered from their own countrymen, and this to such a degree that the apostle, in his earnest and watchful interest about them, sent Timothy to establish and to comfort them concerning their faith, that no man should be moved by these afflictions. They knew that “we are appointed thereunto.” Nevertheless, they needed comfort. The apostle had warned them before, that “we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and ye know.” “For this cause when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.” But Timothy brought good tidings of their faith and love, and the apostle could break out into thanks and joy for their sakes before God, and he lets them know it in his first epistle.

The tempter however was not to be discouraged nor diverted from his wiles. They had been already taught that the Lord Himself was to come, and the saints, sleeping or living, were all to be changed, and be caught up together to meet Him in the air, and so to be ever with Him. They also knew that the day of the Lord (or Jehovah) was one of destruction and terror, unlooked for by the world: “Yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” {1 Thess. 5:2}. Accordingly he appears to have distracted the saints by the harassing statement that the day of the Lord was actually there {2 Thess. 2:2}, thus seeking to rob them of all profit and joy in the persecutions and tribulations which they were then enduring. Nor let any think it strange, if, in a time of perplexity for the world and persecution of the church, the fears of saints might be wrought upon; particularly as they knew that the day of the Lord in the Old Testament by no means necessarily implies the personal presence of the Lord, though it looks onward to that anticipatively. (Compare, for instance, Isa. 13, where God’s judgment of Babylon and the Chaldeans is so designated:) “Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty,” etc. (See also Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-11; Amos 5:18, 20; Zeph. 1:7, 14, 15, etc.)

In the second epistle, the Holy Ghost conveys the needed instruction. “We ourselves,” says the apostle, “glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day” {2 Thess. 2:4-9}. The time of retribution is not when Jesus comes {for us}, but when He is revealed. For though at His coming the church is caught up, there is nothing yet of a retributive character. It is favour, not a process of judgment. Whereas the revelation and the day of the Lord are, as is manifest, associated with judgment, and hence there is the public award of God then for the first time manifested to the world; “seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” Doubtless there is a tribulation, and even the great tribulation, in the time of Antichrist, previous to the revelation of Jesus; as obviously there is rest to those who sleep in Jesus now, and there will be rest in a fuller sense when our bodies are changed, and we are caught up to be with Him. But both are wholly distinct from the divine retributive tribulation and the rest here spoken of. It is the day of punishment with everlasting destruction to the adversaries, as it is the day when Christ comes, not to present the faithful to Himself, nor to take them to mansions {abodes} in the Father’s house, but to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believed. For when Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory {Col. 3:4}. It is the public judicial dealing (not the hidden joy or blessedness before then, or afterwards), which here enters into the scene.

Next the apostle turns to the source of their agitation. “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind or be troubled.” Assuredly, the consolation administered here is not that Christ’s coming was a distant thing! Can it be that theologian upon theologian has desired to make of this fancied long and far-off absence of the Lord a balm for the tried and fearful? Can it be that the poor church has but too willingly sipped the cup, and, heedless of His words, cheers herself on the delirious career of worldliness and folly, and of faithlessness to Him? “Lord, how long?”

Not so the Thessalonians. Full well they knew that His coming was to end their sorrows and crown their joys. Under apostolic guidance they had looked, and the Holy Ghost had commended their looking, for Christ. Was it not the part of the evil servant to say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming? {Matt. 24:48}. But Paul was a blessed faithful servant, and never says anything of the sort. He uses the fact of the coming of the Lord and their gathering together unto Him as a comfort against the anxiety created by the idea that the day of the Lord was already arrived — nay more, as a proof that such an idea was false. His ground of entreaty is twofold. He urges a reason connected with the Lord and heaven, and a reason connected with earth and the man of sin. There must be our gathering above {2 Thess. 2:1}, and the falling away below {2 Thess. 2:3} In the first place the Lord was to come, and they were to be gathered together unto Him, in order that He and they might bring in the day and appear together from heaven. This had not taken place, and therefore they were not to be disturbed as if that day had come, or could come, previously. In the next place he presses the point that the evil must first be developed completely which that day is to judge. “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away (or the apostasy,
αποστασία) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth, and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or object of worship; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” {2 Thess. 2:3, 4}. But the apostasy was not then come, nor the man of sin revealed, and therefore the day of the Lord, the day of vengeance upon these evils, is yet to come. “And now [if one may translate the apostle’s word a little exactly] ye know what hindereth that he might be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that now hindereth till he be taken out of the way. And then shall that lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the appearing of his coming” {2 Thess 2:6-8}.

No! the Thessalonian believers were not mistaken in waiting for the Son of God. It is not wrong to believe that “the Lord is at hand,” (
ἐγγύς) as the apostle pressed upon the Philippians when drawing to the close of his career. It is not wrong to stablish our hearts because the coming of the Lord draweth nigh
ἤγγικεν, James 5:8). Nor does the language of the Spirit in the passage before us depict excitement from a too eager anticipation of this glorious event — alas! that Christians should suppose we could too earnestly desire it. The expressions in v. 2 denote fright and agitation. The enemy sought to instill the idea that the day, the judgment, was come, and that they were obnoxious to its terrors. Where then was their hope to be caught up to the Lord and to come along with Him? Would it have been sorrow and fear if Christ had come and they had been translated to meet Him in the air? Rather would it have been their chiefest joy, as it had been the object nearest their heart since their conversion. Their faith was growing exceedingly, and the love of every one of them all toward each other abounded; and, far from weakening that which he had already taught, the apostle prays for them in the last chapter of the second epistle, that the Lord would direct their heart into the love of God and into the patient waiting for Christ. That is, he confirms them in their expectancy of the Lord.

But the deceiver had affrighted them, not of course by presenting the coming of the Lord as an imminent thing, which was what the Holy Ghost had done, and which is for the church a hope of unmingled comfort, but by the report that the day of the Lord was actually present — “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” The apostle had already told them (1 Thess. 5) that they were not in darkness, that that day should overtake them as a thief. The tempter disturbs and confounds them with the thought that, as a thief, it was really come upon them; using it would seem some false spirit, or word, or letter {2 Thess 2:2}, to give to it the colour of the authority of Paul himself. And how does the apostle defend them from such assaults of others, and fears of their own? For, let it be repeated, it was not high-wrought feeling as though Christ were at hand, but terror arising from their giving heed to the false representation that the day of the Lord was present, and they in tribulation on earth, instead of being caught up to Jesus above. The apostle at once brings them back to the coming of the Lord and their gathering together unto Him {2 Thess. 2:1} as their ground of comfort and protection against the alarms of the day of Jehovah. As if he had said: the Lord Himself is coming, and you will be gathered to Him. When His day comes, you will be with Him. You are the children of the day: you will come along with it, for you will come with Him who ushers it in. You therefore need not be troubled; be rather in peace. That day is not come. You will go to meet Him whom the church knows as the bright, the morning star (Rev. 22:16, compared with Rev. 2:28); so that, when the day breaks and the Lord appears, you too will appear with Him in glory. You will introduce the day together — that day of retribution, when those who trouble you shall have trouble, and you, the troubled, shall have rest with us, when Jesus is revealed from heaven, with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance.

In harmony with this, it is written in 2 Thess. 2:8, that the lawless one will be destroyed, not simply by the coming of the Lord, but by a further step of it, by the appearing or manifestation of His coming. This scene is given at length in Rev. 19:11-21, where the seer beholds, in the prospective vision, the heaven opened, and the rider, the Word of God, upon the white horse, issuing to judge and make war. “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” — the righteousnesses, not of angels, but of saints (compare Rev. 19:8). The saints are already with Him. They follow Him out of heaven, as His army. Christ therefore must have come before this to take them to Himself, for they have been with Him in heaven and leave it together, preparatory to the battle with the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies. This then is not merely the coming of Christ. It is Christ appearing, and we with Him in glory. It is His revelation from heaven, taking vengeance. It is the day of the Lord, when sudden destruction comes. It is the shining forth of His presence, or the brightness of His coming, which destroys that lawless one.

Matt. 24:23-31 falls in with this view: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” It is His coming in connection with His earthly rights. Rejected of this generation as the Christ, He comes as Son of man (in which capacity He is never presented as coming to take the church). “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The elect, here gathered together by the angels of the Son of man from the four winds, are demonstrably not the church, because they are gathered subsequent to His appearing.

The church, on the other hand, had been translated before. For when Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory {Col. 3:4}. Our manifestation in glory cannot be after His manifestation. Christ and the church are manifested together. Hence the signs specified in this chapter {Matt. 24} are to elect Jewish disciples indices of His appearing. They are not to be regarded therefore as interfering with the posture of the church in continually waiting for the Lord from heaven. They are signs for a remnant in special relation with Judea, who will be awaiting the coming of the Son of man. No signs of this or of any other description were ever put before the church, as such, whereby to judge of the near approach of Christ to take her to Himself. On the contrary, what the Holy Ghost taught the church is, to a simple mind, inconsistent with such indications: she was to be expecting always because she knew not the moment of His coming. The apostle (1 John 2:18) would have even the babes to know that it is the last time {hour}; and this, not from the spread of the Spirit of Christ, but from the presence of many antichrists. But, although they had heard that the antichrist should come, no signs to be seen, no evil to reach its climax, no specific tribulation, are ever put before them, as events necessarily retarding the coming of the Lord to take the church. For the bride, the one heavenly sign is the presence of the Bridegroom Himself. But for a converted remnant of Jews, of whom the Lord has graciously thought in the instructions of Matt. 24, there are signs which will be given before the coming of the Son of man.

Now it is precisely here that the Revelation affords so distinct a light, showing us the position of the church in heaven, Christ having come and taken her to Himself, and afterwards, during the interval of her absence in heaven before she appears along with Him, God’s dealings, testimonies, judgments, and deliverances, on earth. The epistles give us simply the fact of the rapture of the church, but did not inform as to the length of the interval before the appearing and the kingdom. That such an interval existed might have been gathered; but whether long or short, or how filled up, does not appear in the epistles. The Revelation furnishes that which was lacking upon the subject and connects, without confounding, the church caught up to the Lord on high, with certain witnesses to be raised up during the closing term of the age on earth before He appears in judgment.

As for the relative bearings of the different portions of the New Testament, it may be said in general that the Gospels have a character peculiar to themselves. It is not certainly an exclusively Jewish condition, neither is it a proper church condition, but a gradual slide, in John more marked than in the others, from the one to the other. The Lord Jesus, rejected, was with His disciples here below. The Holy Ghost, who of course was then, as ever, the faith-giving quickening agent, was not yet given, that is, in any new unprecedented way, because that Jesus was not yet glorified {John 7:39}. Hence the disciples, although possessing faith and eternal life (John 6:35, 47, 68, 69), were not yet baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body (compare Acts 1:5 with 1 Cor. 12:13). In a word, the church was not yet built nor begun to be built: “Upon this rock,” says the Lord, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

But the Acts historically, and the epistles doctrinally, point to a different state of things as then existing: Jesus absent and glorified in heaven; the Holy Ghost present and dwelling on earth in the saints, who were hereby constituted the body, the church. Christ had taken His place as head of the body above, and the Holy Ghost sent down was gathering into oneness with Him there, into membership of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Such is the mystery of Christ which it was emphatically given to the apostle Paul fully to make known. And as the Gospels may be regarded as the preparatory transition out of Jewish relations to the blessed elevation on which the church rests, the Revelation answers as the corresponding transition from the church one with Christ in heavenly places, by various steps or stages, down to those Jewish relations which for a time dropped out of sight in consequence of the calling of the heavenly body.

The doctrine of the church is clearly at the root the ONE HOPE, which is found in the intermediate part of the New Testament. For along with the truth of the peculiar calling of the church, as the body commenced by the descent and indwelling of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, and thenceforward guided and perpetuated by Him — along with this truth, it will be found that the peculiar aspect of the coming of the Lord, for which I have contended, stands or falls. None of the school of interpreters commonly called “the Protestant school” {historicalists} understood by the church anything more, at best, than the Augustinian notion of an invisible company from the beginning to the end of time. None of them therefore has an adequate idea of the new and heavenly work which God began at Pentecost by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The consequence is that, if they read of saints in Daniel, in the Psalms, or in the Revelation, they are at once set down as of the church. If they read of “this gospel of the kingdom” in Matt. 24, or of “the everlasting gospel,” — it is to their minds the same thing as what Paul calls “my gospel,” the gospel of the grace of God preached now. Hence follows, and quite fairly too, a denial of any specialty in the walk and conversation of the saints since Pentecost, and a general Judaizing in doctrine, standing, conduct and hopes. It is also a simple and natural result of this, that all Protestant interpreters [historicalists], if they admit a personal advent at all to introduce the millennial reign, present as the hope of the church that which is, in fact, the proper expectation of the converted Jewish remnant, namely, the day of Jehovah, the Son of man, seen by all the tribes of the earth, coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Nor is the truth of the church unknown to the Protestant interpreters only; it is equally an object of dislike to many of the Futurist school. And it is my conviction that the two baleful heresies which have brought such shame upon the revival of prophetic study towards the beginning and the close of the last twenty years, are intimately connected with the rejection of this grand truth. For an error touching the church cannot but affect Him whose personal presence is what is so essential to it; and that which dishonours the Spirit goes far, in the long run, to disfigure or deny the person and work of Him of whom the Spirit is the vicar.

In the epistles, it is beyond doubt that the church is continually addressed, as if there were no understood, and fixed or necessary, hindrances to the rapture at the coming of the Lord. How could this be if the church be the same body as those saints who are described in Daniel, the Psalms, etc., as being destined to certain fiery trials still future from a little horn and his satellites who are yet to appear? How comes it that the apostle Paul, when he speaks of the coming of the Lord, never hints at this tribulation, as one through which the church must pass; but always presents the advent as an immediate thing which might occur from one unknown moment to another? That the apostle Paul understood the just application of these prophecies, better than any since his day, is that which few Christians will question: they were scriptures long revealed and familiar to Jews; and the Lord Jesus, in Matt. 24, had very significantly linked His fresh revelations upon that occasion with the predictions of Daniel. Yet the Holy Ghost, in His constant allusions in the writings of the apostles to the anticipations of the church, never once refers to these terrible circumstances as a future scene wherein the church is to enact a part: on the contrary, the way in which the coming of the Lord is put before the church, as a thing to be constantly looked for, seems incompatible with it. We have examined the only statement in the epistles which might appear to interpose such a barrier, and we have seen that, so far from contradicting the thought of immediateness, the apostle seeks to relieve the Thessalonian saints from all uneasiness about the day of the Lord and its troubles, by the blessed hope of His coming and their gathering unto Him, which are in his mind indissolubly bound together: a gathering unto Him which must be before He appears to the world, and judges it, because He and they are to appear together. It is certain, moreover, that there must arrive the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin (not before the coming, but) before the day of the Lord.

The prophecy of Daniel had already revealed the leading features of the interval during which “the prince that shall come” plays his terrible role. “And he shall confirm a covenant” (see margin and compare Isa. 28:14) “with the many” (that is, of Daniel’s people, the Jews) for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations there shall be one desolating, even until the consummation” (or consumption, as in Isa. 28:22), “and that determined, shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan. 9:27). That this prince is not “the Messiah the prince” is manifest, not only from the fact that the former is described as one “that shall come,” after the latter has already come and been cut off, as is plain from verse 26, but also from the certainty that “the prince that shall come” is the prince of the Roman people: his people “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” We know who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple — the people of this future prince. The latter part of verse 26 does not continue the thread of the history, further than the general expressions “and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” In the last verse we are transported to the epoch of “the prince that shall come,” and his actings during the last week of the age. This period is shown to be broken into two parts, during the former of which, according to covenant, Jewish worship is resumed, but “in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.”

If Dan. 7 be consulted, it will be seen that there is a certain little horn rising after the ten horns of the fourth Roman beast, before whom three of the first horns fell — “that horn that had eyes and a mouth, that spoke very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows” (v. 20). “And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High [or of the high places] and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand, until a time and times and the dividing of time” (v. 25). Is it not evident that in Dan. 7 is a horn or king whose blasphemous pride brings judgment upon the beast, or Roman empire, and whose interference with times and laws, that is, with Jewish ceremonial order, continues for three years and a half? and that for the same space of time, or the last half week, “the prince that shall come,” the Roman prince of Dan. 9, overthrows this ceremonial worship?

But the Revelation not only takes up the last half of Daniel’s week (Rev. 11-13) but shows what is the place of the church during this period — a truth which it was not given to the Jewish prophet to reveal, because it was that which supposed and fitly followed the revelation of the mystery hidden from ages and from generations. Paul had shown us the church waiting for the presence of the Lord. What is it that the Holy Ghost adds by John? What is the great outline given in the Revelation?

After the vision of the Lord Jesus, in Rev. 1, we have “the things that are,” epistles to the seven churches {Rev. 2 and 3}, so conveyed as to apply not only at that time but as long as the church subsists on earth, and then the properly prophetic part, the things which should be after the church-condition had passed away. Throughout the prophetic portion of the book the church is never described as being on earth. At the close of Rev. 3, it altogether disappears from earthly view; and, instead of its course being any longer traced here below, a door is opened in heaven and the prophet is called up to see the things which must come to pass after these, that is, after the things which are, or the church regarded in the completeness of its varying phases on earth. Besides other things (the throne and One that sat upon it being the centre of the vision), John sees, not seven candlesticks, but, suited to the new circumstances of heaven, four and twenty thrones, and upon them four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment and upon their heads golden crowns {Rev. 4}.

Here we have, in vision, the place and functions of the church after it shall have been taken up to meet the Lord, and before its manifestation with Him in glory. And for this simple reason, that the way in which He and they are here represented emblematically is totally different from what is revealed as connected with either, when the moment comes to leave heaven, for the purpose of judgment upon the beast, etc.; or from what is revealed touching the reign for a thousand years subsequent to that judgment: that is, in Rev. 19:11 and 20:4-6. Nor can the scene in Rev. 4, 5 be interpreted consistently with any view, save that of the church being actually caught up and completed in the presence of God. It is quite a distinct thing from our sitting in heavenly places in Christ {Eph. 2:6}: this is the subject of the epistle to the Ephesians. Neither is it the same thing as the boldness which the partakers of the heavenly calling {Heb. 3:1} have even now to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. Such is the subject of the epistle to the Hebrews, where the high-priesthood of Jesus is dwelt on at length, and the liberty which we have in consequence to draw near with a true heart and full assurance of faith; for it is still faith, and not actual possession, however it may be, through the power of the Holy Ghost, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The purpose of Revelation is to disclose the dealings of God, whether the facts be expressed or understood, but dealings which involve a certain condition of things, which was future if considered in relation to the circumstances looked at in the epistles, as actually subsisting at the time — the things in short which must be after these. Nor can this chapter {Rev. 4} be supposed to describe the blessedness of the spirits of the saints previous to the coming of Christ for the church, because the departed who are with Christ could not be symbolized by twenty-four elders; that is, by an image evidently borrowed from the full courses of Jewish priesthood. The whole church, and not a part only, is comprehended in the symbol. But this can only be after the dead in Christ rise first, then we which are alive and remain, are caught up together with them in the clouds, and so are ever with the Lord. Accordingly here they are represented in heaven, the Lord being also there, and although made kings and priests even when on earth, still the time is not yet come for the exercise of government. In beautiful harmony, therefore, with this peculiar and transitional period during which they are removed from the world, they worship above. But the saints below are not forgotten. Those above have golden harps and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sing a new song, celebrating the worthiness of the Lamb to take the book and open the seals, not only because He was slain and had redeemed themselves, but had made them, that is, these saints, to their God, kings and priests. They should reign over the earth. The fulfillment is seen in Rev. 20:4-6: the reigning with Christ not merely of those symbolized by the elders, but of the Apocalyptic saints also.

Moreover, it is clear on the one hand, that the lightnings and thunderings suit neither the day of grace nor the millennial state. Earth is certainly not yet brought under the power of the blood of Christ, when these symbols will find their accomplishment. On the other hand, it is equally clear that there are saints on earth, while the twenty-four elders are before the throne above. That is, it is neither the millennial nor the present state; but an intermediate period of peculiar nature, in which we have the throne, not of grace as now, nor of displayed glory as by-and-by, but clothed with what has been justly termed a Sinai character of awful majesty attached to it.

But those above exercise their priesthood in the presence of God as the full completed church. Hence the symbol of twenty-four elders round the throne, at a time when, as all confess, earth is still unreconciled, however there may be, in the next chapter, the anticipative song of every creature. If this be true, it follows that the Lord’s coming to meet the saints takes place between Rev. 3 and 4 (if the thought be pursued, which I doubt not, that chapters 6-19 will be fulfilled in a rapid crisis), room being left there for the coming described in 1 Thess. 4 and elsewhere. Then the main action of the book goes on subsequently to the removal of the church, and after this another character of testimony from that of the church properly is announced, and God Himself is revealed in ways different from those which He is displaying now; that is to say, not as showing the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus, but in the chastening judgments of the seals, trumpets, and vials, preparatory to the great day of the Lord which Rev. 19:11 ushers in. On this state of things Daniel compared with the Revelation will be found to cast and to receive much light, for it seems plain that the saints of the Most High, or heavenlies, of whom we read in Daniel 7, identify themselves with the saints who suffer under the beast, after the rapture of the church and, before the Lord’s appearing. They keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, which, be it noted, is the spirit of prophecy, and though they are not of the twenty-four elders, they will have their blessed and holy part in the first resurrection. And here let it be remarked, that the term has nothing to do with the question whether all are raised at the same time; it simply describes the condition of those who rise and reign during the thousand years, as distinguished from those who do not rise till that period is ended. How true this is, is manifest from the fact that Christ has part in the first resurrection, who nevertheless rose before the church more than eighteen hundred years {ago} at least. Hence the thought is not forbidden of certain saints being raised who stand and suffer after the church is gone.

The symbol of the twenty-four elders continues unchanged throughout the course of the book, till Rev. 19. They enter into God’s ways and judgments, as interested in whatever affected His glory, as may be seen in Rev. 4, 5, 7, 11, 14, 19.

But in Rev. 19 there is a striking change. After the opening scene of the rejoicings over Babylon the elders no longer appear, but the time for the marriage being come (and how evidently the church therefore is still viewed in the Revelation as unmarried), the bride, the Lamb’s wife is announced as made ready.

The heavenly joy and the Bridegroom and His bride being thus incidentally glanced at, He takes a new aspect, for the day is about to break upon the world; and so do we, for we will have gone long before to be ever with the Lord, and if He is about to appear, so are we along with Him in glory. Hence, in Rev. 19:11, the prophet sees heaven opened, and a white horse, and He that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. In unison, therefore, as He thus comes to smite and rule, the armies which are in heaven follow the Lord of lords and King of kings; and they that are with Him are called and chosen and faithful, which expressions are sufficiently clear to determine who are meant by the armies, if any one should have a doubt. It is the church which was in heaven following Christ in the capacity of His hosts, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. Contrasted with the marriage supper of the Lamb, all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven are invited to the great supper of God. The prophet sees the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse and His army. The result all know.

Next follows the angelic binding of the dragon for a thousand years, and the parenthetic revelation of the sitting on thrones, or at least, of the living and reigning with Christ during that period, of such as had part in the first resurrection. They will not cease to be priests of God, though their office may be discharged in a different way from what we saw as to some of them in Rev. 4 and 5, but they all reign with Christ for a thousand years {Rev. 20}.

It is a prominent feature of the book, that in it is traced the sovereignty of God, not only in His purposes regarding the church properly so called, but in His gracious ways with an election from among Jews and Gentiles subsequently. Thus, after the church is seen in its completeness in heaven, under the symbol of the twenty-four crowned elders (Rev. 4, 5), we hear in Rev. 6:9-11 of saints suffering, yet crying for vengeance; and the announcement to them that they should rest yet for a little, until their fellow-servants and brethren, doomed to be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. Vengeance should not arrive till then. These are evidently not the church, but saints on earth after the church is in heaven, whose sufferings and cries to the Lord accord much with the experience detailed in the Psalms. Still, whether Jewish or Gentile, they are not named here.

But in Rev. 7 we have distinctly brought before us a numbered company out of all the tribes of Israel sealed with the seal of the living God, and after this an innumerable multitude out of all nations, etc., who are characterized as coming out of the great tribulation, and as having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. These bodies are evidently distinguished from, if not contrasted with, each other: and they are still more markedly shown to be different from the church; for we have the facts not only of a certain defined tribulation out of which these said Gentiles come, but of the elders, that is, the confessed symbol of the glorified being still represented as a separate party in the scene (ver. 11).

Under the trumpets again we find the prayers of saints alluded to, who are of course supposed to still be on earth (compare Rev. 8:3, 4, with Rev. 5:8), and an implication of the sealed Jewish remnant being in the sphere, though saved from the effects of the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:4).

In Rev. 11 are seen the two witnesses, prophesying in sackcloth, and killed. In Rev. 12 the woman is persecuted by the dragon, who wars with the remnant of her seed that keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, which is accomplished in the beast of Rev. 13 who makes war with the saints and overcomes them.

Rev. 14 is clearly a sevenfold sketch of the dealings of God, which brings the crisis to a conclusion: the hundred forty and four thousand associated with the Lamb on Mount Sion; the everlasting gospel summoning all to fear and worship God because of the proximity of His judgment; the fall of Babylon; the declaration of torment to the bestial worshipers; the blessedness from henceforth of those dying in the Lord: the harvest of the earth, out of which were redeemed the one hundred and forty-four thousand, as the firstfruits unto God and the Lamb; and lastly, the vintage of the earth. The reader has only to weigh verses 12, 13, in order to have the foregoing remarks confirmed. Even here we have the patience of saints described just before the harvest; the portion, too, not of the church (for we shall not all sleep), but of a special class of saints here below, while the church is hidden above.

In Rev. 15 (preparatory to Rev. 16, that is, the seven outpoured bowls of the wrath of God), is heard the song of the conquerors of the beast, celebrating the works of the Lord God Almighty and the ways of the King of nations. Compare also Rev. 16:5, 6, 15; Rev. 17:6; Rev. 18:4-6. To those who kept the word of Christ’s patience (Rev. 3:10) the promise was to be kept (not in or during, but) out of the hour of trial, out of that fearful tribulation which is in store for the dwellers upon earth.

In the preceding scriptures it is clear that after Christ has fulfilled His promise in the translation of the church to heaven, there are saints on earth, both from among Jews and Gentiles who suffer throughout the tribulation. And these Apocalyptic sufferers are described in Rev. 20:4, as having part, equally with the church, in the first resurrection. For that text discloses first, the general place of the glorified in the millennial reign, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them”; secondly, those killed in the earlier persecutions of the book (Rev 6:9-11), “And I saw the souls of those that were beheaded because of the witness of Jesus, and because of the word of God”; and thirdly, the later witnesses for God, “and those who had not worshipped the beast,” etc. (Rev. 15:2). Those saints who were called and suffered after the rapture of the glorified, are emphatically mentioned, because it might have appeared that they had lost all by their death. Not members of Christ’s body before He comes for the church, they share not in the rapture; not protected from death during the prevalence of the beast, they cannot be the living nucleus of Jews or of Gentiles, saved to be the holy seed on earth during the reign of Christ. They suffer, are cut off, but are not forgotten. “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Thus the truth brought to light in the epistles to the Thessalonians, is assumed in the view which the apostle John was the honoured servant to enunciate, namely, the blessed condition and holy employ of the church round the throne and the Lamb, after the removal from earth, but previous to the appearing with Christ in glory.

The central part of the Revelation then appears to corroborate on an irrefragable basis, the truth that the church will be taken away and fulfil the symbols we have been noticing, previous to the day of the Lord, during the same time that other saints are still groaning and shedding their blood like water here below (Ps. 74, 79).

Such seems to be the main key which unlocks an important portion of the book and confirms the view, so sweet to the renewed mind, of going to meet the Lord without one earthly obstacle between: keeping unblunted the point and energy of a truth only revealed in the New Testament. For the Old Testament spoke of His coming with all His saints, not for them; of His appearing in glory to the confusion of His enemies, and not of His descending to meet His friends, when we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed and caught up together in the clouds. And hence it would seem, the emphatic language of the apostle, conscious that God was by him revealing a new thing to faith. For in 1 Cor. 15 he says, “Behold I show you a mystery”; and in 1 Thess. 4, “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord.”

How sweetly do the closing appeals tell upon the heart of him who has an ear to hear! “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the bright and morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.” It would be to lose the blessedness of keeping the prophetic sayings of this book, to have any other thought than that Jesus is coming quickly (Rev. 22:7). It is well to read in their light the signs of the times: knowing the closure, we can thus detect the principles now at work. But it is a mistake and a misuse to construe of such signs obstacles to the coming of the Lord: to say, until I know the arrival of this or that precursor, I cannot in my heart expect Jesus. Blessed be God! such is not the language of the Spirit. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Are these the words of mere feeling, unguided by spiritual understanding of the mind of God? As a fact, we know that the Lord has delayed; but He is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But who will say that it is conceivable to be looking for the Lord, wholly uncertain of the time of His advent, and at the same time have the revealed certainty of a number of events which determine the year, or, it may be, the day?

That Jesus will arise, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings (Mal. 4), is clear, and we know that the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13). But this same Jesus is more than the supreme power of righteous government on earth. He is known to the church, at any rate, as the bright and morning Star. Blessed light of grace, ere the day breaks, to those who watch for Him from heaven during the dark and lonely night! “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.”

“He that testifieth these things saith, Yea, I am coming quickly. Amen! come, Lord Jesus.” Here are the letters with remarks on each:

[Letter I., Sept. 1, 1851.

Dear Mr. Kelly,

I have read your paper on 2 Thessalonians 2. I cannot but think that it would be advisable to express your views more simply and plainly for uninitiated readers like myself. If I rightly understand you, the sum and substance of your view and argument is to the effect following: — The Thessalonian Christians could not be distressed or affrighted at the thought of their Lord’s coming being at hand. It was the chief object of their hope. Nor does the passage in question imply anything of the kind. First, “the day of the Lord,” spoken of in it as
ἐνεστως, is not identical in sense with the
παρουσία, or coming of the Lord, spoken of in the verse preceding, being only that part of the era of His coming which is devoted to judgment, a previous epoch and act of it being that of His gathering of His saints to Himself. Secondly,
ἐνεστηκεν does not mean, and may not be explained in the sense of being near, or at hand, but only in the sense it bears elsewhere, of being actually present. Hence, and from these two premises, it is to be inferred that the trouble of the Thessalonian Christians arose out of the idea of the latter part of the era of His coming, that of judgment, having come, and consequently of their having not had part in the previous gathering of His saints to Him.

Supposing this to be your meaning, it of course follows that they thought St. Paul, as well as themselves, to have been similarly overlooked by Christ, and left to the trials of the judgment-day. Is this credible? Is it not enough of itself to set aside the interpretation?

But what, then, of the
ἐνεστηκεν? Is not its proper meaning, “is present.”? No doubt, just as
παρεστι, and such similar words, mean “is present.” But they are words which, in every language that I am acquainted with, are susceptible, if the context requires it, of the meaning, close at hand. I have little doubt that my friend, Mr. Kelly, when looking out from some height in Guernsey [where we both of us were at the time of the correspondence] for the steamer, in which he was expecting a friend, has sometimes, when he saw her steering into port, made use of the common exclamation, “Here she is!” And what would he have thought, had a friend who heard him looked carefully at every part of the ground within twenty yards of the speaker, and said, “She is not here?” “The Master is here” (
παρεστιν), said Martha to Mary, in John 11:28; and yet, adds verse 30, “Now Jesus had not yet come into the village,” that is, the village where Martha spoke to Mary.

Thus our translators seem to me to have been perfectly right in translating the word
ἐνεστηκεν as they have in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the day of the Lord there spoken of being clearly that epoch of time which would be marked by two grand events — one of mercy, one of judgment, the gathering of saints to Himself, and the destruction of the man of sin — as may undoubtingly be inferred from comparison of verses 8 and 1.

As to the words,
σαλευθηναι ἀπο του νοος and
θρεισθαι, they are surely most naturally to be explained, not as meaning “frightened,” but of that agitation of mind and feeling which would indispose them to the calm and proper discharge of the common duties of life. Compare, in Matthew 24:6, the
μη θροεισθe. I see nothing whatsoever in this inconsistent with the looking unto the coming of the Son of God. And I am sure I should feel somewhat of its indisposing effect to the common routine of daily duty, had I the fixed persuasion that the Lord had appointed to take me to Himself on the morrow of the present day, whether by the stroke of death, or by His own personal advent.

Yours very faithfully,

E. B. Elliot.]

Is it not singular that a paper which many comparatively unlettered Christians have found clear and helpful should have been unintelligible to, and misunderstood by, a man of Mr. E.’s caliber and attainments? Why was this? In my opinion his own erroneous system of thought, along with the lack of the habit of expecting in the word of God perfect accuracy and nice shades of difference, apparently made not the style only but the subject and the evidence difficult to his mind. It is well to note this, the blinding effect of error, even on a saint, as I do not doubt my friend was. How many suffer thus, as little as he suspecting the true cause!

If the words of the apostle in the text most under examination are to be accepted simply and fully, it is certain that the source of agitation and trouble for the Thessalonian brethren, alleged by the Holy Spirit, was the statement, imputed to the apostle himself, not that the Lord’s coming was at hand, but that His day was actually there. This is as unequivocally the sense of the apostle’s very precise language, as it is the certain truth of God. He is not conjuring them by that concerning which he was about to teach them, but, on the contrary, he entreats them, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him (which he presents, not as two distinct objects, but as a united idea before the mind by the one article,
τῆς), that they should not be soon shaken in mind (“from their mind” may be literal, but is not idiomatic English), nor yet troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as by us [that is, as if it were by us], as [or to the effect] that the day of the Lord is present. That is, he entreats them, by or for the sake of our blessed hope in Christ, who will gather us to Himself on high, that they should not be soon disturbed, or thrown off their balance, nor yet alarmed by the report, falsely attributed to him and a higher than him, that the day of the Lord, the day of judgment for man and the earth, was actually come.

This I believe to be the only possible sense of the verses, which also maintains the force of each clause and word as precisely as it exhibits a wise and worthy aim in the sentence as a whole. Mr. Elliott’s view confounds that hope by which Paul is beseeching the brethren with the dread scene of judgment, which had been misrepresented and misunderstood as {if it had} already arrived. The true view sustains the Authorized Version of
ὑπέρ, “by,” which is not only grammatically tenable but exegetically demanded here, if not elsewhere, in the New Testament. It was not the
παρουσία but the
ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου, which had been misused; and the comfort of the Lord’s coming is employed as a motive and means for counteracting the uneasiness created by the false representation that the day was there.

No doubt the preposition may, and does often, mean, “in regard to,” or “on behalf of,” a little stronger than
περί. But the question is the meaning of
ἡπέρ, neither in itself, nor in other constructions, but with such words of entreaty as
ἐρωτάω as distinguished from
ἐρωτάω περί, where the sense of “in the place of,” or “instead of,” is excluded, as here. To me it appears that the precise meaning of
ἐρ. ὑπέρ, in such a case as the present, can only be “by reason of,” or briefly “by,”‘ and, if motive be made more prominent, “for the sake of,” or briefly “for.”

Now the apostle had been setting out in 2 Thess. 1 that retributive hour of God’s righteous judgment, when He will render tribulation to those that trouble the saints, and to the troubled saints repose at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those that know not God, and on those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. It is His coming, not to receive the saints, and present them to the Father in His house above, but to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believed in that day. It is, beyond question, that day of ever-lasting destruction from the Lord’s presence and the glory of His might, the day of the Lord, which was said (on the Spirit’s warrant, and not a revelation only, but a pretended Pauline epistle) to have even then set in {arrived}, so that the saints in Thessalonica were shaken in mind (which is the true English idiom, as
ἀπὸ τοὺ νοός is the Greek), and troubled. Clearly therefore the contradistinction comes out more and more plainly. It was not the excitement of a premature hope, but the agitation and fear produced by the rumour, and on quasi-apostolic authority too, that that terrible day had really begun. The apostle beseeches them, by the comfortable hope of the one, not to be soon shaken and troubled by the false cry that the other, the day of judgment on the quick {the living}, was come.

Mr. E. reasons against his supposed necessary but inadmissible consequence, that the Thessalonians must in such a case have thought that they, and Paul too, had been left behind by Christ at the first act of His coming, and exposed to the horrors of the second. But it is entirely a mistake, and his own solely. The Thessalonians had no adequate light up to this second epistle on the relative order of these events. From 1 Thess. they knew of Christ’s coming (1 Thess. 4), and of the day (1 Thess. 5); but they may, till they got the second epistle, have thought, as so many Christians do even in our day, and did in all ages, that the tribulation of the last times precedes the translation of the saints, and that His day therefore accompanies, if it too does not precede, His coming. Even Bengel affirms the whimsical idea, refuted by this very chapter, that the appearing of our Lord’s coming may happen before His coming itself. Now the nature of the thing, as well as its accompaniments, bear a testimony exactly opposed. For the Lord might come without appearing to every eye, but He could not appear without coming. Just so we read in the first verse of this chapter that He will come and gather unto Himself the saints; whereas it is not His coming, but the revelation or appearing of His coming, which is to destroy the lawless one or man of sin. Such is the true moral order, and proved by other scriptures also, as Rev. 17:14; 19:14. He first receives His own, His friends, to Himself by His coming or
παρουσία; He afterwards executes judgment on His enemies by the appearance of His coming,
τῃ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ. The glorified saints are with Him when He brings in the day, following Him out of heaven as His hosts or armies (Rev. 19:14), before the judgment of the beast and the false prophet, instead of being caught up coincidently with it or after it. Hence, when Christ our life is manifested, it is written that then shall we also be manifested with Him in glory {Col. 3:4} (not translated to heaven then or subsequently).

Plainly then the Thessalonians had not the least suspicion that Christ had come and taken up the apostle or any one else, nor is this at all the delusion which the apostle is refuting, but what was not at all unnatural for any like them ignorant of the mutual relation of His coming and His day. They feared that that day of darkness and clouds had dawned; and the agitating influence of this the false teachers sought to bring on their souls, availing themselves of a pretended communication of the apostle. We can readily understand that the Christians then were troubled by a panic which has often repeated itself since, even to our own day. One sees in the Old Testament the judgment of a city or land (as in Isa. 13 or 19) called the day of the Lord on Babylon or Egypt. So might these unscrupulous teachers seek to use the afflictions of the Thessalonians, which even in his former epistle the apostle feared might furnish an occasion to the tempter. And this apparently they did. See (they might have said) what troubles overwhelm us! It is the day of the Lord already begun. The apostle corrects this — first, by the motive of our hope, the Lord’s coming to gather us unto Himself; and, secondly, by elaborate proof, not that His “coming” may not be at any time, but that “the day or appearance of His coming” cannot be till the apostasy (for it is much more than “a falling away”) and the man of sin be revealed, which that day is to judge. It was now for the first time to be inferred that the coming precedes the appearance of His coming, as it was afterwards still more manifestly shown in Rev. 4 compared with Rev. 19, 20.

And this is corroborated by every word in detail, as well as by the general issue. See the violent but ineffectual effort to get rid of the force of
ἐνέστηκεν, the word so unfaithfully rendered “is at hand” by our translators, and even so inconsistently with their own rendering of it in every other occurrence of the same form. Indeed Mr. E. is obliged to own its proper meaning to be “is present” But, argues he, so it is with
πάρεστιν, and such similar words. “They are words which in every language that I am acquainted with are susceptible if the context requires it, of the meaning, close at hand.” And then he illustrates the case, with his usual ingenuity, from the language of common life, which he endeavours to confirm by John 11:28-30.

But it is not true that the meaning of “presence,” is interchangeable with mere “nearness” in any language; they are different ideas, and are expressed by distinct words. We have seen that the New Testament occurrences of the word
ἐνέστηκεν do not sustain this notion; nor do any in the LXX, any more than the instances in Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon, as the Dean of Rochester has allowed to me. It is wrong therefore to give pending, save in the sense of present, begun, if “pending” will bear it. It is time present, not instant. And so of all exact versions now, German or of English, as of Meyer, Dean Alford, Bishop Ellicott, etc.

But what strikes one as peculiar is, that Mr. E.’s illustration and use of John 11 proves nothing, save against his argument. For, according to his own showing, the person or thing had actually removed from the place where either had been, had traversed the space that separated, and had arrived at the place where the person was whom it was proposed to reach, though not to the precise spot on which he stood. To take the case used, my friend would have really steamed from England (or France, as it might be), crossed the sea, and entered Guernsey roads, when one might exclaim of the packet {ship}, Here she is! So in the scripture cited: our blessed Lord had left where He stayed two days after receiving the message, had traversed the way which constituted the distance thence to Bethany, and had reached the locality or district, though not yet in the village.

Now it was precisely the error of those who were then misleading the Thessalonians to say that the day of the Lord had thus come,
ἐνέστηκεν. Mr. E. wishes to show that they taught it would soon be coming, or was impending, a sense in which neither
πάρεστιν nor
ἐνέστηκεν is ever used in any correct writing, sacred or profane. A vast change is supposed to have taken place in both cases, which it is his thought and aim to deny. There is therefore not the least ground for his reasoning in the text or the illustration. They destroy his own argument, and leave our translators wholly unjustified in rendering
ἐνέστηκεν “is at hand.” Even if the laxity of common life allowed of our saying, Here he is! when he had not begun to move from a distant land (which is the true way of stating the question, not when he had come to the immediate neighborhood though not the exact spot), how strange that such looseness of language should be transferred to an apostle’s inspired repudiation of an error!

Nor is there, so far as I am acquainted with the subject, the smallest ground from scripture to affirm that the day of the Lord includes the gathering of the saints to Christ, though Mr. E. ventured to say that clearly it is thus marked. Not so; the day of the Lord brings judgment on man’s evil on earth, and is never said to gather saints to Christ in heaven; and the comparison of 2 Thess. 2:1 and 8 proves the difference of “the coming” from “the manifestation of the coming” or day of the Lord. Where are the scriptures which connect the gathering of the saints to Christ with the day of the Lord? I know of none. It is assumption and error.

Again, it is unfounded that
σαλευθῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ νοός and
θροεῖσθαι have the most distant reference to the excitement of hope, as the ordinary misinterpretation implies; they mean just such disturbances of mind as in Matt. 24:6; Mark 13:7. Mr. E. says “not as meaning frightened”; but far better scholars than he say the express contrary. “The verb
θροέω, derived from
ΘΡΟΕΜΑΙ, and connected with
τρέω; compare Donalds. [Cratyl. sec. 272] properly implies ‘clamorem tumultuantem edere’ (Schott), and thence by a natural transition that terrified state (
ταραχίζεσθαι Zonaras), which is associated with, and gives rise to, such kind of outward manifestations” (Bp. Ellicott’s Comm. in loc.). To suppose the Christian’s joy in the anticipation of meeting the Son of God, the Bridegroom of the bride, to be expressible by the same terms as those of perturbation or alarm which might be produced by hearing of wars and rumours of wars, affliction, tribulation, etc., is not to me the evidence of a sound judgment in divine things, but of the reverse. And I trust the Lord was better to my late friend ere he was called away than to leave him under that lack of peace and happy expectation and rest in His love, which his last sentence discloses. Indeed it is the conviction that this confusion of the day with the coming of the Lord is as destructive to the soul’s enjoyment of the Lord, as it is to real intelligence in scripture and notably in the prophetic word, which makes one feel the importance of showing how it wrought even in so pious a soul as the late Mr. E. B. Elliott. Need there be any delicacy now in using his words for the profit of the living?

[Letter II Sept. 5.

Dear Friend,

You ask, with the emphasis of italics to the question, where are “the scriptures which connect the gathering of the saints to Christ with the day of the Lord?” I should suppose 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16, may be regarded as obvious examples in point. It is to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ that the Corinthians are to be preserved blameless. It is at the day of Christ that the Philippian converts are to be the boast of the apostle Paul. And so on.

Thus I see nothing in your remarks to alter my opinion as to the
παρουσία of Christ, the day of Christ or day of the Lord being used with reference to the same era in 2 Thess. 2.

Nor, again, do I see reason from your remarks to doubt of the parallelism of
παρεστι and the
ενεστηκεν, or of the
θροεισθε in Matt. 24 with the same word in 2 Thess. 2:2. And the argument you urge, from the fact of unstable men having been drawn by heretical teachers into heresy, to the fact of faithful believing men, like the Thessalonian Christians, being seduced into grievous heresy, seems to me unmaintainable.

Thus, on the whole, I remain in the clear conviction that the usual view of the apostle’s meaning in 2 Thess. 2:2 is the correct one.

But, dear friend, I like to dwell on the points in which we agree rather than on those on which we differ. I trust I may be found united with you in “the day of Christ.” And in that hope I beg you to believe me

Yours very sincerely,

E. B. Elliott.

We leave to-morrow morning. I write this, as I may not find you at home when I call to take leave. I return the books you were so kind as to lend me, with my thanks, retaining what I think you kindly allowed me to retain.]

* * * * * My remarks on the second letter need not be long. Not a single word in a single text referred to by Mr. E. connects the gathering of the saints to Christ with the day of the Lord. We have in 1 and 2 Cor. 1 their manifestation as unimpeachable in that day, and the apostle’s joy in them then, whatever the exercises and need of patient grace now. Still less does Phil. 1:6, 10 touch the question, which is rather Paul’s confidence in God’s completing in them the good work begun unto (or, as we say, for, and even against) that day; but not a hint of “gathering” them to Christ then. Again, Phil. 2:16 is the earnest desire of the devoted servant of Christ that the saints at Philippi should be a boast for him in Christ’s day that he had not run nor laboured in vain. In short, the manifestation of our responsible walk and services, and hence the joy and reward of faithfulness will be in that day; but of our gathering to Christ in these texts (no doubt the most apt Mr. E. could find) not a whisper. To my mind the serious thing is the insensibility of such a man to their force. For the same confusion which made him imagine that these texts connect the gathering of the saints to Christ with the day of the Lord prevented him from even comprehending the bearing of 2 Thess. 2:1, as distinguished from 2 Thess. 2:2 and 8.

The argument I urged on Mr. E. from 2 Tim. 2 must have been somewhat to this effect. It is evident that later on Hymenaeus and Philetus, and the like, had, as to the truth, so far missed the mark as to say that the resurrection had taken place already. They probably resolved it into resurrection with Christ (or possibly “higher life”) as a present state, denying the true and blessed hope, and so had settled down into a life of ease, a millennium now, instead of awaiting Christ from and for heaven in suffering and testimony meanwhile. Thus was the faith of some overthrown. And so, in all likelihood, it may have been in Thessalonica. The misleaders were really bolder there, since they alleged the Spirit, nay, a word, and even apostolic letter, for the alarming impression that the day of the Lord had arrived. But it is as easy to conceive a quasi-spiritual or figurative force given to that day as to the resurrection, and real believers being upset by either. I can only suppose that Mr. E. did not take in the idea; else he must surely have admitted that the analogy is plain, and not maintainable only but rather irresistible, unless I greatly deceive myself.

One thing is certain, that, even among real scholars, not to speak of enlightened Christians, “the usual view” of the last clause of 2 Thess. 2:2 is now abandoned generally as incorrect and untenable in every point of view, Mr. E. being one of its latest defenders among men of any weight. The “usual view” had so filled my friend’s mind, that he never could get a clear apprehension of the overwhelming weight of proof against it. Another “usual view,” endorsed even by Hammond, Bishop Newton, Paley, and others, that the clause before the last means that the Thessalonians were misled through a misconstruction of the first epistle of the apostle is of less consequence but equally mistaken. It was a suppositious epistle, forged to convey the error that the day of the Lord was present. Such is the only meaning fairly deducible from the words,
ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δἰ ἡμῶν : and so even Chrysostom,
πεπλασμένην [not
πρώτην ]
ἐπιστολὴν ἐπιδείκνυον ὡς ἀπὸ τοῦ Παύλου. (Comment. in Epp. Pauli, Hom. iii., v. 465, ed. Field.) As to this point the late Mr. G. S. Faber is quite right, I see, in his “Sacred Calendar,” iii. 436, 437.

Our proper hope is the Lord’s coming to receive us to Himself, and to be with Him in the Father’s house. We shall also appear with Him in glory, and reign with Him over the earth. But, in order to appear with Him when He appears in glory, scripture shows that we shall be caught up to join Him above. Then that a very grave work in judgment, but not without mercy, for Jews and Gentiles, proceeds on earth, while we are with Him there, is taught in Rev. 4-19, before He appears, and we with Him, in glory and to judgment.