If any man love not the Lord Jesus - This is directed immediately against the Jews. From 1 Corinthians 12:3, we find that the Jews, who pretended to be under the Spirit and teaching of God, called Jesus αναθεμα, or accursed; i.e. a person who should be devoted to destruction: see the note on 1 Corinthians 12:3. In this place the apostle retorts the whole upon themselves, and says: If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let Him be αναθεμα, accursed, and devoted to destruction. This is not said in the way of a wish or imprecation, but as a prediction of what would certainly come upon them if they did not repent, and of what did come on them because they did not repent; but continued to hate and execrate the Lord Jesus; and of what still lies upon them, because they continue to hate and execrate the Redeemer of the world.
It is generally allowed that the apostle refers here to some of the modes of excommunication among the Jews, of which there were three, viz.: -
In the Lexicon just now quoted, Buxtorf gives a form of the cherem, which he says he copied from an ancient Hebrew MS. Of this awful piece I shall lay a translation before the reader.
"By the sentence of the Lord of lords, let P. the son of P. be anathematized in both houses of judgment; the superior and inferior. Let him be anathematized among the highest saints; let him be anathematized among the seraphim and ophanim; and finally, let him be anathematized by all the congregations of the great and the small! Let great and continued plagues rest upon him; with great and horrible diseases! Let his house be the habitation of dragons! and let his constellation be darkened in the clouds! Let him be for indignation, and wrath, and burning! Let his carcass be thrown to the wild beasts and serpents! Let his enemies and his adversaries triumph over him! Let his silver and gold be given to others! And let all his children be exposed at the doors of their enemies! And let posterity be astonished at his day! Let him be accursed by the mouth of Addiriron and Achtariel; by the mouth of Sandalphon and Hadraniel; by the mouth of Ansisiel and Patchiel; by the mouth of Seraphiel and Sagansael; by the mouth of Michael and Gabriel; by the mouth of Raphael and Mesharetiel! Let him be anathematized by the mouth of Zaafzavif, and by the mouth of Hafhavif, who is the great God; and by the mouth of the seventy names of the supreme King; and lastly, by the mouth of Tsortak the great chancellor.
"Let him he swallowed up like Korah and his companions! Let his soul depart with fear and terror! Let the chiding of the Lord slay him! Let him be confounded as Achitophel was in his counsel! Let the leprosy of Gehazi be his leprosy! and let there be no resurrection of his ruins! In the sepulchres of the children of Israel let him not be buried! Let his wife be given to another, and let others bow themselves upon her in his death! In this anathema, let P. the son of P. be; and let this be his inheritance! But upon me and upon all Israel may God extend his peace and blessing, Amen." To this is added the 18th, 19th, and 20th verses of Deuteronomy 29, ( Deuteronomy 29:18-20;) which the reader may read at his leisure. There are many things in this cherem which require a comment, but this is not the place.
Anathema, maran-atha - "Let him be accursed; our Lord cometh." I cannot see the reason why these words were left untranslated. The former is Greek, and has been already explained; the latter is Syriac maran -atha, our Lord is coming: i.e. to execute the judgment denounced. Does not the apostle refer to the last verse in the Bible? Lest I come and smite the land (חרם cherem ) with a curse? And does he not intimate that the Lord was coming to smite the Jewish land with that curse? Which took place a very few years after, and continues on that gainsaying and rebellious people to the present day. What the apostle has said was prophetic, and indicative of what was about to happen to that people. God was then coming to inflict punishment upon them: he came, and they were broken and dispersed.
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ - This is a most solemn and affecting close of the whole epistle. It was designed to direct them to the great and essential matter of religion, the love of the Lord Jesus; and was intended, doubtless, to turn away their minds from the subjects which had agitated them, the disputes and dissensions which had rent the church into factions, to the great inquiry whether they truly loved the Saviour. It is implied that there was danger, in their disputes and strifes about minor matters, of neglecting the love of the Lord Jesus, or of substituting attachment to a party in the place of that love to the Saviour which alone could be connected with eternal life.
Let him be anathema - On the meaning of the word anathema, see the note at 1 Corinthians 12:3. The word properly means accursed, or devoted to destruction; and the idea here is, that he who did not believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him, would be, and ought to be, devoted to destruction, or accursed of God. It expresses what ought to be done; it expresses a truth in regard to God‘s dealings, not the desire of the apostle. No matter what any man‘s endowments might be; no matter what might be his wealth, his standing, or his talent; no matter if he were regarded as a ruler in the church, or at the head of a party; yet if he had not true love to the Lord Jesus, he could not be saved. This sentiment is in accordance with the declaration of the Scripture everywhere. See particularly, John 3:31; Micah 6:16, and the note on the latter place.
Maran-atha - These are Syriac words, Moran Etho - “the Lord comes;” that is, will come. The reason why this expression is added may be:
(1) To give the greater solemnity to the declaration of the apostle; that is, to give it an emphatic form.
(2) to intimate that, though there were no earthly power to punish a lack of love to the Saviour; though the state could not, and ought not to punish it; and though the church could not exclude all who did not love the Lord Jesus from its bosom, yet they could not escape. For, the Lord would himself come to take vengeance on his enemies; and no one could escape. Though, therefore, those who did not love the Lord Jesus could not be punished by people, yet they could not escape divine condemnation. The Lord would come to execute vengeance himself, and they could not escape. It is probable (see Lightfoot in loco) that the Jews were accustomed to use such a form in their greater excommunication, and that they meant by it, that the person who was thus devoted to destruction, and excommunicated, must be destroyed; for the Lord would come to take vengeance on all his enemies. “It certainly was not now, for the first time, used as a new kind of cursing by the apostle; but was the application of a current mode of speech to the purpose he had in contemplation. Perhaps, therefore, by inspecting the manners of the East, we may illustrate the import of this singular passage. The nearest approach to it that I have been able to discover is in the following extract from Mr. Bruce; and though, perhaps, this does not come up to the full power of the apostle‘s meaning, yet, probably, it gives the idea which was commonly attached to the phrase among the public. Mr. Bruce had been forced by a pretended saint, in Egypt, to take him on board his vessel, as if to carry him to a certain place - whereas, Mr. Bruce meant no such thing; but, having set him on shore at some little distance from whence he came, ‹we slacked our vessel down the stream a few yards, filling our sails, and stretching away.
On seeing this, our saint fell into a desperate passion, cursing, blaspheming, and stamping with his feet; at every word crying “Shar Ullah!” that is, “May God send and do justice!” This appears to be the strongest execration this passionate Arab could use, that is, To punish you adequately is out of my power: I remit you to the vengeance of God.‘ Is not this the import of anathema maranatha?” - Taylor in Calmet. This solemn declaration, or denunciation, the apostle wrote with his own hand, as the summary of all that he had said, in order that it might be attentively regarded. There is not a more solemn declaration in the Bible; there is not a more fearful denunciation; there is no one that will be more certainly executed. No matter what we may have - be it wealth, or beauty, or vigor, or accomplishment, or adorning, or the praise and flattery of the world; no matter if we are elevated high in office and in rank; no matter if we are honored by the present age, or gain a reputation to be transmitted to future times; yet if we have not love to the Saviour, we cannot be saved.
We must be devoted to the curse; and the Lord Jesus will soon return to execute the tremendous sentence on a guilty world. How important then to ask whether we have that love? Whether we are attached to the Lord Jesus in such a manner as to secure his approbation? Whether we so love him as to be prepared to hail his coming with joy, and to be received into his everlasting kingdom - In the close of the notes on this Epistle, I may ask anyone who shall read these pages whether he has this love? And I may press it upon the attention of each one, though I may never see their faces in the flesh, as the great inquiry which is to determine their everlasting destiny. The solemn declaration stands here, that if they do not love the Lord Jesus, they will be, and they ought to be, devoted to destruction. The Lord Jesus will soon return to make investigation, and to judge the world. There will be no escape; and no tongue can express the awful horrors of an eternal curse pronounced by the lips of the Son of God!