Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Last Days (4) - Eziquotes

A small number of scriptures are used frequently by Christians to prove a point. I call the verses "eziquotes". A Christian will often refer to one off these eziquotes, as if they have proved a point they are making, without any further argument. They never examine the context of the eziquote, and they never discuss what the writer of the scriptures is actually saying. They just recite the eziquote, and that is that. Case proved.

2 Tim 3:1-5 is a classic eziquote.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Christians often quote these verses as proof that the second coming of Jesus is getting close. They say, “Look, young people are rebelling against their parents. Timothy Three proves that the second coming is near”. The eziquoters never discuss the context of this passage, and they never consider in detail what Paul is saying to Timothy. They just assume that they have proved their point by referring to the eziquote. However, they have not proved their point, because they are using the scriptures in a misleading way.

For most of this letter, Paul warns Timothy about the opposition that he will face in his ministry and urges him to press on regardless. Paul cites his own experience. In chapter 2, he refers to the opposition from Hymenaeus and Philetus, who undermined the gospel by claiming that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place. When referring to widespread wickedness in the eziquote, Paul is warning Timothy that he will have to deal with people who are proud, boastful, rebellious, etc.

Paul was not giving signs of the second coming. He only mentions the second coming in one place in the entire letter (2 Tim 4:1-2), where he gives no signs, but simply urges Timothy to keep on preaching the gospel.

Chapter 3 of the letter has nothing to do with the second coming. Paul is not giving signs of anything. He is simply warning Timothy that he will have to continue dealing with this stuff as he fulfils his calling. Christians who use these verses as an eziquote giving signs of the time are wrenching it out of context.

The Meaning
Paul lists a number of sins in 2 Tim 3:1-5. The problem for those who use these verses as a sign of the times is that there is nothing unique about the sins on the list. They are all common and garden variety sins. Boasting, rebellion, pride, religiosity have been present in every culture in every age. These sins exist at all times, so they cannot be a sign of a particular time.

That is why these verses have caused so much confusion. Christians throughout history have seen children rebelling against their parents and assumed that the second coming is near. They have always been disappointed, because these sins are not a sign of anything. They are normal in the world. If we could ask Paul, he would tell every young evangelist that they will encounter these sins.

Paul explained how Timothy should respond to the sins listed in this eziquote. In the previous chapter, he describes the correct response.
A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:24-26).
These are not signs, they are pastoral and evangelistic issues that must be handled sensitively. The objective is that those who are encumbered by sin will escape and come to repentance and faith.

Normal for the Season
The real problem with the sins on the list is their consequence. Those who sin in this way can go on to worm their way into households and deceive gullible Jewish people who were loaded down by sin (2 Tim 3:6-7) (gentiles did not care about sin). These people were Paul’s concern, not the second coming.

Paul longed for his people to come to salvation.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel (Rom 9:2-4).
Although he was called to be an apostle to the gentiles, the first thing he did in any new town was to go to the Jews who lived there and share his faith. Only when they rejected him, did he go to the Gentiles and share the gospel. Now as he was getting near the end of his ministry and the opportunity provided by the Last Days were coming to an end, he was probably realising it was not going to happen. Jewish hostility to the gospel had increased rather than declined.

Most of the opposition to Paul’s ministry came from Jewish people. He used his experiences in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra as examples that Timothy knew about (2 Tim 3:10-11). In each of these cities, the opposition had come from Jews who had followed him around (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:19). Paul was warning Timothy that until the Last Days came to an end, Jewish teachers would be a major obstacle to the gospel. As a Jew, Timothy could expect to experience the same kind of trouble as Paul had experienced.

The hostility of the Jews would get worse before it got better.
Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse (2 Tim 3:13)
As the last days of their system drew to a close, the hostility of Jewish teachers and leaders would get worse, but Timothy must not give up. He should press on with his calling and preach the gospel boldly.
Join with me in suffering for the gospel (2 Tim 1:8).
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).
This Jewish persecution would only stop when the season of mercy to Israel ended. While the temple system was still in place, Jewish teachers would still have credibility. They could oppose the Christian message. Worse still, they could twist the gospel by adding Jewish customs like circumcision and food laws. There hostility would become irrelevant when the temple was destroyed in AD 70 during the destruction of Jerusalem. Once the temple and its sacrifices had been obliterated, the Jewish teachers lost their credibility. They could not claim to be at the centre of God’s revelation when their temple had been destroyed and they were scattered outside the land.

Paul knew that God was having mercy on Israel for a short season. During that season, they would be a pain by opposing the gospel, but it was worth it, because the same season might allow them time to see the light.

Christians who cling to this eziquote, because they want to believe that Jesus is coming soon, totally misunderstand what Paul was saying to Timothy.

1 comment:

John G. said...

Makes sense, sir. Thanks!