II THESSALONIANS gives us insight into the apocalyptic teachings of the apostles and the first generations of Christians. By “apocalyptic” is meant that which concerns the end of this age and the breaking-in of heavenly and eternal realities. Not an add-on to the gospel of salvation, it is in some ways the engine, for “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The crisis among the Thessalonian Christians seems to have been some teaching, whether by a malicious letter or run-away enthusiasm, to the effect that “the Day of the Lord” had already come. In addition, some were using the nearness of God’s kingdom to live as parasites off the industry of others (3: 6-12). In this we see one rationale for Paul’s general refusal to live off the benevolence of his churches, when theoretically that would have been permisssible: the power of example.
While New Testament teachings on the end times and the Day of the Lord have some elements of revelation new with Jesus and the apostles, the core comes right out of the Hebrew Bible, especially the prophets, like Amos, Ezekiel and Daniel. That a “man of lawlessness” (2:3) would present himself as God Almighty and take his throne in God’s temple fits with Daniel’s prophecy about “the abomination that causes desolation,” that would first have had some initial fulfillment with Antiochus Epiphanes http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1589-antiochus-iv-epiphanes
Within the living memory of those reading this letter would have been the abortive but provocative attempt of the Emperor Caligula to place a statue of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem to be worshiped there. How literally we are to take this prophecy for our own future, when the Jerusalem temple no longer stands, is a key question, unless the temple should be somehow rebuilt.
A key lesson for Christian readers today is to live in the tension between being prepared for Christ’s return, and the global travails that precede it, and living responsibly in the present, so as to support oneself, family, community and the preaching of the gospel, and thus be an example of fruitful, godly living, for however long it takes.
I TIMOTHY 1-6 is from Paul to his partner in mission, Timothy, first mentioned in Acts 16:1. Paul had left him in Ephesus, so the letter may have been written from Corinth, at the earliest. Some scholars believe this letter was written at a later time, from someone in “the Pauline school,” to explain and perpetuate Paul’s second layer of work after evangelism: forming churches and church leadership. At times, the letter seems to read as though it is addressed to an audience wider than Timothy. But it also reflects personal knowledge between the man and his mentor. It addresses an important question: What practical shape does the community of Jesus take, while awaiting his return and engaging in mission? A community of servant leadership still needs leaders and servants. Key to Christian servant leadership is I Tim. 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”The pastor, deacon or the missionary must not serve out of a sense of superiority nor entitlement, but out of humility. He or she must not be quick to condemn others, certainly not to esteem them as less than oneself, for no one’s sins are as well known to him, and less excusable, than his or her own. Whatever he or she does must be for God’s honor. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v. 17)
What Paul says about women in 2: 11-15 is surprising compared to his practice elsewhere, of honoring female leadership in other churches. It may be that Timothy’s situation is unique, given that it was rare in that time and society for women to have had the kind of training in letters, classroom conduct and rhetoric that men more often had, and that would have enabled their grasp of a teaching/preaching ministry. Perhaps for that reason, Timothy was in a setting where women, like Eve, were more readily susceptible to the kinds of misleading controversies and speculations mentioned in chapter 1 that were quickly troubling the first churches.
How it is that “women will be saved through childbearing” has long presented difficulties and differences of interpretation. Taken in the context of the whole letter, however, the following possibilities emerge: 1) the churches are troubled by false teachings that emphasize genealogies, speculations and asceticism (against marriage, foods, etc.–I Tim. 4: 1-5), what Paul calls “godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’” (6: 20) ; 2) unmarried women and widows have proven especially vulnerable to such teachings and tendencies (I Tim. 5: 13-15); and 3) therefore such women would do well to marry and occupy themselves with family and the community, for their own salvation’s sake. All that goes with family and childbearing is no hindrance to salvation, but even a help, especially if it keeps them from the temptations mentioned above.
Those are not the only temptations afflicting the church, and women are not the only ones vulnerable. What Paul says about wealth and those “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” should be even more scandalous to this society. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs,” A warning we would have done well to heed before the most recent speculative bubbles popped, and before the next one does.
PSALM 130 is a penitential psalm, reflecting a liturgy of repentance for one of the feasts, such as perhaps the New Year and the Day of Atonement. A beautiful musical setting of Ps. 130 (Aus Der Tiefen…) is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwurN92xA6Q
PSALM 131 carries a warning and a reminder against the busyness, the wordiness and the distractability of life, especially in the modern era. What kind of prayer or ceremony might it have been used for, and during what festival, we would like to know. It certainly lends to a quiet and contemplative kind of prayer.
PSALM 132: As this is a Psalm of Ascent, for one of the pilgrimages and festivals, prayers in, or on the way to or from, the Holy City, it shows how the people would have prayed for the monarch in Zion. It is a reminder to the people, and to God through prayer, of the importance of the king as the representative of the people before God, and of the importance of the covenant with David on the nation’s behalf. Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes and requests expressed in this psalm.