Sunday, November 04, 2007

Idle Speculation

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
Paul seems to be warning his readers here that they mustn't be preoccupied with the 'Advent' theme of God's promised new dawn for creation. It will come one day, but no one knows the time nor the hour and so it is foolish to speculate about it.

However, he is only human, and immediately Paul begins to indulge in some speculation of his own. The End Time will be clearly flagged, he says, because before that time there will be rebellion and lawlessness and the Anti-Christ will take over God's Temple.

This is almost certainly a reference to earlier prophecies that the reign of King Antioches Epiphanes – who installed a statue of himself in the Temple and declared himself to be God – would mark the end of the world. The prophecy turned out to be untrue, but that didn't stop later readers – including Paul – from reinterpreting it and applying it to their own situation. As recently as the 1970s I heard a lecture in which someone reinterpreted other Biblical passages about the End Time to mean that the expansion of the European Union marked the beginning of the end. So the practice of trying to read the signs of the times goes on!

Paul is surely on sounder territory when he goes on to urge his readers to concentrate on the present rather than straining to see the future. 'Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us,' he urges. And those traditions are that Jesus will comfort and strengthen us 'in every good word and work', not in idle speculation.

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