Clearly “all Scripture is inspired by God” and fully profitable that “we may be equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17) but is it beneficial to be so preoccupied with finding personal relevance to the point where we ignore Scriptural context? I truly believe this has created a whole host of interpretational errors and has led to a great deal of confusion.
All too often when reading a passage of Scripture I was inclined to automatically transpose the “you” to “me” or “us”. That seemed fine and dandy until I realized that by doing so I was ripping “audience relevance” from the equation and therefore trivialized the lives of the original recipients—to the point where they were deemed irrelevant. By doing this we inadvertently transport segments of Scripture germane to a first century culture and spiritual climate, 2,000 years to a westernized people who have virtually no connection to the original context.
We don’t witness God’s faithfulness to those that the Word was so graciously given.
We wait for things to happen today that were never prophesied to transpire within our generation.
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, Hebrews 6:1 (ESV)
6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV)
The immediate reflex for me was to personalize this passage—to bring it into my world. The assumption is that God is going to repay with affliction those who inflict ME and therefore inflict vengeance on MY oppressors. This may apply as a generalized principle but out of context we lose sight of what the Apostle Paul is conveying. The problem is that I’m certainly not part of the Thessalonian Church and God never made that promise specifically to me.
By moving these verses into a modern day context we fail to realize that Paul’s offering specific comfort to the persecuted Thessalonian Church, letting them know that God will avenge those who afflict them. We know historically that God made good this commitment adhering to Jesus’ “this generaton” proclamation. During the ensuing 3 ½ year tribulation that began in the spring of AD 66 and terminated in the fall of AD 70, Jerusalem was obliterated and the oppressors witnessed first hand God’s judgment. No doubt the Thessalonians were comforted by God’s faithfulness!
What’s the lesson for us? How do we make application? By realizing that God is faithful to do exactly as promised within the time frame promised. Therefore we know that if God was faithful to the first century believers who were in serious need of vindication, God will be faithful to us in our time of need. The problems come when we assume that the “flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” is to occur sometime in our future against those that may afflict us. This cannot be the case since the context of this passage forces us to confine Paul’s promised vindication, to the oppressors of the Thessalonian believers in the latter part of the transition period between the writing of 2 Thessalonians and the terrible day of the Lord in AD 70.
3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age [not the end of the world as in the KJV]?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them [not me & you] : “Take heed that no one deceives you [the disciples]. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. [in their day not 2,00 years future-and we have record of many who did come in this manner]
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled [who is the “you” who should not be troubled?—The disciples] ; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet [end of what? End of the World? No, the end of the age] . 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. [all happened like clockwork – Acts speaks of much of this] 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. [When was this all to happen? Verse 34 tells us]
9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you [kill whom?—the disciples], and you [disciples] will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. [and they did]
12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. [from the ensuing temporal destruction that would befall Jerusalem in the tribulation of AD 66-70] 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world [Has this happened yet? See Col 1:6;23] as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come [the end of the age not the end of the world].
15 “Therefore when you see [not us you but the disciples] the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” [Luke tells us (Luke 21:20) that this desolaton will be the result of the armies that surround the city] (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea [not Brandon or Opelika – no reason to spirutualize this text] flee to the mountains [in Florida!].
17 Let him who is on the housetop [not too many hanging out on housetops today in Starke, FL] not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field [Do you work in the field? Not a lot of folks do today. This is where people who pride themselves with the “literal” approach to interpretation, immediately take flight from the natural when it is not called for by the text] not go back to get his clothes.
19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! [wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference today—for goodness sakes, pregnancy virtually poses no problems today compared to 2,000 years ago!] 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath [travel is not impeded in the winter or on Saturday in this day and age but it surely was then].
23 Then if anyone says to you [the disciples], ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. [the Kingdom was not to come with “signs to be observed” (Lk 17:20-21)]24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you [not us] beforehand. [they were supposed to know the season of His return]
28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light [much like Isaiah 34:4:]; the stars will fall from heaven [much like Isaiah 13:10], and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you now that summer is near. [a clear indication that they were to know the timing, just not the actual day or the hour of His return]
Can you “see” how audience relevance shapes the way you read the Word? This makes all the difference in the world when interpreting Scripture. A passage like the Olivet, that may appear future to us when not considering the relevance to the audience at hand, is clearly meant for the generation that received it.
So as you read the Word always consider context and remember that little phrase: “The Scripture was written FOR us but it was not written TO us.”