2 TIMOTHY 4
In this last chapter, we come to the core of Paul’s ‘will and testament’, his final instructions: preach the gospel in favourable situations and in tricky ones; teach and apply the scriptures even in times when Christian doctrine is ‘out of fashion’ amongst the Christians! Avoid trying to be ‘popular’ in what you say, unless you want politics rather than power! Be level-headed rather than emotionally unstable (yes, you have a choice!). Put up with a tough life – that’s part of our legacy too – and get on with the God-given calling given to you (vv2-5). All of this, Paul writes in the knowledge, not only of his own impending death, but of ‘The Appearing’ of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the age. Do we long for that moment, as Paul clearly did? And, for us, death is no longer a separation or delay, but a leap forward to that closer relationship with the One who loves us more than anyone else!
Therefore, Paul now signs off with a great ‘Goodbye’: “…The time for my departure (‘Exodus’) is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:6). We should be prepared to pay any price to be able to honestly echo Paul’s words in our own lives. Perhaps we underestimate the gift that Paul has left to us: it is not just the gospel, but it is a model of a life that was so submitted to the gospel that it became transformed almost into Christ himself. Don’t just read the gospel but imitate the commitment of the messenger of that gospel; in this way, you too will become a ‘living letter’ written on human hearts for all to read and benefit from (2 Cor 3:3).
Paul, as the death penalty approaches, shows no fear, but rather a supreme confidence: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (v18). This ‘heavenly kingdom’ is not yet the New Age of heaven upon earth, but the place that believers who have died in Christ go immediately. Paul was not pretending that he would be physically protected, but that his spirit would be preserved in a place of paradise. This is the glorious statement of truth as Jesus gave to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul, of course, had already been given a precious glimpse of this dimension – as revealed in 2 Corinthians 12:4 – possibly a near-death experience then.
The list of final greetings includes reference to Trophimus, who was so ill that Paul was forced to leave him in Miletus. Does this imply that physical healing is not always guaranteed for believers, but still rests upon God’s sovereignty? If anyone should have had the faith to see the man healed, it would have been Paul!
And so, we have it: the final words of Paul. “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all”. (‘You’, being plural, and so meaning us as well as Timothy.)
JEREMIAH 51 and 52
“Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk!”, so says God in Jeremiah 51:7. “Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives!” says the Lord. The city has now become a kind of ‘disaster movie’ or a volcano that is about to explode; any rational person should get out whilst the going is good. God has declared Babylon incurable (“she cannot be healed”) and tells his people to stop wasting their time living there any longer.
“Sharpen the arrows, take up the shields! The Lord has stirred up the kings of the Medes because his purpose is to destroy Babylon. The Lord will take vengeance, vengeance for his temple”. (51:11; see also verse 28.). I thought that it was the Persians who would attack Babylon; now this verse tells us it is the Medes! Well, the Medes lived in Media, North-West Persia and were effectively a separate kingdom. However, they formed an alliance, probably in about 550 BC and a united attack on Babylon was successful. The first king of the new empire, however, was Darius the Mede. Later, Cyrus, the Persian became the absolute ruler.
The Lord is, nevertheless, taking vengeance for the destruction that Babylon made of the Jerusalem temple, by completely destroying the city of Babylon and ensuring that it remains uninhabited forever after. “You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be destroyed” (51:13). The ‘many waters’ signify the great rivers flowing through the region, together with a magnificent network of irrigation canals.
“I am against you, you destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth… I will make you a burned-out mountain” (51:25). God promises destruction so effective that Babylon will look like an extinct volcano, inert and lifeless, which even today, Ancient Babylon resembles. Then in verse 37: “Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives”.
“The sea will rise over Babylon; its roaring waves will cover her” (v42). This is not predicting a huge tsunami but is allegorical; in the bible the unruly and turbulent nations, human empires and ungodly rulers are represented as the raging sea. See also Isaiah 17:2 and Jeremiah 51:55. That is why it says in Revelation 21:1 that “…there was no longer any sea”. So, the raging of the nations will be brought against Babylon to destroy it.
Furthermore: “I will punish Bel in Babylon and make him spew out what he has swallowed. The nations will no longer stream to him, and the wall of Babylon will fall” (v44). Bel was the chief god of Babylon, whom the Lord was about to punish. He would spew out all the nations that he had conquered, and they would move rapidly in the other direction – i.e. away from the hated city. The walls of the city were double-thick, consisting of an outer wall 12 feet / 3 metres thick, with a 23 feet / 7 ½ metre wide moat inside, and then with a 21 feet / 7 metre inner wall. Total thickness = 56 feet / 17 ½ metres. Impressive!
There will be great celebration when Babylon falls – see verse 48 – and nations will shout for joy.
Jeremiah delivers his final warning in a dramatic way: he sends a messenger to Babylon with a scroll on which were written all Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning the city and asked the messenger to read it aloud, before tying a large stone to the scroll and throwing it into the river Euphrates. In the same way, Babylon would sink and never rise again. These were the last words of Jeremiah.
In the final chapter, 52, most verses are repeats of 2 Kings 24 and 25 – although it is not clear if one author copied the other or if they both had access to a third document. Additional information in verses 28-30 is that a total of 4,600 people were taken into exile, out of all the people of Judah. This may be a total of just the adult males, but even so, it is very low in comparison to the original population, which indicated that most people were either killed or taken to Egypt and then killed there. A sad ending to a great nation and one that never fully recovered its position of favour in God’s eyes, even after the return from exile.