whatever happened to timothy?
Where did the second generation of believers go? What happened to Timothy and Titus, Marcus and Onesimus and the others to whom the doctrine of the new faith had been committed? Why did they not write about the affairs of the Church, which we find so prevalent in the earlier epistles of Peter and Paul and John and James and Jude? Why did they not leave any testimony at all about the destruction of the Jewish temple and city and nationality?
The apostle Paul had instructed Timothy, "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 TIMOTHY 2:2), and yet in the decades which followed we find that the Church was wrangling to find answers to the most basic tenets of its doctrine? It is as if they were groping in the dark for something which had been lost. Where were all those faithful men Timothy had been charged to teach and entrust the gospel with? And why in the following centuries was there a Church hierarchy constructed which had little if any resemblance to the Church of the first century, a Catholic Church after which the bishopric came to be styled like the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament rather than like the Home Fellowships written of in ACTS?
It may also surprise some readers to learn that the Churches of the second and third centuries jostled with each other over countless details which they should have known. Why could they not agree as to the correct day or date upon which they should all celebrate Easter? How could they so soon have lost track of who actually wrote the four Gospels? How could they not remember which John wrote the epistles which have his name attached to them? How could they not know which James wrote JAMES? And why did the Latin Churches doubt or even call into question the canonicity of HEBREWS for three hundred years?
How could they not remember how many were crucified with Yeshua, or on what day He was buried and on what day He arose? Where did the three days and three nights go in which Yeshua specifically said He would be buried? Indeed, why did it take three centuries for them to come up with the doctrine of the Trinity? And were there no eyewitnesses who actually knew the fate of Paul and Peter or the other apostles? Was Paul ever released from prison in Rome? Did he ever make it to Spain? Why was it all left to contradicting traditions written centuries later?
We have a tremendous amount of testimony between the years A.D. 30 and 70 but then it all goes deathly quiet. There is hardly a single witness in the Christian Church who tells us what was occurring during those lost years. And even after that, we have only a few scraps of tradition from a handful of individuals which was recalled by writers of the third and fourth centuries. If the Church was indeed thriving as ACTS would seem to indicate, then where did everybody go? Why was there nobody putting the pen to paper so as to depict for us some of the cataclysmic events which were transpiring in their time, like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans. Gradually a few traditions begin to take shape giving us some sort of idea what was going on, but nothing compared to what was written and preserved before A.D. 70. How does one account for this if all of these believers were indeed still Missionizing the world?
It was as if they had vanished and were no longer there. It was as if they had all died or disappeared into thin air. And that is indeed what appears to have actually happened. What other explanation can be given to explain what became of all those voices which were suddenly silenced? Christ returned and gathered together His church into heaven just as He had promised, just as He had warned them that He would, as a thief in the night.
- MATTHEW 24:43-44 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
What did Yeshua (Jesus) mean by disclosing that His return would be like a thief in the night? Not as a robber, but as a thief (see also 1 THESSALONIANS 5:2 and REVELATION 3:3)! A robber burst upon the scene in view of all so as to take by force what he wants, but a thief sneaks in under the cover of darkness and leaves with his spoil before the victim is even aware of his loss. Thus, as a thief Yeshua was to come and go, practically unnoticed. For the most part, the world was unaware of His return and the day of His judgment.
We have all for so long supposed that His return would involve a world-wide judgment and thereafter the destruction of this present heaven and earth, but there is a distinct, even a probable likelihood that we have been reading into the text what is just not there.
For example, a simple study of the Greek word ge, which is usually translated earth, will show that often it does not depict planet earth, but rather the land of Israel. Thus, when the scripture speaks of the ge being destroyed, it is the translator who decides (often wrongly) whether it is referring to some particular Land or to the entire planet. As one's study will show, the judgment and destruction foretold by Yeshua and His apostles was very likely concerning the land of Israel and not the entire planet.
As such, the harvest at the end of the age was for those who had heard His word and then either accepted it or rejected it. GOD was not going to hold accountable the distant Chinese or the remote American Indians who had never had a chance to hear and believe. It was all to do with the Jew of the Land, those of the Dispersion and the recent Gentile converts.
Yeshua Himself set the limits of His return to the lifetime of His listeners when He plainly stated, "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done" (MARK 13:30). No amount of fancy double-talk can change the clear meaning of His words (see also MARK 8:11-12 for the meaning of generation). He also revealed that "there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (MATTHEW 16:28). All of His warnings and encouragements to His followers and antagonists is meaningless if He meant some generation thousands of years in the distance. His return was expected to be in the lifetime of those who had heard Him teach.
- JOHN 14:1-3 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
Yeshua is clearly teaching His disciples that they needn't be troubled, because He is soon going to return and take them away to the place He had been preparing for them. His words of comfort meant nothing at all if He was not going to return for them until thousands of years had come and gone. His promise would have been of small consolation if GOD's intention was not to gather them together for many centuries after their deaths.
To get around His plain words, that He would return in the lifetime of His followers, and then gather them together into His kingdom, today's Church has invented the idea that immediately upon one's death we all go to heaven. Of course there is no real scriptural basis for this doctrine, only passages misinterpreted and taken out of context (such as JOHN 11:25-26). Even so that is still the prevailing expectation of most Church-goers today.
One might ask then, If Christ has still not returned, then when did believers start going to heaven as soon as they died? What was the occasion where His followers no longer remained dead but instead instantly went to heaven after they died? This is a reasonable question because in ACTS 9 we are told of a certain disciple named Tabitha, who died but was later raised from the dead by Peter. She didn't go to heaven as soon as she died.
And then we have Paul's clear reference concerning those believers who had died, and were still dead, awaiting Yeshua's return.
- 1 THESSALONIANS 4:15-18 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we [Paul and his fellow believers] which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Thus, they were to comfort one another by knowing that all of the believers who had died would, at Christ's return, be raised from the dead and gathered into heaven. As such, after Yeshua's ascension into heaven, all of His apostles echoed the same message of comfort and encouragement; that soon, if they could stand fast just a little longer, Christ would return and they would then enter into His kingdom. Consider the following passages.
- HEBREWS 10:35-37 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
- ASV JAMES 5:8 Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
- 1 PETER 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
- ASV 1 JOHN 2:18 Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.
- REVELATION 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.
Thus, if language means anything, if Yeshua and His disciples meant what they said and wrote, then we should expect that all of the faithful believers must have been gathered together into heaven within a generation of His own ascension. This would of course explain why there is no trace of them in history.
According to the record of scripture, at His parousia, Christ was to descend from heaven with a shout from an archangel, then all of the faithful who had died were to be awakened from among the dead and gathered together with the Lord. Immediately after that, all of the faithful who were still alive were to be caught up together with the risen ones into the clouds. This could all have been done without most of the rest of the world ever noticing it. All was obviously going to happen very quickly, in the twinkling of an eye (1 CORINTHIANS 15:52).
Yeshua had also warned that His return would be as "lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west" (MATTHEW 24:27). It is common to interpret this as meaning that the whole world would witness His return just as they witness a lightening strike. But is that what He meant? If so would He not have likened His return to something more universally visible and lasting, like say blue skies or sunlight?
A lightning strike is likened in scripture to an arrow (ZECHARIAH 9:14), sometimes being set ablaze and fired across the sky, demonstrating the swiftness in which it hits its target. In his commentary on PSALMS 77:17, Albert Barnes noted that bolts of lighting were like GOD's arrows, flashing quickly through the sky. He wrote that arrows were often "bound round with rags, dipped in some combustable substance," set ablaze and shot at an enemy. He added, "It was not unnatural to compare the rapid lightnings with such blazing arrows". See also his similar comment on PSALM 76:3.
The most notable characteristic of a lightening strike is it suddenness and brevity. It is here and gone often before we even hear its thunder. And this is what His return was to be like, He was going to come and go before most people even knew what had happened. Only after the lightening strike did many of those left behind begin to ask one another about what had just transpired.
Another consideration we might ponder, is that the apostle Paul wrote Timothy of his concern that a couple of men were overthrowing the faith of some of the believers by saying that the Resurrection had already happened (2 TIMOTHY 2:18). One wonders how this could be a concern if the first century Church had expected what Church goers today expect, that the rapture will consist of the complete overthrow of planet earth? Wouldn't Hymenaeus and Philetus have been laughed out of town for teaching that the whole world had already ended? But if the first century believers were all expecting a gathering together where the activities of the world were to carry on pretty much as they had before, then the suggestion that Christ had already returned was indeed a plausible concept, as Paul wrote, spreading throughout the Body like a cancer. For a consideration about whether or not the world was to be destroyed at His return, see the Study, The Sun, the Moon and the Stars.
There is a passage in REVELATION which we should also consider. In John's vision of the opening of the scroll with the seven seals, he stated that when the third seal was opened, "I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine" (REVELATION 6:6).
If John's visions depicted the complete destruction of heaven and earth, then how do we make sense of this instruction not to hurt the oil and the wine? What possible difference could it make to protect these two products, if the whole cosmos was about to be vaporized? But if his visions only had to do with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the defeat of the national sovereignty of the nation of Israel, then we might finally be on the right scent in understanding this cryptic instruction.
On pages 431-432 in his book The Cities of St. Paul, William Ramsay explains the meaning of this perplexing passage.
- The crops are to be destroyed to the limit of extreme scarcity, until wheat is sold at seven times and barely at four times the ordinary price; but the vine and the olive trees are to be left uninjured. . . .The Ravaging is confined to the annual crops; but the country is spared the almost irretrievable ruin which would have resulted in the Mediterranean lands from the destruction of the vine and the olive. In the northern lands, where fruit-trees are of small account, we do not easily sympathise with or comprehend an image like this. Destruction of the trees means little to us, until we have understood the economy of the Mediterranean world. But there to cut down the olive tree or to burn the vineyards is the last extreme of savagery, which only the rudest and worst barbarians would perpetrate in the lands which they had conquered. The loss of the harvest of wheat and barely means scarcity and high prices; but a new year brings new crops. The loss of olives and vines means lasting ruin, for new olive trees take about seventeen years to grow, new vines also need a good many years, and in times of uncertainty and danger no one dares to spend labour for a result so remote.
But in John's vision the olive and the vine were not to be destroyed. Evidently because after the conflict, after the Great War with Rome was finished, after the remnants of the land of Judea were struggling to rebuild the lives, they must have the olive and the vine to sustain and support them. But if the whole planet was to be destroyed, then this imagery makes little sense. Thus, here is again further corroboration that the Day of the Lord's return and the wrath which was to follow, did not have to do with the entire planet, but rather with the Land of Israel.
But then after the gathering together, when all of the dust had settled, who was left? After the Romans had utterly destroyed the nationality and the city and the temple of the Jews in A.D. 70 who was left alive to carry on the ministry of the Church? After all of the faithful believers had been gathered together into heaven to participate in the great day of judgment upon the enemies of our Lord, who was still around to carry on the gospel? Indeed, who was left behind? Obviously it would have been the unfaithful believers. If the faithful believers were all gathered together into heaven, and those who rejected their Messiah were raised to the day of judgment, the only participants and hearers of the gospel who were left, would have been those believers who failed to endure, who let their lamps go out, as Yeshua had foretold in His parable of the Ten Virgins (note the context in chapter 24 where the whole subject is His Return).
- MATTHEW 25:1-13 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
- And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
All ten were followers, but some were wise and ready while the others were foolish and unprepared. Yeshua in His parable was fore-warning them that some of His own disciples were in danger of missing the gathering together. Some were wise and were to be welcomed into the marriage feast but the foolish would find themselves locked out. Even though they pleaded, "Lord, Lord, open to us" the door was shut. Not being ready, not being prepared, they had missed the gathering together. They were no doubt among those who failed to endure unto the end, (MATTHEW 24:13), or of those who were caught sleeping.
- MARK 13:35-37 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
His ominous warning to Watch would obviously have its greatest impact upon His immediate followers. Later, after the war with Rome was finished, some of these lukewarm (REVELATION 3:16) and wavering disciples which had been left behind would no doubt re-group and reconsider their plight. A frightful realization might descend upon them that they had missed the gathering together. A dreadful reality would smack some of them in the face, that all of the faithful believers had vanished. Surely then, some of those left behind would rightly conclude that they had indeed missed the Return. They would no doubt eventually revisit the writings of the apostles and recall their warnings and realize the dire consequences of their unbelief.
Knowing that they had missed the gathering together but still thinking that Yeshua was the Messiah, some might attempt to reconstitute a Church. They would no doubt re-establish some of their home fellowships and endeavor to live godly righteous lives, to regain their faith, hoping that when they did ultimately die, that they would then be judged worthy to enter life.
This is a proposition which is often difficult for a believer brought up in today's Church to get their mind around. It is just so far removed from anything we have been taught. And yet, isn't it the only logical explanation for what happened to Timothy and the others? And how else are we to understand Yeshua's plain words that He would return in the lifetime of His followers?
This proposition that all of the faithful believers were gathered together into heaven around 70 A.D. fully explains why Church Traditions are so far removed from what is plainly written in the Bible. Indeed, the fact that nearly every single Church Tradition runs contrary to the Bible is strong evidence in itself that Yeshua had already gathered together His faithful into His kingdom before the second century Church began to reconstitute itself.
It also fits perfectly with what Scripture tells us. We don't have to invent a complicated explanation for Yeshua's simple words that He would indeed return in the lifetime of some of His followers. We don't have to take His words out of the context in which they were spoken.
- MATTHEW 7:21-23 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
His warnings were personal, to those in His audience, to those who professed to be His disciples. That day of which He spoke was a day near at hand. It was a day in which some of them did no doubt live to see.
See Part II- So What?