On today’s podcast, Gary discusses 2 Timothy 3 and the full context of Paul’s letter.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:1–5).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul was writing about what was happening in his own day, the last days of a temporary covenant order. The “last days” were a present reality for the first-century church. The Apostle Peter announced that Joel’s prophecy about the last days was being fulfilled in his day (Acts 2:16–21). The author of Hebrews wrote that the “last days” were present (Heb. 1:2), and Peter wrote something similar: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7; also see 1:20). Paul wrote to the early Church that they are the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages have come [are arrived]” (1 Cor. 10:11).
Jude also pointed to his own time as the fulfillment of the last days: “But you, beloved, remember what was foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ when they said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow after their own ungodly desires.’ These are the ones who are causing [present active participle] divisions, who are worldly and devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 18–19). Not “will cause” but who were presently causing divisions.
But back to 2 Timothy 3:1 and Paul’s use of “last days.” Ken Gentry writes that Paul “is dealing with a particular historical matter in the first century. He is speaking of things that Timothy will be facing and enduring (2 Tim. 3:10, 14). He is not prophesying about the constant, long-term, unyielding prospects for all of history.”
The fact that Paul described for Timothy what was happening in their day in the lead-up to the end of the Old Covenant Age that was in the process of passing away (Heb. 8:13) does not mean that these self-centered characteristics of people no longer manifest themselves in the world. Also, take note that Paul does not say anything about “how people will behave prior to the tribulation.” John wrote that he was a “fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Paul suffered great tribulation and never mentioned anything about being taken out of the world in something called the “rapture”:
Returning to 2 Timothy 3, notice what follows. It puts the entire chapter in perspective. Will the ungodly dominate culture? At first reading, 2 Timothy 3 would seem to indicate that the ungodly will prevail and godly influence decline. Further study shows that Paul has something different in mind. He compares the progress of the ungodly in Timothy’s day with that of Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian sorcerer‑priests who opposed Moses (cf. Ex. 7:11): “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be” (2 Tim. 3:9). While it is true there is an attempt by the ungodly to dominate culture, the fact is, “they will not make further progress.” Their fling with ungodliness is temporary (cf. Rom. 1:18–32). Christians can remain optimistic even if the actions of the ungodly persist for a time.
Restoring the Foundation of Civilization
There are many Christians who will not participate in civilization-building efforts that include economics, journalism, politics, education, and science because they believe (or have been taught to believe) these areas of thought are outside the realm of what constitutes a Christian worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth.Buy Now
Christians must think long-term. While the ungodly burn themselves out, the godly steadily influence their world: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of” (3:14). In time, the effects of faithfulness will be realized: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).
On today’s podcast, Gary discusses 2 Timothy 3 and the full context of Paul’s letter. Just as Jannes and Jambres are historical footnotes and the Church continues to exist, so shall today’s enemies of the Gospel come to be forgotten and inconsequential.