THE LAST DAYS: WHAT THEY ARE AND WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE
2 Timothy 3:1-9 (ESV)
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
Although Paul wanted Timothy to approach the ungodly in a Christ-like manner, he warned him that people in the last days would be difficult and would make the times difficult.
What are the last days? Many think the term only applies to a short period before the return of Christ. I think, however, that it applies more broadly to the church age, the time between the resurrection of Christ and his return. In Acts 2:14-21, Peter applied the term to his time, saying the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost began the last days and fulfilled the prophesy of Joel 2:28. The writer of Hebrews makes the same application in Hebrews 1:1-2. He said God has spoken to us in the last days by his Son. In 9:26, he said Christ appeared once for all at the end of the ages. 1 John 2:18 said they were in the last hour.
You might note that the Greek word for “last” is “eschatos”. That is the source of our word “eschatology”, meaning the study of last things.
Paul meant that, despite Timothy’s Christ like defense of the faith, there would be difficult times and difficult people who would oppose the church and obstruct the gospel. He described the types of people Timothy would encounter. We are still in the last days and will encounter them also. He gave a long list. He said the people will be:
lovers of self,
lovers of money,
disobedient to their parents,
not loving good,
swollen with conceit,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
Let's examine a few of these:
Lovers of Self
In our time, people not only love themselves but exalt the idea. Whitney Houston, a popular singer, recently died. People started quoting songs she sang. One is a tribute to self love called “The Greatest Love of All”. Here are a few of the lyrics:
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
Whitney Houston professed to be a Christian. Yet, the Bible teaches that the greatest love is the love of God for sinners expressed in the sacrifice of his son for their salvation. Second to that is the self sacrificing love of one for his or her neighbor. The Bible never exalts self love. Yet, Ms. Houston exalted self love by singing this song.
Lovers of money
Paul says the love of money is the root of all evil. We live in a time where people love money, sacrifice family and faith to get it, commit crimes to obtain it and revere those who have a lot of it. Remember the show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?
Proud & Arrogant
Humility is not highly valued in our culture. Pride is a desired trait, at least up to a point. There are certainly many arrogant people around, also. You probably ran into at least one this week. To be arrogant is to feel and act superior. It is common among attorneys. I have them come into my office and tell me how good they are all the time. But God values humility. James 4:6 says “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Abuse of women and children was common in Paul’s time. Women were the property of their husbands or fathers in many cultures. Abuse is rampant is our society. Husbands abuse their wives verbally and physically. Most police departments and prosecutors offices have special units for child abuse and family violence. Human trafficking is a big problem in America. Girls are forced into prosecution. Women from other countries are held captive to be maids.
Disobedient to their parents,
One of the 10 Commandments tells us to honor our parents. (Exodus 20:12) God set up lines of authority to govern human life. The family is the unit that governs most of life. Church is the other. The role of children is to obey and respect parents. The penalty for disobedient and abusive children was severe in the Old Testament times. Ephesians 6:1 quotes the commandment and instructs children to obey parents. Elders and deacons were to have children who submitted to their authority. Paul points to the rebelliousness of children as a sign of a society breaking down as it refuses to obey God’s law.
The Bible tells us to be grateful to God for our blessings. The ungrateful are considered reprobate.
Holiness is not valued in our culture. Hypocritically, we condemn political candidates who have moral lapses, but enjoy actors and celebrities who are sexually immoral or indecent. We make it fun to be a little naughty. Las Vegas even advertises that you can come there and be unholy and no one will know back home. Yet, again, that value of our culture is contra to the standard of God. He told us to be holy because he is holy.
There is not much sympathy or empathy out there. Already in Paul’s time, the Romans made their enemies fight to the death. They burned Christians alive and fed them to lions while people watched and cheered. Today there is just a lot of meanness going on.
Appease means to bring to a place of calm or to make someone stop being angry. It reminds me of the accidental burning of a few Korans in Afghanistan which has led to Muslim mobs attacking people, killing some even and destroying property. Apologies were made for the mistake, but they will not be appeased.
Slander means to attribute false actions or motives to another. This happens all the time. Political candidates regularly lie about the actions of others or the effect of those actions. Christians are prone to it, ascribing bad motives to people when they do not know the persons actual motives. Some of that went on recently in our own church over the worship style and the number of services.
In the debates in our denomination over theology, proponents of one view regularly misstate the views of the other side while arguing against them. In debate, that is called a straw man.
Certainly first century Rome was known for many excesses. Sexual immorality was rampant. Violence was common. They are both common in our culture.
The Romans were certainly brutal to their enemies. The Jews were brutal toward Christians. Mexico today suffers from great brutality in the drug gang wars that are going on. In many cities and towns there, police are gunned down or beheaded.
Not loving good
Certainly our culture values a little naughtiness.
Always ready to betray, these people gain by their betrayal of others. I used to have to attend a Monday morning meeting of the top people in a corporation. The leader would always find a person and pick on him, and often others would “throw someone under the bus”. It was a terrible way to start the week.
Swollen with conceit,
Conceit is an excessive appreciation of your own value or ability. It goes along with pride and arrogance.
Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
Man is always tempted to do what feels good to him rather than live up to God’s standards of holiness. This is loving pleasure rather than God. It is a lot of what drives the abortion movement. Women want sex without consequences and men are happy for them to have it because it helps them avoid consequences. Aborting an imperfect child means you are not tied down to meet special needs and can spend the time on your own pleasures.
So, the last days are characterized by the clash of values between humanity and God, even though intervened to send his Son to teach his values and bring people into his kingdom.
Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power
Paul pointed out to Timothy that these men wore a cloak of religious piety but were not godly. They like the trappings but do not really believe and serve an all powerful God. This certainly describes a lot of self designated Christians in our time. They will say they are Christians and even claim membership in a particular church. However, they deny God by their lifestyle or by their theology. This is why I resist all attempts to reduce the power and sovereignty of God in theology. Those who continually exalt mankind and believe man limits God will ultimately deny the power of Godliness or lead others to do so.
Paul told Timothy to avoid these kinds of people. He already told him to be kind to them when discussing their differences. But he was not to be part of their group. It would dilute Timothy’s spiritual authority. It might corrupt his own theology and faith.
As an example of these kinds of people, in verse 7, Paul referred to Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. These names do not appear in the Biblical account of Moses or anywhere else in the Bible but here, so Paul had to refer to some other history. Exodus 7:10-12 speaks of Egyptian magicians who performed the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, until Aaron’s rod ate their rods. They are not named. But the Jews had many embellished stories of Moses, since he was the giver of the law.
Paul's may have obtained the names of the two magicians from the Book of Jasher. The Jews regarded it as a trustworthy historical document. It is quoted in 2 Samuel 1:18 (i.e. Jasher 56:9) and Joshua 10:11-15 (Jasher 88:61-65). Paul may have studied it while getting his theological training as a young Pharisee. Since he wrote this to Timothy, he clearly assumed Timothy knew the story also.
Jasher 79:27 says “ And when they had gone Pharaoh sent for Balaam the magician and to Jannes and Jambres his sons, and to all the magicians and conjurors and counsellors which belonged to the king, and they all came and sat before the king.”
Origen wrote that there was a book called The Book of Jannes and Jambres, containing details of their exploits. He wrote that Paul quoted from that book. However, that book has not been discovered.
Almost every decade has a person who appears on the religious scene with corrupted theology and practice. It is the job of the church to show their error and to seek their repentance. It is also the job of the church to avoid hanging out with them.