(2 Timothy 3:1 NRSV)
Our fellowship recently received "homework"; why did Paul tell Timothy to consider what he said (2nd Tim 2:7)? We were only to use 2nd Timothy, no other sources whether biblical or otherwise. It was a fun study and yet it revealed a somewhat sad commentary of Paul's last days concerning the gospel he spread for Christ, and for those who believed this gospel (past tense). The aim of this post however is to look at chapter 3, verses 1-7. Please read them and think about your first impression.
Why did Paul tell Timothy "that in the last days distressing times will come."? Did Paul believe they were living in the last days? The last days as in the end? Christ was coming soon? The end of the world? The answer is no! Paul was not speaking of "the last days" as most of christianity thinks of it. Read the list Paul gives of the behaviors people will have.
"For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,..."
(2 Timothy 3:2-4 NRSV)
Lovers of self, lovers of money, arrogant, haters of good, slanderers, and many more. Do you think people already displayed such behavior in Paul's day? Of course! They practiced such things well before Paul was born, right? It would be very accurate to claim that the human race displayed such nonsense going back to the first family! Were the days of Adam and Eve the last days? I read one commentator describe today's public schools and their anti-God curicculems as to what Paul was speaking of, attacking the "church". Another looked at the current state of christianity as the lesson as if Paul was telling Timothy of a coming future time.
The key is found in verse 5. "...holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power." Who would hold to an outward form of Godliness? Certainly Paul must be refering to believers! Read 2nd Timothy and find some of these even named in Paul's letter. Paul tells Timothy earlier in the letter that all of those in Asia have left him. The Asia Paul speaks of is modern day Turkey, where paul was born. Timothy was in Ephesus which is in Asia. Paul was well traveled throughout Asia. Though we only read of letters directly attributed to Ephesus and Colosse, Paul no doubt left believers who gathered in various ways throughout Asia. Look at a map of Paul's travels and you will see multiple stops throughout the region. In verse 5, Paul is speaking of people that either he himself had given the evangel or, others we read of who traveled with Paul spread the word. According to Paul they have "all" left him; most likely Paul is simply refering to the leaders and not every single believing soul in Asia.
Paul was telling Timothy that he was in "the last days" right now! Timothy was in them, he was about too experience them if he had not already. Paul is not prophecying about our current times or some time far ahead of us. Paul is not indicating to Timothy that some "rapture" is coming any day. Paul is bracing Timothy for what is about to happen in Asia as soon as Paul is executed by Rome under Nero. Those who became believers under Paul's gospel are not even waiting until Paul is gone; they are already moving in to completely change the revelations which Paul received from Christ. The "church" of Paul's day is about to collapse.
I imagine Timothy meeting with folks from Ephesus, shocked by what he is hearing and witnessing. Timothy may begin to lose faith in the message Paul proclaimed as he is being singled out and attacked. This was Paul's point in this letter, get ready Timothy and hold fast, look for others who remain faithful to continue spreading the true evangel. It is encouraging to read Paul's closing words; he is confident that he has performed his best for Christ and exhorts Timothy to continue on in faith. Paul solidifies this thought in chapter 1.
I believe we should be careful when jumping to conclusions about "the last days". Yes, there are those among believers today who behave as Paul warned. There were those when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, they were around before also. 2nd Timothy was a personal letter to Timothy! We are blessed to have access to this letter and it is filled with many practicle truths; "the last days" that many believe in today are not one of them.