I was recently wondering about how Christin end times speculation was intersecting with our current political situation. While checking out a few posts on Facebook, I came across the following from the “Israel, Islam, and End Times” Facebook page. It’s from 2 Timothy 3:
Most of the responses are typical of what you will find on prophecy sites:
- Yes, we are definitely living in these days.
- Scripture is being fulfilled before our very eyes!
- We are seeing it more and more every day.
- We as a nation and the world are already there ~ So very sad~ Pray for God’s Mercy.
- We’re in the last days. This prophecy is perfect for our days!!!
- That is today.
- We are there.
- This is so today!
Why only show verses 1-5 of 2 Timothy 3? The Bible can be made to say anything if a passage or passages are taken out of context or not read in their full context.
How many times have Christians been told that the Bible forbids judging 7:1?
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”
There it is. The Bible couldn’t be clearer until you read verse 2 (and the rest of the Bible):
“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
The second verse qualifies the first verse. The person who judges must be consistent in judging. He or she must “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
This is one of my favorites:
“Judas went out and hanged himself” (Matt 27:5). “Go and do likewise” (Luke 12:37). “Whatever you do, do quickly” (John 13:27), because “there is no god” (Psalm 14:1).
All the above phrases are found in the Bible. But as any student of the Bible knows, they are out of context. For example, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Context matters.
Paul was writing to Timothy. This means that we must interpret 1 and 2 Timothy in terms of how the first recipient, Timothy, would have understood it and applied it to himself and his young Christian flock.
Paul’s mention of the “last days” refers to the last days of the Old Covenant, not a distant future period of time leading up either to something called the “rapture” or the Second Coming.
How do we know this? Because the New Testament defines the “last days” and similar phrases as contemporary with the early church when the New Testament books were written and the letters were first read:
- God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Heb. 1:1-2).
- Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26).
- Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11).
There are other passages that address the same subject (Rom. 13:11; 1 Pet. 1:20; 4:7; 1 John 2:18).
What Paul describes in verses 1-7 of 2 Timothy 3 was happening in Timothy’s day. This should not surprise us since there were a lot of bad things in the lead up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 (the event that led to the end of the Old Covenant). Read the book of Acts, Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Timothy 1:6-11, and other similar passages.
In fact, Paul’s description of the moral character of people in Timothy’s day could be applied to every generation. That’s why it’s important to read what Paul tells Timothy after verse 7.
Paul compares the outcome of the immoral people in Timothy’s day with what happened to Jannes and Jambres in Moses’ day: “so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith” (v. 8). Jannes and Jambres were the sorcerer high priests of Pharaoh’s court who opposed Moses and Aaron (Ex. 7:10-12).1
It was the last days of the Old Covenant order (see the book of Hebrews) similar to the way it was the last days for Jannes and Jambres, Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s army. Paul confirms this with what we read in verse 9:
But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
The “they” refers to the people in Timothy’s day who exhibit the immoral lifestyle listed by Paul in verses 2-7.
Paul is offering a word of encouragement to Timothy by example by use of an analogy. The ungodly are engaged in folly when their worldview is followed to its logical end. Today’s Christians impute an overcoming power to the ungodly. The ungodly advance because Christians believe they are not to be involved in changing this world and claim that such immoral behavior is inevitable, overwhelming, and a sign of some end-time event. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to passivity and a preoccupation with evil, the Antichrist, and societal decline.
Paul does not dismiss “persecutions” and “sufferings”: “what persecutions I endured [2 Cor. 6:4-5; 11:23-26], and out of them all the Lord delivered me” (v. 11). This does not sound like an end-time event response. In fact, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (v. 12). It’s true, that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (13). They can’t win. Their “folly will be obvious to all” and with their deception, they themselves are “being deceived.”
But this only happens when Christians are actively practicing their faith and applying it to every area of life. This is why Paul ends the chapter reminding Timothy: “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (vv. 14-17).
If Christians would apply God’s Word to every area of life, we would transform our world and the folly of unbelief would be evident to everyone.
- Albert Pietersma notes that the two names “appear frequently in Jewish, Christian, and pagan sources extant in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Old and Middle English, and Syriac.” (“Jannes and Jambres,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 3:638). [↩]