2 TIM 3 (# 5): THE “LAST DAYS”

Ups DownsPMT 2015-010 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

I am engaged in a running exposition on 2 Tim 3. This is one of the most widely used passages urged against the postmillennial position. It seems to present a negative view of the future flow of history. But a careful study of the passage wholly removes it as a stumbling block to postmillennialism. It certainly does not positively present postmillennialism, but neither may it be used against this optimistic eschatology.

So let us move on in our explanation of 2 Tim 3:1:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.

In my last article I began considering the concept of the “last days,” which Paul mentions here. I noted that: (1) The “last days” begin in the first century and continue until the “last day” at the resurrection (John 6:44). (2) Timothy was experiencing the last days himself. Thus, they do not require that we view them as the final few years of history.

But there is more. Let us note:

(3) The character of the “last days”

Here in 2 Tim 3:1 the last days are presented in terms of “difficult times,” in which “men will be lovers of self,” and so forth (2 Tim 3:1, 2). This verse tends to conjure up dread and fear among Bible-believers. But this is not the whole story. Actually, the “last days” period will experience a glorious time of worldwide peace and righteousness.

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(by Ken Gentry)
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As Isaiah prophesies:

“Now it will come about that / In the last days, / The mountain of the house of the Lord / Will be established as the chief of the mountains, / And will be raised above the hills; / And all the nations will stream to it. / And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, / To the house of the God of Jacob; / That He may teach us concerning His ways, / And that we may walk in His paths.” / For the law will go forth from Zion, / And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. / And He will judge between the nations, / And will render decisions for many peoples; / And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. / Nation will not lift up sword against nation, / And never again will they learn war.” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

This certainly does not look like a bleak prospect. In fact, this is one of the foundational passages in Scripture for presenting the postmillennial hope.

Micah puts it even more vigorously, while speaking very similarly to Isaiah:

“And it will come about in the last days / That the mountain of the house of the Lord / Will be established as the chief of the mountains. / It will be raised above the hills, / And the peoples will stream to it. / And many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord / And to the house of the God of Jacob, / That He may teach us about His ways / And that we may walk in His paths.” / For from Zion will go forth the law, / Even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. / And He will judge between many peoples / And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. / Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares / And their spears into pruning hooks; / Nation will not lift up sword against nation, / And never again will they train for war. / And each of them will sit under his vine / And under his fig tree, / With no one to make them afraid, / For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:1-4)

Who would dread these days?

Because of this Old Testament backdrop, the last days are also presented in the New Testament as a marvelous reality. In Acts 2 they begin with the pouring out of the Spirit in initiating the final phase of redemptive history: “‘It shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of my Spirit and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18).

As a result of this outpouring of the Spirit, we read of the conversion of 3000 Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Clearly, the last days should not be conceived solely in terms of judgment.

This same truth is related in Hebrews. Heb 1:1–2 extolls the final era of redemptive history as superior to the OT era because now God speaks by his Son. “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).

This is because the last days witness Christ’s final work of redemption for us: “Now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26).

In fact, even the “negative” last days passage in 2 Tim 3 is ultimately tempered by a positive outlook. Immediately after Paul warns of the “difficult times” (3:1) and describes the immoral character (3:2-8) of the heretics of the last days, he states: “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all” (3:9).

Thus, to categorize the last days as altogether a foreboding and negative era is contrary to the larger biblical picture. Yet 2 Tim 3:1 does inform us that “in the last days difficult times will come.” How are we to reconcile this with the other biblical passages of last days glory? Consider:

(4) The episodes in the “last days”

Here we must recognize the episodic nature of the times of which Paul speaks. At this point I will cite a paragraph from one of my previous web postings.

The Greek word translated “times” in the “difficult times” (KJV: “perilous times”) phrase is kairos. This word allows Paul to be speaking of occasional points of time rather than demanding constant periods of time. Let us consider the definition of kairos.

The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (2:232) defines kairos as: “period of time, moment.” It points out that in Acts 17:26 it is applied to various “historical epochs.”

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3:833) defines it thus: “time, esp. a point of time, moment.” On p. 834 it reads: “individual periods or points of time.” There it also states that “chronos encompasses . . . all possible kairoi.” But I would note that Paul does not speak of chronos here in 2 Tim 3:1.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (3:460) defines the word as a “specific and decisive point.” On p. 461 is sees it as a “short space of time,’ a “stretch of time.” It notes on p. 459 that Jerusalem missed its own peculiar opportunity in missing its kairos (Luke 19:44)

The New Linguistic and Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament (504) explains that kairos speaks of a “period of time, season, a particular time.”

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Shows they were known languages that served to endorse the apostolic witness
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Amillennial commentator R. C. H. Lenski (2 Timothy, 820) states of kairos in dealing with 2 Tim 3:1: “within the longer period denominated by ‘the last days’ . . . various short periods (kairoi) shall occur.” He adds (p. 829): “a kairos always bears a special stamp, something that differentiates it as a ‘season.’ Here it is the grievousness.” Of the evil men and seducers, he states (p. 829): “their vogue lasts only for one of the grievous ‘seasons’ mentioned in v. 1.”

Amillennialist William Hendriksen notes of 2 Tim 3:1: “these seasons will come and go” (I-II Timothy, p. 283). Though he believes that toward the end of history they will grow worse and more pervasive.

Paul sees a difficult time occurring in Timothy’s day. In fact, he warns him also in his first epistle: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).

We should recognize at the outset that this is not speaking of persecution. It is a spiritual falling away: these people were in the faith, but fell away. And nowhere in this letter does Paul imply that they fell away through grievous external oppression. Rather, they are always viewed as falling away due to their doctrinal and moral error.

Furthermore, 1 Tim 4:1 has Paul referencing the Spirit as the source of this prophecy. This apparently refers to Paul’s prophecy in Acts 20: There Paul is in Ephesus (Acts 20:17–18) and had recently been with Timothy (Acts 20:4). Note the following:

“The Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:23). Then he goes on to warn the first-century church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17):

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:28–31).

Clearly then, this particular last days prophecy looked to the near term, not the long term. It says nothing about the distant future regarding an expectation of increasing opposition to the Christian faith.

This exposition will continue! Episodically. I hope.


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5 thoughts on “2 TIM 3 (# 5): THE “LAST DAYS”

  1. backtotheplate January 22, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I love the series, Dr. Gentry, but I must disagree with your interpretation of “last days.” I sense you are not a preterist — which is fine: Christianity and even postmillennialism can accommodate a range of views seeking above all to glorify God.
    I adhere to the view expressed by David Chilton in Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance, where (page 16, footnote), he writes: “The Biblical expression Last Days properly refers to the period from the Advent of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the ‘last days’ of Israel during the transition period from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (Heb. 1:1-2; 8:13; James 5:1-9; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:18).”
    You will note he quotes from the same Hebrews text as you do. I think you have a confusion about “last day” as opposed to “last days.” To say all earthly time since Christ is the “last days” is to say they are analogous to The Kingdom of God, which has come. It would strike me as strange to begin with to use the former expression in place of the latter.
    What I also find odd — although commendable to you, standing on principal — is that the sense of 2 Timothy 3 being “occasional” is far stronger if one sees the last days as being that of the last days of the Old Covenant, rather than of the Church era, i.e.,The Kingdom of God. You have left yourself arguing that the concerns Paul states about the last days are contemporary to Paul and his fellow disciples while conceding that the term has significance through our own day to the Last Day. This leaves us in a vulnerable position: we’re left agreeing, for instance, that “ALL who desire to live a Godly life in Christ will be persecuted” (3:12) throughout history! Frankly, I would not be crazy about having to justify to people why I think I’m persecuted — particularly when I believe I’m not.
    If the Last Days referring to the last days of the covenantal nation of Israel did NOT comport with Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-4, I’d feel the preterist position was challenged. But I don’t see or feel that. Through the “tribulation” of the Last Days “the mountain of the Lord will be established,” whereupon, from THERE, “from Zion will go forth the law.” And, I believe we must conclude, prophesy and tongues will end, and Scripture closed off. I don’t see 2,000-plus years of watered-down “last days.”
    All that said, please believe me, I found your articles to be an overwhelmingly powerful postmillenial exegesis of 2 Timothy 3.

  2. Kenneth Gentry January 22, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for reading. And thinking things through. As you clearly see, I disagree with your conception of the “last days” (which also was Chilton’s, whose writings I greatly appreciate).

    However, I believe the evidence lies in the direction of the “last days” as referring to the time coming after Christ, and until the end. Indeed, they continue until the “last day” when the bodily resurrection occurs. Certainly a period of “last days” must have a “last day” to end them. And according to Jesus, that “last day” is when the resurrection occurs. Besides I see nothing that moves me to assume (against the historic theological position) that “last days” refers to the last days of the old covenant.

    Regarding your concern about “last days” and “kingdom of God”: We have to recognize that many words and phrases relate the same truths. Theological language is rich and varied, not confined to a few key words. To have “last days” paralleling “kingdom of God” is not problematic. One phrase (“last days”) emphasizes the kingdom of God in terms of its temporal perspective. Whereas, the other (“kingdom of God”) emphasizes the rule of Christ during that temporal era.

    You are correct that I see Paul dealing with local concerns in his own day, but allowing that they may apply episodically to other days in the future. In fact, I do believe the church was persecuted after the end of the old covenant. In fact, I believe that in many places in the world today it is persecuted (Iran, North Korea, Somalia, etc.). The very nature of “occasional” literature is that though it expressly and immediately applies to the contemporary situation in which it was written, because it is the word of God it embodies principles that can be extrapolated to apply in other, similar contexts. Otherwise, we would have nothing to preach from the Bible except history.

    You will have to wait to see what I say about 2 Tim 3:12. That is coming up before long, but don’t dismiss my argument before you know what it is. You are correct, of course, that we in America must not think we are in persecution (for if we think that, then we diminish the grave persecution to death which our fathers endured in the first few centuries of Christianity).

    My preterism is orthodox preterism, rather than hyper-preterism. Therefore I see preterism as a hermeneutical tool rather than a wholesale theology (as hyper-preterists do). That is, I see certain texts requiring a near-term fulfillment (though allowing a future application). I believe that Scripture does have prophecies regarding our future. In fact, I believe that though we see the beginning of the fulfillment of Isa 2 in the first century, the glory of the prophecy far exceeds anything witnessed heretofore. Indeed, my postmillennialism arises partly due to the future aspect of Isaiah 2 (and Micah 4). If Isaiah 2 was fulfilled before AD 70 (so that there is no “2,000-plus years” of greater unfolding, then my preterism might be affirmed, but my postmillennialism would become amillennialism: this would be all that we can expect. But as you can see from my blog’s name, I am a postmillennialist.

    Keep reading. And studying!

  3. backtotheplate January 22, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for your answer. I agree with you, certainly, in general, that multiple phrases can relate to the same truths.I guess I just don’t see the value in calling these “Kingdom of God” days the “last days.” We postmillennialist are the quintessential optimists, after all. Now “last DAY” — that’ll be great!
    I also believe all Scripture is of value throughout the ages, although (and I’m sure you’d agree) a good portion of the New Testament, including many of Jesus’ parables, deals directly with the end of the age, i.e. the Old Covenant.
    I agree as well that the Church has been persecuted in various places, but I don’t know if the confluence of factors presented in 2 Timothy 3 has occurred since. Very true that the Church is persecuted in North Korean and Iran today, but I seriously doubt that church members (or anyone else) are going around as “lovers of self,” “lovers of pleasure,” and slanderous. That would be a shortcut to execution.
    Like you, I also see a beginning of the glorious fulfillment stated in Isaiah 2 (just coming after the last days). I guess I wouldn’t be postmillennial if I didn’t.
    I very much look forward to more of your reflections on this topic, including 3:12. It’s been of great value.

  4. backtotheplate March 5, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Well, this is a test: does commenting on a post that was followed by 20 other posts still continue the discussion, or is it consigned to cyber-mist? But I did want to ask a question based on the discussion above concerning “last days.”

    First of all, I do think of myself as what you describe as an orthodox preterist. I certainly don’t think that the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled all eschatological events, including the Final Judgment, or that prophecy doesn’t have something to teach us each and every moment of our lives.

    But I do think the fall of the Temple did end the last days — i.e., the Old Covenant — and the time when the New Covenant would reign over all, including the Hebrews. This is a time — a virtual millennium — of unprecedented glory to God through His Church. We advance, often with awful stumbles and hesitancy, to fulfill the Great Commission, equipped with and fortified by The Gospel. (Okay — if you still want to term me by the pejorative “Hyper-Preterist,” that’s fine. You can call me anything, except late to the wedding feast.)

    But my question concerns Peter’s citation from Joel 2:28 in Acts 2:17:

    “And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”

    Do you actually believe that in the “last days,” as you interpret the term, there have been and are prophets going about? If so, no Christian since the fall of the Temple seems to have acknowledged such. If all after the Advent of Christ is “last days” time, I would think we’d be seeing and hearing from prophets and prophetesses long before the LAST of the last days. But who has been so wise as to actually have transmitted revelation from God to us, as did the writers of Scripture, the preaching Apostles, and those especially gifted from God, as was Anna (Luke 2:36) pre-Jerusalem-fall?

    Do you actually think we missed someone, since the fall of Jerusalem? (I do believe John wrote all his Scriptural writings before 70 AD, but even if he didn’t, we could grant that he was grandfather-claused.) If you acknowledge no one fits the revelation-bestowing bill, then I think you’d have to seriously question whether we’re in the “last days” anymore.

  5. Kenneth Gentry March 6, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Thanks for your belated interaction with my blog posting. Regarding your concern that you might be called late to the wedding feast: if you were a hyper-preterist, you would be late, for it occurred in AD 70. But your view of the last days is not distinctive to hyper-preterism. And the fact that you do not believe that AD 70 finalized all prophecies shows that you are not a hypie. In fact, many orthodox preterists hold your view, including my good friend Gary DeMar, my deceased friend David Chilton — and a host of others.

    However, I am not persuaded. I recommend that you read my posting on this very topic:

    Regarding your concern that we would still have prophets in the church, I agree that divinely inspired prophetism faded quickly after the fall of Jerusalem. However, I don’t believe that Joel or Peter’s prophecy entails an ongoing presence of prophets in the new covenant age. The outburst of prophecy was an inaugural event to the last days. Prophetism would not continue throughout the entire last days period.

    Thanks for reading!

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