PMT 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.
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.”
Tongues-Speaking: Meaning, Purpose, and Cessation
(Book) by Ken Gentry
A careful study of the biblical material defining the gift of tongues.
Shows they were known languages that served to endorse the apostolic witness
and point to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, after which they ceased.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
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.