The question was asked, “When do you think Jesus will return?” Today, next week, next year, in a hundred years — I think the question of when God’s final judgement comes overshadows the greater issue of why it is to come. In order to accept the “why” of God’s judgement, we must accept our own personal accountability to the authority of the One who created us. If we do, then the issue of when simply becomes a question of whenever it suits God.
Those who reject the notion of accountability to God tend to think of “the end of the world” as they would of death. Their idea may not even represent a dramatic or cataclysmic event, or even the entropic unwinding of a great cosmic clock, but just the unexpected cessation of everything we know — the inconvenient and arbitrary “nothing at all” from The End Of The World http://www.eliteskills.com/analysis_poetry/The_End_Of_The_World_by_Archibald_MacLeish_analysis.php, by Archibald MacLeish.
But Christians have received an end-of-the-world concept from the Jewish rabbinical teaching that the present world or present age (‘olam hazeh) will draw to an end, and that a new world or new age (‘olam haba) will be brought in. The term acharit-hayamim literally means “the end of the days”, which refers to the period of time during which this age nears completion and the age to come is about to begin. The story of Noah and the great flood (beginning in Genesis 6) serves as an example of this (see Matthew 24:37 or Luke 17:26).
Depending on one’s eschatological view, the coming age may either refer to the Millennial Age or to eternity, following God’s Final Judgement. “The last days” are commonly thought of as the final time in man’s history before the second coming of Christ. Yet another view considers it the end of the times of the Jews and the beginning of the times of the gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 Paul refers to believers as “us who are living in the end of the days”. Likewise, Hebrews 1:2 also uses the phrase, “in these last days”. If these books were written prior to 70 AD, when Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, then it would make sense to see that as the end of ‘olam hazeh and the beginning of ‘olam haba.
How we choose to decide on what view to take on the chronology of end-time events isn’t my concern here. What I want to do is address the character of human values and behaviors that will ultimately demand God’s judgment. Whatever you call the present age – the church age, the age of grace – we’ve been living in it ever since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That changed everything, and yet, no one knows when our present age will end and the “new age” will begin (Matthew 24:36).
Therefore the important thing, as I see it, is not to examine the “when” of God’s judgement or the coming age, but the “why” of it all. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 gives a detailed description of people in “the Last Days”. (My examination of this passage will include words from various versions of the Bible in order to help in understanding this description of people in the last days.)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (ESV)
One might be tempted to think these descriptions as true for any age and that there have always been people like this, thereby nullifying the significance of these traits. However, the phrasing in the first two verses of this passage (“There will be terrible times” and “men shall be”) not only has the connotation that things will get worse with the passage of time, but that these descriptions of people will increasingly represent mankind as a whole, as opposed to certain individuals.
The reason these ungodly traits are listed in this passage is to hold them up against God’s righteous standards, thus demonstrating the reason and need for God’s judgement. This is clearly referred to in Romans 1:18,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…
…followed by a similar descriptive list of ungodly traits (Romans 1:29-32). The point isn’t simply that these characteristics are present, or even prevalent, but that they increasingly become acceptable to people in general.
The human race currently seems to be split on the issue of what things are morally acceptable. A century ago this wasn’t so much the case. Are we continuing to drift apart as more people take on the characteristics listed in 2 Timothy? As you go through this list, ask yourself if you think it just describes some people, or if it seems to describe a significant number of people. And if significant, then how long do you suppose it will be before these characteristics are so common that God will no longer wait. In these last days, Christians must give voice to the truth. People on the path to destruction (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25) need to turn to God.
“lovers of self”
Becoming a functional adult today is now seen as loving one’s self. “Self esteem” curricula in public schools began in the 1960s and was standard fare in schools by the 1980s. Prior to this time, human worth in our culture had largely been based on service to others and the Biblical principle of redemption. We love because God first loved us. And by his love, God redeems sinful man, thereby imputing worth to us.
But once people began to think of themselves as descended from apes, there was little reason to see themselves as created in God’s image. Their sense of self-worth then changed to conform to human pragmatism — either the product of external achievement and acclamation, or of a self-nurturing, self-focused philosophy.
By the 1960s the Judeo-Christian consensus was diminishing (see 2nd paragraph at http://www.peopleforlife.org/francis.html ). A godless society began looking for answers in other directions. From psychology, sociology and humanism, a new criteria for experiencing personal worth was established — one which completely skirts God’s role of providing human beings with a sense of identity, value, confidence and purpose. Rather than loving God, today’s popular choice is to love one’s self.
“lovers of money”
We live in a society where people love money so much, they are willing to go deeply into debt in order have everything they covet — whether or not they’ll ever be able to pay it off.
WWII marked a transition point in our economy. Generally, people used to be content having the basics, as long as they had family, friends and their health. The industrial mobilization produced by the war created a massive migration of jobs from farms to factories. More people were earning more money. More people were buying more homes, as suburbs were expanding. A new national freeway system was being built to accommodate all the cars people were buying. People had more disposable income, enabling them to spend more time traveling than previous generations had ever known.
When Television came on the scene in the 1950s, instead of seeking entertainment in their local towns and neighborhoods, more people stayed home to watch TV. What they discovered was a great big, exciting world of consumerism. They saw first-hand all the wonderful things they could have if they only had the money. And they wanted to have those things. Soon, more and more credit card companies made it possible for consumers to buy whatever they coveted on credit (something their parents’ generation would never have done).
“boastful”, “proud”, “arrogant”
Rather than pointing the finger of blame at specific individuals, consider the qualities which are absent in people who exhibit these three traits. They are not meek, modest or humble. They do not reflect Biblical teaching. Such people are caught up in their own self-importance, exalting themselves in place of exalting God. You see them in the public spotlight a lot. They gravitate toward positions of celebrity and power, where they are seen as role models by our youth.
“blasphemers”, “abusive”, “revilers”
The original Greek word used here carries the sense of speaking out in a stupid, hurtful way. It is speaking evil by being slanderous, reproachful, railing or abusive. This type of “speech” is not intended for reciprocal conversation, where there is a meaningful exchange of information. But it is used as a vicious attack on a despised enemy. These terms describe those who, rather than seeking to communicate, seek to berate, insult, discredit and destroy.
A trend I have observed is that civil discourse on controversial issues seems to be a dying art. Rather than debating the pros and cons of an issue, it is more common today to use ad hominem attacks. That is, rather than seeking to intellectually resolve differences by addressing contentious issues on their own merits, it’s popular now just to personally attack one’s opponent with the intent of making him look bad so that you don’t have to deal with his argument. Don’t examine the issue, just defame your opponent.
“disobedient to parents”
Years ago I wondered why this was even included in such a list of offensive characteristics. After all, don’t all kids disobey their parents? But time and experience have shown that disobedience to parents is indeed serious business and a huge problem. Ephesians 6:1-3, and Colossians 3:20 clearly say that God wants children to obey their parents. But today the authority of parents is under attack by both schools and governments — to the point of exacerbating unruly and destructive behavior, drug use, sexual promiscuity and the breakdown of socially responsible attitudes.
As the influence of God and the Bible has dissipated in America, coupled with an emphasis on the “self”, the role of parental authority has been eroded. Schools and governments increasingly challenge parental authority on issues such as health and safety, diet, spanking, unpopular religious beliefs, the presence of guns in the home and even what values parents are teaching their children at home. The fact is that today, most entering college freshmen go through orientations designed to challenge the beliefs their parents have instilled in them. The “Occupy” phenomenon was made possible in part by disobedience to parents. And it happened on a large scale.
Today, the idea of being thankful or grateful seems to be reserved for those who barely escape some disaster with their lives still intact. For many regular, average people going through their normal routines, gratefulness and thankfulness only come to mind during Thanksgiving when everyone at the dinner table is asked to tell one thing they are thankful for. Yes, there are those who are truly thankful. But invariably there are those who can’t quite think of anything. They might then say something like, “I’m thankful for everything”, unable to focus on anything in particular. My guess is that if someone is truly grateful or thankful for anything, they will be able to identify what it is. Perhaps saying you’re thankful for everything comes more from a sense of guilt than from thankfulness.
Far more common is a sense of entitlement, a demand for one’s rights. More Americans seem to equate the value of their lives in terms of their affluent consumption of material goods. Either they don’t have what they feel they deserve, or what they do have doesn’t satisfy them. Rather than being thankful and grateful for a roof over their heads, they aren’t satisfied unless they are upgrading or trading up for something bigger and better. The same principle holds true for all their possessions, money, social position and professional standing.
But true thankfulness and gratefulness has nothing to do with wealth, power or affluence. Those who are truly thankful and grateful for their possessions will be good stewards and treat them well because they value them as blessings. This takes a sincere condition of one’s heart to recognize blessings, such as clothes on your back and food in your stomach. It is the pure recognition of God’s provision each time your lungs are filled with clean air or your thirst is quenched by cool water. In fact, thankfulness and gratefulness is all about God’s provisions. He gives us life, health, love, joy, peace and every good gift.
As much as we’d like to give ourselves credit for these, we cannot give ourselves such gifts. The most we can do is to be grateful, and thank the LORD for them. Thankfulness and gratefulness are how people respond to God. Greed and envy are how people respond to their own base desires.
To describe anything or anyone as holy is to set them apart for God’s purposes… something that today’s secular society doesn’t really understand (“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” — John 1:5). Hebrews 10:14 says that God is making us holy, and 1 Peter 1:15 says, “… as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. So, to the believer, being holy is both a work that the LORD is doing in us and something we are aspiring to. It is part of the godliness of the Christian walk, part of becoming more Christ-like, part of our obedient relationship with him.
The secular world is more than simply unbelieving. It’s profane, irreverent and disrespectful of the things of God. To secular society, the term holy is used in a derogatory way, such as holy terror, in a mocking way, such as holy roller or simply as a religious designation, as in his Holiness, the Pope. To the unbelieving world, holy does not have a real application. It’s just a word that describes something they don’t believe in. They don’t believe God is real, so any word that describes him is considered meaningless. They have closed themselves off from the holiness of God in order to reinforce their own unholiness.
“unloving”, “unforgiving”, “implacable”, “slanderous”, “no self-control”, “brutal”, “not loving the good”
Those who can be described in these ways are in battle-mode against anyone or anything who would dare to say, “You can’t do that”. To forgive someone is seen as defeat. They insist on their own way and refuse to budge. They are intolerant of discussion and bent on the removal of all dissent and anything they perceive to be an obstacle between them and having what they want. Therefore they will stop at nothing to get their way.
It’s interesting that these descriptions are bracketed together by two love-related terms. Unloving (also rendered “without natural affection”) and “not loving of the good” are like bookends, echoing “self-loving” and “money-loving” from the previous verse, and anticipating, “pleasure-lovers, not God-lovers” from the following verse. Because their “love” is unnatural, godless and self-serving, they do not exhibit civil behavior, moderated by some degree of natural love or respect. As if a demonic switch has been turned off in their mind, they have no pity or mercy for those in their way. They don’t care what they say about others or how they treat others. They are not calm, rational or disciplined. Instead, they choose to act on every brutal urge. Perhaps you’ve seen these types of people in the news.
“betrayers”, “reckless”, “rash”, “blinded by pride”, “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God”
People don’t act in the extreme for no reason. The Greek word translated as “treacherous” and “traitor” really means someone who essentially is so concerned for himself that he will betray anyone or any cause for self-preservation. It’s the good-time Charlie who can’t be depended upon in a pinch. Reckless and rash describe those who do not take consequences into consideration. They live as if there is no tomorrow. They go from immaturity to irresponsibility to criminality. A person who is this destructive and out of control is reaping a harvest from seeds planted earlier in his life. He may have started out thinking that what he did was his own business and that he wasn’t hurting anyone else. But in living out his self-satisfying life of pleasure, he becomes blinded by his pride. He is unable to see the fulfilling love of the Giver of life and unable to see God’s salvation as a blessing.
Invariably unrighteousness is confronted by righteousness. And when that happens, lovers of pleasure are no longer able to continue ignoring God, because God will no longer give them a pass on their behavior. By that time, those who decide to turn against God will have sold out, and will fight without any constraint or care against every expression of godliness and God’s love. The enemies of God will display a level of commitment to their “cause” that is shocking to the sensibilities of most humble, God-fearing folks. But that intense enmity began with a simple decision about love: choosing pleasure for one’s self over loving God. There is a reason why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
“the appearance of godliness”, “but denying its power”
Taking all the descriptive words from these five verses and putting them together paints a picture of people in the last days. The picture is of values and attitudes which begin in the heart and end in outward expressions and behaviors. This is not a picture of how people look. Even though someone may be brutal or treacherous on the inside, they can look like anyone else on the outside. In fact, they may be very well-dressed and present a good public image. But it’s what they eventually do that shows you who they really are.
These people can even give the appearance of godliness. You know the type. They claim to be religious, and they make of show of it. In fact, they usually act superior to those who question them about their so-called godliness. They come in many forms. They might even call themselves Christians. They may follow false teachings, or they might altogether reject Christ’s gospel of salvation, opting instead for some false religion that offers salvation on the basis of works. They follow religions built on nothing more than human wisdom and human authority.
The list of descriptive words and phrases in this passage ends with the denial of the power of true godliness. Godliness essentially is the demonstration of living according to God’s standards, which is a product of Biblical faith. A few verses after this list (2 Timothy 3:12-13) Paul writes, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” What believers need to do in these last days is to hold on to the power of godliness we have in Christ.
hold on — 1 Thessalonians 5:21
hold on — Revelation 2:25
hold on — Revelation 3:11
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. — 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. — 1 Thessalonians 1:5
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. — 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. — Ephesians 6:13-18