If you are a concerned American, you cannot keep from noticing the tragedies that occur every day in our nation. The news media regularly report school shootings, child abuse, the behavior of crooked politicians, the conduct of immoral religious leaders, corrupt businessmen and the misconduct of professionals, such as, college presidents, physicians and schoolteachers. Did the apostle Paul have our generation in mind when he wrote: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1)? Some premillennialists, such as John Hagee, Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey are absolutely sure that the evil of our day is a sign that the end of the age is at hand. They often quote the words I have just read to you from Paul's second letter to Timothy to prove their opinions. I have two questions for you to consider: Are we living in "the last days?" What did Paul mean by "perilous times?"
The first question is very easy to answer. We have been living in the last days since the day of Pentecost. Do you remember what Peter told the Jews on that great day? He quoted these words from the prophet Joel: "It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, 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: and on my servants and on my handmaidens will I pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into the darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day shall come: and it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:17-21).
The apostle Peter introduced the quotation from Joel by affirming: "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." Do you have any problem understanding the expression, "This is that?" Oddly enough, one of America's premier evangelical leaders, Dr. Merrill C. Unger, had some difficulty with the phrase. In his book, New Testament Teaching on Tongues (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), Dr. Unger says that Peter meant nothing more than "this is (an illustration) of that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (pp. 24-25). As much as I respect Dr. Unger, that is not what Peter meant. He meant what he said. The events on Pentecost were a fulfillment of that "which was spoken by Joel."
What do you suppose the authors of the following books have in mind: The Late Great Planet Earth, The Terminal Generation, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, On the Edge of Eternity, The Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist, Final Dawn over Jerusalem: The World's Future Hangs in the Balance with the Battle for the Holy City! There is one thing for sure: All of these books are fictional views of Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and John Hagee. They make absolutely no sense. All the dispensational premillennialists desperately need to read Richard Kyle's book, The Last Days Are Here Again (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1988).
One of the absolute proofs, from a dispensational viewpoint, that the Lord's coming is just around the corner is the enormous evil that 2 Timothy 3 and other biblical passages predict. The Chattanooga Times (Wednesday, July 4, 2001) printed an advertisement captioned "Christ Is Coming Very Soon." The advertisement said that one scholar had found "167 converging clues (predicting the Lord's imminent coming), just in the last few years of the millennium." The advertisement listed only eight of the clues. Number 2 was "plummeting morality...Studies show a shocking breakdown just since mid-century" (p. B-9). I have two questions for our dispensational friends. Is the world worse now that it has ever been since the Jesus Christ returned to the Father? Who knows how evil the world will have to become before the Lord says, "Enough?" I hope you can see how utterly foolish it is to predict the time of our Lord's return. If Christ were to delay his coming for a million years, not one verse of scripture could be shown to be false.
Am I denying that we are living in "perilous times?" Anyone who has heard me preach, either on radio or in the pulpit, knows how concerned I am about the deterioration of moral and spiritual values in America. I cannot agree with Ben Wattenberg's 1984 book, The Good News Is That The Bad News Is Wrong (New York: Simon and Schuster). Wattenberg's book provides some very encouraging news about the American economy, about the environment, about our standard of living and about other phases of American life. But there are both moral and spiritual problems that are very serious. Some of them so serious they could destroy our economy, our families and our peace of mind.
The word "perilous" comes from the Greek chalepoi and means difficult, grievous, distressing or harsh. The word appears only one other time in the New Testament where it is rendered "fierce." Jesus Christ used the word in speaking of two demon-possessed men. Matthew reports the incident: "And when he came to the other side of the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two men possessed with demons, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no man might pass by that way" (Mt. 8:28).
By divine inspiration, the apostle Paul provides wonderful insight into the perilous times he had in mind. "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" (2 Tim. 3:2). Has there ever been a time when men and women were more devoted to fulfilling their own dreams, ambitions and wishes than today? I really do not know and have no desire to speculate about the matter. But I know this: During the past thirty or forty years, we have been a people devoted to pleasing ourselves. Educators, psychologists and even theologians have made matters worse by constantly stressing self-esteem, self-worth and self-image. A child can be as ignorant as a stump, but he must feel good about himself. Even when a child gets into trouble with the law, we do not want his self-esteem to suffer. I believe there is a trend away from some of the foolishness the self-esteem advocates have been emphasizing.
The prosperity preachers have encouraged men and women to be lovers of their own selves. Those preachers constantly tell their listeners how to get rich by donating to the various ministries. Joyce Meyer seems more concerned about her riches than about preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. Have you ever heard her expose the false doctrines that exist in many churches? Have you ever heard her condemn the immorality that so adversely affects so many of our fellow-citizens? Besides, she boasts of her $10 million dollar jet aircraft, her husband's $107,000 Mercedes Benz and their $2 million home. Do her listeners believe that when they contribute to her ministry they will someday enjoy such riches? Is that not the message most of the "health and wealth" evangelists proclaim?
During the last days men will be "covetous." Are many Americans covetous? Are we more covetous than any other generation of Americans? The New Testament uses several different words that are translated "covetous." The word in this passage is philarguros, from philos, meaning love, and arguros, meaning silver. Most of the modern versions render the Greek "lovers of money." Paul used basically the same word when he warned: "For the love of money is a root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus told his disciples: "You cannot serve God and mammon" (or money). "And the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided (or ridiculed) him" (Lk. 16:13-14).
I have no idea if our generation is more driven by love of money than any other. But it is very disturbing when one reads in the newspapers about major corporations that have cheated their customers, employees and stockholders and bilked the government of hundreds of billions of dollars. The government fined Hospital Corporation of America $800,000,000 for double-billing Medicare. As disconcerting as the behavior of some companies is, it is far more troubling for preachers and other religious leaders to rob their supporters. Henry Lyon, president of a black Baptist denomination, took millions of dollars from his own people. How can Jesse Jackson live with his conscience after taking large sums of money from charitable organizations to support his mistress and her child? In 1999 the Fondest Wish Foundation raised $1.1 million dollars and spent $7,374 helping children. That means the foundation spend 0.7% of its total income on children. Greed personified!
In the last days, according to Paul, men will be "boasters." Other versions render the Greek "boastful." Is there any more obnoxious attitude than that of being a boaster? The word means empty pretender or arrogant. When we boast of what and how much we have and what we know, we sin grievously against God and against our fellowmen. When we boast of our accomplishments or of whom we know, we do not love others; we love ourselves. In his great chapter on love, Paul teaches: "Charity (or love) does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up" (1 Cor. 13:4). God punished Babylon's most famous and most powerful king when the king boasted: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of my kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty" (Dan. 4:30)? The mighty Babylonian king was literally turned out to pasture and had to eat grass like an ox. God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know that "the most high rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will" (Dan. 4:32).
The words "boasters" and "proud" are closely related. The Greek word translated "proud" signifies "to be above others." The scriptures always use the word in a bad sense. Solomon warned: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18). The 8th century B. C. prophet Hosea attributes Israel's downfall to a number of sins, including lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6), instability (Hos. 6:4) and pride. "The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah shall fall with them" (Hos. 5:5). Even in the church of our Lord, there were men who wanted to be above others. John mentions a man named Diotrephes who "loved to have the preeminence among men" (3 John 9-10).
Paul knew the last days would include men who were "blasphemers." Our English word "blasphemy" is derived from the Greek blasphemeo. The word means to speak against—not just against God or Christ or the Holy Spirit—but also against one's fellowmen. The word sometimes appears in contexts where deity is not under consideration. Paul asked the Corinthians: "For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks" (1 Cor. 10:30)? Peter used the same Greek word when he wrote: "Wherein they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you" (1 Pet. 4:4).
Do I need to tell you how many modern people in our day blaspheme the God of heaven, his Son Jesus Christ and God's inspired word? Justice Antonin Scalia confessed his faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The editors of some of our newspapers made fun of Justice Scalia. There were some in the media and in academia who argued that Justice Scalia's faith disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court. And woe to the public figure who endorses creationism! He will not likely be crucified, but he will be criticized, vilified and ostracized. One medical doctor in Nashville called creationists "hayseeds." How sad that blasphemy has become the rule of the day and not the exception!
The last days—the entire Christian era—have witnessed and will continue to witness many cases of "disobedience to their parents." How many generations since Paul wrote 2 Timothy have known thousands and thousands of young people who had no respect for their parents? I do not know, but I know this: Our age has experienced an alarming amount of disobedience to parents. In some cases, the children have murdered their parents. Tragically, some public schools actually foster a spirit of rebellion against parents, as if the schools owned the children. Parents must be very careful about the schools their children attend and even about some churches where the young people worship.
Paul describes some of the people of the last days of being "unthankful." Most modern versions render the Greek "ungrateful." What a tragedy that millions of us never stop to give thanks to God for his grace and mercy! We may also fail to thank our parents for the sacrifices they made for us, the schoolteachers who challenged us to learn, and the men and women who rule in the affairs of the nation. One cannot read Paul's epistles without being impressed with his expressions of gratitude. "First, I thank God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the world" (Rom. 1:8). Even the Son of God felt compelled to give thanks to his heavenly Father. (Mt. 11:25).
Paul predicted that some who would live in the last days would be "unholy." Is he arguing that they will more unholy than any other people who have ever lived? There are some preachers and teachers who seem to lean in that direction, but there is no solid scriptural basis for that position. The word translated "unholy" in this text appears just two times in the entire New Testament. The word is a synonym of the word "profane." Unfortunately, many people within American society—including some who are devoutly religious—do not know the difference between the holy and the profane. Some of the Jewish priests during the time Ezekiel lived and prophesied could not make the distinction between the holy and the profane. Please listen to the prophet Ezekiel. "Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they put no difference between the holy and the profane, neither have they shown the difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hidden their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them" (Ezek. 22:26).
Obviously, it is not possible in the time I have today to discuss all Paul has to say about the evil that would exist in the last days. But I want to examine a few more words from 2 Timothy 3. Some in the last days will be "without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those who are good" (2 Tim. 3:3). Paul uses the expression, "without natural affection." Although the word "family" is not inherent in the word—there are other kinds of natural affection—there are many who believe Paul specifically had family relationships in mind. Our nation has witnessed some of the most tragic incidents relating to families. The Menendez brothers murdered their parents so they could get quicker access to the older couple's millions. Jeff Weise, age 17, of Bemidji, Minnesota, shot his grandfather to death. Young women across America have babies and then try to kill their babies by throwing them into trashcans or leaving them in public restrooms. One mother in Nashville cut her baby's throat because she thought the presence of a baby might drive her boyfriend away. Susan Smith drowned her beautiful little boys in a lake in South Carolina. Tragically, legislators in Tennessee and in other states have passed laws that allow mothers to abandon their children.
The word "trucebreaker" in our text is very difficult to translate and to define. Some versions translate the Greek either "irreconcilable" or "implacable." In his commentary on The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), Dr. William Barclay says the word translated "trucebreakers" can have two applications. It can refer to a person who is so bitter he will never allow himself to come to terms with a person with whom he has quarreled. "Or it can mean that a man is so dishonorable that he breaks the terms of an agreement he has made" (p. 188). How many public officials and even religious leaders have been guilty of such behavior?
I have time to examine one other concept from 2 Timothy 3. In the last days, Paul predicted, there will be "false accusers." Such people have existed in almost every generation since creation. The expression, "false accusers," comes from the Greek diaboloi. It is from this Greek word that we derive our word "devil." In fact, the Greek word is used thirty-four times of Satan. Is it not revealing that the Bible refers to those who make false accusations by using the same word translated "devil?" The Greek can be rendered "malicious gossips"—people who destroy other's reputations by spreading false rumors. The word can also be translated "slanderer."
Paul's description of the "last days" must not be interpreted to refer to the last days of the last days. In other words, there is no solid basis for arguing that the world will get worse and worse just before the Lord returns.
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