By Stanton See
On a television program in May, 1987 the subject was discussed whether or not the large numbers of preachers who are falling away today is a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and thus if we arc in the “last days” immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. Can we know if we are in the “last days” and if so, when did they start? Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (emphasis mine, SS) Paul gives Timothy a description of the characteristics of the people who would be living in the “last days.” But notice that Paul tells Timothy to “turn away” from people with these characteristics. It does not take a scholar or really a person with a lot of intelligence to understand that if Timothy had to turn away from these types of people that would characterize the “last days” he had to have been living in the “last days” at some point in his lifetime. Therefore, we know that we have been in the “last days” for at least nineteen hundred years and that it does not just describe the characteristics of the people who would be living immediately preceding the second coming of Christ.
Another passage that helps us to know when the “last days” started is found in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. We read in Acts 2:16-17, “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. “‘ Again it does not take a scholar to recognize that when Peter, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states that what had happened in verses 1-4 was in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of the “last days” that Acts 2 is the beginning of the “last days.” Since Acts 2 is the beginning of the Christian Age and the “last days,” we can see that the expression “the last days” is referring to the Christian age that began on the Day of Pentecost and will last until the end of the world, not just to the days immediately preceding the second coming of Christ.
Another passage that will help us to know when the last days started is found in Hebrews 1:1-2. “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds.” This passage emphasizes the fact that ever since Jesus sealed his gospel with his death (Heb. 9:16-17) we have been in the “last days.” Again this shows that we have been in the “last days” for over nineteen hundred years.
This helps us to understand what Paul means by the expression “in latter times” in 1 Timothy 4:1. Paul states that “in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Paul is referring to the fact that at some point in the future, there will come a falling away which had already started during the lifetime of the apostles (2 Thess. 2:1-7). And as any casual student of church history knows, a failing away did take place after the apostles died in fulfillment of this passage.
The television program stated that the large number of preachers who are falling away could well be a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and thus we could be in the “last days” immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. The fact that the conclusion was contrary to the plain teaching of the Scriptures emphasizes the need to be like the Bereans who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, p. 591
October 1, 1987