Summary: Here are three very practical survival strategies for the perilous, difficult, dangerous days in which we live.
You’ve probably heard the old joke about the fellow who was told, “Cheer up. Things could be worse.” So he said, “I did as I was told. I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.” That in a nutshell is the message of II Timothy. The Apostle Paul, writing from a prison cell in Rome, knowing that his own death was at hand, warns his young protégé Timothy of difficult days to come. Although he never loses his faith in God, it is clear that the aged apostle was deeply concerned about the trends he saw all around him. Hard times were coming; days of stress were just around the corner. If a man was not ready, if he didn’t brace himself in advance, he might be washed away when things got really hot.
Verse 1 is really the key to this whole chapter. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (II Timothy 3:1). Two questions come to mind. First, what does Paul mean by the expression, “last days?” That phrase has at least three meanings. It can apply to the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ. Since Christ could have come at any time, the entire church age can be called the “last days.” It also applies to unique periods of spiritual testing that occur at different times in different places. Finally, it obviously applies to the last few weeks and months and years preceding our Lord’s return to the earth. I find it helpful to think in terms of labor pains. A pregnant woman knows when she is about to give birth by the frequency and severity of her labor pains. In the same way, the various things that Paul lists in the first few verses of II Timothy 3 will always be present in some form, but will increase dramatically near the end of the age. Are we in the “last days?” No matter how you define it, the answer is yes. And we may indeed be living in the final days before the return of Christ to the earth.
Second, what will the “last days” be like? The word translated “terrible” occurs only here and one other place in the New Testament. In its other occurrence, it refers to the two violent men who were possessed by demons in the region of Gadara (Matthew 8:28). They were wild, uncontrollable men who lived among the tombs. The particular Greek word used to describe them is also used in II Timothy 3:1. The “last days” will be fierce, violent, dangerous and frightening. Here’s another word you could use: In the last days, savage times will come as men cast off all moral restraint and society begins to disintegrate.
In 1988 evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl Henry made a stunning prediction in his book, Twilight of a Great Civilization (Crossway Books). He said that as America progressively loses its Judeo-Christian heritage, paganism would grow bolder. What we saw in the last half of the 20th-century was a kind of benign humanism, but he predicted that by the start of the 21st-century, we would face a situation not unlike the first-century when the Christian faith confronted raw paganism—humanism with the pretty face ripped off, revealing the angry monster underneath. His words have come true, and are coming truer with every passing day.
So Paul warns Timothy, “After I am gone, things are going to get worse before they get better. Buckle up, Timothy. Terrible times are coming.” That’s why Paul said, “Mark this,” or “Understand this,” or “Pay attention to this.” Don’t be naïve and think that everything is going to be okay. It’s not all going to be okay. But forewarned is forearmed. If we know what is going to happen, we won’t be surprised when it does.
I. Perilous Times Described
A. Catalogue of Corruption v. 1-5
The first five verses of II Timothy 3 offer a sobering catalogue of corruption. In a sense, this is a shorter version of Romans 1:18-32. This is what happens when a nation turns its back on God. First, there is a total rejection of God. People are unholy, ungrateful, lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. This leads to a total moral collapse. People become lovers of money, conceited, without love toward others, boastful, proud, unforgiving, conceited, “not lovers of what is good.” Finally, there is the total breakdown of society. People will be treacherous, rash, slanderous, brutal, disobedient to parents, abusive and without self-control. That last phrase means that in the end, anything goes. No rules, no moral absolutes, no restraints of any kind. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes, and woe to the person who dares to question his “lifestyle choices.” Side note: It’s interesting that Paul includes “disobedient to parents.” It may seem too trivial to be in such a solemn list, but for Paul, disobedience is the spark that ignites the flame that leaves the home in ashes. (Is it any wonder that divorce has become commonplace or that many people want to redefine marriage to allow for homosexuals to marry each other? Answer: No, it’s not surprising, and we haven’t reached the bottom of the pit of moral degradation.) In the light of Bible prophecy, we should expect that as we approach the end times, all these things will increase in intensity and frequency, until we have the situation portrayed in the Book of Revelation, the total implosion of the social order as men utterly rebel against God and destroy themselves and the world in the process. Perhaps this is why Jesus said that unless those days were shortened, no one would survive (Matthew 24:22).