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In 2 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy as follows:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)
3 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.

The gist of this passage seems to be Paul warning Timothy about how to act in "the last days". This gives rise to some questions:

  1. Does "the last days" refer to the end times, or could it refer to some other historical event (destruction of the temple?) that Timothy did indeed live through?
  2. If "the last days" is interpreted to refer to the end times, does this imply that Paul thought Timothy might live to see it? (Matthew 24:36)
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3 Answers 3

Clearly, Paul did expect Timothy to see the "last days". That, and other similar phrases in the NT refer to the last days of the old creation.

Note the context of the "new heavens and new earth" passage in Isaiah. God talking to Israel:

Behold, my servants shall eat,
But you shall be hungry;
Behold, my servants shall drink,
But you shall be thirsty;
...
For the Lord God will slay you,
And call His servants by another name;
...
For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth;
[Isaiah 65:12-17]

The "old creation" was the old order, where you had things like the Jew/Gentile distinction. That distinction is gone in the new. The old and the new co-existed for the 40 years from Pentecost to AD 70, with the events surrounding Jesus' vindication in the destruction of the temple. For further discussion of these things, see chapter 18 of "Through New Eyes" by James B. Jordan, and "The Vindication of Jesus Christ" by the same author.

This sort of understanding of things is going to be quite strange to modern Western Christians, particularly Dispensationalists, but then you will always be stuck with this strange thing that so much of the New Testament seems to have this expectation of the "end times" being immanent.

For a more in-depth treatment of the subject, see "Last Days Madness" by Gary DeMar, freely available here.

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Thanks for the edit Jeff, we appreciate you taking the time. –  Jack Douglas Jun 14 '13 at 19:25

Paul's warning about "the last days" would be strange if he were merely describing the normal brokenness that has been common to man since the dawn of time. (Such brokenness would not be news to anyone, and would not be specific to "the last days.") He seems to be anticipating something unusual. ...And yet, the characteristics he is describing have been common to man since the dawn of time -- at least to some extent. Perhaps the best solution is to see Paul's statement as an anticipation of the present condition getting "much worse" prior to the end.

Thus, Paul could expect Timothy to be familiar with "such people" in Timothy's present situation, but that would not imply that Timothy's present situation was equivalent to the escalated state of things that Paul anticipated just prior to the end.


Note: "The last days" is a period of time referenced throughout Scripture, which began with the coming of Christ, and will continue until Christ rules on earth and subdues His enemies. The focus of the prophecies are on the Christ, and so from a Christian perspective, many focus on events that occurred 2,000 years ago, and many focus on events yet to come, but technically the age we live in also counts as "the last days."

So Timothy did technically live in "the last days" (see below), but that does not imply that all prophecy had therefore been fulfilled, as if "the end times" had already come and gone.

At Pentecost, Peter explains what they are seeing by quoting a prophecy:

'And 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' -Acts 2:17

Peter's point is that "the last days" is now, and that what was prophecied is what they are seeing. The author of Hebrews makes similar use of the term:

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. -Hebrews 1:1-2

He is referring, of course, to Jesus coming in the flesh. His point is that "long ago" (prior to Christ) God spoke through the prophets, but "in these last days" He spoke to us by sending His Son. This implies that "the last days" began with the coming of Christ.

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You've shown well that the NT writers lived in "the last days", but I think you've only assumed that those last days continue until now. The "last days" of the NT are long-gone. If we were still in the same "last days" today, the term would be pretty-much meaningless. –  Jeff Roe Jun 12 '13 at 5:39
    
I would have to agree with Jeff Roe. Very true is it that the apostles were living in the last days. Whether we ourselves may say we are living in the last days cannot be so easily proven. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 13 '13 at 8:53

This is an example where often the theological presuppositions guide the interpretation.

My presupposition is that the days of Gen 1 are not only literal days of creation but metaphoric days or ages of God's work in the world, culminating in the marriage of the Lamb, and the man and his wife being fruitful and multiplying before entering into God's Rest.

As such, the 'last days' are days 6 and 7. God makes man in his image and likeness. Christ is the express image of God, and we are made to be like him. The marriage of the Lamb takes place after the cross, in this world, since there is no marriage in heaven. Christ and his bride are fruitful and multiplying in this world, until we enter his rest.

Therefore, the time between the cross and entering His rest are the last days. Paul and Timothy lived as the bride of Christ and were fruitful and multiplying until they entered God's rest.

Paul's instruction for the last days were for Timothy and for us.

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If there is no marriage in heaven and that includes our marriage to Christ, then we will be in a heap of trouble after the resurrection. We'll all be separate from Christ (a.k.a. Hell.) Or do you just mean there will be no weddings in heaven? If that's what you mean, please note that the Sadducees question to Jesus that you referenced (Matt 22, Mark 12, Luke 20) was specifically about how things would work between people who were already married and thus has nothing to do with the idea that there will be marriage, but no weddings in heaven. –  Jas 3.1 Jun 11 '13 at 22:46
    
Jas 3.1: Paul proved in Romans 7:1-4 that death annuls the marriage bond between a husband and a wife. Of course, that is God's design so that those who are resurrected can be married to Christ and Christ alone. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 13 '13 at 8:56

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