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But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
2 Timothy 3:1
This verse reads like a summary of the six o’clock news. I remember reading this verse in grade school when I was just a boy, and I was filled with fear and trepidation. I was confident that the terrible times were being fulfilled in that very day, years ago. The Great Depression was beginning; there was much trouble and strife in the United States. Fear had settled upon the nations of the world. Already the looming threat of World War II was gathering on the horizon. Many were feeling that those were the last days, when we could expect the return of Christ.
I was aware that this passage was taken by many to predict the last days of the church. But I was unaware that many similar times had come into human history during the course of the two thousand years since our Lord’s first appearance. Many people take the phrase the last days to refer to the time just before Christ’s return, but the biblical usage of that phrase indicates that it refers to the whole period of time between the first coming of our Lord and His second coming. In other words, for two thousand years we have been living in the last days.
In the account in Acts 2 we read that on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel, in which the prophet said that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). That, Peter said, was beginning to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, almost two thousand years ago. So it is clear that the last days is a period that has now extended to two thousand years’ duration. The apostle Paul is saying that within this extended period of time there will come repetitive cycles of distress—perilous times—when all the conditions that he describes with these chilling words will occur.
As we look back through human history during these last two thousand years, we can see how true that is. Again and again in our Western world, we have had periods of relative peace and prosperity, only to have them interrupted by these terrible times of stress and agony that repeatedly come into human affairs. So these words are not necessarily a prediction of the last days for the church; rather, they are a recognition of the cycle of days like this that will keep coming. And, of course, one of them is going to be the last one. Surely these times of stress we live in exactly fit the description the apostle uses here. But whether this is the actual last cycle to come into history before our Lord returns is difficult to say. As in the past, the clouds of peril may disperse, and the sun may break out again.
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But what the apostle wanted Timothy—and us—to know, he clearly outlines: Understand this, he says, that these will be dangerous times, times of great stress, times when our faith will be pushed to the limit of its endurance, when we will be under attack and under threat.
Lord, thank You for how accurately You describe what happens in the world. Thank You also that there is something I can do about it. I can be a real, not a phony, person; I can be genuine, not hypocritical; I can allow the Word to change me from the heart outward.
Life on planet Earth is historically perilous, and our times are no exception. What is our prospectus for living as authentic disciples of Jesus in such a stressful world?