8. The Church in the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:1-9)Related Media
But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth. But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres.
2 Timothy 3:1-9 (NET)
What are characteristics of the church in the last days?
In 2 Timothy, one of the major themes is suffering for Christ. Paul is in prison for his faith awaiting a death sentence, and he calls Timothy to suffer with him as a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3). Christians are being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. However, in this passage, Paul is not talking about suffering from without but suffering from within. Some of our greatest sufferings, as Christians, often come from people within God’s church.
Paul says, “But understand this,” or it can be translated, “But realize this” (NASB). There are some things we must realize about the church, and if we don’t, we may become disillusioned or even fall away. Sadly, many have fallen away because they didn’t recognize the state or condition of the times.
In describing the state of the church in the last days, Paul says it will be “difficult” times. This word can be translated “terrible, “perilous,” or “violent.” It was used one other time in the New Testament to describe the two demoniacs in the region of the Gadarenes; they were so violent that nobody could pass by them (Matt 8:28). This may imply that these terrible times will be inspired by demons.1
The word “times” is not the Greek word “chronos”, referring to chronological time, but “kairos”, referring to seasons. There will be seasons of heightened peril in the church and other times of relative peace.2
However, the scary thing about the last days is that it not only refers to the time right before Christ’s return, but it also applies to the very age Timothy ministered in. This is clear as Paul warns Timothy to “So avoid people like these” (v. 5). The present tense of this phrase means that the difficult times had already begun. In fact, on God’s eschatological timeline, the ‘last days’ began when Christ came to the earth. Hebrews 1:1-2 says,
After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.
Why is Paul informing Timothy about the last days? It is because Timothy needed to understand the nature of them so he wouldn’t get discouraged and fall away. Similarly, in warning the disciples about coming persecutions, Christ said, “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away” (John 16:1). When you know something difficult is coming, it is easier to persevere and be faithful when it happens. We need to understand this reality as well. Difficulties are already around us and ahead of us. What are characteristics of the church in the last days?
Big Question: What characteristics of the church in the last days can be discerned from 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and how should we respond to this reality?
In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Believers
For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.
2 Timothy 3:2-5
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the people in the last days?
As we continue to read Paul’s words, we find that the terrible times will not be bad because of difficult events but because of evil people. This is what will make these last days so terrible. There will be many in the church who profess Christianity but look nothing like their Lord and Savior. In verse 5, Paul says that they had an “outward appearance of religion” but “repudiated its power.” This means that they had the outer trappings of Christianity—they went to church, sang hymns, gave their tithes, went on mission trips—but lived ungodly lives that proved they had never experienced Christ’s saving power.
This is exactly what Christ warned the disciples of in the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. Christ said the kingdom of heaven is tares and wheat (v. 36-43), and good and bad fish (v. 47-50)—essentially true and false believers. He also describes the kingdom as yeast hidden in flour, which spreads throughout the lump (v. 33). Yeast typically refers to false doctrine (Matt 16:11-12) or sin (1 Cor 5:6); therefore, Christ described how evil would spread and saturate the church at various stages of history. The current state of the kingdom is a mixture of good and evil. It is scary!
This reality often leads to disillusionment and apostasy—Satan’s very intent in planting tares, bad fish, and leaven. No doubt, this is the reason that Paul warned Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul gives nineteen negative characteristics of many professing believers during these difficult times:
- People will be lovers of themselves: This comes first because it is the dominant characteristic of the last days—leading to further sins. Satan tempted Eve to be like God in the garden. He called her to seek self-fulfillment instead of loving God and others first. From that point, that became the prominent motivation in humanity. Life is about us and our satisfaction. Religion simply becomes another addition to seek fulfillment. People ask, “Can Christianity help us be happy? Can it help our children not lie and steal? In that case, we should go to church!”
- In fact, much of the teaching in churches these days focuses on self-love. It has essentially become the greatest commandment. They say, “You can’t love God or others unless you love yourself first!” However, there is never a command in the Bible to love ourselves. The Bible assumes that we already do—it is a result of our sin nature. When Scripture says to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 12:31), it is simply recognizing that we already love ourselves way too much. Scripture continually calls us to humble ourselves (James 4:10), deny ourselves, take up our cross (Matt 16:24), and seek the interests of others over ourselves (Phil 2:3). However, since self has replaced God, it leads to many other sins.
- Lovers of money: Since the love of self is dominant, the love of money naturally follows. By pursuing money, we cater to all our desires. In fact, many will use religion to make money. First Timothy 6:5 says that many will think that “godliness is a way of making a profit.”
- Boastful: Those who love themselves will continually brag about themselves, their money, their education, their achievements, and even their faith. They will boast about their giving, their strong devotion, and even their “spiritual” experiences. The church will be full of braggarts.
- Arrogant: Pride is the internal motivation that leads people to brag. People will think higher of themselves than they should. They will have false pride about their race, their social class, their economic standing, and even their doctrine.
- Blasphemers: This word can be translated “abusive.” They will blaspheme others and God. When life is about self and people don’t get their way, they become angry and aggressive towards God and others. This abuse will be directed towards people of different ethnicities, social or economic standings, denominational affiliations, and even their own families. The church will be abusive instead of loving.
- Disobedient to their parents: Love of self naturally leads to disobeying parents in order to fulfill one’s desires. Disobedience to parents will ultimately lead to disobeying all authorities—teachers, work superiors, government, and God.
- Ungrateful: If something interrupts one’s pursuit of self-gratification, then he or she will complain and become angry. Instead of being worshipers, the church will be a group of ungrateful people that complain about anything that makes them uncomfortable—the worship music, the seating, the preaching, the children’s ministry, the church leadership, the national government, the education system, sports, and so on. Like Israel in the wilderness, they will be grumblers who are constantly disciplined by God (1 Cor 10:10).
- Unholy: Love of self leads people to not respect or fear God. Without a reverence for God, they will be led into all types of sins. Their thought life, conversations, entertainment, and actions will be unholy.
- Unloving: “Unloving” can also be translated “without natural affection” or “without family affection.” Parents will neglect their children, as they pursue money and self-fulfillment. Sometimes they will abort their children in order to cater to self. Children will hate their parents in response. There will be a lack of “natural affection” in the church. It will be shameful to hear stories about how believers neglect their children, spouses, and elderly parents—especially when church leaders do it!
- Irreconcilable: They won’t forgive others nor seek forgiveness from others. They are so prideful that they won’t humble themselves to seek reconciliation.
- Slanderers: This expression is from the word “diabolos” which can be translated “accuser” or “devil.” People will slander others with their words and slander God. The church will be full of gossip and back-biting. When self is on the throne, it naturally leads to pulling down others to exalt oneself.
- Without self-control: People will lack power to discipline themselves. They will be controlled by their delights and passions—overeating, oversleeping, video games, social media, shopping, drugs, cigarettes, pornography, etc. The church will be full of addicts of one thing or another. Satisfying self leads to uncontrollable urges.
- Savage: This can be translated “brutal,” “fierce,” or “untamed.” People will be like wild animals seeking to tear one another apart in order to gain or protect their desires.
- Opposed to what is good: They will love what should be hated, and hate what should be loved. Ungodly entertainment, ideologies, and endeavors, they will love. But the things of God—his Word, preaching, worship, serving, and righteousness—they will hate.
- Treacherous: They won’t keep their promises. The only commitment they will keep is their pursuit of happiness. Divorce, church splits, and church hopping will be common place.
- Reckless: People will do whatever they want without consideration of others. All that matters is self and self-expression. They will say things like, “I just had to be true to myself!”, as if that justifies any number of evils.
- Conceited: People will be full of their own exaggerated self-importance blinding them to others’ opinions and ultimately God’s Word. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
- Loving pleasure rather than loving God: Because they love pleasure instead of God, churches will be full of entertainment instead of true worship. Church services will be about pleasing people instead of pleasing God. People will plan worship primarily with the thought of getting and keeping people and their money instead of truly worshiping God.
- Maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power: Also, translated “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (NIV). Again, there will be form but no power to change lives.
MacDonald said this about these people:
Outwardly these people seem religious. They make a profession of Christianity, but their actions speak louder than their words. By their ungodly behavior, they show that they are living a lie. There is no evidence of the power of God in their lives. While there might have been reformation, there never was regeneration. Weymouth translates: “They will keep up a make-believe of piety and yet exclude its power.” Likewise Moffatt: “Though they keep up a form of religion, they will have nothing to do with it as a force.” Phillips puts it: “They will maintain a façade of ‘religion’ but their conduct will deny its validity.” They want to be religious and to have their sins at the same time (cf. Rev. 3:14–22). Hiebert warns: “It is the fearful portrayal of an apostate Christendom, a new paganism masquerading under the name of Christianity.”3
Certainly, we’ve seen some of the worst examples of this throughout history: In the name of Christianity, people have slaughtered Jews, Muslims, and one another! The believers in the letter of James were fighting, oppressing, and murdering one another (James 4:1-2, 5:1-6). The Corinthians were taking one another to court (1 Cor 6:1-6). Terrible times indeed!
Observation Question: How should we respond to these people in the church?
Paul says to Timothy, “So avoid people like these” (v 5). This means that there should be a complete healthy separation from individuals who profess Christ but live lives that deny that reality. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
We must separate from believers who practice lifestyles like this. Yes, we must first lovingly challenge them to repent—even multiple times (Matt 18:15-17). But if they continue in rebellious lifestyles, we must separate. We separate in order to protect ourselves from corrupt habits (1 Cor 15:33), but we also do it so that they can be shamed and hopefully repent. Second Thessalonians 3:14-15 says,
But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Application Question: Which characteristic that Paul shared stood out to you most and why? Why is it important to understand the common reality of false believers in churches? How should we respond to this reality? How have you experienced this?
In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Teachers
For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth. But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres.
2 Timothy 3:6-9
Paul next describes many of the teachers in these churches and ministries. When he says, they “insinuate themselves into households” in the Greek, it is actually “the households” with a definite article (v. 6). This means these homes were obviously well-known. He probably was referring to the house churches where people gathered for worship.4 These were typically the homes of wealthy church members (cf. Col 4:15, Rom 16:5, Acts 16:40).
Observation Question: What are characteristics of these false teachers (2 Timothy 3:6-9)?
1. False teachers are deceptive.
Paul says they “insinuate” their way into homes, or it can be translated “creep” or “worm” (v. 6). These teachers are crafty like the serpent in the garden. Often, they are great communicators and very charismatic; however, their intentions are not godly.
Be careful of the deceptive influence of false teachers. There is a reason that crowds often follow them.
2. False teachers seek to “gain control” over people.
“Captivate weak women” can also be translated “gain control over gullible women” (NIV). Be careful when you see too much power given to a spiritual leader. These teachers often gain control over people’s money, marriages, and future. As seen in cults, spiritual abuse is common.
Remember Jesus said he came to serve and not be served. Servant leadership should be the model in our churches (Matt 20:25-28). Be careful of abusive ministries and ministers.
3. False teachers often focus their attacks on women.
This mirrors Satan’s initial temptation of Eve, and God’s prophecy of Satan’s continued enmity with women (Gen 3:15). Often the majority of cult members are women. Many times, these women are abused mentally, spiritually, and physically.
4. False teachers prey on people’s problems promising quick solutions.
Paul says these women “are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions” (v. 6). The false teachers prey on these women’s vulnerabilities—promising healing, restoration of their family, financial prosperity, etc. In an attempt to heal their hurts and meet their felt-needs, these women are led into captivity.
5. False teachers prey on those who are always searching for new truth.
Paul describes these victims as “Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). Often, you’ll find cult followers jumping from one perceived truth to another. They have tried this and that. They have a desire to know the truth but have not fully accepted the message of the Bible. Therefore, they are vulnerable to teachers that say they have found “new revelation.”
6. False teachers oppose the truth and instigate rebellion against God and godly leaders.
In verse 8, Paul says, “And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth.” The names Jannes and Jambres are never mentioned in the Old Testament. However, according to tradition, these were the sorcerers who opposed Moses when he went to Pharaoh’s court. They went with Israel to Mt. Sinai and instigated the rebellion of worshiping the golden calves. John MacArthur shares,
Jewish tradition holds that they pretended to convert to Judaism in order to subvert Moses’ divine assignment to liberate Israel from Egypt, that they led in making and worshiping the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, and that they were slaughtered by the Levites along with the other idolaters (See Ex. 32). That possibility is consistent with Paul’s warning about false leaders who corrupt the church from within. Just as those two men opposed Moses in his teaching and leading ancient Israel, so these men in Ephesus also opposed the truth of the gospel.5
In the same way, false teachers often accuse and oppose godly teachers and try to create rebellion in churches and ministries.
7. False teachers often perform false and lying miracles.
This is implied by the fact that Paul refers to the two sorcerers that mimicked the miracles Moses performed. They turned their staffs into serpents, turned water into blood, and brought forth frogs. But when it came to the miracle of the gnats and the subsequent miracles, the magicians failed to imitate them (Ex. 8:16–19). Similarly, false teachers often deceive through lying miracles that fall woefully short of God’s glory. Consider the following verses,
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
Jesus and Paul both said signs and wonders would follow false teachers in the last days. They perform these miracles to “deceive.” Even now, we have all kinds of phenomena happening in the church with no biblical support: stigmata (people experiencing marks of the crucifixion), statues and paintings with tears of blood, floating gold dust during services, people gaining gold teeth, people barking like dogs and roaring like lions, etc.
If we reject Scripture as our rule and standard of faith and practice (2 Tim 3:17), then we can accept anything and be led astray. This is what many have done in the church. They accept things that have no affirmation in Scripture, and therefore make themselves and those they teach vulnerable to deception.
8. False teachers are unregenerate and therefore have unregenerate thinking.
Paul says these men “have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth” (v. 8). MacArthur gives telling insight about the word “disqualified”—also translated “rejected”:
Adokimos (Rejected) was used of metals that did not pass the test of purity and were discarded. The word also was used of counterfeits of various sorts. The fact that the men were rejected as regards the faith makes clear that Paul was speaking of individuals within the church who claimed to be Christians but were not.
As with those in the church who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, these false teachers are not born again. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are either deceived about their salvation or are intentionally deceiving others for their own gain.
Since they are not born again, they cannot truly understand Scripture. Paul said the natural man cannot understand the things of God for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14). Therefore, these false teachers can only pervert true doctrine. They deny the inerrancy of Scripture; they deny the creation of the world through God’s spoken word; they deny the deity of Christ; they deny a literal resurrection and the miracles of Scripture. They accept and teach revelation outside of Scripture—denying Scripture’s sufficiency. They are men and women of depraved thinking.
9. False teachers will eventually be exposed.
Paul says, “But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres” (v. 9).
They can only hide their hypocrisy for a while because false teaching provides no power to live a holy life; therefore, they will eventually be exposed. It is very common to, at some point, hear how these teachers embezzled money, had multiple affairs, committed spiritual abuse, etc. Like Jannes and Jambres, their inability to produce the true works of God—a holy life, lasting freedom for their followers, etc.—eventually becomes clear to everyone.
In Matthew 7:16-17, Christ said, “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Paul’s comments about them not getting “very far” probably refer to their false teaching and not just the false teachers. Their error doesn’t get very far. John Stott said,
Error may spread and be popular for a time. But it ‘will not get very far’. In the end it is bound to be exposed, and the truth is sure to be vindicated. This is a clear lesson of church history. Numerous heresies have arisen, and some have seemed likely to triumph. But today they are largely of antiquarian interest. God has preserved his truth in the church.6
In these last days, false teachers and false teaching will be common. We must be aware of this.
Application Question: What experience/exposure do you have with cults, false teachers, and false teachings? What are some of the common dangers you have noticed?
As we consider the characteristics of the church in the last days, there are many applications we can make.
1. We must examine our salvation.
Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!” Christ said in the last days many will say to him, “Lord, Lord” but he will respond, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). That type of false faith will be increasingly common in the church, as we get closer to Christ’s coming. It will be religion without relationship, form without power, a shell without life. We must test ourselves to see if we are saved.
How do we know if we’re born again? Certainly, we must ask ourselves discerning questions such as: Are we demonstrating new life and new spiritual affections? Do we love God? Do we love his people? Do we love his Word? Are we obeying him? Are we decreasing in sin and growing in righteousness? Has our profession changed our life or is it just a profession? If our profession hasn’t changed our life, then maybe we just have the form of faith without its saving power in our lives.
The book of 1 John is a book of many tests of salvation (cf. 1 John 5:13). First John 3:9-10 says,
Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.
A true believer will fail and fall into sin, but he will not practice a lifestyle of unrepentant sin; the general direction of his life is very different from the world. A true believer practices righteousness and loves God’s people.
Do you bear the marks of true salvation?
2. We must make sure that Christ is still our first love.
The root problem of the end-time church is self-love. They love themselves more than God, which results in many other sins—love of money, love of pleasure, lack of family love, pride, abusiveness, etc. This can happen to us as well if we don’t love God first. In Revelation 2:4-5, Christ rebuked the church of Ephesus for this sin. He said,
But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent.
Christ promised them judgment if they didn’t repent for their lack of love for God. No doubt, this lack of love was causing other sins in their lives, as it does with ours. If we’ve lost it, we must repent and turn back to God. We must put him first as an act of love and obedience. As we love God first, we will love others and grow in righteousness.
Is Christ still your first love? If not, what is taking first place in your life?
3. We must test everything through Scripture—miracles, teaching, etc.
Like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, we must test everything through Scripture to see if it’s of God: Is the Bible being preached or is Scripture simply a launching point for worldly anecdotes? Are my experiences biblical or just something that feels good? The Word of God equips the man of God for “every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If it doesn’t pass the biblical test, it should be discarded. If we hold onto Scripture, we’ll be kept from the waves of false doctrine and lying miracles in the church.
4. We must understand our call to persevere in, to love, and to minister to the church.
Many have given up on the church because they have experienced hurt, betrayal, and abuse during these terrible times. However, Christ said the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church (Matt 16:18)—Satan’s works will not ultimately prevail against her. Also, Christ loved the church and gave his life for her—knowing her imperfections (Eph 5:25-27). We must love her as well and be faithful to her, even when she is unfaithful. In this season, there are tares, bad fish, and leaven within her, but God will ultimately purify and restore her. And in this season, we are part of that restoration. We must persevere in, love, and minister to the church, even as our Lord does.
Do you still love her? Are you faithfully ministering to her? Or are you disillusioned and fed-up with her?
Application Question: What other applications can we take from the reality that terrible seasons will plague the end-time church? How will you apply these truths to your life?
What are characteristics of the church in the last days?
- In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Believers
- In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Teachers
Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown
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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 249). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 106). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2120). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
4 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 225). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 119). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 91). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.