“Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.”
Confined in a Roman prison (2 Tim. 2:9), the apostle Paul knows his execution is on its way (4:6), and so he sends one last epistle to Timothy, his dear friend and ministry partner. Paul knows that his death will not be the end of God’s work in his part of the world; therefore, Timothy and the church need guidance in his absence. His final letter prepares Christians for the tough job of ministry, explaining that suffering is inevitable and must be endured (chap. 1). Looking to Christ as the model of perseverance, we must teach the gospel to the generations after us (2:1–13), living a life of godliness as a witness to the world in hope that God might grant repentance to His and our enemies (vv. 14–26).
Believers should never find themselves unprepared when suffering comes their way because the prophets long ago said that the faithful would meet trouble. This is the apostle’s point in today’s passage where Timothy is told that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (3:1). First-century Jews looked for great trials and tribulations just before the Lord’s final intervention to conquer sin and set all things right, for this is what Daniel 12:1–2 promises. Extrabiblical Jewish literature from the period echoes this forewarning, likewise expecting trouble for God’s faithful remnant. Timothy is not to be taken off guard by the problems in the world, for such problems must come in these last days.
Many Christians are tempted to read 2 Timothy 3:1 as a prediction of things that are still to come, yet we have just spoken as if Paul’s reference to the last days is for Timothy’s period, which might seem incredible since Timothy lived two thousand years ago and we are still waiting for the end. But the New Testament does not envision the “last days” as something for which we are still waiting but the entire period that began when Jesus atoned for sin, was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and poured out His Spirit on His people (Acts 2:14–21). These last days will end only when He returns to judge the living and the dead; thus, we are even now living in “the last hour” (1 John 2:18). That Paul understands the last days in this way is seen in his call for Timothy to avoid in his time those evildoers who live in the last days (2 Tim. 3:2–5).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
John Calvin, in his commentary on today’s passage, helpfully demonstrates that Paul’s warning shows how there will always be wickedness until Christ returns. Therefore, he says, we must never cease in our fight against it. We should not expect the church to be completely free of problems, for dealing with self-love and heresy in our midst is part of what it means to be god’s people in these last days. Let us therefore not be discouraged by the imperfections of the church.