Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemonby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
The subject of 2 Timothy is inoculation against the decline of the church. After a word of introduction (1:1-2), Paul speaks of the divine provisions for the inoculation: a pure conscience, unfeigned faith, the divine gift, a strong spirit, eternal grace, incorruptible life, the healthy word, and the indwelling Spirit (1:3-14). Then he goes on to point out that the basic factor of the decline is the forsaking of the apostle and his ministry (1:15-18). In 2:1-15 Paul speaks of the inoculator, indicating that he must be a teacher, soldier, contender, husbandman, and workman. In the second half of chapter two he tells us of the spread of the decline, a spreading likened to that of gangrene (2:16-26). In chapter three Paul first speaks of the worsening of the decline, showing that it will become grievous times of deceiving (3:1-13), and then speaks of the antidote of the inoculation—the divine word (3:14-17). In chapter four there are three sections: the incentive to the inoculator—the coming reward (4:1-8); the issue of the decline—loving the present age and doing many evil things (4:9-18); and the conclusion (4:19-22). If we consider the outline of 2 Timothy, we shall see that it is not merely a pastoral book, a book for so-called pastors. On the contrary, it is a book written for inoculators, those who would inoculate others against the decline of the church.
Chapter three opens with the words, “But know this, that in the last days difficult times shall come.” Once again Paul uses the word “but” to point out a contrast. The contrast here is with the hope just expressed at the end of the preceding chapter. Toward the end of chapter two Paul declared that “the firm foundation of God stands” (v. 19), and that we should “flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 22). Furthermore, if in meekness we correct those who oppose, “God may give them repentance unto the full knowledge of the truth, and they may return to soberness out of the snare of the Devil” (vv. 25-26). Paul realized that even though the decline would spread, the firm foundation of God still stands unshakable, bearing a seal which says, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.” At least God would have a remnant of those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Furthermore, such ones may even dispense the inoculation against the church’s decline. Yes, the decline is spreading, but we have a firm standing, we can enjoy the riches of the Lord, and we can do the work of inoculation, even convincing those who oppose to come back to the full knowledge of the truth. This is to bring back those who have been caught by the Devil, and snared by him, to God’s will. All this indicates that Paul was not discouraged. Even though the decline is spreading, we can do something positively to inoculate others against it.
Then in contrast to all this Paul says in 3:1, “But know this, that in the last days difficult times shall come.” Paul had the foresight and the insight to realize that difficult times would come in the last days. The expression “the last days” denotes the closing period of the present age (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18). It began from the end of the so-called apostolic age, in the latter part of the first century, and will last until Christ’s second appearing. The long duration of this period was not revealed to the apostles (Matt. 24:36); they expected the Lord to return in their generation.
Many Christians identify “the last days” in 3:1 with the “later times” in 1 Timothy 4:1. This is a mistake. In the Bible there is a dividing line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The ancient Jews regarded the times of the Old Testament as the early times or early days. With the coming of Christ the period of the Mosaic law was over. Christ’s coming began a new period, regarded as the last days, which will continue until Christ’s second coming. Concerning Christ’s second coming, there is a secret period of time, which was not known by the apostles. They were eager to know the time of the Lord’s second coming. But in Mark 13:32 the Lord Jesus said, “But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” Later, after the Lord’s resurrection, the disciples asked Him, “Dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). To this the Lord replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority” (v. 7). It is not easy to explain how the Lord could say that only the Father, not the Son, knows the time of the end. Perhaps in refusing to answer the question about the time of His coming, the Lord Jesus was maintaining the proper position under the headship of the Father. Therefore, He told them that this was something which “the Father hath set within his own authority.”
The early disciples thought that the Lord Jesus would come back in their generation. This was Paul’s concept when he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This shows that the length of the last days was a secret unknown by the apostles. We simply do not know the duration of time the Father has set in His administration between the Lord’s ascension and His second coming.
In 3:1 Paul says that in the last days “difficult times shall come.” The Greek for “difficult times” also means hard times, grievous times, perilous times. This means that these times will be extremely difficult for Christians. In verse 12 Paul says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” For those who pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace and who call on the name of the Lord out of a pure heart, this time will indeed be difficult, grievous, perilous. Here Paul seems to be saying, “Timothy, I am encouraged by the fact that the firm foundation of God stands and that, with others, you can pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace and call on the Lord out of a pure heart. You can stand together and dispense the inoculation against the decline of the church. Some may even be recovered to the full knowledge of the truth and to the will of God. Nevertheless, I want you to know that the time which is coming will be very difficult for you. This time will be grievous, perilous, for all those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart and who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.”
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