(2 Tim 3:1-9) The Church in the Last Days
The Church in the Last Days
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
2 Timothy 3:1-9
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. He calls Timothy to suffer with him as a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3). There is persecution of Christians happening throughout the Roman Empire. However, in this passage, Paul is not talking about suffering from without but suffering from within. Some of our greatest suffering often comes from people within God’s church.
Paul says, “But mark 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 times.
In describing the state of the church in the last days, Paul says it will be “terrible” times. This word can be translated “perilous” or “violent.” It was only used one other time in the New Testament to describe the two demoniacs of 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.
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.
However, the scary thing about the last days is that it not only refers to the time right before Christ comes, but it applied to the very age Timothy ministered in. This is clear as Paul warns Timothy to “have nothing to do with such people” (v. 5). The present tense means that the terrible times had began. In fact, on God’s eschatological timeline, the last days began when Christ came to the earth. Hebrews 1:1-2 says,
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Why is Paul informing Timothy about the last days? It is because he 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, “All this I have told you 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 does. We need to understand this reality to. 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?
In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Believers
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
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 who look nothing like their Lord and Savior. In verse 5, Paul says that they had a form of godliness but denied its power. This means that they had the outer trappings of religion—they went to church, sang hymnals, gave their tithes, went on a few mission trips—but lived ungodly lives.
This is exactly what Christ warned the disciples of in the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. Christ said the kingdom of heaven was 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 describing how evil spreads and saturates the church at various stages of history. The character of the current kingdom is scary!
The current state of the church often leads to disillusionment and apostasy—Satan’s very intent in planting tares and leaven. No doubt this is the reason Paul warns Timothy. Here he describes the characteristics of many professing believers during these terrible times:
1. 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 only becomes another addition to seeking satisfaction and fulfilment. People ask, “Can religion help us be happy? Can it help our children lie and steal less? Then, we should go to church!”
In fact, much of the teaching in churches these days focuses on self-love. It has essentially . They say, “You !” However, there is never . The Bible assumes that we already do—it is a result of our sin nature. When Scripture says to love . Scripture continually calls us to others over ourselves (Phil 2:3). However, since self has replaced God, it leads to many others sin.
2. 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 means to financial gain.”
3. Boastful: Those who love themselves will continually brag about themselves: their money, their education, their achievement, 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.
4. Proud: Pride is the internal motivation that leads people to brag. People will think higher of themselves than they should. They will think higher of their race, their social class, their economic standing, and even their doctrine.
5. Abusive: The word can be translated “blasphemers.” 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, and social or economic standings, denominations, and even their own families.
6. 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 teachers, bosses, government, and ultimately God.
7. 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 everything else. Like Israel in the wilderness, they will be grumblers who are constantly disciplined by God (1 Cor 10:10).
8. 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, and entertainment, and actions will be unholy.
9. Without love: “Without love” can actually be translated “without natural affection” or “without family affection.” Parents will neglect their children in their pursuit of 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!
10. Unforgiving: They won’t forgive others nor seek forgiveness from others. They are so prideful that they won’t humble themselves to seek reconciliation.
11. Slanderous: This 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.
12. 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.
13. Brutal: This can be translated “fierce” or “untamed.” People will be like animals seeking to tear one another apart in order to gain or protect their desires.
14. Not lovers of the 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.
15. Treacherous: They won’t keep their promises. The only commitment they will keep is the pursuit of happiness. Divorce, church splits, and church hopping will be common place.
16. Rash: 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 my self!”, as if that justifies any number of evils.
17. 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).
18. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of 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.
19. Having a form of godliness but denying its power. 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.”
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, “Have nothing to do with such people” (v 5). This means that there should be a healthy separation from individuals who profess Christ and live lives that deny that reality. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked 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,
Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
Application Question: Which characteristic that Paul shared stood out to you most and why? Why is 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
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
2 Timothy 3:6-9
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the false teachers in the church as seen in 2 Timothy 3:6-9?
Paul next describes many of the teachers in these churches and ministries. When he says, they “worm their way into homes,” in the Greek it is actually “the homes,” with an article (v. 6). This means these homes were obviously well known. This probably referred to the house churches where people gathered for worship (cf. Col 4:15, Rom 16:5, Acts 16:40).
What were some of characteristics of these false teachers?
1. False teachers are deceptive.
Paul says they “worm” their way into homes, or it can be translated “creep” (v. 6). You will find many of these teachers are very 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 often seek to “gain control” over people.
Be careful when you see too much power given to a spiritual leader; this is very common in cults. These teachers often gain control over people’s money, marriages, and future. Spiritual abuse is common.
Remember Jesus said he came to serve and not be served. Similarly, servant leadership should be the model in our churches (Matt 20:25-28). Be careful of abusive ministries and teachers.
3. False teachers often focus their attacks on women.
Certainly, 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 loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (v. 6). They prey on these women’s vulnerabilities—promising healing, restoration of their family, financial prosperity, etc. In order to meet their felt needs, these women are led into captivity.
5. False teachers prey on those who are always searching for new truth.
Paul says these women are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). Often you’ll find cult followers jump 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 often oppose the truth and instigate rebellion against God and godly leaders.
In verse 8, Paul says, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth”. Jannes and Jambres were the names of the sorcerers who opposed Moses when he went to Pharaoh’s court. According to Jewish tradition, 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.
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 probably implied by the fact that Paul refers to two sorcerers that mimicked the miracles Moses performed. They turned their staffs into serpents, turned water in blood, and brought forth frogs. But when it came to the miracle of the gnats, the magicians failed to imitate it (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. See, I have told you ahead of time.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Jesus and Paul both said signs and miracles 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 painting with tears of blood, floating gold dust during services, people gaining gold teeth, people barking like dogs, and roaring like lions, etc.
Listen 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 any deception.
8. False teachers are really unregenerate.
Paul says, “They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (v. 8). MacArthur shares telling insight about the word “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.
9. False teachers will eventually be exposed.
Paul says, “But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone” (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 have 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, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Paul’s comments also probably refer to the false teaching and not just the false teacher. 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.
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, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” Christ said in the last days many would say to him, “Lord, Lord” but he would respond, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity” (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 form and no 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,
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
A true believer will fail and fall into sin, but he will not practice a lifestyle of unrepentant sin—the direction of his life is 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 essentially rebuked the church of Ephesus for this sin. He said,
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
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 life, as it does 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, 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 stories? Are my experiences biblical or just something that feels good? The Word of God equips the man of God for “all righteousness” (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 minister to the church.
As we understand these terrible times in the church, we must recognize our need to not only minister to the world but minister to the church. The church is full of sick people and even spiritually dead people, whether they realize it or not. Like John the Baptist calling Israel to repentance, we must also call the church to repentance. We must teach the Word in season and out season—when it’s popular and when it’s not popular. James 5:19-20 says,
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Are you ministering to the brokenness in the church or are you disillusioned and fed-up?
5. We must understand our call to persevere in and love the church.
Many have given up on the church because they have experienced 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. We must love her as well and be faithful to her, even when she is unfaithful. In this season, there are tares and bad fish within, and leaven saturating her, but God will ultimately purify and restore her. And in this season, we are part of that restoration. We must persevere in and love the church, even as our Lord.
Do you still love her? Are you being faithful to 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
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 249). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 106). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2120). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 225). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 119). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 91). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.