In the Apostle Paul’s last letter to Timothy, he instructed him to “know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). The “last days” Paul had in mind were not the “last days” Joel prophesied of (Joel 2:28-32) or the “last days” Jesus taught His disciples about (Matt. 24). Paul spoke of the last days of this present dispensation of grace.
The word “perilous” typically means dangerous, however, it also speaks of that which is difficult or hard to bear, even fierce or savage. Paul wanted to impress upon Timothy how crucial it was to understand the increasing dangers and difficulties believers would face in the last days of this present church age.

With increasing crime rates, new strains of disease, and growing terrorist threats, it is clear we are certainly living in “perilous times” today, but is this what Paul had in mind? When we continue reading in 2 Timothy, chapter 3, we find a different type of peril.

“For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:2-5)

The physical dangers associated with crime and terrorism are simply a reflection of a deeper problem, a spiritual problem. Spiritual decline in the world has an adverse effect upon the hearts and lives of men leading to selfishness, pride, inability to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with other people (even family members), and a lack of self-control. People can become so out of control that they become like brute beasts, centered only on their own pleasure without regard for the feelings or needs of others.

What could cause such a moral and ethical decline? The answer to this question and the real issue is found in verse 5:

“Having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim. 3:5)

It’s not that religion will disappear from society. On the contrary, religion will abound during the last days, for religion is what Paul calls “having a form of godliness.” The word “form” speaks of merely the outward appearance or show of godliness (devotion to God). More and more we will find that those who have a “form of godliness” will deny its power.

What is the “power of godliness?” It is that which enables a person to have a real relationship with God, a heart of true devotion to Him, as evidenced by a godly walk that pleases and honors the Lord. The “power of godliness” is the Word of God, the “power of God unto salvation.” The “power of godliness” is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who gave Himself for us, “the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” The “power of godliness” is the finished work that Christ accomplished on our behalf through His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. These are the things that man’s religion denies.

The Jews of Jesus’ day had departed from the Law which laid out God’s instructions on how they were to worship Him. They had turned the true worship of God into nothing more than a man-made religion— “the Jews’ religion” or Judaism (Gal. 1:13-14). Instead of adhering to the commandments of God, they pursued their own religious traditions, “the traditions of the elders” (Matt. 15:1-6).

Having departed from the Word of God as a basis for their faith, when their Messiah came, as prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, they did not recognize Him. Jesus was not their idea of what the Messiah would be like. Considering themselves to be righteous, they were offended when Jesus exposed their sins and their need of a Savior. Thus, they denied “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14) and delivered Him up to the Romans to be crucified. In order to try and justify their actions, the Jews also denied the greatest proof that Jesus of Nazareth truly was both Lord and Christ: His resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:32-36 with Acts 4:2).

Religious people today deny the very same things: the Word of God, the Son of God, and the Salvation of God provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, just as with the Jews, it all begins with a denial of the Word of God. This is what Paul warns Timothy (and us) about in his last letter. This departure from the Word of Truth is what has led to the “perilous times” we are experiencing in these “last days” of the dispensation of God’s grace. However, this departure does not happen all at once; it is a gradual progression, a progression Paul outlines in the book of 2 Timothy.

This progression begins when men

Stray from the Truth (2 Tim. 2:18).

Paul warned Timothy to “shun profane and idle babblings for they will increase to more ungodliness, and their message will spread like cancer (literally ‘gangrene’) (2 Tim. 2:16-17). The word “profane” speaks of that which is common, unholy, or ungodly. As believers, we are to avoid such useless discussions for they only promote more ungodliness and their destructive message will eat away at men’s hearts like a vicious disease.

Paul specifically names two men who engaged in such “babblings:” Hymenaeus and Philetus. Their problem began when they “strayed concerning the truth” (2 Tim. 2:18). To “stray” means to deviate from, to err, or to miss the mark. Their “straying” was caused by a dispensational error, “saying that the resurrection is already past.” This is a dangerous error for it can result in the “overthrow” of the “faith of some.” Not everyone is well-grounded in the truth of God’s Word, especially from a dispensational standpoint. When subjected to teaching that “strays” from the truth, some will find their faith easily shaken or overturned. Straying from the truth arises because believers fail to follow the admonition Paul gives in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Too often, we are concerned with what men think of us when we should, instead, earnestly present ourselves to God for His approval so that when we stand before the Lord to be judged for our works of service for Him, we can stand unashamed. God’s approval will depend on our knowledge of and obedience to the Scriptures, and we can only understand God’s Word as we approach it from a dispensational standpoint, “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

When Paul warns about those who have “a form of godliness” but “deny the truth of it,” he describes them as “ever learning but

Never Able to Come to the Knowledge of the Truth (2 Tim. 3:7).

Learning and education has been highly valued by men throughout history. Paul said of the Greeks of his day that they “seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). The people of the city of Athens “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). They were “ever learning,” but learning what? Their focus was on the wisdom, philosophies, and traditions of men.

The Jews, in their pursuit of knowledge, had this same problem; rather than concentrate on the commandments of God, they spent most of their time studying, discussing, and debating “the traditions of the elders” (Matt. 15:2). In doing so, Jesus told them, “you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6).

Today, men have not changed much. In our society today, the so-called “learned men,” whether they are scientists, professors, politicians, media, or entertainers, look down on those who believe in God, the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, Creation, etc. They stress education and learning, but they are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” because they reject the one source of absolute truth that we have available to us: the Word of God. They profess themselves to be wise, but in doing so they become fools because they neglect the wisdom and knowledge of God found in His Word (Rom. 1:22). If only they would realize that “God makes foolish the wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20) for men can never come to know God through worldly wisdom. Instead, God has chosen to save men through the “message of the cross:” that God loved us, though we were sinners, and sent His only Son into this world to be crucified for our sins and to rise again from the dead, thus providing the gift of eternal life to all who will trust in Him. This wonderful gospel message is the wisdom of God, yet it is looked at as foolishness by the world.

Those who initially neglect or reject the truth, will soon progress to the point where they

Resist the Truth (2 Tim. 3:8).

Paul used the example of Jannes and Jambres, whom most believe were two of the court magicians who withstood Moses and Aaron when they were brought before the Pharaoh of Egypt (Exo. 7-8). While we often focus on the ability of these magicians to duplicate some of the signs God gave Moses to perform (using their ‘enchantments’), Paul emphasized that they “resisted” Moses, meaning they took a stand against God’s prophet (or spokesman). In resisting Moses, they resisted the Word of God. In the gradual progression of men away from the truth, there comes a point when men actively take a stand against the truth of God’s Word, speaking against it, campaigning against it, and seeking to suppress it so that no one will hear and believe it. What would lead people to go this far?

Those who become adamant in their attacks against the truth of God’s Word are “men of corrupt minds” who are “disapproved concerning the faith.” Their minds have been corrupted by Satan, the “god of this age.” He has “blinded their minds” to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4) and does everything in his power to keep them away from “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5). They are “disapproved” by God “concerning the faith” because they have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

Paul further describes them as “evil men and imposters (KJV ‘seducers’)” who pose as religious men, some even claim to be ministers of Christ or God, but they do so to deceive, being deceived themselves by Satan. Paul warns that these imposters will “grow worse and worse.” We see that today in the religious world. We see denominations, churches, and pastors that were once fundamental in their beliefs now rejecting many basic truths of God’s Word: the inspiration of the Scriptures, the virgin birth of Christ, the deity of Jesus Christ, the creation of the universe by God (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20), and even the blood of Christ as the basis for our redemption.

We need to be aware of such opposition to the truth of God’s Word, but we need not despair because of it. Paul reminds us that their progress will be limited and that one day their “folly” (foolishness) will be manifest to all (2 Tim. 3:9).

Meanwhile, what must believers do to counteract those who resist the truth? Paul instructed Timothy to “continue (abide, remain under) in the things you have learned and been assured (convinced) of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim. 3:15). Timothy had learned from Paul who served as an example, not only to Timothy but to us as well. Timothy knew firsthand Paul’s teaching, godly walk, faithful service, and patient suffering for the cause of Christ (2 Tim. 3:10-11).

Timothy had learned from his godly mother and grandmother who taught him the Scriptures from the time he was a young child (2 Tim. 3:15). These Scriptures were not only able to make him “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” they were also “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” that he might be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Throughout history people have withstood and attacked the truth of God’s Word. King Jehoiakim went so far as to throw one of the scrolls of the prophet Jeremiah in the fire (Jer. 36:23), but God simply had Jeremiah record His words again. As we go further in these “last days” of the age of grace, these attacks will continue, thus Paul directed Timothy to:

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep (guard) by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” (2 Tim. 1:13-14)

The “sound words” Paul refers to here include all Scripture, but they refer specifically to the truth of the mystery, that message given by revelation to the Apostle Paul for this present dispensation. Just as God entrusted this message of grace initially to Paul, Paul entrusted it to Timothy, and we are to entrust it to others as well (2 Tim. 2:2). It is vital that we “hold fast” to this truth and “keep” (or guard) it, not in our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We need men and women, young people and children, who will take a stand for God’s Word, who will “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of Paul, His prisoner” but will be willing to “share in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8), knowing that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

To be continued …

Next Month: We will look at the final step in man’s departure from the truth and what believers are charged to do.