Last Days and Latter Times (!)
By Charles H. Welch
These words occur in two prophetic warnings given by the apostle Paul in his epistle to Timothy.
These periods do not reach out to the prophetic day of the Lord, they are the dosing days of the dispensation entrusted to Paul, and just as in his own lifetime he was forsaken by all but a few, so he foresaw that as the dispensation neared its end, apostasy would be its sad characteristic. Let us first of all examine the two expressions "the latter times" and "the last days".
En husterois kairois are the words translated "in the latter times"; en eschatais hemerais are the words translated "in the last days". We can hardly think that different words are used merely for the sake of variety, and will not assume that they mean one and the same thing. First, let us consider the words "latter" and "last". "Last" is a contracted form of "latest", and indicates the utmost or extreme limit of the time under review. "Latter" is a variant of "later", and while still dealing with the time of the end is not so extreme, the two words stand related as "later", "latest". The English word therefore suggests that 1 Timothy 4:1 is the heraid of 2 Timothy 3:1. What testimony do the Greek words give?
Husteros. The primary significance of this word is "want" or "deficiency", and is only applied to time in a figurative way.
We will give one example of the various forms that occur in the
These "after times" might refer to the period immediately following the Apostle's day, they can also refer to the remaining or dosing days of the present dispensation. Eschatos, "with reference to time, that which concludes anything" (Dr. Bullinger, Gk. and Eng. Lex. and Con.). We will not examine the characteristics of the apostasy detailed in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, until we complete our examination of the time periods mentioned in these two epistles.
The word kairos, translated "times" in 1 Timothy 4:1, must be given attention. Chronos indicates duration, "the time in which anything IS done", whereas kairos indicates the opportune moment, the "season" at which a thing SHOULD BE done (see Dr. E. W. Bullinger, Gk. and Eng. Lex. and Con.). So in Philippians 4: 10 akaireomai is "lack of opportunity" , not merely lack of time, as also eukairos and akairos in 2 Timothy 4:2, "in season" or opportunely, and "out of season", inopportunely. While the A.V. renders kairos "season" fifteen times, it employs the broader word "time" in the majority of cases.
Confining ourselves to the Pastoral Epistles, we find kairos occurring seven times, as follows:
A I Tim. 2:6. A testimony In due time
A Titus 1:3. A manifestation in due times.
We shall discover, as we proceed, that the apostasy of 1 Timothy four prepares the way for the perilous times of 2 Timothy three and four, but as an antidote to depression we observe that God also has His seasons for making known His truth, and vindicating both His saints and His Son. The cryptic prophetical phrase "a time, and times, and half a time" (Rev. 12:14) uses this word kairos, which, referring as it does to the last three years and a half of the final "seven" of Daniel nine, suggests at least that in the "after times" of 1 Timothy 4:1, we may expect something similar in character even if belonging to a different dispensation. Turning to 2 Timothy we observe that in chapter 3:1 we have two time notes, namely "the last days" and "perilous times". Eschatos, translated "last", has reference to the furthest edge, border or extreme. It can mean the highest (summus), the lowest (imus) or the meanest (extremus). It will be seen therefore that the husteros seasons of 1 Timothy four are the prelude to the perilous extremity of the seasons of 2 Timothy three, and the factors that make up the apostasy of the former period find their fruition in the practices and doctrines of the last days.
Throughout the N.T. there are statements that point to the evil character of that which comes "last" (Luke 11:26, 1 Cor. 4:9, Jas. 5:3, 2 Pet. 2:20, 3:3, 1 John 2:18 and Jude 18). In 2 Timothy 3:1 the Apostle does not say "the last times", but the last days. The word hemera primarily means that period of time during which the sun is above the horizon (Matt. 20:6,12); a period of twelve hours (John 11 :9), a period contrasted with night, with its darkness and with the inability to do any more work (John 9:4). It also stands for the complete period of twenty-four hours (Mark 9:2), and so to any particular period of time, as "the days of Herod", "the days of Noah", "the last day", "the day of judgment". Two very important and contrasted periods are "man's day" (A.V. "man's judgment" 1 Cor. 4:3) and "The Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10). The reference in 2 Timothy 3:1 is to the extreme verge of man's day, which must give place to the Day of the Lord. The seven references to "the last day" in John's Gospel and the one reference in 2 Timothy 3:1 and in James 5:3, differ from the three references in Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2 and 2 Peter 3:3 in that these last three references have a more extended form, reading "in" or "at" the last of the days. The period spoken of in Hebrews 1:2 is not "the last day" for that is still future, but "the last of the days", namely, the prophetic periods marked off in the Scriptures.
From these assembled features we gather that Pau1 speaks in 2 Timothy 3:1, not of the last of the days spoken of by the O.T. prophets, nor of the last day of resurrection, nor the last hour of Antichrist's dominion, but the last days of the dispensation to which Paul the Prisoner of the Lord ministered, in other words, the closing days in which we live. These days are called "perilous". This is the first characteristic of the closing days that the Apostle gives us. Chalepos, the word translated "perilous", is a word to give us pause. It has an affinity with the Hebrew caleph, which is translated axes, hammers and the like, and implies some measure of violence and force. The Greek word employed to describe the mental condition of the men possessed with devils, who were "exceeding fierce" (Matt. 8:28), gives some idea of the character of the closing days of this dispensation. It is so important that we should be aware of the character of the evil day that lies just ahead of us, that we give a condensed quotation from Liddell and Scott of further definitions and examples of the word translated "perilous".
Chalepos is used of things hard to bear, sore, severe, grievous, dangerous as the sea; of pathways that are rough, rugged and steep. When used of persons, it indicates that they are hostile, angry, cruel and stern; bitter as enemies; troublesome as neighbours and ill tempered generally. These references, added to that of Matthew 8:28, are a trumpet call to vigilance, to the putting on of the whole armour of God, to single-eyed service, and to unswerving, uncorrupted loyalty. The last reference that we must consider under this heading of "times" is that of 2 Timothy four.
"The time will come" (2 Tim. 4:3). Again we must postpone an examination of the things that are to be done in this coming time, in order to complete our examination of the time itself. Here once again we have the word kairos "season", and there seems to be an intentional play on the word, as will be seen by the following translation:
We do well to remember in preaching the Word in these perilous times, that if we wait for "a convenient season" we shall wait too long. In the estimate of many, it will always be inopportune, but those who have received the good deposit as a sacred trust know that the preaching of the truth of the Mystery, however much it may be refused and rejected, is indeed and in truth "a word in season".
Summing up what we have seen concerning "the times", we perceive that in after times, which can refer to the days following the Apostle's own times, as well as later, there will be an apostasy from the faith, which in turn will lead to the perilous times that will be the characteristic of the extreme end of this dispensation. The preaching of the Word, however it be attacked or ignored, must be maintained until the course is finished. At one end of the story is a departure from the faith, and ~t the other the example of one who kept the faith (1 Tim. 4:1,2 Tim. 4:7). May we sedulously avoid the one, even as we seek to emulate the other.
The character of the "last days"
The apostasy of 1 Timothy four started early in the history of christendom, but the prophetic warning of 2 Timothy three refers to "the last days", the extreme verge, the days immediately before the end of the present dispensation, and possibly to the days in which we live, or which are imminent. The one characteristic of these days, revealed here, is that they are "perilous", a word we have already examined, a word which is used of men possessed of "devils" or demons, and who were in consequence "exceeding fierce". The "last days" therefore will be "perilous" indeed. In the preparatory and incipient stages of this great and terrible apostasy, the bait was cleverly hidden beneath seductions to abstinence and self-denial, now, as the end approaches, this disguise is thrown away and the hideous character of the hidden plague is made manifest. Now "self" is prominent, and instead of a false humility, we have such words as "boasters, proud . . . heady, highminded". Where 1 Timothy tells us that the doctrine of demons leads to "forbidding to marry", the present passage reveals that men will be "incontinent" and "without natural affection". Where the early departure was marked by a specious sanctity, in the last days no such pretence will be made, they will be "unholy". The most marked characteristic of this departure however is its relation to "love". The word philos "love" appears at the beginning and the close of this long and terrible list.
The warning against "the love of money" as a root of all evil is sounded in 1 Timothy 6:10 which, by coveting, some "have erred from the faith". In the parallel passage Colossians two, the Apostle warns against "a vain deceitful philosophy" (Col. 2:8), which introduces many features that are similar to those given in 1 Timothy three. The epistles to Timothy and Titus are not without the corrective to this false and selfish love, as the following series of seven references will show.
Is it accidental that the apostasy of 1 Timothy four is associated with forbidding marriage, and commanding to abstain from meats, and the antidote to the false love of the last days, should stress hospitality, husband, wife and child, and link such homely love with the love that embraces "the good" and "the faith" and which reaches up to the majestic philanthropy of God Himself? The root of true doctrine thrives in the home life of the believer, and where the house is a place of light and love, the Church will thrive, but whenever church-going, church meetings, or that which can be comprised under the term "churchianity" is substituted, there the rot sets in and the root withers. Such will have exchanged "The mystery of godliness" (1 Tim. 3:16) for "The form of godliness" (2 Tim. 3:5). But the fact that a form is retained is an indication that professing believers are still before us. In the epistle to Timothy, the safeguard on either side of the mystery of godliness is expressed thus:
In 2 Timothy the corrective is the inspired Word and its preaching. While Timothy is warned that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived", his own safeguard was to "continue" in the things he had learned and had been assured of, knowing of whom he had learned them, remembering that all Scripture was given by inspiration of God, and was profitable for doctrine, repro of, correction and instruction, and that he could only hope to stand against the swelling tide of apostasy by preaching "The Word" in season and out of season.
"The time will come" (2 Tim. 4:3). Here is a resumption of the Apostle's revelation concerning the last days. The first thing mentioned is, that in that day men will not endure sound doctrine. The word translated "endure", anechomai, is a compound of the verb echo "to have", and the meaning of the Apostle is well expressed in the colloquial expression in use today, they will not "have it". The word means "to suffer" anything, or "to bear with" anything, and so indicates an intolerance of the truth.
There are several compounds of echo "to have" in these three pastoral epistles, which should be considered together, as they all have a bearing upon the attitude which different men will adopt at the time of the end. We have already learned that the initial departure from the truth started with "giving heed" (1 Tim. 4:1) and this word is prosecho. Over against this the Apostle says "give attendance" to the reading of the Word, and uses prosecho again. The Apostle had already warned Timothy against "giving heed" to fables, which were antagonistic to the dispensation which he had received from God (1 Tim. 1:4), where once again prosecho is employed. (A similar passage is that of Titus 1: 14.) These fables, added the Apostle, but "minister" or "occasion" questionings, and here the word used is parecho. The word "to abstain" in 1 Timothy 4:3 is apechomai. Over against this we have the "holding fast" the faithful word (Tit. 1 :9), antechomai; and the advice to Timothy "take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:16) where epecho is found.
The complete safeguarding of the Truth, and the only true means of stemming the apostasy and preserving the trust and truth of the Mystery, is summed up in a passage where the Apostle uses the simplest form of the word echo, "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me" (2 Tim. 1:13).
Here we have the words, echo "to have and to hold" and six combinations of that word with prepositional affixes. The collection of this series must not be considered as an interesting trifle, it is supplying the English reader with something of the emphasis that the reader of the original would gather, as he pondered the warning concerning "giving heed" with which the apostasy starts, and the "intolerance" with which it ends.
The passage "they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" could mean, as it reads in the English, that the teachers were the ones that had the itching ears, and this ambiguity is rectified in the R.V. Moffatt gives a vigorous and suggestive rendering of the passage:
The figure of the itching ear would be known to Timothy as it is found in Greek writers before the days of the Apostle. It denotes, among other things, a desire for something pleasant at all costs, a shirking of responsibility and shelving of troublesome truth. There will be no dearth apparently of teachers in the last days, who will satisfy this craving, and the main basis of such teaching will be the opposite of the musterion (mystery), it will be muthos (the myth or fable).
Modern civilization has made it necessary that all along the roads, both in town and country, there should be erected signs, warning and directing the traveler. Some of these signs are long-distance warnings, telling a lorry driver that some miles ahead is a bridge only twelve feet high, others are immediate, and are at our very door. These warnings and signs may be used as symbols of the signs of the times. Long-distance signs are those of Matthew twenty-four, which foretell the movements soon to take place in Palestine and among the nations. The more immediate signs inc1ude the notice "Beware" found in Colossians two, and the warnings concerning apostasy in 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy which we have examined in this article. See the article The LIE.
This phrase "the last day" or "the last days" must be used with discrimination, as an examination of its usage has revealed.
This is particularly so when dealing with Peter's version of Joel's prophecy, as found in Acts 2: 17. It will be observed that Joel does not use the expression "the last days", but "afterward", that is, after the restoration spoken of in the preceding verses (Joel 2:25-28), and referred to again in Joel 3:1, "in those days, and in that time". If we ask why Peter should have felt it necessary to alter the word "afterward" to "in the last days", putting a most general term in place of one that is specific, the answer is simple and on the surf ace. Peter stood up and intervened when the outpoured gift of tongues was attributed by some to "drunkenness". This is not the effect of drinking wine, said Peter, "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel," and if this outpouring of the Spirit on this anticipatory day of Pentecost is to be explained away in such a manner, what is to become of the prophecies of Israel's restoration that we all look to being most gloriously fulfi11ed?
This citation of Peter's, if taken out of its context, can, like the rest of Scripture, be made to teach almost anything that fits with a preconceived scheme-but if we allow Peter to speak for himself, this reference, namely Acts 2:17, is the last that we should appeal to, let alone make the foundation for, a scheme of prophetic interpretation.