Eph 3 :21 Unto him be glory in the
THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.
THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST DAYS.
1 Tim. iv. 1-3.---‘Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart [apostatize] from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons] speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared as with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.’
One of the signs which our Lord predicted as among the precursors of the great catastrophe which was to overwhelm the Jewish polity and people was a wide-spread and portentous defection from the faith, manifesting itself among the professed disciples of Christ. Our Lord’s reference to this defection, though distinct and pointed, is not so minute and detailed as the description of it which we find in the Epistles of St. Paul; hence we infer, as the language of the first verse of this chapter also suggests, that subsequent revelations of its nature and features had been made to the apostles. It is designated by St. Paul, in 2 Thess. ii. 3, ‘the apostasy,’---but he does not there stay to delineate its characteristic features, hastening on to portray the lineaments of ‘the man of sin.’ We have already pointed out the distinction between ‘the apostasy’ and ‘the man of sin,’ to confound which has been a common but egregious mistake. We shall find in the sequel that St. Paul’s description of the apostasy is as minute as that of the ‘man of sin,’ so as to enable us to identify the one as readily as the other.
The first point which it will be well to determine is the period of the apostasy; i.e. the time when it was to declare itself. It is said to be ‘in the latter times’ , an expression which, taken by itself, might seem somewhat indefinite, but when compared with other similar phrases will undoubtedly be found to denote a specific and definite period, well understood by Timothy and all the apostolic churches. It will be convenient to bring together into one view all the passages which refer to this momentous and critical epoch, which is the goal and terminus to which, by New Testament showing, all things were rapidly hastening.
ESCHATOLOGICAL TABLE, OR CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE LAST TIMES.
The End of the Age
Matt. xiii. 39.---‘The harvest is the end of the age.’
Matt. x. 22.---‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’
The Last Times, Days, etc.
1 Tim. iv. 1.---‘In the latter times some shall apostatise’
EQUIVALENT PHRASES REFERRING TO THE SAME PERIOD.
Matt. xxv. 13.---‘Ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of
Matt. vii. 22.---‘Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord.’
The Day of the Lord.
1 Cor. i. 8.---‘That ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus
The Day of God.
The Great Day.
Acts ii. 20.---‘That great and notable day of the Lord.’
The Day of Wrath.
The Day of Judgment.
Matt. x. 15.---‘It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment’ (Mark vi.
The Day of Redemption.
The Last Day.
John vi. 39.---‘That I should raise it up at the last day.’
1. That they all refer to one and the same period---a certain definite and specific time.
2. That they all either assume or affirm that the period in question is not far distant.
3. The limit beyond which it is not permissible to go in determining the period called ‘the last times’ is indicated in the New Testament scriptures, viz. the lifetime of the generation which rejected Christ.
4. This brings us to the period of the destruction of Jerusalem, as marking ‘the close of the age,’ ‘the day of the Lord,’ ‘the end.’ That is to say, the coming of the Lord, or the Parousia.
DESCRIPTION OF THE APOSTASY.
Having thus brought into one view the passages which speak of the period of the apostasy, it will be proper to follow a similar method with respect to the passages which describe the features and character of the apostasy itself. This fatal defection throws its dark shadow over the whole field of New Testament history, from our Lord’s prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, and even earlier, to the Apocalypse of St. John. It is instructive to observe how, as the time of its development and manifestation approaches, the shadow becomes darker and darker, until it reaches its deepest gloom in the revelation of the Antichrist.
CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST TIMES.
CONCLUSIONS RESPECTING THE APOSTASY.
From a consideration and comparison of these passages it will appear,---
1. That they all refer to the same great defection from the faith, designated by St. Paul ‘the apostasy.’
2. That this apostasy was to be very general and widespread.
3. That it was to be marked by an extreme depravity of morals, particularly by sins of the flesh.
4. That it was to be accompanied by pretensions to miraculous power.
5. That it was largely, if not chiefly, Jewish in its character.
6. That it rejected the incarnation and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ,---i.e. was the predicted Antichrist.
7. That it was to reach its full development in the ‘last times,’ and was to be the precursor of the Parousia.
Having thus taken a general survey of the New Testament doctrine concerning the apostasy, it only remains to notice some objections which may possibly be made to the foregoing conclusions.
1. It may be asked, What evidence have we that such errors and heresies prevailed in apostolic times? The answer is, The New Testament itself furnishes the proof. The evils which are described by St. Paul as future, are represented by St. Peter and St. John as actually present. The characteristics of the apostasy as set forth by the one are precisely those which are described by the others. Asceticism and immorality are conspicuous in the prophetic delineations of the apostasy by St. Paul, and we find the same features in the historical descriptions by St. Peter and St. John.
2. It may be objected that the period called ‘the latter times,’ or ‘the last times,’ is not strictly defined, and may, for aught we know, be still future.
But, in the first place, the injunctions given by St. Paul to Timothy clearly imply that it was not a distant, but a present, or at all events an impending, evil of which he was speaking. It is manifest that the symptoms of the apostasy had already begun to show themselves, and the whole tenor of the apostle’s exhortation implies that the evils specified would come under the notice of Timothy (1 Tim. vi. 20, 21).
Nothing can be more certain than that the apostles considered themselves to be living in ‘the last times.’ We shall have occasion in the sequel to see this distinctly proved. Meanwhile it may be observed that the passages arranged under the heading ‘the Last Times’ in our Eschatological Table, all refer to the same great crisis. It was ‘the close of the age’ [s u n t e l e i a t o u a i v n o z ], of which our Lord so often spoke. The apostasy was the predicted precursor of that end.
TIMOTHY AND THE PAROUSIA.
1 Tim. vi. 14.---[I give thee charge] ‘that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall show,’ etc.
This implies that Timothy might expect to live until that event took place. The apostle does not say, ‘Keep this commandment as long as you live;’ nor, ‘Keep it until death;’ but ‘until the appearing of Jesus Christ.’ These expressions are by not means equivalent. The ‘appearing’ [e p i f a n e i a ] is identical with the Parousia, an event which St. Paul and Timothy alike believed to be at hand.
Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. After quoting Bengel’s remark ‘that the faithful in the apostolic age were accustomed to look forward to the day of Christ as approaching; whereas we are accustomed to look forward to the day of death in like manner,’ he goes on to observe:---
‘We may fairly say that whatever impression is betrayed by the words that the coming of the Lord would be in Timotheus’s life-time, is chastened and corrected by the k a i r o i z i d i o i z [his own times]of the next verse.’
In other words, the erroneous opinion of one sentence is corrected by the cautious vagueness of the next! Is it possible to accept such a statement? Is there anything in k a i r o i z i d i o i z to justify such a comment? Or is such an estimate of the apostle’s language compatible with a belief in his inspiration? It was no ‘impression’ that the apostle ‘betrayed,’ but a conviction and an assurance founded on the express promises of Christ and the revelations of His Spirit.
No less exceptionable is the concluding refection:---
‘From such passages as this we see that the apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages,---constant expectation of the Lord’s return.’
But if this expectation was nothing more than a false impression, is not their attitude rather a caution than an example? We now see (assuming that the Parousia never took place) that they cherished a vain hope, and lived in the belief of a delusion. And if they were mistaken in this, the most confident and cherished of their convictions, how can we have any reliance on their other opinions? To regard the apostles and primitive Christians as all involved in an egregious delusion on a subject which had a foremost place in their faith and hope, is to strike a fatal blow at the inspiration and authority of the New Testament. When St. Paul declared, again and again, ‘The Lord is at hand,’ he did not give utterance to his private opinion, but spoke with authority as an organ of the Holy Ghost. Dean Alford’s observations may be best answered in the words of his own rejoinder to Professor Jowett:---
‘Was the apostle or was he not writing in the power of a spirit higher than his own? Have we, in any sense, God speaking in the Bible, or have we not? If we have, then of all passages it is in these which treat so confidently of futurity that we must recognise His voice: if we have it not in these passages, then where are we to listen for it all?’
We find the same apologetic tone in Dr. Ellicott’s remarks on this passage:---
‘It may, perhaps, be admitted that the sacred writers have used language in reference to the Lord’s return which seems to show that the longings of hope had almost become the convictions of belief.’
Strange that the plainest, strongest, most oft-repeated affirmations of his faith and hope by St. Paul should produce in the mind of a reader so faint an impression of his convictions as this. But there is not faltering in the declaration of the apostle; it is no peradventure that he utters; it is with a firm and confident tone that he raises the exulting cry, ‘The Lord is at hand.’ He does not express his own surmises, or hopes, or longings, but delivers the message with which he was charged, and, as a faithful witness for Christ, everywhere proclaims the speedy coming of the Lord.
THE APOSTASY ALREADY MANIFESTING ITSELF.
1 Tim. vi. 20, 21.---‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so-called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith.’
It is important to notice that from several intimations in this epistle it appears that the defection from the faith which was to characterise the latter days had already set in. St. Paul warns Timothy against ‘false teachers,’ with their ‘fables and endless genealogies,’---against those ‘who concerning the faith had made shipwreck;’ against others ‘who doted about questions, and strifes of words,---men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.’ These ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ were evidently already devouring the flock. To place the apostasy therefore in a post-apostolic age is to overlook the obvious teaching of the epistle. It was a present and not a distant evil which the apostle deprecated: the plague had begun in the camp.
THE PAROUSIA IN THE SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.
‘THAT DAY’---VIZ. THE PAROUSIA---ANTICIPATED.
2 Tim. i. 12.---‘He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against
The allusion in all these passages is to ‘the day of the Lord;’ the day par excellence; the day of His appearing; the Parousia.
The whole tenor of these passages indicates that St. Paul regarded ‘that day’ as now very near. In the anticipation of it he breaks forth into a burst of triumphant exultation, as if he were just about to receive the crown of victory,---‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day; and not to me only, but to all who love his appearing.’ How evidently all these events,---his own departure, his crown, ‘that day,’ and the Lord’s appearing, are anticipated as at hand! Shall we say that his anticipations were too sanguine? That the day has not yet come? That his crown is still ‘laid up’? that Onesiphorus has not yet found mercy? The supposition is incredible.
THE APOSTASY OF THE ‘LAST DAYS’ IMMINENT.
2 Tim. iii. 1-9.---‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.’
The ‘last days’ of this passage are evidently identical with the ‘latter times’ of 1 Tim. iv. 1. This is so obvious as to need no proof. The attempt to make a distinction between the ‘latter’ times and the ‘last’ times, which Bengel seems to sanction, is therefore futile. It is scarcely necessary to add that ‘the last days’ were the apostle’s own days---the time then present. He is speaking, not of the distant future, but of a time already commencing; for it is plain that he draws the picture of the characters described from the life. Indications of the coming apostasy were already apparent,---‘of this sort are they,’ etc. (ver. 6). It is assumed that Timothy would encounter those times, and those evil men from whom he is exhorted to turn away. The following note from Conybeare and Howson comes very near the truth, though it falls short of the whole truth:---
‘This phrase (e s c a t a i z h m e r a i z , used without the article, as having become a familiar expression) generally denotes the termination of the Mosaic dispensation. (See Acts ii. 17; 1 Pet. i. 5, 20; Heb. i. 2.) Thus the expression generally denotes (in the apostolic age) the time present; but here it points to a future immediately at hand, which is, however, blended with the present (see vers. 6, 8), and was in fact the end of the apostolic age. (Compare 1 John ii. 18, ‘It is the last hour.’) The long duration of this last period of the world’s development was not revealed to the apostles: they expected that their Lord’s return would end it, in their own generation; and thus His words were fulfilled, that none should foresee the time of His coming.
This closing explanation is what no one who believes that the apostles spoke and wrote by the power of the Holy Ghost can admit; and, notwithstanding the almost unanimous opinion of their critics that they were certainly mistaken, we hold by the apostles rather than by their critics.
Alford’s comment on this passage is painfully self-contradictory, and shows to what shifts learned men are reduced in order to save the credit of the apostles when they cannot believe their plain declarations. He says:---
‘The apostle for the most part wrote and spoke of it (the coming of the Lord) as soon to appear, not however without many and sufficient hints, furnished by the Spirit, of an interval, and that no short one, first to elapse.’
But how could and event be ‘soon to appear’ and yet a long period first to elapse? Or, are we to suppose that the Holy Spirit taught one thing while the apostles wrote and spoke quite another? If they said what they did respecting the nearness of the Parousia when they really had no knowledge and no revelation on the subject, they clearly exceeded their commission, and committed what the Word of God pronounces on of the most presumptuous sins,---added to the words of the prophecy which they were commissioned to convey. We reject the explanation in toto. It is not only a non-natural interpretation, but wholly inconsistent with any theory of inspiration of the word of God.
The passage before us is most important as delineating the character of ‘the apostasy.’ The dreaded apparition had already begun to reveal itself, and the apostle evidently describes it from actual observation. Phygellus and Hermogenes, who deserted the apostle; Hymenaeus and Philetus, with their profane and vain babbling; the fawning deceivers, who made proselytes of weak-minded women; the men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith, who resisted the truth; these were the vanguard of the locust army of errorists and apostates which was coming up to overspread and devastate the fair face of early Christianity. Their appearance indicated that ‘the last times’ had arrived, and that the Parousia was at hand. We might at first suppose that the hideous catalogue of reprobates contained in the opening verses of chapter iii. describes the general corruption of society outside the Christian church, but it is too evident that the apostle is alluding to men who had once professed the faith of Christ. They had ‘a form of godliness;’ they had ‘made shipwreck of faith,’ they were truly ‘apostates.’
That this ‘falling away’ from the truth had already set in is evident from the reiterated exhortations and warning which the apostle addresses to Timothy. Why should he speak with such impassioned earnestness if the evil was not to make its appearance for twenty or forty centuries? It is absurd to say that St. Paul was writing for the benefit of future ages. He was as truly a man living in his own age, and writing to a man of his own time concerning matters of present and personal interest to both, as any of us who now pour out our thoughts in a letter to an absent friend. There is an utter unreality in any other view of the apostolic epistles. It is impossible to read them without feeling the heart-throbs that beat in every line; all is vivid, intense, alive,. It is not a distant danger, seen through the haze of centuries, but one that is instant and urgent: the enemy was at the gate, and the veteran warrior, about to sink on the field of conflict, cheers on the young soldier to fidelity, and resistance to the end.
ANTICIPATIONS OF THE APPROACHING END.
2 Tim. iv. 1, 2.---‘I adjure thee before God, and Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead; and by his appearing and his kingdom, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.’
We find associated together in this passage as contemporaneous events the Parousia, the judgment, and the kingdom of Christ. These are all connected and related in their nature and in the time of their occurrence. We find the same collocation of events in Matt. xxv. 31, ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all the nations,’ etc.
The nearness of this consummation is distinctly affirmed. It is not, as in our Authorised Version, ‘who shall judge,’ but ‘who is about to judge’. One statement like this might suffice to settle the question both as to the fact and the apostle’s belief of the fact, that the time of the Parousia was at hand. But, instead of a single affirmation, we have the constant and uniform tenor of the whole New Testament doctrine on the subject. Those who say the apostles were in error on this point must have ‘a verifying faculty’ to distinguish between their inspired and their uninspired utterances. If St. Paul was inspired to write k r i n e i n , was he not equally inspired to write m e l l o n t o z ?
This imminency of the Parousia explains the fervour with which the apostle urges Timothy to put forth every effort in discharging the duties of his office: ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.’ These injunctions are sometimes employed to set forth the normal intensity and urgency with which the pastoral function should be discharged (and we do not condemn the application); but it is plain that St. Paul is not speaking of ordinary times and ordinary efforts. It is the agony of a tremendous crisis; the time is short; it is now or never; victory or death. These are not the common-place phrases about the diligent discharge of duty, but the alarm of the sentinel who sees the enemy at the gates, and blows the trumpet to warn the city.
THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO TITUS.
ANTICIPATION OF THE PAROUSIA.
‘Titus ii. 13.---‘Looking for that blessed hope, and the revelation of the glory of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’
We again find here, what we have long come to recognise, the habitual attitude of the Christians of the apostolic age, the expectation of the Lord’s coming. It is inculcated as one of the primary Christian duties, and ranks with sober, righteous, and godly living. This implies that the event was regarded as at hand, for how could a powerful motive to watchfulness be derived from a remote and unknown contingency lying in the distant future? Or, how could it be the duty of Christians to be ‘looking’ for that which was not to happen for hundreds and thousands of years? The apostle evidently regards the present aeon, t o n n u n a i v n a , as drawing to a close, and exhorts Christians to live in the attitude of expectancy of the Parousia, which was to introduce the new order, ‘the aiwno mellwn .’