Are We Living in the Last Days?
Let me guess. If there’s one word we’re all ready to retire in 2021, it’s the word unprecedented.
To be without precedent is to be novel, another word gone viral this year in the worst of ways. It’s an attempt to explain the unexplainable, the unknown, the unexperienced. I just read a newsletter that began with an almost audible sigh: “Don’t we all miss precedented times?!”
But can we really call what we’re experiencing unprecedented? Most of us certainly have never lived through a pandemic before, although I do have a couple friends whose mothers, astonishingly, made it through the 1918 pandemic and into this year relatively unscathed.
Remember those cartoons with the raggedy old guy wearing a signboard lettered “The End is Near?” Maybe not so crazy after all.
I’ve been studying 2 Timothy this summer. I chose this familiar epistle because Paul’s urgency for mentoring the next generation sets fire to my own. Disciple-making organizations like The Navigators take 2 Tim. 2:2 closely to heart:
“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”
Yet as I move into the latter half of the book, I’ve been struck by Paul’s warning over 2000 years ago that the challenging times we live in are not only precedented, they’re to be expected.
“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times” (2 Tim 3:1).
My great-grandparents labored in obscurity and near poverty in a European country that could not sustain them. They must have thought it was the End Times.
My immigrant grandparents lived through the Great War, a conflagration so horrific that they could not have dreamed another would follow in less than thirty years, necessitating numerals to distinguish them. Surely, they were living in the End Times.
My tenant-farming parents survived the Great Depression, the second World War, Korea, and Vietnam as well as droughts, hail, and tornados. In agricultural communities, the back of one natural disaster bumps into the front of the next following close behind. They hoped, I know they did, that this meant we were living in the End Times.
And my generation? We’re living it right now. COVID-19. Frequent hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires. Widespread unemployment. An escalation of violence, American against American. A country more bitterly divided over partisan issues than at any time since the Civil War.
Don’t you feel sometimes that life has scythed us off at the very knees, leaving not a leg to stand on?
We are living in the end times, friends, every daughter of Eve and son of Adam who has walked this planet since Christ left it. But here’s the thing: So were our ancestors, stretching all the way back to where the Christian faith originated following the death and resurrection of Christ.
But do folks want to hear it? Are we shouting into the wind, the spittle of the world in our mouths?
In the book of Acts, Peter announced to those assembled that “the last days” had officially begun.
“What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel. ‘And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams’” (Acts 2: 16:17).
The good news, and it is Good News, is that we’re not wrong in proclaiming these to be eschatas hemerais – the last days – and neither were our ancestors. But here’s the crucial difference between their era and ours – the birth pangs are getter closer!
When I was pregnant with our three, I often experienced Braxton-Hicks, nonrhythmic contractions of the uterus that occur with increasing frequency over time. They did not mean that the birth of my child was imminent, but pregnancy was progressing nonetheless. And when labor started in earnest, I knew it.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples the signs to watch for that would prepare them for his coming and the close of the present age. He described catastrophic phenomena that must take place as “only the first of the birth pangs,” but cautioned them that “the end won’t follow immediately” (Mt. 24:6.8).
In 2 Timothy 3:2-4, the apostle Paul supplies nearly 20 descriptors of human behavior that will be prevalent in the last days. Do any of these sound familiar?
Love of self
Boastfulness and pride
Slander and lack of self-control
Acting religious, but rejecting the power that makes us godly
“Stay away from people like that,” Paul cautions.
When we recognize these characteristics as endemic in the culture around us, let’s see them for what they are. Rather than allowing them to frighten or discourage us, we can actually take heart that the birth pangs of the age to come are becoming stronger and more frequent.
Bible teacher Beth Moore has this to say:
“The characteristics listed in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 are not any newer to the world scene than earthquakes, famines, lawlessness, cold-heartedness, betrayal, and religious persecution. The newness will be the prevalence, occurrence burgeoning into prominence. Formerly localized social malignancies will spread into invasive cancers. The invasiveness can indeed qualify as unprecedented.” (#EntrustedStudy)
But for this, beloved friends, we also have invasive faith.
Faith that recognizes the bad but calls out the good.
Faith that infiltrates and illuminates every shadowed corner of our lives.
Faith that freely enters the living Body of Christ, the Church, and loves fiercely.
Maybe these unprecedented, invasive times are what will be the making of us after all.
@Copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe.
Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, has just released from NavPress. If you are reading it, would you kindly leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, ChristianBook, or Barnes & Noble? Reviews and recommendations help get the message into more minds, hearts, and hands. Thank you.