We’re in ‘the Last Days’ (As Usual) – Brad Jersak
“Last Days” Lunacy
In 1973, I was an all-in “Last Days” aficionado. The “Yom Kippur War” or “Ramadan War” marked the fourth Arab-Israeli war (between Israel, Egypt and Syria) and threatened to turn the Cold War into a global nuclear conflict. Popular “theology” (hint: it wasn’t theology) was ablaze with talk of World War 3, Armageddon, Gog and Magog (code for “the Commies”), the Great Tribulation and the identity of the Antichrist. I was well-read on the topic (for a nine-year-old) and knew my “Last Days” biblical-geopolitical timelines and symbols all too well. What can I say… I was a sucker for calculations and charts that made us feel clever.
The obsession with naming a terminal date for “the Second Coming” was so strong that a host of ministries and ministers attempted to nail it down. And you would think that getting it wrong–not just once, but repeatedly, would have shut down the “Last Days” publications industry. Alas, there’s always a market for B-movie horror sermons. Something in the human condition puts us in a perpetual religious hamster wheel, a cycle of creating fear and controlling fear that is great for book sales. Or survival bunkers!
Unfortunately, those who see through this “Last Days” lunacy seem more inclined to cynicism than to a deeper wisdom.
That same year, one religious celebrity who fancied himself a prophet (if railing condemnations against ‘the world’ count) claimed to have a vision that proved we were indeed in the last days. In effect, he simply cited five verses from 2 Timothy chapter 3 and offered social critiques to say, “This is that.” I remember it well because we bought a vinyl record of his agitated “vision” so I could play it repeatedly on the old oak stereo (a feature in our living room). Here was the text the preacher referred to:
- “1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the Last Days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
Wow. He was spot on. The passage was a perfect description of 1973. Every line was true. We were truly in “the Last Days.” What a prophet! Or a profit. Weirdly, the Last Days he ranted about lasted until 1983. Then 1993, 2003, 2013. Gratefully, fifty years later, his vision no longer applies, right? We no longer just love ourselves and our money. We’re no longer boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, without love… Uh, wait a minute. We’re apparently STILL in the “Last Days.” And what’s more, we always have been, ever since the time the passage was first penned. And before then, too.
Then So What?
If the “Last Days” described in 2 Timothy are NOT the silly apocalyptic fortune-telling of the 70s revivalists, AND if they are NOT the angry tirades of religious “profits,” then what is the “so what” of the Epistle?
When in doubt, keep reading. Like the false teachers who wormed their way into our homes (verse 6), eventually, we are assured that “they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone” (verse 9). But as I mentioned, to stop there only leaves us disillusioned and faithless. Happily, Timothy’s mentor goes further:
In light of the Last Days troubles that extend from the first to the final centuries after Christ, how then shall we then live? Not as gullible. Nor as cynical. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings…” (verses 10-11). This is where we need to put our focus: On the apostle’s teaching (the gospel), his life and purpose (the “Jesus Way”), his faith (in Christ), and his patience, love, and endurance (the Way of the Cross) that forge a path through the troubles.
So, it’s not so much a question of what the Last Days are, when they are, or when they end. The call is to attend to Jesus and the Jesus Way of being through whatever we face. This was the message and the example of today’s Epistle reading.
Remember, “prophecy pays, but the gospel frees.”
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