I'm sure we all remember the oft-quoted scripture from 2 Timothy 3:1-5...
"But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away."
We often applied this to the period from 1914 onwards, as proof we are living in "the last days".
However, are we REALLY living in "critical times hard to deal with"?
I appreciate that we all have our personal trials and tribulations, but are they REALLY worse than that of previous generations?
For example, 1st century Christians in Rome were burned simply for being Christian, beheaded for not offering incense to the emperor, and Paul and others suffered mob violence, persecution and eventually execution for simply teaching about Jesus Christ.
Genuine Christians in the early Middle Ages were often burned at the stake as heretics, or sometimes slaughtered at the hands of Crusaders.
Of course, I'm not saying we're living in a Paradise earth either... but it seems to me that, despite the daily barrage of bad news we're presented with by the media... this is certainly not "critical times" in comparison with even the few examples I gave above.
However, it DOES appear to me that some men fit Paul's description (i.e. lovers of themselves, money, disobedient to parents etc)... but this is not necessarily true of a lot of people.
Besides, despite Paul speaking in the future tense, it seems that Paul was talking about the men of HIS generation, because he goes on to say...
"For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth. Now in the way that Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also go on resisting the truth, men completely corrupted in mind, disapproved as regards the faith." (3:6-8)
So Paul was talking about the men who were "resisting the truth", in contrast with Timothy, who "closely followed my teaching, my course of life, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings, the sort of things that happened to me..." (3:10)
He encourages Timothy to continue preaching and teaching, "For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled..." (4:3)
Clearly then, Paul's main concern is with the congregation... and that eventually they would get their own teachers to have their ears tickled.
Paul's letter was apparently written around 65AD. If this date is correct for 2 Timothy, then Christians had already been burned in Rome by Nero, and Paul was shortly to be executed (as he indicates in his letter). What's more, all hell was about to break out in Judea, and Jews and Christians across the Roman Empire were about to face a period of great tribulation, with Jews in the three most prominent cities of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem being slaughtered, no doubt Christians also being affected for being related to Judaism.
So are JWs still right to use 2 Timothy 3:1-5 as a PROPHECY concerning life since 1914? Is this really Paul's intent, or was he describing the things that were about to happen to the Christian congregation in HIS day?
If we look at Jesus' own counsel to the 7 congregations, given in either about 67AD or 96AD (depending on when you believe Revelation was written, me I think it was about 67AD during the reign of Nero), we see 5 of those congregations being given warnings.
Ephesus had left its first love (as Paul had perhaps feared, in Acts 20:17-35). Pergamum and Thyatira tolerated the sect of the Nicolatians who encouraged fornication and eating things sacrificed to idols, Sardis had fallen asleep, and Laodicea had ceased to be useful to their Master.
It seems to me, then, that the period Revelation was written in was that period Paul had discussed, the "critical times" when many in the congregation would fall away and have their ears tickled.
I suppose the ultimate question I'm asking is, "Are we REALLY living in the last days?"
From my own personal point of view, I believe the phrase "the last days" were exclusively applied by the apostles and disciples to the period from the outpouring of the Spirit (about 33AD) until the fall of Jerusalem (for example, by Peter in Acts 2:14-21).
And so, my personal opinion is that while 2 Timothy 3:1-5 doesn't apply in a PROPHETIC sense to today (even though some men certainly display the characteristics given), we ARE still close (relatively speaking) to the unveiling of Christ found in Revelation 19 (for reasons unrelated to 2 Timothy).
That's my viewpoint, but what about yours?
Do you believe we're living in "the last days"? If so, why? When did the last days commence? Are you CONVINCED its as bad as it will get? Has it really never been this bad, or that it will never get, say, ten times worse?