Paul describes the utter degradation of the wicked in the last days. But the last days are both future and present at the same time. He describes how these wicked people will be. Such people will be the opposite of public expectation. Such people will make it hard to live. Paul gives 19 descriptions of them. They will be selfish; literally, they will love themselves. They will also love money. They will be braggarts and arrogant. They will be blasphemers—slanderers or denigrating, demeaning, or defaming. They will be disobedient to their parents. Perhaps, as a result, they will be youth or a combination of youth and adults. They will be ungrateful people. They will be unholy—not set apart. They will be hardhearted. In other words, they will have no regard for others. They will be irreconcilable, that is, they will be unwilling to negotiate a solution to a problem involving a second person. They will be slanderers; literally, “devils,” meaning adversaries who slander the reputation of others. They will have no self-control. They will be brutal or savage. They will have no interest in the public good. They will be traitors or, in other words, betrayers of people. They will be rash, reckless, or thoughtless. They will be conceited. They will love themselves more than they love God. In fact, Paul says, they will have an outward appearance of godliness but they will actually deny its power, which means they will be hypocrites. Paul instructs Timothy to avoid these selfish, greedy, untrustworthy, unsociable, and hypocritical people.
Paul states that such people are already here in the present. Some have come and wormed their way into households to deceive foolish women. Such wicked people, having the semblance of godliness, are posing as teachers. But they are slimy and slippery creatures; they make their way by any dubious means possible. And they are preying on foolish women, women who are overwhelmed by sin and who are led by many desires; these women are always learning but are not able to arrive at knowledge of the truth, because they are being deceived—captivated—by these wicked worms. Paul returns to these wicked people, saying that they are just like Jannes and Jambres. They oppose the truth as they have corrupted minds, so they are worthless for the faith. But who are Jannes and Jambres? I’m glad you asked! Let me tell you!
The scene is Exodus 7. Moses and Aaron, being sent by the Lord, confront Pharaoh and his magicians. Aaron throw’s down his staff, and it turns into a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians do the same. But Aaron’s serpent swallows up the magicians’. Later, Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh and his magicians by the Nile River. Aaron touched his staff to the water, and the river turned to blood. The magicians were able to replicate the same thing but to a lesser, more inferior degree. In the Hebrew Bible, the names of the magicians are not mentioned. However, according to Origen, a scholar from the 2nd and 3rd Century, there was Jewish apocryphal book, The Book of Jannes and Jambres, from which Paul was referencing. However, we have never found this book. Other Jewish literature made reference to this pair as well. Together, they represent the inferior opposition to the Lord.
By mentioning Jannes and Jambres, Paul is declaring that these wicked people oppose God with their corrupt minds and worthless faith. He goes on to say that these people will not make progress beyond the foolish women, because their madness is plain for everyone to see just as it was plain for the Hebrews and the Egyptians to see the folly of the magicians—Jannes and Jambres.
In stark contrast, Paul offers himself up as the antithetical model to follow against these wicked people. Timothy, Paul says, followed faithfully his example of teaching, way of life, way of thinking, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions and sufferings, such as what happened at Antioch, Iconia, and Lystra. When persecuted, Paul says the Lord had saved him from all of those situations. He affirms to Timothy that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Just like Paul, all those who call on the name of the Lord will be oppressed. But there is more to it that what has been stated. We must understand Paul’s persecutions in Antioch, Iconia, and Lystra, which are mentioned in Acts 13-14.
In Antioch, at the synagogue on the Sabbath, Paul and his companions were asked to give a word of exhortation. Paul urged the Israelites and those who fear God to listen to his word of exhortation. He recounted the history of Israel and proclaimed that the Jews in Jerusalem did not understand the Scriptures that they read every week, and so they condemned Christ to death, but God raised him from the dead. He quotes Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”. He quotes Isaiah 55: “I will give you the holy assurances of David”. He quotes Psalm 16: “You will not allow your Holy One to see decay”. He was proving his point from Scripture that Christ is the promised Son of God who fulfills the promises that God made to David and is the demonstration of God’s power—his resurrection. He proclaims that it is in Jesus that forgiveness of sins is received, sins that bound them under the Law. He quotes Habakkuk 1: “Look, scoffers, and marvel and perish, for I am working a deed in your days, a deed that you will never believe if someone might tell you in detail”. He challenges them not to be like the scoffers and refuse to believe. Paul preaches Christ as the fulfillment of Israel. He warns them not to refuse Christ. This word of exhortation was initially embraced, and Paul was urged to speak it again on the following Sabbath. And he drew a massive crowd. The Jews became jealous and spoke out against Paul. So, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, stating that the gospel needed to be spoken to them first, but since they have rejected it, they declared that they would move on to the Gentiles, quoting Isaiah 49: “I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, for you to be salvation as far as the end of the earth”. The Jews then stirred up persecution against them, driving them out of Antioch.
In Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went next, they did the same thing. They went to synagogue and spoke their word of exhortation. Many believed, both Jew and Gentile. Jews then stirred up persecution, poisoning the minds of the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas stayed there for a long time, performing miracles as well. The Jews attempted to stone them, so they fled to Lystra and Derbe.
In Lystra, they also proclaimed the good news. There was a lame man there, being crippled from birth. Paul healed him with a simple command: “Stand upright on your feet”. The Lycaonians mistook this miracle as a sign that Paul and Barnabas were gods, Hermes and Zeus, respectively. They were going to sacrifice oxen at their temple when Paul and Barnabas spoke out with the gospel. But the Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra and incited the crowds. Here they succeeded in stoning Paul, and then they dragged him out of the city. They thought he was dead. However, he was not. He went with Barnabas to Derbe and proclaimed the gospel. Then, in reverse order, they went to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening and encouraging the disciples in those cities, saying, “It is necessary for us to enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions”.
And so, Paul is saying to Timothy that he will face persecution, which may be mere strife or near deadly beatings. Paul is saying that no matter the persecution, he needs to endure it for the sake of the gospel, and he must do so with patience.
Paul returns to the wicked people, saying that evil people, impostors, will degrade even further, both deceiving as well as being deceived. For such people, it is an endless loop of degradation. Again, in stark contrast, Paul charges Timothy to remain in what he had learned and became convinced of, for he had learned from Paul himself and from infancy he had learned the sacred writings that are able to teach him in salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Paul is not talking about the New Testament. No, he is talking about the Hebrew Bible, which in fact speaks of Christ. Paul states that all Scripture is inspired or God-breathed and is useful or advantageous for teaching, rebuking, improving—correcting or restoring—and training in righteousness, with the result that the person of God might be complete, having been equipped for every good work. Scripture helps teach, rebuke, correct, and train. It has a view towards righteousness, the result of which is wholeness in God. And such a one is to do good deeds.
As a result of his example, and due to the advantage of Scripture, Paul charges Timothy before God and Christ. Paul states that Christ is about to judge the living and the dead. Paul states by way of an oath: by Christ’s appearance and by his kingdom, I charge you. Christ is the ruler of the cosmos, and in the last days, it is Christ who will judge the living as well as the dead; his kingdom will be fully ushered in by his appearance, which is his second coming, his return. Until then, Timothy is to preach the word, he is to be ready when it is convenient or when it is inconvenient; literally, “in season; not in season.” He is to correct, rebuke, and encourage with all patience and teaching. As a leader, Timothy is expected to preach and be ready. He is to correct, provide disapproval of someone’s action, and to rebuke, that is, to warn, but he is also to encourage. In all these things, from preaching to encouraging, from correcting and warning, he is to complete these tasks with patience and teaching. He will need the patience, because the time will come when the hearers will not put up with sound teaching. Instead, they will accumulate or heap up for themselves teachers who will preach according to what they want to hear. These hearers will turn their ears away from the truth, which is another way of saying that they simply will not listen to the truth, and, instead, they will turn to myths. Paul charges Timothy to preach and encourage patiently, because his hearers will eventually ignore him; as a result, he will need also to correct and warn them patiently in his teaching. So, Paul instructs Timothy to be well-balanced. He uses the word “sober”, a figurative meaning to instruct Timothy in being free from the forms of mental and spiritual drunkenness, namely excess, passion, rashness, confusion, and more. Timothy needs to stay level-headed in the face of opposition, especially when those who listen ignore him and gather up teachers who simply teach them what they want to hear. Timothy also needs to endure such hardship patiently and do the work of an evangelist. In so doing, he will fulfill his service, that is, he will complete his office as leader over the church.