Among the false teachings which arose in the early Church it appears that the Apostles had to contend against a belief which arose as the Jewish system fell that they were living in the last days of this world. Between the shock to the Jews as their temple had been invaded by Romans and the persecution Christians were beginning to experience at the hands of the Romans as well it is easy to see why such a belief would be appealing to the Christians of the time.
Even as he neared the end of his earthly course the Apostle Paul was concerned by the spread of that belief and he wrote to the Thessalonians concerning it. Let’s have a look at what he had to say:
“Now we ask you, brothers, regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, and our gathering together to him, not to be so quickly upset or alarmed when someone claims that we said, either by some spirit, conversation, or letter that the Day of the Lord has already come.” (2Th 2:1-2)*
Could his concern be any plainer than that? Somebody was teaching that the last days were already there and even attributing that teaching to Paul. So he was writing to dispel that notion:
“Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for it will not come unless the rebellion takes place first and the man of sin, who is destined for destruction, is revealed.” (2Th 2:3)
Paul uses rather strong language by calling that teaching a deception, yet we know that’s what it was, and continues to be in some circles. Paul warns his brethren that two things must happen first before the last days come. The first is a “rebellion,” or falling away from the God. In short, God would allow a testing in which the majority would fail and embrace false doctrine instead of remaining steadfast in the truth. They would embrace God dishonoring doctrines and seek the approbation of the world. That would lead to the next step.
Paul goes on to describe that heretical and powerful “man,” more likely something greater than any one man. But it is not within the scope or purpose of this post to follow through and expound on the possible fulfillment of that prophecy. It is sufficient to note that the revealing of that “man" was yet for the future.
Paul was so concerned with the spread of that teaching that as his impending execution approached he thought it important to stress to his fellow worker Timothy that the last days were yet for the future. In his second letter to Timothy, probably the last of the letters he wrote that we have, he wrote:
“You must realize, however, that in the last days difficult times will come. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unfeeling, uncooperative, slanderous, degenerate, brutal, hateful of what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They will hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power. Stay away from such people.” (2Ti 3:1-5)
Paul points towards those days so his younger friend would not be deceived and would be equipped to oppose that false teaching. But, again, the point is that those days would be future. From the foregoing as well as my last post I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the Apostles understood the Lord’s response to his disciple’s question recorded for us at Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3 & 4 and Luke 21:7 to have a wider fulfillment than the last days of the Jewish nation. The belief that they didn’t doesn’t comport with the evidence from the teachings of the Apostle. The puzzle for us is what parts have a fulfillment beyond 70ad and how. But that is a topic for another time.
* All citations are from the International Standard Version of the Bible courtesy of the E-Sword Bible study program.