The perilous times of Timothy present another scriptural inconsistency with a pretribulation rapture scenario. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”
At the time of this epistle, Timothy is not a tribulation saint as understood in our modern times. Timothy is not a member of a distinctive group of people who will be left behind after the rapture occurs. Timothy is a member of the one and only main body of the Christian church in existence when Paul wrote Timothy this letter. In the first century, there is no division between Christians in-good-standing and some future, soon-to-be converted group of post-rapture tribulation saints. Within the contemplation of Paul and the early church, there is no conception of something called a post-rapture tribulation saint.
Timothy is half Gentile and half Hebrew. Timothy’s father is a Greek, and his mother is a Jew (Acts 16:1). Yet in this address to Timothy by Paul, who understood better than anyone the subtle nuances between New Testament Gentile and Jew (Gal. 2:11-19), we see not the slightest hint of any dispensational differentiation by Paul in the practical application of this 2 Timothy 3:1 end-times prophesy, regarding this dual nature of Timothy. If the question of a divided application of end-times prophetic scriptures to church-age Gentiles and Messianic Christian Jews, before and after a rapture, was ever to be addressed within the Bible…assuming such a question existed…surely we would think this was an excellent opportunity for Paul to clear up confusion and establish sound doctrine in applying end-times prophecies to his close friend and protégé Timothy, having the combined dual ancestry of Gentile and Jew.
If the rapture occurs in the first century, then Timothy will be raptured. If the rapture occurs in Timothy’s lifetime, he will be one of those taken as described in Matthew 24:40-41. Yet Paul addresses this particular end-times prophecy to Timothy, as if Timothy is in fact a tribulation saint. Whatever Paul is referring to as “perilous times”, they directly apply to Timothy. These perilous times do not leap-frog over Timothy one generation to a future group of first century people unsaved at that time, who would become converted to Christianity as a result of discovering they were left behind after the rapture. Paul’s prophecy is aimed directly and squarely at Timothy, a born-again, Spirit-filled, first-century Christian. If Timothy is a scripturally viable rapture candidate, then according to Paul’s prophecy here, Timothy is apparently also a scripturally viable candidate to experience perilous end-times.
Because these uniquely perilous times did not actually occur during Timothy’s lifetime, this prophecy in its composite form has continued by extension to each and every succeeding generation of Christians down to our present time. Nowhere in scripture does it allow us to insert a discontinuous break in the application of this prophecy, merely because it was written so long ago. This warning of Paul to Timothy, applies to us today as if Paul were here now speaking to us in person.
If this prophecy referred to a future period of time immediately after Timothy was raptured, yet with a post-rapture first century world still in place, then Paul’s sentence does not make much sense. This prophecy is directed toward the one and only full-sized Christian church that was on the earth at the time of Paul, because Paul was writing this warning to Timothy, a younger contemporary of Paul as a future reference and guide toward an upcoming actual time in Timothy’s life. By continuous extension, this as-yet-unfulfilled prophetic warning similarly applies with all of its force to the contemporary Christian church on the earth today.
For the unbeliever, there is no such thing as a non-perilous time. Living on the edge of dying in sin, and passing on into an eternity in hell, is always perilous. How can the last days become any more perilous for the unbeliever than normal times? Again, in this 2 Timothy 3:1 verse, Paul says that “perilous times shall come.” If people say that these perilous times for unbelievers refer to receiving the mark of the beast, then this places the perilous times described by Paul for Timothy right in the middle of the period of the Antichrist.
We cannot have it both ways. Timothy, the first-century church, and Paul’s perilous times all go together. If Timothy is on the scene for the perilous times foretold by Paul, then the times must be perilous for somebody, otherwise they would not in fact be perilous. If Timothy is to be raptured as one of the faithful in his lifetime as anticipated by the early church, yet also experience perilous times, then the rapture slices up these perilous times into two parts. Some portion of Paul’s perilous times, unspecified in length, must occur before Timothy is raptured. Otherwise Timothy is not physically present for these perilous times, and Paul is directing his warning to the wrong person.
Conversely, if the times are unusually perilous for unbelievers because of the presence on earth of the Antichrist, then Timothy is alive on earth for some portion of this same period of time, because Paul addresses this prophecy to Timothy. If the times are also unusually and noticeably perilous for Christians sharing the gospel message, then what possible change in the outward world environment would create this to the extreme point that Paul would address this issue in a letter to Timothy, other than some singularly calamitous cascade of events leading up to the tribulation, or the actual momentous tribulation period itself?