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Waiting for the last days?

Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in scripture | 19 comments

Waiting for the last days?

Perhaps it’s the approaching end of time (according to modern interpretations of a certain Mayan calendar) or perhaps I’m missing my friend Geth who loves to discuss these kinds of things, but lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase “last days” as found in the New Testament. (Ok, before you tell me not to worry about that Mayan calendar thing, I’m not. Seriously.) (knock on wood)

You know that phrase “last days,” right? It’s the phrase that points us ahead to that time just before the culmination of time and the end of all things and the final judgment and other stuff like that. Right? Right.

But, when we really look at the phrase “last days” in the New Testament, we find something interesting:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams… (Acts 2:17 ESV)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV)

…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:2 ESV)

Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (James 5:3 ESV)

…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Peter 3:3 ESV)

While it’s possible that the passages in 2 Timothy, James, and 2 Peter could point to future times (from the point of view of the authors), the passages in Acts and Hebrews do not seem to be able to point to the future. Instead, in those passages, the authors seem to be referring to the times they are living in.

And, on top of that, the other passages also work with the authors referring to their own times as “the last days.”

In other words, the phrase “the last days” does not necessarily (and may not every) point to a time to come in the future. Instead, in some cases (and perhaps all), the phrase “the last days” actually refers to the time the authors were living in and, therefore, also the time we are currently living in. (By the way, did you notice that there were several different authors who used that phrase “the last days”?)

Interestingly, here is a passage with a phrase similar to “the last days”… does this refer to future time events?

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you… (1 Peter 1:20 ESV)

So, what if “the last days” and “the last times” are not really about the end of the world, but what if those phrases refer to the times we are living in now?

(By the way, my friend Geth – who I mentioned earlier, and still miss after his family moved across the country – always reminds me that there’s another phrase – or word – which does always point to the end of the world as we know it: “the last day” – singular.)


19 Comments

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  1. 12-13-2012

    I always like to say, “Yes, I do believe we are living in the last days… and we have been for about 2,000 years now.”

  2. 12-13-2012

    It seems to me this phrase hints at a season be it the now of then or the now of now. We are in the last days and we await His eminent return. I think about the statement, with The Lord a day(or days?) is like a thousand years. So if it’s a couple of days after His appearance that’s soon and eminent in His economy. Like Chuck said.

  3. 12-13-2012

    Ultimately you’re getting at the question – The last days of what?

    It certainly does not appear that the texts you’ve referenced are about the last days of the existence of the world. So, what then do the words reference?

    If we say something that equates to them referring to “last days” for each generation then don’t we really render them meaningless?

    I’m not a full blown preterist. Okay, I got that out of the way up front.

    The Jewish people at the time of Christ were looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah. They were in a “pre-Messianic” period, so to speak. And, they were looking forward to a “Messianic” period. Could it be that the authors of Scripture that you referenced were speaking of the “last days” of the pre-Messianic period and the beginning of the Messianic period?

    It gets a little complicated when we bring Daniel into the equation. But the 70 weeks culminating around 70AD fits the picture. I really like the explanation of the chronology by Gary DeMar in his book Last Days Madness.

    Anyway, the “last days” in my own view do not refer to the days we’re living in.

    This isn’t the most popular view, that for certain. But, it does fit with a number of other texts from the NT.

  4. 12-13-2012

    Chuck and Glenn,

    Yes, I agree. It definitely seems that the authors of Scripture used the phrases “last days” and “last times” in that way.

    Stan,

    So, do you view the phrase “last days” as used in the New Testament to refer to a period during which the New Testament authors lived but culminating before current times?

    -Alan

  5. 12-13-2012

    Alan,

    You’re so naughty! :)

  6. 12-13-2012

    I just looked back over the verses you cited above. I think all of those probably refer to the time leading up to 70AD, but not extending (within the scope of authorial intent) into our day. So, rather than making a blanket statement of all uses of the term in the NT I think I’d prefer to qualify it. I think this accounts for the “soon” and “near” references to the “last days” or the “end of the age”. I think I probably should have referred in my first comment to a Pre-Messianic Age and a Messianic Age too, rather than using the term “Period”.

    This is an extensive subject and so I certainly don’t want to make blanket statements that could be misconstrued.

    I do believe there is a final return of Christ in our future and that there is a coming Last Day too.

    If you’re not familiar with the Preterist Position or Partial Preterist Position there should be plenty available to read about it. I mentioned DeMar’s book earlier. I like Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John Bray, though on other texts he seems to go further than I would. Also, R.C. Sproul argued the Preterist position for Matthew 24 in The Last Days According to Jesus.

    Just FYI.

  7. 12-13-2012

    Aussie John,

    Uh oh… it’s not good to be naughty this time of year.

    Stan,

    Yes, blanket statements – especially on this topic – can easily be misconstrued. I’m familiar with preterism and the other positions related to eschatology. They usually end up making those blanket statements you mentioned before. :)

    -Alan

  8. 12-14-2012

    How easy it is to get off into trying to precisely quantify “the last days” at the expense of missing the warnings and information that seem applicable, at the least, to us today…as they probably have been for at least the last 2000 years as Chuck mentioned at the start. Somehow every generation is sure they are living in the last days!

    The passage in Acts was quoting from long before that Pentecost.
    Joel 2:28-31(NET) After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth—blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the LORD comes—that great and terrible day!
    The NET study note is interesting:
    This passage plays a key role in the apostolic explanation of the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost recorded in Act_2:17-21. Peter introduces his quotation of this passage with “this is that spoken by the prophet Joel” (Act_2:16; cf. the similar pesher formula used at Qumran). The New Testament experience at Pentecost is thus seen in some sense as a fulfillment of this Old Testament passage, even though that experience did not exhaustively fulfill Joel’s words. Some portions of Joel’s prophecy have no precise counterpart in that experience. For example, there is nothing in the experience recorded in Acts 2 that exactly corresponds to the earthly and heavenly signs described in Joe_3:3-4. But inasmuch as the messianic age had already begun and the “last days” had already commenced with the coming of the Messiah (cf. Heb_1:1-2), Peter was able to point to Joe_3:1-5 as a text that was relevant to the advent of Jesus and the bestowal of the Spirit. The equative language that Peter employs (“this is that”) stresses an incipient fulfillment of the Joel passage without precluding or minimizing a yet future and more exhaustive fulfillment in events associated with the return of Christ.
    [the trouble with long quotes is you forget what you were going to say!]
    Aha…I’ve got it again. I agree with you, Alan, that we err in trying to either say we are not in the last days just as much as we may err in insisting these particular moments are the ‘one and only’ last days. I like to imagine that God could have 26 of the 27 necessary signs…I pull a number out of the air and have no specific list…all line up and then veer off and not have them all line up for another few millennia.

  9. 12-14-2012

    I often struggled with Matthew 24 being viewed as a series of future events. One could argue that everything Christ said did in fact occur within the confines of the 1st century. Admittedly, there is verse 3 to contend with. Was Jesus being all inclusive – taking them from the time of their question until the end of an age? Are we in error to contribute the chapter it its entirety to events yet unfolded?

    As one can see, I have an ample supply of questions yet little definitive answers on the topic at hand.

  10. 12-14-2012

    Tom,

    Yes, it looks (to me) like Peter is saying that the coming of the Spirit ushered in the last days… which we are still living in.

    Doug,

    I struggled with Matthew 24 also – and still don’t know how to explain everything about it. But, when I noticed Jesus’ focus was on trusting God whatever happened, it made a lot more sense to me.

    -Alan

  11. 12-14-2012

    Hi Alan,

    I enjoyed the post! It makes good sense. We miss you guys so much.

    Merry Christmas,

    Geth

  12. 12-15-2012

    Agreed, Alan. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1Thes 4:18

  13. 12-15-2012

    Geth,

    Thanks for reading and commenting! We miss you guys, too.

    Doug,

    Yes, exactly. And, I don’t think it’s encouragement to look forward to heaven, but encouragement to live while trusting God today.

    -Alan

  14. 12-15-2012

    I like your interpretation Alan.

    But, “Knock on wood”? I did double take when you said that. What the heck was that about??

  15. 12-17-2012

    What is your answer to those who believe that most of the events taught in today’s eschatology were actually fulfilled in 70 A.D. at the destruction of Jerusalem?

  16. 12-17-2012

    While I don’t buy into everything this guy is saying, it is certainly challenging especially in the historical perspective of what the church taught before the last 200 years.
    http://raptureless.com/download/raptureless.pdf

  17. 12-17-2012

    Paul,

    Well, I didn’t have any salt available to throw over my shoulder…

    Matt,

    I also think that many of the “eschatological events” took place around 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem. Of course, many of these events could also be cyclical in nature. There are also many events that are set in “the last day” (as opposed to “the last days”).

    -Alan

  18. 12-17-2012

    Many times throughout Scripture, prophecies have duel fulfillments. That is, they are fulfilled once, often close to the time the prophecy was given, and then they are fulfilled again in a different manner later on. We see this, for example, with the virgin birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

    I would tend to think that many of the eschatological prophecies we are considering here have had their first fulfillment around AD 70 and will have their complete fulfillment sometime in the future.

  19. 12-18-2012

    Chuck,

    That’s very true. And, from what I can tell, people rarely recognized either fulfillment until much later. :)

    -Alan