Before you start reading this post, I need to clarify something. When I use the phrase “the last days” in this post, I’m not using it in the manner that it’s often used by those who love to study and discuss eschatology – that is, that time just before the world comes to an end.
Instead, when I use the phrase “the last days” in this post, I’m using it in the manner that Peter used it in Acts 2, when he quoted the prophet Joel: “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; Joel 2:28)
This reference to “last days” is often found in the Old Testament (such as that passage in Joel). This was a time that the people of the Old Testament longed for. They looked forward to the time when God would be with his people (“Immanuel”), when God would give them a new heart, and when they would live under a new covenant.
Here’s the thing… if Peter is correct (and I think he is), then he saw himself and those of his generation as living in “the last days,” and I would say that we still live in “the last days.”
The difference is, for the authors of the New Testament, there was an excitement – an amazement – a wonder – at living in “the last days.” I already mentioned what Peter said about “the last days” on the day of Pentecost. Now, consider these passages also:
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6 ESV)
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV)
Paul and Peter both recognize that they were living in an exciting time – a time that others wondered about and look forward to. It was in their time (and our time) when God was demonstrating his grace to all peoples – even the Gentiles. Now, they (and we) know how God is with his people.
I started thinking about this recently when we were studying Romans 1 together with the church. There, in the opening address, Paul refers to this same idea of living in “the last days”:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord… (Romans 1:1-4 ESV)
Paul recognized that he and his readers were living out the promises that God had made generations before. And, he was amazed at this fact.
May we never lose the wonder and amazement at living during a time when God is with his people, indwelling us by his Holy Spirit.