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THE LAST DAYS

The concept of “the last days,” or “the latter days,” is anchored in the Old Testament. Initially the words were spoken by Jacob to his sons in connection with his prediction of the future happenings for them and their descendants:

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days” (Gen. 49:1).

At least fourteen times this expression appears in the Old Testament:

that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days (Gen. 49:1; in Deut. 31:28-29 Moses sounds like Jacob in Gen. 49:1);

when you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days (Deut. 4:30;

perhaps this is a general reference that applies to any future time of judgment and repentance; or is this used specifically of the end-time situation that will come to the nation of Israel; does Moses anticipate Paul’s statement in Romans 11 regarding the future salvation of Israel?);

and in the latter days evil will befall you (Deut. 31:29);

I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days (Num. 24:14);

it shall come to pass in the latter days (Isa. 2:2);

The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the intents of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly (Jer. 23:20; repeated in 30:24);

Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days, declares the Lord (Jer. 48:47);

But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the Lord (Jer. 49:39);

In the latter days I will bring you against My land, that the nations may know Me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes (Ezek. 38:16);

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days (Dan. 2:28);

I . . . came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days to come (Dan. 10:14);

The children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to His goodness in the latter days (Hos. 3:5);

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains (Mic. 4:1).

Central to the meaning of the Hebrew word, acharith (last, latter), is the idea of the conclusion of all things, and also included in the conclusion are the events that precede the conclusion; in other words, there is the end and the events that contribute to and transpire before the end. Both the culmination and the incidents leading to the culmination are included in the idea of “last” or “latter” days.

The word has two dimensions: near and far. Whenever used in Scripture both perspectives are either explicit or implicit. The user may speak of close events that portent further events, but always the word is reaching to the conclusion of the matter. The end is always in sight and never removed from the meaning.

Not only does the word teach these two dimensions, but two elements—judgment and salvation—characterize the movement toward consummation and the consummation itself. Interwoven together these themes describe the events throughout the historical process and describe the major component parts of the ending of the last days. In and with His judgment upon individuals and the nations is His gracious redemption of His elect, the believers that constitute His chosen people, spiritual Israel.

Specifically the above verses speak of “the last days” or “the latter days”; the same concept is express in similar terminology throughout the Old Testament. Following are some examples:

in the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples . . . (Ezek. 38:8);

it refers to many days from now (Dan. 8:26);

it shall come to pass afterward (Joel 2:28);

in those days (Joel 2:29).

From all of the above verses, several points can be discerned from the Old Testament teaching regarding the last days.

One, the nation of Israel, the ethnic people will be in existence at the end-time; a number of the verses make reference to what will befall the nation in the last days, so it must be in existence when that time comes.

While the Church is the spiritual continuation of true Israel, that fact does not negate the possible existence of the ethnic nation at the end-time; both the Old and New Testaments confirm this assertion; the literal descendants of Abraham will not cease to be a people.

Two, the land of Israel, “the mountain of the house of the Lord” (Isa. 2:2; see v. 3),  and the city of Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3) will be prominent in the last days; out of Zion  shall go forth the law (Isa. 2:3; see: Ps. 68:15-16; 48:1-2); God will teach the people; He will judge the people, and there will be peace.

Three, during the last days many from ethnic Israel will be joined to spiritual Israel; that is, physical Jews will become believers in Jesus and accept Him as their Christ (Messiah); this fact is affirmed by Paul in Romans 11.

Four, the last days will be a time of God’s anger; He will execute judgment.

Five, the last days will be a time of salvation, not only for Jews, but also for Gentiles; two nations are mentioned by name, Moab and Elam; thus the point is made that the salvation of the Lord is for all people.

Six, the last days will be centered in the Messiah.

Seven, Christ will be enthroned and recognized as the Sovereign Lord (see: God is Sovereign); the Lord will judge and there will be peace.

With the announcement in the Old Testament that there will be a future period known as “the last days,” the question becomes one of time. When will the last days occur; when will they begin, and when will they conclude?

Definitely, the answer to this question is given by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. In order to explain the coming of the Spirit and the accompanying events of that day, he began his speech with these: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and then he quotes from the Old Testament writings of Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh . . .” (Acts 2:16-17). Then in verse 22 Peter says: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth . . . .” He recounts the death and resurrection of Christ, and affirms that the resurrected Christ “poured out this which you now see and hear” (v. 33). So Peter equates the events of the life of Christ as the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.

In addition to Peter's words in Acts the writer of Hebrews says that “in these last days He [God] has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2), and in his epistle the apostle Peter affirms that Christ “was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (I Pet 1:20).

Without question the last days were inaugurated with the life and work of Christ; the last days began with Him. With His advent, life, and ascension, history entered into the beginning of the end, and with His condescension and exaltation the culmination of history is assured. All of history before Him anticipated His first coming; and all of history since Him is anticipating His second coming. We are living in the last days. Our Lord initiated them, and our Lord insures their completion.

Clearly, therefore, the last days have a past, present, and a future dimension. They began with Christ, we are living in the last days today, and the last days will reach a conclusion in the future. This has led some to speak in terms of the already and the not yet. In other words, the kingdom has been established, is being established, and will be established. In the words of  Robert Duncan Culver: “Prophecies with comprehensive future reference will have manifold fulfillment” (ST, 1012).

Complementing the terminology of the Old Testament we find “the last days” addressed in the New Testament:

in the last days there will come times of difficulty (II Tim. 3:1; see: 4:3; some transl. have “times of stress”);

in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Heb. 1:2);

You have laid up treasury in the last days (Jas. 5:3);

manifest in the last times for the sake of you (I Pet 1:20);

who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (I Pet. 1:5);

scoffers will come in the last days scoffing, following their own sinful desires (II Pet. 3:3;

Little children, as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour (I Jo. 2:18);

in the last time there will be scoffers, following their own passions (Jude 18).

As with the Old Testament, several points are established by these verses from the New Testament:

One, the last days were initiated by the person and work of Christ; in reference to Him the last days are days of blessing and salvation for all men, Jews and Gentiles.            

Two, the last days will be characterized by times of trouble, increasingly more perilous and foreboding, culminating with the Great Tribulation.

Three, the last days will see the appearance of antichrists and the Antichrist.            

Four, the last days will reveal those who scoff and ridicule the Christian faith, thereby giving evidence of their own passions and sinful desires.

Five, during the last days the believer needs to be informed and discerning.

Six, the believer must be informed that this present day is the last hour; we are now living in the last days.

From the human perspective the last days have been in progress for a long time—2,000 years—but from the Divine perspective they have been in existence only a very brief period. But they will come to an end; in fact, the last days will culminate with “the day of the Lord” (see: The Day of the Lord), a day known as “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). But until then the believer is living in the last days, awaiting the day of the Lord, the last day.


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