The Last Days
When we hear the term “Last Days” we naturally assume it refers to the final short period of History just prior to the return of Jesus from Heaven, a logical assumption. Yet the New Testament presents this period as the era of fulfillment that began with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Gift of the Spirit. In him, the “ends of the ages” have come upon the Assembly, the people of God.
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The Letter to the Hebrews, for example, begins by declaring that God, “in these last days”, has spoken definitively to His people in His Son. Elsewhere, the Letter describes how Jesus “appeared once for all at the END OF THE AGE to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” - (Hebrews 1:1-4, 9:26).
While Hebrews provides its readers with only minimal information about the future return of Jesus, it lets them know just how significant this change in eras is. Jesus is the High Priest greater than all his predecessors. Unlike them, he is the “priest forever” after the “rank of Melchizedek.” He holds his position inviolate and nontransferable because of his resurrection life.
Unlike the Levitical system, his “once for all” sacrifice did “achieve the purification of sins,” and his inauguration of the “New Covenant” rendered the old one obsolete.
THE OLD IS PASSING AWAY
Similarly, Paul writes that “the appointed time has been shortened…For the forms of this world are passing away.” The last verb is in the Greek present tense (i.e., “passing away”), signifying continuous action. Thus, the forms and institutions of this present age have been in the process of passing away since the victory of Jesus over sin and death - (1 Corinthians 7:29).
Paul describes how the Hebrew Scriptures were written for the instruction of Christians, the ones “upon whom the ENDS OF THE AGES have come.” He made a similar point to the Galatians by declaring, “When the FULLNESS OF TIME came, God sent forth his Son” to redeem His people - (1 Corinthians 10:11, Galatians 4:4).
Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, changed the opening clause in the passage he cites from the Book of Joel from “afterward” to “IN THE LAST DAYS.” In this way, he links the outpouring of the Spirit to the period known in the Scriptures as the “Last Days.” The bestowal of the Spirit demonstrated that the era predicted by Joel had commenced.
THE MESSIANIC AGE
Likewise, Peter wrote many years later that Jesus was destined “before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the END OF THE TIMES for your sake” - (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, 1 Peter 1:20).
The Apostle John warned his congregations that “it is the LAST HOUR, and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore, we know that it is the LAST HOUR.” He pointed to the false teachers who were active in the assemblies as evidence that the “Spirit of Antichrist” was (and is) active in the world. The presence and proliferation of deceivers in the Assembly was definitive evidence that the “Last Days” were underway - (1 John 2:18).
The Hebrew Bible presents History as divided into two ages - the present evil age and the “age to come.” The coming age would begin when the Messiah arrived, and two events would mark its start: the outpouring of the Spirit and the resurrection of the dead - (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 37:26-27).
Those two promises came to fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, though not in the way many expected. Jesus inaugurated the “Kingdom of God.” His deeds demonstrated that the “Kingdom of God is upon you.” His resurrection marked the commencement of the general resurrection of the dead, which is why it is called the “first fruits” of the future resurrection of the righteous dead.
GIFT OF THE SPIRIT
Likewise, the Gift of the Spirit is called the “first fruits” of the future redemption of our bodies. The Spirit is linked with resurrection in the New Testament because the raising of the dead is an act of new creation. God’s Spirit has always been the agent of creation and the source of all life - (Genesis 1:1-2, Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20).
Moreover, the Spirit is our “earnest” (arrabōn) or “down payment” on the future resurrection and the New Creation, the rock-solid “guarantee” that God will complete what He began in the resurrection of His Son - (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14).
The “Last Days” have been underway since his resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. The Cross was far more than just the execution of Jesus or a model for selfless martyrdom and ethical conduct.
In his death, God defeated all the “powers and principalities” opposed to Him that have enslaved humanity since Adam’s sin. The final victory was won in the sacrificial death of His son, and it was and is Cosmic in scope and effect.
History has entered its final phase. The existing order is undergoing its death throes. The term “Last Days” is NOT a chronological marker but a theological concept. It refers to the final age that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In him, the “age to come” has invaded the present fallen age. There is an overlap during which the old order is “passing away” while the Kingdom of God is progressing as the Gospel is preached across the Earth. This process will continue until the consummation of all things when Jesus returns, a day that will include the resurrection of the righteous dead, the judgment of the wicked, and the unveiling of the New Creation in all its splendor.