The Last Days
There is no question the new testament has plenty to say about "the end" or the "last days" or that the topic was of great importance to the early Church. Our difficulty is in recognizing what "end" is in view in any given passage. All too often we assume "the end" or "the last days" refers to a still future coming of Christ. Yet, do we arrive at this conclusion because the Bible encourages us to do so, or do we allow our extra-biblical presuppositions to lead us to that belief? In order to begin to answer the question, let’s look at a few passages from the new testament specifically mentioning either the "end" or "last days" or that are generally accepted as pertaining to the topic.
In Matthew chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus when "the end of the age" would take place. Jesus answered by describing a series of events, and said to the disciples sitting with him at that moment that "this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matthew 24:3, 34).
In Acts 2:16-17 we read about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago. Peter said of the event "this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh'."
The apostle Paul, in exhorting the Roman church to greater godliness declares "And this do, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11). Paul writes to the Corinthians about "this present distress" and says "the time is short." He claims "the form of this world is passing away" and that upon he and his original audience "the ends of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 7:26, 29-30, 10:11).
The writer of Hebrews tells first century readers "in these last days" God sent Jesus Christ. He says "what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 1:2, 8:13). In 9:26 he says, "now, once at the end of the ages" Christ "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Finally, in 10:25 he exhorts his readers to be sure and continue in public assembly, "and so much more as you see the day approaching."
James, writing to the "twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," says to the rich among his audience that they had "heaped up treasure in the last days" (James 1:1, 5:3). As a reminder to be patient he tells his readers "the coming of the Lord is at hand" and, "(b)ehold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (5:7-9).
Peter tells the first century readers of his first epistle that Jesus was manifest "in these last times" for the purpose of bringing salvation (1 Peter 1:20). He also tells his readers "the end of all things is at hand" (4:7).
John, in his first epistle, said to his first century readers "the world is passing away" and "it is the last hour" indeed, "we know it is the last hour" (1 John 2:17-18).
In The Revelation we read that the prophecy is about things "which must shortly take place" and "the time is near" (Revelation 1:1, 3). The first century church in Ephesus is told to repent or Christ "will come to you quickly" (2:5) with a similar admonition to the church in Pergomos (2:16). The early church in Smyrna is warned they were about to suffer tribulation and that "the devil is about to throw some of you into prison" (2:10). To the primitive church in Philadelphia Jesus said, "I am coming quickly!" (3:10).
The book of Revelation ends in much the same way. In rapid fire succession we are told the things written in the book "must shortly take place (22:7), and the "time is at hand" (22:10), while Jesus says, "I am coming quickly" no less than three times in the closing lines of the prophecy (22:7, 12, 20).
This is not an exhaustive list of the new testament passages referring to "the end" or the "last days" but it does give us an idea of how the new testament presents the topic. We will revisit this topic in a couple weeks.
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