You may have asked yourself “What are the last days?” To understand them, consider a situation in which you receive a Facebook message from a friend. In it, he writes “You have lied and cheated and stolen in order to amass your wealth, but all you have managed is to build up your bank account in the last days!”
Wouldn’t you think that (even if you didn’t believe it to be true) the friend who sent you the message believed that “the last days” were now?
Afterall, your bank account, stuffed full and fat with millions of dollars, has been built up over the span of your lifetime — relatively recent history. The friend who messaged you referred to you building up your bank account in the last days. It follows that this span of recent history in which you have done so is what he calls “the last days.”
If you can follow this line of reasoning then you won’t have any trouble understanding what — or when — “the last days” referred to in the Bible are.
But first I must state that “The last days” are highly misunderstood.
For example, at Lastdays.com we read that “The term ‘last days’ refers to a period of time at the end of history when God will finish his plan for redeeming our fallen world.”
For $20, you can buy a hardcover version of The Popular Encyclopedia Of Bible Prophecy by pastor Tim LaHaye, author of the “Left Behind” fiction book series. Its description states that “Clearly, God wants us to understand the last days-and what better way to do so than with this trustworthy and easy-to-use encyclopedic guide to Bible prophecy.”
If $20 is too much for you, then alternatively you can pick up The Essential Guide to Bible Prophecy for just $10. Its description states that “This guide is the ideal hands-on tool for readers who want a clear chronological time line of last-days events.”
As tempting as these tasty delectables appear, I would agree that, yes, clearly God wants us to understand the Last Days. But to truly understand them, we don’t need any popular encyclopedias or essential guides to Bible prophecy.
Rather, God’s already given us the tools we need to understand them: His Word. We must examine what the Bible itself says about the last days.
THE LAST DAYS
They are referred to specifically by Paul, James, Peter, and author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Paul says that “in the last days” people will show up who possess all manner of ungodliness who will be “arrogant, abusive,” not to mention “unholy” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” With these people “will come times of difficulty.” [2 Tim. 3:1-5] But notice something here: Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.
Regarding these kinds of people, what did he say? He told Timothy to “Avoid such people.”
If these people show up in the last days, and Paul told Timothy to avoid them, it follows that Paul and Timothy were living in the last days because those people were, at that time, needing to be avoided. Paul didn’t say “Timothy, ignore this advice yourself because it’s really intended for those who read this letter thousands of years from now.”
Similarly, James, in his Epistle, wrote about the rich people of his day hoarding their wealth. He told them that “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] He wrote this letter and sent it out to the “twelve tribes.” Those who read his letter would have thought that James was telling them that theirs were the “last days.”
After Christ poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter stood among the crowd and cited the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy by reminding everyone that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh “in the last days.” [Acts 2:17] Since the Spirit was poured out, they had to have been living in the Last Days.
If you remain unconvinced by the evidences cited above, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews left no room for doubt when he wrote that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 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 1:1-2]
Which days were “last”? “These,” as in 2000 years ago when the letter was written.
Peter, in his first epistle, provided additional supporting evidence to further narrow the timeframe of the last days when he wrote that “[Christ] 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]
THE LAST HOUR
Just as days are counted off in hours (see John 1:39 and 19:14), then we should expect that the Last Days were counted down to their final hour. This is precisely the case, for St. John indicated this to his audience when he wrote 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.” [1 John 2:18]
John used the evidence of the proliferation of antichrists around them as an indicator that the final hour of the Last Days was upon them. It is as if he had said “As you know, we were told that when the antichrists go out from among us, we will be entering the final hour of the Last Days. I am telling you that the antichrists abound, so understand that we are now in the last hour.”
A TRANSITION PERIOD
The period that culminated in the Last Days was prophesied by Daniel. This period began during the reign of Babylon and would culminate with the abomination of desolation when a stone, cut out by no human hand, would strike the ruling kingdoms. They would be turned to dust and carried away “so that not a trace of them could be found.”
Then the “the stone that struck the image became a great mountain” that would fill “the whole earth.” [Daniel 2:35]
The purpose of this chain of prophetic events in history was “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” [Daniel 9:24]
The last days marked the transition period between the Old Covenant and its system of worship, centered around the Temple and animal sacrifices, and the New Covenant. The New Covenant period was a new age in which the Holy Spirit would dwell in the hearts of believers and make their bodies into God’s temple.
Jesus became the mediator of a better covenant, and “in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” [Hebrews 8:13]. In the 40 years between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the smashing of the Temple, the believers were transitioning from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. But this would not be an easy transition.
Jesus confirmed this. He referenced Daniel’s prophecy, and told his disciples that when they saw “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” [Matt. 24:15-16]
THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
Jesus revealed the mystery of the “abomination of desolation” for his church. As recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, he urged his people that a time would come when the faithful should flee the city of Jerusalem. He prophesied the destruction of the Temple, and his disciples asked him when this would occur. (Matt. 24:2, Luke 21:5-7)
He spoke of wars and persecution which were to come first, followed by large numbers of Christians falling away from the faith and the rise of numerous false prophets and false messiahs. But after these things had come to pass, he told them that “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it” because they were likely to be killed during the battle. [Luke 21:20-21]
Those believers remaining in Jerusalem were to flee when they saw the abomination of desolation. Jesus clarified in Luke’s Gospel that this was to be when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies.
As he told them, those were to be the “days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” [vs. 22] The era of New Covenant blessings would be heralded with the total destruction of the Church’s persecutors.
He spoke these words during his ministry around AD 30. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in AD 70. The increasing lawlessness and persecution in the 40 years in between is chronicled in the book of Acts. This increasing sense of urgency, of something foreboding approaching on the horizon, is a theme that runs through the New Testament.
For example, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians (which is thought to have been written in the 50s), Paul wrote that “concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” [1 Thess. 5:1-2]
He then exhorted them to be mindful of the signs of the times and not to fall asleep but remain ever watchful; he was asking them to remember the words Jesus spoke (such as in Matthew 24). He didn’t want them to be like those who scoffed at the words of Christ, denied his prophecy, and were caught by the sudden destruction that would fall upon their heads; those fools “will not escape.” [vs. 3]
Rather, he wanted them, the faithful believers in Christ, to know when it was time to “flee to the mountains.”
Though end times prophecies have propagated for hundreds of years, finding a modern audience in the fictional book series “Left Behind,” culminating in recent times with the supposed end of the Mayan calendar in the final month of 2012, these “Biblical prophecies” are distortions of Scripture brought on by faulty hermeneutics (method of interpretation).
You can see why. If we take descriptions of historical events and project them into the future as if they have not yet happened, we create an entirely new set of expectations. We then take those expectations and read them back into the Bible, further distorting our understanding of Scripture.
The Bible tells us exactly, in rather plain words, when the Last Days were without need of speculation.
The Last Days were the period in history that were associated with the first advent of Jesus Christ. They included his crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the father to claim dominion over all things. They accelerated during the Apostolic age, and they came to an end with the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Temple.
This chain of events was prophesied by Daniel.
Faithful believers were to heed Jesus’ words. There would come a time, he said, on the eve of the destruction of the city, when those who remained in Jerusalem should flee to the mountains to escape destruction by the invading armies.
The days of vengeance were stored up to be poured out upon those who afflicted the Christians, “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” [2 Thess. 1:8-9]
That’s not to say that the Church won’t experience the same kinds of persecutions in the future. There will continue to be false prophets, apostates who fall away from the faith and try to bring other Christians with them, and liars and slanderers. But in terms of Biblical prophecy, the last days are behind us.