Sunday, November 12, 2017

Are We Living in the Last Days? (3rd of 3)

New Testament Teaching

What the Old Testament might have left in doubt, the New Testament makes absolutely clear: when the Scriptures speak of the last days, they refer to the entire Christian age, from the first appearance and saving work of Christ to his Second Coming.

One of the earliest examples of this is found in Acts 2. Quick to answer the slur that the Spirit-filled apostles were full of new wine, Peter announced to his hearers that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Joel 2:28-32. It is important to note that Peter clearly says that the words of the prophet were, at that time, being fulfilled "in the last days" (Acts 2:17).

In much the same way, 1 Peter 1:20 reports that Christ "was revealed in these last times." The passage places the recipients of the letter, the first-century readers, in "these last times." Peter lived in the last days.

By themselves, these two passages would make the case. But even more revealing is Hebrews 1:1-2:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
These first few words from Hebrews are especially important because they place Old Testament times and "these last days" side by side, identifying the second and concluding period as the time in which God has spoken to humanity by his Son. Because this was the common understanding and teaching in New Testament times, Paul could speak of Christians as those "on whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11 NRSV).

Conclusion

What the Old Testament prophets saw as the future last days has become present reality through the work of God through Christ. According to the New Testament, the last days began with the ministry of Jesus and will conclude at his Second Coming. The biblical expression the last days refers to the entire Christian age, not merely to the very end of that age.

Without losing the edge of expectation, Christians must remember and teach that "no one knows about that day and hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). It is best to remain ready by consistently living as we should before God.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Are We Living in the Last Days (2nd of 3)

Old Testament Teaching

The prophets of ancient Israel occasionally referred to the last days. In the New International Version, a common translation of the Bible, those exact words occur only in Isaiah 2:2, Hosea 3:5, and Micah 4:1.

Often, oracles of the prophets were scorching rebukes against sin, including threats of coming judgment. The positive side of their message was that a time was coming when people of all nations would eagerly seek God and his Messiah, a king like David. Hosea 3 provides a good example. At first, the prophet predicts the coming destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel:
For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol (verse 4).
Having mentioned those consequences of sin, Hosea extends a promise:
Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days (verse 5).
Similarly, Micah 4:1 points to a glorious future in the city of Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
The first of those two examples refers to a great king descended from David. The New Testament identifies this person as Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 1:29-33 and Acts 15:12-18). Passages like Hosea 3 were the basis upon which first-century Judeans beckoned to Jesus as "Son of David" (Mark 10:46-48).

The second passage mentions "peoples" streaming to the mountain of the Lord, a reference to the age of the Messiah, the time in which individuals from all nations could be made a part of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ. Note the large number of nations represented at Pentecost in Acts 2:5-11.

In the Old Testament, the expression "the last days" refers to the coming age of the Messiah, the Christ, and note merely the last weeks and months of earthly time.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Are We Living in the Last Days? (Part 1 of 3)

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Wildfires. Mass shootings. And a power-hungry man in North Korea with nuclear weapons.

In recent months these, combined with all sorts of other supposed signs, have generated a good bit of speculation about the end of the world.

We've been here before. In 1999, for example, as we approached the turn of the millennium, a large billboard along Interstate 85 in South Carolina depicted a hand reaching down out of the clouds. The caption announced, "Jesus is coming for a soul near you." A survey conducted by Time and Cable News Network revealed that 20 percent of adults in the U.S. believed that 2000 would mark the beginning of the end. And who could have missed the news about the mass suicide of the apocalyptic Heaven's Gate cult?

The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, Albrecht Durer, 1498
Most of the excitement, then and now, can be traced to various millennial views, especially premillennialism. What is that?

"Millennium" stems from the two Latin words for "one thousand" and "year." Premillennialism is the belief that Christ's return will precede His literal reign on earth for 1000 years. This teaching in part derives from a literal reading of Revelation 20.

During the 20th century, a relatively new variety of this doctrine--called dispensational premillennialism--was popularized by a number of preachers who effectively used the media of print, radio, and television. The success of their work can be seen in America's reaction to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and '91. During the height of that conflict, 15 percent of people in the United States believed that a literal Battle of Armageddon, a hallmark of dispensational teaching, was just around the corner. (See George H. Gallup Jr., Religion in America [Princeton, NJ: Princeton Religion Research Center, 1996], p. 26).

Another distinction of the dispensational view revolves around the expression "the last days." Based on a certain reading of Matthew 24, some taught that this biblical phrase points to the days immediately preceding the Second Coming. According to them, "the last days" will include many signs, including wars, famines, and earthquakes.

But is this what the Bible teaches? It would require a book to present a full-length review of dispensational premillennialism. The more modest goal of the series of posts is to identify what the Bible means by "the last days."