What does the Bible mean by the terms like “last days”, “last hour” and “end of the ages”? These phrases, and others like them, are the most fundamental terms in eschatology (i.e. the study of the end times) and yet they are commonly misused. A misunderstanding on these phrases can lead to a lot of unbiblical conclusions. So I would like to look at some verses and come up with a basic New Testament definition. This will give us a clear place to start as we embark on the journey of understanding what the Bible teaches about the end of the world. If we are not clear on this point, the rest of what we learn will be skewed at best, and downright false at worst.
Before getting into how we should interpret such phrases, I would like to demonstrate how we usually interpret them.
2 Timothy 3:1 – “But we understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” After making this statement Paul goes on to give us a description of some of the “difficulties” that will be faced in the “last days.” He says people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, having a form of godliness but denying its power, etc. After looking at this list, we turn to think about our modern society. Since we see that these things are common in the society of our day we conclude that we are living in the “last days.” There is nothing wrong with this conclusion; I am fully convinced we are living in the last days. But then without any further biblical input we conclude that our generation will see the coming of Christ! We are right in concluding that we are in the last days, but we are wrong when we conclude that our generation is fundamentally different from the preceding generations of the Church.
Without any biblical support we assume that the phrase “last days” means, “The last generation before the second coming of Christ.” We are guilty of drawing our definition from our own assumptions instead of the Bible. We wrongly conclude that the end of the age is only one generation long, and that the second coming of Christ is the event that gauges when the last days begin. So when we see the biblical descriptions of the end times fulfilled in our generation, we assume that ours is the generation that will see the second coming.
Assumption is a bad place to start if we hope to come to understand what the Bible teaches about the last hour of history. We must let the scripture inform our definition of its terminology. Please note the following passages.
Acts 2:15-17 – After the Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost the crowd asked the Apostles to explain what was happening. Peter stood up and quoted Joel. He said what was happening on that almost 2,000 years ago was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. But Joel said that the Spirit would be poured out in “the last days.” So here we have Peter telling us that the Day of Pentecost took place during the time period of the last days.
Hebrews 1:1-2 – The book of Hebrews begins with a description of how God worked in the Old Testament. In verse two it goes on to tell us how he began to work in the days of the Apostles. The author says, “In these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son…” Note that the biblical author declares his generation as belonging to the last days.
1 John 2:18 – John the Apostle was fighting against an early form of Gnosticism in his three epistles. In the first of those epistles he gives us understanding into the nature of the spirit of Antichrist and the many antichrists that are a manifestation of that spirit. He uses the appearance of these false Gnostic teachers, which he terms “antichrists,” as proof that the end has come. He says, “It is the last hour…” He does not say the last hour will soon come in some future generation, but he declares that it had already come in his day.
Hebrews 9:26 – The author of Hebrews spends several chapters proclaiming the power of the sacrifice of Christ and its superiority over the Old Testament animal sacrifices. In chapter 9 verse 26 he declares that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put sin by the sacrifice of Himself”. We know that the sacrifice of Christ happened almost 2,000 years ago, so from this verse we know that the writer of Hebrews believed that Christ’s first coming happened during the last days of human history.
1 Corinthians 10:11 – In this verse Paul is explaining that all the things that happened in the Old Testament were meant to be an example for the Church. But he phrases this truth in a way that helps us in our present search. He says that all the things that happened were “written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages have come”. The Old Testament was written for to help illustrate the truths of the Gospel so that the Church, who has been living at the end of the ages for the last 2,000 years would know how to please God.
1 Peter 1:20 – Peter tells us that Christ was foreknown from the foundation of the earth, but was “manifest in the last times” for our sake.
The above list of verses is not exhaustive. But these are sufficient to give us an understanding of what the Bible means when it talks about the “last days.” We usually hold that the last days, last hour and the end of the ages refers to the generation that will see the second coming of the Lord Jesus. This is not a biblical definition. The Bible defines the phrase “last days” (and other similar phrases) not in relation to the second coming of Christ, but his first coming. And nowhere does God’s word imply that the “last days” is only one generation long.
The people of the Old Testament were waiting for the Kingdom to come with the Messiah. The Messianic age was termed “the latter days” by the prophets. So after Christ came the Apostles declared that the coming of the Kingdom and the King had taken place. They were declaring that the “latter days” had begun. The last era in human history had begun. What all of history had been leading up to, namely, the coming of God’s kingdom in Christ had come.
We know that the Kingdom of God will not fully come to earth until Christ has put all his enemies, including death, underneath his feet at the events portrayed by Revelation 20:14 (1 Cor. 15:24-28). But we must realize that the Kingdom of God has already begun in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ who has been given all authority in heaven and earth. The Bible declares that the last days began with the coming of Christ 2,000 years ago and will be wrapped up when he finally destroys death some time after his second coming.
The Messianic Age (that began with the first coming of Christ and will end when he casts death into the lake of fire) is what the Bible refers to when it uses phrases like, “The last days.”
Please take time to comment on this post below:
Does it surprise you that the Bible says the last days began with Christ’s first coming? Where do you think the notion comes from that the last days refers to the final generation of human history? Does it make any difference how we define biblical phrases like “the last days,” “the last hour,” and “the end of the ages”?