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Thursday, September 07, 2006

When are the last days

The Lesson study begins by quoting Hebrews chapter 1
(Heb 1:2 NIV) 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.
The important thing to remember is that often when the Bible talks about the Last days it is not a reference to the time just prior to the Second Coming. This concept that the last days is only a reference to some time very near the Second Coming has lead to much of the confusion in the SDA interpretation of Daniel. To clear up some of this confusion about the last days here are some quotes from various commentaries on the subject.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
of Biblical Theology

Last Day(s), Latter Days, Last Times

There are problems with the terminology of "the latter days" in that, for example, the King James Version quite often refers to "the latter days, " an expression not found in modern translations. Further, it is not always clear whether "the latter days" means a somewhat later period than that of the writer or the latest times of all, the end of the world. There are also expressions that locate the day being discussed in the time of the speaker. Care is needed as we approach the passages that use these terms.

There is another problem in that in modern times we find it difficult to think that the New Testament writers were living in "the last times." Centuries have gone by; how could their times be the last times? We should be clear that the scriptural writers did not always use the terms in the same way as we would naturally do. For them the supremely great event had taken place in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to effect the salvation of all believers. This was not just an event in history; it was the event. Because of what Christ had done everything was altered. From then on, however long it would be until God intervened and set up the new heaven and the new earth, people were living in "the last times." The days in which it is possible for people to put their trust in Jesus Christ and to enter into the fullness of the salvation he has brought about differ from all the days that went before. They are days of opportunity, days when people can put their trust in the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and enter into the salvation he won for sinners.

Present Happenings. The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers that "in these last days he (God) has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb 1:2), and Peter says that Christ "was revealed in these last times for your sake" (1 Peter 1:20). In such passages the meaning clearly is that something has happened in recent times that is in sharp contrast to what occurred in earlier ages. Or in similar expression may look to the future of the recipients of the message, as when we read, "in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him" (Deut 4:30), or in the reminder to the hearers that God gave them manna in the wilderness "to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you" (Deut 8:16).

The point of such passages is to make it clear that God is at work in the passage of time here and now. His people are to bear in mind that in what happens in their lives and in the world around them God is working out his purposes. In this spirit the psalmist prays, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life" (Psalm 39:4), and in Proverbs we find that receiving instruction is the path to being wise in "the latter end" (19:20). Contrariwise Babylon is blamed for not remembering "the latter end" (Isa 47:7). By taking heed of what God is doing, his people will be strengthened in their faith and better able to appreciate the significance of the times in which they live. It is important that God's people are never alone and that they will discern the outworking of the divine purposes if only they have eyes to see.

Future Happenings. Quite often "last" or "latter" is used of times other than the end of all things. The prophets could speak of a "day" when the Lord would act, sometimes in punishment of evil, sometimes in bringing blessing. Especially important are passages that speak of "the last day(s), " which point to the future but without being specific. In such passages it may mean "later in the present scheme of things, " that is, later in the life of a person or, more often, later in the history of the world. For the former use we might notice the warning in Proverbs that a misspent life means that you will groan "at your latter end" (Prov 5:11). For the other use Jacob summoned his sons to tell them what would happen to them "in the latter days" (Gen 49:1). This clearly refers to the distant future, but not to the end of the world. So with Moses' prophecy that after his death Israel would turn away from the right with the result that evil would befall them "in the latter days" (Deut 31:29). We might say something similar about Daniel's prophecy of things that would happen "in the latter time of wrath" (Dan 8:19; the references to the kings of Media, Persia, and Greece show that there is a reference to what we would call antiquity, not the end of the world ). Hosea looks forward to the Israelites coming trembling to the Lord "in the latter days" (3:5).

So also Jeremiah looks forward to people understanding the working of the divine wrath "in the latter days" (Jer 23:20; 30:24). He also looks for blessing in those days, for the Lord will restore Moab (48:47) and Elam (49:39). We usually look for blessing on Israel, and it is interesting that Jeremiah sees the divine blessing as coming also on these Gentile nations. Similarly Daniel says that God has shown Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen in "the latter days" (2:28; for other examples of his use of the expression, see 8:23; 10:14; 11:29).

In the New Testament it is not so much a question of what will happen to nations, as of the way God will work out his purpose in the affairs of the church and of individual believers. Peter says that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the infant church fulfilled a prophecy of what would happen "in the last days" (Acts 2:17). In the same spirit we notice a statement in Hebrews: Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26). The great events concerning the coming of the Savior and the establishment of salvation are linked with "the last days." So also is the opposition of evil to all that is good. In those days "The Spirit clearly says that … some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim 4:1). There is a sense in which the church has always lived in "the last days."

John Gill's Commentary on Hebrews 1

and it is a rule with the Jews F13, that wherever the phrase, "the last days", is mentioned, the days of the Messiah are designed: and they are to be understood not of the last days of the natural world, but of, the Jewish world and state; indeed the times of the Messiah, or Gospel dispensation, may be called the last days of the natural world, according to the tradition of the house of Elias; which teaches, that the duration of the world will be six thousand years, and divides it into three parts, the last of which is assigned to the Messiah, thus; two thousand years void, (or without the law,) two thousand years the law, and two thousand years the days of the Messiah F14: but it is best to understand this of the last days of the Mosaic economy, or Jewish dispensation; for the Messiah was to come before the Jewish civil and church states were dissolved; before the sceptre departed from Judah, and before the second temple was destroyed; and he was to come at the end, or toward the close of both these states; and which is called the end, or ends of the world, (Habakkuk 2:3) (Hebrews 9:26) (1 Corinthians 10:11) and quickly after Jesus, the true Messiah was come, an end was put to both these: from whence it may be observed, that the Messiah must be come; that the Mosaic economy, and Jewish worship, will never be restored again; that the Gospel revelation being made in the last days, ought to be regarded the more, it being the last revelation God will ever make.

Jamieson, Fausset, Brown
Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible Hebrews 1

2. in these last days--In the oldest manuscripts the Greek is. "At the last part of these days." The Rabbins divided the whole of time into "this age," or "world," and "the age to come" (Hebrews 2:5, 6:5). The days of Messiah were the transition period or "last part of these days" (in contrast to "in times past"), the close of the existing dispensation, and beginning of the final dispensation of which Christ's second coming shall be the crowning consummation.

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