When we hear the term “last days,” quite naturally, we assume it is a reference to the final short period of history just prior to the return of Jesus in glory. This is a logical assumption. Yet, the New Testament presents this period as an era of fulfillment that began with the Death, Resurrection, and the Exaltation of Jesus.
(Hebrews 1:1-3) – “In many parts and in many ways of old, God spoke to the fathers in the prophets upon the end of these days, He spoke to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the ages, who, being an eradiated brightness of his glory, and an exact representation of his being, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places.”
The book of Hebrews begins by declaring how God, “in these last days, spoke to us in a Son.” Elsewhere, the letter describes how Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” – (Hebrews 9:26).
Similarly, Paul wrote that – “the appointed time has been shortened…For the forms of this world are passing away.” The last verb is in the Greek present tense (i.e., “passing away”), signifying continuous action – the forms and institutions of this age have been in the process of passing away since the victory of Jesus over sin and death – (1 Corinthians 7:29).
Paul went on to describe how the Hebrew scriptures were written for the instruction of Christians, the ones “upon whomthe end of the ages has come.” He made a similar point to the Galatians when he declared, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” – (1 Corinthians 10:11, Galatians 4:4).
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter changed the opening word from the passage he cited from the book of Joel from “afterward” to “in the last days.”He linked the outpouring of the Spirit to the “last days” – the gift of the Spirit demonstrated that the era predicted by Joel had begun. Likewise, he declared that Jesus was destined “before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake” – (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, 1 Peter 1:20).
John, in his first epistle, warned his congregations 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).
The Hebrew Bible presented history as divided into two ages – the present evil age and the “age to come.” The coming age, the promised messianic era, would be ushered in when the Messiah arrived. Two scriptural promises became key expectations: the expected outpouring of God’s Spirit, and the resurrection of the dead. These expectations were in mind when devout Jews spoke of the “last days” – (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 37:26-27).
The messianic promises of the Hebrew scriptures came to fruition in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus. However, not necessarily in the ways expected by his contemporaries. In his ministry, the Lord inaugurated the “kingdom of God,” and no term was heard more often on his lips. In his healing miracles and exorcisms, Jesus was reclaiming “territory” for God. His acts demonstrated that the “kingdom of God” had commenced.
Jesus tasked his disciples with proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom of God” to all nations, to herald the arrival of the kingdom, and thus, to summon all who would heed the announcement to respond accordingly.
The resurrection of Jesus marked the commencement of the general resurrection of the dead, which is why his resurrection is called the “firstfruits” of our own resurrection. Likewise, the gift of the Spirit is called the “firstfruits” of the future redemption of our bodies. The Spirit is linked with resurrection because the raising of the dead is an act of new creation. From the beginning, God’s Spirit has been the agent of creation and the source of all life – (Genesis 1:1-2Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Spirit is our “earnest” (arrabōn) or “down payment” on the future resurrection and New Creation, the rock-solid “guarantee” that God will complete what He began in the resurrection of His Son – (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14).
The “last days” have been underway since the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Calvary was far more than just the execution of Jesus or a model for selfless martyrdom. On the Cross, God defeated all the “powers and principalities” opposed to Him that had enslaved humanity. The final victory was won, and it is cosmic in scope and effect.
With Calvary, history has entered its final phase, and the existing order has been undergoing its death throes. The “last days” is NOT a chronological marker but a theological concept. It refers to the era that began with the Death and Resurrection of the Son of God. In him, the “age to come” has irrupted into the old fallen age, which will continue to “pass away” until the consummation of all things at the return of Jesus, including the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the New Creation.