The “last days,” the age of fulfillment, began with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Son of God – Hebrews 1:1-3.
When we hear the term “last days” we assume it refers 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 the present age as the era of fulfillment that began with the Death, Resurrection, and the Exaltation of Jesus.
The book of Hebrews begins by declaring that God “in these last days spoke to us in a Son.” Elsewhere, it 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).
- (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.”
God did speak to the “fathers” under the old covenant, but only partially so. Previously, His “word” was preparatory, promissory, and incomplete. But now, “upon the last of these days,” He has spoken with fullness and finality in His “son,” who is the heir of all things. Thus, with the arrival of Jesus, the final era, the time of fulfillment has commenced.
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, which signifies continuous action. That is, the institutions of the present 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 Christians, the ones “upon whom the end of the ages has come.” He made a similar point to the Galatians when he declared that “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 words from the book of Joel from “afterward” to “in the last days.”In this way, he linked the outpouring of the Spirit to the “last days,” which demonstrated that the final era predicted by Joel had begun. Later, he wrote 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).
In his last epistle, John warned 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).
In the Hebrew Bible, history is 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, and two promises became the key expectations of God’s people – The outpouring of God’s Spirit, and the resurrection of the dead, and those very expectations were in mind when devout Jews spoke of the “last days” – (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 37:26-27).
The messianic expectations came to fruition in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus. However, not necessarily in the ways expected by many of his contemporaries. In his ministry, the Lord inaugurated the “kingdom of God,” and no term was heard more often on his lips. In his teachings, healings, and exorcisms, he was reclaiming “territory” for God. His miracles demonstrated that the “kingdom of God” had commenced and was progressing on the earth.
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 to summon all who would heed that announcement to respond accordingly.
His resurrection marked the commencement of the general resurrection of the dead, which is why his resurrection is called the “first-fruits” of our own. Likewise, the gift of the Spirit is the “first-fruits” of the future redemption of our bodies. It 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 1:1-2, Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Spirit is also our “earnest” (arrabōn) or “down payment” on the future resurrection and New Creation, the rock-solid “guarantee” that God will complete what He started with the resurrection of His Son – (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14).
Thus, the “last days” have been underway ever since his resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit on 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 was (and is) cosmic in scope and effect.
With Calvary, history entered its final phase, and since then, 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 Jesus. In him, the “age to come” has invaded the old fallen age that will continue to “pass away” until the consummation of all things at the “arrival” of Jesus in glory, including the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the New Creation.