A NEW AGE DAWNED

The commencement of the “last days,” the time of fulfillment, began following the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.

When we hear the term “last days,” quite naturally, 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 this period as the era of fulfillment that began with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. In him, the “ends of the ages” have come upon the people of God.

For example, the book of Hebrews begins by declaring that God, “in these last days”, has spoken definitively in His 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 1:1-4, 9:26).

While Hebrews provides only minimal information about the future return of Jesus, it lets the reader know just how fundamentally this change in eras is. Jesus is the high priest greater than all his predecessors; he is the “priest forever” after the rank of Melchizedek who holds this position unchangeable and unalterable.

Unlike the Levitical system of the old order, his “once for all” sacrifice did “achieve the purification of sins.” And his inauguration of the “new covenant” has rendered the old one obsolete – it is “nigh unto fading away.”

THE OLD IS PASSING AWAY

Similarly, Paul writes 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”), and it signifies continuous action.

Thus, according to the Apostle, the forms and institutions of this present age have been in the process of passing away since the victory of Jesus over sin and death – (1 Corinthians 7:29).

Paul describes how the Hebrew scriptures were written for the instruction of Christians, the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” He made a similar point to the Galatians by declaring, “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son” to redeem His people – (1 Corinthians 10:11, Galatians 4:4).

Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, changed the opening clause from the passage he cites from the book of Joel from “afterward” to “in the last days,” and in this way, he links the outpouring of the Spirit to the “last days.” The bestowal of the gift of the Spirit to the church demonstrates that the era predicted by Joel has begun.

MESSIANIC AGE

Likewise, Peter wrote many years later 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, warns 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,” and he points to the false teachers who are active already in the church as evidence that the “spirit of Antichrist” is active even now in the world – (1 John 2:18).

The Hebrew Bible presents history as divided into two ages – the present evil age and the “age to come.” The coming age, the messianic era, will be ushered in when the Messiah arrives, and two scriptural promises will come to pass when the final age begins – the expected outpouring of God’s Spirit and the resurrection of the dead – (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 37:26-27).

[Sunset mountains – Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash]

And those messianic promises have come to fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, not necessarily in the way many expected.  In his ministry, Christ inaugurated the “kingdom of God”; no term was heard more often on his lips. And in his healing miracles, exorcisms, and teachings, he began to reclaim lost “territory” from the Devil. His acts demonstrate that the “kingdom of God” has commenced.

And he has tasked his disciples with proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom of God” to all nations, to herald the arrival and present reality of the kingdom, and in this way, to summon all who men who will heed the 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 resurrection.

GIFT OF THE SPIRIT

Likewise, the gift of the Spirit is called the “first fruits” 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, and so it is now – (Genesis 1:1-2, Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20).

Moreover, 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.

The “last days” have been underway since his resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. The Cross was far more than just the execution of Jesus or a model for selfless martyrdom.  On it, God defeated all the “powers and principalities” opposed to Him that have enslaved humanity.  The final victory was won in the sacrificial death of His son, and it was and is cosmic in scope and effect.

With Calvary, history has entered its final phase, and ever since, the existing world order has been undergoing its death throes. The term “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 Jesus Christ, the “age to come” has irrupted into the old fallen age, one that will continue to “pass away” until the consummation of all things at the return of Jesus, and that day will include the resurrection of the righteous dead, the judgment of the wicked, and the New Creation.

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