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Preachers and prophets screamed passionate warnings about these really being the Last Days when we entered the 3rd Millennium, and continue to do so. This was exactly as it was when the year 1,000 drew closer in the Middle Ages. The frenzy led to the Crusades, for so many Christians sold their material things and fled to Jerusalem to await the end of the world. Their presence finally irritated the Moslem rulers in Palestine and the "Holy Crusades" began. Something similar happened just prior to the end of the Nineteenth Century when various religious leaders and Bible students pointed to the beginning of the "last days" in 1820. Or, 1844. Or, 1874. Or, 1914. As strange as the question may seem to most Christians, what did the Nazarene and his inspired disciples really teach regarding "last days"?
Some are in for a surprise. Take a concordance and look for the phrase "last days" in the Gospels. Jesus never used it despite Bible topic headings in many translations of chapters like Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. What about the Apocalypse or Revelation which was given to Jesus? (Revelation 1:1) Surely, this most apocalyptic book uses the phrase "last days"? Or, "time of the end"? Is it fair and honest to include the phrase "last days" atop Bible pages as if these words occurred in the main text below? For example one translation begins Matthew chapter 24, "Christ’s presence, last days." On Mark chapter 13: "Signs of the last days given" and "Signs of last days continued." The same happens with Luke chapter 21. No one can claim Jesus ever used the words "last days." But, what about his disciples who wrote later?
Peter, Paul and James all use the phrase "last days." But, what "last days" were they talking about?
Peter’s "last days" regarding Jerusalem. Peter uses the phrase "last days" in his Pentecostal speech to his Jewish audience. Read Acts 2:16, 17: ‘No this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32 LXX), "In the last days (εσχαταις ημεραις) it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."’ (RSV) Is it fair to state that Peter applies these "last days" to those disciples who were experiencing the spirit’s manifestations and his contemporary audience? [It is noteworthy that the words "last days" do not occur in Joel 2:28-32. Peter gives his quote an inspired paraphrase.]
Peter is to use the phrase "last days" another time in his second epistle: ‘First of all you must understand this, that in the last days (ESCHATOU TON HEMERON) scoffers will come.’ (2 Peter 3:3 RSV) Some are tempted to apply this to some "generation" long after Peter’s time, right up to our own period at the beginning of the 3rd Millennium. How can we know to what "last days" Peter was warning about? The disciple Jude answers this for us because he actually quotes Peter and applies it to his own times.
Note Jude’s words: ‘But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers."’ (Jude 17, 18 RSV) Does it seem fair to say Jude has Peter’s words in mind? Jude, like Peter, applies the phrase "last days" to the approaching end of Jerusalem’s Temple Age, just as the Nazarene foretold in Matthew 24:4-20 and Luke 21:7-24.
Paul’s "last days". Among the most famous occurrences of the phrase "last days" is the one used at 2 Timothy 3:1, ‘You (Timothy) must understand this, that in the last days (ESCHATAIS HEMERAIS) distressing times will come.’ (RSV) Some translations omit the singular "you" in this verse somewhat obscuring the fact that Paul has Timothy in mind. A reading of the whole context from 2 Timothy 2:14 to 3:9 would seem to confirm Paul’s warning about the "last days" were those upon Timothy and his "generation" who would witness the end of Jerusalem’s Temple Age. How can we be sure of this?
Paul (if he be the writer of Hebrews) uses a phrase highly similar to "last days" in Hebrews 1:2: ‘But in these last days (ESCHATOU TON HEMERON) God has spoken to us by a Son.’ (RSV) Is it misinterpreting matters to say Paul calls his contemporary times "last days"?
The "last days" of the disciple James. James uses the phrase "last days" also: ‘You have laid up treasure for the last days (ESCHATAIS HEMERAIS).’ (James 5:3 RSV) Is it fair to say James has those rich Christians of his own day in mind as the "end" of Jerusalem draws closer?
All of these rare occurrences of the phrase "last days" all deal with the end of Jerusalem’s Temple Age just as Jesus Christ foretold. (Mark 13:5-23) [For more details on this subject see Nazarene Principles and Nazarene Apocalypse]
A few students and commentators believe "the last days" began in the first century and continue down to our own time. Was there an "end" to those "last days" upon that Jewish generation with its Temple in Jerusalem? This subject introduces another word: "consummation" or "conclusion."
In Matthew 24:3 when the disciples asked about the Nazarene’s prediction of the Temple’s desolation they use the Greek word (possibly from Matthew’s own translation of the Hebrew) synteleias. This word in Greek is translated by Jerome in his Fourth Century Vulgate as consummatis for the word means "with + end" or "ending together"; that is, a conclusion or consummation. This word is possibly borrowed from Daniel 9:26, 27 ‘And after the sixty-two weeks, the Christ shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in him; and He shall destroy the city and the sanctuary ... and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed, he shall appoint the city to desolations. ... and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end (SYNTELEIAS) of the time an end (SYNTELEIA) shall be put to the desolation.’ (LXX) This was the prophecy from which Jesus drew his own words at Matthew 24:15. The synteleia the disciples had in mind was "the end" of Jerusalem’s Temple. Would this not indicate "the last days" on that Jewish generation with its sacred Temple had an end, conclusion, or consummation? Those particular "last days" did not continue on for many centuries more. (Matthew 28:20)
Paul uses SYNTELEIA himself when discussing the "last days" upon the Jewish Temple Age. Note Hebrews 9:26, ‘But as it is (Christ) has appeared once for all at the end (SYNTELEIA) of the age.’ This later phrase "the end of the age" is exactly the same of the disciples’ question at Matthew 24:3. Does this not prove Paul believed, in fulfillment of Daniel 9:26, 27, and in agreement with the Nazarene’s apostles, that there was then, in his own time, "the last days" to culminate in a "conclusion" upon the Jewish Temple Age? Would this limit any Christian teachers today from predicting the last days and "the time is at hand"?
Most have overlooked the Nazarene’s warning immediately after the disciples asked their question about the SYNTELEIA, particularly the way it is worded in Luke 21:8: ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, and say . . . "The time is at hand!" Do not join them!’ (RSV, BY, NJB) How much clearer would our Lord have to make it? If any who claim his authority, asserting they are "the Anointed" (Mark 13:22) and prophesy, "The Time Is At Hand!" they are not to be followed or believed. Such a "presumptuous" prophet need not be feared. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
Does this mean there will never be any "last days"? Not if we judge the Apocalypse correctly. An "end" will come following the Return of Christ. (For details read Nazarene Apocalypse 2000©) The Books of Daniel and Revelation foretell a period of three and a half years of Great Oppression on the Saints just prior to the parousia of Christ. Jesus gives the single "sign" which will mark the imminence (within hours) of his parousia and this will be seen by the Saints and all the earth at the same time. The Nazarene predicts: ‘Following (the Great Oppression) . .. . the Sign of the Son of Man will become visible in the sky and all the tribes of earth will mourn as they see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of the atmosphere.’ (Matthew 24:29, 30 NCMM) The parousia follows the Great Oppression.
When that future "generation" witnesses celestial phenomenon, the Sign of the Son of man, and the visible Return of Messiah, then we will know our "redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28 RSV) Only then will Nazarene Saints be able to say these are "the last days" and "the time is at hand."
Only after the Saints are raised and raptured to the Celestial Throne Room (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Revelation 11:12; 15:2) will the Seventh Angel declare: "THE END HAS COME!" (Revelation 16:17 PME)
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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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