In this article, I continue surveying various Scriptures that point to the last days. I have listed the topics alphabetically. I certainly do not guarantee that I have found all the Scriptures that should be included. In each topic, I make a few comments. I shall continue the survey in an additional article.
· Acts 2:17-21: This passage, from Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, is a direct—and faithful—quotation from Joel 2:28-32. Peter applies this prophecy to the events—especially the speaking in tongues—that were being witnessed by the Jews in Jerusalem. This prophecy predicts an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. One must always be cautious when observing all-encompassing phrases in Scripture, such as “world,” “everyone,” “all,” etc. It is obvious that every human has not received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not even all Jews of that day received such an outpouring. There are two possible explanations. One is that the Spirit was available to all, but only some were able to receive Him. The other explanation is that God had opened up the possibility for all to receive in this new dispensation. Note that Joel—and Peter—give examples of kinds of people who would be eligible to receive the Spirit—young, old, male, female, and servants (slaves). These examples cross traditional barriers, so that “all” people have access to the Spirit. The timing of the outpouring of the Spirit is designated to be “in the last days.” Joel uses “afterward,” which is the time after a restoration depicted in Joel 2:18-27. In Joel 3:1ff, the material relates to events at the end of the age, so the “afterward” refers to “the last days,” as Peter interprets the prophecy. Thus, Peter is referring to that era, in which his own generation lived, as “the last days.” It is true that the gospels use language that has a “last days” feel to it. For example, John the Baptist and Jesus both preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) So, the New Testament has a perspective that the end of the present order was very close.
o One approach to this issue is to assume that Jesus and others of that time were mistaken (some liberal scholars).
o Another is to assume that the end of the era did occur with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 (Preterist view).
o A third possibility is to understand the advent of the Kingdom was to be delayed because of Jewish rejection of Jesus, and the church age is a parenthesis in God’s time-table; God will take up the Kingdom time-table at the end of the church age, and the Kingdom will, indeed, be “at hand” (Dispensationalist view)
o Another possibility is to understand that the New Testament era—the coming of the Holy Spirit, the creation of the church, the dispensation of grace—is a transition into the future era. Despite the fact that it has almost been 2000 years, we still are in the last days.
o The fact that Peter identified the Day of Pentecost, which was surely the day when the church was formed, as a “last day” event seems to indicate that the church is a part of the last days and the fourth possibility is the best understanding.
· Several Scriptures refer to “later times,” “last days,” or “the time will come.” These each depict those last days as a time of apostasy, false teaching, and apostasy. Those Scripture were dealt with in a previous article under the heading “Apostasy.” The Scriptures are I Timothy 4:1-4, II Timothy 3:1-9, and II Timothy 4:1-5. In addition II Peter 2:1-3 warns against false teachers in the future without placing them specifically in the “last days.” Also, II Peter 3:3-18 discusses the last days when scoffers will mock the idea of the Parousia. All of the warnings appear to be directed toward the church. They form a picture of the church that will be weakened by false teachers and their doctrines. Jesus warns against a deteriorating situation in the church (this is my belief—see my articles on this material) in Matthew 24:10-12.
· Hebrews 12:25-29: This passage is the end of an exhortation beginning at 12:14. The passage centers around the experience of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. When they were gathered at the mountain, the Lord spoke and the people were frightened. For there were accompanying phenomena—lightning, thunder, a trumpet blast, a thick cloud, smoke, fire, and the mountain shook. Now, the author of Hebrews warns to listen to the Lord, for He is going to shake things up again: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:26) This is a quotation from Haggai 2:6. That passage refers to God’s judgment and the coming of the “desire of nations” (Haggai 2:7), which many interpret to be the Messiah. Haggai conflates the coming of the Messiah, glory of the Temple, and God’s judgment. Hebrews interprets the words of Haggai as a last day event: “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27) This picture of the future is one of violent judgment—a judgment that tests the permanence of everything in the created order. The passage concludes with gratitude that we have received a “kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Hebrews 12:28) The “last days” scenario in this passage is vague, not really intended to convey detailed information, but rather to convey the nature of the future. It is a future that will differentiate that which is of the unshakable Kingdom of God and that which is of this present order and which cannot abide the powerful shaking of God. The final reminder is from Deuteronomy 4:24: “Our God is a consuming fire.” (from Hebrews 12:29) The reference to Deuteronomy reminds us that God is a jealous God and desires our complete loyalty. This passage is a warning to heed God, the One who can shake the universe and the heavenly realms and has a rightful claim on our single-minded attention. The future looms before us, with an unshakable Kingdom, but also a consuming fire. Let us seek holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
· John 5:28-30 (16-47): This is part of an answer that Jesus gave to those who were criticizing Him. It began when He healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15). Because He healed on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders persecuted Him. Jesus gave the famous reply: ““My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17) This led to more abuse because Jesus in essence said He was the Son of God. First, Jesus explained His relationship to His Father: He only did as He was directed by the Father (5:19). I conjecture that He was putting the pressure on His accusers: If you believe in following the Father, you will appreciate that I follow His lead. Then, Jesus promised eternal life to those who believed Him and the Father (5:24ff). Then, Jesus announced the future of the dead: they will rise, either to live or to be condemned (5:28-29). In fact, the prediction of eternal life in 5:28-29 is really the third such prediction, each of which was worded somewhat differently (5:21, 5:24-25, 5:28-29). In the first, 5:21, the emphasis is on the similarity between the Father and the Son. The Father raises the dead, and the Son gives life to whom He will. In the second, 5:24-25, the emphasis (especially in 5:24) is on eternal life through belief in the Son. In the third, the emphasis is on the two contrasting destinies—each of which is preceded by resurrection—of the righteous and the unrighteous. It is interesting to note that each time resurrection is predicted, judgment by the Son is also predicted (5:22, 5:27, 5:30). Thus, Jesus was declaring His own authority and power to give eternal life as well as to judge the dead. In these few words, Jesus gave important information about the future after physical death. That future includes the resurrection of our physical bodies and either eternal life or condemnation. All of this future is in the hands of the Son of God. One somewhat confusing statement is 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Although physical resurrection is in view throughout the passage, we also must recognize that Jesus is teaching the profound truth of eternal life. In verse 5:21, the Son “gives life.” Those who believe Jesus’ message have “eternal life.” (5:24) the Son has “life” in Himself (5:26). Thus, in 5:25, Jesus implies that not all the “dead” will hear His voice. Only those who do hear will live. This may be saying that only the righteous dead will hear His voice—but this is contradicted by 5:28. The ESV Study Bible notes and the NIV Study Bible notes both interpret these word to mean that those who are dead spiritually and who receive Jesus’ message will have eternal life. Thus, that time when the message of eternal life through the Son “is now here.” (5:25)
· John 6:39-40: Jesus had been non-stop busy. He had fed more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. (6:1-13) When the people were close to seizing Him and making Him king, He slipped away to a mountain. (6:14-15) That night, the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus walked out to them on the water. (6:16-21) The next day, the crowd searched for Jesus and finally caught up with Him. (6:22-24) In the teaching Jesus gave on that day, He declared that He is the Bread of Life, the true manna from heaven that satisfies the deepest needs of people. (6:25-35) Then, He declares that He has come to do the Father’s will—to lose nothing that the Father has given Him and to raise it up on the last day (6:39), for everyone who believes on Him will have eternal life (6:40). In this whole set of passages, we see the glory of the Son of God. That glory was not to display Himself before people, but to meet people in their need. Yet, He met the needs of people in ways that were glorious to look upon. He multiplied the loaves and fish, and He walked on the water. So, He has legitimacy when He declares that He is the Bread of Life that satisfies. The satisfaction that He brings into our lives is an eternal satisfaction that transcends physical death. So, He promises to raise us up on the last day. An integral component of salvation is to experience resurrection. The peculiar wording of verse 39 is as follows: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” The “but” is the strong version of “but” in Greek. This means that the clause that follows is in contrast to what came before: God’s will is that Jesus not lose any that He has been given, but, rather than lose them, He should raise them on the last day. Thus, physical death is a temporary set-back that Jesus will overcome by the resurrection.
· John 11:25-26: Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha after their brother, Lazarus, died. Martha came out to meet Jesus. She said to Jesus (11:21): “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This was both a statement of faith and a rebuke. Jesus told her that Lazarus would rise again (11:23). Martha declared her faith in the resurrection (11:24): “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus then made His startling statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus had declared that He is the Bread of Life. Now He declared that He is the very embodiment of the resurrection and the life of the ages to come. Martha’s faith was in the God of Israel and in a great future for God’s people. Now, she was faced with the reality of the loss of her brother. As Jesus came into her presence, she could express faith in His power to heal, but she was about to experience something far greater. As the story played out, Jesus went to the tomb and called Lazarus from the dead. The man, wrapped in grave cloths, came forth from the tomb! It was a powerful statement of Jesus’ power. However, eventually Lazarus would die and be buried. This miracle was really only an illustration of the far greater truth of Jesus’ statement. For Jesus was saying that His very being is life. As the gospel of John states in the Prologue: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) To meet Jesus is to meet life. It is both a quality and duration of life. Many believe that they will conquer death through science. But what quality of life will people possess if they do not receive that life from God? The resurrection life that Jesus gives will be filled “with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). Jesus expresses the resurrection component of salvation in two ways in verses 11:25-26. First, He states that one who believes in Him “though he die, yet shall he live.” (11:25) The other manner of expressing the gift of eternal life is more difficult to understand: “[And] everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (11:26) The ESV Study Bible note interprets this in a way with which I agree. Those who live are those who have Jesus’ life in them through the new birth, and they shall never die. In identifying Himself by an “I am” statement, Jesus was identifying with Yahweh who stated: “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) The following are the “I am” statements in John:
o The Bread of Life (6:35)
o The Light of the World (8:12, also 9:5)
o The Gate of the Sheep (10:9 and 14)
o The Good Shepherd (10:14)
o The Resurrection and the Life (11:25-26)
o The Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
o The Vine (15:1 and 5)
· Romans 8:23 (context Romans 8:17-39): I have discussed this context in another article. This verse uses rather unusual language to express the Resurrection. It is referred to, first, as “our adoption as sons,” and, then, Paul explains that phrase with the phrase, “the redemption of our bodies.” These two phrases both emphasize how deeply connected the Resurrection is to salvation. For example, we find both the words “adoption” and “redemption” in Ephesians 1:5-7. In that context, the Resurrection is not particularly in view. Also, as we return to Romans 8, we find the term “adoption” used in 8:15. The Spirit which we have received is a Spirit of adoption. In 8:16, Paul mentions the role of the Spirit in assuring us that we are children of God. So, the general understanding of Scripture is that we experience redemption and adoption in this present life through our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, in 8:23, Paul looks to the future. In fact, he says, that within us there is a groaning for the future. That groaning joins with a great chorus of groaning in all creation (8:18-25). This groaning is a deep anticipation, as creation groans as though giving birth, waiting for the full revelation of what we, the sons of God, will be in the Resurrection. When that takes place, our bodies will be redeemed. They will have been redeemed at the cost of the death of Jesus. They will be bought back from the ravages that sin as exacted upon them. They will be set free from bondage to decay and enjoy full liberty. And with them, creation itself will be released also from its bondage to deterioration and decay. When we stand, fully clothed in immortality, we will be the adopted sons of God. So, though there is a measure of these things in the present, there is a great future to look forward to, when our salvation will be fully manifested.
· Philippians 3:20-21: Paul has just completed his dramatic statement which describes his deepest motivations in 3:1-16. This passage is one of the high points of Scripture. He then exhorts his readers to imitate his example (3:17). And he warns that some—these are persons in the church—do not live in the noble manner and with the noble motives of Paul. They have their “minds set on earthly things.” (3:19) In contrast, the true Christian is a citizen of heaven (3:20). Dispensationalists use this as a proof-text that the Christian, in the church age, is to be contrasted with Israel, for Christians have a destiny in heaven and Jews have a destiny on earth (Pentecost, 227). However, in the context of the passage, Paul is not contrasting Christians with Jews, but rather is contrasting people of evil motives with genuine Christians. Moreover, to say that our citizenship is in heaven does not necessarily mean that we shall not inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). However, to debate that topic is beyond the scope of this article. Paul says that we await the Savior from heaven. Obviously, this assumes the Savior is in heaven. That assumption is explicit in the Apostles’ Creed: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” This Savior will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (3:21) This brief statement could apply either to the Rapture of the living or the Resurrection of the dead, or both. The way that it is tied directly to the eager anticipation of the Savior implies to me that the Rapture is in mind. Keep in mind that the Resurrection and Rapture are practically simultaneous events (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). The word choices in Greek are more evocative than the English Standard Version translation—though it is accurate. The word “transform” can be used in some cases (in the middle voice) to mean “masquerade” (II Corinthians 11:13-15). “Our lowly bodies” is more literally: “the body of our humiliation [or humble state].” “To be like” is better “to be conformed.” The word is found in Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Emphasis added) A paraphrase of the verse might be: “He will transform the appearance of our bodies, which are now under humiliation, to be conformed to His glorious body, in accordance with the in-working that enables Him to subject all things to Himself.” The last clause implies that Christ’s act of Resurrection/Rapture is an act of victory, bringing us back into conformity with God’s original destiny for us. Paradoxically, as Christ has victory over our bodies, we are liberated (see Romans 8:18-25).
· James 1:12: This verse makes very brief mention of the “crown of life.” The context is trials (1:2-4), the need for wisdom (probably especially in trials) (1:5-8), and the various stations in life that people find themselves in (including poverty and the humiliation of the rich) (1:9-11). In all of this, one is called to endure. The promise to those who endure is the “crown of life.” Jesus promised that those endure will be saved (Matthew 24:13). This is not teaching salvation by works, but it is teaching the need to hold onto one’s faith in the face of all of life’s difficulties. In Revelation 2:10, Jesus also promises the “crown of life” to those who remain faithful through their troubles, even “unto death.” What is the “crown of life”? We obvious understand it to mean “eternal life” (John 3:16), but, the Resurrection as the specific manifestation of eternal life makes sense in the context. First, endurance in hard times of testing brings suffering to our bodies in many cases, though we recognize that the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, experiences suffering. The Resurrection is a state of victory in which the body no longer can experience those trials. Second, the crowning victory of eternal life is the Resurrection. Though the intermediate state in heaven is a time of comfort and joy, it awaits great event that will crown life with the power and victory of the Resurrection. So, we are motivated to endure trials as they come our way, so that we can experience the crown of life.
· I John 2:28-3:3: This is a case study of the inadequacy of the chapter and verse system that was imposed on the Bible centuries ago. Some may not be aware that the system was added onto the original text. In some cases, it is helpful, but often it does not reflect the organization of the content. Nevertheless, we are thankful that it exists, since it provides a means of finding material in the Scriptures easily. The passage begins with an admonition to abide in Christ. My understanding of “abiding in Christ” is to persevere in faith in Christ—to nurture the relationship that faith engenders. Through that relationship, we receive an abundance of all that we need to live a rich life—to grow in wisdom, in love, in joy. If I abandon that relationship, I endanger my spiritual life (John 15:6). In the present passage, John encourages abiding in Christ in order to have confidence when we meet the Lord at the time of His Parousia. This “confidence” is a boldness that comes out of our relationship with the Lord (see Acts 4:13). Moreover, this abiding will prevent our shrinking in shame before the Lord. Obviously, we shall not be arrogant, and, certainly, we shall worship the Lord when we see Him. But, just as now we have boldness to enter into God’s presence in prayer because of the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19), so then we shall meet the Lord without shame at His coming. John now diverges somewhat as he discusses our nature as children of God, but he will return to the idea of meeting the Lord at the Parousia. First, he reminds us (2:29) that those who are born of God exhibit that fact in their actions: whoever does righteousness is born of God. This is because the nature of the One who begot them is righteousness. This is an almost self-evident fact, and yet some do not know it. John begins the sentence with a condition: “If you know that he is righteous…” Surely, everyone knows that, but, indeed, among those tainted with the incipient Gnosticism of his day, some did not understand that. Therefore, the further understanding—that those who are born of this righteous God will be those who practice righteousness—was also lost on those individuals who were deceived by the false teaching. John now centers his focus on those who are born of God (3:1-3). We are children of God because of the love of God (John 3:16). God’s central motive is love, which drove Jesus to the cross to redeem us. The result is that we are called the children of God. The use of the word “called” in this verse should not be taken as a reference to a casual usage. For example, we might say: “He is called a great movie star.” In this latter usage, we use “called” to mean “has the reputation among some.” But the use in this verse is a statement of fact. One should compare this use in Luke 1:32: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…” John goes on to differentiate us from the world. The world does not know us because we have been born of God and have His nature. The world did not recognize Jesus because His nature was of God and far different from the nature of the world. This statement—that we are like Jesus in this respect—is not to be taken that we have become God. We remain creatures, but we partake of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). John now (3:2) returns to the subject of the Parousia. Our nature in the present is to be the children of God. Our future has not been manifested, but John can let us know some things. The sense I get from this is that we cannot imagine what our future is. Paul says a similar thing in Romans 8:18. What John can tell us is that we shall be like Him. I take this to be a reference to the Resurrection/Rapture. Paul, in his much more detailed account in I Corinthians 15, states that we shall bear the image of the Man from Heaven (Christ) (I Corinthians 15:49). John, in 3:2b, connects our transformation into the likeness of Christ to the fact that we shall see Christ as “He is.” There is a clear distinction of the tenses: we “shall see” Him as “He is.” He is already the Lord who has experienced the Resurrection. John saw Him in His glory on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:12-16). Someday, we shall see Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (I Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14 and 19:16), utterly triumphant (Revelation 19:11-18). And because we see Him, we shall be transformed. Why is that? I am not fully sure, but I think that this has to do with human capacity. In John 3:3, Jesus said one must be born again or from above to “see” the Kingdom of God. This “seeing” I take to mean “experience.” In a similar manner, Paul says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom (I Corinthians 15:50). This is in preparation to his description of the Rapture. So, in order to see Christ in His full glory—including His Kingdom—and in order to experience Christ’s full glory, we must be transformed. It as though the very sight of Christ will be transforming for us. In anticipation of this, we purify ourselves (3:3). We have this great hope—this anticipation—of a great future with the Lord. The Lord is pure, and we also want to be pure. John has dealt throughout I John with issues of sin and righteousness in the believer. He exhorts us to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. He also recognizes that we sin, but that we have an advocate in Jesus, who is the atonement for our sins. When we confess our sins, we are forgiven and cleansed. Thus, the message of I John is: keep it real, be honest before the Lord, and stick with the Lord like glue. In this context, then, we purify ourselves by seeking forgiveness when we mess up and by walking in the light and shunning the darkness. This all comes back to verse 2:29, which admonishes us to stay in the Lord’s grace as we anticipate meeting Him when He comes.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.
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