This is part two, the final section, of an excellent article by Dallas Burdette, of Alabama. We appreciate his study, and hope that our readers will benefit from his research.
LAST DAYS BY NEW TESTAMENT AUTHORS
Paul, in writing his First Epistle to Timothy, uses a different expression to describe the "last days" of the world of Judaism. About AD 64, he writes: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times1 "in latter times" ( í óô ñïò êáéñï ò, en Justeros kairois) some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). In Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he writes: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1).2 "in the last days" [ í ó÷ ôáéò ì ñáéò, en escatais Jhmerais] Whether one says "in later times" or "in last days," one is saying one and the same thing. James,3 Some date the Book of James before AD 50, others after AD 60. the Lord’s brother, also speaks of the "last days" as he issues his rebuke against those who have accumulated wealth without regard to the things of God (James 5:1-3): "Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days" [ í ó÷ ôáéò ì ñáéò, en escatais Jhmerais] (5:3). The end of their age was just around the corner.
Peter, too, addresses the "last days" in his First Epistle (AD 60s, before Nero’s death in AD 68).4 Nero committed suicide in AD 68 during the month of June. Peter speaks of those "kept by the power of God" in the "last time": "Who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time5 "in the last time" [ í êáéñ ó÷ ô , en kairw escatw] (1 Peter 1:5). Again, in verse 20, he writes: "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times6 for your sake" (1:20). In his Second Epistle, he once more calls notification to the "last days" of Israel’s demise: "First of all, you must understand that in the last days7 "in the last days" ( ð ó÷ ôùí ô í ìåñ í, ep escatwn twn Jhmerwn, "during the last of the days") scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires" (2 Peter 3:3).8
Jude, too, speaks of the "last days" of Israel with the following words: "They said to you, ‘In the last times9 "in the last times" ( ð ó÷ ôïõ ôï ÷ñ íïõ, ep excatou tou cronou, "the last of the time") there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’" (Jude 18). John also refers to "time of the end" of Judaism when he writes: "Dear children, this is the last hour;10 "last hour" ( ó÷ ôç ñá óô í, escath Jwra estin, "last hour it is") and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour 11"last hour" ( ó÷ ôç ñá óô í, escath Jwra estin, "last hour it is") (1 John 2:18). Luke, like Matthew, records John the Immerser’s message about the coming wrath: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (Luke 3:7). Many of the disciples of Jesus recalled the words of John and Jesus concerning the "coming wrath" upon the holy city (Jerusalem) and left the city when they saw the armies of Rome approaching Jerusalem.
BOOK OF MATTHEW
Matthew relates a conversation between Jesus and His disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew recalls this interchange: "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’" (Matthew 24:3). To this question, Jesus cautioned: "Watch out that no one deceives you" (24:4). What would signal the final days of God’s wrath against the nation of Judah? Jesus calls notification to the words of the prophet Daniel in order to indicate how to determine when the time of the end for the holy people would arrive. He cites the words of Daniel who had previously spoken of the "time of the end": "So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ b Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (24:15-16).28 Luke gives additional comments by Jesus concerning the "
;last days" of Judah:
When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. (Luke 21:20-22)
BOOK OF GENESIS
As stated earlier, for many years, this author (Dallas Burdette) read the phrase "last days" to depict the last days of the Messianic age, which "last days" have been going on now for about 2000 years. T.V. evangelists and radio preachers are constantly referring to the "last days" as applicable to the twenty-first century, not the first century. Yet, on closer scrutiny, one discovers that both Old and New Testament writings employs this phrase to refer to the last days of the Old Covenant world of Judaism, not the Christian age. The "last days" of the world of Judaism with its Temple and rituals came to an end in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus clearly states, in His day, "This is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written."." Genesis 49:10 is one such Scripture that deals with the final overthrow of the house of Judah. He predicted what would happen in the "last days" of the world of Judaism. The destruction of Jerusalem is the fulfillment of Genesis 49:1, 10.
As recorded in Genesis 49, Jacob (2006-1886 BC)29 called his children together to describe the end of Judaism. Moses (1526-1406 BC) records the following words of Jacob concerning the last days of Judaism: "Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come (Genesis 49:1). "In days to come" is translated in the KJV as "in the last days." The Hebrew reading of this phrase is (B=a^jr!‚t h^yy*m!‚m, "in the end of days"). The Septuagint (LXX) renders this phrase as ð ó÷Üôùí ô í ìåñ í (ep escatwn twn Jherwn, "in the last days"). After Jacob informs each of his children, he then issues the final events that will take place in the "last days" concerning Judah. He says, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs c and the obedience of the nations is his" (49:10).cc
The KJV translates this verse (49:10): "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." Whether one translates the Hebrew as "until he comes to whom it belongs" or "until Shiloh come," both phrases have reference to the coming of the Messiah, that is to say the Christ. Jacob is specific concerning the Messiah coming before the last days, or the final days, of the nation of Judah, which nation actually suffered utter destruction by the Romans in AD 70. Jacob says that the scepter ( , v@b#t) would not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until "Shiloh" comes. Shiloh ( , v!‚l)h) seems to be a phrase meaning "He to whom it belongs, " and thus refers to the Messiah.ccc
The above analysis of Jacob’s words is not out of harmony with other predictions, especially those Messianic promises issued to Abraham. For example, Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham (2166-1991 BC),cccc received a promise from God concerning the coming of the Messiah. Moses records this promise in the Book of Genesis. Listen to Moses as he narrates this promise to Abraham:
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-3)
This pledge is repeated again in 18:18: "Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him." Once more, God repeats this guarantee: "through your offspring b Or seed all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" (22:18).33
Later, God confirmed the promise to Isaac. Over again, Moses writes:
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring a all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws." 6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar. (26:4-6)
This promise is reaffirmed to Jacob: "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" (28:14). Remember, toward the end of his earthly life, Jacob called his children together and issued the prophetic promise concerning the ultimate end of the kingdom of Judah. God made a promise, as stated above to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, that in his grandfather’s seed ( , z#r^u) all nations would be blessed. Ultimately, the promise made to Satan (3:14-15) and Abraham (12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18) would come through an individual (Jesus) who would bring this universal blessing, who is described as "her seed." Moses reveals God’s conversation to Satan: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers" (3:15). The One who is here called the ‘seed of the woman’ is later called the ‘seed of Abraham.’ Paul, over two thousand years after Abraham, referred to God
’s promise to Abraham this way: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ a Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 24:7 meaning one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).34
Paul refers to a phrase in Genesis 3:15 in his Epistle to the Roman Christians (Romans 16:20) as having fulfillment in its totality in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Take note of Paul’s words as he recalls God’s conversation to Satan: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." The author of the Book of Hebrews also testifies to the finality of the crushing of Satan with the coming of Christ in judgment on apostate Jerusalem: "So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28). This "coming" is the second coming. In the removal of apostate Jerusalem, God made way for the final defeat of Satan in His shaking of the old heavens and earth (the world of Judaism) and the creation of new heavens and a new earth (the body of Christ, or the church).35 Pay attention once more to the author of Hebrews as he writes:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn,36 whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." c 27 The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:22-27)
When did God "shake not only the earth but also the heavens"? The Hebrew author identifies the above events as taking place "at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26). "The end of the ages" is from the Greek ð óõíôåëå á ô í á íùí (epi sunteleia twn aiwnwn), which can also be translated as, "at the completion of the ages." Jesus accomplished this feat during the final phase of the demise of the kingdom of Judah. In order to comprehend more fully this phrase "last days," it would be helpful to look at a few more Old Testament prophecies as well as New Testament citations to grasp the significance of this phrase by the writers of both Testaments.
BOOK OF ISAIAH
One of the first Scriptures that I learned as a boy preacher was Isaiah 2:1-4. Unfortunately, no one called attention to chapters 3-4 in analyzing 2:2. The "last days," in our interpretation, included the first century as well as the twentieth century (I started my preaching ministry in January 1951). For many believers, today, the "last days" also include the twenty-first century. We divided the time periods into three periods—Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian. This same fellowship as well as many other fellowships still maintains that Christians are still living in the "last days." A close scrutiny of Isaiah reveals that he is writing about the final days of Israel’s demise. Isaiah (739 BC) writes about the events that would occur during the final days of Israel prestige, or power, which power Daniel spoke of as coming to an end (Daniel 12:7). One of the ways that God’s people know that the kingdom came into existence in the first century is that the kingdom would be established during the "last days," or the final days of Israel’s power. Don Preston correctly states: "The last days would already be in existence when the kingdom would be established."cc Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah with His establishment of His messianic kingdom during the final days of the kingdom of Judah. Listen to him as he pens his futuristic words:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)
"In the last days" ( , b+a^j&r!‚t h^yy*m!‚m) is not a prediction of the last days of the church, but rather, it refers to the last days of Israel’s existence. The Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew text as ôá ò ó÷Üôáéò ìÝñáéò (tais escatais Jhmerais), which the KJV translates as "the last days." In chapter two, Isaiah speaks of God judging Israel, which judgment ultimately took place in AD 70. In order for one to observe the impact of 2:2-4, one should look at Isaiah’s statements in 2:9-11 and 2:19-21. It is significant that Jesus alludes to and cites both of these Scriptures as having reference to Jerusalem in His day (see Luke 21:24; 23:28-31). Pay attention to Isaiah as he describes the reaction of men and women who face persecution from the Romans in the first century, which army God employed to wreak havoc upon a nation that rejected His Messiah:
So man will be brought low and mankind humbled—do not forgive them. a 10Go into the rocks, hide in the ground f
rom dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty! 11The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:9-11)
Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. 20In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. 21They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. (2:19-21)
, when he rises . In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. , when he rises . ()
Jesus, as stated above, cites Isaiah 2:19 as having fulfillment in the "end of the ages." Following Luke’s report of Jesus’ reference to the end of Judaism in Luke 21, he again refers to comments by Jesus concerning Israel’s rejection of Him as their Messiah (23:28-30). Jesus alludes to Isaiah 2:19 on His way to crucifixion. Luke reports his comments and Jesus’ words:
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!’ ’ a 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:26-31)
Luke 23:30 is a direct citation from Isaiah 2:21, which words relate to Israel’s final days that are commonly referred to as "the last days." Even in Isaiah 2:9-11, one observes that Jesus alludes to these Scriptures in Luke 23:28-30. Also, John captures the words of Isaiah (2:19-21) in the sixth seal in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 6:12-17), which also depicts the overthrow of apostate Jerusalem. Listen to John as he pens the following description of the events transpiring during the final days of Israel’s political power:
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Revelation 6:12-17)
From Isaiah 2:2-4, one knows that the Messianic kingdom would come into existence during the final days of Judah’s power. Not only is Isaiah 2:2 dealing with the final days, but 2:9-11 and 2:19-21 also describe the final days that Jesus speaks about as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Chapters 2-4 of Isaiah are simply reiterations of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 32 concerning punishment for disobedience, which chapter is commonly known as the Song of Moses that is descriptive of Israel’s final downfall in AD 70. John, too, in his Book of Revelation, speaks of the seven last plagues, which, when finished, represented the final overthrow of Judaism. What John writes about is parallel to Daniel 12. John portrays the event of Judah’s downfall this way:
I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues38—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. 2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. 4Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Revelation 15:1-4)
This study has sought to examine the Scriptures concerning the "last days" objectively. Any examination of Scripture must endeavor to be true to the context, not tradition. As one seeks to unravel the true meaning of the expression "last days," one should remember the words of Luke in the Book of Acts: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).
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