There are often things that happen in our lives, or culture that increase our interest in God’s plans for the future – so I think there’s an understandable interest in the future when the present seems so crazy and uncertain. God does tell us some really important things about his plans and our hope for the future that are central to the gospel – a significant part of the good news of our faith is that because Jesus rose from the dead, we have a hope and a future so it’s good to spend time on that aspect of the good news.
I want our study to be very basic. So, I’m not going to spend virtually any time on what you might call “fan favorite” subjects. I won’t be addressing the rapture, the great tribulation, the millennium or speculating on the identity of the final anti-christ.
Here’s Why We’re Going “Basic”:
1. Often times we can become overly obsessed with some of those spectacular details and that cause us to miss the main lessons that God wants us to learn.
For example: G.K. Chesterton once wrote this about Revelation: “And though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”
So, we want to be careful, in our studies of these things, not to create any beasts that are obsessed with the details at the expense of actually being shaped into the image of Christ.
2. We can be unnecessarily divisive over various views
There’s something about End Times that can seem to invite more debate than many other topics. For example, I don’t know who first pointed this out but someone once pointed out that this is the most appropriate definition of the millennial reign of Christ.
The Millennial Reign of Christ: the one thousand years of peace that Christians like to fight about.
So, we don’t want to get “into the weeds” of various views on these famous subjects in the interest of focusing on the main things.
3. We can be quick to be overly proud about how much we think we know about complex topics like the end times. Ambrose Bierce defined the book of Revelation this way:
Revelation, n. “A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators who know nothing.”
My own pastoral concern that I’ve noticed sometimes over the years: Many times I have noticed that the people who tend to be the most interested in these things have a tendency toward pessimism. Ironically, this is the exact opposite intention of the doctrine – but the reality is that for some reason, this subject can attract a lot of Debbie Downers and so we want to handle it in ways that contend with any tendency in ourselves to be Debbie Downers.
So, the first subject we’re going to tackle in this series is “The Last Days”. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t ever use the phrase “end-times”. You can’t really find it anywhere. The term that the Bible prefers is “last days.” My goal here is to survey how the Bible uses that term and to say what the Bible says about it – and no more than that.
Here’s the main point I think the Bible wants us to understand on this subject: We are already living in the “last days” and we have been since Jesus’ first coming.
The Times Have Changes: Living in the Last Days
Let’s look at a few passages:
The first passage is Acts 2:14
Context: This is Peter addressing a crowd that has gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost holiday. And there has been this miraculous move of the Holy Spirit in the crowd and everyone is speaking in all these different languages and everyone can understand each other.
And Peter, stands up in v. 14 to explain what’s going on. He says:
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ – Acts 2:14-21
- Peter is commenting on something that is happening “in the moment” (2000 years ago) and he calls it “the last days”.
- These events are the fulfillment of Joel 2, promising the fuller outpouring of God’s spirit – the beginning of Babel’s reversal, the spread of God’s gospel to all the nations
- 2 explanations of “The wonders in the heavens”: (1) could be a partial fulfillment or (2) it could have taken place in 70 AD
- In any case Peter is clearly talking as if the Last days have started in his own time
In the next text Paul is talking to his pastoral apprentice, Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:1,
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5
If these are people coming in a time that is thousands of years in Timothy’s future it doesn’t make sense for Paul to tell Timothy to avoid them. If “the last days” that Paul is warning Timothy about are going to happen thousands of years after Timothy’s life, then he doesn’t need to tell Timothy to avoid those people. He’ll long be dead when they come along. This is an important principle of Bible interpretation to remember and it will keep you from becoming a relativist who twists Scripture to mean whatever you want it to mean. Here’s the principle: Your interpretation of the passage has to have made sense to the first audience that would have read it. Every text has an original audience and if your interpretation would not have made sense to that first audience, it’s probably not a good interpretation.
Next up is James 5:3,
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. – James 5:1-3
All that’s essential to note here is that James is speaking to people in his own day that have hoarded wealth and abused the poor. They are living in the Last Days as James writes to them.
And there’s Hebrews 1:1-4,
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
- The author is speaking about a new age in history where God makes himself known through Christ. In ages past he would make himself known by sending angels, by appearing in burning bushes, sending prophets, but now, in these Last Days, that he has revealed himself in His Son.
- In other words, The Last Days are ushered in by Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension to his Father’s right hand
To Sum All This Up: The Bible tells us the last days describe all the days that follow Christ’s victory over the grave and the advance of the gospel in the world
Jesus Talks This Way Too
This is after seventy-two of Jesus disciples have returned from their first preaching mission – having preached that the kingdom of heaven had come to earth with the coming of Christ. It says:
17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And [Jesus] said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:17-20
Notice: It was the gospel of Christ’s kingdom that the disciples were preaching that indicated a real change in history. A real and truly devastating blow to Satan. The question is: How does this work? Why the change with the coming of Jesus?
How Revelation 12:7-11 explains Luke 10
7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world-he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12 is essentially describing whole story of the OT. If you go back to our last Advent sermon, the Sunday after Christmas, I preached a whole message on this text. In any case, it tells us here’s the whole story of the Old Testament in a sentence: A dragon trying to kill a baby. That’s the story. A serpent trying to kill a future king.
This dragon is Satan the accuser and the accuser is thrown down by the good news of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, i.e., his rule and reign over sin and death. Jesus was a real threat to Satan because Jesus was, by his own death, going to take away Satan’s ability to accuse believers.
So, the picture of Luke 10, and Revelation 12, is that we live in a glorious time. We live in a time where Jesus has died for sinners and because he died for sinners, everyone who repents and believes in Jesus have his sacrifice credited to them. So all Satan’s poison, all his accusations are broken like matchsticks. Satan’s accusations are like spiderwebs, and Christ’s righteousness, his victory over sin and grave are like falling rocks. They just pass right on through those webs without any trouble at all. That’s the weight of Christ’s sacrifice against Satan’s accusations. Those are the “Last Days” that we are living in.
The serpent has wax fangs and the good news is spreading fast.
So, now the question for us is this: How are we to live in the last days?
1. Rejoicing in the sovereign grace of Christ
The remarkable thing about what Jesus says to his disciples after they return from their mission celebrating the power of the gospel over demons is that Jesus tempers them a bit and says in Luke 10:20,
“Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
In other words, “guys, don’t lose your heads. You have to remember that this is all grace. You may be doing some great things, but someone else wrote your name down in heaven.”
That’s what we want to rejoice about the most: we’re going to see and be with Christ forever. That’s what seems to be great about the future: Being with Christ (Revelation 5:9-13).
In other words, there is something truly odd about a pessimistic Christian. Maybe you’ve seen that old SNL skit: Debbie downer. Debbie is that kinda gal who gets invited to your kids’ birthday party and is sure to bring out all the stats about juvenile diabetes right when you’re cutting the cake. If you ask her to go fishing she’ll warn you about the risks of mercury poisoning. If you tell her you’re about to move to Hawaii she’ll instantly have the stats about how many shark attacks there are. No one likes Debbie.
Well, in a word, the Bible teaches us that the last days are days where we really shouldn’t be Debbie Downers. We have a victorious, gracious, righteous, ruling King. We have every reason to hopeful and joyful and grateful people.
Second way to live in the Last Days is to be:
2. Intolerant of false teaching
In the book of Revelation this is one of the recurring words that Jesus has for the churches. The Lord rebukes the church in Revelation 2:19-22 for “tolerating” false teaching. In fact most of the New Testament is written to refute false teaching and keep the church pure in doctrine and life.
Everyone is a theologian. You can’t avoid it. Say anything about God, believe anything about God and you are practicing theology. The only question is whether you will be a sound theologian or a bad one.
3. Making Disciples
Being a Christians disciple is simply this: ”Following Jesus and helping other people follow Jesus.” Brothers and sisters, you can be End-times savant and think you have all this figured out but if you never help other people follow Jesus all that knowledge isn’t doing you much good.
You can’t stay encouraged and optimistic and reassured in your faith by being an end-times expert. Jesus has promised to be with us, always, so that we would feel all the more encouraged to make disciples – help people follow him.
Who can you help to follow Jesus?