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What are the Last Days

The “last days.” Every student of Scripture is familiar with the prophetic phrase. Even the secular media have picked up on the Biblical concept as the Left Behind series has set publishing records and as dramatic events are unfolding in the Middle East. Is this the End? Are we in our lifetimes to be witnesses of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Scripture?

Unfortunately, the Biblical concept of the “last days” is as widely misunderstood as it is commonly discussed in popular prophetic literature today. Despite the widespread confusion over the matter, this factor of eschatology is vitally important for understanding God’s sovereign governance of history and the outworking of His redemptive purposes. Before providing an exegetical summation of the “last days,” I will mention two particularly skewed interpretations of the “last days” to show how far off base interpreters can drift through naivete.

Erroneous Last Days Schemes
The first is the dispensationalist view which deems the last days as beginning relatively recently. In a popular work Tim LaHaye comments about those of us living among the “generation” (Mt. 24:34) that witnessed World War I: “There is no question that we are living in the last days. . . . The fact that we are the generation that will be on the earth when our Lord comes certainly should not depress us.”1 This erroneous view is so popular that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins could write a book titled: “The Last Days for Fun and Profit,” based on their enormously successful Left Behind series promoting this viewpoint.

The second erroneous approach is promoted by the Hyperpreterist movement.2 By way of introduction, Hyperpreterism is a growing cult-like movement plaguing many evangelical churches. Hyperpreterists believe that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled in the first century by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They believe that Christ’s Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the Final Judgment all transpired in that era. As evangelical Christians we need to be aware of this tenacious movement.

The Hyperpreterist believes the last days occurred between the death of Christ (A.D. 30) and the death of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). “The Preterist [sic: Hyperpreterist] position holds that the Old Covenant and all of its elements… ceased at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and that the New Covenant and all of its spiritual elements for which they stood only in shadow… have been in place ever since.” Therefore, “it is the [Hyper]Preterist’s belief that the ‘last days’ spoken of in the New Testament were the last days of the Old Covenant, and not those of the New (which has no end).”3

The Biblical Last Days Scheme
Properly understood, though, the idea of the last days pivots on the most important episode of history: the life of Jesus Christ. Christ is the focal point of all Scripture. He is anticipated in the Old Testament revelation and realized in the New: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39).4 As such He stands as history’s dividing line — hence the historical appropriateness and theological significance of dividing history between B.C. and A.D. (an annoying fact not lost on the contemporary secularist who reacts against this calendrical demarcation).5

Several Old Testament passages look forward to the “Messianic age of consummation” introduced by Christ.6 This era is frequently deemed “the last days” or “the latter days,”7 in that His coming was “nothing less than the beginning of the great eschaton of history.”8

When Christ came “the fullness of times” was realized: “The phrase pleroma tou chronou, Gal. iv. 4, implies an orderly unrolling of the preceding stages of world-history towards a fixed end.”9 Hence, the preparatory preaching at the beginning of His ministry: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15; Mt. 4:17). Prior to this, the Old Testament era was typological and anticipatory. Contrary to the dispensational scheme of history, the Old Testament era served as the “former days” (Mal. 3:4)10 which gave way to the last days initiated at Christ’s first coming: “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom
He has appointed heir of all things” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Thus, the last days begin in the first century during New Testament times. The last days are initiated by the appearance of the Son (Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20) to effect redemption (Heb. 9:26) and by His pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2:16, 17, 24; cf. Isa. 32:15; Zech. 12:10). That is, the final phase of history begins in the first century; the “end of the ages” comes during the apostolic era (1 Cor. 10:11).

Whereas the dispensationalists are mistaken as to when the last days begin, the Hyperpreterists are confused as to when they end. The Hyperpreterist stumbles badly in concluding them at A.D. 70. Actually these last days will run until “the last day.” That is, the last days end when the resurrection of all men (Jn. 5:28-29) and the final judgment occur (Acts 17:30–31) effecting the end of history (Jn. 6:39; 11:24; 12:48). But before the final end point is reached, perilous times will punctuate the era of the end (2 Tim. 3:1) and mockers will arise (2 Pet. 3:3).11

The last days of Old Testament prophecy anticipated the establishment of Mount Zion/Jerusalem as the enduring spiritual and cultural influence through the coming era.12 This period began in the first century with the establishment of the New Covenant phase of the church, the focal point of the kingdom of Christ (cf. Joel 2 with Acts 2:16ff; Heb. 12:18-27). Surely this glorious era is not concluded in the first century!

Contrary to both dispensationalists and Hyperpreterists, the last days have been with us since the first century-coming of Christ.13 Consequently, there are no days to follow: no millennium for the dispensationalist; no further history for the Hyperpreterist after the end of the last days. How can there be more days after the last days (1 Cor. 15:23-24)? With the coming of Christ, earth history reached “epochal finality.”14 The finality has come, though it has undergone continuous development since its arrival in the ministry of Christ.15

Notes

1. Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1972), 171-172. See also Charles H. Dyer, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1991). The latter book has to do with Saddam Hussein in contemporary Iraq.

2. For helpful exposes of this heretical movement, see: Keith A. Mathison, When Shall These Things Be?: Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism ( Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 2004) and Jay E. Adams, Preterism: Orthodox or Unorthodox? ( Stanley, N.C.: Timeless Texts, 2003).

3. Todd Dennis, “An Introduction to Preterism.”(www.preteristarchive.com/PReterism/dennis-todd_p_01.html.) This document is found on the same website that posts an article boasting that one Hyperpreterist prayed an imprecatory prayer against David Chilton for resisting Hyperpreterism, and that God answered it with Chilton’s death. Immediately following the article are “Comments” offered by readers. One dated April 17, 2004 reads: “At last we know why David Chilton is no longer among us. This raises a question, however. If the imprecatory prayers of Mike Sullivan can put Christians on their death bed, why are we still having to put up with the likes of Gary North and Ken Gentry? Perhaps MJS will take care of this now that it is called to his attention. I will not sign this comment for obvious reasons.”This attitude is one reason I do not interact with them.

4. Luke 24:25-27; John 1:45; 5:39, 46; Acts 3:24; 10:43; 2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 19:10.

5. Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, trans. by Floyd V. Filson (3rd ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 18-19.

6. C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, in Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, [n.d.] 1975), 1:387.

7. Gen. 49:1, 10; Isa. 2:2; Jer. 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39; Mic. 4:1. Some Old Testament references are not eschatological, but simply mean “later in time,”denoting simple futurity. See my discussion in Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 166-69.

8. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1962), 36.

9. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, [1930] 1991), 83.

10. See: Jer. 46:26; Lam. 1:7; Amos 9:11; Mic. 7:14, 20.

11. The fact that God has appointed for the Church “perilous times” (the Greek term indicates “seasons,” 2 Tim. 3:1), as well as “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7) indicate long periods and seasons of times that cannot be limited to the brief period between A.D. 30 and 70. Especially since Paul writes of these coming “times” (2 Tim.3:1) in A.D. 67!

12. Isa. 2:2; 24:23; 37:32; Joel 2:32; Oba. 1:17, 21; Mic. 4:7.

13. The last day resurrection has yet to occur (Matt. 13:39-40, 49). The Great Commission is still in effect (Matt. 28:20).

14. Vos, Pauline Eschatology, 28.

15. Contrary to Richard B. Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections of Postmillennialism,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), ch. 9. See my response to Gaffin: “Whose Victory in History?” Theonomy: An Informed Response, Gary North, ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), ch. 8.


Topics: Eschatology, Dispensationalism, Church, The

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., holds degrees from Tennessee Temple University (B.A.), Reformed Theological Seminary (M. Div.), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th. M.; Th. D).  He also attended Grace Theological Seminary for two years.  He is Research Professor in New Testament (Whitefield Theological Seminary), a theological writer, and conference speaker. He has written numerous books and articles on issues such as theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, theonomy, six-day creation, presuppositionalism, worldview, Christian education, and more.  He also offers a Christian writing correspondence course.  He is the Director of GoodBirth Ministries, a non-profit religious educational ministry committed to sponsoring, subsidizing, and advancing serious Christian scholarship and education.  He is a retired Presbyterian minister holding his ordination vows in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly.

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