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TEXT: Hebrews 1:1-4
SUBJECT: Eschatology #1: The Last Days
This afternoon with the Lord's help, I hope to begin a monthly study of Last Things. If you read Christian books, the doctrine is called Eschatology.
On some of the Last Things the Bible is very clear and we need strong, unshakable convictions. On other things, however, the Word is less plain and we need to be open-minded about them.
The Church has always affirmed five things about the Last Days: (1) Jesus Christ will come again, (2) He will raise the dead on that day, (3) pass judgment on every man, (4) bring the saved to heaven, and (5) consign the lost to hell.
To my way of thinking these are non-negotiables. If a man tells me "The resurrection is past", I say he's a heretic, like Hymaneus and Philetus in the Bible. If he says "The Lord is not coming again", I call him as a scoffer as Peter did in his Second Epistle. One who denies hell or makes it less than eternal flies in the face of Jesus Christ who taught the doctrine more often and in more detail than any other Man.
I have covered these five major issues time and again over the years and I don't think I'll do it in this series except insofar as they affect other doctrines. That's the plan, at least, but all human plans are open and changeable.
As for the order? I think I'll be more or less random, touching on maybe the Millennium one month, the Antichrist the next, and so on. I'm okay with this because-unlike the men who draw up their detailed charts-I don't think the Bible teaches a definite sequence of events leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.
The Epistles, I think, deal with the Last Days haphazardly, according to what any church is concerned about at the moment. Revelation, the Book that seems most germane to our study portrays end-time events in a series of Images rather than in a careful chronology. As funny as it sounds, studying the last Book in the Bible is more like watching a music video than reading a history book.
THE MEANING OF "LAST DAYS"
Where to start? Since the study is on last things-or eschatology, let's start with the word itself. Here in our text-Hebrews 1:2-God is said to have spoken in the past to our fathers (men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Malachi, John the Baptist, and so on). But now, He has spoken by (or in) His Son. The "now" is called these last days. The English word "last" is the Greek Eschatos. It is from this word that we get our doctrine of last things.
The word, "last" has no special or sacred or hidden meaning at all: it simply means last or at the end or with no more to follow. The Bible often uses it in ways that have nothing to do with the Second Coming of Christ, the End of the Word and so on.
"Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there until you have paid the LAST penny" (Matthew 5:26).
This has to do with going to law and why it's better to settle out of court. Because if you don't, the judge may find against you, and then you'll pay far more than you would have had you settled things on your own.
"But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the END of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Here, the word, "end" refers to the place where the land runs out. Preach the Gospel everywhere until you run out of places to preach it.
When it comes to the Second Coming of Christ, the word can be used in two, slightly different ways: Once-in-a-while, it means the very end, the end of the end, when time runs out and the Lord has come. But most of the time, it refers to the Last Era or the Last Age, beyond which there is no age to come, except for heaven and hell.
This is how the words are used in our verse: "These last days" equals the last age-the time just before the Lord comes again and makes all things new.
THE BEGINNING OF THE LAST DAYS
When do the Last Days begin?
The standard Evangelical answer is: the Last Days begin just a few years before the Second Coming of Christ. Depending on how they define "last days", some say they start with the secret rapture of the Church seven years before the End. Others say no to that, but push the beginning of the end back a generation. To their way of thinking, it is not the rapture that starts the clock ticking, you might say, but "the signs of the times" which occur up to forty years before the Second Coming. What are the signs we're to look for? "Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines" in the world; and in the Church, "A great falling away".
The wars, the apostasies, and so on, have been tied to various things by teachers, but there is no consensus. Learned and devout Christians thought The Thirty Years War was definitely the war prophesied of in the New Testament, marking the end of the age. That war ended in 1648! Many thought Muhammad was the false prophet who would bring on the Final Judgment, but He died in 632!
Examples can be multiplied: both ranting heretics and sober theologians have looked for the Last Days, but have not found them.
There is a good reason for this: they're looking in the wrong direction. You can look to the west for a hundred years and never see the sunrise! Because the sun rises in the East-no matter where you are. It rises in the East in Japan, in California, in Germany, it makes no difference where you are: at sea, on land, standing on the top of Mount Everest or at the bottom of a well!
In the same way, these men have looked for the beginning of the Last Days in the future-and got it wrong-because the Last Days began in the past!
The New Testament says this so often and plainly, that it's hard to see how we miss it-even though I missed it for years myself. Just listen to the verses:
"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".
Note the words, has spoken, not will speak. As early as the Book of Hebrews, the Last Days have begun. This is not the only verse to say so. I John 2:18 says the same thing:
"Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour".
Set aside the Antichrist for now, and notice John's argument: (1) Antichrist will come in the last hour, (2) Antichrist has come, (3) Therefore, it is the last hour. His letter was written in the First Century and the End Times had already begun.
One more verse to this effect and we'll have to move on. It's set in an historical narrative, and in my opinion, it marks the formal beginning of the Last Days. Acts 2:16-17:
"But this was what was spoken by the prophet, Joel: And it shall come to pass in the LAST DAYS, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams".
The Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Lord's resurrection. When the man on the street heard these ordinary Galileans speaking more a dozen foreign languages, he mistook them for drunk men. Peter denied the charge, however, and saw the events of that day as fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, which would take place in the last days. Peter says they start now!
The Last Days or the Last Time or the Last Hour began with the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This earthshaking events ended the Old Order and brought in the New Age.
If the Last Time began 2,000 years ago, it means-in a certain way-the End Time speculators like Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping, and David Koresh, are right. They are seeing the signs of the times in the events of today. But, ultimately, they're wrong because people in 1066, 1492, and 1776 were also seeing them-and it's possible that Christians will be seeing them in the year of 2525!
THE CHARACTER OF THE LAST DAYS--BAD
What will the Last Days be like? Again, if you listen to popular preachers on the subject, you'll find them full of trouble, intense, agonizing persecution, heresy, and more. The men who teach this are half-right.
The Last Days are described as a time of trouble for God's People.
Ungodliness will sink to new lows.
"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (II Timothy 3:1-5a).
The ungodliness-it seems-will be inside the Church!
Persecutors from outside the Church will also be on the rise.
"Now when the thousand years have ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city.(Revelation 20:7-9a).
Christians differ on the details of this passage, but it seems plain that-sometime before the Second Coming-Satan and his servants will be permitted to savagely attack the People of God. This is not an falling away from the Church, but a persecution of the Church by the devil's open followers.
This is part of the picture: the Last Days will be bad days.
THE CHARACTER OF THE LAST DAYS-GOOD
I agree with the doomsayers who fear the appalling catastrophes will soon overtake us. But the handwringers have only got a part of the picture. The Last Days will also be good times!
The passage I referred to earlier-Acts 2:17ff, see the Last Days as a time of God's glory filling the earth. No longer will the grace of God be bottled up in Israel, but, starting on the Day of Pentecost-
"Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved".
The Book of Acts works out the theme: The Spirit is poured out on the Jews, then on the Samaritans, and finally, on the Gentiles! By the end of the book, the Church is more Gentile than it is Jewish! This is absolutely mind-boggling! God is forming a New Nation, a people from every kindred, tribe, and tongue!
All this takes place in the Last Days!
The Parable of the Leaven (cf. Matthew 13:33ff.) seems to teach the same thing. The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven or yeast tossed into dough. What does it do? It slowly, but surely, makes the dough rise.
Thus the Kingdom, which came with its King, the Lord Jesus, is not doomed to failure, but will keep on growing all through the Last Days. Some days will be happier than others, but, overall, the Kingdom will grow right up to the end.
If I seem to be talking out both sides of my mouth, I am! Because the Bible makes me do it. The Last Days will be good and bad, full of heartache and brimming with hope. It is not either/or, but both/and.
The best summary of this in the Bible is the Parable of the wheat and the tares (cf. Matthew 13:24ff.), the punchline of which is v.30a:
"Let them grow together".
This is Christian psychology at its best! The Last Days are not so bad that we want to kill ourselves and not so good that we're caught off-guard when things go wrong. The Last Days are colored by lights and shadows.
Let me break the flow of the sermon for a minute or two to explain how this perspective can be applied to the Book of Revelation and how it makes the Prophecy a comfort to God's People in all ages.
Revelation is about a Battle between Christ and Satan. The Battle had already begun when the Book was written in the First Century and it will only end with the Second Coming at some time in the future to us.
The battle is real and vicious and the casualties are high. All manner of bad things happen to the Lord's People-they're persecuted and deprived and killed. But a lot of good things happen to us as well: we reign with Christ, we bruise Satan under our feet, we receive crowns, we conquer.
Which one is the true story of life in the Last Days? Both of them are equally true! Rather than denying what various schools of interpretation say about the Book, it combines them and takes the best of all sides. Some say the Book is meant to comfort the Seven Churches in Asia in the First Century. I agree with them. Others say it's meant to help the Church at the end of time. I agree. It's for every Church living in these last days!
THE END OF THE LAST DAYS
The Last Days do no go on forever. They terminate with the Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, and the Eternal Age-of happiness or misery.
I needn't spend a lot of time here, but Paul calls it the sounding of the Last Trumpet (cf. I Corithians 15).
My talk this afternoon has been more of a lecture than a sermon, but I don't want to close without a few words of exhortation. If we are living in the last days:
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