The followers of Jesus, in every generation, are called to live in readiness for the sudden return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. Our Lord told many parables that illustrate the need to stay awake, to watch, to be prepared.
And, in (probably) every generation, there have been some who thought The End was very near. They were convinced that they were living in the last days.
And they were right, though probably not in the way they thought. Likewise, if you think we are living in the last days, you too are right, but perhaps not in the way you suppose.
Let me explain, based upon the Greek and Hebrew of the phrase, “the latter [or last] days.”
The “Last Days” in the Greek of the New Testament
Let’s begin with the New Testament. The Greek word for “last” is ἔσχατος (eschatos), the word from which we get “eschatology,” that is, the doctrine of last things. That word is joined to the Greek word for “days” in two different ways.
First, sometimes the “last days” refers to the very last period of world history. For instance, James uses “last days” to refer to the final judgment (5:3). Paul, too, seems to be describing the period right before the Lord’s coming when he writes, “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money,” etc. (2 Tim. 3:1).
Second, sometimes the “last days” refers to what we might call “the reign of the Messiah before his return,” or, more simply, the New Testament era. That is, for the last 2000 years, the church has been living in the last days. For instance, Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). Peter, too, in his Pentecost sermon, quotes Joel as being fulfilled with the pouring out of the Spirit: “in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17).
So, in the NT, the “last days” can refer:
(1) to all the days after the resurrection of Christ
(2) to the final period before his return.
The “Last Days” in the Hebrew and Greek of the Old Testament
What about the Old Testament? The Hebrew phrase בְּאַחֲרִית֙ הַיָּמִ֔ים (in the latter/last days) which we covered in today’s Unveiling Mercy devotion, occurs 13x in the OT, some of which align perfectly with the first meaning of “last days” in the Greek, namely, the NT era (e.g., Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5).
These “latter days” in Hebrew are often also called “the day of Yahweh,” that is, that epoch when the Lord will bring both judgment and victory. In this way, the Day of Yahweh happened during the thirty-three years of Jesus’ life, especially in his death (judgment) and resurrection (victory). And the final Day of Yahweh will be when Jesus returns.
As is so often the case, the Greek of the NT should be compared to the Greek translation of the OT, called the Septuagint, since the NT authors quote that translation or allude to it most of the time. The Septuagint translation was, to Greek-speaking Jews, what the KJV translation was to generations of English-speaking Christians. It was not the original Hebrew, but it was still the version they knew best.
A quick search of the Septuagint for the phrase ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμέρων (“end of days” or “last days”) reveals that it occurs about 15x in the OT. Most of these do not refer specifically to the final period before the Messiah’s return. Instead, in the Septuagint, the phrase “end of days” either refers to some undefined period in the future or to the broad sweep of time after the Messiah comes and establishes his kingdom, that is, the last 2000 years.
Are We Living in the Last Days?
So, back to our original question: Are we living in the last days? Well, that depends on what you mean by “last.”
According to the primary meaning of the phrase, “last days,” in both the Hebrew and Greek, in the OT and NT, yes, we most certainly are. In fact, Christians have been living in the last days since Jesus was born, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to take his place on the throne as King of kings.
To live in the kingdom of the Messiah is to live in the last days.
What about the secondary meaning of “last days”? Does it apply to the here and now? That is, are we living immediately before the second coming of Christ? Nobody knows. And if someone claims to know, they’re a liar, delusional, or confused. Either way, they should not be believed. No human being on earth knows when Jesus will come again, so we cannot know if we are in the time immediately before that return or not (Matthew 24:36). Do not be deceived.
Instead, let us live every day as if it will be the day when Christ returns. Because it very well may be.
How do we do that?
How do we live every day as if it may be the last?
First, by love: By doing the ordinary stuff that disciples of Jesus do. Take care of your family; do good to the people whom God has put in your life; love your neighbors; be faithful in your vocations; pray; give; defend the vulnerable; and know that Jesus is using you as his hands, feet, and mouth to serve those around you.
Second, by faith: By resting in the finished work of Christ. Trust that the Father could not be more pleased with you because your life is wrapped up in Jesus; calm your heart in the cool and refreshing waters of your baptism, where the Father made you his son or daughter; know that the Lord who will return bears on his glorified body the marks of the spear and nails, those tokens of love, when he willingly and joyfully gave his life to redeem you.
While we live in the last days and ready our hearts for the last day, we live in our neighbors by love and we live in Christ by faith.
He who is the first and the last will keep his people first in his heart until the last day.