Are We in the Last Days?
I want to talk about a term, "The Latter Days." I just want to show you this because it relates to so many things in the New Testament and yet is misunderstood when people hear it. You are certainly going to have a natural encounter with this. You will talk to a member of your Bible study class or congregation and they will say, "We must be in the last days." On one hand you can say, "Yeah, we sure are, there is no question about that." But, what they are meaning by it, is that they are convinced that, since Israel became a nation in 1947, or something they have figured out, whatever they are thinking, they just think now it is, suddenly, the last days.
Here is what the last days represent: judgment. oppression, persecution, false teaching, deception, apostasy. These are just some of the references. This is really an outline here of how it all works, the notion of the last days.
But wonderfully, in the last days, there is also the happy theme of returning to the Lord. So, there is tribulation; it is a tribulation that I think is basically ongoing. It is not some particular thing or any particular time in history, but the idea that there will be opposition to God's kingdom is very important to appreciate. You can get the misimpression, from Daniel or Ezekiel, that once the temple was rebuilt everything would be smooth. Daniel is telling you, "Oh no, it is going to be very hard for God's people." Ezekiel is saying that and so is Zechariah, "Things will get worse and worse, a lot worse before it gets better."
Return to the Lord
The tribulation aspect is there, but it is balanced by a wonderful promise of return. That is part of the notion of the last days. So whenever you hear the language "in the last days", be'aherith hayyamim in Hebrew, "in the latter days," this is the kind of thing you find and a lot of evidence of return to the Lord. Notice how many of these passages are from Daniel or from Ezekiel, because Daniel is such an influential prophet in this whole area.
The last days are indicated by the victory of the Messiah. If you want to, you can say, "Oh well, that means the Messiah has to come and beat Canada and has to beat Japan and so on." You can have that attitude and many people do. The nations of the world will all conspire against him. That is one way to read it; it is a possibility. But, I think that, when Christ talks about victory, as He does, and says in John 10, "Now the ruler of this world is defeated," that is really fulfilling these. Christ has, in fact, overcome all earthly powers because nobody can stop you from going to heaven. No nation of the world, with any power it can assemble, military, political, or economic, can do anything to stop you from loving Christ and from Him loving you. They can kill your body but that is irrelevant to the process. It will not do a thing to keep you from going to heaven, has no effect at all. That is where the real victory is. If you are thinking about some sort of earthly contest, I just think you are looking in the wrong place. He conquers all enemies, all opponents of God.
The Saints Are Raised From the Dead
Clearly, that has not happened. Some would argue that that brief resurrection, you know, a resuscitation where a lot of the saints came out of the tombs and walked around that we have in the description of the Gospels, would be a fulfillment of that. I think it is probably a little more of a sample, just to remind us that Christ's power includes power over death. So, I do think this is an aspect of the last days that really is at the culmination. That is why it is in the last chapter of Daniel and so on.
Then, a New Covenant is characteristic of the last days. We are certainly in that, that New Covenant is in Christ's blood. He says, every time you do this, recognize this is the New Covenant in My blood. You do not have to wait until now for a New Covenant, that came with Christ.
New Kingdom with a Davidic King
Then there's a new kingdom ruled over by a Davidic king. We are in that kingdom, so that condition is well established now.
Gentiles Experience Deliverance
Then, many Gentiles experience deliverance. In a lot of the prophetical books, if you look for it, you will find reference in one way or another to the broadening out of God's people, no longer just Israel, the various nations of the world. Sometimes it is said, as it is given in Zechariah, "In those days, all the nations of earth will come up and worship the Lord in the Jerusalem and, if they don't, they will not get any rain," in other words, wither away and die. It is a prophetic symbolic, way of saying, "God will have His people everywhere and that will be the real action, to worship God and to know Him truly, in His presence. It will be among all people not just among us in Jerusalem.
The Last Days — it is something to do with some combination of these seven factors: Tribulation, Return of the Lord, Messianic Victory, Resurrection, New Covenant, New Kingdom, and the Democratization of the Good News, it spreads out to all the nations. I would argue that all of those, except for the resurrection of the dead, have already been underway; we are in the last days, they are underway. They will be capped off by the resurrection and the final judgment and that is how history will come to an end.