The Last Days

by Vladimir Gelesnoff

IT is a lamentable fact that most people do not rightly divide the Bible, or indeed divide it at all. This failure to comply with the apostolic injunction has led to distortion of almost every truth. No matter what part of the Bible may be read, or what the context may say, readers of the Bible apply the phrase "last days" to their own time. This prevalent habit roots itself in the one supposition, so utterly unfounded, that the phrase is employed in one exclusive connection. 

This leads us to state, with all possible emphasis, the following axiomatic principle: the meaning of a given term is unchanging: the connection in which it is employed is ever changing. For example, the word "ecclesia" always means a "called-out-people," but not necessarily the same people in every instance. We find it applied to the nation of Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), the guild of silversmiths which made a demonstration against Paul in the theatre of Ephesus (Acts 19:32, 41). The city council of Ephesus (Acts 19:39), the body of Christ (Eph.1:22). A great deal of present day confusion on the subject of the church is due to the false assumption that the term "ecclesia" designates exclusively the body of Christ. Theology has taken upon itself to convert a common noun into a proper name. The vicious practice of foisting arbitrary significations on biblical words has been a prolific source of error, and is directly responsible for the hazy ideas entertained on many a Bible theme. 

Many have taken for granted that the "last days" can only refer to one period, and this one baseless assumption has involved them in contradiction and confusion. 

The Hebrew word acharith is a feminine noun derived from achar, after, and hence means afterness. It answers to our terms future, hereafter, or beyond. King Nebuchadnezzar thought on "what should come to pass hereafter," and the great God made known to him "what shall come to pass hereafter" (Dan.2:29,45). The prophecy of the image, stretching from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the setting up of God's kingdom on earth, proves that acharith denotes the future, the hereafter. When Balaam said:

"Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my hereafter be like his!"

he bespoke for himself both the death and the hereafter promised to the righteous (Nmu.23:10). When Moses had written God's law in a book, he expressed the firm conviction that his people would depart from God after his demise and would be overtaken by sore calamities. He called upon heaven and earth to witness his declaration. With the apostasy of his nation borne upon his mind by the spirit of prophecy, in the course of the song he gives expression to the ardent desire that they might take to heart the future which lie fore-pictured:

"Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would consider their latter end!"

Another interesting instance is afforded the case of Job: "So the Lord blessed the hereafter of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12). Here the acharith stands in antithesis to the "beginning," and refers to the period of Job's life subsequent to his affliction. 

In the majority of instances, however, the word acharith is joined to other nouns, such as "time" (Dan. 8:23), "years" (Ezek.38:8), "days" (Gen.49:1; Num.24:14). In such cases it becomes an adjective qualifying the noun to which it is appended, and acquires the force of the adjective acharou, last (2 Sam.23:1), hindermost (Gen.33:2), which in many passages is the opposite of first (Isa.41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Hence the phrase "last days," and its equivalent "last time," points to the concluding epoch of a period, but since the period in question is not always the same, the context must decide which one it is. 

The most important group of passages is the one where the phrase "last days" has to do with the nation of Israel. They bring before us the salient events which make the time when His covenants with that nation will be in full fruition. The keystone passage is found in Deut.4:25-30.

"When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have been long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image in the form of anything, and shall do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it: ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few among the nations, whither the Lord shall lead you away. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence ye shall seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou search after him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation and all these things are come upon thee, in the last days thou shalt return to the Lord thy God, and hearken unto his voice; for the Lord thy God is a merciful God; He will not fail thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them."

"The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; and shall come with fear unto the Lord and to his goodness in the last days" (Hosea 3:4,5).

Here is an epitome of Israel's career, past and future. What we have is this: (1) a long sojourn in the land marked by idolatry; (2) expatriation and dispersion among the nations; (3) distressful residence among the nations; (4) a time of tribulation and return to God. Tribulation and return to God are the two outstanding features of the last days. In Deut.31: 29 Moses emphasizes afresh the evils which will befall his nation in the last days. A prophet of a later day confirms and amplifies the prediction of the great lawgiver. 

Another notable feature of the last days is the attainment by Jerusalem of the exalted goal assigned in God's saving grace, an attainment to be followed by a reign of peace and by the coming of the nations to the city of David to seek after God and learn His ways (Isa.2:1-4; Micah 4:1-3). The salvation which is to take its rise in Judah will commend itself to the nations as the chief good, and they, growing weary of the game of war, will stream to Jerusalem to hear for themselves the word of peace and will hasten to change their weapons of war into instruments of peaceful, life-sustaining labor. 

The ideas of tribulation and deliverance which have appeared separately in the older prophets are correlated and combined by a later prophet. "For these, says the Lord: We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child: wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it" (Jer.30:5-7). 

We have already learned, from the prophetic utterances of Moses, that Israel's return to the Lord follows a long period of chastisement during which the nation is ruled over by the Gentile powers. This period of Gentile domination is fully set forth in the book of Daniel. In keeping with the special theme, Daniel's presentation of the "last days" (2:23; 10:14) describes more particularly the last Gentile empire and its connection with the Chosen Nation. The last days are further marked by the outpouring of Divine indignation and ripened apostasy (8:19). As in Jeremiah, the time of trouble and deliverance are closely related, the darkest hour precedes the dawn of a better day (Dan.12:1). Another link between Daniel and Jeremiah is the common idea of an extensive understanding of God's revelation by many who will purify themselves in the last days (Jer.23:20; 30:24; Dan.12:4, 10). 

The "last days" are directly mentioned in connection with two other nations--Moab (Num.24:14; Jer.48:47), and Elam (Jer.49: 39). The restoration and judgment of these nations is intimately bound up with the appearance of Israel's Redeemer to set up His throne in Judah and wield His sceptre over the nations (Num.24: 17). 

The passages thus far examined related to a time of trouble and the deliverance of Israel, which inaugurates the coming kingdom of the heavens. In the prophet Ezekiel the phrase applies to a totally different period. His vision of the land, the city and the temple (chs.40-48) is but an expansion of what is foretold in ch.37, and presents a priestly side of the same kingdom whose royal grandeur Daniel had predicted. Daniel pictures it as great in majesty; Ezekiel depicts it as glorious in holiness. In Daniel it comes with the coming of the Son of Man to strike the beast; in Ezekiel it comes with the entrance of the "glory" in the temple. With the personal appearing of the "glory" the cosmical transfiguration begins, the temple waters flow. 

But the peculiarity of Ezekiel is this, that he discusses the end to the coming eon of Israel's blessedness in the kingdom; not an end to the kingdom, but an end to the age. Another end looms into sight, the transition point between the millennial age and the age to follow. The event that marks this new end is the war- march and destruction of Gog at the end of Israel's "many days" in the kingdom. The judgment of Gog and Magog which appears as the last rebellion of the nations, marks the close of the kingdom age. John's Apocalypse sets its seal on Ezekiel's vision (Rev.20:9, 10). 

Christ was a minister of the circumcision (Rom.15:8). His ministry was limited to Israel (Matt.15:24). The twelve were the apostles of the circumcision (Gal.2:9). Their ministry was a continuation of the beginning made by the Lord (Heb.2:1-4). From this we are led to expect that the "last days" in the four Gospels and the so-called "general" epistles are analogous with the "last days" of the prophets. An examination of these writings fully bears out the expectation. We have learned from Daniel that at the inauguration of the kingdom there is to be a resurrection of Daniel's people, some rising to eonian life, and some to eonian shame (Dan.12:2). It is precisely the same thing in John's gospel, where the "last day" appears both in connection with resurrection and judgment (John 6:39,40,44,54;11:24; 12:48). The last day to which our Lord so frequently refers is the last day of the measured period of 1335 days of Dan.12:12, when Daniel will arise with the rest of his people, and have his lot with those that are raised to eonian life. 

The only occurrence of the phrase in the Acts is in a quotation of Joel's prophecy regarding the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, an event which marks the cessation of the downtreading of the land and the settlement of Israel in quietness and confidence (Joel 2:28-32; Isa. 32:15-18; Acts 2:17). 

In James, Peter and Jude the "last times" are connected with wickedness, oppression, apostasy, deliverance (Jas.5:3; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). In John's epistles, as in Daniel, the chief event of the last time is the manifestation of the great opponent of God and His Christ (1 John 2:18). 

There remain yet to be considered two passages in Paul's epistles. "But the Spirit expressly declares, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry and to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth" (1 Tim.4:1-3). Paul was set apart for a special ministry among the nations. A dispensation had been entrusted to him (1 Cor.9:17). This dispensation was one of faith (1 Tim.1:4). Its closing days are to be characterized by a turning away from the faith of Paul's gospel and an embracing of demonic teaching, two salient characteristics of which are prohibition of animal food and repudiation of marriage. This passage in no way applies to the fast days set apart by Rome or the enforced celibacy of its priesthood. While forbidding meat on certain days and upholding the celibacy of priests, Rome does not set aside the divinely-authorized use of meat and recognizes marriage as a sacrament. The language of the apostle requires total abstinence from meats and complete repudiation of marriage. Theosophy and Spiritism come nearer to the requirements of this prophecy. 

Akin to this is the passage in 2 Tim.3:1-5. "But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding the form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof" (2 Tim.3:1-5). Among the various secrets revealed by Paul the great secret of godliness (1 Tim.3:16) is one of great practical importance, and here we have departure from it. The two passages in Timothy are complementary. 1 Tim.4:1-3 presents the doctrinal aspect of Christendom's apostasy; 2 Tim.3:1-5 describes its practical side. Here we see reflected the physiognomy of our times. Of all the passages considered these two alone bear upon the last days of the present dispensation. 

The subjoined diagram will aid the reader in discriminating the "last days" of the various periods of Scripture: 

Church      Last  | Israel      Last |               Last
            Days  |             Days |               Days
------------------|                  | The Millennium
THIS AGE                             | THAT AGE
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