“In the Last Days” Since When?
“You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times.”—2 Tim. 3:1, “The Jerusalem Bible.”
1, 2. (a) Why is it excellent for us that we are so deep into “the time of the end”? (b) What does the Bible have to say about this at 2 Peter 3:13, 14?
“THE LAST DAYS” of what? As it means the last days of an old, unsatisfactory, unsuccessful, hopeless system of things, it is fine that we have reached the “time of the end” of it. (Dan. 12:4) Happily for us, the complete end of the old organization of things will not leave our earth a frightening, empty, lifeless void. It will make room for the start of a righteous, peaceful new system of things that promises the highest success. Hence, it is excellent for us that we are now so deep into the “time of the end.” In glowing terms the Bible, the inspired Book that foretold the current “time of the end,” has this to say:
2 “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell. Hence, beloved ones, since you are awaiting these things, do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.”—2 Pet. 3:13, 14.
3, 4. (a) Where, when and why did the apostle Peter speak about the “last days,” and to whom? (b) In explanation, what prophecy did Peter quote?
3 About 30 years before writing those words, the Christian apostle Peter spoke about the “last days.” That was on the festival day of Pentecost (Sivan 6) of the year 33 C.E. He spoke in the city of Jerusalem, but not in Herod’s temple in that city. He spoke in a residential section, where about 120 disciples of the lately impaled Jesus Christ had assembled in an upper room, early, before 9 a.m. Suddenly their expectations were fulfilled. The holy spirit that Jesus Christ had promised to pour out upon them after his return to heaven fell upon them with a visible demonstration. They were inspired to speak with foreign languages about “the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:1-11) Jewish celebrators by the thousands gathered to witness the spectacle and find out what it was all about. The apostle Peter was inspired to speak to them, explaining:
4 “This is what was said through the prophet Joel, “And in the last days,” God says, “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams; and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. And I will give portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah arrives. And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”’”—Acts 2:16-21.
5. (a) According to Peter, when had those “last days” begun? (b) What can be said as to whether Peter then meant the “last days” of the old world system of things?
5 When had God said such a thing? Hundreds of years previously in Joel 2:28-32. In Hebrew the prophecy opens up, saying: “And after that it must occur that I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh,” and so on. Under inspiration of God’s spirit the apostle Peter located where “after that” applied on the stream of time by saying “in the last days.” So about 850 years after Joel’s prophecy had been finished, those “last days” had begun, and Peter was living in them. But we now ask, was Peter living in the “last days” of the whole world system of things? Hardly so, for here we are, living more than 19 centuries after Peter was killed as a Christian martyr. (John 21:18, 19; 2 Pet. 1:14) How can it even Scripturally be reasoned that the “last days” applies to all this process of time from Peter’s days down to and including our troublous times, which are not yet ended? It cannot be, even though during all those past 19 centuries till now God has evidently poured out his spirit upon believers of every fleshly sort, making them spiritual sons and daughters of Jehovah God through Jesus Christ.
6. When did the “last days” in which Peter was living begin?
6 Do the Scriptures speak of Peter as living in the “last days” of something away back there? Yes! Those particular “last days” began with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer and Jesus’ being anointed with the holy spirit after his coming up out of the water. Thus he became the Christ, or Anointed One.—Acts 10:37, 38.
7. How does Paul, at Hebrews 1:1, 2, indicate that those “last days” began when Jesus was 30 years of age?
7 So the “last days” back there began in the autumn of 29 C.E., when Jesus of Nazareth was an adult of 30 years of age. (Luke 3:21-23) Indicating the time period for this, the apostle Paul wrote the Hebrew Christians (evidently at Jerusalem) and said: “God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has [when?] at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things.”—Heb. 1:1, 2.
8. (a) What did John the Baptizer say to indicate that the “last days” were at hand? (b) Why was the warning that Peter gave at Pentecost timely for the Jews?
8 Yes, the time proved to be “the end of these days” of the Jewish system of things, there in the Middle East. Little wonder, then, that John the Baptizer said to the Sadducees and Pharisees who came to him for baptism: “Offspring of vipers, who has intimated to you to flee from the coming wrath? So then produce fruit that befits repentance.” (Matt. 3:7, 8) Only in that way could they hope to escape from the fire of destructive trouble that would burn up the chafflike members of their nation, figuratively speaking, in 70 C.E. So, on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., the apostle Peter said to the repentant Jews who presented themselves for water baptism: “Get saved from this crooked generation.”—Acts 2:37-40.
“LAST DAYS” OF THE JEWISH LAW COVENANT AND SYSTEM
9. Jesus’ baptism and anointing with holy spirit spelled the “last days” for what covenant, and why so?
9 Jesus was born under the Jewish Law covenant as mediated by the prophet Moses. When Jesus got baptized and anointed with holy spirit, he became the Mediator of a new covenant that was to be made with spiritual Jews, or Israelites. This spelled the “last days” for the Jewish Law covenant and the Jewish system that revolved around the Herodian temple there at Jerusalem. When Jesus ascended to heaven as Mediator between God and his disciples, the new covenant was sealed with the value of the blood of his perfect human sacrifice. The proof of this was given on that marvelous day of Pentecost with the outpouring of the holy spirit, which produced spiritual Israelites with whom to make the new covenant. At one and the same time this blotted out, canceled, the old Law covenant with fleshly Israel. (Eph. 2:15, 16; Col. 2:13, 14) But God’s special favor was prolonged toward the Jews for three and a half years more, till autumn of 36 C.E. Why so?
10. (a) Why did Jehovah’s favor continue temporarily with the Jews after Pentecost of 33 C.E.? (b) When, though, did the Jewish system in the Middle East end?
10 Because the prophecy specified that God’s particular favor would be continued with his covenant people for “seventy weeks of years,” and that period of 490 years ended in 36 C.E., Jesus Christ himself being martyred in the middle of that 70th week. (Dan. 9:24-27, An American Translation) But Jerusalem and its temple were not destroyed in that year, nor were the Jews deported from the province of Judea in that year. When this occurred in 70 C.E., then the Jewish system of things in the Middle East ended. That was the “end” that Jesus had in mind when he made his prophecy to his disciples.
11. (a) What shows that Jesus had the “end” of earthly Jerusalem in mind when giving his prophecy to his disciples on the Mount of Olives? (b)Was Jesus there saying that the “appointed times of the nations” would first begin after Jerusalem’s destruction, which was to take place 37 years after Peter’s speech at Pentecost?
11 Peter and Andrew, James and John asked Jesus: “When will these things be?” What things? When Jesus was touring the temple, he had said: “Do you behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:1-3; Mark 13:1, 2; Luke 21:5, 6) In the prophecy that Jesus gave afterward on the Mount of Olives, he said: “There will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:23, 24) Jesus was not there saying that the “appointed times of the nations” would first begin in 70 C.E. at Jerusalem’s destruction and the depopulating of all Judea. That calamitous ending of the Jewish system of things in and around Jerusalem and its temple occurred 37 years after Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, so that he was correct in saying that the outpouring of God’s spirit was taking place “in the last days”—of the Jewish order of things.
12. Besides false Christs and prophets, what else was to enter into the “sign” that his Jewish disciples lived in the “last days”?
12 In his prophecy of Matthew 24:4-22 Jesus showed that the mere coming of false Christs and false prophets would not be all that there was to the “sign” that his Jewish disciples were living in the “last days” of the Jewish system of things. Jesus added: “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.
13. What human activities would be part of the “sign”?
13 “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name. Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many; and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end [télos] will come. Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.”—Matt. 24:3-16.
14. According to Paul, till then, what would be the case of the Jews?
14 Till then, what? Writing about the year 50 C.E., the apostle Paul refers to the Jews and says: “They always fill up the measure of their sins. But his [God’s] wrath has at length come upon them.” (1 Thess. 2:16) Such a thing was to be expected in the “last days” of the Jewish system of things there in the Middle East.
15. Were the efforts of the Jews to stave off the “end” of their “last days” successful or not, and why?
15 The unchristianized Jews tried to stave off the end of the “last days” of their Palestinian system of things. In 65 C.E. they rose up against their Roman overlords. This resulted in an independent Jewish state for about five years. Even Jewish money coins were stamped to mark those desperate years. But remorselessly the end (télos) came in 70 C.E. at the hands of the face-saving Romans.
16. (a) In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 12 was Paul referring to the “last days” for the Jews from 29 to 70 C.E., or not, and why? (b) Were other “last days” possible for fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy?
16 About the year 65 C.E., during his second and final imprisonment before his martyrdom, the apostle Paul wrote his faithful missionary companion Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 12, Paul wrote to him about the moral and religious conditions that would obtain during what he calls “last days.” Likely Timothy survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Plainly, then, Paul was not writing Timothy about the “last days” of the Jewish system of things, the time period from 29 to 70 C.E. Paul was writing him about a period of last days future from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and applying on a larger scale to more than the Jewish people, that is, to all parts of the world. Certainly the Jewish revolt in 65 through 70 C.E. did not fulfill Paul’s prediction in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. When the Christians saw “the disgusting thing,” the desolating Roman army, “standing in a holy place,” or in the neighborhood of the temple, they made their escape from Jerusalem and all Judea, to Perea.
THE LENGTH OF WHICH “LAST DAYS”?
17. If it is argued that the “last days” correspond with the entire “Christian Era” down till now, what would this mean as to length of time?
17 However, some students of the Bible may argue that the “last days” embraces the entire “Christian Era,” from the day of Pentecost, when Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32, down to our own date (1980) and into the indefinite future. Well, then, what would that mean? This: The so-called Jewish Age extended from 1513 B.C.E., when the Law covenant was established at Mount Sinai, down to 70 C.E. That was a period of 1,582 years. In comparison, how long is the so-called Christian Era if measured from Pentecost of 33 C.E. when holy spirit was poured out and the first Christian congregation was established in ancient Jerusalem? It is already more than 1,947 years long. This would mean that the “last days,” if they run contemporaneously with the Christian Era, are hundreds of years longer than the preceding Jewish Era. Queer, is it not?
18. Since the holy spirit has been in process of being poured out during the whole “Christian Era” despite the great apostasy, what is argued regarding the expression the “last days”?
18 However, the argument may be raised in a question of objection, Was it not during the “last days” that holy spirit was to be poured out, and has it not been poured out without a break, despite the great apostasy, since Pentecost of 33 C.E. till now? In recent years are there not those who claim to have been anointed with holy spirit, so that they feel obliged to partake of the emblems of the Lord’s Supper, or Evening Meal? Logically, then, does this not make the “last days” of Acts 2:16-21 coincide with the whole Christian Era, with this long, unbroken period for pouring out the spirit of anointing?
19. To whom was Joel 2:28-32 first directed, and was it before the “last days” of their system of things in Palestine began or during those days that the prophecy was fulfilled?
19 Still, we must face the fact that the period of God’s spiritual favor to the circumcised Jews ended in 36 C.E., when uncircumcised non-Jews, Gentiles, began to be admitted into the spirit-anointed congregation of Christ’s disciples. Also, the days of the Jewish system of things with their temple at Jerusalem lasted still farther, till 70 C.E. The prophecy of Joel 2:28-32, quoted by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, was directed first to the circumcised Jews, and Bible history proves that there was an outpouring of the spirit of anointing during the “last days” of the Jewish system of things in their Promised Land, and not before those “days.” Such days were certainly not the last days of the Roman Empire, the sixth world power of Bible history. That sixth world power was not succeeded by the seventh world power (the British Empire with its American colonies) till 1763 C.E., in fulfillment of the seventh head of the symbolic wild beast of Revelation 13:1-3, that had seven heads and 10 horns.
20. At present, what international political bodies are incontestably in their “last days”?
20 Today, it is incontestable that the British Empire and its related British Commonwealth of Nations and its ally, the United States of America, are in their “last days.” That international arrangement of which those political bodies are the stout champions, namely, the United Nations with 152 national members, is likewise in its “last days.” How unreasonable it is, then, to argue that the long Christian Era is the “last days” meant in Joel’s prophecy!
21. Was no like period of “last days,” no duplicate, allowed for with regard to Joel’s prophecy about holy spirit?
21 Basing himself on factual developments, the apostle Peter applied Joel’s prophecy to the tail end of the Jewish system of things in the Middle East. But Peter was not saying, and Joel 2:28, 29 does not say, that there would be no like period of “last days,” no duplicate, during which holy spirit would markedly be poured out, correspondingly.
22. (a) Were all the features of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 fulfilled during the “last days” of the ancient Jewish system? (b) Were all parts of the compound question that the disciples asked Jesus fulfilled back there, or what yet had to be proved?
22 Furthermore, what Joel foretold in connection with the outpouring of the holy spirit, namely, heavenly portents, earthly signs, blood, fire, smoke mist, the darkening of the sun, the turning of the moon into blood, all that was not carried out in the “last days” in which the apostle Peter lived. Consequently, for Jehovah, the Inspirer of the prophecy, to be proved true in all that he predicted, there has to be another period of time called the “last days” for all parts of his prophecy to be realized. Historical facts must yet be adduced to answer the question that the four apostles submitted to Jesus Christ: “What will be the sign of your presence [par·ou·siʹa] and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3) The evidence available today proves that we ourselves are living in the modern-day fulfillment of the “last days.” But since when, and why? To this inquiry we must next give our honest-hearted attention.
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