Are We Living in "The Last Days"?
Ever read a book that totally changed your mind about a
subject? I recently did. The subject I reversed myself on was the interpretation
of Matthew 24, and what it is telling us about the “end times.” Current
widespread beliefs about the rapture, the tribulation that supposedly follows
it, the beast, the antichrist, etc., all stand or fall based on what Matt 24
and similar scriptures really mean. The book that changed my opinion on this
subject was “Last Days Madness: Obsession of the
This book has given me a renewed appreciation of God’s word
and new confidence in the integrity of the Bible, and in believing that it does
indeed mean what it says. I experienced such an uplifting mental release after
Many of us have been fortunate enough to have escaped the shackles of legalism and Armstrongism over the past few years. But a surprisingly large number of us, I believe, still cringe in fear over one of the main teachings that Armstrong and many other churches, for that matter, have adopted and taught as truth. The “last days,” and all the horror that these days supposedly will bring upon the earth per Matthew 24 is indeed a very wide-spread teaching. But what many may not realize is that this teaching is actually still in diapers, age-wise, when compared to other Christian teachings as a whole.
For the past 150-plus years Christians have been sidetracked by a novel interpretive methodology known as dispensational premillenialism, which has tended to interpret many prophecies mentioned in scriptures as not history, but yet to occur. This is a form of futurism, as opposed to preterism, which believes that certain prophecies have already occurred.
For example, the Old Testament has many distinct predictions that are literally fulfilled in Christ. All Christians are preterists regarding these prophecies since they believe they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jews who are still waiting for the promised Messiah are anti-preterists since they believe these prophetic passages have not been fulfilled. They are futurists.
Matthew 24 goes through a list of horrendous events to occur, such as earthquakes, famines, etc. Christ states in verse 34 that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” Futurists contend that Christ does not actually mean the generation he is addressing, but some future generation. They argue that none of these catastrophic events ever occurred in the first century, so it must be referring to a future fulfillment.
None of these catastrophic events ever occurred?
Jesus predicted that there would be earthquakes before that first-century generation passed away. There were earthquakes (Matt 27:54; 28:2; Acts ) and famines (Acts ; cf Rom ), just like Jesus predicted (Matt 24:7). Paul tells us that the “gospel” had been preached “to all the nations” in his day (Rom -26), just like Jesus predicted (Matt 24:14). This says nothing of the promise by Jesus that the temple would be destroyed within a generation (Matt 24:34), which has been verified by history to have occurred in 70 AD.
Dispensationalists and other futurists realize than an honest analysis of biblical texts related to the timing of prophetic events jeopardizes their prophetic views. This arbitrary manner of dealing with scripture has proven to be a foundation of sand for the entire prophetic system called dispensationalism and the newly promoted pre-wrath rapture position. Dispensational scholars and former rank and file dispensationalists recognize the problem and are doing everything to prop up their faltering system.
We should never fear having our eschatological (“the study of last things”) beliefs compared to the plain teachings of the Bible. Ecclesia reformata quia semper reformada est, “the church reformed because must always be reforming” was the rallying cry of the Reformation, and it should continue to be our cry.
Just how accurate has Christianity as a whole been in understanding Bible prophecy? Not very. As Gary DeMar notes, “One of the first things a Christian must learn in interpreting the Bible is to pay attention to the time texts. Failing to recognize the proximity of a prophetic event will distort its intended meaning. The New Testament clearly states that the “end of all things” was at hand for those who first read 1 Peter 4:7; that is, the Old Covenant with its types and shadows was about to pass away.
The Last Days
The book of Hebrews opens with two verses that put the timing of certain eschatological events into perspective: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir to all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2). Prior to the coming of Jesus, God spoke via dreams, prophets, written revelation, and types. Through the New Covenant God “has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready [lit., near] to disappear” ().
The New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant because the blood of Jesus is better than the blood of animals (Heb. ; 8:6). In addition, the way God communicates with His people has changed. For example, under the Old Covenant no man could look upon the face of God and live (Ex. 33:20). At the dawning of the New Covenant, however, God was no longer hidden. He had taken on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ:
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John ).
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life” (1
God spoke in this new way “in these last days.” The last days were in operation in the first century when God was manifested in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ! Those Hebrew Christians who read the letter addressed to them were being told that an important covenantal era was about to end, the era of “the fathers in the prophets.” The last days are not way off in the distant future. The end came to an obsolete covenant in the first century.
De Mar continues: In A.D. 70 the “last days” ended with the dissolution of the temple and the sacrificial system. A similar pronouncement is made in 1 Peter 1:20: “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” Gordon Clark comments on what Peter means by “these last times”: ‘The last days,” which so many people think refers to what is still future at the end of this age, clearly means the time of Peter himself. I John says it is, in his day, the last hour. Acts quotes Joel as predicting the last days as the lifetime of Peter.
Certain destructive events confronted the early Church, events that were “near” for those who first read the New Testament prophecies (Matt 24:32-33; Rev. 1:3; ). The Apostle Paul mentions “the present distress” (1 Cor ). There is no getting around this language, that most of the verses that many believe are yet to be fulfilled already have been fulfilled. Forcing the following verses to describe a time nearly two thousand years in the future is the epitome of “Scripture twisting”:
“But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the
next; for truly I say to you, you shall
not finish going through the cities of
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt 16:27-28)
“Jesus said to (the high priest), ‘You have said it yourself (that I am the Christ, the Son of God); nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt 26:64).
“Now these things happened to (
“You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).
These passages and others like them tell us that a significant eschatological event was to happen in the lifetime of those who heard and read the prophecies, De Mar goes on to explain. Dispensationalists reject this literal approach to interpreting the time texts by fabricating a doctrine call imminency. The following definition is typical:
“The primary thought expressed by the word “imminency” is that something important is likely to happen, and could happen soon. While the event may not be immediate, or necessarily very soon, it is next on the program and may take place at any time.”
There is nothing in the above texts that would support this definition. Words such as “likely,” “could happen,” and “may take place” are nowhere indicated. The biblical writers are straightforward in their claim that the events described were to happen “soon” for those who first read the prophecies. No other explanation is possible if the words are taken in their “plain, primary, ordinary, usual, or normal” sense. If the biblical authors had wanted to be tentative in the way they described future events, they would have used words expressing probability.
The time texts are the most important element in Bible prophecy. If they are ignored or manipulated in any way, then God’s Word can be made to mean anything. A Bible that can mean anything is a Bible without meaning.
When Did Jesus Come in Glory?
De Mar continues: Almost any interpretation can be put on a verse or series of verses if the grammatical and historical contexts are not first determined. The time when Jesus said certain events would take place is all-important. To miss the identification of the time when an event is said to occur will mean that the discourse can be made to fit any generation. This, of course, would lead to tremendous confusion. There is no doubt that this error is the chief problem for those who maintain that the events of Matthew 24-25 and other prophetic passages are yet to be fulfilled, either in our generation or in some future generation. A few examples will put this concept in proper perspective.
In Matthew 16:27-28, Jesus proclaims, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” If we maintain that the event Jesus is describing is still in our future, then how should we interpret His statement that some of those with whom He was speaking would still be alive when He did in fact “come in the glory of His Father with His angels”?
Some claim that the “coming” Jesus had in mind was the transfiguration (Matt 17). But the transfiguration cannot be its fulfillment since Jesus indicated that some who were standing with Him would still be alive when He came, but most would be dead. If we adopt the view that the transfiguration is the fulfillment, we must conclude that most of the people with whom Jesus spoke were dead within a week of Jesus’ prediction (Matt 17:1)!
Others see Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, as the fulfillment. But the same problem arises—nearly all the disciples would have had to die with a period of a few months after the events described by Jesus in Matthew -28. Such a scenario does not fit with the language of the text and what we know took place. Anyway, finding a fulfillment in these two proximate events does not solve the problem for futurists who maintain that “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” is language that refers exclusively to the second-coming.
A helpful biblical commentary on Matthew 16:27-28 is found
in John 21:18-23. After Jesus describes for Peter how he will die (), Peter asks of John’s fate, “Lord, and
what about this man?” (). Jesus
says to Peter, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You
follow Me!” ().
History tells us that Peter died before
If we are still waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’
prediction of His coming “in the glory of His Father with His angels,” then
some of those who were with Jesus are still alive! An
impossibility, to be sure. So then we must look for an event that was
far enough in the future where most
of Jesus’ hearers would be dead, but not so far in the future where they all would be dead. Is there such an
event? Yes! The destruction of
But What Does It Mean?
But how can we maintain that Jesus came “in the glory of His
Father with His angels” in A.D. 70? As we’ve seen, the time indicator in the
passage precludes either an immediate fulfillment (transfiguration, resurrection,
Pentecost) or a distant fulfillment (the second coming of Christ). The language
of Matthew 16:27-28 is similar to the way Jehovah came to “the sons of
“The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shown forth from
Jude presents a similar picture in the New Testament. But his is a description of God’s coming in judgment: “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all of the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15). The language is almost identical with that of Matthew 16:27.
In addition, Jesus alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 and thus applies Old Testament language for God as judge to Himself (Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Jer ; 32:19; Ezek ). The reference to angels is probably Zechariah 14:5, though it also fits the context of the image in Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus assumes the Old Testament apocalyptic language referring to Jehovah’s coming and applies it to Himself. A similar pattern is found in Revelation 2:5: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Similar “coming” language is used in Revelation 2:16, neither of which refer to Christ’s second coming, but rather to a “coming” in judgment at that time.
Jesus’ dominion is an “everlasting dominion (Dan ). Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of
God” where He rules until all His enemies are made a “footstool for [His] feet”
Paul writes that Jesus “must reign until He has put all His enemies under His
feet” (1 Cor ).
Milton Terry writes that “the ideal of judgment presented in Matt. 25: 31-46,
is therefore no single event, like the destruction of
The Old Testament doctrine is that “the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he is ruler among the nations, Jehovah reigneth; he shall judge the peoples with equity. He cometh, he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his truth” (Psalm 96:10-13). The day of judgment for any wicked nation, city, or individual is the time when the penal visitation comes; and the judgment of God’s saints is manifest in every signal event which magnifies goodness and condemns iniquity.
The King of glory is continually judging and reigning among the nations, and He will not cease from this work until “He has abolished all rule and authority and power” (1 Cor. ).
Rapture or Resurrection?
Dispensationalists take Bible passages that refer to the general resurrection and apply them to what they call “the rapture.” Dave Hunt states that “Christ’s promise to take His own to heaven [in the rapture] has no significant place in [the] future plans” of those who believe that the world that God created is important. The “promise” that Hunt has in mind is the pre-tribulational rapture. But the rapture is not the Bible’s blessed hope. Instead, the clear teaching of Scripture is that Christians find hope in the promise that when they die they will go to heaven to be with the Lord (Phil. ).
The resurrection, not the rapture, is the hope of the church. Paul was on trial “for the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 24:21), not the rapture of the church. Paul is emphatic: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is also in vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14). No such defense is made of a supposed pre-tribulational, mid-tribulational, post- tribulational, or pre-wrath rapture.
The error of rapture fever has obscured the Bible’s focus: the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the saints. Paul’s goal was to “attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil.3:11), not the rapture of the church. The Christian message hinges on the reality of the resurrection, not the rapture of the church. The unbiblical pre-tribulational rapture doctrine obscures and distorts this message. Without the resurrection the Christian message is just one religious point of view among countless others. The pre-trib rapture doctrine is an unnecessary, unbiblical, and unhistorical diversion from the central truth of the Christian faith.
[ Read DeMar’s book for much more on this subject]
I have just covered and provided extracted quotes mainly
from the first 50 pages of “Last Days Madness: Obsession of the
This understanding certainly should help to lessen any “last
days” anxiety that many of us may still be experiencing. Certainly, Christ
still will return, just as the Bible states, and I’m sure those days will be
quite unsettling, and all Christians need to be prepared for it. But I think we
can rest assured that all the future hellishness that Matthew 24 seemed to hold
for the world no doubt has already occurred—having been fulfilled in the time
period of the fall of
I would highly recommend either buying Mr. De Mar’s book, or
getting it from the library. He covers such interesting topics dealing with
“the last days” as the signs in the heavens, the rapture (covered here in
part), the mark of the beast, the antichrist, mystery