Eschatology is simply defined as the study of last things. I personally like the phrase last things rather than the oft-used end times, primarily because the latter phrase can leave solely scary images in peoples’ minds. Even Hollywood has picked up on this idea in all of their apocalyptic films. We need healthy and hopeful theology, whatever theological camp one lands in.
Even more, there are a lot of crazy things going on in our world today, right? A pandemic, racial unrest, political turmoil, regular occurrence of massive hurricanes, and more. Sounds like something out of Matthew 24:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matt 24:6-8)
What are we supposed to make of this? Is it the end times, or again, last days?
When studying eschatology, one of the foremost questions we may need to ask is this: When are the last days?
I’d say it’s an important question. Some might place this period within a final seven years before Christ returns, or something of that nature. This is what many have termed the “Great Tribulation”. However, according to the Jewish context of the Scripture, I’m convinced the last days are not a final seven-year period before Christ returns. It’s simply not—at least going on what the Bible says.
Here’s how I come to that conclusion.
In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit had been poured out and the people began to speak in other languages (or tongues), some were mocking what they saw, claiming that the people were drunk. Fair conclusion for some onlookers, I suppose.
But Peter took his stand and declared these key words:
For these men are not drunk, as you suppose…but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: “And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind.” (Acts 2:14-17)
Peter was proclaiming that Joel’s prophecy about the last days (from way back in Joel 2:28-32) was already being fulfilled right there in front of their eyes, or better yet, right in their hearing. To put it in common language today, Peter is saying, “Remember Pastor Joel? Remember what he said, especially about the last period? Well, that’s all just started right now!” The last days began at Pentecost in Acts 2, and it is to continue for all generations until all things are completed in Christ – the renewal of all creation.
The prophets looked forward to a time in which there would be a major change that would take place. One order would end and a new would birth forth. That’s what the poetic language of such imagery as “sun will be turned to darkness” and “the moon to blood” refers to (Acts 2:20). The Jews never expected to look up into the sky and to see a solar eclipse. They never expected the moon to go red like blood. This was a very Jewish way to confirm that something was ending a new age was being birthed.
Even more, the last days were a time when God’s Messiah would be in charge, restoration would take place, renewal would be a reality, and salvation would go to the four corners of the earth. If you haven’t realized, we’ve been in that age – one that’s been going on nearly 2000 years.
Of course, many (including myself) can get caught up in the fact that it’s not all finished. Sin is still prevalent, the earth is still groaning with decay, injustice seems around every corner, turmoil is at the forefront. And God will “turn the sun dark” on the peoples who live this way. The earth itself is crying out, if we will listen! With that, we await the finality of the finished work of Christ. However, the last days have been here. The leaven of the kingdom of heaven is being worked throughout the dough (see Matt 13:33). One day it will fully pervade the batch.
Contrary to some popular teaching, we did not recently enter the last days. The last days are not a seven-year period before Christ returns. We entered into the last days when the Spirit was poured forth at Pentecost. We need not worry about blood moons and the sort, especially if we interpret Scripture in its first century, Jewish context. Better yet, we could more healthily focus on these things – Acts 2:19-20 speaks of cataclysmic events in the heavenlies, denoting a shift in some kind of order. Christ will darken and judge the old way, and the faithful in Christ will come through into the other side.
Something new is upon us. For God’s people, the old has lost its luster, the new has arrived in Jesus, the Messiah, who is sat next to his Father reigning over all. We are in the last days and have been for some time now. How shall we then live? Perhaps these words are worth heeding:
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:17-21)