The usage of the term last days in Scripture

The usage of the term last days in Scripture                                                     By Jack Kettler

In Scripture, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the phrase “last days,” and its similar expressions, “latter days,” “afterwards,” and “time of the end,” “last time” appears in several places. Does this expression all refer to the same event in history? The study on this topic will be a brief introductory look at the phrase “last days” and its variants. The list of Scriptures surveyed in this study is abbreviated.

Old Testament Scriptures:

“And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.” (Genesis 49:1)

From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible from Genesis 49:1:

“And Jacob called upon his sons … Who either were near at hand, and within call at the time Joseph came to visit him, or if at a distance, and at another time, he sent a messenger or messengers to them to come unto him:

and said, gather yourselves together; his will was, that they should attend him all together at the same time, that he might deliver what he had to say to them in the hearing of them all; for what he after declares was not said to them singly and alone, but when they were all before him:

that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days; not their persons merely, but their posterity chiefly, from that time forward to the coming of the Messiah, who is spoken of in this prophecy, and the time of his coming; some things are said relating to temporals, others to spirituals; some are blessings or prophecies of good things to them, others curses, or foretell evil, but all are predictions delivered out by Jacob under a spirit of prophecy; some things had their accomplishment when the tribes of Israel were placed in the land of Canaan, others in the times of the judges, and in later times; and some in the times of the Messiah, to which this prophecy reaches, whose coming was in the last days, Hebrews 1:1 and Nachmanides says, according to the sense of all their writers, the last days here are the days of the Messiah; and in an ancient writing of the Jews it is said (x), that Jacob called his sons, because he had a mind to reveal the end of the Messiah, i.e. the time of his coming; and Abraham Seba (y) observes, that this section is the seal and key of the whole law, and of all the prophets prophesied of, unto the days of the Messiah.” (1)

As Gill notes, this promise finds its fulfillment in the time of the Messiah.

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills;

And all nations shall flow to it.” (Isaiah 2:2)

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Isaiah 2:2:

“(2) It shall come to pass in the last days.—The three verses that follow are found in almost identical form in Micah 4:1-3, with the addition of a verse (Micah 4:4) which describes the prosperity of Judah—every man sitting “under his vine and his fig-tree,” as in the days of Solomon. Whether (1) Isaiah borrowed from Micah, or (2) Micah from Isaiah, or (3) both from some earlier prophet, or (4) whether each received an independent yet identical revelation, is a problem which we have no adequate data for solving. Micah prophesied, like Isaiah, under Ahaz, Jotham, and Hezekiah, and so either may have heard it from the other. On the other hand, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, on which these verses follow, in Micah 3:12 appears from Jeremiah 26:18 to have been spoken in the days of Hezekiah. On the whole, (3) seems to have most to commend it.

For “in the last days” read latter or after days; the idea of the Hebrew words, as in Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14, being that of remoteness rather than finality. For the most part (Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29) they point to the distant future of the true King, to the time of the Messiah.” (2)

As Ellicott notes, this passage also finds fulfillment in the time of the Messiah.

“The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this.” (Jeremiah 30:24)

From Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament on Jeremiah 30:24:

“Further explanation of the deliverance promised to Zion. – Jeremiah 30:18. “Thus saith Jahveh: Behold, I will turn the captivity of the tents of Jacob, and will take pity on his dwellings; and the city shall be built again upon its own hill, and the palace shall be inhabited after its own fashion. Jeremiah 30:19. And there shall come forth from them praise and the voice of those who laugh; and I will multiply them, so that they shall not be few, and I will honour them, so that they shall not be mean. Jeremiah 30:20. And his sons shall be as in former times, and his congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress him. Jeremiah 30:21. And his leader shall spring from himself, and his ruler shall proceed from his midst; and I will bring him near, so that he shall approach to me; for who is he that became surety for his life in drawing near to me? Saith Jahveh. Jeremiah 30:22. And ye shall become my people, and I will be your God.”

The dwellings of Israel that have been laid waste, and the cities that have been destroyed, shall be restored and inhabited as formerly, so that songs of praise and tones of joy shall resound from them (Jeremiah 30:18.). “The captivity of the tents of Jacob” means the miserable condition of the dwellings of Jacob, i.e., of all Israel; for “to turn the captivity” has everywhere a figurative sense, and signifies the turning of adversity and misery into prosperity and comfort; see on Jeremiah 29:14. Hitzig is quite wrong in his rendering: “I bring back the captives of the tents of Jacob, i.e., those who have been carried away out of the tents.” That “tents” does not stand for those who dwell in tents, but is a poetic expression for “habitations,” is perfectly clear from the parallel “his dwellings.” To “take pity on the dwellings” means to “restore the dwellings that have been destroyed” (cf. Jeremiah 9:18). The anarthrous עיר must not be restricted to the capital, but means every city that has been destroyed; here, the capital naturally claims the first consideration. “Upon its hills” is equivalent to saying on its former site, cf. Joshua 11:13; it does not mean “on the mound made by its ruins,” in support of which Ngelsbach erroneously adduces Deuteronomy 13:17. ארמון in like manner stands, in the most general way, for every palace. על־משׁפּטו does not mean “on the proper place,” i.e., on an open, elevated spot on the hill (Hitzig), neither does it mean “on its right position” (Ewald); both of these renderings are against the usage of the words: but it signifies “according to its right” (cf. Deuteronomy 17:11), i.e., in accordance with what a palace requires, after its own fashion. ישׁב, to be inhabited, as in Jeremiah 17:6, etc. “Out of them” refers to the cities and palaces. Thence proceeds, resounds praise or thanksgiving for the divine grace shown them (cf. Jeremiah 33:11), and the voice, i.e., the tones or sounds, of those who laugh (cf. Jeremiah 15:17), i.e., of the people living in the cities and palaces, rejoicing over their good fortune. “I will increase them, so that they shall not become fewer,” cf. Jeremiah 29:6; “I will bring them to honour (cf. Isaiah 8:22), so that they shall not be lightly esteemed.” – In Jeremiah 30:20. The singular suffixes refer to Jacob as a nation (Jeremiah 30:18). “His sons” are the members of the nation; they become as they were previously, in former times – sicut olim sub Davide et Salmonoe, florentissimo rerum statu. “The congregation will be established before me,” i.e., under my survey (תּכּון as in Psalm 102:29), i.e., they shall no more be shaken or moved from their position.” (3)

According to the commentators, this passage finds immediate fulfillment when the events occur, and secondly, the passage looks forward to the time of the Messiah.

“But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the King Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these.” (Daniel 2:28)

From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Daniel 2:28:

“Here the prophet gives God entirely all the glory, proving all the powers on earth to come short in it, it being one of God’s peculiar prerogatives to reveal secrets. Yea, in great humility he denies himself to have any share in it, as also Daniel 2:29.

What shall be in the latter days: observe here the prophet’s wisdom in this discovery, he doth not fall abruptly upon the dream, but first prepares this lofty king for it in general, and by degrees he doth labour to win him to the knowledge of the true God.

  1. By this his power; and,
  1. By his gracious favour to the king, in revealing to him the greatest secret in the world about the change of kingdoms and governments, and touching the power of Christ’s kingdom over all in the latter days. See Daniel 2:44.” (4)

Poole sees the fulfillment of this passage too in the time of the Messiah.

“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, [even] to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (Daniel 12:4)

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it.” (Micah 4:1)

“Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:5)

From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Hosea 3:5:

“5. Afterward—after the long period (“many days,” Ho 3:4) has elapsed.

return—from their idols to “their God,” from whom they had wandered.

David their king—Israel had forsaken the worship of Jehovah at the same time that they forsook their allegiance to David’s line. Their repentance towards God is therefore to be accompanied by their return to the latter. So Judah and Israel shall be one, and under “one head,” as is also foretold (Ho 1:11). That representative and antitype of David is Messiah. “David” means “the beloved.” Compare as to Messiah, Mt 3:17; Eph 1:6. Messiah is called David (Isa 55:3, 4; Jer 30:9; Eze 34:23, 24; 37:24, 25).

fear the Lord and his goodness—that is, tremblingly flee to the Lord, to escape from the wrath to come; and to His goodness,” as manifested in Messiah, which attracts them to Him (Jer 31:12). The “fear” is not that which “hath torment” (1Jo 4:18), but reverence inspired by His goodness realized in the soul (Ps 130:4).

the latter days—those of Messiah [Kimchi].” (5)

The commentators conclude this phrase “the latter days” finds fulfillment in the times of the Messiah.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28)

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Joel 2:28:

“(28) I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.—Holy Scripture is itself the interpreter of this most weighty promise. St. Peter’s quotation and application of it in the Acts is its commentary. “Afterward “—LXX., after these things becomes in the apostle’s mouth—“in the last days”—i.e., in the Christian dispensation, when, after the punishment of the Jews by the heathen, their king came—“my Spirit”—St. Peter renders “of my spirit,” after the LXX., indicating the gifts and influences of the Holy Ghost—“upon all flesh”—i.e., without distinction of race or person—“they of the circumcision were astonished because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The outward manifestation of these gifts, as shown on the Day of Pentecost, in accordance with this prediction, was gradually withdrawn from the Church; the reality remains.” (6)

Ellicott explains how this verse looks forward to the inauguration of the New Covenant.

In the Old Testament passages, the “last days,” and the similar phrases find their fulfillment in the ending of the Old Jewish covenant order and the institution of the New Covenant by the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase “last days” does not necessarily mean the end of history.

New Testament Scriptures:

“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

This two-part question is asking about the near term (great tribulation of 70AD coming in judgment) and long-term events (the second coming at the end of history).

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” (2Timothy 3:1)

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on 2Timothy 3:1 is brilliant:

“(1) This know also.—Better rendered, But know this. The Apostle had warned Timothy (2Timothy 2:3-13) not to allow fear of oncoming peril and trouble to paralyse his efforts in the Master’s cause, for the Lord’s true servant should never lose heart, and then had proceeded (2Timothy 2:14-26) to detail how these efforts of his were to be directed, showing him how his teaching should stand in contrast with that of the false teachers. St. Paul now (2Timothy 3:1), having told him that although there was no reason to fear, yet warns him that grave dangers to the Church would surely arise, and that God’s servants, like Timothy, must be prepared to combat.

In the last days.—The majority of commentators have referred “the last days” here spoken of to the period immediately preceding the second coming of the Lord—a day and an hour somewhere in the future but hidden, not merely from all men, but from the angels, and even from the Son (Mark 13:32).

It seems, however, more in accordance with such passages as 1John 2:18 : “Little children, it is the last time”—where the present, and not an uncertain future is alluded to—to understand “the last days “as that period, probably of very long duration, extending from the days of the first coming of Messiah—in which time St. Paul lived—to the second coming of Christ in judgment. The Jewish Rabbis of the days of St. Paul were in the habit of speaking of two great periods of the world’s history—“this age,” and “the age to come.” The former of these, “this age,” including all periods up to Messiah’s advent; the latter, “the age to come,” including all periods subsequent to the appearance of Messiah. We find the same idea embodied later in the Talmud (treatise “Sanhedrim”) 6,000 years are mentioned as the duration of the world, 2,000 years, waste or chaos, 2,000 years under the law, 2,000 years the days of Messiah.” This last period, “the days of Messiah,” are often alluded to by the Hebrew prophets under the expression, “in the last days”—literally, in the end of days. (See Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1.) The words of 2Timothy 3:5, “from such turn away,” would require certainly a strained interpretation if we are to suppose that the “last days” referred to a time immediately preceding the end, or, in other words, the last period of the Christian era. The sad catalogue of vices is, alas, one with which all ages of the Church of Christ has been too well acquainted. The Christian teacher has no need to look forward to a future time of deeper iniquity, when in the Church of the living God will be found those who will deserve the dreary titles of this passage. The Church of his own age will supply him with examples of many such, for “In a great house . . . are there not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood, and earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour.” (7)

Ellicott argues convincingly “The words of 2Timothy 3:5, “from such turn away,” would require certainly a strained interpretation if we are to suppose that the “last days” referred to a time immediately preceding the end, or, in other words, the last period of the Christian era.” So “last days” in Timothy must be interpreted as the whole Christian era and not a short period.

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.” (2Peter 3:3)

“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:2)

Again from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Hebrews 1:2:

“(2) Hath in these last days . . .—Better, at the end of these days spake unto us in a Son. The thought common to the two verses is “God hath spoken to man”; in all other respects the past and the present stand contrasted. The manifold successive partial disclosures of God’s will have given place to one revelation, complete and final; for He who spake in the prophets hath now spoken “in a Son.” The whole stress lies on these last words. The rendering “a Son” may at first cause surprise, but it is absolutely needed; not, “Who is the Revealer?” but, “What is He?” is the question answered in these words. The writer does not speak of a Son in the sense of one out of many; the very contrast with the prophets (who in the lower sense were amongst God’s sons) would be sufficient to prove this, but the words which follow, and the whole contents of this chapter, are designed to show the supreme dignity of Him who is God’s latest Representative on earth. The prophet’s commission extended no farther than the special message of his words and life; “a Son” spoke with His Father’s authority, with complete knowledge of His will and purpose. It is impossible to read these first lines (in which the whole argument of the Epistle is enfolded) without recalling the prologue of the fourth Gospel. The name “Word” is not mentioned here, and the highest level of St. John’s teaching is not reached; but the idea which “the Word” expresses, and the thought of the Only Begotten as declaring and interpreting the Father (John 1:18; also John 14:10; John 14:24) are present throughout. There is something unusual in the words, “at the end of these days.” St. Peter speaks of the manifestation of Christ “at the end of the times” (1Peter 1:20); and both in the Old Testament and in the New we not unfrequently read “at the end (or, in the last) of the days.” (See 2Peter 3:3; Jude 1:18; Numbers 24:14; Daniel 10:14, &c.) The peculiarity of the expression here lies in “these days.” The ages preceding and following the appearance of Messiah are in Jewish writers known as “this world” (or, age) and the “coming world” (or, age); the “days of Messiah” seem to have been classed sometimes with the former, sometimes with the latter period; but “the end of these days” would be understood by every Jewish reader to denote the time of His appearing.” (8)

Ellicott again is brilliant in his analysis of “last days” being the age of the Messiah.

“How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” (Jude 1:18)

“Last time” as we see in Jude, likewise must be understood as an age. What Jude is saying has relevance for the whole Christian era, not for only a few years preceding the Second coming of Christ.

The phrase the “last days” and its variations can be understood as beginning in the first century. In most cases, these “last days” are inaugurated by Christ’s first coming and continue until His second coming.

Last Days from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words:

“A — 1: ἔσχατος

(Strong’s #2078 — Adjective — eschatoses’-khat-os)

“last, utmost, extreme,” is used (a) of place, e.g., Luke 14:9,10 , “lowest;” Acts 1:8 ; 13:47 , “uttermost part;” (b) of rank, e.g., Mark 9:35 ; (c) of time, relating either to persons or things, e.g., Matthew 5:26 , “the last (farthing),” RV (AV, “uttermost”); Matthew 20:8,12,14 ; Mark 12:6,22 ; 1 Corinthians 4:9 , of Apostles as “last” in the program of a spectacular display; 1 Corinthians 15:45 , “the last Adam;” Revelation 2:19 ; of the “last” state of persons, Matthew 12:45 , neuter plural, lit., “the last (things);” so Luke 11:26 ; 2 Peter 2:20 , RV, “the last state” (AV, “the latter end”); of Christ as the Eternal One, Revelation 1:17 (in some mss. ver. 11); 2:8; 22:13; in eschatological phrases as follows: (a) “the last day,” a comprehensive term including both the time of the resurrection of the redeemed, John 6:39,40,44,54 ; 11:24 , and the ulterior time of the judgment of the unregenerate, at the Great White Throne, John 12:48 ; (b) “the last days,” Acts 2:17 , a period relative to the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the resumption of the Divine interpositions in the affairs of the world at the end of the present age, before “the great and notable Day of the Lord,” which will usher in the messianic kingdom; (c) in 2 Timothy 3:1 , “the last days” refers to the close of the present age of world conditions; (d) in James 5:3 , the phrase “in the last days” (RV) refers both to the period preceding the Roman overthrow of the city and the land in A.D. 70, and to the closing part of the age in consummating acts of gentile persecution including “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (cp. verses James 5:7,8 ); (e) in 1 Peter 1:5 , “the last time” refers to the time of the Lord’s second advent; (f) in 1 John 2:18 , “the last hour” (RV) and, in Jude 1:18 , “the last time” signify the present age previous to the Second Advent.

Notes: (1) In Hebrews 1:2 , RV, “at the end of these days” (AV, “in these last days”), the reference is to the close of the period of the testimony of the prophets under the Law, terminating with the presence of Christ and His redemptive sacrifice and its effects, the perfect tense “hath spoken” indicating the continued effects of the message embodied in the risen Christ; so in 1 Peter 1:20 , RV, “at the end of the times” (AV, “in these last times”).

B — 1: ὕστερον

(Strong’s #5305 — Noun Neuter — husteronhoos’-ter-on)

the neuter of the adjective husteros, is used as an adverb signifying “afterwards, later,” see AFTER , No. 5. Cp. the adjective, under LATER.

Note: In Philippians 4:10 the particle pote, “sometime,” used after ede, “now, already,” to signify “now at length,” is so rendered in the RV, AV, “(now) at the last.” (9)

In closing:

In interpreting, the meaning of “the last days” and similar phrases have not been the easiest task for commentators. Sometimes the meaning is looking to end of the Old Testament period, the New Testament age, and the end of history. At other times, the immediate fulfillment when the events occur provides the best understanding. In eschatology, everyone wants to have a nice and tidy system. Unfortunately, as history has shown, this is not the case. History is littered with the failed predictions of men.

What we do know that the Lord Jesus Christ shall come again. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Notes:

  1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Genesis, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 811.
  2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Isaiah, Vol.4, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 421.
  3. Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Jeremiah, Vol. 4, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 10-11.
  4. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Daniel, vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 815-816.
  5. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 769.
  6. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Joel, Vol.5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 443.
  7. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, 2Timothy, Vol.8, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 232.
  8. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Hebrews, Vol.8, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 283.
  9. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 640-641.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

For more study:

The Last Days According to Jesus by R.C. Sproul https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/last_days_according_to_jesus/crisis-in-eschatology/

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