A Vision of the Last Days

From December 2017 through February 2018, I wrote a series of short articles for MennoMedia’s Adult Bible Study Online. Over three weeks I am reproducing those here in my blog. Here is the article for January 28, 2018, based on Daniel 10-12.

“The last days.”

In popular Christian parlance, the phrase suggests the final strands of earthly, human history. The thread of history stretches back before us to the dawn of time, and ahead of us, at some future point, this thread ends with “the last days.” For many Christians this phrase also conjures up images of portents in the heavens and cataclysms on earth. “The last days” is the end of it all, before God wipes the slate clean and creates a new heaven and earth.

If this is our understanding, it might be disconcerting to learn that this kind of language is used in Scripture to describe happenings within human history, including what is, for us, past history.

This is the case here in Daniel 10-12. Daniel’s vision describes “the last days,” even “days yet to come”—that’s more literally the wording of Daniel 10:14. This sort of language continues throughout the vision with the phrase “appointed time” or “time of completion” (11:35; 12:4, 9). Yet scholars are agreed that the visions describe historical persons and events in the second century B.C.E., now more than 2,000 years ago.

This is also the case throughout the New Testament. Peter’s Pentecost sermon applied Joel’s vision of “the last days,” with all its heavenly portents and earthly cataclysms, to Peter’s present day (Acts 2:16-21). Paul declared that Jesus’ birth occurred “at the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), and he described himself and his readers as those “on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11). The author of Hebrews declared that “in these last days” God has spoken to us through his Son, Jesus (Heb 1:2). And John the Seer stated that his apocalyptic visions described realities which were present in his own time, or were very soon to come about (Rev 1:1, 19).

It’s enough to make you think that perhaps we’ve gotten the whole “last days” thing quite badly wrong. But then, what is the point of all this “end times” language in Scripture?

Its main purpose is reassurance. This language is intended to reassure God’s people that, regardless of how bad things might seem in the present, God is in fact working within human history to bring about God’s good purposes. And its main focus is on Jesus. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection have inaugurated the time of fulfillment. We are in “the last days” right now: God’s good purposes have already been accomplished through Jesus, and now God is working out those good purposes throughout the earth.

In a world filled with the bad news of nuclear threat, civil wars, economic injustice, racism, divisive politics, sexual abuse, and more, this reassurance is the good news we all need.

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