Last Days. Expression used in Scripture to describe the final period of the world as we now know it. In the OT the last days are anticipated as the age of messianic fulfillment (see Is 2:2; Mi 4:1), and the NT writers regard themselves as living in the last days, the era of the gospel. Thus, for example, Peter explains that the events of the day of Pentecost are the fulfillment of Joel 2:28: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ ” (Acts 2:16, 17); and the author of the letter to the Hebrews declares that God “spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1:1). The last days, then, are the days of evangelical blessing in which the benefits of the salvation procured by the perfect life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus Christ are freely available throughout the world. They are the days of opportunity for unbelievers to repent and turn to God, and of responsibility for believers to proclaim the gospel message throughout the world.
At the same time, however, the last days are days of testing for the people of God, calling for faithful perseverance in the face of the contempt and hostility of the ungodly. Accordingly, Paul warns Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of stress” (2 Tm 3:1); Peter writes that “scoffers will come in the last days” (2 Pt 3:3); Jude gives a similar admonition: “You must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions’ ” (Jude 18). For those who persist in their ungodliness, indeed, these are literally their last days; however prosperous they may appear to be at present, there is no glorious future for them. “You have laid up treasure for the last days,” James ironically advises those who are intent on amassing earthly riches (Jas 5:3). So also our Lord gave the solemn warning that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” calling that person a fool “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk 12:15–21).
Jude 18 indicates that the concept of the “last days” is also conveyed by different but synonymous phraseology (“last time”). This is well illustrated in 1 Peter 1:20, where we read that Christ “was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times,” that is to say, in the final stage of the sequence of history. The plural “last days” gives the impression of a period of some duration, and the correctness of this impression is confirmed by the fact that this final age has already lasted for many centuries. But in the perspective of eternity it is no more than a short time, and in every generation the end of this final age is always imminent, so much so that John speaks of it as “the last hour.” To this the presence of antichrist even within the church of the apostolic period bears witness. “It is the last hour,” John says, “and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 Jn 2:18). The end of these last days is always at hand, and one day it will certainly come; hence the need, insisted on by Christ, for constant vigilance, in view of the consideration that we know neither the day nor the hour of his return in majesty, the climactic event which will bring these last days to a close (Mt 24:44; 25:13; etc.).
This leads naturally to the further teaching that these last days will have their culmination in “the day”: the last days will be terminated by the last day. The use of the term “day” in the singular corresponds in the NT to the concept of the “day of the Lord” familiar in the OT, where it is generally presented as an awful day of final judgment against the unrepentant, but with the implication that it is also the day of the salvation and vindication of God’s people (see, e.g., Is 2:12–22; Ez 13:5; Jl 1:15; 2:1, 11; Am 5:18–24; Zep 1:7, 14). The climax of these last days, and therefore of all history, will be “the day of the Lord,” which will overtake the world suddenly (1 Thes 5:2). This last of the last days will be the day of the last judgment for rejecters of the gospel, the purification of our present fallen world, the restoration of the created order, so that in the new heaven and the new earth all God’s purposes in creation are brought to fulfillment. Then, at the consummation of our redemption, at last fully conformed to our Redeemer’s likeness, we will enter into the enjoyment of his eternal glory (1 Jn 3:2; Rom 8:19–25; Rv 21:1–8).
Moreover, Christians are reminded by the apostle Paul that on this last day, which he calls simply “the Day,” the worth of their building upon the one foundation which is Jesus Christ will be revealed; what they have done with their lives will be known. It is not that the security of their salvation in Christ is in any way at stake; rather, it is to measure whether they will meet him with confidence or with shame at his coming (cf. 1 Jn 2:28). “Each man’s work will become manifest,” Paul writes, “for the Day will disclose it.… If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:13–15).
This last of the last days is followed by the everlasting day of Christ’s kingdom when God will be all in all (Phil 3:20, 21; 1 Cor 15:28). The last day is also, accordingly, the day of triumph and resurrection, when Christ has promised to raise up everyone who believes in him (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54). The last days are like night compared with the glory that will be revealed at Christ’s return, so that the end of these last days will also be the beginning of God’s unending day. Hence Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Rome: “It is full time now for you to awake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:11, 12). The realization that we are in the last days and that the last day is approaching ought to have a dramatic effect on the quality and intensity of our living here and now: “What sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” Peter exclaims, adding that in the light of this last of the last days we should be “zealous to be found by our Lord without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pt 3:11–14).
The last days, then, are the days of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are preliminary to and preparatory for the last day of final judgment of unbelievers and the dawn of eternal glory for believers. For Christ’s faithful followers they are days of joy and blessing, but still days in which the fullness of redemption is awaited. They are days, too, of trial and affliction for the church of Christ. But God has given us the assurance of his Spirit in our hearts, the foretaste which guarantees the full banquet hereafter, the downpayment which pledges the payment in full (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14; Rom 8:23). Meanwhile we should be assured with the apostle Paul that the sufferings of these last days are “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). They are days, moreover, of responsibility and opportunity: responsibility because Christians are under orders to proclaim the gospel throughout the world (Mt 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8) and all men everywhere are commanded by God to repent (Acts 17:30); opportunity because if these last days seem to be unduly prolonged, if some are tempted to assert mockingly that the day of the Lord will never come, the reason for the apparent delay is the long-suffering of God, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Consequently we should “count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pt 3:9, 15).
See DAY OF THE LORD; SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.
The doctrine of the last things (“eschatology”) includes the subjects of death, the second coming of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, heaven and hell.