Are the last days near?

Question
The signs of the times are all around us (Matt. 24-25; Luke 21:25-26). Aren't the last days near?
Answer
This is an important question for times such as these.

Biblically, the phrases "the last days" or "the end of the ages" refers to the time span between the first coming of Jesus Christ and his final return in glory. As the apostle Paul wrote, "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11; cf. Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb 9:26, et. al.). Note that Paul says these days have come (present tense) as opposed to will come (future tense). The church is living in these last days at the very present time.

We may compare this to the related phrase "the last day" (singular), which refers to the very end. As John writes: "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6:39; cf. Job 19:25; John 6:40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48, etc.). So, the second coming, which is also called parousia, is definitely in the future, but we don’t know exactly when. Remember also that Jesus said, "concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matt. 24:36; cf. Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).

While we agree that there are the signs of Jesus' coming all around us — persecution of the church, false teachers, moral decay, wars, famines, solar and natural events — we must also remember that we are told that Christ's return will be unexpected, like "a thief in the night" (cf. Matt. 24:42-44; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15; cf. Matt. 25:1-13).

The Scriptures present two separate but related themes for us regarding the parousia: signs and unexpectedness. The tension built by these themes is purposeful with the signs informing and building within believers the realization that Jesus will definitely come back, and the unexpectedness of Jesus' return revealing that the believer should and will always be ready. Therefore, as Paul writes, we wait "for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2:13; cf. 2 Pet. 3:12).

With this holy tension in mind, how then must we live? Consider the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecc. 12:13; cf. Deut. 10:12; Isa. 56:1; Mic. 6:8; Zech. 7:9). The apostle Paul would simply say, “do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:17;1 Pet. 4:11).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).