This article considers what “THE LAST DAYS” means in the New Testament. Most Christians who claim Christ gave a sign of this world’s last days claim that sign is in Matthew chapter 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. I’ll concentrate on Matthew 24.
At Matthew chapters 24 and 25 Christ spoke of circumstances that occur before his return. Christ didn’t say how long those last. And he didn’t use the phrase “last days” at all. Neither did the apostles in conversation with him. But answering their questions he did use the phrase “beginning of birth pains.” Birth pains leading to what? His coming and the end of the world. He said “beginning of birth pains” describing certain circumstances in response to his apostles’ question,“what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” Almost everything Christ said in Matthew chapter 24 thru the very end of chapter 25 was in response to that one question, not his apostles’ first question about Jerusalem’s temple stones getting knocked down.
Christ’s response primarily consisted of circumstances his disciples would experience until he comes, rather than speaking a great deal about a sign of his presence. Those circumstances are interpreted collectively as a sign of the last days of the world by some Christians. I don’t advise you do that. However, if you choose to view the events in these scriptures as a sign preceding Christ’s return and a sign of the ‘last days,’ then logically you must view these circumstances collectively. Leave one of them out and your sign is not present, per Christ’s words. If you interpret his words this way, that sign would have to include a worldwide great tribulation and miraculous signs in heaven. See Matthew 24 verses 32-34. In those scriptures Christ tells Christians “all those things” he spoke of, including a great tribulation and miraculous heavenly signs, would be seen by Christians for them to know their deliverance is near.
I personally believe Christ only meant the sign of his coming will be the sign of the Son of Man, in heaven, and nothing more. I believe the other circumstances were given to enlighten his church about bad conditions to come, telling them those conditions do not mean his appearance is near-see Luke 21:8. And he named those bad conditions to strengthen the faith of Christians who experience hardships. By telling them in advance they would know that he is aware of the hardships they face.
He started by describing wars, reports of wars, earthquakes and food shortages occurring in various places, and he said some Christians would find those notable, take them as the sign of his return, start teaching the end is imminent, and by doing that mislead themselves and other Christians. See Luke 21 verse 8, “For many will come in my name, claiming,… ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.”
Christ called those events, “the beginning of birth pains.” But those type of events occur in every historical period. Yes they do, and that is one truth that proves they are not part of a sign that Christ gave. Even so, do you see a couple reasons why some Christians misinterpret Christ’s answer to his apostles’ question? That phrase, “the beginning of birth pains,” might be one. Some Christians assume the birth must come soon after the birth pains begin. Actually they teach soon after just part of them begin [BECAUSE THEY NEVER INCLUDE THE “GREAT TRIBULATION,” OR MIRACULOUS SIGNS IN HEAVEN]. They fail to hold Christ to his word that all the things he said must occur before his return. Watchtower is one group that makes that assumption, as it looks to a sign of “the last days,” instead of the sign of Christ’s return that the apostles asked him about. In doing so Watchtower fails to include those major circumstances Christ said must occur, which are signs in heaven to form the sign he spoke of, preceded by a worldwide great tribulation (time of unparalleled troubles).
The nature of Christ’s answer to the question is a contributing factor that causes some to read what he said incorrectly. For instance, Christ incorporated so much information in his answer many people can’t separate his direct answer to his apostles’ question from the additional information Christ provided. Rather, they view information he shared with the apostles as a sign revealing something the apostles never asked about. His apostles never asked about any sign of the last days of this world. When they asked, “tell us when will these things be?” they were asking when the temple stones in Jerusalem would be knocked down. After that they asked for a sign revealing his coming and the end of the world. Misguided Christian interpreters of scripture look for a sign of the last days there, which is something the apostles never asked about. With their fallacious interpretations some Christians do not realize Christ was telling us what circumstances will exist in this world from the time he left it until he comes back.
As Watchtower and other religious groups misinterpret Christ’s response as a sign pointing to the “Last Days” of this world, other Christians misinterpret Christ’s response claiming it was a sign pointing to the “Last Days” of the Jewish system in AD 70. Therefore, as I continue, I’ll address both beliefs.
Christ went on to list how the world would treat his disciples, saying they would share lives of difficulty. Trying circumstances for Christians did not stop when Jerusalem was destroyed. They continue to this day. And they do not start and then stop and then start again, as if they occur during two or more time periods separated by breaks. Christian persecutions and betrayals occur during one time period. And it’s a long one. It’s from the time Christ died until he returns. In another descriptor Christ said the good news will first be preached among all the nations, and then the end will come. The good news continues to be preached in all the nations. Again he did not cite preaching as a signal of Jerusalem’s end. Like Christian persecution, the preaching didn’t start and stop only to start again. It continues over one long time period.
Preaching and trying circumstances were just part of the conditions Christians would experience. Many of the circumstances Christ spoke of while answering that question take place over one long unbroken stream of time. However, not all, as I will soon bring up. But at Luke chapter 21 Christ said the Jewish people would be scattered among the nations until “the appointed times of the nations” are fulfilled. And the “appointed time(s) of the nations” is also a long period of time.
How is the term last days used in the New Testament?
Now, how did New Testament writers use the actual term “last days”, and is it related to “the beginning of birth pains,” or “the appointed times of the nations?”As we shall see, it is related to both those phrases but not synonymous with either. First, the term “last days” is not found in the books Matthew, Mark, or Luke at all, and those are the books some Christians claim the sign of the last days is in. If so, why didn’t those Bible writers use that term in any of those books? Second, in their letters to congregations and in the book of Acts different authors of biblical scripture wrote they were living in the last days at the time they authored their scriptures. See Acts chapter 2 and other references to “last days” in New Testament scriptures proving this fact. Third, there is not one scripture written by any New Testament writer that defines the phrase, “last days” that they wrote about, as being limited to those days preceding the end of the Jewish system. Did their “last days” include the days before Jerusalem’s destruction? Certainly, but the apostles use of the term extends far beyond it. That is proven by my next point (#4). Fourth, there are scriptures written by Peter, which speak of the “last days” as explicitly referring to days that precede the end of this whole worldly system. See 2nd Peter chapter 3. The “last days” in those scriptures end when this world is destroyed. No other reference to “last days” in the New Testament tells us when they end. And no scripture in the New Testament claims the phrase last days applies to two separate time periods. There is no last days #1 and last days #2 in the New Testament.
The Last Days in the New Testament are spoken of as:
- Existing in the first century.
- The only scripture that references their end states they end when the world ends.
- No New Testament scripture claims they ended with Jerusalem’s destruction.
- New Testament Bible writers did not claim that term applies to more than one period of time.
If the last days last so long then why did Christ say he was coming quickly in Revelation?
The descriptors Christ spoke of in answering that question in Matthew 24 continue until he comes (as proven in 2 Peter 3), with the exception of just a few. Those few circumstances are Jerusalem’s surrounding by armies and it’s destruction, a worldwide great tribulation, signs in the heavens (the sky), and the sign of the Son of man also occurring in the heavens (the sky). Since those other descriptors Christ spoke of last so long, then how does his claim, “the beginning of birth pains,” harmonize with what he had John tell us in Revelation, “Look, I am coming quickly?” It does only if we view both ideas in the way Christ had Peter tell us to view the “last days.” Peter linked that phrase “last days” to the end of this whole worldly system. While doing so Peter was admonishing all Christians, living in every century, just as Christ was doing by giving his answers in Matthew 24 & 25. Peter admonished us to remain patient because, “One day with God is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” See 2nd Peter 3 verses 1 thru 13. Christ admonished Christians to be patient at Luke 21 verses 8 and 9. Both Christ and Peter knew that although the “last days” is a short period for God, it’s a long, long time period to us.
The New Testament Bible writers never wrote the “last days” were coming. In statements like, “Now in the last days critical times will be here…,”they described certain circumstances that exist while the last days exist. Christ had already referred to many of those circumstances that were coming, during the last days, in their discussion with him on the Mount of Olives. That’s what they were referring to. During his response on the Mount of Olives Christ warned them of their persecutions, the betrayal of individual Christians by others, and the love of the greater number of people in the world cooling off. Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John wrote about those things in their letters. They didn’t write the time period of last days was coming because they recognized they were living in the last days when they wrote of those things.
The real meaning of verses 6 and 7
In an effort to promote its view of the last days, Watchtower teaches there are distinctly different types of events described at Matthew 24 verse 6, and Matthew 24 verse 7-claiming world war was spoken of in verse 7, while claiming world war is not meant in vs 6. Watchtower claims this because it teaches that “world wars” had to exist to fulfill the sign of the last days. And so Watchtower points to World War I as part of that sign, it being the defining moment the sign supposedly began to be fulfilled. However, Christ wasn’t speaking of different events but the same wars in verses 6 & 7. In verse seven Christ was merely repeating what he had already described in verse six. Read those verses here:
verse 6 reads, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for THOSE THINGS, must take place, but that is not yet the end. Verse 7 “FOR nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
The words in verse 7 represent “those things” Christ spoke of in verse 6. Note that the events in verse 6 are attached to the events in verse 7 by the word “For,” used as a conjunction in this case (a connecting word), and a substitute for the word ‘because’. So Christ meant his words to convey this idea, (vs 6) “You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that you are not terrified, for those things must take place, (vs 7) BECAUSE nation will rise against nation.”
Also, in biblical days the word nation often meant a conglomerate of just a few cities. The apostles already knew of nations rising against nations as they understood how that phrase was used in their day. That was nothing new to them. It was as much a part of man’s history at that time, as the earthquakes and food shortages Christ spoke of. Also remember, Christ was giving this information to all Christians, living in every century after he left. After the days of the apostles Christians would continue to experience the conditions he spoke of, including wars.
What did Christ mean by “this generation?”
The circumstances I covered at some length were just part of his answer. According to verses 32 thru 35 we can say everything that Christ said would happen in Matthew chapter 24 up to verses 32-35, including a great tribulation, and miraculous signs in heaven, will occur and be the reason Christ said Christians will lift their heads up, knowing their deliverance is near. That’s according to Christ’s words, not mine, “When you see all these things.” Though all Christians would see those words, only one generation of Christians is represented by the pronoun, YOU, that sees “all these things,” Christ spoke of. That pronoun, YOU, if taken out of context, could have referred to his immediate audience. But it didn’t. In context it referred to a future audience. And that future audience is the generation that will see his coming, and all the things he spoke of. It will be those he referred to as “this generation,” seeing, “all these things.” That means part of his church will be on earth to see at least part of this world’s end. Because that generation sees all the things he mentioned, including the end. Christ’s long answer essentially meant, you’ll know it’s happening when you’ll see it start to happen. In other words, all these other things will happen first, but when I come, it will be obvious to you.
There is no mention in scripture of Christ returning invisibly
The idea that his disciples were asking for a sign of Christ’s invisible presence at Matthew 24:3 has no scriptural support at all. Watchtower teaches that, but proof that Watchtower just made that up is in Christ’s response to his apostles’ question. In his answer he didn’t speak of an invisible presence but a state in which every eye would see him. Read Matthew 24:30, “then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
So whether you interpret that Greek word “parousia” as coming or presence makes no difference. Christ said every eye will see him. Watchtower has to teach its members to jump through hoops, claiming his presence and coming are two separate events in Christ’s answer in Matthew chapter 24. But what did his apostles ask for? They wanted to know about his return. Christ wasn’t dancing around hoops in giving them an answer. He explicitly told them they would not know that until they saw the miraculous events that precede it. Read the last half of Matthew chapter 24 and all of chapter 25. In those scriptures that idea is very clear. There is just one presence or coming Christ spoke of in Matthew chapter 24, and no one knows when that is until the whole world sees it.