Do you understand the times in which we live? Do you really know what’s going on? Do you think you know what’s going to happen? Do you think it’s the end of the world?
There are many people who think we are in what are referred to as “the Last Days” or “the End Times.” Pointing to Bible passages and current events, they claim that we are finally and absolutely in the twilight of time, the brink of destruction, as if Yeshua (Jesus) is going to return any day now, the precise details of which are subject to one’s eschatology. “Eschatology” means “the study of the last days.” The Greek word, “eschatos”, simply means “last” and refers to the final item in a succession of things or time. An example of this word relating to eschatology is 2 Timothy 3:1, where Paul, who is nearing the end of his own life, writes “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” This sentences introduces a description of “the last days,” which includes selfishness, greed, rebellion against parental authority, lack of self-control, and religious hypocrisy. Doesn’t this sound just like our own day? Certainly this is indeed the end of days!
Hold on a second! Peter uses eschatos when preaching to the crowds during the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). He explains the strange phenomenon of Yeshua’s followers praising God in other languages. Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, writing in Greek, provides Peter’s quoting of the Hebrew prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act 2:17). Peter is not speaking of a day afar off, but his own present time. He uses eschatos similarly in both his letters (see 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3) as does John (see 1 John 2:18) and Jude (see Jude 1:18). In John’s case he describes the time in which he is living as “the last hour.” Did he expect the Messiah in less than sixty minutes?
But didn’t Yeshua tell his followers that troubled times would signify the end?
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and 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. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31)
But while this may sound as if Yeshua said these things so that a future generation would recognize the time of his return, the context of these words, found earlier in the chapter, imply a different motive:
For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah (ESV text: ‘Christ’],” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake (Matthew 24:5-9)
Far from speaking about troubles to signify his return, Yeshua is teaching his followers (both then and now) to not be put off or distracted by the occurrence of such troubles. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Yeshua proclaimed, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). After his resurrection he would say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Such triumphal language would understandably lead his followers to assume that troubles would melt before them everywhere they went. But no; trouble would remain. In fact, trouble would increase. Their troubles would increase. Just as Yeshua’s presence caused the evil of darkness to manifest itself, resulting in his suffering, his disciples should expect nothing less. It would be some time before the day of the Messiah’s final rescue and judgment, but until then, his people should not lose heart.
But don’t we live in unique times? Has not trouble increased to an extent such as never before – the wars, the disease, the moral decay? The end must surely be at hand. It seems, however, that this is how every generation thinks of itself. And every generation does exactly what Yeshua warned us against. We get discouraged by the problems of our age instead of staying focused on the mission he gave us. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for his return. Far from it! Being expectant of his soon appearing is supposed to fuel ongoing diligence to stay faithful to our Gospel mandate, which, rightly understood, is the proclamation of Yeshua’s kingship in every area of life. Are we closer today to the Lord’s coming than we were yesterday? Absolutely! But what difference is that supposed to make to seeking first God’s kingdom (see Matthew 6:33)?
Every time period since Yeshua’s first coming has been a mix of good and bad to varied degrees. In this age of Gospel proclamation, while we should expect trouble, we are to be encouraged by Yeshua’s victory over the world (see John 16:33). As Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem, as being in the last days, we live as recipients of the gift of God’s Spirit, poured out upon us to equip us to assail the gates of hell. Captives the world over are being set free and are joining the ranks of the redeemed, so they too can be used of God to break the curse’s chains.
While we don’t know the day of his coming, let’s keep focused on whatever the Lord has called each of us to. He will eventually and fully establish his kingdom, but until then, you never know what difference you will make.
All scripture references are from the English Standard Version.