The expressions “last days” and “latter days” are found 19 times in the King James Bible—mostly in the Old Testament. According to the Bible, when are these days? Are they the last few years before Christ returns? Are they some specifically prophesied dates? Or could they refer to multiple events occurring after the “last days ” prophecy was uttered?
It is easy to say: “Our world is a terrible place. These ‘last days’ prophecies must apply to us right now.” But do the many Bible preachers who teach it, or the millions of Christians who believe it, make it true? The first time I, Norman Edwards, met a WCG minister, was in 1971 when I was 14—my older brother was applying to Ambassador College. I remember the minister telling us that we were living in the “last days” and that our world was going to collapse in only a few years. He pointed out many areas (debt, morals, corruption, military strength, etc.) where the USA was in greater trouble than it had ever been before. I specifically remember telling him that I thought our country could continue to function for 10 or 15 more years. He authoritatively disagreed with me—insisting that the “last days” were already upon us. He and many of his colleagues have now passed away and the end is not here.
Actually, the history of most prophetic interpretation is a lot like that. People conclude that they are the last generation upon which the “end of the world” will come. They write books, give lectures and convince big groups of people that they have “the key” to prophecy. Unfortunately, nearly all of this has been wrong—the events did not happen when or how they were “supposed to”.
If we are to understand Bible prophecy, then we must do something different than previous generations of prophetic teachers. They typically equate world events with specific prophecies, interpret symbols, add up years, and then work it all into a “prophetic framework” that will convince a lot of people that the teacher “understands prophecy”. People with just a little religious conviction tend to have an uncertain feeling of the future, so they may “get serious” and change their lives when they hear someone who seems to understand the complexity of Bible prophecy. To the extent that they stop living a life of sin and begin to follow God, this is good. But then they may join the church group that is preaching the prophecy, which can have an opposite effect. Bible prophecy no longer motivates them to change their lives as much, because they are in “the church” that has it all figured out, and they know exactly when everything is going to happen. The individual’s situation further worsens when the prophetic framework unravels and fails to come to pass. At that point, some people “give up on God” when there was nothing wrong with God. There was only something wrong with a false prophecy teacher.
What can we do to better understand prophecy from the Scriptures? First, we can be more open and honest with ourselves and be willing to look for and consider scriptures that disagree with our prophetic theories. Some people might call the consideration of opposing viewpoints “confusion” or a “lack of faith”. If God has clearly spoken, then looking for scriptures against Him is clearly a lack of faith. On the other hand, looking for scriptures against the teaching of a man is not a “lack of faith”, but a sound “Berean” attitude (Acts 17:10-11).
Second, we can go to the New Testament and see how its authors dealt with Old Testament prophecies. This article cannot cover all we could learn, but it will focus on the words “last days”.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:16-17, KJV)
Peter is directly quoting from Joel 2:28. Note that we establish two things in this passage.
1) Peter is applying the passage in Joel to his own time, which means he considered “the last days” to include his own time. Yes, we realize that there could be a “dual fulfillment”, that perhaps Peter was referring to a “former last days”, and the scripture will be fulfilled completely in some “later last days”. Nevertheless, Peter says nothing about this being an “initial fulfillment” or that what he was doing was an exception to some “prophetic rule”. Peter clearly notes that the “last days” didn’t mean some specific time right before the end, but included his own time—at least the “beginning” of the last days as they relate to Joel’s prophecy.
2) We can make a connection between the Joel 2:28 Old Testament Hebrew for “last days” with the corresponding Greek phrase in the New Testament. The writer of Acts must have used an equivalent expression to translate the words from Joel. This allows us to find other references in the New Testament to “last days” which use the same Greek wording.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (Heb 1:1-2, KJV).
Here, the author of Hebrews is referring to his own time as being included in the “last days”. It is the same phrase as in Acts. The word for “last ” in both cases is eschatos (from the same root as we get the word “eschatology”—the study of “last things”). Strong’s defines it as “farthest, final (of place and time)”. The word for “day” is hemera in both verses—meaning a literal 24 hour day or a general period of time (e.g. “It was the day of prosperity”).
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a wit ness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days (Jms 5:1-3, KJV).
The same Greek phrase is used again. One could claim that this is a prophecy, but that does not fit with the context of the rest of the book. James was clearly addressing the “twelve tribes scattered abroad” (Jms 1:1) and lists many things that they were doing and gives them many things to change and do. There are no words anywhere else to indicate where a prophetic part might begin or end. James certainly seems to be speaking to rich men in his own time.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul seems to be addressing his day as the “last days”.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure s more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away (2Tim 3:1-5).
One could claim that this was just a prophetic word by Paul for some people 2000 years after he wrote. But from the context it is abundantly clear that he was addressing people in his own day, and giving them advice. If this were something to occur many hundreds of years later, why does Paul begin by telling them “this know” and end by telling them to “ turn away” from the men he describes? If this were a future prophecy, shouldn’t he be emphasizing that they write it and save it so that others will remember it when it happens?
This does not negate the concept that there are also “later last days”, but we are asserting that it is, indeed, possible, that the “last days” just may, from God’ s point of view, have started in the first century. Suppose we use the “a day is with the Lord as a thousand years” principle (2Pet 3:8) and compare the 7-day week to a 7000-year plan of the Eternal (the Sabbath day representing the Millennial Kingdom of Christ)? Days 5, 6 and 7 (millennia 5, 6 and 7—from Christ’s birth to the end of the Millennial Kingdom) would be the three “last days”. We are not proposing that as an “iron clad” truth of Scripture, but we think a real mistake is made thinking that we have got God’s Formula all figured out and now all we have to do is plug in a few dates and names and we can “crack the code” that Daniel sealed.
We are not suggesting that people stop studying prophecy. Both of this article’s authors love to study and crack a code as much as the next person. We are just suggesting that we all stop joining the ranks of the millions of Christians throughout history that thought they had prophecy figured out but didn’t. We need to ask the Eternal for His understanding of prophecy for the time that we really need it. Peter understood the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from Joel 2:28 and applied it to his day—even though the next few verses (the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood) apparently did not apply to his time.
Nearly all of the New Testament was written before the devastation of the Jewish nation in 68 through 70AD. Some was probably written only a few years before. There are plenty of comments about the difficult times in which they were living, but the New Testament contains virtually no prophetic speculation about the timing of Jerusalem’s destruction (or even potential years for Christ’s return). Nevertheless, history shows that a great many did flee Jerusalem when it was surrounded by armies a couple of years before it fell. Many probably remembered Christ’s words and understood that it applied to them, at that time: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:20).
Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
We believe that statement. Lots of prophecy teachers quote it. But it does not mean that everyone who interprets prophecy is a prophet or even a servant of the Eternal. Looking backward, it seems that this statement proves that many church organizations have not had any of “His servants the prophets”. How many church leaders said something like, “God has shown me that I will soon die and the man I appoint will undo most of my teaching”? How many said, “God has shown me that my church group is about to have a massive split”? Or did the leader “proclaim” unity just before his group split? How many church leaders said, “God has shown me that I will be voted out of my own group?” What person today clearly prophesies major world events and is always right?
The purpose of this article is not to stop anyone from studying prophecy in depth, or from reading the books and listening to the messages of prophecy teachers. The purpose is to help each of us not to be a part of the “prophetic problem” by dogmatically asserting prophetic interpretations that the Eternal has not given us. We clearly need to read the prophetic parts of the Bible so we know what they say. We clearly need to see that evil will be punished, good will be rewarded and that the Eternal will judge everyone. But rather than spend hundreds of hours with tables of numbers, years, symbols and national identities, maybe we should spend more hours in prayer, asking the Eternal to show us what we need to understand. This is what Joseph and Daniel did (Gen 40:8; Dan 2:28; 2:28). We probably also need to spend more time on becoming the kind of humble servant to whom the Eternal will reveal His secrets.
What happens if the Eternal does not show us what these prophecies mean? Then we simply will not know—and we will be better off than the millions of people who thought they understood prophecy, but believed an untruth. If “the end” is not coming in your lifetime, do you really need to know when it will come? We have met numerous people who did not pursue their college or career goals, did not buy a house, did not marry, had fewer children, did not save for retirement, did not do any number of things because they thought they were already living in the “last days”. Nearly all the people that we know who made such mistakes did it because of their own or someone else’s “prophetic study”—but not because they believe that the Eternal directly revealed it to them.
Do not misunderstand us! We are not saying, “There are many more decades before the return of Christ.” The world situation, from a political and historical perspective, is probably as dangerous as any time in history. The world is full of evil leaders pursuing selfish interests. Weapons of mass destruction are now available essentially to anyone who has enough money. A globe-encircling disaster could happen at any minute. But the Eternal could hold back the disasters and allow us to live in peace for any number of additional years.
Let us neither be lax, as if we had a much time, nor fearful, seeking a place of escape: Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods (Matt 24:44-47).
— Norman Edwards and Pam Dewey