Paul and the Last Days

SYNOPSIS - The Apostle Paul coordinates the commencement of the “last days” with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Sunset Sea - Photo by Gontran Isnard on Unsplash
Gontran Isnard on Unsplash
The New Testament coordinates the start of the “last days” with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus - In him, the season of fulfillment had arrived. Now, all the promises of God find their “yea and amen” in Christ. God spoke partially in the prophets of old, but now he now speaks fully in His Son (Acts 2:17-21, 2 Corinthians 1:20, Hebrews 1:1-3).

While the term “last days” is not frequent in the letters of Paul, in various ways, he demonstrates his understanding that the final era of history had commenced following the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, therefore nothing can ever be the same.

To a Greek-speaking congregation, the Apostle Paul categorized the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible as “types,” examples for present believers to follow, the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages arrived.”

Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and into the Wilderness where God provided “spiritual drink” from a “spiritual rock” - The latter prefigured Jesus (for “the rock was Christ”). These historical events became examples so the Corinthian congregation no longer should live after the manner of this age (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
  • (1 Corinthians 10:11) – “But these things by way of type were happening unto them, and were written with a view to our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have reached along.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In the preceding passage, Paul uses the plural form of “ages” or “eras,” likewise, the plural form of “ends.” The Greek word telos or “end” may signify the end or termination of something, but also its “goal” (Strong’s - #5056). Paul may have both senses in mind - termination and goal.

Jesus expressed the same thought in his Parable of the Wheat and Tares, both of which are to be “gathered in the consummation of the age.” “Consummation” translates a compound word built on telos or sunteleia. Likewise, the Book of Hebrews declares that Jesus, “now, once in the consummation (sunteleia) of the ages, has appeared to put away sin by his sacrifice” (Matthew 13:36-44, Hebrews 9:26).
In Christ, one era reached its intended endpoint and another commenced. This transition was because of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, Paul declared that the “ends of the ages” have come upon believers, at least in first-century Corinth.
To the churches in the city of Rome, the Apostle declared that the arrival of Jesus signified "the end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The literary context is clear - The “law” referred to is the one given to Israel at Mount Sinai, the Torah. Whether Paul meant the termination or the goal of the Law, his statement indicates a fundamental change in status and era. In whatever way “righteousness” was determined previously, things had changed with the arrival of Jesus, at least for everyone “who believes” (Romans 10:1-4).

To the churches of Galatia, Paul answered the question - Why the law? - In his response, he placed the jurisdiction of the Law within a limited time period. The law was “added because of transgressions until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The law was given at Sinai over four hundred years after the promise was confirmed to Abraham; therefore, the promise had precedence over the law (Galatians 3:19-25).

The law served as a “custodian” for God’s people, “until the faith that should afterward be revealed"; its status was always provisional. Since that faith had arrived, God’s people are no longer under the custodian with its divisions between Jews and Gentiles; therefore, “all are sons of God through faith, in Christ Jesus; there cannot be Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male and female…you are Abraham’s heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:19-29).

At the “fullness of time,” God sent his Son, Jesus, “to redeem them under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, and because we are sons God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Galatians 4:1-6).

Paul links promise, inheritance, redemption, and the “fullness of time” to the arrival of Jesus, along with the “adoption” of God’s children and the gift of the Spirit. The arrival of Jesus signified a fundamental change in the law and in the status of God’s people (Compare - Galatians 3:1-4).

Paul links the past appearance of Jesus to the “fullness of time,” a time when God’s people ceased to be minors under the custodianship of the law or Torah. At that time, they became full heirs of the promises made to Abraham. To return to the “elemental things” of the old order means nothing less than regression; “How turn you back to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, months, times and years” (Galatians 4:9-11).

One area of conflict in the Galatian assemblies was a return to the Jewish calendrical observations required by the Mosaic legislation. But since they were no longer required, it follows that the jurisdiction of the Law was terminated or, at least, modified. This also meant a radical change in the status and identity of God’s people. The same clause occurs in his letter to the Ephesians:
  • (Ephesians 1:9-11) - “Making known to us the sacred secret of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him — For an administration of the fulness of the seasons, to reunite for himself (under one head) the all things in the Christ, the things upon the heavens and the things upon the earth, in him: In whom also we were taken as an inheritance, according to the purpose of him who energiseth all things according to the counsel of his will.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In the preceding passage, Paul uses the more pregnant term, “seasons,” and in the plural. This stresses how Christ is the goal of all God’s plans from all eras; past, present, and future.

The marital relationship is addressed in 1 Corinthians. Should Christians continue in such relationships considering the “present distress?” The short answer is, “yes.” Husbands and wives must continue to fulfill their mutual obligations, and the unmarried are free to marry, only “in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-40).

But Paul does place the institution of marriage in its proper place. Disciples must keep their priorities straight, for, since the advent of Christ, the “time is shortened, therefore, let those that have wives may be as though they had none, and let those that buy as though they possessed not,” for the fashion of this world is passing away. The present tense verb stresses linear action; that is, ongoing action. This world is already in the process of “passing away” and has been since the arrival of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul taught:
  • (2 Corinthians 5:15-17) - “Having judged this — that one in behalf of all died, hence, they all died; and in behalf of all died he — in order that, they who live, no longer for themselves should live, but for him who, in their behalf, died and rose again. So that, we, henceforth, know no one after the flesh: if we have even been gaining after the flesh a knowledge of Christ, On the contrary, now, no longer are we gaining it. So that, if any one is in Christ, there is a new creation! the old things have passed away — Lo! they have become new!” (The Emphasized Bible).
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ inaugurated the promised new creation. Its implementation is already in process. This, in turn, means a major pivotal point in history has been reached.

The “old” order is passing away and a “new” one has dawned, especially in the church. This means both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new eras. Things that were required and vital under the old system begin to lose their relevance. For example, in Christ, circumcision is no longer here nor there. What counts is a “new creation” in him (Galatians 6:15).

The Apostle points to Jesus and his sacrificial death that has “delivered us from this present evil age.” He does not refer to our removal from the physical universe, but instead to our deliverance from the present era or “age,” presumably, in preparation for the coming one in the New Creation (Galatians 1:4).

Likewise, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul gives thanks to God, the One “who delivered us out of the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Disciples belong to a different age and a different political order (Colossians 1:12-13).
Paul speaks of the “mysteries” that were hidden previously, but now are made plain in Jesus, especially, in his Death and Resurrection. The promises given by the prophets of Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the “mystery which has been kept in silence through past ages, but now is manifested,” according to the scriptures. This mystery is “made known unto all the Gentiles for the obedience of faith.” He is the “mystery hidden from ages and from generations but now made manifest to his saints” (Colossians 1:26).

The grace of God has now “been manifested by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death, brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In such passages, there is a theme of present fulfillment based on the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The “last days” in the New Testament is not a chronological marker or simply the final few years of history before the return of Jesus but, instead, a fundamental change in the nature and status of everything because of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

His death achieved final victory over Sin, Death, and Satan. Calvary means far more than the forgiveness of an individual’s sins. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the new covenant, and the New Creation. The latter is not waiting for its commencement; it has begun already and is progressing to its inevitable consummation at the end of the present age.

His death put into play the final phase of the redemptive plan of God for the entire creation. Therefore, nothing can ever be the same again. All human relations are radically altered. Marital, societal, and political relationships can never be the same for the disciple of Jesus.

That is why the New Testament consistently portrays the “last days” as having commenced with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The time of fulfillment has been upon us ever since that momentous event.


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