Last Days in Hebrews

SYNOPSIS - In the letter to the Hebrews, the “last days” began with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Son - Hebrews 1:1-3.

Sun Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
Interpretations often go awry when they ignore or misunderstand key New Testament statements about the “last days.” This designation involves not just end-time prophecy or the events during the final years before the return of Jesus but also subjects foundational to the Christian faith, including the gift of the Spirit, the Resurrection, and the spread of the Kingdom of God.

We hear mention of the “last days” and assume it must refer to a final short period of history just before the coming of Jesus at the end of the age. However, the New Testament presents this period as an era of fulfillment that began with the Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of the Son of God:
  • (Hebrews 1:1-3) – “Whereas, in many parts and in many ways of old, God spake unto the fathers in the prophets, At the end of these days, He hath spoken unto us in his Son,—whom he hath appointed heir of all things, through whom also he hath made the ages; Who, being an eradiated brightness of his glory, and an exact representation of his very being, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The letter to the Hebrews begins by declaring how God “in these last days has spoken to us in a Son.” Elsewhere, the author writes that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians - “The appointed time has been shortened…For the forms of this world are in the process of passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29). The last verb is in the Greek present tense (i.e., “passing away”), which signifies continuing action; that is to say, the forms and institutions of this age have been in the process of passing away since the victory of Jesus over sin and death (See - 'Paul and the Last Days').

A few passages later, Paul described how the Hebrew scriptures were written for the instruction of the Christians at Corinth, the ones “upon whom the end of the ages has come.” He made a similar point to the Galatians when he declared - “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (1 Corinthians 10:11, Galatians 4:4).

In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter changed the opening word from Joel 2:28 from “afterward” to, “In the last days…I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…” He linked the outpouring of the gift of the Spirit to the “last days” - It demonstrated that the era predicted by the prophet Joel had begun. Likewise, he declared that Jesus was destined “before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake” (Acts 2:17, 1 Peter 1:20).

Similarly, in his first epistle, John warned his congregations -  “It is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore, we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

The Hebrew Bible divided history into two ages; the present evil age, and, the “age to come.” The latter term is found several times in the New Testament.  The coming age, the promised messianic era would be ushered in when the Messiah arrived.  Beliefs about the details may have varied within Jewish society, but the basic outline remained the same.

By the first century, some Jewish leaders looked for a royal and militaristic messiah who would destroy the enemies of Israel and free her people from foreign domination. Others waited for a priestly messiah.

Two scriptural promises became key to messianic expectations - The expected outpouring of the Spirit, and, the resurrection of the dead. Related to these promises was the expected establishment of the kingdom of God. These ideas were in mind when faithful Israelites spoke of the “last days” (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 37:26-27).

Those expectations came to fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, however, not in the ways expected by his Jewish contemporaries.  In his ministry, Christ inaugurated the kingdom of God. No term is found more often on his lips than the “kingdom of God.” In his exorcisms and healings, he was reclaiming “territory” for God and“Binding the Strong Man” - the Devil. His miracles demonstrated that the kingdom had commenced along with the activity of the promised Spirit.
The task of gospel proclamation is to herald the arrival of God’s kingdom and summon all who will heed to respond accordingly. In Jesus, God inaugurated His reign on the earth, a realm that will continue to move forward until its final consummation at the return of Jesus in glory.
The resurrection of Jesus marked the commencement of the general resurrection of the dead in the last days. This is why in Scripture his resurrection is called the “firstfruits” of our own - The “firstfruits” is of the same kind as the final harvest to be reaped at the end of the age.  The gift of the Spirit is also called the “firstfruits” of the future redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20).

The Spirit is linked with bodily resurrection because resurrection is an act of new creation.  From the beginning, God’s Spirit has been the agent of creation and the source of all life (Genesis1:1-2).

The gift of the Spirit is our “earnest” (arrabōn) or “down payment” on the future bodily resurrection and the New Creation, the rock-solid “guarantee” that God will complete what He began in the resurrection of His Son (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14).

Graveyard - Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash
Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash

The “last days” have been underway since the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit.  The Cross was far more than the execution of Jesus or a model for selfless martyrdom.  On it, God defeated all the “powers and principalities” opposed to Him that had enslaved mankind.  The final victory has been won and it is cosmic in scope.

With Calvary, history has entered its final phase. The existing order has been winding down to its final destruction ever since, as it undergoes its final death throes. Jesus, through his church, is now engaged in a “mopping-up operation,” primarily, through the proclamation of the good news of God’s kingdom.

The “last days” is NOT a chronological marker but a theological concept; it refers to the era that has been underway since the death and resurrection of the Son of God.  Satan has been defeated and, to a large extent, bound.

Salvation is now available to all who will receive it.  God is establishing His final rule over the earth.  He has constituted his people, Jew and Gentile, a “kingdom of priests” to mediate His presence to a darkened world. In Jesus, the future age has irrupted into the old one until the consummation of all things at the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the New Creation.

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