Guest Article by Stephanie Talbot
Are we living in the last days?
Copyright © Stephanie Talbot (November 1, 2023)
All Rights Reserved
When we come to the Bible, many Christians come with pre-conceived ideas or frameworks. Some of this is very helpful, but what do we do if our framework contradicts scripture itself? Christians must be in the habit of letting scripture be our first authority, even when it goes against traditions and creeds. Creeds are not inspired and infallible; only the Bible is.
So how do we read the Bible? We apply to it correct hermeneutics that make us first ask the questions: When was this written? Who was it written by? What was it written for? Who was it written to? And, how would the intended audience have taken it? We cannot divorce the bible from the culture in which it was written. God has chosen to use real people in real history to write the scriptures we have, under the inspiration of the Spirit. We therefore need to first apply correct hermeneutics and understand the books of the Bible in their correct context before we can correctly apply it to ourselves. The word of God is living and active, but it didn’t drop out of the sky yesterday into 21st century western culture, so we cannot impose our cultural understanding onto the text; we must learn to listen to what God is saying first, and let Him tell the story, before we can apply it to ourselves.
Did you know that when Jesus is using phrases in Matthew such as the stars falling from the sky and the moon turning to blood, that this is judgement language God has used before (more than once) in the Old Testament? If we impose a modern western understanding, we think it sounds like our physical world coming to a catastrophic end! However, if we let scripture interpret scripture, we can see that these are phrases the original audience would well have understood to be localised judgement language. Likewise, did you know that the writers of the New Testament repeatedly said that THEY were living in the last days? In fact, John said it was the last hour! There is a consistent theme of immanency throughout the entire New Testament. Look at some of these statements:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must SHORTLY COME to PASS; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John. (Rev 1:1)
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, BECAUSE the TIME is NEAR! (Rev 22:10)
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)
“You shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.” (Matt. 10:23)
“From now on, you [Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the whole Sanhedrin] shall be seeing the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64)
Jesus said “Truly I tell you, this GENERATION will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt 24:24)
AD 49 Paul wrote, “The fullness of time was come” (Gal 4:4)
AD 57 Paul wrote, “Time is short.” (1 Cor. 7:29)…..”The world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:31)
AD 58 Paul wrote, “Understand the present time:…because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Rom 13:11-12)
AD 58 Paul wrote, “The God of peace will SOON (shortly) crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:20)
AD 60 James wrote, “Be patient and stand firm, because the LORD’S COMING is NEAR (at hand)…The judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9)
AD 65 The writer of Hebrews wrote, “but in THESE LAST DAYS he (God) has spoken to us by his Son….” (Heb 1:2)
AD 65 The writer of Hebrews wrote, “In just a very very little while, ‘ He who is coming will come and will NOT DELAY….'” (Heb 10:37); “as you see the DAY approaching.” (Heb 10:25)
AD 65-67 Peter wrote, “The end of all things is AT HAND.” (1 Peter 4:7)
AD 65-67 Peter wrote, “For it is time for judgement to begin with the house of God…” (1 Pet. 4:17)
AD 67-68 John wrote, “Little children, this IS the last hour… it IS the last hour” (1 John 2:18)
What are we to make of verses like these? Well, just like everything else in the Bible, we ask who was this written to? By who? When? With what purpose? How would the original audience have received it? Context is everything when we read any work of literature whatsoever, and the bible is no different. In fact, we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, MIND, soul and strength. It is not loving God to come to the Bible with our own ideas and make the text squeeze into them. We must always let the Bible speak and be willing to change our minds to fit it, not the other way around, and always be willing to let the word renew our minds. It is the only thing that does.
So what is the context of the New Testament epistles and letters? Well we must first remember that Jesus broke into real history. The Jewish people of the New Testament are the Jewish people of the Old Testament! They understood the phrases and turns of speech that we must now understand in their proper context. Although we obviously read an English translation, if we let scripture interpret scripture, we can ask ourselves, ‘Has God ever used this language before? What did it mean then?’ to help us understand. The context of the New Testament is that the people knew a Messiah was coming. They had the prophets of their history whose writings they would have known well. But there had come about the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law, whose hearts were so far from God. Many people probably thought God would send a Messiah to be a great political and military ruler. Almost all Christians today agree that Jesus was not the king anyone at the time expected! Nor was the kingdom what they were imagining either! After all, Jesus said the kingdom is invisible and comes without observation, and that it lives in us and among us. So with this context in mind, we see that John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” And, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” The Messiah would bring both salvation and judgement.
Turning now to the context of Matthew that I mentioned earlier, where Jesus uses judgement language in his quoting Isaiah, such as the sun being darkened and the moon not giving it’s light, we can see that this speech follows after his pronouncing seven woes upon the teachers of the law and Pharisees. After pronouncing these judgements, the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the temple building, the magnificent centre of their worship and life. Jesus tells them that not one stone will be left upon another, and the disciples come to him privately and ask what will be the sign of his coming and the end of the age? What coming and what age? His coming in judgement (and possibly on their minds was his ‘coming into his kingdom’) and the END OF THE OLD COVENANT AGE. Jesus then proceeds to tell them several signs to watch out for. One of these is the abomination of desolation, taken from Daniel’s prophecy. However in Luke’s version of the same speech, written with a more gentile audience in mind, he gives exactly the same fleeing instruction, “when you see the armies surrounding Jerusalem.” Jesus goes on to say that that generation would not pass away until they saw those things happen. Again using scripture to interpret scripture, every other time the word generation is used it ALWAYS refers to the contemporaries of Jesus living in the first century. Read Matthew 11:16-24, 12:38-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:35-36, Mark 8:12, 8:38-9:1, 9:19, and Luke 7:31, 9:41, 11:29-32, 11:50-51, 17:25.
So we can see from those passages that the context is that Jesus came into a time when judgement was pronounced on that generation of God’s people whose hearts were far from him, and who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. Now we have some more context to understand the rest of the New Testament letters’ imminency we saw earlier! If we study history, we can see that indeed Jesus’ prophecy did come to pass, for the temple was destroyed by Roman armies, with not one stone left standing upon another, in AD70, within that generation. Much is recorded for us by the eyewitness Josephus, a Jewish historian, in his War of the Jews. All throughout the Old Testament, God used armies to conquer his people by way of his punishment playing out on earth, and AD70 was no different. The Old covenant, without a temple to sacrifice and worship in, was destroyed. Indeed, at the time of the writing of the book of Hebrews, the old covenant was “ready to vanish away.” (Heb 8:13). The Christians at the time did flee when the armies surrounded Jerusalem, and hid away in a town called Petra. They took Jesus words seriously, and as meaning FOR THEM. Approximately 1.1 million Jews were slaughtered by the Roman armies in the most horrific of sieges. There had never been a more dreadful time for them, nor will there ever be again, (Matt 24:21) as most of them were wiped out.
So what of Revelation? Well applying the same hermeneutical principals we must do to every other book of the bible, we can see that Revelation is written to real churches in real history, and it states it is about event that must “soon take place” because “the time is near.” Similar time statements are found throughout the entire book, through to its finish. In fact, John is told not to seal up the words of the prophecy of the book, because the time was near! (Rev 22:10) Contrast this to Daniel being told TO seal up the words of his vision, yet the savior Daniel spoke of was only 500 years away. If Revelation itself says repeatedly it is about events to happen soon, we simply cannot say it is in our future without imposing a framework over the text that the letter itself does not give us. So what is it about then?
Revelation is the ‘revealing’ of Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the imminent judgement on the apostate Jews, and the consummation of the new covenant and kingdom, with Jesus as rightful ruler. In this new holy city, death has lost its sting and Jesus is enthroned forever. He is now the rightful judge of all. There is no more separation from God and those in Christ are made alive and have eternal life in him. This is the invisible kingdom that lives in us and amongst us that Jesus spoke of. Our God is dwelling with his people. (Incidentally, the latest peer-reviewed scholarship on the dating of all the new testament books, puts them all as having been completed and in circulation by AD70. This is consistent with internal evidence in Revelation which shows no signs of it having been written after the destruction of the temple, only references it as if it is still standing.)
There are many more areas to study in this field, such as John the Baptist having the spirit of Elijah (signalling the coming Day of the Lord – judgement), the pattern of the day of atonement (the high priest entering the holy of holies and coming out to show the sacrifice had been acceptable), the meaning of Hebrew words and phrases used in the New Testament, taken from the Old Covenant, such as “heavens and earth,”(the temple/covenant centre) and “coming in clouds”(judgement language). But these are some preliminary concepts to understanding the picture the New Testament gives us, if we allow it to speak, rather than use it for our own ideas. We who are in Christ all belong to the priesthood of believers, and there is no creed or tradition or frameworks of man that trump scripture. (This is not to say we do not stand on the shoulders of many believers before us that have cemented the beliefs we hold to, and that we can readily verify that scripture teaches.) The Bible is an historical text, written in real history, and needs to be read as such, in order to properly learn from the word of our God that we are so blessed to have. We can rely on it fully, but we must learn to use scripture to interpret the world and teach us about the New Covenant we have in Christ, and not the other way around.
Types and Shadows
Old Covenant Physical/New Covenant Spiritual
Outward Jew/Inward Jew
Written in stone/Written on hearts
Physical most holy place/Heavenly most holy place
Physical Israel/Spiritual Israel
Physical Zion/Spiritual Zion
Physical temple/Spiritual temple
Physical warfare/Spiritual warfare
Physical circumcision/Spiritual circumcision of the heart