THESE LAST DAYS
Dystopian movies are pretty popular these days. Civilization in ruins, nuclear fallout, desperate attempts to preserve humanity…it all sells movie tickets. These epic films stroke our egos, telling us of mankind’s ability to overcome. The hero faces insurmountable odds and overcomes the darkness around him…or her. Through it all, the hope is that humans will restore order and continue on as they always have. And yet this is a distinctly non-Christian way of viewing the world.
Unlike many other worldviews, the Christian faith has a strong emphasis on the end of the world. Christian scholars refer to this field of study as “eschatology,” from the Greek wordeschatos (which means “last,” speaking of the final things to happen in the long epic of history). And while end-of-the-world stuff sounds very dystopian, the plot of our story goes in a very different direction. Christians believe history had a beginning and that it will have an end. Mankind will not save itself.
You can find this end-of-the-world language sprinkled all through the Bible. One of the most fascinating examples was written by the prophet Joel. Nearly three thousand years ago, Joel wrote about a plague of locusts that had recently devastated the crops. He compared that agricultural destruction to a coming day of judgment from the Lord, a day when God would bring judgment on the nations. In the midst of his warning, though, was great hope. Joel told the people that if they would call upon the name of the Lord, they’d be saved and God would pour out His Spirit on the entire human race. God would step in and save mankind. What makes this example so fascinating, though, is what the apostle Peter says about it.
Peter claimed this end-of-the-world stuff was already being fulfilled in his own time, two thousand years ago. He claimed that the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples of Jesus, was somehow a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter even called it the “last days.” (Acts 2:14-21)
Fortunately for us, Joel only wrote three chapters so it’s easy to read the context of what he said! According to Joel, the coming of the Spirit would occur after the Lord eradicated Israel’s enemies, restored their wealth, and provided sufficient security that they would never again be put to shame. If you know your history, you’ll know these things have not occurred yet. So how can Peter claim fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, when Joel seems to be speaking about something else?
And that brings us to the fascinating way that God does things. God is far too creative to write a boring, predictable story. Instead He makes promises that have multiple fulfillments. He leaves just enough mystery to leave you constantly guessing. So when God sends a plague of locusts, He’s pointing ahead to a much greater judgment. And when He promises to send the Holy Spirit, He initiates that activity on the day of Pentecost and provides foreshadowing of a much greater day to come. And though Christ has already come once, we look forward to His return. We are living in a time of “already…not yet.”
Peter was right: these are the last days. But there is so much more to come.
Want to learn more about this end-of-the-world language in the Bible? Read Hebrews 1:1-3; 9:24-26; 1 Peter 1:17-21; 2 Pet 3:1-7; 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and pay special attention to the phrase “in these last days.”