Often, when I tell people that we are not living in the last days the first question they ask is, “Then what days are we living in?” That really is a great question and it shows a desire to know and understand what God is up to. First, we must understand where the term “last days” originates. It comes from the NT. One of the major passages with this term is Hebrews 1:1-2:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
From this passage we understand that the term “last days” was used to explain the time when Jesus walked the earth. The questions then must be asked, if the last days were 2000 years ago, are we still in the last days? When did the last days begin and when do they end?
There’s another term that we have to understand and that is the one found in Matthew 24:30 where it says Jesus will be seen “coming with the clouds.” That terminology originates with the prophets. Isaiah said,
An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. – Isaiah 19:1
God never literally rode into Egypt on a cloud. This was a prophecy of Egypt being defeated, which was revealed in a deeper way through Jeremiah in chapter 46 of his book. God used the Babylonian army to bring down Egypt at that time. When God wanted to bring judgment on a nation for its evil He would raise up an army of another nation to go in and destroy the evil nation. His “coming” was with the armies He raised up.
In Leviticus 26:31-32 God warns the Jews that if they continue in rebellion He himself would devastate the land and lay their cities waste (check out my blog titled “Why God is misunderstood” for background on how the Jews ended up in the most undesirable type of covenant, which brought their destruction).
When most people read passages in the Bible declaring the destruction of cities (like Zephaniah 1) they make the mistake of assuming that God is declaring the end of the world. The reason why is God often used words like, “I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth.” In both the Old and New Testaments English translators chose poor wording. The original language read “land” instead of earth, especially when a specific city is mentioned. This changes the perspective on many passages in the entire bible that deal with the destruction of cities.
One very important thing to consider is that when John wrote Revelation he only used the word “cosmos” (or world) 3 times. However, he used the term “land” (translated as “earth”) over 60 times. However, in the gospel of John there’s a switch and “cosmos” (whole world) is used instead of “land” because Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the entire world.
There’s actually not one passage in the Bible that declares the destruction of the entire planet.
With this background information we can clearly see that Revelation is not about the end of the entire world, but about the end of the world of the Old Covenant. I say that because when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD the temple and all the elements of old covenant worship were also destroyed.
The “last days” mentioned in the New Testament were not about the last days of the world, but about the last days of the Old covenant world. During the time the NT was written both the old covenant and the new covenant were being walked out. As long as the temple was still standing the old covenant would continue to make it difficult for early Christians to fully engage in the new covenant.
The solution for such a problem was for the temple to be destroyed. At the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the destruction of the temple the Jews in Jerusalem had become so corrupt that the historian Josephus said if God hadn’t destroyed them, the earth would’ve opened up and swallowed them. Part of the wickedness of the people was that they assumed they were righteous because of the temple, which was a wonder of the world at that time. History shows us that the temple had become a major hindrance.
The NT was completed just before the total destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the religious system of Judaism altogether. The records of the priests were destroyed, so there’s no way to know who can rightfully be priests. There’s no way back to that old system. This is the meaning of the term the “last days.” The writer of Hebrews wrote this about the Old Covenant:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13
It vanished away when Jesus rode in with the Roman army and destroyed the city and the temple. The way it happened is very similar to the way God came with the Babylonians and destroyed the temple in the Old Testament.
With the temple and the corrupt religious system that crucified Christ completely out of the way, we now have the New Covenant, the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The second part of this message will cover the topic of the New Jerusalem and the kingdom of heaven and how it operates and advances.
Two good sources on this topic are: “Raptureless” by Jonathan Welton and “The Last Days according to Jesus” by RC Sproul.