Living in the “Last Days”

The current pandemic and George Floyd tragedy, protests, and riots can give one the eerie sense that the words of Jesus are being fulfilled in our midst:

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places:all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Matt 24:7-8, NIV).

Are the end times upon us. Some of you have read or watched the Left Behind series and know that a tribulation (a time of immense trial) will precede the event which all of history looks forward to—the Parousia (Jesus’ Second Coming). The revelation of the antichrist, the salvation of Israel, and millennial golden age of peace are other end time realities Scripture speaks of (1 John 2:18; 2 Thess. 3:3-8; Rev. 13; Rom. 11:26-27).

It’s not the first time people have speculated that the end is upon us. Just over a century ago,  World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 had many warning that the Apocalypse was drawing near. Yet, the War closed and the pandemic receded (after some intense months of social-distancing), and society would return to relative normalcy.

Scripture does suggest that history is moving toward a definite climax. Jesus will return. Yet the precise timing and sequence of events is not as apparent—scholars have debated the particulars for centuries. Will there be a literal 1000-year millennial rule? Will Christ return before or after the millennium? Will the tribulation precede or follow the millennium and/or Christ’s return? These remain debated questions. Much of the speculation has to do with the symbolic (heavy on metaphor) language of scriptural allusions to the apocalypse (for instance, the books of Daniel and Revelation).

Discussion about the end times are healthy if they point us to the in-depth study of Scripture, illuminating the mystery of revelation. However, such discussions can easily cross the threshold into preoccupation and even obsession. The sobering words of Jesus guard us from excessive speculation:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Matt. 24:36).

So are we living in the end times? It seems the specifics are not for us to know—and it’s for our own good. We give our faith the opportunity to grow when we admit we can’t know how every detail will pane out. And so the common adage when we cross the line of preoccupation rings true—to “let go and let God.”

Scripture seems to suggest we’re living at the end of history. The “last days” were inaugurated with the establishment of the Church on the day of Pentecost (which many denominations recently celebrated on their annual church calendar). But we don’t know precisely how long this phase will last. The beginning of the Church era some 2000 years ago does mark a decisive turning point in history in the advent of the Spirit’s outpouring. As we read in Acts 2:17-21:

In the last days, God says,
    “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.” (NRSV)

And so we remain trusting, with our eyes fixed on Him—confident of His return, which we long for, and resting in His assurance, that although we may not know the specifics, we can experience the fulness of the Spirit’s presence. Yes, even now, in the midst of pandemic, economic downturn, race riots, and political tension, the comforting hand of God is reaching out to assure us that He remains on the throne. The God of wonders lives with us and indwells us now, yielding confidence that we, and all of history, rest in the palms of His hands.

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. He is the author of the books "Embracing Our Roots: Rediscovering the Value of Faith, Family, and Tradition," "Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity" (Routledge Studies in Religion series), and "Grassroots Pentecostalism in Brazil and the United States: Migrations, Missions, and Mobility" (Palgrave Macmillan). He is also a contributing writer for Paul enjoys spending quality time with his family on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, and doing work around the yard.

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