Sometimes people ask me when the last days will come, and I tell them that the last days started two thousand years ago. They commenced with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that the coming of the Christ was prophesied and foreknown, and “in these last times” He has been “revealed” (1 Peter 1:20, NIV). As Hebrews 1:2 says, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son,” showing that the last days arrived with the coming of the Son. And the Son has spoken the final and definitive word in the last days.
In the same way, Peter declares on Pentecost that Joel’s prophecy about the last days has been fulfilled in the sending of the Spirit (Acts 2:16–18). Since Jesus has been crucified and exalted, the Spirit is now being poured out on all those who repent of their sins and put their trust in Jesus Christ. The Apostle John even declares that “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18), and thus we have been living in the last hour for two thousand years.
The kingdom has come in Jesus Himself, and it is evidenced by Jesus’ casting out demons by the power of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28). The parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13 unfold “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11), and we could summarize the message of the parables by saying that the kingdom is inaugurated but not consummated. The kingdom did not come first in apocalyptic power but is as small as a mustard seed and as invisible as leaven in dough.
The last days have arrived and the kingdom is inaugurated, but the kingdom of God will also be consummated one day, which is why we pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10), and we also pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). As believers, we live between the times, and so although we are sanctified by the grace of Christ even now (1 Cor. 1:2), full and complete sanctification will be ours on the day Jesus returns (1 Thess. 5:23–24; 1 John 3:2). As believers in Jesus Christ, we are now God’s adopted children (Rom. 8:15–16), but the fullness of our adoption will be realized on the day of the resurrection when our bodies are transformed (v. 23). In the same way, since the last days have commenced, we are redeemed through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), but our redemption will be completed when our bodies are raised from the dead (Rom. 8:23). Believers are now saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8), and yet we await the day of final judgment when we will be saved from God’s wrath (Rom. 5:9).
THE LAST DAYS AND SANCTIFICATION
Since the last days have arrived, we now live in the era when God’s promises are being fulfilled. We are promised that we will be like Jesus when we see Him (1 John 3:2), and this hope of end-time transformation motivates us even now to be more like Jesus, and thus we endeavor to live pure and holy lives (v. 3). God is sovereign over all that happens, but at the same time our holy lives can “hasten” the day of His coming (2 Peter 3:12). In other words, the holiness of our lives may be one of the means God uses to bring about the final end. The promise of end-time holiness doesn’t quench our desire to be like Christ but stirs up our passion to live in a way that pleases God.
The interval between the inauguration and the fulfillment of God’s promises is often described in terms of the already but not yet. God has already fulfilled His promises of salvation, but there is also a not-yet dimension in that the promises are not consummated. The already but not yet informs every arena of life. When it comes to sanctification, believers should be optimistic since we enjoy the end-time gift of the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit is given, believers should be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), be led by the Spirit (v. 18), manifest the fruit of the Spirit (v. 22), march in step with the Spirit (v. 25), and sow to the Spirit (6:8). In other words, by the power of the Spirit, we can now live in a way that pleases God. We are enabled to love one another and to fulfill the law by the Spirit (Rom. 8:2–4). We are being transformed by God’s grace and power now that the last days have come.
We must not forget, on the other hand, that there is a not-yet dimension to sanctification. As believers, we are not yet perfected in holiness. A battle between the flesh and the Spirit still rages (Gal. 5:16–18), and we still experience our “fleshiness” daily (Rom. 7:14–25). Fleshly desires are not absent, and they will not go away until the day of final redemption. The intensity of the battle between the flesh and the Spirit is such that believers are at war with the flesh (1 Peter 2:11), and we must put to death our fleshly desires (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). We are being changed by God’s grace and by His Spirit, and yet we still sin daily, and thus perfection is not a possibility in this life. God keeps us humble by reminding us how far we have to go. There is never an excuse for sin; however, the already-but-not-yet dimension of sanctification makes us realistic so that we don’t think we are more spiritual than we really are.
THE LAST DAYS AND FAMILY LIFE
The truth that we live in the last days also affects family life, by which I mean our marriages and the raising of children. By God’s grace, our marriages should be noticeable for their love and for the concern that is expressed toward one’s spouse. Marriage is a mystery that reflects Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph. 5:32), and that mystery should be mirrored in the relationship between husbands and wives. Husbands should love, care for, cherish, and nurture their wives, just as Christ loved and gave Himself for the sake of the church (vv. 25–29). Wives should submit to and follow the leadership of their husbands, just as the church submits to Christ in all things (vv. 22–24). Since Christ has come and the Spirit has been given, our marriages should display to the world what marriage can be and should be. Nevertheless, we must not forget that we are not yet in paradise. Our marriages can be good, but they won’t be perfect, for we are still stained by sin until the day of redemption. We can have good marriages, but there are no perfect marriages, and those who seek after a perfect marriage may make the tragic and sinful mistake of giving up on a marriage that is good—or a marriage that by God’s grace can be good in the future. The perfect, as the old saying goes, can be the enemy of the good.
We see the same truth in the arena of raising children. Children are called to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1–3), and as parents we want to train them in the things of the Lord (v. 4). We recognize that children need discipline, and we discipline them so that they will develop godly character. Our children should be well behaved and godly, faithful and dependable (Titus 1:6). If our children are wild and out of control, we are shirking our responsibility as parents.
But there is also the danger of overrealized eschatology (thinking we can receive the fullness of glory now), and we can make the mistake of expecting heaven on earth in raising our children. We can fall into the trap of expecting perfection from our children without even realizing it. When this happens, we begin to correct our children excessively, and we may end up exasperating our children by constantly harping on their faults, and the end result is that our children become discouraged and disheartened (Col. 3:21). We see again that the teaching about the last days is immensely practical. We train our children to be obedient, but we don’t expect them to be perfect.
THE LAST DAYS AND CHURCH LIFE
The last days are here. Jesus is risen and the Spirit is given. In particular, the Spirit is poured out on the people of God, on the church of Jesus Christ. The church is Christ’s body, and it is filled with Christ’s fullness (Eph. 1:23). The church should be the place where all are reconciled to one another, so that blacks and whites, men and women, white-collar workers and blue-collar workers find their unity in Christ (2:11–22). Indeed, God’s wisdom is disclosed to the angelic powers in the church (3:10), so that they look at the church and see the grace and power of the Lord. The church should be the vehicle through which the gospel goes out into the community and into the world. The world notices as members of the church love one another (John 13:34–35) and realizes that Jesus is the Christ.
The church is transformed by God’s grace and is maturing into what God wants it to be (Eph. 4:11–16). Still, the church won’t be free from spots and wrinkles and blemishes and scars until the day of redemption (5:27). We long for heaven and earth, and so we easily become dissatisfied with our church, even if the church is strong and good and mature. We may see the specks and scars and begin to criticize our church instead of loving and supporting it.
We might think that the idea that we live in the last days is an abstract doctrine unrelated to everyday life. But when we consider the matter further, we see that it is immensely practical, for it affects our view of sanctification, family life, church, politics, and much more. We can fall prey to underrealized eschatology and become apathetic and satisfied with the status quo. At the same time, we may make the mistake of embracing an overrealized eschatology and expect heaven on earth. We can see why we need God’s Word and God’s Spirit to keep on track as we live between the times.