The Last Days

Why do some theologians refer to the entire time from the first coming of Christ to his return as "the last days?"

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Theologians refer to the entire time between the Lord's first coming and his second coming as the last days for a variety of reasons — not all of them do — but I can understand those that do… When we look at biblical history, there really are three basic elements. You've got the history of Israel, you have the incarnation — the life of Christ — and then the age of the church or the age where the kingdom of Jesus is made known through his Holy Spirit's power and presence which began at Pentecost. As the early church, and of course we now, two thousand years later, know a little better, but they were expecting the Lord to return at any point. So they, in their writings, they expected the parousia, the appearing, the awareness of the presence of Jesus momentarily. They thought he was going to come any day. When he didn't come, they wanted to figure out why these passages talked like he was coming immediately. So, it's very, I think, understandable that people looking at it theologically would say, "Well, whatever happens after Jesus rose and went to the right hand of the Father, that is the end times, because the next step is we're going to heaven. Now we don't know how long that period is going to be, but rather than looking at it in terms of letting off of our desire to be all he wants us to be and to respond to all that he's offered to us as a church, that expectation of his soon coming is a necessary element to Christian living. So, the first creed of the church, many believe, was maranatha — "Come Lord." The belief in his immediate coming would be the last thing that happened before he comes again. Now, since we've had two thousand years to reflect on it, I think other people have debated that issue. But I don't think that it produces that much of a problem for interpretation or for theology. In fact, I think it actually motivates theology to consider his soon coming, his soon return in everything we're about. There's just something that adds a beautiful edge of hope and expectation to all that we do theologically if that's the case.

Answer by Dr. Bill Ury

Dr. Bill Ury served as Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and pastor of Elizabeth City Evangelical Methodist Church in North Carolina.