This forum is for the study of the Bible, free from the influence of any particular religious system of belief. Nevertheless, the power of indoctrination as practiced by the various Christian denominations is so pervasive that it cannot be ignored altogether, especially so for topics such as the study of eschatology—a term given to the Bible teachings involving the Last Days and the final battle of Armageddon.
Eschatology has proven to have great potential for misleading Christians. The interpretation of prophecies relating to the Last Days has been the basis by which countless false prophets and false Christs (false anointed ones) have misled the flock. This, despite Jesus’ firm and concise warning recorded by Matthew.
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Mt 24:23-28 ESV)
It is of particular interest that these verses are nestled within what many consider to be one of the most significant prophecies regarding the Last Days. Indeed, many have used Jesus’ words both before and after these verses to try to find signs in world events that would identify their period of time as the Last Days, yet here Jesus is telling us to beware of such attempts.
It is natural that humans would have a desire to know when the end will be. However, unscrupulous men can and have exploited that desire as a means to gain control over people. Jesus warned against lording it over the flock. (Mt 20:25-28) Those who have done so recognize the power of fear to influence and control others. Get people to believe you know something that involves not just their survival, but their everlasting happiness, and they will follow you to the ends of the earth, fearful that if they disobey you, they will suffer the consequences. (Acts 20:29; 2Co 11:19, 20)
Since false prophets and false anointed ones continue to misinterpret the Bible to claim that they can measure the length of the Last Days and predict the imminence of Christ’s return, it benefits us to examine such teachings as a counterpoint to what the Bible actually teaches. If we fail to understand the meaning of the Last Days, we open ourselves up to being misled, because, as Jesus said, such men “will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.” (Mt 24:24 NIV) Ignorance makes us vulnerable.
Over the past two hundred years, there have been many examples of misinterpreted eschatology leading to false predictions and disillusionment. There are many to chose from, but for the sake of expediency, I’ll fall back on the one I know best. So let us examine briefly the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses relating to the Last Days.
Current JW doctrine holds that Christ’s presence is different from his coming or advent. They believe that he took royal office in heaven in 1914. Thus, 1914 becomes the year in which the Last Days began. They believe that the events recorded at Matthew 24:4-14 are signs that we are in the Last Days of the current world. They also believe that the Last Days endure for only a single generation based on their understanding of Matthew 24:34.
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Mt 24:34 BSB)
To get around the fact that 103 years have transpired since 1914, thereby surpassing any stretch one can reasonably make to the definition of “generation”, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have devised a new doctrine employing the concept of two overlapping generations, one covering the start of the Last Days and the other, their end.
Further to this, they restrict the application of “this generation” to those few who they believe are spirit anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses, currently numbering about 15,000, including the members of the Governing Body.
While Jesus said that ‘no one knows the day or hour’ of his return, and that it will come upon us at a time we think it not to be, Witness doctrine holds that we can measure the length of the Last Days based on the signs we see in the world and thus we can have a pretty good idea just how close the end really is. (Mt. 24:36, 42, 44)
Is that God’s purpose in providing us with signs marking the Last Days? Did he intend it as a sort of yardstick? If not, then what is its purpose?
In partial answer, let us consider these words of warning by our Lord:
“A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign…” (Mt 12:39)[i]
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had the Lord himself in their presence, yet they wanted more. They wanted a sign, even though there were signs all around them proving that Jesus was God’s anointed Son. Those were not enough. They wanted something special. Christians down through the centuries have mimicked this attitude. Not content with Jesus’ words that he would come as a thief, they want to know the time of his coming, so they scrutinize the Scriptures looking to decode some hidden meaning that will give them a leg up on everyone else. They have searched in vain, however, as is evidenced by the many failed predictions of various Christian denominations right up to the present day. (Luke 12:39-42)
Now that we’ve seen to what use the Last Days have been put by various religious leaders, let us examine what the Bible actually says.
Peter and the Last Days
At Pentecost of 33 C.E., when the disciples of Christ first received the holy spirit, Peter was moved to tell the crowd witnessing that event that what they were seeing was in fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had written.
Then Peter stood up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and addressed the crowd: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen carefully to my words. 15These men are not drunk as you suppose. It is only the third hour of the day! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17‘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.
18Even on My servants, both men and women,
I will pour out My Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
(Acts 2:14-21 BSB)
From his words, we see clearly that Peter considered Joel’s words to have been fulfilled by those events at Pentecost. This means that the Last Days began in 33 C.E. Nevertheless, while the pouring out of God’s spirit on all kinds of flesh began in that year, there is no evidence that the rest of what Peter said in verses 19 and 20 also came to pass in his day, or since. Nor have many elements of the prophecy from which Peter is quoting been fulfilled even down to this day. (See Joel 2:28-3:21)
Are we to conclude from this that the Last Days he spoke of span two millennia of time?
Before drawing any conclusions, let us read what else Peter has to say regarding the Last Days.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4“Where is the promise of His coming?” they will ask. “Ever since our fathers fell asleep, everything continues as it has from the beginning of creation.” (2Pe 3:3, 4 BSB)
8Beloved, do not let this one thing escape your notice: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be dissolved in the fire, and the earth and its works will not be found. (2Pe 3:8-10 BSB)
These verses do nothing to dispel the thought that the Last Days began at Pentecost and continue down to our day. Certainly the duration of time leads many to scoff and doubt the return of Christ is a future reality. Additionally, Peter’s inclusion of Psalm 90:4 is significant. Consider that his words were written around 64 C.E., just 30 years after Jesus’ resurrection. So mention of a thousand years in the context of the Last Days might have seemed incongruous to his immediate readers. However, we can now see in hindsight how prescient his warning truly was.
Do the other Christian writers say anything to contradict Peter’s words?
Paul and the Last Days
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave signs linked to the Last Days. He said:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
(2 Timothy 3:1-9 ESV)
Paul is foretelling the environment in the Christian congregation, not the world at large. Verses 6 through 9 make this clear. His words are eerily similar to what he wrote to the Romans about the Jews of the past. (See Romans 1:28-32) So the decay in the Christian congregation was nothing new. Jehovah’s pre-Christian people, the Jews, fell into the same pattern of behaviour. History shows us that the attitudes Paul reveals became prevalent in the early centuries of the Church and continue down to our day. So Paul’s addition to our knowledge of the conditions marking the Last Days continues to support the idea of a period of time starting at Pentecost of 33 C.E. and continuing down to our day.
James and the Last Days
James makes only one mention of the Last Days:
“Your gold and silver have rusted away, and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh. What you have stored up will be like a fire in the last days.” (Jas 5:3)
Here, James is not speaking of signs, but only that the Last Days include a time of judgment. He is paraphrasing Ezekiel 7:19 which reads:
“‘They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will become abhorrent to them. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them in the day of Jehovah’s fury….” (Eze 7:19)
Again, nothing here to indicate that the Last Days is other than what Peter indicated.
Daniel and the Last Days
While Daniel never uses the phrase, “last days”, a similar phrase—“the latter days”—appears twice in his book. First at Daniel 2:28 where it relates to the destruction of the Kingdoms of Man which will be destroyed at the end of the Last Days. The second reference is found at Daniel 10:14 which reads:
“and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” (Daniel 10:14)
Reading from that point to the end of the book of Daniel, we can see that some of the events described precede the coming of Christ in the first century. So rather than this being a reference to the Last Days of the current system of things which ends at Armageddon, it would appear that—as Daniel 10:14 says—this all refers to the last days of the Jewish system of things which concluded in the first century.
Jesus and the Last Days
Those who would seek a sign in a vain attempt to foretell the coming of our Lord Jesus will likely balk at this. Some will argue that there are two periods of time defined in the Bible as the Last Days. They would argue that Peter’s words in Acts chapter 2 refer to the end of the Jewish system of things, but that a second period of time—a second “Last Days”—occurs prior to the coming of Christ. This requires them to impose a secondary fulfillment to Peter’s words which is not supported in Scripture. It also requires them to explain how these words were fulfilled prior to 70 C.E. when Jerusalem was destroyed:
“I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.” (Acts 2:19, 20)
But their challenge does not end there. They must also explain how in the second fulfillment of the Last Days, the words of Acts 2:17-19 are fulfilled. In our day, where are the prophesying daughters, and the visions of young men, and the dreams of old men, and the gifts of the spirit that were poured out in the first century?
These advocates for a two-fold fulfillment will, however, point to the parallel accounts of Jesus’ words found at Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. These are often referred to by such religionists as the “Jesus’ prophecy about the signs of the Last Days.”
Is this an accurate moniker? Was Jesus giving us a means to measure the length of the Last Days? Does he even use the phrase “Last Days” in any one of these three accounts? Surprisingly, to many, the answer is No!
Not a Sign, but a Warning!
Some will still say, “But doesn’t Jesus tell us that the start of the last days will be marked by wars, pestilences, famines, and earthquakes?” The answer is no on two levels. First, he doesn’t use the term “Last Days” nor any related term. Second, he doesn’t say that wars, pestilences, famines, and earthquakes are signs of the start of the last days. Rather he says, these come before any sign.
“These things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mt 24:6 BSB)
“don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.” (Mark 13:7 NLT)
“do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” (Luke 21:9 NIV)
The worst pestilence of all time by any standard was the Black Death of the 14th Century. It followed the Hundred Years’ War. There were also famines during that time and earthquakes as well, since they occur regularly as part of natural tectonic plate movement. People thought the end of the world had arrived. Whenever there is a plague or an earthquake, some superstitious humans want to believe it is a punishment from God, or some sort of sign. Jesus is telling us not to be fooled by such things. As a matter of fact, he prefaces his prophetic answer to the three-part question posed by the disciples with the warning: “Look out that nobody misleads you….” (Mt 24:3, 4)
Nevertheless, diehard advocates of ‘signs foretelling the end’ will point to Matthew 24:34 as proof that he did give us a measuring stick: “this generation”. Was Jesus contradicting his own words found at Acts 1:7? There, he told the disciples that “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” We know that our Lord never spoke untruth. So he would not contradict himself. Therefore, the generation that would see “all these things” must refer to something other than the coming of Christ; something they were allowed to know? The meaning of the generation of Matthew 24:34 was discussed in detail here. Summarizing those articles, we can say that “all these things” applies to what he said while in the temple. It was those pronouncements of doom that prompted the disciples’ question in the first place. Evidently by the phrasing of their question, they thought the destruction of the temple and the coming of Christ were concurrent events, and Jesus couldn’t disabuse them of that notion without revealing some truth he was not yet authorized to impart.
Jesus spoke of wars, pestilences, earthquakes, famine, persecution, false prophets, false Christs, and the preaching of the good news. All these things have occurred throughout the past 2,000 years, so none of this does anything to undermine the understanding that the Last Days began in 33 C.E. and continues down to our day. Matthew 24:29-31 lists the signs that will presage the arrival of Christ, but we have yet to see them.
A Two-Millennia-Long Last Days
We might have difficulty with the concept of a period of time running for 2,000 years or more. But isn’t that the result of human thinking? Does it not stem from the hope or the belief that we can divine the times and dates that the Father has put under his exclusive authority, or as the NWT puts it, “under his jurisdiction”? Do not such ones fall into the category of those Jesus condemned as always “seeking for a sign”?
Jehovah has given Mankind a finite amount of time to practice self-determination. It has been a colossal failure and has resulted in horrific suffering and tragedy. While that time period may seem long to us, to God it is but six days in length. What of it if he designates the last third of that period, the final two days, as the “Last Days”. Once Christ died and was resurrected, then Satan could be judged and the Children of God could be gathered, and the clock marking the final days for the Kingdom of Man began to tick.
We are in the last days—have been since the start of the Christian congregation—and we are waiting patiently and expectantly for the arrival of Jesus, who will come suddenly as a thief in the night.
[i] While Jesus was referring to the Jews of his day, and particularly to the Jewish religious leaders, thoughtful Jehovah’s Witnesses might see some uncomfortable parallels in these words. To begin with, they are taught that only spirit-anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses, which includes all members of their Governing Body, make up the generation Jesus spoke of at Matthew 24:34. As for applying the term “adulterous” to this modern generation, it has recently come to light that these ones who claim to be part of the bride of Christ have—by their own standard of measure—committed spiritual adultery by becoming affiliated with the United Nations. As for the “seeking a sign” aspect of Jesus’ words, the start of this “spirit-anointed generation” is fixed in time based on their interpretation of signs occurring on and after 1914. Ignoring Jesus’ warning, they continue to look for signs down to this day as a means to establish the time of his coming.