The New Testament coordinates the start of the “last days” with the Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of Jesus. In him, the time of fulfillment had arrived. Now, all the promises of God find their “yea and amen” in Christ. God spoke partially in the prophets of old, but now, he now speaks fully in His Son – (Acts 2:17-21, 2 Corinthians 1:20, Hebrews 1:1-3).
While the term “last days” is not frequent in the letters of Paul, in various ways, he demonstrated his understanding that History’s final era commenced with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; therefore, nothing could ever be the same.
To a Greek-speaking congregation, the Apostle categorized many events from the Hebrew Bible as “types,” examples for the followers of Jesus “upon whom the ends of the ages arrived.”
Moses led Israel through the Red Sea into the Wilderness where God provided “spiritual drink” from a “spiritual rock,” which prefigured Jesus (for “the rock was Christ”). Said events were examples so the Corinthians no longer would live after the manner of this age – (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
(1 Corinthians 10:11) – “But these things by way of type were happening to them, and were written with a view to our admonition, to whom the ends of the ages have arrived.”
Paul used the plural forms of “ages” and “ends.” The Greek term telos or “end” may signify the end or termination of something, but also its “goal” – (Strong’s – #G5056). Both senses may be in view in this passage – termination and goal.
Jesus expressed the same thought in his parable of the Wheat and Tares, which were to be “gathered at the consummation of the age.” Consummation translates a compound word built on telos – sunteleia. Similarly, the Book of Hebrews declares that Jesus, “now, once in the consummation (sunteleia) of the ages, has appeared to put away sin by his sacrifice” – (Matthew 13:36-44, Hebrews 9:26).
In Christ, one era reached its endpoint, while another commenced. The transition was due to Jesus – to his Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation. Therefore, the “ends of the ages” have come upon Christians.
To the churches in Rome, Paul declared that the arrival of Jesus signified the “end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The literary context is clear; here, the term “law” refers to is the one given through Moses at Sinai. Whether Paul meant the termination or the goal of the Law, his statement indicates a fundamental change in status and era – (Romans 10:1-4).
To the churches of Galatia, the Apostle answered the question – “Why, then, the law?” Paul placed the jurisdiction of the Law within a limited time period. The law was “added because of transgressions until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The law was given at Sinai over four hundred years after the promise was confirmed to Abraham; therefore, the promise has precedence over the law – (Galatians 3:19-25).
The law served as a “custodian” for God’s people – “until the faith that should afterward be revealed.” Since that faith has arrived, God’s people are no longer under the custodian with its divisions between Jews and Gentiles; therefore, “all are sons of God through faith, in Christ Jesus; there cannot be Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male and female…you are Abraham’s heirs according to promise” – (Galatians 3:19-29).
At the “fullness of time,” God sent his Son “to redeem them under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, and because we are sons God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” – (Galatians 4:1-6).
Paul linked promise, inheritance, redemption, and the “fullness of time” to the arrival of Jesus, along with the “adoption” of God’s children and the gift of the Spirit. The arrival of Jesus signified a fundamental change in the law and the status of the people of God – (Galatians 3:1-4).
The Fullness of Time. Paul linked the past appearance of Jesus to the “fullness of time,” a time when the saints ceased to be minors under the custodianship of the law. They became full heirs of the promises made to Abraham. To return to the “elemental things” of the old order meant nothing less than regression:
“How turn you back to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, months, times and years” – (Galatians 4:9-11).
In Galatia, one area of conflict was a return to the Jewish calendrical observations required by the Levitical regulations. But since they were no longer required, it followed that the jurisdiction of the Law had terminated. This also meant a radical change in the status and identity of God’s people. The same clause occurs in his letter to the Ephesians:
(Ephesians 1:9-11) – “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him, for an administration of the fullness of the seasons, to reunite for himself, under one head, the all things in the Christ, the things upon the heavens and the things upon the earth, in him. In whom also we were taken as an inheritance, according to the purpose of him who energizes all things according to the counsel of his will.”
In the preceding passage, Paul used the more pregnant term “seasons,” and in the plural number to stress how Jesus was the goal of God’s plans from all eras – past, present, future.
Present Age Fading – New Creation Dawning. Paul addressed marital relationships in 1 Corinthians. Should Christians continue in such relationships considering the “present distress?” The short answer was – “yes.” Husbands and wives were to fulfill their mutual obligations, and the unmarried were free to marry, only “in the Lord” – (1 Corinthians 7:1-40).
But Paul did place marriage in its proper place. Disciples must keep their priorities straight, for since the advent of Christ:
“The time is shortened, therefore, let those that have wives may be as though they had none, and let those that buy as though they possessed not,” for the fashion of this world is passing away.” – (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
The present tense verb rendered “passing away” stresses linear action – ongoing action. Already, the world is in the process of “passing away” and has been since the arrival of Christ. Similarly, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul taught:
(2 Corinthians 5:15-17) – “Having judged this, that one in behalf of all died, hence, they all died; and in behalf of all died he, in order that, they who live, no longer for themselves should live, but for him who, in their behalf, died and rose again. So that we, henceforth, know no one after the flesh: if we have even been gaining after the flesh a knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, now, no longer are we gaining it. So that, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation! the old things have passed away. Behold, they have become new!”
Thus, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the promised new creation. Its implementation had already begun. And this meant that a major pivotal point in history had been reached.
The “old” order is passing away and a “new” one has dawned, especially in the church. This means both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new eras. Things that were required under the old system have lost their relevance. For example, circumcision is no longer here nor there. What counts is the “new creation” in him – (Galatians 6:15).
Transferred into a New Dominion. The Apostle pointed to Jesus and his sacrificial death that “delivered us from this present evil age.” He did not refer to our removal from the physical universe, but instead, to our deliverance from the present era in preparation for the coming age – (Galatians 1:4).
Likewise, to the Colossians, Paul gave thanks to God “who delivered us out of the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Disciples now belong to a different age and a different political order – (Colossians 1:12-13).
Hidden Mysteries Revealed in Christ. Paul wrote of the “mysteries” that were hidden previously, but have now been made plain in Jesus, especially in his Death and Resurrection. The promises given by the prophets of Israel found their fulfillment in him.
Jesus is the “mystery which has been kept in silence through past ages, but now is manifested,” according to the scriptures. This mystery is “made known unto all the Gentiles for the obedience of faith.” He is the “mystery hidden from ages and from generations but now made manifest to his saints” – (Colossians 1:26, 2 Timothy 1:10).
The Last Days. In the New Testament, “last days” is not a chronological marker or simply the final few years of history before the return of Jesus, but a fundamental change in the nature and status of everything because of Jesus. His death achieved final victory over Sin, Death, and Satan.
Calvary means far more than the forgiveness of sins. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the promised New Covenant, and the New Creation. The latter is not waiting for its commencement; it has begun already and is progressing to its inevitable consummation. His death put into play the final phase of the redemptive plan of God for the entire creation – Nothing can ever be the same – All human relations are radically altered, including marital, societal, and political relationships.
That is why the New Testament consistently portrays the “last days” as having commenced with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The age of fulfillment has been upon us ever since that momentous event, which marked the arrival of the “fullness of time.”