Last Day(s), Latter Days, Last Times

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There are problems with the terminology of "the latter days" in that, for example, the King James Version often refers to "the latter days, " an expression not found in modern translations. Further, it is not always clear whether "the latter days" means a somewhat later period than that of the writer or the latest times of all, the end of the world. Some expressions locate the day being discussed in the time of the speaker. Care is needed as we approach the passages that use these terms.

There is another problem in that in modern times, we find it challenging to think that the New Testament writers were living in "the last times." Centuries have gone by; how could their times be the last? We should be clear that the scriptural writers sometimes used the terms differently than we would naturally do. For them, the supremely great event had taken place in the coming of Yahushua Christ into the world to effect the salvation of all believers. This was not just an event in history; it was the event. Because of what Christ had done, everything was altered. From then on, however long it would be until Yahuwah intervened and set up the new heaven and the new earth, people were living in "the last times." The days in which it is possible for people to put their trust in Yahushua Christ and to enter into the fullness of the salvation he has brought about differ from all the days that went before. They are days of opportunity, days when people can put their trust in the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and enter into the salvation he won for sinners.

Present Happenings.

The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers that "in these last days he (Yahuwah) has spoken to us by his Son" ( Heb 1:2 ). Peter says that Christ "was revealed in these last times for your sake" ( 1 Peter 1:20 ). In such passages the meaning is that something has happened in recent times that is in sharp contrast to what occurred in earlier ages. Or in a similar expression may look to the future of the recipients of the message, as when we read, "in later days you will return to Yahuwah your Elohim and obey him" ( Deut 4:30 ), or in the reminder to the hearers that Yahuwah gave them manna in the wilderness "to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you" ( Deut 8:16 ).

The point of such passages is to clarify that Yahuwah is at work overtime here and now. His people are to remember that in what happens in their lives and the world around them, Yahuwah is working out his purposes. In this spirit, the psalmist prays, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life" ( Psalm 39:4 ), and in Proverbs, we find that receiving instruction is the path to being wise in "the latter end" ( 19:20 ). Contrariwise Babylon is blamed for not remembering "the latter end" ( Isa 47:7 ). By taking heed of what Yahuwah is doing, his people will be strengthened in their faith and better able to appreciate the significance of the times in which they live. It is essential that Yahuwah's people are never alone and will discern the outworking of the divine purposes if only they have eyes to see.


Future Happenings

Often, "last" or "latter" is used for times other than the end of all things. The prophets could speak of a "day" when the Lord would act, sometimes in punishment of evil, sometimes in bringing blessing. Significant are passages that speak of "the last day(s)," which point to the future but without being specific. In such passages, it may mean "later in the present scheme of things," that is, later in the life of a person or, more often, later in the history of the world. For the former use, we might notice the warning in Proverbs that a misspent life means that you will groan "at your latter end" ( Prov 5:11 ). For the other use, Jacob summoned his sons to tell them what would happen to them "in the latter days" ( Gen 49:1 ). This refers to the distant future, but not to the end of the world. So with Moses' prophecy that after his death, Israel would turn away from the right because evil would befall them "in the latter days" ( Deut 31:29 ).

In the New Testament, it is not so much a question of what will happen to nations as of the way Yahuwah will work out his purpose in the affairs of the church and of individual believers. Peter says that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the infant church fulfilled a prophecy of what would happen "in the last days" ( Acts 2:17 ). In the same spirit, we notice a statement in Hebrews: Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" ( 9:26 ). The significant events concerning the coming of the Savior and the establishment of salvation are linked with "the last days." So also is the opposition of evil to all that is good. In those days, "The Spirit clearly says that some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" ( 1 Tim 4:1 ). There is a sense in which the church has always lived in "the last days."

The Final Situation.

The central topic in Yahushua's teaching was "the kingdom of Yahuwah." Sometimes this appeared as a present reality, sometimes as a future happening. The most significant feature is that it is intimately connected with Yahushua himself.

The New Testament makes it clear that the coming of Yahushua Christ was a critical event. His atoning death was Yahuwah's final answer to the problem of human sin, and once that had been accomplished, nothing could be the same again.

The New Testament makes it clear that the coming of Yahushua Christ was a critical event. His atoning death was Yahuwah's final answer to the problem of human sin, and once that had been accomplished, nothing could be the same again. For our present purpose, the important thing is that Yahushua ushered in a new state of affairs. He wrought the atonement that made it possible for sinners to be forgiven and enter Yahuwah's kingdom and to be fitted to take their part in Yahuwah's final kingdom. That gives a different quality to all time after the coming of Yahushua, and the scriptural writers bring this out by referring to all that is after the coming of Yahushua as "the last times" or the like.

Sometimes the New Testament speaks of the end of all things as though it were very near; sometimes, there seems to be a long interval. We must bear in mind that "with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" ( 2 Peter 3:8 ). It is not always easy to be sure whether a passage is speaking of the end of this world and its affairs or of something that will happen before that. We should exercise due caution as we approach difficult passages. But what is abundantly clear is that Yahuwah is working his purpose out and that this involves a final state of affairs in which His will, will be perfectly done.

Sometimes the scriptural writers look beyond the present system to the final state of affairs when they use the "latter days" terminology. This happens in a beautiful passage in both Isaiah and Micah in which these prophets look forward to the Lord's house as being established above the hills and of many nations as coming to it to find Yahuwah's teaching so that they may walk in his ways ( Isa 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-5 ). A very different picture is given in Ezekiel's prophecy: in "the latter days," Gog, the chief prince of the forces of evil, will come against Israel and be defeated (chaps. 38-39). This is not to be considered a contradiction of the former passages. There are other references both to final bliss and to the final rebellion of the forces of evil. It means that in the end, all evil will be decisively overthrown and Yahuwah's kingdom established forever.

man-gesturing-greedSeveral passages make clear that there will be an upsurge of evil in the last days. Sometimes this relates to the daily life of the believer, as when Yahushua says, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" ( Matt 10:22 ). But evil will be more widespread than that, for "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud" ( 2 Tim 3:1 ). "In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires" ( 2 Peter 3:3 ). In the Olivet discourse there is difficulty in being sure whether some of the items refer to the life of the believer set in the midst of the ungodly or whether they refer to the endtime, but there is undoubtedly a reference to the end when Yahushua says, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" ( Mark 13:13 ). This will be the point also of his explanation of a parable, "The harvest is the end of the age" ( Matt 13:39 ). Similarly Peter speaks of salvation as "ready to be revealed in the last time" ( 1 Peter 1:5 ). We should notice here the references to "the seven last plagues" ( Rev 15:1 ; 21:9 ) which point to troubles in the last days.

In John's Gospel, there is also the thought that Yahuwah will care for his own in those troubled times. Yahushua repeatedly said concerning those the Father "has given" him that he will "raise them up at the last day" ( John 6:39 John 6:40 John 6:43 John 6:54 ). John is the only New Testament writer to use the expression "the last day, " an expression that points to Yahushua's activity right to the end of this age. It also makes it clear that Yahushua's care for his own extends through time to the ushering in the final state of affairs. On the negative side, the person who rejects Yahushua and his teaching will find that that teaching "will condemn him at the last day" ( John 12:48 ).

Believers will encounter troubles throughout this world's history, and this will persist right to the very end. Peter can speak of "the end of all things" as "near" ( 1 Peter 4:7 ). The coming of Christ means that salvation is now made available, and this transforms all things. But the New Testament writers were clear that this was the prelude to Yahuwah's final state of affairs and that, in the perspective of eternity, that final state was not far off. Then believers will enter the fullness of "eternal life" ( Rom 6:22-23 ).

Fundamental is the fact that the final, great day will see the triumph of Yahuwah. This is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, for example, in the great passage in which Job says, "I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh, I will see Yahuwah" ( Job 19:25-26 ). There are problems in this passage, but there is a clear expectation of Yahuwah's final triumph. Before Yahushua was born, the angel told Mary that the child she was to bear "will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" ( Luke 1:33 ).

For the New Testament writers, the coming of Yahushua Christ into the world to bring about our salvation was the decisive happening in the entire history of the world. That set in motion the train of events that would bring about the salvation of sinners and eventually see the setting up of Yahuwah's kingdom, as Revelation makes clear. This did not mean that all evil would immediately disappear; the New Testament writings and Christian experience make it plain that evil continues. But the important thing from the Christian point of view is that the saving work of Christ has altered everything. Sin has been decisively defeated, and believers have already entered into salvation. However long or short a time it will be before the end of this world, as we measure time, we live in the last times as the New Testament writers understand it.


This is a non-WLC article by Leon Morris.

We have taken out from the original article all pagan names and titles of the Father and Son, and have replaced them with the original given names. Furthermore, we have restored in the Scriptures quoted the names of the Father and Son, as they were originally written by the inspired authors of the Bible. -WLC Team