Are we living in the last days?

Sure.

When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” what they nearly always mean by it is, “These awful things happening in the present day: Are they signs Jesus is returning soon? Like in the next few years? Is it the time-before-the-End-Times?”

Why they’re asking is ’cause they already suspect the answer is yes.

Because awful things are happening in the present day. Cops shooting innocent citizens; citizens shooting innocent cops. Wars and terrorists, rumors of wars and terrorists, people who could shoot up a room with no advance warning, drones which could smite you from the heavens above like Zeus himself. Scary new diseases. Unfamiliar “social norms” which were neither “normal” nor “moral” just a decade ago; who expected marijuana to be legalized? Unfamiliar technology which, given its power, may very well be dangerous. Racism coming out of the closet. Immoral people running for president, and so-called Christians not just holding their noses and voting for the lesser evil, but endorsing them, and praying for their victory instead of their salvation.

So yeah, when things get bad like this, people understandably want it to be the last days. We don’t want it any worse. We really want Jesus to return, to stop the madness. In this, I don’t blame ’em whatsoever. The sooner Jesus invades, the better. Maranatha.

But does a sinful world indicate Jesus is returning soon? Nah. A sinful world is the status quo. The world’s always been sinful.

“But it’s worse than it’s ever been!” Again, nah. I once taught history. Still read history books for fun. Without a doubt, there’ve been many, many, many times throughout human history where things were worse. Far worse. Unimaginably worse; it’s why Game of Thrones still shocks people, even though worse atrocities have been committed in real life. If you’ve read your bible, you’ve even read some of them. If you haven’t, check out the early chapters of Exodus, or most of Judges, or the decline and fall of Israel after the kingdom split in two. Jesus lived under the Roman occupation of Israel; that was worse. It got even worse than that, as you’ll see when you read Flavius Josephus’s Jewish War.

Why do Americans insist things are worse than they’ve ever been? Mostly because of the popular myth, spread by political conservatives, that America used to be better. People used to be more noble, more Christian, kept their word, followed the Law, respected their elders; this used to be a Christian nation. And even though these very same people know their American history—the atrocities of African slavery, the genocidal wars against the Indians, the Civil War and racism and sexism and imperialism, the many things Americans had to overcome—somehow they divorce these effects from the causes, and forget we Americans were the causes. Total depravity, y’know. A truly moral people wouldn’t have suffered them, nor struggled so long to be rid of them, nor still need to deal with ’em.

If “things used to be better,” and currently they sure aren’t, it must follow we’re getting worse. And doesn’t worse mean Jesus is returning soon?

The “last days,” as the scriptures define ’em.

When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” how knowledgable Christians usually answer them is, “Well of course we are… because the ‘last days’ actually started 2,000 years ago.”

More accurately 2,023 years ago. The last days began when God sent his son. He 1.2 That’s why our calendar, the Anno Domini/“Christian Era” part of it, more or less counts down from then. This era is the es’hátou ton imerón túton/“these latter days,” as opposed to the former days, which we’d call Ante Christum/“Before Christ.” In the former days, people looked forward to Messiah’s first coming; in the latter days the second.

Of course, when you give people this as their answer:

  • You’ve confused ’em because they had no idea there was a different definition of “last days.”
  • You’ve irritated ’em because they don’t care about the biblical definition of “last days.” They just wanna know whether the End is near.
  • You’ve made ’em wonder whether you’re the right person to answer their question. Saying “The ‘last days’ began 2,000 years ago” sounds like you’re diminishing, if not dismissing, the idea Jesus is returning soon. And they believe (or hope really bad) Jesus is returning soon.

So maybe it’s a good idea to address their real concern first, and come back to their biblical definitions at another, better time.

’Cause their real concern is a valid concern: The world’s a mess. Is God gonna permit it to get any worse? Is Jesus gonna return and put a stop to things? Shouldn’t he return and put a stop to things?

You’ll notice this concern is subtly moving in the direction of theodicy, an area of Christian apologetics which wonders how an almighty good God who created a good earth can permit evil to run amok in it. To a degree that’s sorta what they’re really asking: How much is God gonna put up with before he finally opens up a can of whup-ass (or as the bible prefers to call ’em, bowls of wrath) on us? And we Christians aren’t gonna be collateral damage when God pours out that wrath, are we? We’re getting raptured first, right? Even though Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had to ride out the Babylonian captivity when God judged Israel; even though 11 of the Twelve, plus Paul, were executed for their faith in Jesus—we’ve got an escape hatch, right? Please tell us the Left Behind novels got that part right, and we won’t suffer.

And don’t dodge the answer by talking about how we’ve been in the “last days” since the Roman Empire. They’re not talking about the calendar. They’re talking about the evil in the world. It troubles them.

Your end is near.

When I tell people the evil in the world is the status quo, that it’s no more evil today than it’s ever been, of course a number of ’em simply won’t believe me. They firmly believe in one of the pessimistic End Times scenarios; their mind’s made up about that. Makes no difference my pointing out how history doesn’t support their theory. They don’t value history enough to see it as more real than their fears.

Put it aside then. Here’s the one area where we can all agree: We’re all gonna die.

No, not because the Beast’s one-world government is coming for us. (Well, not necessarily because.) It’s because humans die. I’m gonna die; you’re gonna die; unless Jesus returns first, everyone we know is gonna die. Death is so common to humanity, even Jesus died.

And none of us know when we’re gonna die. A man might be in perfect health, but a driver who won’t stop texting plows into him at a traffic circle. A woman might be in miserable health, yet God keeps her ticking for another 40 years. Unless God’s told us he has specific future plans which involve us—and he rarely does; he always has a backup—we could always die at any time. Same as Jesus could always return at any time. The End may not come soon, but your end will come. As will mine. As will everyone’s.

Anxious people wanna be prepared lest the End Times creep up on ’em. I say if we’re prepared to die, to meet our Master that way, we’ll be wholly prepared to meet him in the clouds. You wanna be prepared for the End, you get prepared for death. So get yourself right with God, right now. Don’t put it off because you assume you have time. You don’t know. None of us do.

As for the "signs of the times”…

Jesus’s students wanted to know when the End would come, and he was quite clear about it: We’re looking for the sky to go black and the Son of Man to appear in it. Mk 13.24-27

Everything else—seriously, everything else—is the stuff which happens when there’s evil in the world, when people persecute Christians, when God judges individual nations instead of the whole world at once. Don’t confuse them for the End. Because when we do, people will totally take advantage. And Jesus wasn’t only warning us of crazy TV preachers trying to sell you freeze-dried food for your End Times bunker.

Mark 13.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus began to tell them, “Watch out, lest someone trick you.
6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m him!’ They’ll trick many.
7 Don’t freak out when you overhear conflicts, and hearsay about conflicts.
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet.
8 People will rise against people; kingdoms against kingdoms.
Earthquakes will happen in other lands. Recessions will happen.
They’re early labor pains.”

"But what,” fearful Christians will insist, “about the End Times timelines? The prophecies in Revelation and Daniel about future history? The warnings Paul made in 2 Thessalonians about the ‘man of lawlessness’? You’re skipping those!” No, not really: I believe those events already happened in the past. The very few still to come, happen once Jesus returns. Which can happen at any time; and the sign it’ll happen is when the sky goes black.

Society’s evil behavior? Corrupt governments and candidates? Conflicts and hearsay? Par for the course. If you were expecting better, you were putting faith in the wrong kingdom. This one’s passing away.

So get ready for the one to come!