This article from Paul Lopez is good food-for-thought concerning the topic of “the last days.” It has been edited somewhat, but only for grammar and punctuation:
When was the last time you heard a “last days” sermon from the Old Testament?
When most pastors preach a sermon on the end times they usually start with the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) or the Book of Revelation. For years the focus on end times discussions has remained in the New Testament. Unfortunately, that results in our teachers only giving us the end of the story. When reading a story, it makes sense to start at the beginning, rather than at the end and try to figure out the story from there. Yet the study of the “last days” in most churches today has us doing this very thing. I did that too for years, until I finally decided to start at the beginning of the book.
Here are seven Old Testament passages that I’ve come across in my studies that are crucial to understanding the “last days” that you will rarely hear pastors preach on in today’s churches:
1. Jacob’s Prediction of the Last Days: Would you believe the first mention of the “last days” is in Genesis 49? “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days‘” (verse 1, NKJV). Ironically, the first passage in the Bible that speaks of the last days is in the first book of the Bible and not the last. This passage speaks of the last days of the twelve tribes of Israel.
2. Moses’ Warning to the Israelites: In Deuteronomy 31:29, Moses tells the Israelites:
“For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (NASB).
This verse is in the context of Deuteronomy 28-32 and Leviticus 26. God is establishing the Covenant with His people. God promises His people both coming blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Study your cross references and you will find many fascinating connections to the New Testament — particularly Romans 9-11 and the book of Revelation. From this passage you will begin to see that the last days spoken of in Deuteronomy 31:29 are speaking of the last days of the Old Covenant, not the last days of the earth.
3. Jeremiah’s Prediction of the Last Days. Jeremiah 30:24 says: “The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back, until He has performed and until He has accomplished the intent of His heart; in the latter days you will understand this” (NASB). Jeremiah 30:24 speaks of judgment coming upon His people, and it is also the context for Jeremiah 31. Jeremiah 31 contains several prophecies fulfilled at the first advent of Christ. For example, Jeremiah 31:15 is a prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 2:16-18. Jesus is born under law (Galatians 4:4), at the end of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is ending with Christ’s birth, and the New Covenant is at hand with the beginning of His ministry. In writing to Jews, the author of Hebrews says in chapter 1:1-2:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
The things “spoken of long ago to the fathers and prophets” are the passages that we are outlining here. If you study these verses carefully, against current thought, the last days of the Jews and their Covenant were upon them. These references begin to line up with the last days of the Old Covenant, not the last days of the world.
4. Prediction of the New Covenant That Would Come: Another passage in the context of Jeremiah 30:24 is Jeremiah 31:31-34 — a prophecy that predicts that the New Covenant would come at the end of the Old Covenant. The writer of the book of Hebrews verifies this in Hebrews Chapter 8. The New Covenant for His people prophesied in Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the First Century, and the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete in Hebrews 8:13. Again, we see the last days of the Old Covenant were upon them in the First Century. The whole context of Hebrews 8 is again stated in the context of Hebrews 1:1-2.
5. Jesus Was Born in the ‘Last Days': Micah 4 shows that Jesus was born in the last days of the Old Covenant: “And it will come about in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it.” In the same context, Micah 5:2 reads: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
This prophecy is fulfilled in the last days of the Old Covenant, according to Matthew 2:1-6:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”
(Cross references: Deuteronomy 31:29: Judges 2:19)
6. Isaiah’s Prediction of judgment on Old Covenant Israel in the Last Days:
Isaiah 2:1-2 , we see almost verbatim the words from Micah 4:1, about the last days of the covenant:
“The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.”
This segment of Scripture is full of description of the last days that can be traced through the New Testament to the book of Revelation. In the same context of Isaiah 2 is the parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) – the vineyard is the house of Israel (vs 7)! It is a vineyard that God said produced worthless grapes! This same parable Jesus quotes in Matthew 21:33-46. In verses 40-45, Jesus describes what is coming upon the Jews in their last days. The Pharisees, being familiar with the prophet Isaiah’s words, knew exactly what Jesus was saying, and that Jesus spoke the parable about them. The end of the Old Covenant system ended at the cross, yet the final destruction of the temple system came in 70 A.D.
See also Jeremiah 3:8, 23:20, and 30:24.
7. Joel’s Prediction that the Holy Spirit Would be Poured Out in the Last Days:
Joel 2:28-32 is quoted by the apostle Peter in his sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2:14-21:
“But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT‘” (Acts 2:14-18).
According to the Prophet Joel, the Holy Spirit would be poured out in “the last days.” This prophecy was being fulfilled in Acts 2 according to the Apostle Peter. His audience in Acts 2 are Jews from “every nation under heaven.”
Could all of these Old Testament passages that were fulfilled and pointed to by inspired writers in the New Testament be about the Last Days of the Old Covenant and not the Last Days of the World? It is worth your time and study to research the Scriptures.
All the prophets we have mentioned above were writing to the Jews of coming judgment upon them for breaking the covenant of Deuteronomy 28-32. Last days events mentioned in the Old Testament included the birth of the Messiah, the New Covenant coming, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and pending judgment on the Old Covenant system. Jesus clearly states that this judgment was coming upon the generation He came to in the first century (Matthew 23:36, Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32).
So what does all this mean? The Old Testament references provide the context for the New Testament passages concerning the “last days.” But that’s something you’ll rarely hear from the pulpit today, in a culture that is more fascinated with signs from world events than Scripture.
In real estate the golden rule is “location, location, location.” In eschatology, it’s “signs, signs, signs.” How about we go back to “Scripture, Scripture, Scripture”?
I challenge our pastors and teachers in the church today to begin to address these passages on the Last Days from the Old Testament. They provide the context for the New Testament passages on the Last Days and will spark healthy discussion within our churches today.
Paul Lopez is a longtime student of the Word and a Bible teacher and small group leader at Murrieta Valley Church in Murrieta, Calif.