By John R. Rice
MANY people use the term, "the last days" to mean the time since World War I or the last ten or twenty-five or fifty years before Christ returns to catch away His saints. Very generally such hyper-dispensationalists mean that a certain period just before Christ will return is now upon us, and that in these so-called "last days" sinners are harder, conditions are more desperate, and greatest revivals are not possible, or at least very unlikely. But that use of the term, "the last days," is unscriptural and wrong. The Bible does not use the term in that sense, but in another, which is very clear. And we ought to mean what the Bible means when we use the term, "the last days," speaking of Bible matters.
I should like to show you, by God's help, that the term, "the last days" in Scripture, really means the period from before Pentecost until Christ's return; that the term, "the last days," is never used in the New Testament to refer to the last few years before Christ returns; and that "the last days" are intended to be a whole age of revivals, from Pentecost on until the kingdom of Christ comes.
Since on this matter there has been much misinformation and since our whole attitude toward the possibility of great revivals and soul-winning work will depend upon how we understand this question, I urge every reader to be very prayerful and careful to understand exactly what the Scriptures say on the subject.
I. "The Last Days" in Scripture Really Mean the Period From Before Pentecost Until Christ's Return
On the day of Pentecost the mocking crowd was astonished became the apostles and other disciples preached the gospel in mighty power to Jews out of every nation under Heaven, in their own language. Some doubted; others mocked. But Peter stood up to explain the matter, as recorded in Acts 2:15-21, in the following words:
"For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Joel said, as quoted by Peter, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: . . . And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." When the mighty power of God came at Pentecost and three thousand were saved in a day, Peter says, "This is it! These are the last days about which Joel spoke!"
Here we have the clear, inspired statement that "the last days" included Pentecost. By divine inspiration Joel had in mind Pentecost when he promised that "in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh." This is a Scripture which clearly defines for us the New Testament meaning of the term, "the last days." So let us use the term in the Bible sense. According to this Bible use of the term, it would be utterly improper to call just the period since World War I, or the last few years before Jesus comes, whenever that may be, "the last days." "The last days" is the period which includes this whole age of grace, beginning with Christ and having its first great typical manifestation at Pentecost. Bible Christians ought to follow Bible terminology, or at least they ought not to use Bible terms in a sense utterly foreign to the way they are used in the Bible. To say, "We are in the last days," is all right if you mean the gospel age including Pentecost, the whole period covered by the Great Commission. But it is not all right if you mean only the recent ten or twenty or fifty years.
No one can know how near we are to Christ's return, and so it would be improper to say that we are in the last days before Christ's return, on that ground. And it would be improper to use the term, "the last days," if we mean the term to be a Scriptural term, without including Pentecost. At Pentecost Peter said, "This is that." Pentecost was included in the blessed prophecy of Joel, that in the last days God would pour out His spirit and send great revivals.
Certainly the last days, as defined in Joel, did not end at Pentecost. If we go back to the passage in Joel 2:28-32, and the following verses in chapter 3, we can see clearly that Joel had in mind a period reaching far beyond Pentecost, to the return of Christ, the restoration of Israel, and related events. Even the part quoted by Peter in Acts 2:15-21 plainly speaks of great catastrophes in the heavens and the sun and moon, "before that great and notable day of the Lord come." And the very next verse in Joel, after those Peter quoted, beginning chapter 3, says, "For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem...." The period called the last days will continue to Israel's restoration. The subheads of the third chapter of Joel, as given in the Scofield Reference Bible, are, "The restoration of Israel," "The judgment of the Gentile nations after Armageddon," "Retrospect: the day of the Lord," "Full kingdom blessing." I give them here to show that Joel really foretold a whole age, the revival age, the gospel age which would include Pentecost and run on to the return of Christ, the regathering of Israel and their conversion. This is the period of time called in the Scriptures, by divine authority, "the last days."
This great period of time announced by Joel as "the last days" is co-existent with the scope of the Great Commission Jesus said in Matthew 28:19,20:
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
The Great Commission covers a period of time beginning with Christ, and ends with the "end of the world," that is, the "consummation of the age." At once the spiritual mind sees the fitness of the great promise. God is to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. Sons and daughters, servants and handmaids, old men and young men are to be filled with the Spirit of God and are to prophesy, that is, to witness with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. And during this entire age it is promised, "... it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." During this gospel age the gospel was to be taken to all the world, as the Great Commission had clearly outlined. Not to Jews only was the gospel to be preached, but literally to every creature, as Jesus said in Mark 16:15. It is true that in Old Testament times one who sought God could find Him. It is true that Jonah preached the gospel to the heathen at Nineveh and many were converted. It is true that there is evidence that Nebuchadnezzar, that Naaman the Syrian, that Ruth the Moabitess, that Rahab the Canaanite harlot, and many other Gentiles turned to God and were saved. But during Old Testament times the gospel was not boldly carried to every creature. So it was not true in this same beautiful sense then, as it is now, that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." The "whosoever" is more prominent in this blessed gospel day.
It is also fitting that when Jesus commands us to go to all the world, He promises the power for our ministry. How sad it would be if anyone were commanded to take the gospel and could not have poured upon him the Holy Spirit! How sad it would be for anybody to be commanded to preach the gospel and get sinners saved, if he could not have a supernatural enduement of power! You see, this great gospel age we are in now is the age of the Great Commission, and this is the period which is called in the Bible "the last days." We ought not to use the term in another sense not Scriptural and contrary to this clear Bible usage. Those who speak of "the last days," meaning these present days we are in, as a separate time not like the rest of the gospel age, are wrong.
II. "The Last Days" Is Terminology Never Used in the New Testament to Refer to the Last Few Years Before Christ's Return
Several times in the New Testament, language like this is used: "these last days" (Heb. 1:2), "in the latter times" (I Tim. 4:1), "in the last days" (II Tim. 3:1), "in the last days" (II Pet. 3:3), "the last time" (I John 2:18). It is a striking fact that in none of these passages of Scripture in the New Testament does the terminology refer to the last few years before Christ shall come (whenever that shall be, we do not know). Let us consider these Scriptures and others often used as if they marked the time we are now in, perhaps since World War I, as if it were a separate time of declension where there would be less soul-winning. We will find that they do not mean the present time more than other times, and they ought not to be used in preaching that certain things now occurring are signs of the soon coming of Christ. That is a misuse of the Scriptures, since they do not refer to this time more than the whole age. As to that, you can judge for yourself after a careful examination of the Scriptures.
1. Note Hebrews 1: 1,2:
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds."
Here the term, "in these last days," is used of the time in which Jesus Christ brought God's revelation to earth in person, when He walked on earth. In the ministry of Jesus Christ, then, began the period of time called "these last days." The period properly means the whole age, we suppose, as defined by Joel, and the period certainly began with Jesus Christ.
2. Consider I Timothy 4:1-3:
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth."
"In the latter times," this Scripture says, "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron." But verse 3 tells us plainly that this departure from the faith, under the influence of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, with seared conscience and lying tongue, will result in certain heresies. First, those who depart from the faith will forbid people to marry. Second, they will command to abstain from meats.
Does anyone suppose that these are recent heresies? We know that for centuries the Catholic church has forbidden priests to marry, has forbidden nuns to marry. And in medieval times they laid far more stress upon this than they do today. There were countless thousands of monks of every kind, and monasteries and convents on every hand. The term, "in the latter times," here could not refer to the last few years.
We also know that the Catholic church has commanded its members not to eat meat on Friday, not to eat meat during lent, etc. These commands are not of God. But this heresy is not new. It has come down for centuries. And the term, "the latter times," certainly does not mean in recent years.
It must mean that in this gospel age, at various times, such heresies will arise as they have arisen.
3. Consider 2 Timothy 3:7-5:
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."
What does the term, "in the last days," mean in this Scripture? Well, the next verse, verse 6, says: "For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts." So some of that sort were living even then when Paul wrote the letter to Timothy.
And in verse 8, just below, Paul says: "Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith." Again Paul is writing in the present tense. Some of these wicked people in the last days Paul knew himself and said "... so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith." And he uses Jannes and Jambres in the time of Moses as an example, so that we know this is not a new kind of heresy. Modernism is not new. Falling away from the truth is not new. For people to have a form of godliness, but to deny the power thereof, as prophesied in verse 5, is not new. All the Pharisees in the time of Christ were guilty of that sin. We certainly could not say that Paul meant, by divine inspiration, to here picture the last few days or years of this age, just before Christ would come. He was talking about the course of the whole age, and the things mentioned here have been manifested throughout the age. Some of it was manifested in Paul's time, and he refers to definite men then alive who were guilty of the things mentioned.
It is perfectly all right for a preacher to preach on II Timothy 3:1-5, but it is wrong for him to leave the impression that the sins here mentioned are marks of the last few years, and not of the whole age, the whole period of "the last days" as defined by Joel.
4. Consider II Peter 3:3,
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."
In the last days there shall come scoffers, this Scripture says, who will walk after their own lusts and doubt the second coming of Christ. Now consider honestly; is this a mark only of the last few years? I was converted at nine years old, joined a sound Baptist church when I was twelve, was baptized, and heard fine preaching all of my life. There was never a doubt about the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the need for the new birth. My teachers and preachers were not modernists. Yet I never heard any clear teaching on the second coming of Christ all these days. I did not hear it when I attended Decatur Baptist College, nor when I attended Baylor University and got my degree. I did not hear it in the good Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary which I attended. Not until I had been out of the seminary some years was the matter forcibly brought to my mind and I began a careful study. All my life, until I was about thirty years old, I was among good Christian people, among good Bible preachers, but I never heard anything taught about the second coming of Christ! Forty years ago most of the Christians in America knew nothing about the second coming of Christ. But a hundred years ago they knew even less. The truth is that premillennial truth and teaching about the second coming of Christ became prominent in America largely through the ministry of D.L. Moody, Dr. R.A. Torrey, and the teachers and preachers whom they called together and helped to establish in this matter. The truth was spread widely through Bible Institutes and Bible conferences which grew out of the ministry of D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, and their associates. For hundreds of years there had been little teaching about the second coming of Christ. In England the Plymouth Brethren spread widely the teaching about Christ's coming.
Commentaries written long ago scoff at the "Chiliasts," that is, those who believe in a millennial reign of Christ on earth. Those who believed in Christ's personal, premillennial return and reign were counted literalists and fanatics. There is more teaching right now about the second coming of Christ than the world has heard for three hundred or four hundred years! So this heresy of men walking after their own lusts and scoffing at the second coming of Christ is not a new heresy. We cannot say that it is peculiar to the last few years since World War I, and it certainly will not be peculiar to the few years before the Lord Jesus returns, whenever that may be.
So the term, "in the last days," evidently means during this gospel age, as defined by Joel. It certainly does not mean some particular short period in the last part of this age when, according to some, there can be no more great revivals!
5. Consider I john 2:18
"Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time."
Here twice is the clause, "it is the last time," but it is obvious that John means the time then present. And that verse expressly says that though one great antichrist is to come after the rapture of the saints, antichrists were present then.
All those who cry that great apostasy is on, that there are hearts which are hardened against God, that this age is a wicked age, with the spirit of Antichrist, should notice that so it has been in every age! These are the last days, beginning before Pentecost, really beginning with Christ. These are the last days before Christ will come to personally take over the world and destroy the wicked Gentile world powers. But it was "the last time" when John the apostle wrote his first epistle. The great falling away had already begun then, as it has begun in every age. So the term, "the last time," is meant to fit the whole age and not any last few years of the age. It does not fit 1950 any better than it fit the year A.D. 90.. A man who preaches on this text must preach that the whole age is alike, with the falling away of people, with hatred and opposition to the gospel, and with wicked, anti-Christian people, infidels, atheists and haters of God occurring all through the age.
From a consideration of all the passages which speak about the last days in the New Testament, it is quite clear that the term in the Bible never means just the few years preceding Christ's coming. And it is quite clear that God has not set off the last few years before Christ's coming to be different from the rest of the age. God has not even intimated in the Scriptures that before Christ comes there would be a special period of time when men would be harder, when revivals would be impossible or more difficult. All that is the manufactured excuse of those who do not pay God's price for revival and for soul-winning. It is the subconscious rationalization of people who do not feel that God is able to meet this age, do not feel that the gospel is sufficient, do not feel that God's power and God's promises are sufficient. It is the excuse of those who are defeated, backslidden and unbelieving. Or it is the cry of those who have been misled in doctrine by the ultradispensationalists who have taught a false doctrine about a period of "last days" at the close of the age in which it is not supposed that there can be great revivals, and when it is supposed men are more wicked, that God's Word does not work the same, and that revivals are much more difficult, if not impossible. The scriptures teach the exact opposite, that the whole age alike is the age of revival.
III. "The Last Days" Are This Whole Age of Great Revival
To many, any thought of the last days is a thought of defeat, a thought of sadness about the futility of Christian work. It ought not so to be. The term, "the last days," ought to bring real joy to the Christian heart. For the term in the Bible means this age of grace, this age when the Great Commission is given to us, this age in which Christ has promised, "And, LO, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." It means this age which is to be marked by great revivals, and those revivals are to mark the end of the age as well as the beginning of it, at Pentecost.
Consider again Joel's prophecy quoted by Peter at Pentecost, and let us see some of the blessed features which mark this whole age, features which make soul-winning comparatively easier than in other ages, and make great revivals always possible.
First, the whole age is to be characterized by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Christian workers. In Acts 2:17,18 Peter said:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
"I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh"; that is, on all kinds of people, on all races of people. The Holy Spirit is not to be poured out upon a prophet here and there, but upon God's people, Christian people everywhere who are willing to pay God's price for soul-winning. Sons and daughters shall prophesy (which means to speak and witness in the power of the Holy Spirit). Young men shall see visions, old men shall dream dreams. Even on servants and handmaidens God will pour out in those days of His Spirit and they shall witness for Christ in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot emphasize too strongly that these blessed promises are for the whole age. This mighty pouring out of the Holy Spirit came upon John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ (Luke 1:15). It came upon Christ Himself before He started His public ministry (Luke 3:21,22). The mighty power of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles after they had waited at Pentecost. That mighty revival at Pentecost was "a specimen revival," as D.L. Moody loved to say, and as he said publicly in his great campaign in Boston.
Oh, how we need to learn that it is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit which enables people to speak for God with power! The Spirit-filled testimony, the Spirit-empowered prophesying of Christians, whether sons and daughters, handmaidens, old men or young men, is what is needed to win souls. Without a supernatural enabling, a supernatural enduement of power, it is impossible to win souls, impossible to have great revivals. But, thank God, this pouring out of the Holy Spirit is characteristic of this age. D.L. Moody had it just as did Peter at Pentecost. R.A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, and every other soul winner has had it. We, too, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, mightily endued with power from on High for soul-winning. It is the heritage of this age! It is the first mark clearly promised for these last days, which began with Christ's ministry, had its great, typical, sample manifestation at Pentecost. If we may have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, then we may have revivals! We can have God's best, God's all, if we but have the mighty power of His Spirit! Thank God that all through this age, even to the end, the Lord has promised this power to those who seek His face and pay His price. We can have revival now because we can have the flood tides of the Holy Spirit, just as they had at Pentecost. It is the divinely-given mark of this age!
And again, let us take courage from this blessed Scripture passage which Peter quoted from Joel at Pentecost. "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21), said Peter. This is said of the whole period of time, including Pentecost, and including all the time down until the coming of Christ to reign, and His kingdom, on earth. We have called attention already to the fact that the great revival in the tribulation period will be wrought by the same fullness of the Spirit as the great revival at Pentecost. The beginning and ending of the age, and all in between, is to be marked not only by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon God's people for witnessing and soul-winning, but by the wonderful ease with which anyone who will may be saved! "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Every honest heart who wants salvation may have it. Only those who will not come to Christ miss salvation. Those who are willing to turn from their sins and so willing to trust in Christ and receive Him, are never cast out! What a simple, wonderful, beautiful offer of salvation: "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Every sinner who honestly asks for mercy may have it. And this is a mark of the whole age.
Note the "whosoever." This is a gospel not just for Jews, but for Gentiles, too--all races, in every clime, in every circumstance. It is a gospel for the rescue mission and the slums of the cities; a gospel for little children as well as reprobates and derelicts. It is a gospel for mature, upright, moral religionists like Nicodemus. Whether up-and-out, whether down-and-out, this whosoever includes them all. It includes heathen people in every race, darkest Africa and poor enslaved China. And this "whosoever" is, in a particular way, the mark of this whole age.
And this verse indicates that the aim of the gospel throughout the age is the same. It is to get people saved. The expectation of the church ought to be everywhere that people will be saved. Every preacher should make his preaching aim at this, which is the aim and intention of the gospel, and a great mark of this gospel age. People should be saved under our preaching! Our Sunday schools, our preaching services, and all the work of the church auxiliaries should head up in this one thing--getting people to call on Christ for mercy and be saved.
The salvation of sinners, of multitudes of sinners, is a characteristic of this whole age, as it was the striking characteristic of the services at Pentecost when Peter spoke these immortal words quoted from Joel. "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
How wonderful that the age should have near its beginning this mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, this mighty revival at Pentecost! It seems quite clear to any careful student that Pentecost was intended to be a great sample of what the gospel would do. The gospel was preached there to Jews, devout men out of every nation under Heaven, as if to remind us that the whole age would be marked by the spread of the gospel to every race everywhere. In other words, Pentecost was intended to be the first fulfillment of obedience to the command to take the gospel to every creature.
The disciples had been commanded, along with the Great Commission, to tarry at Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on High. It was impossible, they were told, to do the work they were ordered to do without supernatural enduement. They waited, and when the mighty power of God came, the revival at Pentecost resulted. The revival at Pentecost is evidently intended to be a sample revival, a pattern for the whole age.
There were miracles there? Yes, and that is as if the Lord Jesus would say that we may have His power in any measure necessary. There would be no situation, no age, no civilization, no hardness of human hearts, no combination of circumstances of which the Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, might not be the master, that is, might not be enabled to win souls in those circumstances. It is true that Christians may be persecuted, may sometimes die for Christ. But the course of the gospel through this age is intended to be a triumphant course. The promise of Psalm 126:6 is, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." It is a triumphant and certain end that a Christian faces when he goes in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching and witnessing the Word of God to lost sinners! Pentecost is a sample of what Christians ought to have throughout this wonderful age of grace, these last days prophesied by Joel and Peter.
They spoke in tongues at Pentecost, but mark you, only in the natural languages of people then present who heard the gospel. And this is evidently intended to be a sample and model case here. The gift of tongues was not a gift in some strange jabber, given only for the ecstasy and private and selfish joy of the Christian. No, the gift of tongues simply means that we can have help for any genuine need in getting out the gospel. If I must get the gospel to a Chinese man who cannot understand English, and if I have no time or cannot learn the language, then God can, when He wills, give the power to speak to the man in his own language.
We ought to take Pentecost as a sample of what God planned to give Christians during this age, the power we should have and the results we should have.
Perhaps one of the reasons D.L. Moody had such mighty power and won a million souls to Christ and shook two continents was that D.L. Moody believed that God would give him this same power, this same kind of revivals; and, praise God, He did!
I hope that every honest reader will shake out of his mind the wicked defeatism which often accompanies the thought of "the last days." The term, "the last days," means this whole gospel age. It is an age of the pouring out of the Holy Ghost. It is an age of the conversion of multitudes. It is an age when "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." The fullness of the Spirit, the power to win souls, is for all flesh, servants and handmaidens, old men and young men, sons and daughters--all who will pay God's price for fullness of power. What a wonderful gospel age in which we live! How our unbelief, our defeatism, our selfish alibis for our powerlessness and fruitlessness have grieved God! These last days are the blessed days of revival, the one period in all the world when revival is easiest, when the power of God is promised in the greatest fullness, when the gospel is offered most freely to every creature! Let us take advantage of our heritage, and enter into the power promised and the fruitage promised!