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21 January 2019

Paul and The Last Days

The New Testament coordinates the start of the “last days” with the death and resurrection of Jesus; in him, the time of fulfillment has arrived. All the promises of God find their “yea and amen” in Christ.  God spoke partially in the prophets of old but now speaks fully in His Son (Acts 2:17-212 Corinthians 1:20Hebrews 1:1-3).
While the term “last days” is not frequent in Paul’s letters, in various ways, he demonstrates his understanding that History’s final era is already underway. Nothing can ever be the same.
To a Greek-speaking congregation, the Apostle Paul categorized events from the Old Testament as “types,” examples for present believers “upon whom the ends of the ages arrived” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and 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 should live after the manner of this age (verse 6).
Paul uses the plural form of “ages” or “eras,” likewise, the plural noun “ends.” The Greek telos or “end” may signify the end or termination of something but, also, its “goal.”  Paul may have both senses in mind:  termination and goal.
Jesus expressed the same thought in his Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:40), both of which are to be “gathered in the consummation of the age,” using a compound word built on telos (sunteleia). Similarly, the book of Hebrews states that Jesus, “now once in the consummation (sunteleia) of the ages, has appeared to put away sin by his sacrifice” (Hebrews 9:26).
In Christ, one era arrived at its intended endpoint and another commenced.  This transition was due to Jesus Christ, to his death and resurrection. Therefore, Paul declared that the “ends of the ages” were upon believers, at least in first-century Corinth.
End of the Law/Old Order Replaced
To the churches at Rome, Paul declared that the arrival of Jesus “is the end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The literary context is clear; the “law” referred to is the one given to Israel at Mount Sinai. Whether Paul meant the termination or the goal of the Law, his statement indicates a fundamental change in status. In whatever way “righteousness” was determined previously, things changed with the arrival of Jesus, at least for everyone “who believes.”
To the Galatians, Paul answered the question:  Why the law?  In his explanation, he 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 to Abraham, therefore, the promise had precedence over the law.
The law served as a custodian for God’s people, “until the faith that should afterward be revealed.”  Since that faith had arrived, God’s people were 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, Jesus, “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.”
Paul links promise, inheritance, redemption, and the “fullness of time” to the arrival of Jesus, along with the “adoption” and the gift of the Spirit (cp. Galatians 3:1-4).  The arrival of Jesus signified a fundamental change in the law and in the status of God’s people.
Fullness of Time
Paul links the past appearance of Jesus to the “fullness of time,” a time when God’s people 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).
One area of conflict in the Galatian assemblies was a return to the Jewish calendrical observations required by the Mosaic legislation. But since they were no longer required, it follows that the jurisdiction of the Law was terminated or, at least, modified. This also meant a radical change in the status and identity of God’s people.
The same clause occurs in Ephesians 1:9-11:
Making known to us the mystery of his will…for an administration of the fullness of the seasons, to sum up all things in 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.”
Paul in the preceding passage uses the more pregnant term, “seasons,” and in the plural. This stresses how Christ is the goal of all God’s plans from all eras; past, present, and future.
Present Age Fading - New Creation Dawning
Paul addressed marital relationships in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40; should Christians continue in them considering the “present distress?” The short answer is “yes.” Husbands and wives must continue to fulfill their mutual obligations, and the unmarried are free to marry, only “in the Lord.”
But Paul does 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. The present tense verb stresses linear action; this world is already in the process of “passing away” since the arrival of Christ.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul taught:
One on behalf of all died, hence they all died…in order that they who live no longer should live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again on their behalf. Henceforth know no one after the flesh…So then, if anyone is in Christ, a new creation! The original things have passed away; behold, they have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17).
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on some level inaugurated the promised new creation; its implementation is already in process.  This, in turn, means a major pivotal point in history has been reached.
The “old” order is passing away and a “new” one has dawned, particularly, in the church.  This means both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new. Things vital under the old regime lose their importance. For example, in Christ, circumcision is no longer here nor there; what counts is a “new creation” (Galatians 6:15).
Transferred into a new realm
The Apostle points to Jesus and his sacrificial death that “delivered us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4); he does not refer to transportation out of the physical universe but deliverance from the present “age,” presumably in preparation for the coming one.
Similarly, to the Colossians, Paul gives thanks to God “who delivered us out of the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Disciples belong to a different age and a different political order.
Hidden Mysteries Revealed in Christ
Paul speaks of “mysteries” previously hidden but now made plain in Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection.  The promises given by the prophets of Israel find fulfillment in Jesus.
Jesus Christ 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).
The grace of God has now “been manifested by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death, brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In such passages, there is a theme of present fulfillment in Jesus.
The Last Days
The “last days” in the New Testament is not a chronological marker or simply history’s final few years, but a fundamental change in the nature of things as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
His death achieved final victory over Sin, Death, and Satan; Calvary means far more than just the forgiveness of an individual’s sin.  Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, the new covenant, and the new creation; his death put into play the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for humanity and the entire creation.
Nothing can ever be the same again; all human relations are radically altered.  Marital, societal and political relations are forever altered for the disciple of Jesus.
That is why the New Testament consistently portrays the “last days” as having begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The time of fulfillment has been upon us ever since his first advent.

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