The Prophetic Teachings on Last Days
Pr. Sam K. Jacob
Eschatological expectations or the teachings on last days are common in many religions. According to the Old Testament view, eschatology is as old as the belief that God has chosen his people and is guiding them at present.The eschatological expectation begins more fully with the prophets. They frequently depict the eschatological age of salvation which lie on the other side of judgment. It is the age in which God's will is to prevail.
The prophet's teachings on eschatology are based on two fundamental aspects: (a) Eschatology and the history of salvation (b) Judgment and salvation.
Eschatology and the history of salvation
The Old Testament presents the history of salvation in such a way that God intervened in the affairs of Israel as His chosen people.On the basis of their experience of faith they concluded that Yahweh created the world.This is the starting point of the eschatological expectation of the future that Yahweh would establish His dominion over the world and make His people to have fellowship with Him.Yahweh dominates against his foes victoriously and miraculously.The present catastrophes and calamities are not the primary or essential reason for them to perish because Yahweh is coming and He will create everything new.The coming of Yahweh is the central idea of Old Testament eschatology.The classical prophets depict the final act of God as analogous to his earlier acts of salvation(Isaiah 10:24-27;11:15-16;51:10-11;48:21;Hosea 2:14-15;Jeremiah 31:31-34;Ezekiel 32:26; Isaiah 55:3)
Judgment and salvation
Yahweh is the punishing God as well as saving God.He is the merciful God who saves,but also the holy God who will punish sin(Exodus 20:5-6;Isaiah 6:3-5).Yahweh sits in judgment over all that is ungodly,to destroy sin,over the foreign gods,over the gentile nations and also over the sins of his own people(cf.Zephaniah 2:11;Jeremiah 25:15;Hosea 4:1-2;Micah 6:1f).Yahweh punishes the ungodly by way of forces available both in nature and history namely, sword,hunger, pestilence,fire,earthquakes,war and deportation(cf.Jeremiah 14:12;Ezekiel 6:11-12;Amos 1:4,2:13,5:3,5;6:7,Hosea 9:3,11:5).But those who are faithful to Yahweh will be granted victory not only in the cosmic but also in the historic realms(Isaiah 27:1;10;24-27).Salvation is depicted as an even more glorious return of the good old days of the people of God under Moses or David.Yahweh himself is the shepherd and king of the people.
Though the classical prophets have much to say about the events that will take place at the end time,the future hope has been alive since the patriarchal period. The prophecies of Balaam (Numbers 23-24), the blessings of Jacob(Genesis 49), blessings of Moses gave a hope for national salvation in the days ahead.Their themes are Israel's victory over enemies coupled with messianic thought.The biblical prophets have handed down many ideas concerning the hope for the future.We shall discuss some of the themes which endorse the prophetic expectations regarding the future.
1.Day of the Lord
The day of the Lord signifies both destruction and deliverance. On one hand the destruction of all ungodly powers,on the other deliverance to those who are loyal to Yahweh.The proclamation of the doom is summoned up in the writings of Amos which is pictured as darkness and not light (5:18-20;8:9). The kingdom of the North is to be destroyed (7:9);war (3;11;5:3;6:14) deportation (5:27;6:7) earthquakes (2:13;6:11) and mass death(5:16-17;6:9-10)come upon the people. But deliverance is possible for those who seek Yahweh and his will(5:4,6,14).The kingdom of David will arise again in its old greatness(9:11-15)and with that a new time of salvation begin after the judgment.For Zephaniah the day of the Lord is great and terrible(1:7,14-18,2:2-3,3:8) in which destruction is coming upon the whole world and all its inhabitants.The judgment of the idolatrous and faithless Judah and Jerusalem is introduced by the announcement of the last judgment which will sweep away everything(1:2-3).The earth is to be consumed by the fire of the wrath of Yahweh(3:8).But the announcement of judgment is not the final words.There exists the possibility that the remnant which seek the right,justice and humility will be spared on the day of judgment.
A universal judgment is expected by Malachi and Joel.In Malachi the day of the Lord comes burning like an oven upon all the arrogant and evil doers(4:1-3).Joel 1-2 predicts a plague of grasshoppers and drought as signs of the nearness of the day of the Lord(1:15;2:1-11).The day of the Lord is also marked by the out pouring of the Holy Spirit(Joel 2:28-29),portends of the day of the Lord in the heavens and on earth(Joel 2:30-31),judgment against the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat(Joel 3:1-3,9-12,13-17) ,the Lord will send his messenger to prepare the way for him (Malachi 3:1)and returning of the prophet Elijah as the forerunner(Malachi 4:5) .
2. Messianic hope
The idea of Messiah is very evident and forceful in the Old Testament right from the beginning, especially in the prophets.The faithless dynasty in Jerusalem will be redeemed by the messiah who will establish a kingdom of peace and justice.The most important treatment of the Davidic-Messianic figure occurs in Isaiah 1-37 and in particular chapters 7-12.The birth of Immanuel is a sign to the king.Isaiah sets Immanuel in the context of the hope of Israel.He is a world ruler having mystery regarding his person,precisely as the wonderful child,the royal deliverer,the righteous king and mighty God(cf.Isaiah 9:1-7;11:1-16).He is depicted as the servant of the Lord in the so called servant songs(42:1-4;49:1-6;50:4-9;52:13-53:12).For Micah he is the true ruler from Bethlehem(5:2-6).In the midst of calamities, Jeremiah was able to revive the hope of the people with messianic thought(23:5)
3.The new Covenant
Jeremiah was expecting the traditional covenant to be renewed in a glorious form(33:14-26;31:31f).Under the renewed covenant the divine law would be written not upon stone tablets but upon the hearts of the people.Both Israel and Judah are a part of it.It will not be like old broken Sinai covenant.Obedience is possible because the law will no longer need to be taught but written on the heart of the people.The new covenant will endure forever.
4. Zion and the establishment of the kingdom
Deutero-Isaiah awaits the return of Israel into its own country as a second wonderful exodus(43:14-21;48:20-21;51:10-11;52:11-12;51:12).Jerusalem and its temple shall be rebuilt(44:28).On mount Zion,Yahweh will lay a precious cornerstone,the foundation for the new structure of the time of salvation.Yahweh reigns as king of Zion in a kingdom of security and salvation(51:3;54:13-14).Yahweh makes an eternal covenant with Israel(55:3).Beyond Israel, Mount Zion,as center of Yahweh's kingdom of peace,acquires significance for all nations (Isaiah 2:2-4).The servant of the Lord has a divine commission to bring justice,light and deliverance to the nations(42:1-4) and thereby to extend the covenant of God to the entire world.His mission for the world is described in 49:6.In Haggai and Zechariah the time of salvation begins with the construction of the temple and establishment of his kingdom in Jerusalem(Haggai 2:15-19;Zechariah 1-6).Israel will live in the land with security(Ezekiel 38:8,11-12,14).Yahweh fights against the nations and the physical changes of the landscape of Judah occur(Zechariah 14:4-5;8,10).It is a matter of the coming of the reign of God,in which the salvation of Israel is completely established.