Pauline Teachings on the Last Days
Dr. Kris A. Jackson
A leader is only as apostolic as he is prophetic. The ability to foresee what lies ahead is key to effective leadership. A car’s headlights beam far enough down the road to make the journey navigable and safe. “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself…” (Prov. 22:3) So, in studying Paul, we discover a man with his finger on the pulse of his generation, mid-first century, but also with binoculars zooming in on events in the generation that will see Christ’s return.
Paul had no way of knowing when the Last Days would arrive, so he lived as though Christ would return in his lifetime. Notice the pronoun “we” – “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds…” (1 Thess. 4:17) He believed he would be in the number that would be caught up to meet Jesus. Twenty centuries have now passed, yet today’s Church maintains Paul’s expectation. He who rose again will also return as He said.
Let me offer a sampling of Paul’s eschatological views, what He termed as the “day of Christ” or the “day of the Lord”:
He claimed that nature groans in anticipation of that day (Rom. 8:22-23)
He looked for the “blessed hope and glorious appearing” of Christ (Tit. 2:13)
He called believers to remain blameless until that day (1 Cor. 1:8)
He warned that we all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)
He spoke in detail about the restoration of national Israel (Rom. 11)
He addressed the catching away of the believers (1 Thes. 4:15-18)
He believed God would change our corruptible bodies at His appearing (Phil. 3:21)
He gave details concerning the coming “man of sin,” the Antichrist (2 Thes. 2:2-12)
He spoke of the second advent, when Christ would appear in glory (Col. 3:4)
He said Jesus would come in flaming fire to execute judgment on earth (2 Thes. 1:9)
He believed Christ would return with His saints (1 Thes. 3:12)
He warned that those who do not love the Lord will be accursed at His coming (1 Cor. 16:22)
We should not dogmatically interpret Pauline eschatology through a denominational or strict dispensational lens. He conceded that “we see through a glass darkly”. No man knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. We know the data, the signs of the times, but we don’t know the date. As previously stated. Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime, as did every generation of saints since Pentecost. He never realized his hope, but he did paint a clear picture of the Last Days in his epistles.
1. Paul foresaw the ANARCHY of the world
“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…” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) I will not share the whole text, but Paul catalogued a number of signs of the times (and sins of the times). We live in a world of anarchy and chaos, what Jesus described as “distress of nations, with perplexity”. We see active wars in many parts of the globe, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, social strife, crime and rebellion. This is a day of guided missiles and misguided morals. The Middle-East is a powder keg. And the nuclear powers continue to invent and build more sophisticated weaponry with the potential of wiping out tens of millions of people with the push of a button. These are indeed “perilous times”.
2. Paul foresaw the APATHY of the church
A high school teacher, frustrated with his pupils’ careless attitudes, took chalk and wrote on the blackboard, “IGNORANCE AND APATHY”. One young man with his feet propped on the back his neighbor’s chair asked what it meant, to which the other student shrugged, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Apathy is the telltale sign of the Laodicean age.
Paul warned that the day would catch men unaware – “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:1-2). As Jonah snored in the hull of the ship and Samson fell asleep on Delilah’s lap, today’s church is woefully ignorant and asleep when it comes to its imminent peril. When men begin to say, “peace and safety”, the trap will spring, and a whole generation will be caught off guard – “Then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (vs 3).
Paul affirmed that we are of the day and not of the night, but the indifference toward the global harvest and world-likeness of the average believer belies Paul’s optimism. Jesus said the people of Noah’s day were taken by surprise when the deluge came. They did not know what hit them.
Similarly, the apostle challenges the church to be prepared for the Last Days. First, that our anticipation of the “the blessed hope” should have a sanctifying effect - “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:12). And second, it should stir our passion for global evangelism – “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” (2 Cor. 5:11)
3. Paul foresaw the APOSTASY of the ministry
Next, he assesses the ministry at the time of the end. Satan’s chief tactic has always been deception, and it will only worsen as we approach the end of the age. The reader has seen fundamental mutations in the ministry, churches ordaining gay and lesbian clerics, the removal of standards on social drinking, multiple marriages,etc., and the watering down of the gospel.
The message has been reshaped to satisfy the current age – “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3).
Bizarre doctrines will be introduced that lead men away into destruction – “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1).
This will culminate in apostasy, a great abandonment of faith – “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition”
(2 Thes. 2:3). It seems farfetched that in a few short generations the ministry could degenerate from Apostolic to Apostate, but we are seeing it before our eyes. Evil always fills the vacuum where revival once prevailed. The next prophetic figure to step on the stage will be the Man of Sin.
4. Paul foresaw the ACTIVITY of the Spirit
But the Last Days and fast days will be the best days. The Man of sin will be countered by the Son of man. The Book of Revelation is not about the Antichrist, it is the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). The final hour of misery will also be an hour of great ministry and mastery – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa. 59:19).
According to Paul, we have an exciting future as a church. First, he mentioned “the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). The Last Days will illuminate who belongs to Christ and who does not. The sheep will be divided from the goats. God’s servants will do exploits (Dan. 11:32). Apostolic power and miracles will be restored to the church, an outpouring which will lead to a great ingathering before the uptaking.
Second, the Body of Christ will reach true unity - “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ…” (Eph. 1:10)The Greek word anakephalao suggests“comingunder one head”, Christ the Head of the Church. The Body will function as intended through the working of its many parts, around the globe.
The crushing of the serpent’s head, promised in the Garden, will finally occur. What Jesus accomplished on the cross will, at last, be operative through a church that understands its full authority - “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). Christ’s feet will mean Satan’s sure defeat!
Finally, a “glorious church”, a chaste Bride, will be presented to Christ (Eph. 5:26,27). Every spot on the wedding garment will be washed in the blood of Jesus, with every wrinkle ironed out with the hot iron of His judgment. Then the wedding chamber doors will swing wide open, and behold, Jesus!