Natural disasters and phenomena have dominated headlines in 2017. Hurricanes in the Atlantic, earthquakes in Mexico and even a major solar eclipse. The Bible often mentions major “woes” such as earthquakes, famines and cosmic disturbances as “signs of the times” and the ending of the ages.
It’s not surprising the ancients expected such irregular phenomena at the end of time.
Theirs was a world without microscopes or telescopes. The natural shifting of tectonic plates would seem like the world was coming apart at the seams (Mark 13:8; Rev 16:18) or the moon turning red during a lunar eclipse (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:12) or the sun going dark during a solar one (Micah 3:6; Rev 8:12) would feel like the lights turned off on human history. Or meteors burning up in the atmosphere (Mark 13:25; Rev 9:1) would seem like stars — which the ancients often considered to be angels or deities controlling the fate of those on earth — had been irreversibly displaced.
Do any of these headlines mean we are now living in “the last days”? New Testament writers would say we’ve actually been living in the last days for 20 centuries now. The author of Hebrews declared the incarnation of the Son was God’s ultimate revelation in the last days (Heb 1:1-2).
In Acts 2, Peter quoted Joel and preached that the descent of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem in the first century was a sign of the last days. Even the Apostle Paul, like most other early Christians, expected the return of Christ in his very lifetime (1 Thess 4:15).
So were these expectations wrong, misplaced or misguided? Well, maybe that’s the wrong question. What the New Testament writers were expressing was that the coming of Christ was such a profound, epoch-making event that a new day had dawned, a new covenant was established and an entirely new era had begun.
Jesus’ resurrection was called the “firstfruits” of the final resurrection at the end of the ages (1 Cor 15:20, 23). Life in the Spirit was now the foretaste of the new age and the kingdom of God (Rom 8:23), which would reach ultimate consummation in the day of the Lord.
Christians should be careful not to claim or demand that recent, localized natural phenomena are the ending of global history. These kinds of events have always occurred and will continue to occur.
The earth is not a static environment. One should not make myopic or sensational claims that our generation must be the last generation. Christian history is littered with too many such ego-centric and ill-fated claims.