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The last hour

We are living in the end times and need to stay ready for Jesus’ glorious return.

We live in the last days of the world. Our Savior Jesus will return soon as judge of all. Soon he will gather all his faithful—both the living and the dead—to himself in heaven. We are right now in the end times.

Understand the timing

That might seem a bold thing to say, but don’t take my word for it. Take God’s.

The writer to the Hebrew Christians noted that for centuries God’s voice had been heard through ministries of the Old Testament prophets, “but in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son” (1:2). Decades earlier, in his sermon at Pentecost, Peter had referred to the events of that great day as fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “ ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people’ ” (Acts 2:17). Decades later, the apostle John sensed the world’s end as something even closer: “Dear children, this is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

These are not isolated assessments of those times. Paul told the Romans, “[Understand] the present time: . . . our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11) and warned his protege Timothy of dangerous people “in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-5), days that he expected Timothy would experience. Peter, this time in his first letter, stated flatly, “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). The Lord’s brother James saw it the same way: “The Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8).

Thus spoke God’s spokesmen two thousand years ago. But wait. Two thousand years? That seems a long time since “the last hour.” Were they wrong? You know they weren’t. Two perspectives help us understand how a two-thousand-year—and counting!—wait can be considered short for something soon and near.

First, the harder perspective to grasp: God’s. Moses reminds us that to our timeless God, a thousand years are like a day, a millennium like a fast fraction of a night shift (Psalm 90:4). Peter paraphrases Moses to give his readers that same perspective for their comfort and as an answer to scoffers (see 2 Peter 3:3-9). Importantly, Peter adds that what some might call the Lord’s slowness is proof of his loving patience. God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (v. 9).

History offers the second perspective: The clock on the last days of the world began running as Jesus fulfilled every detail of every promise God ever made of a Savior. We sum up those details as his life, death, and resurrection. That basic outline created another basic outline—forgiveness, life, and salvation—for all who believe in what God’s Son, our Brother, did for us.

All of history had led up to just the right time for Jesus to come into the world. His presence on this earth from conception to ascension is history’s crescendo. All the days since that time are the last days. Each one brings us closer to the fulfillment of one last promise, not of Jesus’ first coming but of his second. What Jesus had promised his disciples, angels repeated to them right after his ascension into heaven, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). It’s fair to sum up the end times, the last days of this world, as all those that fall between Jesus’ first coming and his second.

Observe the signs

On the Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus had much to say about the end times. That Tuesday he faced both enemies and friends, giving each group timely words of warning and instruction. First, he taught in the temple courts. As Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple, conversation about the end of the world began. The disciples marveled at the temple’s size and beauty, truly a wonder of the age. Fifty years before, Rome’s vassal, King Herod the Great, had begun a renovation of the second temple so extensive that, with reason, some suggest that Herod essentially built a third temple. Aspects of the renovation continued another 30 years, until not long before the destruction of all Jerusalem, including the temple, in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

Jesus was speaking of that destruction when he told the disciples, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” That truth led to further conversation outside Jerusalem proper on the Mount of Olives. The disciples pressed Jesus, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:2,3).

Perhaps the disciples thought the two events—the temple’s destruction and the end of the world—would happen at the same time. Jesus’ reply applies especially to the end of the world, though parts of it foretell the horrible time of the Roman siege and destruction of all Jerusalem. All three gospel accounts of his answer—Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21—invite a careful read.

Ponder what Jesus has to say about the end times. His words read like a history book—or today’s newspaper. Jesus foretold that there will be many false messiahs claiming to be him and phony prophets spewing lies.

Wars and rumors of wars will roil the world with their attending horrors. Natural disasters will be like birth pains that signal the inevitable, unavoidable end. Persecutions and hatred will land hard on God’s people, to the point that some—indeed most—will fall away from faith.

But Jesus promises rescue and safety to those who endure. Moreover, before the end, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). The disciples do not get a direct answer to their question of when.

Each [day] brings us closer to the fulfillment of one last promise, not of Jesus’ first coming but of his second.

They are told to observe these signs the way they take note of changes in nature. And even then, Jesus will return “at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

Prepare for his coming

So Jesus urges by command and parable that believers be prepared for his return and in the meantime be faithful in their Christian callings.

For these last days, these end times, Jesus has given us what we need. We have his gospel in Word and sacrament by which the Holy Spirit feeds our faith in our Savior. It is beyond vital that we stay close to those blessings to gather strength for the grueling days that remain.

And let’s encourage one another in these days. Take heart from the examples of faithful Christians—famous or family or friends—who remained loyal to God and to one another through events such as those of which Jesus spoke.

For that last moment of the Last Day, be ready. You are. You know that your Jesus lived, died, and rose for you. Meanwhile, stay busy in your life of thank-filled tasks. Serve God and people here with the work and works he has created for you to do. Like the disciples at Jesus’ ascension, you need not stand gazing into the sky. Your Savior will come again, as he did the first time—at just the right time.

Author: Daniel Balge
Volume 110, Number 11
Issue: November 2023

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