What did Jesus teach about “the last day?” That’s the question we’ll answer in this post.
Welcome to the 26th post in my series on rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you’ve not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.
For the past ten posts, we’ve been studying what Jesus taught about His second coming, the resurrection and the judgment.
Earlier in the series, we studied what the phrase “the last days” means in the Scriptures. We learned that the phrase is consistently used to refer to the time period of the end of GOD’s covenant with physical Israel.
We also saw that the end of physical Israel as GOD’s people was prophesied as far back as Moses.
By the first century A.D., as we studied from John the Baptist’s mission, the end of these “last days” was drawing near.
Interestingly, we have no record of Jesus using the phrase the last days, plural.
Instead, Jesus only spoke of “the last day,” singular.
The phrase “the last day” is found 6 times in the Scriptures, all in the Gospel of John.
The phrase was used 5 times by Jesus and once by Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. All six uses occurred in the context of three conversations.
Conversation #1: After Feeding the 5,000
John recorded Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:1-15.
Immediately after this, John recorded Jesus’ walking on water that night (John 6:16-21).
We pick up the reading in John 6:22:
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Note: Did you know that Jesus had said that belief in Him was a work? This is an interesting point in the oft-misguided faith-vs.-works debates that have plagued believers for centuries now.
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
(John 6:22-66 NIV)
Conversation #2: The Resurrection of Lazarus
John recorded the account of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11.
Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus’, along with Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. The three lived in Bethany, just a couple of miles east of Jerusalem.
Jesus, out of town at the time, was sent word by the sisters that Lazarus was deathly ill.
Knowing what would transpire, Jesus chose to delay His coming.
Lazarus died. Jesus arrived four days afterward.
It is with this context that we read the following:
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
(John 11:17-27 NIV)
Martha thought that Jesus was referring to the mass resurrection which she acknowledged to the Lord would happen “at the last day.”
But it is interesting that Martha knew that the resurrection:
- Would happen on the last day, and…
- Was connected with the Messiah who was to come into the world. (Otherwise, why would she respond in this manner when Jesus spoke of the resurrection in vv.25-26?)
Conversation #3: The Week of the Crucifixion
The last reference to “the last day” is found shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion in John 12.
There, John wrote:
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
(John 12:20-50 NIV)
Observations Regarding “the Last Day“
- Each of these 6 occurrences of “the last day” are found within the context of discussion regarding the resurrection and the judgment. Thus, Jesus taught that the last day, the resurrection and the judgment were linked.
- If indeed “the last day(s)” refers to the end of the old covenant in the first century, as we have shown to be the case, then Jesus was plainly teaching that the mass resurrection of the dead occurred in the first century at His second coming (when the old covenant ended).
- This is completely consistent with what we studied so far, including Jesus’ teachings two days before His death.
Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I’m truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)