2@Salvation in the Last Days
Then turning to his disciples he said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
The Scriptures tell us that God's saving power will be revealed in the Last Days. Here "Scriptureshrefers to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the written history of the people of Israel. The first five Books are called "Torah" and they provide both a historical account of Mosesfrole in freeing the Israelites from the shackles of dynastic Egypt as well as a statement of the covenant that was established between Israel and its God Yahweh, the Deliverer. The Torah is regarded as being the most important and fundamental part of their religion, Judaism. The second part is called "Prophets." It is a collection of messages and books authored by the many prophets who have received Yahweh's words and taught them to the Israelites over the course of time, especially around the dire era of Babylonian Captivity. This second part was regarded as being just as important as the first part, and these two parts formed the main body of the Holy Scripture before Jesus' time. The third part "Books", a compilation of important Israelite religious books (such as Psalms), was subsequently added to the Scriptures.
The Scriptures do not form a book but a library, a collection of the many documents and books that have accumulated over the course of Israel's long history. However, throughout those many books of various kinds, one central theme remains: God's workings and His dedication to the salvation of His people throughout the history of Israel. We may call it "the salvation history," as German theologians call it "Heilsgeschichte." However, in the Scriptures salvation is not yet achieved. Surely the Torah has revealed how Yahweh's saving power has manifested itself in the past, through its retelling of Israel's deliverance from the Egyptian dynasties and religion. But prophets also foretold Israel's future salvation, one that will exceed in scope and magnitude Israel's deliverance from Egyptian oppression. For example, Jeremiah has prophesied that God would make a new covenant with His people in the coming days, a more absolute covenant (relation between God and His people) than the one established in Sinai when He delivered Israel from Egypt (Jer. 31;31~34).
Prophets of Israel repeatedly told the people of the covenant that Yahweh, their God, would reveal His definitive salvation and establish His final reign "in the Last Days" or "in the Coming Days". In these prophecies the kingdom of David was often used as the symbol of God's Reign. As David brought the widest and most glorious kingdom in Israelite history, God's messiah, an anointed one, would finally bring God's Kingdom in the Last Days. This messianic hope was emphasized in the apocalyptic literature after the canon of Prophets was closed, as Daniel, one of the latest books in the Old Testament, exemplified. In the apocalyptic literature the messianic figure was often referred to as "Son of Man," the one who would come down from heaven and in whom God would reveal His final saving power and His eternal reign (Daniel 7:13~14). He would bring the eternal new "aeon" (age) at the end of this present "aeon" (age) in which powers hostile to God were still all powerful.
When Jesus of Nazareth appeared in Israel, he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and healed many sick people (Mat.4:23). People of Israel welcomed Jesus and many of them gathered around him. But the leaders of Judaism, scholars of the Torah, suspected Jesus of neglecting the holy laws of Judaism, especially the law of Sabbath. They eventually had Jesus arrested and condemned to death for heresy in the supreme court of Judaism. He was crucified by the local Roman governor, for the Jewish supreme court did not have the authority to execute a death sentence at the time. Jesus was crucified on a Friday during the Jewish feast of Passover, but, three days later, on the first day of the following week, Jesus appeared to his disciples, alive. Soon his disciples began to admonish the Jews: "You killed Jesus on the cross, but God raised him from the dead and declared him Christ, the savior!" Their message was to reach many nations around the Mediterranean Sea.
The essential point of the gospel, this message of God's working for salvation in Jesus as Christ, is that it is God's final and decisive activity for the salvation in the Last Day, as God told us through the prophets of Israel. God created the heaven and the earth in the beginning and He accomplishes His works of saving in the end. When God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead and made him Christ, He finalized his works of saving in history through His anointed one, his Messiah. Those who live in Christ by putting their faith in the gospel are experiencing God's saving power in the Last Days. The Last Days have already begun, we are living in those times, but they have not yet ended. The Last Days began when Christ was resurrected from the dead and they will end when God raises His people in Christ from the dead. Those amongst us who exist in Christ are living between these two definite times of God's saving works.
Judaism and Islam believe in the same God as Christianity, but in one crucial instance do they differ from Christianity. Yahweh, God of the Jew, and Allah, God of the Arab, are the same God as the Christian God, but Judaism and Islam do not profess that their God has accomplished his final saving work in Jesus as Christ. Judaism does not recognize Jesus as Christ. The Jews are still waiting for the upcoming appearance of their Messiah ('Christ' is a Greek word for 'Messiah' in Hebrew). Islam, which recognizes Jesus as one of the inspired prophets, rejects the notion of Jesus as Christ and proclaims Mohammed to be the last and final prophet whom to all humanity must obey. Mohammed appeared in the 7th century, later than Jesus chronologically, but from the viewpoint of the message of salvation, Islam needs a Savior to appear in the future.
Now, where can we find the reality of the Last Days? The reality of the Last Days is seen where God's Spirit is at work, in the spiritual sphere of humanity. Prophets told the people throughout history that He would pour out His Spirit on all humanity in the Last Days (Joel 3:1~5). When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God in Galilee, he declared, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives." (Luke 4:18) Jesus was filled with Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the reality of the kingdom of God that was given in him by the Holy Spirit. When the people of Israel heard Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom and saw Jesus' work of healing, the words of the prophets had been fulfilled and the Last Days had come to them (Luke4:21). They saw the reality of the Last Days in Jesusfpreaching of God's unconditional grace for the poor by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The same things are happening where the gospel of Christ is preached through the power of the Holy Spirit. When Peter, representing the disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit, began to proclaim on the day of Pentecost that God had raised Jesus whom the Jew had delivered to the Romans to be killed on the cross, he declared that the Last Days had come, thus fulfilling the prophecy(Act 2:14~39). The risen Christ has sent His witnesses, messengers, to various places in the world, as seen in Luke 10:1~23, for example, where 70 disciples were sent out and returned. The messages of the gospel were often rejected in Galilee, and towns and cities there were rebuked for their faithlessness, but the messengers were blessed by Jesus, their risen Lord. The words of Jesus', quoted at the top of this article, tell us that they were given the reality of the Last Days, a reality that prophets and kings of Israel could not know, or were not allowed to see and hear. Now, not only the messengers but all the people who believe in Christ and experienced God's saving power by the Holy Spirit, are living in the reality of the Last Days. Those who live in Christ are living in the reality of 'eschaton', the Last Days.
The gospel declares: "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) In this sentence, it should be noted that 'the law' is the Greek word for 'Torah' in Hebrew, and, to the Jews, 'Torah' encompasses the entire Judaic system. So John declares in this phrase that the Judaic religion was given by Moses while grace and the reality came through Jesus Christ. Judaism is a religion that is a system of demands of God to the people, but grace, in contrast to demands, is a gift of God that gives good things unconditionally to all. Now, what was given by grace, then? It was 'aletheia,' John declares. This Greek word is usually translated as 'truth,' but I think it has to be translated here as 'reality' in contrast to 'law', a system of demands and sybolism.
A religion is always a system of symbolism, one that points toward something that is beyond human understanding and power. Judaism, a religion created by prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, points toward God's final work of salvation in the Last Days. Now the gospel proclaims that the Last Days have come in Christ, and that those who believe in Christ are given the reality of God's kingdom by the grace of God in Christ. And just as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the kingdom of God, those who exist in Christ are permitted to participate in the reality of the Last Days by the Holy Spirit.
In the next message we will tell you about the realities we are introduced into by the grace of God in Christ.