In the early 60s of the first century the apostle Peter wrote a letter to some Christian believers who were beginning to suffer persecution. In the 4th chapter of 1 Peter the readers are told that “the end of all things is near,” but now, some 2,000 years later, the end has not yet come! Was Peter wrong or is there some way to explain his position that doesn’t undermine the reliability of scripture?
It doesn’t help that other New Testament writers seem to hold the same position. Writing to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul said that he expected to be alive when the Lord would return (4:15) and later to the church in Corinth that “the time is short" (1:7). Then, three times in the Apocalypse John quotes the risen Christ as saying, “I am coming soon” (Rev 22:7, 12, 20). What do we make of this?
One answer is that the three sources quoted were simply wrong. Perhaps their desire morphed into reality. For the person who doesn’t believe that the scripture is trustworthy, that is a perfectly acceptable solution. However the historic Christian church has always held that God was perfectly able to reveal himself through scripture in a dependable fashion. He does not lead the faithful astray. So for God, through his spokesmen John, to say that Jesus would return “soon” means . . . well, just what it says – soon, not in the distant future.
Another answer is to rely on 2 Peter 3:8 where we read that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years.” That would validate “soon” because from then until now would be only a couple of days. But the instructions that follow depend upon the nearness of the end. Why get ready for something that is so many centuries away?
Still another way to solve the problem is to hold that the end is always near for everyone. Who knows about the car accident that’s just around the corner? Christ returns “soon” for each of us when understood in this way. While that is perfectly true, had that been the writer’s intention, there were numerous ways he could have stated it with clarity. It doesn’t necessarily honor God to dream up some way to let him off the hook.
The most satisfactory explanation is that the “last days” began a long time ago with the resurrection and ascension of Christ. After casting a demon out of a man who couldn’t speak, Jesus said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20). The author of Hebrews speaks of “these last days” in which God has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:2). So Peter, Paul and John are right in their statements about the end of all things being in the very near future; the last days had already begun with the advent of Christ and with his second return the “end” will have been completed.