The Last Days
Many Christians look around at the state of the world today, and conclude, "Things are so bad, we must be in the last days. Christ must be returning soon." The fact is, however, that in the Bible the phrase "last days" is not limited to the time just before the Return. Several New Testament writers referred to their own time as the "last days" (Hebrews 1:2), the "last times" (I Peter 1:20), or the "last hour" (I John 2:18). Misunderstanding what and when the last days are has added to the confusion.
The root of the term "last days," or "latter days," goes back to Moses. He told the children of Israel that a time would come when they would be so engulfed in sin and idolatry that they would be driven from their land. But he also said that when they turned back to God, they would be blessed and restored to the land (Leviticus 26:14-45; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 30:1-10). In Deuteronomy 4:30 Moses said that this restoration would take place "in the latter days."
The exile came to pass when Assyria carried away the northern kingdom of Israel (II Kings 17), and the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom of Judah (II Kings 25). When Babylon was defeated by the Medo-Persians, the exiles were allowed to return to their land. But this was not the final completion of God's promises. In Jeremiah 23:1-8 God promised that He would gather His people "out of all the countries where I have driven them," and in Jeremiah 16:13 He said He would gather them "from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them." However, the return after the 70 years of captivity was not out of all countries, it was only out of Babylon. In addition, in Jeremiah 23:4, He said that none would be missing, but the returned exiles from Babylon were only from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten northern tribes of Israel were scattered into many nations, and have yet to be returned. But they will be in the future, according to Ezekiel 37:15-28; 39:25-29. That time is identified as "the latter days" in Hosea 3:5 and Isaiah 2:2-5.
The Israelites came to refer to this time in the latter days as the "age to come" in contrast to this current age. It would involve the New Covenant, and New Heavens and Earth. The new age would be ushered in by a cataclysmic event (referred to as the Day of the Lord). After that the world would be ruled by the Messiah, a descendant of David, and all the nations would submit to his righteous rule. There would be no more war, and the earth would be restored to its original state of perfection. All of the Prophets spoke of this Age to Come (see The Kingdom in the Prophets). However when Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God was "near," instead of inaugurating the Age to Come, he died on a cross.
Jesus taught his disciples the "mysteries of the kingdom" in parables, which revealed that, rather than the Age to Come beginning immediately, there would be a period of time during which this age and the next would seem to overlap. The kingdom itself has not yet been set up, but can be seen in a proleptic, or anticipatory sense. It began with the miracles which he and his disciples performed, which were examples of the power of the Kingdom of God breaking into the current age, and severely limiting the Devil's authority. It includes the sacrifice of Jesus, which paid the price for our sins, and the power of the resurrection which is the first-fruits of the resurrections to come. During this time, the children of the kingdom and the children of the wicked one live side by side until the time of the harvest (Matthew 13:24-30). We are able to have a taste of the kingdom in its power, with the holy spirit working in us to cleanse us and regenerate us.
All these things constitute the beginning phase of the last days, in which the person of the Messiah is revealed, his atoning work accomplished, the New Covenant ratified, and the Gospel preached to the whole world. During this time we herald the coming fulfillment of God's master plan. This is why the New Testament writers spoke of the last days as having begun already.
Many of the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah because he didn't set up the kingdom in his time. As a result many Christians assume that he must have changed the meaning and nature of the kingdom, making it a spiritual kingdom rather than a literal, physical one. But rather than changing the meaning of the Kingdom, Jesus and the New Testament writers only modified how it would come. Rather than this age being immediately replaced by the age to come, the two would in a sense overlap during this phase between the first and second comings, when aspects of the age to come are foretasted and "previewed" in the midst of the present age. Then the consummation of all things will take place at the return of Christ when God's plan will be complete.
This is why the New Testament speaks of the last days as referring to more than just the events preceding the second coming. It refers to events of his first coming (Acts 2:17; 1 Peter 1:20; Hebrews 1:2), the church period as a whole (II Timothy 3:1; James 5:3; I Peter 3:3), and the time after the return of Christ (1 Peter 1:5). The entire time from the first coming onward is called the "last days" because it is the last stage of God's dealing with man before the final consummation of all things in the Kingdom of God.
I Corinthians 10:
11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
KJV: For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
NASB: Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Jesus is now seated at God's right hand in heaven from which we look for his return (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Philippians 3:20). During this time, Jesus is living in each believer by way of the holy spirit. His authority and power are tasted now, though not in its fullness as it will be. Hebrews 6:4-5 tells us that those who are enlightened "have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world [aion, age] to come."
Another aspect of the Last Days involves the change in God's dealing with Israel. Before Christ, God's primary focus in the world was the nation of Israel. But after they returned to their homeland following the Babylonian exile, they still disobeyed God. And after the close of the Old Testament, 400 years passed when there was no prophetic word from God. John the Baptist was the first prophet to appear after that, and he began by announcing that the Kingdom of God was near. And after him, Jesus made the same announcement.
Israel had prided itself with their unique relationship with God, and the Prophets foretold of the hope of the coming Messianic age. But Jesus rebuked them for their stubbornness and unbelief, and told them that the kingdom would be taken away from them.
Some try to prove that Jesus indicated the judgment was very close, and thus must have happened within the lifetime of the Apostles. They use verses such as Matthew 3:1-12 and Luke 3:9, 17 to try to prove this. But what was close was not the complete and final judgment of Israel, but the judgment pronounced by Jesus that the Kingdom would be taken away, and the children of the Kingdom rejected.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
(See the entire parable in Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18)
8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
(See the entire parable in Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24)
23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. [see NASB]
These were the initial indications that Israel would not receive the promised Kingdom as expected, and that it would be given to others. The disciples had been expecting Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a conquering king, especially when he rode in on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. But instead he confronted the Jewish leaders and made this solemn proclamation:
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
During his ministry, Jesus began to shift the focus from Israel to the whole world. By the end of his ministry, he instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24:14), to every creature (Matthew 23:35-36). The first time Gentiles were included in the Church was the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). There was great controversy over whether they should be included, whether they should observe the Law of Moses, and how they were to relate to Israel. Paul declared that there was no longer a separation between Jews and Gentiles, but that the Church was One Body of Christ, neither Jew nor Gentile (Romans 10:12; I Corinthians 1:22-23; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:1-7; Colossians 3:11). In Acts 4:11, Jesus is called "the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone." In Romans, Paul elaborates on how Israel didn't stay faithful, and rejected the Rock, Jesus Christ.
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. [see NASB]
It was God's plan to provoke Israel to jealousy by giving "their" promises to the Gentiles.
21 They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
19 But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
20 But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? [see NASB]
Paul goes on to present a beautiful illustration of how the Jews and Gentiles are part of the same Olive Tree.
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. [see NASB]
From the time of Jesus onward, God's primary dealings with man were no longer through the nation of Israel, but through the Church. This is another major characteristic of "The Last Days."
Jesus also foretold events that would lead up to his second coming and the end of the age. In his discourse with the disciples on the Mount of Olives, he responded to their question of when these things would occur with a number of signs. The first ones were compared with birth pangs, which would increase as the time grew nearer.
1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. [see NASB]
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD seems to have fulfilled the prophecy in verse 2. But does that mean all of the prophecies in this chapter must have happened then? The disciples asked two questions: (1) When will these things happen, and (2) What will be the sign of his coming, and of the end of the age? Jesus then began to describe things that would happen which would increase in severity and frequency, like birth pangs, but the end would not be yet. All those things began then and continue to this day. But they are not the end. He then referred to one specific event that would signal the beginning of the events that would happen just prior to his coming.
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
25 Behold, I have told you before.
26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. [see NASB]
The one sign that signals the beginning of the final events is the Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet. After an undesignated period of time for the general signs, the specific signs begin with this key event, which marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation. We learn from other Scriptures (see Foundations of Prophecy) that the Tribulation will last three and a half years. Then the next signs follow immediately after.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. [see NASB]
Notice it says immediately after the tribulation will be signs in the heavens, and then the return of Christ. We know from other Scriptures (see Foundations of Prophecy and Three Schools) that this is also accompanied by the resurrections. These four events - the Great Tribulation, the signs in the heavens, the return of Christ, and the resurrections - are all inextricably linked, and any interpretation of end time prophecy that does not include these will not fit with the rest of Scripture.
The record in Luke is slightly different and could seem to be pointing to the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies within the lifetimes of the Apostles.
5 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said,
6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
7 And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?
8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
9 But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
10 Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:
11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. [see NASB]
Up to this point, the record follows the same pattern as those in Matthew and Mark. Then it takes a slight detour.
12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake.
13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer:
15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
16 And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.
17 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.
18 But there shall not an hair of your head perish.
19 In your patience possess ye your souls. [see NASB]
These instructions parallel many of the instructions in Matthew 10:5-23 and Mark 13:9-13. Thus when some people come to the next section which describes terrible calamity on Jerusalem, they conclude that it must refer to the events of AD 70.
20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. [see NASB]
Matthew and Mark both describe a time of Great Tribulation, which is triggered by the Abomination of Desolation. Some commentators assume that Jerusalem compassed about with armies is the Abomination of Desolation, but it doesn't say that. It simply says when you see Jerusalem surrounded, know that its desolation is near, that is, it's approaching. Matthew and Mark both present the Abomination of Desolation as a person standing where "he" ought not to (See Three Schools). It isn't specifically mentioned here in Luke, but it must be after the siege of Jerusalem in verse 20, and before the Great Tribulation in the following verses. Also verses 21 and 23 have their parallels in Matthew and Mark.
This description does sound like the events of 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed, but those events do not line up with the rest of the related prophecies. Verse 22 says "these be the days of vengeance" which is sometimes taken out of context and quoted as if Jesus were saying that the days of vengeance were happening then, in his time. But the context is talking about when those things described take place.
It goes on to say, "that all things which are written may be fulfilled." If the days of vengeance are when all things are fulfilled, and they are identified with the events of 70 AD, then it is concluded that all things must have been fulfilled at that time. The problem with that interpretation is that if "all things" were fulfilled back then, we would see Jesus reigning in Jerusalem today, with all the nations submitted to him, no more war, and the earth restored to its original perfect state. We obviously don't see that.
The next section goes on to describe the end time events that Matthew and Mark spoke of.
25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. [see NASB]
This is clearly describing the return of Christ. Since it is a continuation from the previous passage, which is assumed to be a prediction of the events of 70 AD, it is concluded that Christ must have returned then. But as I pointed out, if that were the case, we would see the Kingdom of God in all its glory today.
What then is the solution? While the prophesied events in the Olivet Discourse sound similar to those of 70 AD, closer examination reveals that they do not match. We have dealt with the fact that at the time, Titus did not meet his end, and the resurrection and return of Christ did not happen. There are a number of other details in which the events of 70 AD do not line up with Prophecy. For more information, see the following articles:
Was the Olivet Prophecy Fulfilled in 70 AD? by Samuel Clough
Prophecy And The Destruction Of Jerusalem In A.D. 70 by Raymond C. Faircloth
"Desolation" or "Abandonment" of The City of Jerusalem Still Future Prophecy by Raymond C Faircloth
In addition, there are certain details in the prophecies which clearly identify them as being in the end times prior to the Second Coming. Jerusalem being trodden underfoot by the Gentiles is linked with the end times in Revelation 11:2, and specifically to the period of 42 months (three and a half years) identified as the Great Tribulation (see Foundations of Prophecy). Also, verse 24 of Luke 21 speaks of the inhabitants of Jerusalem being led away captive into all nations. This also sounds like what happened in 70 AD, but is linked with the end times in Zechariah. Zechariah 12 describes the terrible Tribulation upon Israel, then Chapter 13 includes a prophecy of two thirds of the city being cut off and dying, and then Chapter 14 speaks of half of the city going into captivity.
Again, the things described in Luke 21 are specifically identified with the end times, although they sound similar to what happened in 70 AD. The destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jews at that time can certainly be seen as a type or foreshadowing of the ultimate judgment on Israel. And it was also the functional end of the sacrificial system, since sacrifices could not be made without the Temple. Thus it is part of those things Jesus predicted would happen, but the end would not be yet.
In response to the Apostlesí questions about when his coming and the end of the age would be, Jesus listed a number of things that would happen first, saying, "All these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6). Then after that, he spoke of specific signs that would take place shortly before his return. These begin with the Abomination of Desolation which triggers the Great Tribulation, followed immediately by the signs in heaven.
Interestingly, a similar pattern is seen in the Seven Seals of Revelation 6. The first four correspond to the general signs in Matthew 24. Then the fifth seal corresponds to the Great Tribulation, and the sixth to the signs in heaven. The following is from The End-Times Time Line by Jim Mattison.
Notice how Matthew 24 and the Seals of Revelation 6 say the same thing.
Let's go back to Christ opening the six seals and compare them to Matthew 24.
1. A White horse. Rider has bow and crown, goes forth conquering. Not Christ Himself, but deceivers going throughout earth. Some would say this is the Gospel going forth, but Jesus said in Matthew 24 that deceivers would come.
2. A Red horse. Rider with great sword takes peace from the earth. (War)
3. A Black horse. Rider has scales, is measuring food. Food scarce. (Famine)
4. A Pale horse. Rider's name is Death. John: Death for one fourth of the earth by four means: sword, famine, pestilence, and the wild beasts of the earth (See Ezek. 14:21; Jer. 24:10). Jesus spoke of death, pestilences, earthquakes (Matt. 24:7-9; Luke 21:11).
5. 5th seal opened: Martyrs slain for God up to this time are to rest (in death) until the last martyrs are killed. (Great Tribulation)
6. 6th seal: Great earthquakes over earth. Sun darkened.
Thus it can be seen that the events of the first four seals are the general signs which would increase in frequency, and yet the end was not yet. This explains the use of phrases like "the things which must soon take place" in Revelation 1:1 and "the time is near" in Revelation 1:3. It also explains why the angel told John not to seal the words of the prophecy, "for the time is near," in contrast with Daniel who was told to seal his prophecy until the end time (Daniel 12:4, 9). In Daniel's day, the prophecies were still a long way off, but in John's day the Last Days had begun, and the beginning of the general signs were about to start, although the specific signs, including the Great Tribulation, are still future.
In summary, the Last Days have been going on since Christ's first coming, and include Christ's reign in heaven, as well as his dwelling in believers and their foretaste of the coming Kingdom as the Gospel is preached to the world. They also include the prophesied general signs which would increase in frequency and intensity as the time of the end gets closer. The start of these general signs is what was to begin "soon" according to Revelation. This period of time will continue until the return of Christ, at which time the Kingdom of God will be fully inaugurated, and the Last Days will be completed.