Author: Ron Graham
What is a Day?
—A surprisingly important question.
Are the Last Days a short period or a long age? This lesson answers that question by examining the surprisingly important Bible meanings of the word “day”.
1 Some Surprises About “Day”
You might be surprised at the importance of the word "day" in the Bible. Misunderstanding that word is an element in many mistaken teachings, including an erroneous interpretation of the phrase “the last days”.
Defining a Day
When I was preparing this study, I asked a five-year-old, "What is a day?" She replied,"A day means that it's morning... and... um... it's morning... and kids play outside a lot and they put summer dresses on... to put with socks... and... the flowers grow!"
Clearly the child was having trouble explaining what a "day" means. We all find definitions and descriptions surprisingly difficult, whether they be of tangible things such as "apple", abstract things such as "love", or things somewhere between, such as "day".
Measuring a Day
One turn of the earth is a day; one sunrise to the next is a day; 24 hours is a day; but none of these “days” is equal. The turning of the earth is completed 3 minutes and 56 seconds short of 24 hours. In one orbit around the sun, the number of turns is one greater than the number of sunrises.
Scientists recognise, and have special terms for, these different versions of a day. This is only a curiosity, but it does illustrate that the word "day" can mean different things even literally.
Errors Concerning a Day
You may be surprised to learn that serious errors on several important topics arise from wrong interpretations of the word "day" in the Bible. These topics include the creation; prophecy; the cross of Christ; the Sabbath; the Lord’s Supper; the Second Coming.
Occurrences in Bible
Another possible surprise to you is the number of times the word "day" shows up in the Scriptures. The odds are, that in any opening of the Bible, you would find the word THREE times. And that does not include associated words like "today" or "daily".
The tally of around 2500 occurrences of the word "day" or "days" in Scripture, surely shows that the idea of a "day" is important.
2 The Days Of Methuselah
Bible stretches the word “days”
We now turn to a particular and important use of the term "days" in which the Bible stretches that word to a surprising degree.
In Genesis 5:27 we read, "All the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died." Notice how Methuselah’s life span is referred to as "days" when he lived over one third of a million of them! His life lasted nearly a millennium, yet this is called his "days".
“Days” for 14 lifetimes
Keeping in mind that the book of Genesis was written for the children of Israel (albeit for our learning as well), let's consider how the "days" of Methuselah looked from their perspective.
Their king David, wrote: "The days of our lives are threescore years and ten..." (Psalms 90:10). A normal lifetime in David’s time was around seventy years. From that perspective, the "days" of Methuselah amounted to 14 lifetimes!
Previously, their leader Moses had lived 120 years (Deuteronomy 34:7). Even on that scale, the "days" of Methuselah amounted to eight lifespans.
We are seeing that people, for whom a hundred years was a long life, could happily think of a lifetime approaching a thousand years as "days". This does not suggest that a long period is meant in every place the word "day" or "days" appears. But it does prove that it can have that sense in some instances.
Six days, nine months, seventy years, one century, 1000 years, over 2000years —the Bible may use the term "days" for almost any period great or small.
3 The Last Days
How many years?
The Bible sometimes uses the phrase, "the last days". Some people argue that the word "days" precludes the phrase from meaning centuries or millennia. They assert that "days" is not an appropriate word for very long periods.
Many believe "the last days" to be a short period of about forty years. This was a period before AD70 according to preterists. Or it is a period unfolding in our own time according to premillennialists.
Both doctrines rely heavily on the assertion that "days" cannot sensibly mean centuries or millennia. We have examined that assertion and found it false, especially since the "days of Methuselah" were almost a thousand years.
"All Scripture is God-breathed" (2Timothy 3:16). God is the real author of the entire Bible. We should expect it to be written from his perspective, not from our limited horizon. Peter urges us to keep in mind that "with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years..." (2Peter 3:8). We mustn't fail to note God’s perspective.
For example: "Long ago, at many times and in various ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, and through whom he created the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2).
In that quote we see clearly that the writer to the Hebrews believed that “the last days” had already begun. That was 2000 years ago.
Still in the last days.
We realise from this, together with the other things we have studied, that when the Lord speaks of "the last days" he has in mind a very long period, possibly several millennia. He has in mind the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.
Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life..." (John 5:24). If this is still true, if hearing Christ’s word is still the way to eternal life, if God, even now, "has spoken to us through His Son" then we are still "in these last days" (Hebrews 1:1-2 above).
Main points covered in this lesson...
A. The question "What Is A Day?" is not so simple to answer. It turns up a few surprises, and we cannot take too much for granted in trying to answer it.
B. The word “day” needs to be interpreted carefully, because it has a direct bearing on our correct understanding of several important Bible doctrines.
C. The use of the term "days" for Methuselah's lifetime, leads us to reject the argument that "the last days" must be a short period.
D. From God’s perspective, a day is as a thousand years. So "the last days" could be several thousand years.
E. Taking the Hebrew writer’s starting point as our guide, the "last days" is means entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.