Ends of the Ages

In his letters, Paul links the start of the “Last Days” with the death and resurrection of the Son of God. The time of fulfillment arrived, and all God’s promises now find their “yea and amen” in the risen Nazarene. Similarly, the Letter to the Hebrews declares that “in these last days,” God has “spoken” His definitive “word” in His Son who now reigns at the “right hand of the Majesty on High.” Paul’s position is not unique among the documents that make up the New Testament.

Mountain Dusk - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

According to Paul, the Assembly, the 
ekkl├ęsia, consists of those men and women upon whom the “ends of the ages have come.” While the term “Last Days” is not frequent in his letters, he does demonstrate his understanding that History’s final era commenced with the death and resurrection of Jesus; therefore, nothing can or ever will be the same again.

To the Greek-speaking congregation in Corinth, he identifies key events recorded in the Hebrew Bible as “types,” examples for the followers of Jesus, the very ones “UPON WHOM THE ENDS OF THE AGES HAVE ARRIVED.”

In the wilderness, God provided Israel with “spiritual drink” from the “spiritual rock,” and it prefigured Jesus (for “the rock was Christ”). Such pivotal events provide patterns for believers so they will no longer live after the ways and dictates of this fallen age - (1 Corinthians 10:11).

In the Greek sentence, Paul uses the plural forms of “ages” and “ends.” The term telos or “end” may signify the termination of something, but also its “goal.” And in his letter, both senses are in view - termination and goal.

Jesus expressed the same thought in his parable of the Wheat and Tares that will be “gathered at the consummation of the age.” “Consummation” translates a compound Greek word built on telos - sunteleia.

Similarly, the Author of Hebrews declares that Jesus “once, in the consummation (sunteleia) of the ages, has appeared to put away sin by his sacrifice” - (Matthew 13:36-44, Hebrews 9:26).

Thus, one era reached its endpoint while another commenced.  That transition was due to Jesus - his death, resurrection, and exaltation, therefore, the “ends of the ages” have come upon his followers.

To the churches in Rome, the Apostle wrote that the arrival of Jesus signified the “end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The literary context is clear - By “law,” Paul meant the legislation given at Mount Sinai. Whether he meant its termination or goal, his statement indicates a FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN STATUS AND ERA - (Romans 10:1-4).

To the churches in Galatia, Paul answered the question: “Why, then, the Law?” Noteworthy is how he placed its jurisdiction within a FINITE PERIOD. The Law was “added because of transgressions UNTIL the seed should come to whom the promise was made” - (Galatians 3:19-25).

The Law served as the “custodian” of God’s people “UNTIL the faith that should afterward be revealed.”  Since that faith has arrived, God’s people are no longer under the custodian with its divisions between Jews and Gentiles - “All are sons of God through faith, in Christ Jesus; there cannot be Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male and female…you are Abraham’s heirs according to promise” – (Galatians 3:19-29).

FULLNESS OF TIME


In the “FULLNESS OF TIME,” God sent his Son “to redeem them under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, and because we are sons God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” – (Galatians 4:1-6).

In this way, Paul linked the “promise of Abraham,” the inheritance, redemption, and the “fullness of time” to the arrival of Jesus, along with the “adoption” of God’s children and the Gift of the Spirit. His arrival in history signified a fundamental change in the Law and the status of the one people of God – (Galatians 3:1-4).

His first arrival marked the start of the “fullness of time,” the point when the saints ceased to be minors under the custodianship of the law and instead became heirs to the promises to Abraham. To now return to the “elemental things” of the old order would be nothing less than regression - (Galatians 4:9-11).

All this means a radical change in the era and in the status of God’s people took place due to the death and resurrection of the Nazarene. Paul used similar language when describing what Jesus accomplished for his people when writing to the assembly in Ephesus:

  • (Ephesians 1:9-11) - “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him, for an administration OF THE FULLNESS OF THE SEASONS, to reunite for himself, under one head, all things in the Messiah, the things upon the heavens and the things upon the earth, in him. In whom also we were taken as an inheritance, according to the purpose of him who energizes all things according to the counsel of his will.

In the preceding passage, he uses the more pregnant term “seasons” rather than “time,” and in the plural number to stress how Jesus was and is the goal of God’s plans in all eras - past, present, and future.

PRESENT AGE FADING


Paul addresses marital relationships in 1 Corinthians. Should believers continue in such relationships considering the “present distress?” The short answer is, “yes.” Husbands and wives must fulfill their mutual obligations, and the unmarried are free to marry, but only “in the Lord.”

Nevertheless, he places the institution of marriage in its proper place. Disciples must keep their priorities straight, for since the advent of Jesus the time is shortened, therefore, let those that have wives may be as though they had none, and let those that buy as though they possessed not… THE FASHION OF THIS WORLD IS PASSING AWAY” - (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

The present tense verb rendered “passing away” stresses ongoing action. Even now, the world and its institutions are in the process of dissolution because of this change in eras. Similarly, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

  • (2 Corinthians 5:15-17) - “Having judged this, that one in behalf of all died, hence, they all died; and in behalf of all died he, in order that, they who live, no longer for themselves should live, but for him who, in their behalf, died and rose again. So that we, henceforth, know no one after the flesh: if we have even been gaining after the flesh a knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, now, no longer are we gaining it. So that, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation! the old things have passed away. Behold, they have become new!

Thus, Jesus inaugurated the promised new creation, and its implementation is already underway whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached.

The “old” order is passing away and the “new” one is dawning, initially in the Assembly.  There is both continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new eras. Certain things that were required under the old system have lost their relevance. For example, circumcision is no longer here nor there - (Galatians 6:15).

Moreover, in Galatians, Paul points to Jesus and his sacrificial death that “DELIVERED US FROM THIS PRESENT EVIL AGE.” He does not refer to our removal from the physical universe, but to our deliverance from the present era that is under the dominion of sin and death - (Galatians 1:4).

Likewise, in Colossians, he thanks God “who delivered us out of the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Disciples now belong to a DIFFERENT AGE AND A DIFFERENT POLITICAL ORDER - (Colossians 1:12-13).

The “mysteries” that were hidden have now been unveiled in Jesus.  The promises communicated through the prophets of Israel find their fulfillment in him. He is the “mystery which has been kept in silence through past ages, but now is made manifest” - (Colossians 1:26, 2 Timothy 1:10).

THE LAST DAYS


In the New Testament, the term “Last Days” is NOT a chronological marker, nor does it refer simply to the final few years of History. Instead, it refers to the fundamental change in the nature and status of everything that has occurred due to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

He achieved final victory over sin, death, and Satan (“having achieved the purification of sins”). Since his resurrection and exaltation (“and he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high”), the final period of human history has been underway as the present order winds down to its inevitable conclusion.

The Cross means far more than the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the New Covenant, and the New Creation. The latter is not waiting for its commencement – it began with his resurrection from the dead, and it will consummate with our own resurrection at his “arrival” or Parousia – (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

His death put into motion the final phase of the redemptive plan of God for humanity, indeed, for the entire creation. Therefore, all human relationships have been radically altered, whether marital, societal, or political.

This is why the New Testament consistently portrays the “Last Days” as having begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The age of fulfillment has been upon us ever since he was raised from the dead by his God and Father, an event that marked the arrival of the “fullness of time” and, at least for the Assembly,  the “ends of the ages.”


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