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23 August 2022

Ends of the Ages


In several ways, Paul coordinates the commencement of the “last days” with the Death and Resurrection of JesusThe Apostle links the start of the “last days” with the death and resurrection of the Son of God. The time of fulfillment has arrived, and all God’s promises now find their “yea and amen” in him. “In these last days,” God has “spoken” His definitive “word” in His Son.

And Paul declares that the church 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, the Apostle does demonstrate his understanding that History’s final era has commenced with the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; therefore, nothing will ever be the same again.

ENDS OF THE AGES


To the Greek-speaking congregation in Corinth, he identifies key events from 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 examples and patterns for Christians so they will no longer live after the ways and dictates of this fallen age - (1 Corinthians 10:11).

And, 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 expresses the same thought in his parable of the Wheat and Tares that are “gathered at the consummation of the age.” “Consummation” translates a compound Greek word built on telos - sunteleia.

Similarly, the book 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, In Christ, one era reached its endpoint while another commenced.  That transition was due to Jesus - his death, resurrection, and exaltation. And so, the “ends of the ages” have come upon the disciples of Jesus.

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

CUSTODIANSHIP OF THE LAW


To the churches in Galatia, Paul answers the question – “Why, then, the law?” Noteworthy is how he places its jurisdiction within a FINITE PERIOD.

The law was “added because of transgressions UNTIL the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The law was given over four hundred years after the promise was confirmed to Abraham. THE PROMISE TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER THE LAW - (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:

  • Therefore, “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


And 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).

And so, Paul links 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 marks the commencement of the “fullness of time,” the point when the saints cease to be minors under the custodianship of the law and instead become heirs of the promises to Abraham. To now return to the “elemental things” of the old order is nothing less than regression - (Galatians 4:9-11).

And all this means a radical change in the era and in the status of God’s people took place due to his death and resurrection. Paul uses similar language when describing what Christ accomplished for his people when writing to the church 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.

Here, 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 Christians 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 Christ 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 has already begun. The “old” order is passing away and the “new” one is dawning, initially in the church.  There is both continuity and discontinuity between the old and 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).

And 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 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”), and since his resurrection and exaltation (“and he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high”), the final era of human history has been underway as the present order winds down to its inevitable conclusion.

Calvary means far more than the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the New Covenant, and the New Creation. And the latter is not waiting for its commencement – it began with his resurrection from the dead, and it will consummate with our own bodily 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 the entire creation; therefore, all human relationships are radically altered, whether marital, societal, or political.

That 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.”