23 August 2022

Ends of the Ages


In several different ways, Paul coordinates the commencement of the “last days” with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

End of the Day - Photo by v2osk on Unsplash
The Apostle Paul linked the start of the “last days” with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In him, the time of fulfillment has arrived, and all the promises of God now find their “yea and amen.”  “In these last days,” God has spoken with finality in His Son, and his church is comprised of those upon whom the “ends of the ages have come.” - [End of the Day - Photo by v2osk on Unsplash].

While the term “last days” is not frequent in his letters, Paul does demonstrate his understanding that History’s final era has commenced with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, nothing can ever be the same again.

ENDS OF THE AGES


To the Greek-speaking congregation in Corinth, he categorizes 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,” which prefigured Jesus (for “the rock was Christ”). Such pivotal events provide examples for Christians so they will no longer live after the manner of this age - (1 Corinthians 10:11).

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

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

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

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

To the churches in Rome, the Apostle declared that the arrival of Jesus signified the “end (telosof the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The literary context is clear - By “law,” Paul means the law given at 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 of Galatia, he answers the question – “Why, then, the law?” Paul places its jurisdiction within a limited time period.

The law was “added because of transgressions until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The law was given at Sinai over four hundred years after the promise was confirmed to Abraham; and therefore, the promise takes precedence over the law - (Galatians 3:19-25).

The law served as the “custodian” for 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 division 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 at 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” all to the arrival of Jesus, along with the “adoption” of God’s children and the gift of the Spirit. His arrival in history signifies a fundamental change in the law and the status of the one people of God – (Galatians 3:1-4).

Hourglass Hands - Photo by Paula Guerreiro on Unsplash
[Photo by Paula Guerreiro on Unsplash]

His first arrival marks the commencement of the “
fullness of time,” the point when the saints have ceased to be minors under the custodianship of the law, and instead, have become full heirs of the promises to Abraham. To now return to the “elemental things” of the old order amounts to regression:
  • How turn you back to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, months, times and years” - (Galatians 4:9-11).

In Galatia, an area of conflict is the return to the Jewish calendrical observations required by the Levitical regulations. But since they are no longer required, it follows that the jurisdiction of the Law had been terminated, which also means that a radical change in the status and identity of God’s people has taken place. The same clause occurs in his letter to the Ephesians:
  • (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, the all things in the Christ, 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, Paul uses the more pregnant term “seasons,” and in the plural number to stress how Jesus was and is the goal of God’s plans from 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, Paul does place 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,” for the fashion of this world is passing away.” - (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

The present tense verb rendered “passing away” stresses ongoing action; action-in-progress. Even now, the world and its institutions have been in the process of “passing away” since the arrival of Christ. 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 on 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, the death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the promised new creation. Its implementation has already begun, and this means that a major pivotal point in history has been reached in him.

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

TRANSFERRED TO A NEW DOMINION


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 in preparation for the coming age - (Galatians 1:4).

Likewise, to the Colossians, he thanked 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).

HIDDEN MYSTERIES REVEALED


Paul wrote of the “mysteries” that were hidden, but have now been made plain in Jesus, especially by his death and resurrection.  The promises given by the prophets of Israel have found their fulfillment in him.

Christ is the “mystery which has been kept in silence through past ages, but now is manifested,” according to the scriptures. This mystery is “made known to all the Gentiles for the obedience of faith.”

He is the “mystery hidden from ages and from generations but now manifested to his saints” - (Colossians 1:26, 2 Timothy 1:10).

THE LAST DAYS


The term “last days” is not a chronological marker, nor does it refer simply to the final few years of history before the return of Jesus. Instead, a fundamental change in the nature and status of everything has occurred in Jesus.

His death achieved final victory over Sin, Death, and Satan. Since his resurrection, the “last days,” 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. The latter is not waiting for its commencement - it has begun already.

His death put into motion the final phase of the redemptive plan of God for the entire creation, and nothing can ever be the same. All human relationships are radically altered, including marital, societal, and political relationships.

That is why the New Testament consistently portrays the “last days” as having begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The age of fulfillment has been upon us ever since he rose from the dead, which also marked the arrival of the “fullness of time.”



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