A Discussion of Two Ages: “This age and the age to come”


A Discussion of Two Ages

Adam Maarschalk: April 10, 2010

Readers familiar with the New Testament will recall that there are two ages frequently spoken of within its pages. NT writers spoke often of “this present age,” i.e. an age that was present in their day. Is this same age still present in our day? Interpreters are divided on this point. The way one answers this question has a significant bearing on one’s eschatology. The well-known and well-respected Puritan theologian Dr. John Owen (1616-1683) would have answered “no” to this question, which would have put him in the minority if he was living today. This is what he once said on this matter:

Most expositors suppose that this expression [In Hebrews 1:2], “The last days,” is a periphrasis [euphemism] for the times of the gospel. But it doth not appear that they are anywhere so called; nor were they ever known by that name among the Jews, upon whose principles the apostle proceeds… It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “The last days,” or “The latter days,” or “The last hour,” 2 Peter 3:31 John 2:18Jude 1:18… This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume 19, pp.12 – 13).

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

This topic was broached briefly during the “Evening of Eschatology” forum moderated by Pastor John Piper in September 2009, and the division between the forum members was evident. Here in this post I will only be presenting one point of view, the same view that John Owen held to. Do feel free, though, to take up this discussion in the “Comments” section below this post, and even to point out any other well-written articles taking up an alternative position.

The bulk of what follows is an article on this subject by Pastor David B. Curtis, based on a message he preached March 14, 1999 at Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. This discussion has a bearing not only on our study of Revelation 20, but also our study of Revelation 21 which will be posted soon. David draws on a large number of texts which refer to “this age and the age to come” and other similar language used in the New Testament. His premise is that we are living in the New Covenant age (which the New Testament often called “the age to come”), and that the previous age, i.e. the Judaic or Old Covenant age, came to an end in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. I chose to highlight David’s article because I don’t know that I’ve seen a more thorough or well put-together discussion on this subject. I will only be quoting from the portion of his article which discusses this dichotomy of two ages.

Curtis begins his article by asking whether or not the Bible teaches that this world will end. This is beyond the scope of our discussion here, but one relevant point he does make early in his article is that passages like Matthew 13:40 (and Matt. 24:3) have often been taken to refer to the end of world history when in fact they do not. In the King James Version, Matt. 13:40 reads: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” However, “world” here is [perhaps not so correctly] translated from the Greek word “aion” which means “age, dispensation, era, or a period of time.” Newer translations do in fact implement this change, such as the New King James Version: Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.” Clearly Jesus was living in the age He was speaking of, which Curtis believes (and I agree) ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Curtis goes on to show that the end of that age was connected to the destruction of the temple in Jesus’ famous sermon known as the Olivet Discourse (see especially Matt. 24:3, Mark 13:4, and Luke 21:7). For the sake of space I will only sum up Curtis’ closing thoughts regarding the Olivet Discourse (but one may follow the link in the paragraph above to see all that he had to say):

[The disciples’] question was, “When will the end be?” …Jesus tells them quite clearly that the end would come in “this generation” (v 34). The word “generation” means: “those who are contemporaries or live at the same time.” So, the age that was to end was the Jewish age. It would end with the destruction of the Jewish temple and the city Jerusalem. The end of the age did not happen at the cross or at Pentecost but at the destruction of Jerusalem. The world was not going to end but the age of Judaism was. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.

As far as I know, this understanding that 70 AD was a dividing point between two ages is not at all consistent with most Futurist and premillennial ideas. Even some preterists, though, would articulate Curtis’ thoughts just a little bit differently. For example, when reviewing the “Evening of Eschatology” hosted by John Piper (video included), I noted this observation from one partial-preterist:

Doug Wilson made the point that the years 30-70 AD were the overlapping of two ages, the Judaic (Old Covenant) age and the Christian (Church) age. He likened this transition to the passing of a baton between two runners, where the first runner keeps running alongside the second runner for some distance, before completely letting go of the baton and giving way to the second runner. One relevant text for this idea is Hebrews 8:13. Doug noted that the Christian age began at Pentecost, but the Judaic age only ended 40 years later with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD (See the video, roughly from the 18:30-22:00 mark).

Source: Cindye Coates, The Porch

So Doug Wilson speaks of the Church age beginning at Pentecost, while David Curtis speaks of it being inaugurated a generation later in 70 AD. Perhaps this is a small distinction, for I know that some preterists will say, for example, that in 70 AD the Church age “carried on exclusively, no longer encumbered by Old Covenant Judaism.” With that caveat out of the way, I’d like to come back now to the article by David Curtis and quote a sizeable portion from it regarding these two ages:

This brings us to a very important question, “HOW MANY AGES ARE THERE? William Barclay says: “Time was divided by the Jews into two great periods– this present age, and the age to come. The present age is wholly bad and beyond all hope of human reformation. It can be mended only by the direct intervention of God. When God does intervene, the golden age, the age to come, will arrive. But in between the two ages there will come the Day of the Lord, which will be a time of terrible and fearful upheaval, like the birth-pangs of a new age.”

Zechariah 14 teaches us that the “Day of the Lord” and the destruction of Jerusalem were connected. So, the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the Day of the Lord, marked the end of one age, the Jewish age, and the beginning of the new age, the Christian age of the New Covenant.

To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as “the world to come.” All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: “This age” and the “age to come.”

Matthew 12:32 (NKJV) “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

The word “come” at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: “about to be.” We could translate this, the “age about to come” (in the first century). Many think that the age to come will be a sinless age; not according to this verse. Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in that age, referring to the age of the New Covenant, our present age. We see here that both of these ages have sin in them.

Ephesians 1:21 (NKJV) far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Here again we see the two ages. So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, “this age” and “the age to come.” The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible.

Let’s see what the New Testament teaches us about these two ages. Questions that we need to try to answer are: What age did the new testament writers live in? What age do we live in? How is ‘this age” characterized in the New Testament? What does the New Testament say about “the age to come”? When does “this age” end and “the age to come” begin?

WHAT AGE DID THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS LIVE IN?

The New Testament writer lived in the age that they called “this age.” To the New Testament writers the “age to come” was future, but it was very near because “this age” was about to end.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NKJV) However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The wisdom and rulers of “this age” were coming to nothing because the age was passing away. He is speaking of the Jewish leaders and the Old Covenant system. The rulers of “this age” crucified the Lord. These rulers would shortly have no realm in which to rule because “this age” was about to end. Think about this. If the Jewish age ended at the cross, as so many claim, why were they still ruling the age?

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them, the first century saints. “This age,” along with its wisdom and rulers, was about to end.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV) God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Jesus was speaking in the last days. What last days? The last days of the Bible’s “this age” — the Old Covenant age.

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

When was it that Jesus appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. To suppose that he meant that Jesus’ incarnation came near the end of the world would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. Jesus was manifest at the end of the Jewish age. Peter says the same thing.

1 Peter 1:20 (NKJV) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.

Jesus came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. All the things prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 occurred at the end of that age. Alright, so the New Testament writers lived in what the Bible calls “this age.”

HOW IS “THIS AGE” CHARACTERIZED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?

1. It is an evil age:

Galatians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Paul says here that the “present age” which is “this age,” the one that was about to pass away, is an “evil” age. Christ came to deliver them from the “present age” because it was evil. Could “evil age” be referring to Christianity? Could the Christian age be called an “evil age” that we need to be delivered from? No! Christ came to bring us out of the evil age and place us into His kingdom.

2. It was an age of darkness:

Colossians 1:12-13 (NKJV) giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

Christ came to deliver them from the “power of darkness.” This is a reference to the Old Covenant or “this age.”[1]

John 8:12 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Jesus was speaking to the Jews, He was calling them to leave the darkness of the Old Covenant and follow Him.

3. It was an age in which Satan ruled.

Acts 26:18 (NKJV) ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

The “present age” was one of darkness. Satan is called the god of “this age.”

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NKJV) But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Remember “this age” is not referring to our age, it was the “this age” of the first century. Satan ruled in the Old Covenant world of Judaism but his reign was shortly (in the first century) to come to an end.

Romans 16:20 (NKJV) And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Satan would be crushed when the “present age” of darkness came to an end. When John wrote his first epistle he said that the darkness was passing.

1 John 2:8 (NKJV) Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

The “darkness” is speaking of the Old Covenant age, and the “true light” is speaking of the New Covenant age.

4. It was an age of death and condemnation.

2 Corinthians 3:5-11 (NKJV) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

Here Paul is comparing the two Covenants, the Old Covenant was one of death and condemnation, but the New Covenant was one of life and righteousness. When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, the Old Covenant age, the “present age,” was in the process of passing away.

Paul spoke to the Galatians about these two covenants and said that the Old Covenant was at that time in effect.

Galatians 4:21-26 (NKJV) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Hagar, represented both the Old Covenant and the Jerusalem that “now is” (the Old was still present at that time), and Sarah represented both the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem that was “above” (it was still to come).

5. It was an age that was called “night.”

Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

Their salvation was drawing near, and the night was just about over. Is the Christian age day or night? It is day! The night of Old Covenant Judaism was just about to end, the day of the New Covenant, the Christian age, was just about to dawn.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 (NKJV) But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.

Paul told the Thessalonian Christians that they were not in darkness, they were sons of light and sons of the day that was about to dawn.

So, “this age” of the Bible is the age of the Old Covenant that was about to pass away in the first century. It was characterized as evil, darkness, Satan’s rule, condemnation, death, and night. It should be clear to you that “this age” is not the Christian age in which we live. In the first century the age of the Old Covenant was fading away and would end completely when the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The book of Hebrews was written at around 65-69 AD. At this time the Old Covenant was still in effect but it was ready to pass away. It passed away in AD 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. The “this age” of the Bible is now ancient history.

 I will conclude with these words from David Curtis:

We now live in what was to the first century saints the “age to come.” When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words “the age to come,” they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian age. We live in what was to them the “age to come,” the New Covenant age. Since the “present age” of the Bible ended in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Lord, we must be in the “age to come.”

David Green, who shares this same viewpoint, has listed 101 Scripture passages from the New Testament which indicate that a very significant event (or series of events) was about to take place in the days of the early Church. The study he has presented is valuable in seeing how frequent this language is in the New Testament, and what was to take place not in the 21st century (or beyond) but at that time.

————————————————————————————————————

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.

We are now ready to move on in our study of the book of Revelation to Revelation 21, where John presents his readers with a picture of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.


[1] Another text that gives credence to this idea is Matthew 22:1-14, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jews) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12).

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5 thoughts on “A Discussion of Two Ages: “This age and the age to come”

  1. This site is one of the most helpful sites I have found in my study of end times. Thank you so much for sharing all the studying that you have done. I have always been involved with Christians who are premil, but the partial preterist view seems to me to be the most logical and literal view for understanding the New Testament. Your discussion of the ages is very interesting and makes sense to me. I am hoping you can expound on what you believe “the day of the Lord” to be.
    Thanks

    Like

    • Susan, thank you for your comment. I’m glad you’ve found this site and this article to be helpful.

      I have to admit I’ve never compiled a topical study on the subject of “the day of the Lord.” That would be a good study to do. My understanding at this point is that there have been multiple “days” of the Lord in history. The judgments that came upon Israel and other nations prior to Christ’s incarnation were “days” of the Lord, where He intervened in judgment.

      Then there are numerous prophecies that seem to point to a very critical day of the Lord in the last days (which, as can be seen in this article, I believe to be the last days of the Old Covenant age in the first century AD). My understanding is that the day of the Lord at that time was to be as a terror to the wicked, and a blessing for the righteous. The “day of Christ,” for example, seems to be a reference to this present age (I Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:10, and Philippians 2:16).

      Like

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