As Paul gave his admonitions to the church at Corinth, he made a statement that is, it seems to me, extremely important, yet somewhat underappreciated: "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived." (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Even on a cursory reading this passage is highly significant since Paul says that the end of the ages had arrived. He very clearly was not saying that the end of the Christian Age had arrived. He was not saying that the end of time had arrived, or else he was patently wrong. The question that needs to be asked is, the end of what age had arrived?
The Jews only believed in two ages, and Jesus and the New Testament writers concurred in that belief and doctrine. The Jews believed in "this age" and the "age to come." Their "this age" was the age of Moses and the Law, and the "age to come" was the age of Messiah and the New Covenant. The age of Moses and the Law was to end, while the age of Messiah and the New Covenant was to be eternal. Given this view of the ages, it is patently false to interpret such passages as Matthew 24:2-3 as predictions or inquiries about the end of the Christian Age!
There are two Greek words that we need to examine to help us appreciate this passage. The first word is translated as "ends," and is the word tele, from telos. This word can and often does mean termination, or end as we often think of it, e. g. "the end of all things has drawn near" (1 Peter 4:7).
However, this is not the whole story. Even when the idea of termination is dominant, there is often another idea present, and that is that the goal of that which was being terminated pointed to and anticipated has been reached. (See the Lexicons for all the derivatives of teleios). Thus, to say that something was coming to an end, indicated that it had reached its prophetic goal. Paul said that Christ was "the end of the law for righteousness, to all those who believe" (Romans 10:4). Not only was Jesus the end of the Law objectively, since he brought that Old Covenant Age to its end, but he was the goal of that Old World. As Galatians 3:23f says, the Law was a guardian of those under that System to bring them to Christ, and "the faith." When that system was fully set in place, the Law was supposed to end. Thus, the end (tele) of the Law was not only the termination of the Law, but the goal of the Law.
For Paul to say therefore, that the end of the ages had arrived was an incredible statement! But, he did not stop with the word tele, he spoke of his contemporary brethren as those "upon whom the ends of the ages has come." When he said that the end of the ages had come, he used another distinctive word. He uses the perfect tense of katantao. This word is used some twelve times in the New Testament, and it means "to arrive at something, to arrive at a destination" This word is used, normally, to speak of arriving at a destination of travel.
Four times katantao is used in a theological sense.
First, it is used by Paul when he says that the twelve tribes were serving God night and day, hoping to "come" unto the resurrection (Acts 26:7). Very clearly, resurrection was the prophetic goal or destiny of Israel’s Messianic promises.
Second, Paul chided the Corinthians for being puffed up with pride. They thought of themselves as the "all in all" of Christianity and maturity. However, Paul asks the rhetorical question, Did the gospel come unto you only?" (1 Corinthians 14:36). This was Paul’s way of saying that they were not the goal of the preaching of the gospel. The gospel had other "destinations" beyond Corinth!
Third, katantao is used by the same apostle when he says that the charismata were given to equip the church to do the work of the ministry "until we all come (katantao) to the unity of the faith, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13. The unity of the faith was the goal or destination anticipated by the praxis of the charismata. And, it was the arrival of that unity of the faith that would not only be the goal but the termination of the charismata (1 Corinthians 13:8f). Termination and goal go hand in hand here.
Fourth, in Philippians 3:11, Paul said that it was his fervent desire and prayer to "attain" (katantao) to the resurrection from the dead. Just like resurrection was the goal of Israel’s eschatological and Messianic aspirations, Paul, who preached nothing but the hope of Israel (Acts 24; 25; 26; 28) said that the resurrection was his desired goal. It was his desired destination.
With the use of telos and katantao then, Paul was undeniably saying that not only was the termination of the previous ages at hand, but the goal of all previous ages was being achieved! This has incredible implications!
WHAT WAS THE GOAL OF THE AGES?
To see the implications of Paul’s statement, we need to remind ourselves of the goal of the ages. What was it that all previous ages anticipated, predicted, and pointed toward? The answer can be couched in different terms.
The goal of the previous ages was the New Creation (Isaiah 65-66), and repeatedly, Paul taught that the New Creation was a reality in Christ: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, see Ephesians 4; Colossians 3, etc.)
The goal of the ages was the Age to Come (Luke 20:33f), when "this age" would come to an end (Matthew 13:39-40).
The destination of the previous ages was the age of the resurrection (Luke 20:33f), wherein sons of God would be produced by resurrection, (not by the marrying and giving in marriage like under the Old Covenant), and could never die. Repeatedly, Paul said that believers were joined with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life, forgiven of sin, and were thereby sons of God by faith (Galatians 3:26-28; Romans 6:3f; Colossians 2:11-13). He also said that now, in Christ, "there is no condemnation" (Romans 8:1f), as opposed to existence under the Law-his "This Age"– where, "I was alive once, without the law, but the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:7f). The then still present age of the Law was still the ministration of death (2 Corinthians 3:6f), but was "nigh unto passing away"(Hebrews 8:13).
The goal of the previous ages was the New Covenant World of the Messiah (Galatians 3:23f). The Law, as we have seen briefly above, was only a tutor, a guardian, of those under it "until the Seed should come to whom the promises were made." It cannot be argued that the Law ended with the mere appearance of Jesus, for this would indicate that the Law passed when He was born. The coming under consideration has to be His coming to fully establish the New Covenant and remove the Old.
The goal of all the previous ages, and God’s eternal purpose, was the arrival of the Age in which, "He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-in Him" (Ephesians 1:10). This was to be accomplished in the "fulness of times" and, as we know from Ephesians 2:11f, was being accomplished, not in a restoration of national Israel, but in the body of Christ, the church! We also know that Jesus appeared in the fulness of time (Galatians 4:4, and therefore, the time for the goal of the ages to be realized had come with the advent of Christ.
The destination anticipated by the previous ages was, in a word, the kingdom, and this is why our text is so important. It must be remembered at this juncture that the millennialist does not believe that the Church Age was anticipated by the previous ages. In fact, according to leading millennialists, the Church Age, the Age established
by Jesus through his blood, and proclaimed by Paul, was a total mystery to the previous Ages! Pentecost says, "The existence of this present age which was to interrupt God’s established program with Israel, was a mystery (Matthew 13:11). He goes ahead to say that the Church Age was not foretold by the Old Testament prophets. He also adds, "The existence of an entirely new age which only interrupts temporarily God’s program for Israel, is one of the strongest arguments for the premillennial position. It is necessary for one who rejects that interpretation to prove that the church itself is the consummation of God’s program."(136) Finally, on page 137 of the same work, Pentecost says, "The concept must stand that this whole age with its program was not revealed in the Old Testament, but constitutes a new program and a new line of revelation in this present age….It has been illustrated how this whole age existed in the mind of God without having been revealed in the Old Testament."
So, what we have is this: Paul said that the goal of the previous ages had arrived. The destination anticipated by all previous ages was being reached. However, what was occurring when Paul wrote, the age that was breaking in, was the Church Age! According to the millennialists the Kingdom Age, which is not the Church Age, is the goal of all the previous ages. However, since Paul said that what was happening when he wrote was the goal of the previous ages, then it cannot be true that the restoration of national Israel is in fact, the goal of all previous ages. And of course, this means that the millennial paradigm is fundamentally flawed!
If it is true that the Church Age was the goal of the previous ages, then the church is not a "temporary interruption" of God’s kingdom plans. It is undeniably true that Paul says that what was happening in his day, through his ministry-and don’t forget that he proclaimed the "hope of Israel"-was in fact that goal, the destiny of all previous ages. Therefore, it must be true that the Church Age was the fulfillment of the "hope of Israel," and was the goal of all previous ages! In a word, if the Church was the goal of the previous ages, the millennial doctrine is false.
When Paul says that the goal of the previous ages had arrived, this has incredible application for the term "last days." It must be remembered that the kingdom, God’s promise to Israel, was to be established in the last days (Isaiah 2:2). Paul of course, affirmed that the time of the end was near (1 Corinthians 7:26f; Philippians 4:5, etc.). Now, if Paul affirmed that the time of the end was near, and that the goal of the previous ages had arrived, then this can only mean that the last days foretold by the Old Testament prophets were present. Of course, the implications for the millennial view, given this reality, are staggering since they deny that Israel’s last days were in existence after Matthew 12. However, the fact that Paul says the end was near, and that the goal of the previous ages had arrived, means that the last days of Israel were in fact present when he wrote, and essentially, this destroys the entire millennial house of cards!
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:11 also has implications for the amillennial and postmillennial views. Both of these paradigms insist that the current Christian Age will one day end, giving way to the eternal Age to Come. This view is fundamentally flawed in its posit of a different Age to Come than that anticipated by the prophets and Jesus.
However, these futurist views are also in violation of the fact that as the goal of all previous ages, the Christian Age has no end! Daniel was told that when the kingdom that was to be established in the days of Rome was established, that it would never pass away; it would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14). However, both the amillennial and postmillennial schools insist that one day the Church Age will end, giving way to the Age to Come.
The fact that Paul uses two distinctive and significant words (telos and katantao), to speak of what was happening in his day is a powerful testimony to the place of the church in God’s Scheme of Redemption. It is the blood bought Church of the Lord Jesus Christ that was and is the goal of the previous ages! This means that the church was not to pass away with the dissolution of the Jewish Aeon, as some are suggesting. Would it not be strange indeed if the goal of the previous ages endured for only 40 years? Is that what God had in mind for the "kingdom that shall never pass away"? To suggest that the church was to pass away after 40 years surely indicates that God could not be through with the "goal of the ages" quick enough, so that He could get to… what? What other goal of the previous ages is there in Scripture? It appears those who are suggesting that the church was to cease at the parousia are positing just a modified form of the millennial view that the church really is not the "consummation of God’s program."
Unless one can demonstrate that Paul had something other than the Church, the body of Christ in mind when he spoke of the goal of the ages, then the Church was the anticipated destiny of the previous ages. This destroys the millennial doctrine that the church is a "temporary interruption" of God’s kingdom plan. Take another look at Pentecost’s comments just above. He says that the strongest argument for the premillennial view is the idea that the church was not "the consummation of God’s program." Well, unless Paul had something other than the church in mind when he said that the goal of the ages had arrived, then 1 Corinthians 10:11 proves beyond doubt that the church really is "the consummation of God’s program," and that being so, millennialism is falsified.
See Bauer’s, Arndt and Gingrich Greek Lexicon, (University of Chicago Press, 1979) 415
See for instance, Acts 16:1; 18:19, 24; 20:15; 21:7; 25:13; 27:12; 28:13
Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, (Zondervan, 1966)134+