The End of the Ages Has Come Upon Us— Them, Not US– #1
©Don K. Preston
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! See my discussion and documentation of this in my book, The Last Days Identified.
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 in 1 Peter. 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! And I will explore that in the next installment. Stay tuned!