By Dr Martin Trench
Romans 11:36 –
All things came from Him, and exist through Him, and are returning to
Him; to Him is the glory through all the Ages.
When I was quite a new Christian (in my late teens and early 20’s) I noticed something which seemed to come up quite often, when the preacher or other people in a small group were using a different translation of the Bible than I was - it was one word. Just one word which was different - but it got me curious, and over and over again over the next couple of decades it seemed to come up more and more. So eventually, I decided to investigate it. I have been reading about it and studying it seriously, on and off, for about 15 years now.
Just one word. I know that makes me sound a bit like a theology geek, but actually, this has helped my personal understanding of the gospel and the Kingdom of God so much, and has caused all the disparate pieces of the Bible to fall into place to such a degree, that I started sharing it with other people - and it seems to help lots of people the way it helped
me. Its the word “Age”.
Here was what started it all off with me. Some translations of the Bible talk about “the end of the world”, whereas other translations say “the end of the Age”. When you look into it using concordances, or Greek and Hebrew study books, or simply a “literal” translation of the Bible (like Young’s Literal Translation) you discover that it is the word “aion” and that is where we get our word “eon” and it means “Age” - not world! Those verses are not talking about the end of the word, but the end of an Age. (Matthew 24:1-3; 24:34; 28:20)
Then, I noticed the same word popping up elsewhere. There were some places that some translations of the Bible talk about “for ever and ever” or “everlasting” in places where other translations (particularly “literal” ones) say “Age-enduring”, not everlasting at all. Its the word “aionious” meaning “pertaining to the Ages”, something which lasts a long time, even longer than one “Age” - in fact, it means all of time until there are Ages no more. But what it doesn't mean is “eternal”. (Matthew 12:32; 25:46; 28:20).
When we study eschatology (the study of the “last things”) we discover that when Jesus was speaking to his disciples about coming events in his Olivet Discourse, we often wrongly imagine he is speaking of things in our future, because he is speaking about “the end of the world”, but then, in other translations and in the original Greek text, it doesn't say that at all. It says “the end of the Age”. Jesus even tells us when that will happen- “this generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled”. So some “Age” was to end within “one generation” and further more, it would culminate in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, (signaling the final end of the Old Covenant). This is something which we can look back on as it is an historical event - within 40 years everything Jesus predicted had, in fact, come to pass. He was NOT predicting the “end of the world” but rather, the “end of an Age” - the end of the Old Covenant Age, and the beginning of a new Age. (see Matthew 24)
So, now we have two Ages - one which was passing away and would be totally gone within one generation after Jesus prediction, and another Age of the gospel which we now live under.
Unlike J.N. Darby, who invented "dispensations" of varying lengths in order to create his theology of Dispensationalism, these "Ages" are part of the ancient Hebraic calendar and were understood by the people of Jesus day.
But then, I discovered something else. There are not simply two Ages, but multiple Ages. The Bible speaks of “former Ages” and “Ages to come” (“in order that in the COMING AGES he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…. which FOR AGES PAST was kept hidden in God.... according to his purpose of THE AGES that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 2:7, 3:8-11). What are these Ages? I now understood two of them - the Old Covenant Age passing away within one generation of Jesus prophecy, and the Age which began at the time of the New Covenant - but what about all these other Ages and how does that fit in with verses which speak of “the time of the Ages” and “the full end of the Ages”?
After years of research, reading every book I could find on the subject (most of which were books about different subjects but happened to have a chapter or two about the Ages) I discovered that “Ages” were a part of the Ancient Near-Eastern calendar, which the Hebrews used, which gave them their understanding of time. They had days, and weeks, and months and years - like we do. But they also had 12 “Ages” (aprox. 2160 years each) and all twelve together made up “the Great Year”(25,920 years in a Great Year - a full cycle of all 12 Ages). And guess what? The Old Covenant lasted exactly one Age - and it ended right at the end of that calendar Age, in AD70 when the Temple was destroyed. That Age was already dying out before then, it was coming to an end, it was rendered “obsolete” but it had not yet fully passed away. It would “soon pass away”.
Hebrews 8:13 –
“When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.”
So what? Who really cares about what kind of calendar ancient people used?
Well, I am not suggesting we start to use an ancient calendar again. I am only pointing out that we will misunderstand what the Biblical authors wrote if we don't understand their world and language. We will take a term which to them means a period of 2160 years (an Age) and translate it as “the world” - a totally different concept all together. Then we will
create crazy end-times theologies about how “the world” is going to “end” in our future, when the Bible is speaking of how the Old Covenant has already come to an end in our past. We will read verses about people being taking “to everlasting punishment” and find nice creative ways of talking about how justified God is in punishing people for all eternity, when we are actually missing the point of those passages, they are about “Age-enduring correction” - a different concept entirely.
I have come to realize who much this simple, one word, “Age” can fix many of our problems in the contemporary church, and correct much of our “evangelical heresies”. It does take some time before we have renewed our minds with these concepts. But once you do, it opens the Bible, it opens up God’s “plan of the Ages” in such clarity, that you will not buy into extreme views on the end-times, the Old Covenant Law, and a whole host of issues.
I would encourage you to take some time, when you have it, to study these “Ages” in scripture more. You will find Young’s Literal Translation at biblegateway.com.
You will find a whole series of articles and some videos on this topic at martintrench.com.
But let me leave you with this short video. It may help to show how practical this model of time really is:
Dr. Martin Trench is a Bible teacher, inspirational speaker, and the Lead Pastor of Gateway - a church in Alberta.
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