The Ages in Prophecy
Jul 09, 2011
The Scriptures divide time into successive ages. Each age is an indefinite time period, including "The Age," which was seen as the Messianic Age when the Messiah would claim the throne of David and rule the earth. Of course, Scripture also speaks of past ages as well as the present age. Each age varied in length, and no one knew the precise length of each. Hence, the time of each age was indefinite, except for The Age, which was thought to be a Sabbath Day of 1000 years.
Jonah 2:6 testifies that he was in the belly of the whale "forever" (olam). This olam was only three days in length. Psalm 45:6 speaks of the throne of the Messiah, saying, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever" (olam va ad, "to The Age and beyond"). In other words, He would rule the earth in the Messianic Age, but His rule would also go beyond it.
In Numbers 25:13 God promised Phinehas "an everlasting priesthood" (KJV), or "a perpetualpriesthood" (NASB). Thus, Phinehas and his descendants were high priests in Israel until the days of Eli. When Eli failed to correct his sons, a man of God was sent to him to tell him, "I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father (Phinehas) should walk before Me forever; but now the Lord declares, Far be it from Me."
Eli was told that God was going to replace him with another family of priests that were not descended from Phinehas. How could God reverse His everlasting covenant with Phinehas? Did the promise of God fail? Not at all. The "everlasting covenant" was only indefinite in length, because it was olam. Phinehas' family was to provide the high priests for an indefinite period of time. It was indefinite, because no one on earth knew if and when that family would be disqualified and lose the priesthood.
Phinehas' family continued to be high priests for two more generations, but they finally lost it when Abiathar was replaced by Zadok. 1 Kings 2:27 says,
(27) So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.
All of the animal sacrifices were to be performed "forever" (olam) as well, but these ended at the cross. Lev. 3:17 says of these sacrifices, "It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings." The English translation sounds as if animal sacrifices were to never cease, but the word translated "perpetual" is olam. It had to end at some point, because "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4).
The Greek equivalent of olam, established by the Septuagint, is aion (age) and aionian (pertaining to an age). Hebrews 1:2 says, "In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world [aionas, "ages]." God created the ages, so they are said to have beginning points.
There existed a time prior to the creation of the ages as well, for Titus 1:2 says,
(2) In the hope of eternal [aionian] life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago[pro chronon aionion, "before the ages began"].
We also know that ages have endings, because Jesus said in Matt. 13:40, "so shall it be at the end of the age."
When writers wished to convey genuine perpetuity, they had to resort to other ways of speaking, such as in Luke 1:33, where we find that "of His kingdom there shall be NO END." Likewise, in Heb. 7:16 Christ was to arise as a Melchizedek priest "according to the power of an endless life."
The word "endless" comes from the Greek word akatalutos, which means "indissoluble, not subject to destruction." This term was used to express the immortality of the true and final Priest, whose priesthood would truly be "perpetual." Even as the line of Zadok replaced the line of Phinehas, so also does the Melchi-Zadok priesthood ultimately replace that of Levi (Aaron).
In Young's Literal Translation of 1 Tim. 1:17, we read,
(17) And to the King of the Ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, is honour and glory--to the ages of the ages! Amen.
This translation is quite different from the KJV, which reads "Now to the King eternal." We do not dispute the "eternal-ness" of God, but Paul was telling us that He is "the King of the Ages." The Greek phrase is ton aionion, "of the ages." Further, Paul speaks also of "the ages of the ages" (aionas ton aionos). These are the greatest ages of them all, the climax of earth's history, just as the Holy of Holies is the greatest of the holy places, and the Song of Songs is the greatest of the songs.
Having established the concept of the ages--and specifically "The Age to come," we can now receive a better understanding of what is meant by "eternal life," or aionian zoe. It is not fully synonymous with immortality (athanasia). Immortality means deathlessness as a state of being. Butaionian life is "life in The Age," or, as Young renders it, "age-during life." It refers the state of immortality in a specific Age.
Those who receive immortality in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) are the ones who enjoy deathlessness in The Age to come.
(5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
In other words, "the rest of the dead" will NOT receive aionian life. Those who have died in past ages will not be raised at the beginning of The Age to enjoy immortality during His thousand-year reign.
At the end of The Age there will be a second resurrection in which ALL of the dead will be raised to appear at the Great White Throne to be judged according to their works. Jesus spoke of this resurrection in John 5:28, 29,
(28) Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming in which ALL who are in the tombs shall hear His voice (29) and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
So it is clear that in the second resurrection there will be both righteous and unrighteous people raised. This tells us that the first resurrection is a very limited resurrection that will include only those called to "REIGN with Him for a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6). The rulers will receive aionianlife; the rest of the believers will receive immortality in the general resurrection later.
Jesus made this distinction also in Luke 12 in the parable about His servants. Those who are faithful will be made rulers and given authority over His possessions (Luke 12:44). Other servants (not-so-faithful believers) will be given their reward later--at the same time that the unbelievers receive their judgment (12:46).
Further, those Christian believers (as well as the unbelievers) will be judged according to their works and according to their knowledge of God's will (12:47, 48). Jesus speaks of it in terms of a flogging, with few or many stripes according to the law of Deut. 25:1-3. He then calls this judgment a "fire" in verse 49.
Paul confirms this in 1 Cor. 3:15 saying that "he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire."
Hence, Christians should not enjoy such a false sense of security that they live unrighteous lives. Their reward of immortality may be assured, but God reserves the right to judge and correct them first by the fiery law (Deut. 33:2).
Dr. Stephen Jones