The Ancient Biblical Teaching of the Ages Part 1
Part 1 – The End of the World (as we know it):
An introduction to the concept of “the Ages”
“You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!” Jesus (Matthew 16:3)
There is one word in the Bible that is often mistranslated in English. You wouldn’t think that one word would make that much difference, but it does. When that word is wrongly translated, it paints the wrong picture in our mind about what it is actually speaking of, and that wrong picture tends to lead us to conclusions which we would never have arrived at if the word – the actual word, and what that word meant to the original speakers/writers and the original hearers/readers – had been understood. When I say “mistranslated”, I am not claiming to be a scholar in the area of translation from ancient Hebrew or Koine Greek, I am simply reporting what the translators themselves say. The word I am talking about is the word “Age”. In Hebrew (in the Old Testament) it is the world “olam”, and in Greek (in the New Testament) it is the word “aion” (the word we get eon from). Sometime, the phrase “aion – aionios” is translated as “forever and ever” or “everlasting” or “eternal” (as in, “the wicked shall go away to eternal punishment”) ….. BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT IT MEANS AT ALL! Sometimes aion is translated as “world” (as in “… the end of the world”) ….. BUT THAT ISN’T WHAT IT MEANS EITHER. The Bible doesn’t speak about the “end of the world”, it speaks about “the end of the age”. The Bible doesn’t speak about “everlasting life and punishment”, it speaks of “age-enduring life and age-enduring correction”. To be fair, not all English translations do this; many translations do, in fact, keep the word(s) as it should be – “age” (or “age-enduring”).
When I was new to the Christian faith, I did notice this disparity as I began to read the Bible. I noticed verses which, in some translations, seemed to be talking about “the end of the world” or about “eternal life/punishment” but then in a different translation the meaning seemed to be much different. Have a look at these verses, just a small selection from Matthews gospel, which speak of the “Ages”, and see how much it changes the meaning, and how many questions it brings up:
“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, neither in this Age nor in the Age to come….. As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the Age?” …. “Then they will go away to Age-enduring correction, but the righteous to Age-enduring life.” … And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the Age.”
(Matthew 12:32; 24:3; 25:46; 28:20).
I laid this confusion on the shelf for a number of years, but the concept kept coming up again and again, in books about “hell” (another mistranslated word), or about “time”, or about eschatology (the study of the “end-times” or “last-things”), or about the Biblical meaning of the Zodiac, or about ancient cosmology, the Temple layout, sacred geometry … and a whole host of ideas that there seems to be so much confusion and contradictory teaching about – all due to a misunderstanding of the Ages. I seemed to be coming up against two Biblical mysteries, and so I decided to spend some years in a deeper research about what this Biblical concept actually was. I had no idea how much it would impact my faith, my personal relationship with God, my understanding of the Bible, or my view of the world around me and its future.
Those two Biblical mysteries I kept coming up against were:
- mystery # 1: the meaning of the term “the Ages” in the Bible ( in other words, Hebrew Chronology)
- mystery # 2: the meaning of the zodiac symbols in the Bible (in other words, Hebrew Cosmology)
I discovered that the Bible speaks about:
- the end of the age – NOT the end of the world
- two main ages are discussed – the passing Old Covenant age, and the new age which arrived in Christ, and the transition period between those two ages
- that there are “former ages” and “ages to come” (not just the two main Ages discussed)
- Eternity past: before time and the Ages began
- Eternity future: when the Ages come to an end, (after “time” and “ages” have ceased)
I also discovered that all of this was mapped out in the ancient calendar system, which not only involved days, months, and years (connected to the sun, moon and constellations), but seasons and Ages, connected to the 12 constellations of the zodiac (or Mazzaroth, to use the Biblical, Hebraic name – see Job 38:32).
- “the grace which was given in Jesus Christ before the time of the Ages”. (2 Tim 1:9-10)
- “God—who does not lie—promised this eternal life before the time of the Ages” (Titus 1:1-3)
- “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this Age or of the rulers of this Age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before the time of the Ages. None of the rulers of this Age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
- “in order that in the COMING AGES he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus….this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which FOR AGES PAST was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his purpose of THE AGES that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 2:7, 3:8-11)
So, why is it so obscure?
Why would the authors of the Bible not make it clearer? Well, clearer to whom? It was very clear to them and to their hearers/readers. They were very familiar with the meaning of the terms “Age” and “Age-enduring” and so they never stop to explain exactly WHAT they mean by those terms, because their readers KNEW what those terms meant. By way of analogy imagine that in 2,000 years time some archeologists came across some references made by two people in OUR day, in which they mention “Facebook”. Those people would never explain WHAT Facebook is to each other, because they both know what it is. But to the archeologists in 2,000 years time – “Facebook” might be a total mystery! Even if they look up the dictionary definitions to “face” and “book” they would be none the wiser – in fact, the dictionary definition would take them completely in the wrong direction. Perhaps, in 2,000 years time, the dictionary definitions of “face” and “book” may have changed and be even more misleading to them. Their task would NOT be to work out what people in our time were talking about by using THEIR dictionary definitions of “face” and “book”, but rather, to do some research to find out what WE were talking about when we used that term. Likewise, the term “Age” could mean lots of things to us (“this day and age”, the “middle ages”, the “Bronze Age” etc). But our task is NOT to superimpose our own modern day definition of the words “Age” and “Age-enduring” onto the Bible, but to find out what THEY meant by those terms – terms which were used so commonly in that time that no explanation was needed. As we shall see later on, the term “Age” was connected to their calendar, (it was a specific period of time which they could calculate) and there are a whole series of “Ages” mentioned in the Bible, however, lets start (in the next few posts) by simply looking at the two Ages we have mentioned already (the End of the Old Covenant Days during the “Last Days” and the beginning of the New Covenant Age) and how they relate to Jesus prediction in his Olivet Prophecy (his explanation to his disciples, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, where he explained what would happen within one generation).