WHAT WAS THE GOAL OF THE AGES?
In the previous installment, I shared with you a bit of the significance of 1 Corinthians 10:11, where Paul said “the end of the ages has come up on us.” What Paul was saying, as several notable scholars have observed, is that the goal of the previous ages had arrived, or was arriving when Paul wrote.
Barton takes note of this: “Christians in Corinth are told, for example that they are fortunate to be alive when the decisive moment in history came about. So the present has become the moment to which all the Scriptures have been pointing, though their meaning can only be understood with that divinely inspired intuition which flows from acceptance of the Messiah.” (John Barton, The Biblical World, Vol. 1 (New York, Routledge, 2004), 142).
Beale also realized that Paul was saying something incredibly important about the time in which the Corinthians were living: “Paul understands that he and his communities are living in the last days of the eschatological fulfillment of the OT promises and prophecies, related to the theme of ‘the last days’ (Deut. 4:30; Jer. 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Dan. 2:28; 10:14; Hosea 3:5).” (Greg Beale, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007), 726). Of course, Beale, as most commentators, fails to see that the consummation was at hand. Nonetheless, to recognize that Paul was affirming that the goal of the previous ages being achieved in the first century has incredible importance.
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. And we will take a closer look at the implications of 1 Corinthians 10:11 for the futurist eschatologies in our next installment. Stay tuned! In the meantime get a copy of my book, The Last Days Identified, for an excellent study of the significance of Paul’s words.