Return to Index Page


The 'Age' to come

By Richard Gunther


Recently a friend of mine brought an interesting, but unsettling idea to me. "An age" he said, "Means a length of time with a start and a finish, therefore, when the Bible speaks about the "age to come" it means that it will have an end. Then what?"

Rather than suggest what I thought might happen, I waited for his idea, which he was bursting to tell me.

"When the age after the second advent is finished, God will give the people who rejected the gospel another chance!"

I have come across this idea before, but in different guises.

There are some well-meaning, kindly Christians who wishfully believe that God will eventually bring all sinners into His kingdom. These dear folk cannot accept that God could ever 'condemn a man to hell', and the thought of 'everlasting punishment' is too much for their sensibilities.

So they clutch at straws.

They suggest that "everlasting" does not mean "for ever", or, they say God is too kind and too loving to make someone suffer eternally, or, they suggest that the glorified saints could never really enjoy heaven when they knew their loved ones - the ones who 'missed out' - were in a lake of fire, or some such torment.

From the eastern religions we get similar thoughts. One religion has no hell at all, but rather an endless upward climb to perfection and oneness with the universe and all life (nirvana - Buddhism). Another eastern idea is based on karma - a cycle of returning and gradual perfection (karma - Hinduism). Another idea is based on reincarnation (ancient Egypt, Greece, Pythagoras, Plato, Buddhist, Hindu, Jainism, Christian heretics such as the Cathars, and theosophy).

Some cults teach the transmigration of souls, while others believe in a 'spirit world' beyond the grave, where life continues on another plane.

So my friend was in good company. His version of ultimate glory for all was based on the idea that sinners (however recalcitrant, unrepentant, stubborn, wicked, and rebellious) would all one day be shouting praise to God. Genghis Khan, Hitler, and all the butchers of history now have a chance to share in the eternal kingdom - surely a cause for great joy amongst the saints.

But do the Scriptures actually support this idea?

W.E.Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament words tells us that "age" (aion) means "an era" or "a period of indefinite duration". The force attached to this word is not so much that of actual duration, or length, but of a general time which is marked by a certain characteristic. We use the expression ourselves when we speak of 'the industrial age' or the 'golden age'.

According to Vine, the word "should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. Thus 'eis ton aiona' does not mean "unto the age" but "for ever".

The adjective form 'aionios' means 'eternal'. It is set in contrast with 'proskairos' which means 'for a season', as in 2Cor.4:18 - "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal (temporary - proskairos); but the things which are not seen are eternal.

So what things are 'aionios' meaning eternal, never ending, or everlasting?

God's power : "Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting." 1 Timothy 6:16

God's glory : "But the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you". 1 Peter 5:10

The Holy Spirit : "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Hebrews 9:14

Redemption : "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us". Hebrews 9:12

Salvation : "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him" Hebrews 5:9

Life in Christ : "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". John 3:16

The resurrection body : "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens". 2 Corinthians 5:1

The future rule of Christ : "For so an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". 2 Peter 1:11

The kingdom of God : "And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end". Luke 1:33

The judgement of God : "Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement". Hebrews 6:2

"Wherefore if your hand or your foot offend you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire". Matthew 18:8

"Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" Matthew 25:41

"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire". Jude 1:7

From the above verses, it is clear from the meaning of the word 'aionios' that there is no limit to the length of time given for these things. Eternal life lasts as long, in a manner of speaking, as the judgement of God. Redemption lasts as long as the kingdom of God.

But there is a certain illogicality about the idea that some things which are called eternal are actually limited in duration. If we applied the idea to redemption, we might wonder of God might have to make a further sacrifice to keep the saints preserved, or perhaps the whole process of creation, sin and salvation might need to be repeated for ever? Satan, after all, might repent and go back to heaven, and then rebel again?

As soon as we put a limit on the duration of "everlasting" or "eternal" we begin to doubt what God means. Has God been playing a linguistic joke on us for the last 2000 years? What other words has God been using which do not mean what they seem to mean? Is the gospel reliable? Is the Bible reliable? If we allow the word 'age' to mean something other than what the context and Greek usage define it as, we may open the flood gates and let every word change its meaning.

And what do we make of the fact that through the last 2000 years many people have studied the Word and yet almost none of them (except the Cathars, called heretics by the Church) have discovered the 'true' meaning of the word 'age'? The Reformers, for example, were giants in Bible Study, labouring with lexicons and translations literally for years, learning, checking, compiling massive works of exposition, yet none of them ever 'discovered' the hidden meaning of the word 'age'. How could they have missed it?

Much as I too would like to think that somewhere in the future, those who I have witnessed to but who rejected the gospel, will one day be saved, I cannot find sufficient support for this in the Bible.

One good reason why it would not be there is because the whole work of the Church would fall into the 'predestination' trap. Christians would say "Well, so-and-so is dead against becoming a Christian, but one day, in the future ages, God will win her over."

Or we might decide to forget about preaching, because ultimately all will be saved, so why bother people with awkward messages about hell and judgement? The Church could avoid a lot of unpleasantness if it really believed that God has a succession of ages, in which, ultimately, even the toughest customer will finally buckle. In fact, there's hardly any point in being a Christian, because, ultimately, all will be saved anyway. Might as well relax and enjoy life, because God will win us all over eventually, whether we like it or not.

It seems to me that this sort of thinking is very similar to the words spoken by the great enemy of God . . .

"And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die" Genesis 3:4

Back to Index Page