In my debate with Dr. Michael Brown on the fulfillment of Matthew 24, he spent considerable time dismissing the argument that the “end of the age” (v. 3) referred to the end of the old covenant system of sacrifices, cleansings, food regulations, and priestly oversight. He implied that the “end of the age” was yet in the future.
What “age” or “period of time” was about to come to an end when Jesus’ disciples asked about “the end of the age” in Matthew 24:3 after they heard Jesus say that the temple was going to be “left desolate” (23:36)? The end of the old covenant age was on the horizon with the ministry of Jesus. He was the ultimate temple (John 2:19), sacrifice (1:29), and mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). The physical temple was no longer needed. It was designed to be a placeholder for the True Temple. Its physical locality limited access by the people. Jesus as the temple was in their midst, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name,” Jesus said, “I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20). “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Peter wrote, “the end of all things has drawn near” (1 Peter 4:7). Earlier he had written about “these last times” (1:20). This “end” cannot mean the end of everything; only the end of those things that were temporary (Heb. 12:18–29) and replaced with new things (1 Peter 2:4–10; Rev. 21–22).
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The “age to come” is not heaven or the eternal state but the new covenant age. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11), that is, as Joseph Benson comments, “at the end of the Mosaic dispensation, whose duration was measured by ages or jubilees.” John Gill writes:
[T]he apostle does not mean this material visible world, the universe and all things in it, which has continued, since the writing of this, about two thousand years: but the Jewish ages, or times of the Mosaic economy, which began when these instances of sin and punishment were, and which now in the times of the apostles were at an end; everything in those periods that were figurative and emblematical, having their fulfilling end and accomplishment, and also were now abrogated: likewise the ages or times of Gentile darkness and ignorance may be intended, which now were come to an end, through the light of the Gospel, and the power of God attending the ministration of it; and hence the ends both of the Jewish and Gentile ages may be said to come upon, or meet in the apostles and their times, who had the advantage of looking back on former ones, and of receiving instruction from thence.
This comment by James Burton Coffman on 1 Corinthians 10:11 captures the meaning nicely:
[T]he words have a more immediate application to the end of the Jewish dispensation which had already occurred in the crucifixion of Christ; but that terminus of the whole Mosaic age would shortly be marked by the destruction of the Jewish state, the city of Jerusalem and the temple. It is not incorrect to see this also in Paul’s words here. It was indeed the “ends of the ages” shortly to be fantastically demonstrated before their eyes in 70 A.D. As [Albert] Barnes truly observed, “This by no means denotes that the apostle believed the world would soon come to an end.”
The New Testament church was in a transition phase (AD 30–70) between the passing away of the old covenant age and the new covenant age. With the end of the temple, its sacrificial system, and its earthly priests, the old covenant came to an abrupt and consummating end. The writer of Hebrews describes it this way: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 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” (1:1–2).
The book of Hebrews is the definitive book on explaining the transition to the “better covenant”: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is near [ἐγγὺς] to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). Near for that generation. A similar idea is presented in Hebrews 9:26 which reads: “Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages [αἰώνων] He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
“And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” Some Bible translations translate the Greek word aion as “world.” This is inaccurate. The disciples did not ask about the end of the “world” (Gk: kosmos or oikoumenē) or the heavens and earth. Jesus’ disciples had just heard Jesus pronounce His judgment on the temple and everything that it stood for (Matt. 23:38). It’s no wonder they asked about the “end of the age” (24:3) and equated it with the end of the temple because the destruction of the temple would mean that the obligations of the old covenant sacrificial system could not be carried out. Jesus follows up their three-part question with a description of the signs that will lead up to the temple’s destruction and the end of the old covenant age (24:4–35).
According to Josephus, an eyewitness to the temple’s destruction, after the temple was destroyed, “Caesar [Titus] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple,… which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came [there] believe it had ever been inhabited” (Wars of the Jews, 7.1.1). Like Peter’s use of the “end of all things” in 1 Peter 4:7, the “end of the age” simply means an end of a period of time. In fact, Jesus uses the word “end” three times in Matthew 24 (6, 13, 14). “The end” in Matthew 10:22; 13:39, 40, 49; 28:20; Mark 13:7, 13; Luke 21:9; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 10:11; 15:24; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 6:11; 9:26; Revelation 2:26 means nothing more than the end being described in the context, not the end of everything.
“And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or the age about [μέλλοντι] to come.” “This age” refers to the then-current age. Why does the “age about to come” in this passage have to refer to the eternal state that some claim? It could just as easily be read this way:
“And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age [the growing old … ready to disappear covenant age of the time Jesus lived and ministered and warned that generation of its near demise], or the age to come [the new covenant age that was about to dawn].”
In either age, speaking against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. We find something similar in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course [αἰῶνα] of this world [κόσμου] [this shows there is a distinction between “age” and world], according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all previously lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages [αἰῶσιν] to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (2:1–7).
There was an age that was then operating that would be surpassed “in the ages to come.”
Paul confirms this later in the same epistle: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all people as to what the plan of the mystery is which for ages [αἰώνων] has been hidden in God, who created all things” (3:8–9). Hidden “for ages: but “now [was being made] known through the church” (3:10). The “now” was then. Paul writes something similar in Colossians 1:26: “the mystery which had been hidden from the past ages [αἰώνων] and generations [γενεῶν], but now has been revealed to His saints.”
Joel McDurmon offers a helpful summary:
So, from the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews, we get a very clear picture of two primary ages: one that endured up until the time of Christ, and another that began around that same period. I believe these two periods, being hinged upon the coming and work of Christ, pertain obviously to the Old and New Covenant administrations. Indeed, this is what the author of Hebrews himself relates. He says the New Covenant makes the Old obsolete: “And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). Notice, the New had in fact made the Old obsolete definitively. But as he wrote, in his time, the Old was becoming obsolete and was ready to vanish away. It had not yet been completely wiped out, but it was certainly in its dying moments.
It died in AD 70, when the symbol and ceremonies of that Old system—the Temple and sacrifices—were completely destroyed by the Roman armies. This was the definitive moment when the “this age” of Jesus and Paul ended and completely gave way to their “age to come.” This, of course, is exactly why Jesus had tied “the end of the age” to His prophecy of the destruction of the Temple [that we read about in Matthew 24:1–3].
Jesus v Jerusalem
Much of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels pertains primarily to His pre-AD 70 audience, and without reading it in this light, we misunderstand it. And when we misunderstand it, we misapply it. The section of Luke covered in this commentary requires this understanding. The parables Jesus tells during His final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51–20:26, and beyond) almost all pertain to the rebellion, faithlessness, judgment, and coming destruction of Jerusalem, and the salvation of a tiny remnant of His elect people.Buy Now
James Burton Coffman, Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible: First Corinthians (Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 1983–1999).
Joel McDurmon, Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), 47–48.