Some want to have the Old Covenant age end properly at the fall of Jerusalem, but they are hesitant to assign the expected coming of Christ to that time. This effectively creates a third age that extends from the fall of Jerusalem to a future return of Christ. There is no such age or period of time known to the writers of the New Testament, because the end of the Old Covenant world was the second coming of Christ. This was the time of restitution of all things spoken by the prophets. This was the bringing in of the new heaven and earth, where righteousness dwells.
Abraham had two sons – not three (Galatians 4:21-31). Just as Isaac followed Ishmael, so the new world follows the end of the old. The inheritance stands in Isaac, and beyond him we cannot go. There is no one in Abraham’s household higher than Isaac, so he does not represent an intermediate state or period of time, such as fostered by the traditional view. There is no time period between the fall of Jerusalem and the second coming of Christ. They are essentially the same event – at any rate they are inexorably linked.
When we, through faulty interpretation, assign “last days” prophecies to a period of time that does not exist in scripture, the result is confusion. The New Testament saints preached, wrote, suffered, and died in the last days, but this is not true of us today. The bold truth is this: We are now in that world which was to come. We are in the eternal kingdom of Christ, and instead of being in last days we are in eternal days – a world without end (Ephesians 3:21). We are speaking, of course, of the world typified by Isaac, our spiritual world and citizenship.
Which is Which?
A passage that illustrates the kind of confusion that can result is Hebrews 1:1-2:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his son….
If the “last days” is the end of the Old Covenant age (as we have seen), then the world to come must follow, but most Christians think that the new world is ushered in by the second coming of Christ. This presents an exegetical problem that is acknowledged by J. Barmby in the Pulpit Commentary:
A subject of discussion has been the point of division between the two ages – whether the commencement of the Christian dispensation is ushered in by the exaltation of Christ, or his second advent. The conception in the Jewish mind, founded on the Messianic prophecy, would of course, be undefined. It would only be that the coming of the Messiah would inaugurate a new order of things. But how did the New Testament writers after Christ’s ascension conceive the two ages? Did they regard themselves as living at the end of the former age or at the beginning of the new one? The passage before us does not help to settle the question … but other passages seem certainly to imply that ‘the coming age’ was regarded as still future. It has been said, indeed, with regard to this apparent inference from some of them, that the writers were regarding their own age from the old Jewish standing-point when they spoke of it as future, or only used well-known phrases to denote the two ages, though they were no longer strictly applicable. (The Pulpit Commentary: Hebrews, p. 2)
But Barmby admits difficulty in such passages as 1 Corinthians 10:11 and Ephesians 1:21, for in these passages it appears that the coming of Christ was to usher in the new age. Barmby’s further comments give emphasis to the existing exegetical problems:
Still, though ‘that day’ was in the future, the first coming of Christ had been, as it were, its dawn, the true light already was shining (1 John 2:8). Hence the apostolic writers sometimes speak as if already in the ‘coming age,’ as being citizens already of heaven (Phillipians 3:20); as already ‘made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 2:6), having already ‘tasted the powers of the world to come’ (Hebrews 6:5). In a certain sense they felt themselves in the new order of things, though strictly speaking they still regarded their own age as but the end of the old one, irradiated by the light of the new. To understand fully their language on the subject, we should remember that they supposed the second advent to be more imminent than it was … thus they might naturally speak of their own time as the conclusion of the former age, though regarding the second advent as the commencement of the new one. (The Pulpit Commentary: Hebrews, p. 2)
The apostles did, of course, write from the viewpoint of still being in the Old Covenant age, or “this world” or “present time.” That age had not yet ended. But there were times when they wrote from the viewpoint of being in “the coming age” because from Pentecost to the fall of Jerusalem they had the guarantee (“earnest”) of the Spirit. And through this guarantee they possessed “in part” what would eventually be given in fullness or perfection. This earnest of the Spirit was until the time of their redemption, adoption, or inheritance. It is fashionable today to describe our position in the Kingdom in terms of “already but not yet,” meaning that the Kingdom is here but is not yet here in fullness. This is a useful concept – if it is properly applied to the transition period from the Cross to the Parousia during which the New Testament saints were writing and preaching.
These saints did consider themselves to be living in the end of the age:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
They assumed this event to be the return of Christ, and they believed it was imminent. They believed that Christ would come in their generation (Jesus said so specifically) and that his coming would be the beginning of a new age. I do not believe they were deceived, nor were they deceivers. They were guided by the Spirit of truth. The error is not in inspiration or revelation, but in interpretation. Christians today cannot admit that the end of the Old Covenant system was the second coming of Christ because – just as many of the Jewish people missed his first coming – their concept of the manner of Christ’s second coming forces contemporary Christians to reject the time and event of it.
The perennial conflict in the Middle East offers a kind of macabre hope to futuristic-apocalyptic Jews and Christians alike who are awaiting a coming Messiah. To the Jewish Zionist, it is a hope of Messiah’s first coming; to the Christian Zionist, a hope of his second coming! Both are likely to be disappointed, for the political unrest in that part of the world is not a portent of divine visitation but merely the product of human foolishness and cruelty. The Jewish peoples’ failure to see the first coming of Christ is a nearly identical error to the Christians’ failure to see his second coming. Their common error of looking for an earthly kingdom has brought them to a common ground of hope – the land of Palestine and the city of Jerusalem.
Abraham, however, saw a different country, and a heavenly city.
Some, finding the premillennial view distasteful, suggest that the purpose of Christ’s coming is not to reign on earth, but to destroy it since that is supposed to have something to do with our salvation. A new heaven and earth will then be created. This is at least a little curious since it seems to leave the new earth unoccupied. If all the saved are going to heaven, and the lost to hell, who is left to inhabit the new earth? The failure of this view lies in misidentifying the worlds involved in God’s paradigm of redemption. This temporal world was never the subject of prophecy, nor is its destruction a crucial factor in the redemption of man. The world marked for destruction in prophecy was the Old Covenant world – it was the end of the world as they knew it.
Join us next week as we explore how the second coming of Christ forms a perfect cube.
And be here each week as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.