It is entirely unfortunate that the KJV should translate the Greek word αἰών as “world,” for generations of English-speaking Christians have come and gone without realizing what the Scriptures teach regarding the number of remaining epochs. While there is some semantic overlap between αἰών and κόσμος (cf. Ephesians 2:2), the two words are not merely synonymous. Thus, it is best to translate αἰών as “age” so that it is referring to a time period, not a cosmological arrangement per se. When we do this, as in the NASB, an interesting pattern emerges that was not so easily seen before.
The Scriptures uniformly speak of only two remaining ages in which all will be said and done.
These periods are described as “This Age” and “the Age to Come.” Christ taught that anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven “either in This Age or in the Age to Come” (Matthew 12:32). Those who make sacrifices for Christ shall “receive a hundred times as much now in This present Age … and in the Age to Come eternal life” (Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30). Paul wrote that Christ has been exalted above all authorities, powers, and names “not only in This Age but also in the One to Come” (Ephesians 1:21). Regarding the topic of marriage, the Lord Jesus tell us that “the sons of This Age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to That Age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-35). This last text is an important revelation, for it teaches plainly that a physical resurrection occurs at the juncture between the two Ages.
Sometimes one of the Ages is mentioned without the other. For example, Christ rescues believers “from This present evil Age” (Galatians 1:4). Satan is called “the god of This Age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Christians are not to “be conformed to This Age but be transformed” (Romans 12:2). The reason why Demas forsook Paul was because he “loved This present Age” (2 Timothy 4:10). Likewise, it is possible for people to taste of “the powers of The Age to Come” and still fall away from Christ (Hebrews 6:5-6).
Also, there are places where This Age is simply called “the Age.” One example is the recurring phrase “the end of the Age” (Matthew 13:39, 49, 24:3, 28:20). Likewise, part of the reason why those who hear the Gospel can ultimately reject it is because of “the cares of the Age” (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19). And the people who remain unbelievers are referred to as “the sons of the Age” (Luke 16:8). In all these cases it is best to interpret the definite article as following a demonstrative usage. Thus, any reference to “the Age” can be properly translated as “This Age” without doing any damage to the text.
Now, the fact that there are two remaining Ages fits in perfectly with Amillennialism. The Amillennial scheme holds that This Age is a reference to the entire period of time prior to Christ’s second advent, after which we are ushered into the New Heavens and New Earth or, in other words, the Age to Come. At the juncture between these two Ages, there would be a general resurrection and general judgment. Thus, Amillennialism very nicely accounts for this picture of two Ages. (The astute reader will immediately recognize that postmillennialism also fits in with the two Ages pattern, but in a little bit I will show why it fails to match it perfectly.)
Why should the two Ages teaching be a reason against Premillennialism?
It is apparent that the Premillennial scheme requires that there be three remaining Ages, each being qualitatively distinct from the others. The millennium is said to be not as “earthly” as This Age nor is it as “heavenly” as the Age to Come, but instead occupies a sort of middle ground both in character and time of fulfillment. It thus constitutes its own qualitatively distinct epoch, which is differentiated from the two Ages that are plainly taught in Scripture. This supposed existence of a third Age is problematic for Premillennialism.
The only premillennialist who seems to have ever come to grips with this conundrum is George Eldon Ladd in his book The Gospel of the Kingdom. Ladd uses the concept of telescoping to explain how the millennium can be an intervening Age between This Age and the Age to Come (36-39). This at first sounds plausible, especially when considering how telescoping is a real phenomenon in Scripture.
But this also has its problems
When, for instance, Christ taught that the sin against the Spirit won’t ever be forgiven, whether in This Age or in the Age to Come, He clearly views the two Ages as exhausting all of time and eternity. If there is really a 1000 years separating the two, then the assumptions behind Lord Jesus’ teaching are no longer quite so accurate (cf. Mark 3:29).
But Ladd is not finished yet. It is at this point that he comes through with a pure stroke of genius. Ladd envisions the two Ages as overlapping with each other, and he then views this non-empty intersection as being the millennium itself (see his diagrams on ages 38 and 42). I have to say that I’m very impressed with this nifty device for escaping the problem of having three Ages instead of two. Seeing two sets intersect can indeed give the appearance of a third set in between them. Admittedly, this maneuver does preserve Christ’s perception of the two Ages as covering all of time and eternity.
However, this attempt at a solution has one fatal flaw. In his scheme Ladd requires that This Age not come to full and complete closure until the millennium is over. But Ladd forgot that the Lord Jesus consistently taught that the final consummation of This Age occurs at the Second Coming (Matthew 13:39, 49, 24:3, 28:20). Therefore, This Age must end when the millennium supposedly begins — not when the millennium is supposed to finish, as Ladd requires. This would seem to force Ladd back to square one in his attempts at reconciling his Premillennialism with the Bible’s teaching of just two remaining Ages.
How does this contradict Postmillennialism?
Well, it goes back to the fact that Postmillennialism teaches that there will be a transformation of This Age apart from the second coming of Christ. It asserts that the general character of This Age is getting better and will eventually become holy and righteous prior to the Age’s consummation.
But as we have seen already, this appears to contradict the uniform teaching of the New Testament concerning the moral nature of This Age. Satan is the god of This Age (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are not to be conformed to This Age (Romans 12:2). This Age is opposite and antithetical to the light (Luke 16:8). It is an age of evil (Galatians 1:4). To walk according to This Age is the same as being dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Postmillennialism requires a radical re-orientation of verses like these in order for its assertions to hold up.
Amillennialism is naturally able to account for the doctrine of the two Ages. Any other eschatological scheme requires explanations of a strained nature.
Nate Claiborne sums this issue up nicely1:
In summary of the two ages, this age is marked by home, fields, families, marrying and being given in marriage, people being blinded to the truth by the god of this age, evil in our hearts and in the world, Christ’s present heavenly reign, the command to not be conformed to this age and live godly live, and the promise that Christ will by the Spirit be with us until the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20; Luke 10:30; 20:34; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:20-21, Titus 2:12). At Christ’s Second coming, this age is brought to a close and a new age, that has been present as a promise of the future fulfillment, completely overtakes it. In the meantime, we are living in the overlap, having been given a down payment of our inheritance, but still awaiting its ultimate realization.
- Matthew 12:32 – No forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
- Matthew 24:3 – The end of the age will be preceded by signs
- Matthew 28:20 – Christ will be with us until the end of the age
- Luke 18:30 – There are material rewards given to us in this life
- Luke 20:34 – The people of this age marry and are given in marriage
- Mark 10:30 – The present age is an age of homes, fields, and families
- Romans 12:2 – We are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (age)
- 1 Corinthians 1:20 – Philosophy is the wisdom of this age
- 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 – Wisdom and rulers are of this age
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 – Satan is the god of this age who has blinded the minds of men and women
- Galatians 1:4 – The present age is evil
- Ephesians 1:21 – Christ reigns in present age
- Ephesians 2:2 – The ways of this world (age) are evil
- 1 Timothy 6:17 – Those who are rich in this age, are not to hope in their wealth for the next
- Titus 2:12 – We are to live Godly lives in the present age
In every instance the qualities associated with “this age” are temporal in nature. These texts describe the present course of history before the return of Christ and are things which pass away at his return.
Age to Come
- Matthew 12:32 – No forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
- Matthew 13:40 – The weeds will be thrown into the fire
- Mark 10:30 – Eternal life as a reward
- Luke 18:30 – Eternal life as a reward
- Luke 20:35 – No marriage or giving in marriage
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Evil doers will not inherit the kingdom of God
- 1 Corinthians 15:50 – Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God
- Galatians 5:21 – Those who live evil lives will not inherit the kingdom
- Ephesians 1:21 – Christ will reign in age to come
- Ephesians 5:5 – Immoral people will not inherit kingdom of God
- 1 Thessalonians 2:12 – We are encouraged to live lives worthy of the kingdom
- 2 Thessalonians 1:5 – Faith will count you worthy of the kingdom of God
- 1 Timothy 6:19 – The coming age has life that is truly life
- 2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will bring us to kingdom of God
In marked contrast to “this age” the qualities assigned to the age to come are all eternal (or non-temporal) in nature. These references are clearly describing the future eschatological state of believers (and nonbelievers if you factor in the references to judgment).
This Age Or The Age To Come
- Matthew 12:32 – There is no forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
- The use of this phrase “either in this age or in the age to come” is intended to exhaust all of time and eternity.
The Line of “Demarcation” Between the Two Ages
- Matthew 13:39 – The harvest is the end of the age, and the angels are the harvesters
- Matthew 13:40 – The weeds will be burned in the fire at the end of the age (judgment)
- Matthew 13:49 – The angels will separate the wicked from the righteous
The first coming of Christ and his resurrection ensured that in the present age, Christians are already raised with him. Christ’s resurrection from the dead also ensured that we believers will be raised bodily at the end of the age. ~ Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 – So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Hebrews 9:27-28 – And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
We are clearly dealing with two ages; the current age in which we find two kingdoms in conflict and the future glorious age in which we live eternally with our great King (Matthew 12:32; Luke 18:29-30; 20:34-35; Ephesians 1:21; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:6-8; 3:8; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:17; Titus 2:12; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18).
1The Overlap of Ages in The Kingdom by Nate Claiborne