Author: Ron Graham
This Age and the Age To Come
—What do these terms mean?
The New Testament sometimes compares or links "this age" with "the age to come". We need to discover what is meant by "this age" and what is meant by "the age to come".
This might not seem to be a very important issue, however you might be surprised at the doctrines that rely upon misinterpreting these terms. It's worth our while, therefore, to get this matter clear in our own minds.
In this lesson, we will look at several examples where the Bible uses terms like "this age" and "the age to come" and we will gather their true meaning.
1 Matthew 12:32
Christ said that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall never be forgiven, "either in this age, or in the age to come".
In this lesson, we are not concerned with what Jesus means by blasphemy against the Spirit. That's incidental to our present study. Rather, in this study, we are concerned simply with what Jesus had in mind when he used the terms "this age" and "the age to come".
This passage (Matthew 12:32) is a good one to begin with, because we will be able to look at a parallel passage that clearly shows what Jesus had reference to. But first, see if you can do exercise 1.
What did Jesus mean by the terms 'this age', and 'the age to come'?
- (A) Mosaical age and the Christian age
- (B) This world and eternity
- (C) The present and the future
- (D) The present world and the Millennium
- (E) Judeo-Christian era and Age of Aquarius
Correct answer is (B).
In this first example (Matthew 12:32), Jesus was speaking on the other side of the cross from us. In other words, he was still in the Jewish age. Some therefore teach that Christ meant the Jewish age when he used the term "this age", and he meant this side of the cross, the Christian age, when he spoke of "the age to come".
That interpretation sounds quite credible. However, in the next example, we will show that the Lord was not speaking about the Jewish age and the Christian age, but rather about this present world and the eternal world to come.
2 Mark 3:28-30
We need to be brave at this point, because we are dealing with the hardest example. Some easier examples come later, but we want to look at this one now, because it is the parallel passage to the example we have just looked at.
Here in Mark 3:28-30, Jesus shows how he regards his own use of the terms "this age" and "the age to come" used in example 1 (Matthew 12:32).Try exercise 2.
The term 'no forgiveness... in the age to come' in example 1 is parallel to what term in Example 2? Select a right answer below.
- (A) Not forgiven ever... eternally condemned
- (B) Has life-long condemnation
- (C) Never has forgiveness... an eternal sin
- (D) Has age-long condemnation
- (E) No forgiveness during Mosaical age
Correct answer is (A or C).
Observe that when Jesus says in example 1, "The sin shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come," he means what he says in example 2, "he never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation".
We must be careful to map one phrase onto the other. This is scripture interpreting itself and it shows that Jesus had eternity in mind when he spoke of "the age to come".
So far, we have compared two examples, which are parallel passages. We saw that "the age to come" is where there will be "eternal condemnation". The age to come is therefore eternity1.
3 Mark 10:30
In this different example, Jesus promised those who leave everything for his sake and the gospel's, that they will receive a hundredfold "now in this time", and eternal life "in the age to come".
Does that mean a hundredfold in the Jewish age and eternal life in the Christian age? Or does it mean a hundredfold on this earth and eternal life in heaven? One of these interpretations strains the passage; the other explains the passage. Judge for yourself which is which.
4 Luke 20:34-36
Another example is the Lord’s remark about marriage. "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain to that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage".
Was Jesus saying people in the Jewish age would marry but people in the Christian age would not? Nobody would maintain such a thing. Jesus clearly refers to this world when he says "this age", and heaven when he says refers to "that age".
5 Matt 13:24-30,36-43
Our conclusion is further confirmed when we look at the parable of the tares where Jesus speaks of the "harvest... at the end of this age".
Now Jesus does not leave us guessing here about what the parable represents. He says, "The field is the world". By "the world" he means the created world, the cosmos.
The word kosmos is the very word we find at that particular place in our Greek scriptures. The "end of this age" is the end of the cosmos. It is the day when humanity is judged, the righteous enter into glory and the wicked into hell. You can of course read the parable and its explanation for yourself to see that this is so.
6 Ephesians1:21, Colossians 2:14
Paul, in his writings, frequently uses the term "this age". In one place he uses the expression, "not only in this age but in that which is to come".
If the term "this age" meant the Jewish age, and "the age to come" meant the Christian age, then Paul (on this side of the cross) was still in the Jewish age and the Christian age had not yet come. In other words, the cross was not where the Jewish age ended; the cross was not where the Christian age began.
Paul however believed that the Jewish law had been "nailed to the cross". So how could he believe he was still in the Jewish age? Clearly, when Paul spoke of "this age" he meant human history, and when he spoke of "that age which is to come" he meant the eternal world.
From the above examples, we conclude that when God’s word speaks of "this age" and "the age to come" it is referring to mortal life on earth (this age) and eternity in heaven or hell (the age to come).
The Greek words αιωνα (aiona) (ever) and αιωνιου (aioniou eternal), have the same stem αιων (aion) aeon or age.
Some teachers want to make these words mean "age-long" rather than "eternal" or everlasting. Take no notice of that. The same argument would make the "eternal life" in John 3:16 only "age-long" life —whatever that means.
The Greek word αιων (aion) appears over 150 times in the New Testament.
As a noun it has three different meanings determined by context: (i) eternity, (ii) world, or (iii) age —in the sense of a great division of human history. As an adjective its use in scripture seems to be limited to the first meaning, eternal. If your references use the Strong’s numerical coding, see 165 and 166.