The disciples asked, “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). What did they mean by the end of the age?
Jesus said, “The gospel would be preached all over the world then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). What end did he have in mind? Did he mean the end of the temple, or the end of the age, or both? Was Jesus answering the disciples’ question? It will help if we examine the original meaning of their words:
The disciples: “When is the end (sunteleia) of the age?”
Jesus: “Then the end (telos) will come.”
When discussing the end of the age in verse 3, the disciples used a big word that means completion or consummation of a plan. God has a plan, and it comes to completion at the end or consummation of the age. In contrast, when discussing the fall of Jerusalem in verse 14, Jesus used a smaller word that simply means an ending or conclusion.
Two words for two types of ending and the difference is a plan. If I crash my car, that’s the telos end of my car. But if I did it as part of a twisted plan to fake my own death, collect the insurance, and move to Bermuda, that’s a sunteleia ending. See the difference? In both cases the car came to an end, but the presence of a plan determines what sort of ending it was.
In Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked about the grand plan kind of ending, while in verse 14 Jesus spoke about an ordinary kind of ending. (He’ll get to the grand plan later in Matthew 24.) His choice of words reveals that the end of Jerusalem has nothing to do with the end of age they were asking about.
What is the end of the age?
Whenever you read about the end of something in the New Testament, it helps to know which sort of ending is being described. Is it the everyday type of ending (telos) or is it a God-wrought consummation (sunteleia) of a plan? Here are a few examples:
So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end (sunteleia) of the age … So it will be at the end (sunteleia) of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, (Matthew 13:40, 49)
In the parable of the tares and wheat, Jesus referred to the harvest at the end of the age using the big word that describes the consummation of a plan. Jesus was talking about the ending, or Judgment Day when the tares and wheat will be gathered and separated.
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end (sunteleia) of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus promised the disciples that he would never leave them. He would be with them, and us, to the utter end.
In these examples, the age in question is the new covenant age, also known as the age of grace or the age of the church or the last days. When Christ returns this age will end, the wheat and tares will be gathered, and the wicked will be separated from the righteous. But the new covenant age is not the only age mentioned in the Bible.
Now once at the consummation (sunteleia) of the ages he has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
This verse is pointing back to the cross rather than forward to the Second Coming. It describes the cross as the end or consummation of an age. Paul is talking about the age of the old law-keeping covenant, which came to a glorious culmination at the cross.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends (telos) of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
This verse is the same but different. It’s similar because Paul is again talking about the end of an age, but it’s a different kind of ending. It’s an ordinary telos ending.
Paul is not talking about the consummation of the old covenant (which had already happened), nor is he talking about the consummation of the new covenant (which was far in the future). He is talking about the end of the temple-based worship. “Moses is fizzing out because Christ has come.” For more on this, see “When did the Old Covenant end?”
When is the end of the age?
As we have seen from scripture, there is more than one age and more than one ending. There was the age of law or the era of the old covenant, which came to a conclusion at Calvary, and there is the present age of grace or the era of the new covenant, which will reach its climax when Christ returns.
When the disciples asked, “When is the end of the age?” they meant, “When will you reveal yourself in glory and power?” They were asking about the final coming of the Lord. When is that going to happen?
We will look at Jesus response that question in our next post, “The Day and the Hour”.
Extracted from chapter 35 of Paul Ellis’ new book AD70 and the End of the World.