End of the World
& The Last Days
Among the main English translations, the phrase, "end of the world," is found only in the King James Version. In the many other translations, it is rightfully translated, as "end of the age." This phrase appears only five times in the New Testament (four in Matthew, and once in Hebrews). In the Gospel of Matthew, it is found first in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, then again in the Olivet Discourse of chapter 24, and lastly in the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:39, 40, 49), it is used to designate when the time of the separation of the tares from wheat occurs. This separation occurs at "the end of the age." There are three different Greek words that are translated as, world, in the New Testament.
The most predominate Greek word is, κόσμος [kosmos]. Mounce states this about kosmos,
In the NT, kosmos always means “the world” except in 1 Pet. 3:3, where it is used with the older sense of “adornment.” Even with the sense of “world,” there are a number of nuances within this idea. At times kosmos indicates the created universe (Acts 17:24), yet at other times, the sphere of human life and humanity itself (Mt. 4:8; Mk. 8:36; Jn. 3:19; 2 Cor. 5:19). In John and Paul especially, the latter meaning of kosmos is predominant. The world is the place where God has come to do his redeeming and transforming work.
We can see how these two words, kosmos and aion, work together in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. In verse 38, Jesus says, "The field is the world." The Greek word here, translated "world" is kosmos. Then in the next verse, He says, "the harvest is the end of the world." Here, the Greek word for world is, aion. So, the field is the kosmos, i.e., the arena of human activity and life, whereas the harvest of the wheat is at the end of the age, not the material world (kosmos). In the Bible, the kosmos is never stated as coming to an end.
The other word translated as "world," is the Greek word, οἰκουμένη [oikoumenē]. Again, Mounce tells us,
oikoumenē is used in the NT to refer to the “inhabited earth” rather than the whole globe. Jesus states in Mt. 24:14 that the gospel will be preached in all the “inhabited earth” before the coming of the end, and Caesar took a census of all the “inhabited earth” (Lk. 2:1). In Acts 11:28 Agabus predicts that a great famine will come over “the whole world” (and he obviously is not referring to Antarctica or South America!). In Acts 17:6 the Christians are somewhat hyperbolically accused of having upset the “whole world” (cf. Acts 19:27; see 24:5 for more hyperbole).
Also, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, states,
This word, having the sense of a noun, denotes the "inhabited world" and then comes into use for the Roman empire. The NT never contests the Roman claim that equates the oikoumenē with the empire.
Here we see the three words, variously translated as world, in the KJV. In other translations, the word aion is more properly translated as "age." We never see the phrase "end of the world" used with any other Greek word, except aion or age. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus says, that the harvest will happen "at the end of this age" [vs.40]. When Jesus says, "this age, what age is He referring to? Obviously it would be the age in which He was living at that time. The demonstrative pronoun, this, without question points to something that is near, present, or at hand. Jesus points to the age He was living in at the time He spoke this parable. The separation of the Wheat and the Tares would occur at the end of the age in which Jesus and His disciples were living. What age was it? We will answer this question in a moment. However, first I wish to lay down a notable definition of this phrase, given by Milton S. Terry. According to Terry, what is meant by the end of the age,
"It is the solemn termination and crisis of the dispensation which had run its course when the temple fell, and there was not left one stone upon another which was not thrown down. That catastrophe, which in Heb. xii, 26, is conceived as a shaking of the earth and the heaven, is the end contemplated in this discourse; not "the end of the world," but the termination and consummation of the pre-Messianic age." (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, 1898. p.225)
In a footnote to this explanation, he continues,
"Nothing can be more misleading to the English reader," observes Russell, "than the rendering, 'the end of the world;' which inevitably suggests the close of human history, the end of time, and the destruction of the earth - a meaning which the words will not bear. That great consummation was not far off; the Lord had often spoken of it, and always as an approaching event, one which some of them would live to see. It was the winding up of the Mosaic dispensation; the end of the long probation of the theocratic nation; when the whole frame and fabric of the Jewish polity were to be swept away, and the kingdom of God to come with power. This great event, our Lord declared, was to fall within the limit of the existing generation." (ibid.)
The Age Jesus Lived In
This should be a pretty easy question to answer. Jesus lived during the Age of the Law. Paul tells us in Galatians, chapter 4,
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Jesus was born of woman, fulfilling the prophecy of being of the seed, or offspring of the woman [Gen. 3:15]. He was also "born under the law." Being born under the law, meant He lived under the law as any Israelite, at that time would have. In order to "redeem those who were under the law," He Himself would of necessity need to be under the law.
The New Testament speaks of only two ages. Both Jesus (Matt. 12:32) and Paul(Eph. 1:21) speak of this age and the coming one, or the one about to be. The age referred to as this age, no doubt refers to the Mosaic Age, or the Age of the Law, governed by the Sinai Covenant. The age about to be, or the coming age, can only refer to the Messianic Age or Kingdom. Even though the apostles were operating in the Mosaic Age, they knew they were living in its last days, and repeatedly said so.
So we can with confidence say that the age in which Jesus lived was the Age of the Law. Also, what was the visible representation of this Age of the Law? Would it not be the temple at Jerusalem? Of course, it would. This leads us to the other usage of this phrase, end of the age, found in Matthew.
The Disciples' Question
When Jesus told His disciples that not one stone of the temple would be left upon another, this would have automatically set their minds in a particular place. If the temple was to be destroyed, this would mark the end of the Age of the Law. The offerings and sacrifices offered daily in it would naturally cease. So their questions, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”, informs us that they understood the demolishing of the temple meant the end of the age of the sacrifical system of the Sinai Covenant. In Hebraic thought, the end of the Age of the Law was to be followed by the Messianic Age or Kingdom. This is the reason for their question, "What will be the sign of your coming?" They were not asking about His Second Coming, as we understand it. At this point, they had no idea He was going away, even though He will plainly tell them so. The word translated here as coming, is the Greek word, parousia, which means Presence. To know more about this idea of 'Parousia' as presence, see my study on the Parousia - a Coming or Presence?.
The point to this is that when Jesus told them about the temple's destruction, they knew this meant that the offerings and sacrifices would cease. It would be the end of the Sinai sacrifical system. It would be the end of that present age. They realized that then the Messianic age or kingdom would begin. This was their question to Jesus about His Parousia. With the temple gone, when would He begin His Messianic, Kingly Presence in Israel? Jesus told them that this ending of the age would occur in their lifetime. As they all grew older, and as some of them died, they knew that the end was coming soon. This is why they referred to the days they lived in as the last days, and why Peter, in his first letter, stated, "The end of all things is at hand."[1 Pet. 4:7] Jesus had told them that some of them would live to see the coming of the Son of man in His kingdom [Matt. 16:28].
"Upon whom the ends of the world are come"
In the tenth chapter of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about how all the Israelites went through the same experiences, of coming out of Egypt, and going through the Red Sea as a kind of baptism unto Moses. They all drank water from the rock and ate the same bread from Heaven,
5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. [1 Cor. 10:5]
He then speaks about the judgements that came upon them because of their idolatry. He states,
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Here, Paul states that it was his generation that the warnings were written for. These warnings were written down, "for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come."
What was the similarity of that generation of Israelites, whom God had brought out of Egypt, into the testing of the wilderness, with the generation of Israelites, of Paul's time?
The Example Generation
- The generation tested in the wilderness, were brought out of the bondage of Egypt, by a mighty hand of deliverance.
- Great signs were given them to prove God's love and care for them. He feed them with bread from heaven, they drank water from a rock, their clothes never wore out.
- He gave them a powerful sign of His Presence among them; the Pillar of Cloud by day, and Fire by night.
- Yet for all His powerful signs and provision, many did not believe or trust Him
- One whole generation perished in the wilderness, because they did not believe Him, when He commanded them to go in and possess the land.
- God spoke to His people by the prophets, seeking repentance from their treachous ways.
- However, they refused, regardless of the many chances He gave them.
- In the end, God destroyed their city and temple via the Babylonians, sending them into captivity.
Those "upon whom the ends of the world have come"
- The generation of Israelites which endured the Babylonian captivity, were brought back into the land, just as He had promised.
- They had the ability to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple, just as He promised.
- The Messiah came, at the appointed time, just as He promised.
- The Messiah came to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, just as He promised.
- The Messiah, who was also the Messenger of the Covenant, established the New Covenant in His blood, just as He promised.
- They saw the Power of God coming down, filling His disciples on the day of Pentecost, just as He promised.
- They heard the good news of the kingdom, accompanied by signs and miracles, just as He promised.
- Yet, many of them did not believe His Word, just as He prophesied.
- He brought judgement upon them, their city, and their temple, sending them into a permanent wandering, just as He prophesied and promised.
I believe the comments of John Gill on this verse are most instructive.
"or in whom the ends of ages are met"; for the 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 begun 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.
End of the Age in Hebrews
9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
When did Jesus appear? He appeared in the "end of the world(ages)." The word here is αἰώνων, which is aion in the plural. So Jesus appeared in the end of the ages. What ages is this referring to? All of the ages that led up to His first appearing. The key to understanding this, is found in the word translated, end. This is the Greek word, συντέλεια [sunteleia]. It comes from the root word, telos, which means to bring to a close, to finish, to end. However, adding the preposition, sun to it, makes it more pointed. According to Vines, sunteleia,
Signifies “a bringing to completion together” (sun “with,” teleo, “to complete,”), marking the “completion” or consummation of the various parts of a scheme.
It means the bringing together the various parts of a plan to a completion. This word is also used in Matthew 24:3, with regard to the disciples' question. We have a similar hint of this, in Galatians 4:4, when Paul says, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law. The fullness of time indicates when all the elements of God's plan for man's salvation had come together in completeness. In other words, He sent forth His Son at the perfect time.
When is the End of the World?
As we can see from what we have uncovered so far, when the bible speaks of the end of the world[age], it is referring to the end of the age of the Law. Christ brought about the end of this age by His very appearance. More pointedly, it came to an end with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ from the dead. When Christ yielded up His spirit on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. This opened access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. Hence, from that time forward, the offerings and sacrifices were no longer efficacious. This was the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy that the Messiah Prince would make the offerings and oblations to cease in the midst of the final week [see He shall cause the sacrifice to cease]. The "end of the world[age]," as the Bible defines it, is not in our future, but in our past.
This should also give us a hint of when the Bible says, the last days came.