MORE ON “THIS AGE” AND “THE AGE TO COME”

PMW 2022-086 by Ken Gentry

I have had a couple of folks send me messages expressing confusion about my promoting Richard Gaffin’s book In the Fullness of Time. In that book Gaffin provides excellent exegetical arguments for “this age” referring to the old creation in its fallenness and “the age to come” referring to the new creation in its righteousness. He argues that we are now in an overlap of the two ages, where fallenness continues but new creation realities are spiritually operating in the redeemed. For some reason some folks think that because Gaffin is an amillennialist (whom I debate publicly in 2003), his view of the New Testament structure of redemptive history is contrary to postmillennialism.

I am flabbergasted by this anti-postmillennial claim since I was taught both postmillennialism and the two-age structure of history by postmillennial scholar Greg L. Bahnsen. I learned both from him when I took his “History and Eschatology” course at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1976. Bahnsen used Geerhardus Vos (though an amillennialist! — like Van Til, Bahnsen’s mentor) and John Murray (a postmillennialist, see his commentary on Rom. 11; though I do not follow Murray’s exposition of the Olivet Discourse) to set up the two-age structure of history. This concept places Christ as the turning point in redemptive history, rather than placing the destruction of the temple as that turning point.

I suspect that these folks probably do not understand (and probably haven’t studied!) the two-age structure. There is nothing in it that compels one to amillennialism or that undermines postmillennialism. What it does do, however, is undermine hyperpreterism and its denial of the future Second Advent and the future resurrection of the dead. By not understanding the two-age structure of redemptive history, hyperpreterists think that because we now enjoy our resurrection spiritually in conversion, there is no future resurrection physically at the Second Coming. Their confusion brings heresy into their theology. In fact, for hyperpreterists, preterism is not simply an exegetical tool that helps explain some passages, but a whole theology that governs all of Scripture.


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Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Sadly, opposition to the two-age structure of history usually involves a difficulty in holding to a future, bodily resurrection of the dead. If you know someone who rejects the two-age structure, ask them if they believe in a future, bodily resurrection of the dead at the end of history. You will hear a lot of stuttering.

JOHN MURRAY

The two-age structure of history is compatible with postmillennialism and is even held by postmillennialists (such as myself!). In a previous posting, I highlighted postmillennialist John Murray’s 1954 presentation “Structural Strands in New Testament Eschatology” (found reprinted at Kerux 6:3, December 1991). He clearly and persuasively argues for the two-age structure. I also showed that Rushdoony and Kik (just two samples of postmillennialists) held that “the end of the age” mentioned in Matthew 24:3 spoke of the end of history, not the end of the Jewish “age” (a favorite misconception of hyperpreterism).

GREG BAHNSEN

Now I will present a paragraph (a long one, to be sure!) from Greg Bahnsen, which is found in his book Victory in Jesus (pp.131–32).

Bahnsen writes:

“From the fact that ‘this world’ is interchangeable with ‘this age’ (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:20ff; 2:16; 3:19), we infer that the phrase ‘this age’ can also be understood as referring to an ethical or spiritual realm, rather than exclusively to a set period of time. From the perspective of New Testament theology, the ‘age to come’ has broken in on ‘this age’; those who are saved now enjoy the presence of the future age. With the first advent of Christ, God’s ordained moment has arrived (Gal. 4:4), the kingdom has drawn near (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11), the great jubilee has arrived (uke 4:!6–21), the good news of the kingdom has come into effect (Luke 16:16; Matt. 11:2–15), the Old Testament promise has been realized (Rom. 1:2; 16:25–26), the messianic marriage supper has approached (Mark 2:18–22). With the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the ‘last days’ of Joel’s prophecy have arrived, and God’s Anointed is declared to be permanently enthroned in David’s kingdom (Acts 2); this Spirit is our down payment (‘earnest’) on the future inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14) and the first-fruits of the resurrection order (Rom. 8:23; cf. Col. 1:18). The kingdom of God and coming age have been installed. After a long period of anticipation, God has now spoken to us by His Son ‘at the end of these days’ (Heb. 1:2). Christ has been manifest ‘at the end of the ages’ (Heb. 9:26), ‘in the last times’ (I Pet. 1:20). Consequently, ‘the ends of the ages has arrived’ (1 Cor. 10:11). The eschatological age has already begun, which means that ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ are coexistent during the present era. God’s kingdom of salvation is already experienced by some, but rejected by others. The ‘coming age’ and ‘this age’ live side by side for a time. The redemptive work of Christ has delivered us from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13), that is, from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Being ‘in Christ’ (in contrast to being ‘in the evil one,’ 1 John 5:19) means that the ‘new creation’ has dawned, making the old things new (2 Cor. 5:17; cf. 6:2). Therefore, it is now possible for men to ‘taste the power of the coming age’ (Heb. 6:5). Two orders (old creation and new creation, spiritual death and regeneration, damnation and salvation) are presently operative, and the Bible expresses this fact by teaching that ‘this age’ and ‘the coming age’ are currently contemporaneous.”

KEITH MATHISON

I would also reference postmillennialist Keith Mathison (author of the excellent book, Postmillennialism) who employs the two-age structure. In his book From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology, just to cite a few samples, consider the following:

Mathison speaks often of the “age to come” as already present since the redemptive work of Christ was completed in AD 30. He approvingly cites G. E. Ladd: “The events of the eschatological consummation are not merely detached events lying in the future about which Paul speculates. They are rather redemptive events that have already begun to unfold within history. The blessings of the Age to Come no longer lie exclusively in the future; they have become objects of present experience. The death of Christ is an eschatological event. Because of Christ’s death, the justified person stands already on the age-to-come side of the eschatological judgment, acquitted of all guilt.” (From Age to Age, p. 495)

On the next page, Mathison presents (amillennialist) Vos’ two-age diagram. This shows the present historical world is “this age” whereas the heavenly eternal order is the “age to come,” while since the first century coming of Christ, we live in the overlap period between the two ages. Thus, we now partake of both elements, i.e., fallenness and redemption. We now have one foot in “this age” and one in “the age to come.” As Mathison puts it on p. 451: “The life of the age to come is available now, but it will be received in fullness only at the resurrection on the last day.”


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(ed. by Darrell Bock)

Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view. Ken Gentry provides the postmillennial contribution.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


CONCLUSION

Those who mistakenly believe the two-age structure of redemptive history undermines postmillennialism do not understand either the two-age construct or even postmillennialism itself. It is ironic that some hyperpreterists claim to be “postmillennial.” But since “post” millennial speaks of Christ coming after the expiration of the millennium, they cannot be “postmillennial,” for they neither believe Christ is returning nor that history will end.

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2 thoughts on “MORE ON “THIS AGE” AND “THE AGE TO COME”

  1. Fred V. Squillante November 21, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Dr. Gentry,

    Far be it from me to compete with you about Biblical Greek (I only had two years at Knox Seminary), but contrary to Dr. Bahnsen’s statement, the words world (κόσμος) and age (αἰών) are not synonymous. Also, except for Daniel 7:18 and Ephesians 2:7, every Scriptural mention of ages (plural) is indicated as in the past. However, since Daniel foresaw the Messiah more than 500 years before Christ came, I wouldn’t stake my claim on his inference of ages to come to mean after that.

    Paul is another matter. Since he lived in the overlap period between this age and the age to come after the Second Coming, what did he mean by the ages (plural) to come? What age comes after the one that is after the Second Coming, final judgment, and bodily resurrection if that’s when we inhabit the new earth?

    I don’t recollect any of the sources you cite going as far as what you propose in The New Creation. However, I could see their construct if it doesn’t go as far (that is, if the age to come is eternity – period – whatever that means). When the last trump sounds, the dead raised, and we’re all changed, who can say we don’t inhabit heaven in our glorified bodies? Because Scripture mentions new heavens and a new earth, it does not extrapolate to the new earth as where we dwell eternally. All things are new. Our eternal destiny is before God and His throne, in the presence of Jesus, the angels, and the saints. Wherever that is is fine with me.

    Compared to the premillennial pretribulational dispensational view, as hard as that is to counter (because of its emotional appeal), when I try to comprehend what The New Creation proposes, I see something just as hard to accept only in the postmillennial direction. As for hyper-preterism itself, I don’t see that as much of an issue as dispensationalism. In other words, I don’t come across hardly any Christian preterists, let alone hyper-preterists. Instead, they all seem enamored with the future Rapture, the Millennium, Antichrist, and the Great Tribulation.

    Indeed, Christ is the turning point in redemptive history – based on what He did at the cross and His resurrection. To me, the forty years after that to A.D. 70, the Apostolic Age, what Jesus called THAT generation, was the period the Jews were still forcing the Temple cultus on the fledgling church. It had to be taken out. That’s the importance I lay on the Temple and why I believe the majority of the Olivet Discourse, up to the sheep and goats at the end of Matthew 25, pertains to it. I don’t see the importance of what might come after the Final Judgment and bodily resurrection as The New Creation depicts, other than being in the presence of God (no small thing in itself).

    Peace to you, brother. I greatly appreciate your many writings. I can only hope and pray that those blinded by dispensationalism would “see the light.” But, unfortunately, their musings about those supposed future events seem pervasive. Furthermore, they miss the point and place the onus on themselves as they all think they will witness all those fantastic things when instead, we’re to preach the good news and make disciples.

  2. Kenneth Gentry November 21, 2022 at 11:08 am

    As a matter of fact, the words for “world” (kosmos) and “age” (aion) are often synonymous when aion is used as a reference to “world system.” Most lexicons note this, as do technical commentaries (in the proper places).

    For instance, The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (1:508) at section 41:38:

    kosmos …; aion ….: “the system of practices and standards associated with secular society (that is, without reference to any demands or requirements of God) — ‘world system, world’s standards, world.’… In Mk 4.19 the phrase ai merimnai tou aionos may be rendered as ‘the cares which people in this world have’ or ‘the way in which people in this world worry about things.”

    In addition, I would point out that the creation suffered God’s curse when Adam fell, just as Adam did. Both mankind and the creation suffer; and both will be relieved of their suffering at the resurrection, which involves our bodily resurrection as well as the re-creation of the universe (Rom. 8:19-23). What would be the point of a new creation if it were not inhabited.

    The parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam require an old creation and a new creation. God intentionally created Adam as a physical being to inhabit a physical world. The resurrection and new creation bring about this physical realm. Had Adam not sinned, he would have partaken in eternal life by being allowed access to the tree of life. Eternal life is “life of eternity,” that is, life coming out of the transcendent eternal realm, life of the coming age, the consummation.

    In the first section of this lexicon we have “Geographical Objects and Features.” There we read: “A. Universe, Creation (1:1–1:4).” Then the first two entries are: “1:1 kosmos …: the universe as an ordered structure — ‘cosmos, universe.’” Then the second entry is: “1.2 aion… ‘the universe, perhaps with some associated meaning of ‘eon’ or ‘age’ in the sense of the transitory nature of the universe.”

    In the Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (p. 13) under aion we read: “3. the word as a spatial concept, the world.”

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