The End of the Age

Jesus referred to “the end of the age” as His return to this earth, when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups; those who will be thrown into the furnace of fire and those who will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Jesus referred to “the end” and to “the End of the Age”.  These phrases are recorded twelve times in the gospels.  The purpose here is to determine the meaning of these phrases, as a background study to the interpretation of the controversial texts in Matthew 10:23; 16:28 and 24:34, where Jesus seems to say that He will return within the lifetime of some of His hearers.

Summary

Matthew 10 – The first time that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, is in the controversial Matthew 10:22-23, where “the end” is when “the Son of Man comes”.

Matthew 13 – Next the phrase “the end of the age” is used three times in Matthew 13, where it is described as “the harvest”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; those who commit lawlessness” are thrown “into the furnace of fire”, while “the righteous will shine forth as the sun”.

Daniel 12 – The concept of “the end” comes from the book of Daniel.   The phrase, “the end of the age”, specifically, comes from the last verse of Daniel, where Daniel is told that he will “rise again” (come to life) at “the end of the age” to receive his “allotted portion”.  This “allotted portion” is described earlier in Daniel 12, where it is stated that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life” (v2).  Since others will awake to “everlasting contempt” (v3), Daniel 12, similar to Matthew 13, describes “the end of the age” as the time when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups; those that “commit lawlessness” and the “righteous”.  What Daniel 12 adds is that people will again come to life at “the end of the age”.

Little Apocalypse – The next time that the phrase “the end” is found, is in the Little Apocalypse, in which Jesus foretold the events leading up to and at “the end”.  These chapters (Mt. 13; Mark 13; Luke 21) use the phrase “the end” seven times.  The Little Apocalypse confirms, as concluded above, that “the end of the age” is the Second Coming, when the people of the world will be separated into two groups; “those on His right”, who will “inherit the kingdom” (Mat. 25:34), and “those on His left”, who “depart … into the eternal fire” (v41).

Great CommissionThe only other place in the gospels where the phrase “the end” is found, is in the great commission: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20).

Matthew 10

The first time that the phrase “the end” is used in the gospels, is in Matthew 10, where Jesus sent His disciples on a mission trip on their own to the cities of Israel.  While giving them instructions, He said:

22You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

The end” is used here in the immediately context of the difficult verse 23.  Read in isolation, “the end” in verse 22 may be understood as referring to the person’s death, but in verse 23 Jesus said that He will come before His disciples have finished “going through the cities of Israel”.  He said, in other words, that He would come while they are still alive.  This implies that “the end” is when “the Son of Man comes”.  (A separate article is devoted to Matthew 10:23.)

Matthew 13

The next time that the phrase “the end” is used, is in Matthew 13 in Christ’s explanation of two of His parables.  Here the phrase “the end of the age” is used three times.

39 the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

49 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The end of the age” is therefore “the harvest”, when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups:

Those who commit lawlessness” are thrown “into the furnace of fire” (vv42, 50), also called the “eternal fire” (Mat 18:8) or “lake of fire”, which is “the second death” (Rev. 20:14-15).

The righteous will shine forth as the sun” (v43, 49).

Daniel 12

The phrase “the end of the age” is found once only in the Old Testament, namely in the last verse of Daniel, where a supernatural being tells Daniel:

But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age“. (12:13)

The phrase “the end” does appear in the other books of the Old Testament, but only in Daniel is it used for the end of time.  This appears in various forms, such as “the end of the age”, the “time of the end” (Dan. 8:17, 19), “the end of time” (Dan. 12:4) and “the end time” (Dan. 12:9).  Just like Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” from Daniel 7:13 to refer to Himself, He used the phrases “the end” and “the end of the age” from the book of Daniel.  The meaning of “the end” in Daniel 12 is therefore important for an understanding of “the end” in the gospels.

According to Daniel 12:13 Daniel “will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age”.  This helps to explain what “the end of the age” is:

Rest– Similar to Revelation 6:11, “rest” in Daniel 12:13 refers to the condition in which Daniel will be while dead, which the Bible often refers to as “sleep”, for instance “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep”.  (1 Cor. 15:20).

Rise again – “Rise again” in Daniel 12:13 refers to his coming to life again.  As stated earlier in Daniel 12, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (v2)

 

Allotted portion – The “allotted portion” is also explained by Daniel 12:2-3 when it says that “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life … Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

These verses are also the source of Christ’s reference in Matthew 13:43 to the shining of the righteous at “the end of the age”.

But Daniel 12:2 also describes what happen to the lost at “the end of the age”, when it says “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake … to disgrace and everlasting contempt”.

In conclusion then, in both Daniel 12 and Matthew 13, “the end of the age” is when the peoples of the world are separated into two groups; “those who commit lawlessness” and the “righteous”.  While the emphasis in Matthew 13 is on “those who commit lawlessness”, Daniel 12 emphasizes “those who have insight”.  An additional principle found in Daniel 12 is that, at “the end of the age”, people will come to life again.  Similar to John 5:27-29 and Revelation 20:4-5, it says that both “those who commit lawlessness” and the “righteous” will come to life.

Little Apocalypse

So far, four of the twelve occurrences of the phrase “the end” in the gospels have been discussed.  The next time that this phrase is found is in the Little Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), in which Jesus foretold the events preceding and at “the end”.  In these chapters this phrase is mentioned 7 times.  This shows the unique end-time focus of the Little Apocalypse.  The Little Apocalypse is discussed in a separate article.  In summary:

Questions – The disciples asked two questions:

  1. When the temple will be destroyed?
  2. What will the sign of His coming and of the end of the age be (Matthew 24:3)?

Jesus’s answer may be divided into three broad sections:

First: General Principles – Jesus commenced His answer by warning them that people will mislead them by saying “the time is near” (Luke 21:8).  He then told them that wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences are not signs of the end (Mat. 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9).  He also warned them that they will be persecuted (Mt. 24:9).  So far He has not answered their questions.  He only gave general principles; applicable to all times and places.  But then He concludes this first section by mentioning “the end” twice:

but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved … this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:13-14; Mark 13:13).

Second: Jerusalem –He then warned them to flee to the mountains when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, because that will be a time of extreme distress; if God did not shorten that time, all people in Jerusalem would have been killed.  This happened in A.D. 70.

Third: Second Coming – In the third section He described His Second Coming.  He first told them that false prophets will arise that claim that He has already come.  He then described the signs of His coming, namely when the powers of heaven will be shaken, resulting in the roaring of the seas.  They will then see Him coming “in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26), and “He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27).

The phrase “the end” is not used in the third section, but since this concludes Christ’s description of the future events, this is “the end” to which He referred at the end of the first section.  When He comes His angels “will gather together His elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27).  This means the other will be left.  As stated a little later in Matthew 24 “one will be taken and one will be left” (v40-41) to be destroyed (Rev. 19:21; Luke 17:29-30).  Matthew 25 continues the discussion of His return (v31), when the people of the world will be separated into “those on His right”, who will “inherit the kingdom” (v34), and “those on His left”, who “depart … into the eternal fire” (v41).  Please see the article on the Second Coming in the New Testament for more detail.

This confirms, as concluded above, that “the end of the age” is His return to this earth, when the people of the world will be separated into two groups.

Great Commission

The only other place in the gospels where the phrase “the end” is found, is in the great commission: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20).

Conclusion

Judgment Day –  “The end of the age” therefore refers to His return to this earth, when the peoples of the world will be separated into two groups.  “Those who commit lawlessness” will be thrown “into the furnace of fire”, but “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mat. 13:41-43; 49-50).  It cannot be interpreted, as some do, as the attack on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

TO: Table of Contents of the articles on the Second Coming

TO: General Table of Content

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