Two Ages (2018)

Introduction

This morning we were thinking about the three resurrections: There’s the Lord’s bodily resurrection which took place in the past on the first Easter Sunday when the Lord Jesus, who had died on the cross, was raised from the grave on the third day. Then there’s the believer’s bodily resurrection which will take place in the future, whenever the Lord Jesus comes again in glory and power and he will raise his people from their graves so that they will live with him in body and in soul for ever and for ever. And then thirdly, there’s the resurrection which God’s people experience in this life whenever we first believe, because whenever we first believe, we’re raised up from our old life without Christ to begin a new life with Christ; we’re raised up from our old life of unbelief and sin to being a new life of faith and obedience. We’re raised up to begin a new, heavenly life, because now — through faith — we belong in heaven with Christ our Saviour.

That’s what we were thinking about this morning. We were thinking about three kinds of resurrection. This evening I want us to think about two ages. Two ages. The New Testament from time to time refers to these existence of these two ages, or these two vast periods of time. However, because it only mentions them or refers to them from time to time, and because the NIV sometimes uses another word instead of ‘age’ to translate the original Greek text, then it’s quite easy to overlook what the New Testament says about these two ages. And that’s a shame, because what the Bible says about these two ages helps us to understand the world around us and the time we live in; and it helps us to understand what to expect in the future. So, that’s what we’re going to be thinking about this evening.

Biblical Terminology

What are the two ages? The Bible talks about ‘this age’ and it talks about ‘the age to come’. And so let me point out some of the places in the New Testament where we come across this terminology. If you’ve got a Bible, try and follow along with me, although we’ll be jumping around a bit from passage to passage.

So, first of all, there’s Matthew 12:32. The Lord has just healed a man who was both blind and mute. All the people were amazed, but the Pharisees began to accuse the Lord Jesus of being demon-possessed. They said:

It’s only by Beelzebub, the prince of darkness, that this fellow drives our demons.

And in the course of his reply to their accusation, the Lord said in verse 32:

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Now, we don’t have time to think about what he was saying about the unpardonable sin. Instead notice that the Lord refers to ‘this age’ and to ‘the age to come’. He’s referring to these two ages. Notice too that these two ages embrace the whole of time: the Lord was saying that the person who has committed the unpardonable sin will never, ever be forgiven: they won’t be forgiven in this age; they won’t be forgiven in the age to come. In other words, there’s only this age and the age to come.

Let’s move now to Mark 10:30. We were looking at part of this passage recently on Sunday morning. It’s the story of the rich, young ruler who asked the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life. They Lord told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Then the Lord went on to say to his disciples that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Peter responded by saying that they had left everything. And the Lord replied to Peter and said in verses 29 and 30:

I tell you the truth … no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — along with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life.

So, there you have it again: there’s this present age and there’s the age to come. God gives good gifts to his people in this age; but in this age they will also suffer persecution. But then, in the age to come, he will give his people eternal life.

Let’s move now to Luke 20 where we read how the Sadducees came to the Lord to ask him about marriage at the resurrection. And the Lord answered them in verse 34 by saying:

The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

The Lord contrasts this age and the age to come. The people of this age marry, but the people in the age to come do not. The people of this age die, but those in the age to come do not die. Furthermore, the people who belong to the age to come are God’s children and they are children of the resurrection. Finally note that not everyone will take part in the age to come, but only those who are found worthy.

There are other references in the gospels, but that’s enough to demonstrate that the Lord himself taught that there’s this present age and there’s the age to come; and the age to come is connected to the resurrection and it’s qualitatively different from this age, because in the age to come there won’t be any marriage and there won’t be any death. But let’s move on now to see what the Apostle Paul said about these two ages. Let’s turn to Romans 12 where Paul wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this age [NIV has ‘world’], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Paul wants the behaviour of believers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they will no longer be conformed to the pattern of this age. This suggests to us that there’s something about this present age which is not right. The behaviour of those who belong to this age is sinful; and believers need to be careful that they do not copy their behaviour.

Turn now to 1 Corinthians 1:20 where Paul is talking about preaching about the cross of Christ in the power of the Spirit. And he says in verse 20:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Paul links together the philosopher of this age with the wisdom of the world which is foolish. The philosophers and wise men of this age are unable to know God and his salvation. So, not only is there some sinful about this age, there’s something foolish about it.

Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 2:6–8. He wrote:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Paul refers to the rulers of this age who do not understood God’s wisdom which is the mystery of salvation. Furthermore, the rulers of this age crucified the Lord. So, the rulers of this age were against the Lord Jesus and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, once again we see that there’s something wrong with this age. But notice too that the rulers of this age are coming to nothing; they will not last.

In 1 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.

Paul is once again speaking negatively about this age and about what it considers to be wise.

Paul’s negative evaluation of this age continues in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Paul refers to ‘the god of this age’. Who is it? Well, it’s the Devil; and the Devil blinds the minds of unbelievers to prevent them from seeing the glory of Christ.

And Paul’s negative evaluation of this age is seen most clearly in Galatians 1 where he wrote in verse 3:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Do you see? He refers to this age as ‘this present evil age’. That’s how God’s word sums up this age: it’s an evil age. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this evil age. We needed to be rescued from it.

Turn now to Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:21 wrote about the Lord Jesus who was exalted…

far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Once again we see how there’s this age and there’s the age to come; those two ages embrace all of time. Furthermore, even though the god of this age is the Devil, Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that the Lord Jesus was exalted to a place which is over every other ruler, which means he’s exalted over the god of this age. Though the Devil in some sense rules over the present evil age, the Lord Jesus is over the Devil.

Then in Ephesians 2, Paul described the life of believers before they were converted to faith in Christ. He wrote:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the age [NIV has ‘ways] of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Paul refers to how these believers used to follow the age of this world. What did they do in those days? They gratified the cravings of the flesh and followed its evil desires and thoughts. Furthermore, when they were following the age of this world, they were under the wrath of God.

Just three more references for now. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul contrasts the riches of this present age and the riches of the coming age. He wrote:

Command those who are rich in this present age [NIV has ‘world’] not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

So, we can spend our time chasing the riches of this age, or we can lay up treasure for the coming age.

Then, in Titus 2, Paul wrote about God’s grace which teaches believers to live godly lives in this present age. He wrote:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And in Hebrews 6:5 the writer warns his readers about those who shared in the Holy Spirit and who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of ‘this coming age’, but who fall away and how they cannot be brought to repentance again. When he refers to the powers of ‘this coming age’, he might be referring to miracles which the apostles were able to perform by the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. —

Summary

There you have an overview of most of the places in the New Testament where it refers to these two ages. These two ages embrace the whole of time so that there’s only this age and the age to come. This age is characterised as being evil and foolish; and the rulers of this age stood opposed to the Lord Jesus and crucified him. The god of this age is the Devil and he blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from believing. This age is wicked and we need to rescued from it and we must not be conformed to its ways. And then there’s the age to come, which not everyone will enter, but only those found worthy. Those who enter the age to come will receive an eternal inheritance and eternal life.

So, if we’re thinking about the world and the time we live in, the New Testament teaches us that we ought to think in terms of these two ages. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord in the Garden of Eden, this world and everyone born into it — with the exception of the Lord Jesus — has belonged to this present evil age. The present evil age is dominated by the Devil, who is its god; and he has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from believing in the Saviour who came into the world and who gave up his life on the cross to rescue them from this present evil age. And those who belong to this present evil age follow their own evil desires and inclinations.

And we all know this to be true. All we have to do is look around us at the world, and we see the sin and the corruption and the wickedness and the shame and the misery as well. This present evil age is filled with sin and shame; but also misery, because all who belongs to this age are living broken lives which are filled with sorrow and suffering and troubles and trials. So, all we have to do is look around us at the world and we cannot help but know that this is true and that this world belongs to this prevent evil age.

Always Evil

And the thing is: this present evil age will always be evil. It will always be evil. We like to think that things will improve over time; and people are often optimistic and hopeful that things will just get better as time goes by. But the truth is this present age will always be evil. The god of this age will always be the Devil; and he will continue to blind the minds of unbelievers; and they will continue to do evil unless by God’s grace they are rescued out of this evil age through faith in the Saviour who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age. The Lord Jesus did not come to change this present evil age and make it something else; he came to rescue his people from out of this present evil age, which will remain evil until the end of time. It will remain evil; and those who belong to this present evil age will continue to stand against the Lord Jesus and they will continue to persecute the Lord’s people.

Last Days

However, this present evil age is in its last days. After the Lord’s resurrection from the grave and his ascension to heaven, there came the great Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the Lord’s people in Jerusalem and enabled them to declare the wonders of God in lots of different languages. And when the people asked the Apostles to explain what was going on, Peter stood up and read from the Old Testament book of Joel which says:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Peter quoted from the Old Testament prophet to make the point that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was the signal that the last days have arrived; this present evil age is in its last days. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 2:6 Paul tells us that the rulers of this age are coming to nothing. They’re passing away. Their time is running out. Hebrews 9:26 talks about the Lord Jesus who came into the world to do away with sin. When did he come into the world? The writer tells us: he came into the world at the end of the ages. Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 10:11, where he writes about the end of the ages which has come on us.

This present age is evil; it will always be evil; but this present evil age is coming to an end, because we’re living in the last days.

Rescued

This present age is evil; and it’s coming to an end. But the good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this present evil age. He came to rescue us from it.

But in what way does he rescue us from it? If this present evil age will remain evil, in what way does he rescue us? Well, from what the New Testament says, we learn that right now, in this life, the Lord raises his people above this present evil age to the heavenly realms so that they no longer belong to this present evil age, but they belong in heaven above.

Remember Ephesians 2 which we were looking at this morning? It began by saying how, before we believed, we were dead in our transgressions and sins in which we once walked, when we followed the ways of the world and of the Devil, and when we followed the desires and thoughts of our sinful human nature. We were once dominated by the world and by Satan and by our own sinful nature. But then, because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy raised us up with Christ and he seated us where? He seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. So, God broke into our lives and he raised us up above this present evil age, above this fallen, sinful world which is destined to perish, so that now, by faith, we are seated with Christ in heaven. We no longer belong to this present evil age; we belong in heaven above.

In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul describes what unbelievers are like. He says:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

And then he adds:

But our citizenship is in heaven.

Those who don’t believe have their minds set on earthly things, because that’s where they belong; they belong here on earth and in this present evil age. But God’s people no longer belong to this present evil age; they belong in heaven with Christ our Saviour. They’re citizens of heaven. And, says Paul, ‘we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ’. So, while we go on living on the earth, we know that we really belong in heaven; and we’re waiting eagerly for the day when our Saviour comes from heaven.

How then should we live in the meantime? While we wait for our Saviour to come, how should we live? Well, in Romans Paul warned us not to be conformed to the pattern of this age. And in Titus 2, he tells us about the grace of God which teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and holy lives in this present age, while we wait for the glorious appearing of our Saviour. So, the world around us belongs to this present evil age which is destined to perish. But Christ who died and who was raised from death to heaven, has recused us from it, by raising us to heaven above. That’s where we now belong. And while we go on living on the earth, we’re to live differently; we’re to live heavenly lives, self-controlled, upright and holy lives; lives which are fitting for those who belong not to this present evil age, but to heaven.

Conclusion

This present age is evil; it will always be evil; and it is in its last days and it will eventually come to an end, because it is destined to perish. But the Lord Jesus came into this world and on that first Good Friday, when he died on the cross, he gave himself for our sins to deliver us from their penalty and power and to rescue us from this present evil age. And now, all those who believe in him are raised up with him to the heavenly realms, to sit by faith with Christ our Saviour, who died, but who was raised and is now exalted in heaven. And through faith in him, we too are raised up above this present evil age and this fallen, sinful world so that by faith we are now seated with him in heaven as we wait for him to come again and to bring this present evil age to an end.

And so, we should trust in him, because he’s the only Saviour of the world, the only one who can deliver us from this present evil age and give us everlasting life in the age to come. We should trust in him. And believers should rejoice before God the Father and give thanks to him, because, out of the greatness of his love, God who is rich in mercy has made us alive with Christ and has raised us up with him. We do not deserve to be rescued like this; we deserve to perish with everyone else, because we’re sinners. But God was merciful to us and he has saved us. And then, while we go on living on the earth, we’re to live as citizens of heaven, which is where we belong. We’re not to follow the ways of this evil age any longer, for Christ died and was raised to rescue us from that. Instead we’re to live heavenly lives, while we wait for our Saviour to come again.