Based on what we have looked at thus far, let's put together a plan of how God has worked and is working through the aeons, or ages.
GARDEN OF EDEN
Genesis describes the beginning of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It is interesting that despite this being a Paradise where Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God, and where there would be no death, evil existed even in this place. The serpent lived in their midst, and had access to Adam and Eve so as to tempt them. This was not a neutral setting, where Adam and Eve would simply live in obedience to God. The evil one lived among them, and tempted them.
What an interesting parallel to Jesus who was led by God to the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary (Matthew 4:1). Adam and Eve were "led" by God to the Garden of Eden to be tempted by the serpent. The difference is the outcome. Adam and Eve succumbs to the temptation, and death enters the world. Jesus overcomes the temptation, and defeats death.
Paul later makes the same comparison, and reveals to us the impact of these events. As in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ will all live (1 Cor 15:22).
Once expelled from the Garden, mankind follows a steady course of self-destruction. Cain kills Abel. Evil runs rampant. In Genesis 6 we start over, with the wicked being destroyed and only the righteous Noah and his family surviving. But we read on, and mankind continues to show no promise. At Babel (Genesis 11) God finds it necessary to confuse the tongues of mankind, and scatter them.
GOD CHOOSES ONE MAN, TO BLESS ALL PEOPLE
From all of mankind God chooses one man, Abram (later Abraham), promising to bless all people on the earth through him (Genesis 12:3). We see here God's purpose or intent: To bless all peoples upon the earth. His method at this point is to choose one man, Abram, as His instrument or channel to bless all people.
Later God chooses a descendant of Abraham, Jacob. He repeats His promise to bless all people through Jacob (Genesis 28:14). God later re-names Jacob "Israel" (Genesis 32).
GOD'S PURPOSES PREVAIL
Joseph becomes the central figure in Genesis 37. He is sold into slavery, framed by Potiphar's wife, thrown into jail, and forgotten. But God continues to raise Joseph up, and he eventually becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, directly beneath Pharoah. At the end of Genesis Joseph's brothers stand before him after their father had died, and they feared what Joseph might do to them. They remembered how they had plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery years before.
Joseph said to them, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:19) God had purposed to "save many lives", knowing that famine was coming to the land. He accomplished his purpose through Joseph. Nothing that was done to Joseph by his brothers, by Potiphar's wife, or by any in Egypt.....could prevent God's purpose from being accomplished.
GOD CHOOSES A NATION
In Exodus 1:6 we read that the descendents of Jacob (Israel) are now "The Israelites". Through the remainder of the Old Testament God will use the Israelites, His people, to accomplish His purposes. Remember God's promise to Jacob; to bless all peoples through him. Now Jacob's descendents will be used for this purpose.
God does not choose Israel to show favoritism, or even because Israelites are better than non-Israelites. As God's plan continues to unfold we will see how He uses Israel, the nation, as His instrument to ultimately bless all nations.
In 2 Samuel the Israelites become a powerful nation under David's reign, and the success of the nation continues under the reign of his son, Solomon. But at Solomon's death the nation divides. The northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah) have a series of kings as reported in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Some kings are wicked, instituting or condoning the worship of idols and other evil practices. Other kings are good, bringing reform and a return to the ways of God.
The prophets of God warn the people that if they do not turn from their wicked ways and return to God, their land would be taken from them. Israel is more wicked than Judah, and is the first to be taken from the land (2 Kings 17). Judah goes on a bit longer, but is later defeated and taken away into exile (2 Kings 25). Sin and disobedience have resulted in exile. As Adam and Eve were once expelled from the Garden because of their disobedience, so also the nation of Israel suffers the same fate.
While in exile, a common message of the prophets is, "Return to God". There are many promises brought by the prophets to the exiled nation, that the scattered people would one day be returned to their land (see Ezekiel 28:25). After a season of punishment, Israel would be restored to the land. A "restoration" is promised in Joel 2:18; Hosea 14; Amos 9:11; Zephaniah 3:9.
Habakkuk 2:14 points to a day in the future when the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
Daniel promises a new kingdom in the future; one that would come from heaven and be more powerful than all earthly kingdoms (Daniel 2:44).
RETURN TO THE LAND
As promised, the scattered Israelites are returned to the land. We read in Ezra of the Temple being re-built. Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
AWAITING THE MESSIAH
As the New Testament opens, the people are back in the land, but they are under Roman rule. While a part of the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled, more is to come. The people are awaiting the Messiah, the Son of God. They are looking for the days of David and Solomon to return, when the kingdom was strong and the people safe. The Old Testament prophets had foretold that a kingdom like this would be coming, so the people waited.
PUNISHMENT FOR SIN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In Genesis we learned that the penalty for sin was death. Throughout the Old Testament we witnessed this time and again. Destruction (death) was the lot of the wicked. Ultimately since all sinned, death was the lot of all.
It is interesting that throughout all of the Old Testament we read of death and destruction, but never "eternal hell" as a punishment for those who sin. The sole penalty for sin is death.
THE KINGDOM IS NEAR
As the people awaited the Messiah and the Kingdom, how wonderful it was to hear from John the Baptist that "Near is the kingdom of the heavens" (Matthew 3:1). Remember the prophets of old had said to the people "Return to God, and He will restore you." Now John is saying the same thing: "Repent, for near is the kingdom of the heavens." But the Jewish leaders were skeptical of John, or perhaps they felt that no repentance was necessary on their part.
When Jesus begins preaching, he proclaims the same message: "Repent, for near is the kingdom of the heavens" (Matthew 4:17). Multitudes follow Jesus, and as He talks of the coming kingdom his message is accompanied by many signs and wonders. But the Jewish leaders reject Jesus, and ultimately crucify Him.
THE KINGDOM IS PREACHED IN ACTS
The "kingdom message" is re-introduced in Acts, with Peter now the central figure. Jesus had promised that the keys to the kingdom would be given to Peter (Matthew 16:19) and this happens in Acts, as signs and wonders accompany Peter's proclamation of the coming kingdom. And, as was the case with the preaching of Jesus, the "kingdom message" is going to the Jews, not the Gentiles.
Peter proclaims to the Jews, "Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon." (Acts 3:19-21) This message is very similar to that of John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself. Repentance is called for. But Peter is tying the return of the kingdom to this repentance. "Repent", he says, "so that Christ Jesus comes, and seasons of refreshing will come."
Throughout Acts, while the kingdom message is received by some, it is rejected by others. As the kingdom is continually rejected, God begins to move among the Gentiles. Peter is hesitant, but eventually goes as prompted by God to Cornelius, a God fearing Gentile (Acts 10).
Peter and his Jewish companions are "amazed" when the holy spirit falls on those Gentiles hearing the word (Acts 10:44). They were not expecting God to work among the Gentiles as He had among the Jews. They had forgotten that God's plan was to bless all people through the Jews, who were acting as God's instruments to accomplish this purpose.
In Acts 9, as Saul traveled to Damascus to continue his persecution of the Believers, the risen Jesus appears to him. Saul is chosen as Christ's instrument to bear His name "before both the nations and kings, besides the sons of Israel..." (Acts 9:15-16). Paul is the first, then, to be specifically commissioned to go to the Gentiles ("nations and kings"), although he is also commissioned to go to the "sons of Israel" as had John the Baptist, Jesus and Peter.
ELYMAS (BAR-JESUS) & SERGIUS PAUL
One of the first incidents we read about in Saul's ministry is the encounter with Elymas, the Magician, also known as Bar-Jesus, in Acts 13. Sergius Paul, a proconsul who was an intelligent man (a Gentile), had called for Saul and Barnabas (Saul's companion). Sergius Paul had asked to hear the word of God, but Elymas the Magician "withstood them, seeking to pervert the proconsul from the faith." Saul chastises Elymas for "perverting the straight ways of the Lord", and Elymas is blinded, "not observing the sun until the appointed time." The proconsul becomes a Believer.
Here, for the first time, we see that Saul "is also Paul" (Acts 13:9). Saul is a Hebrew name, while Paul is Greek. It is interesting that we are told of Saul's new Gentile name at the precise point where a Jew attempts to stop the word of God from going to a Gentile.
Also interesting are the words spoken to Elymas when he is blinded "until the appointed time". This is very similar to Paul's explanation in Romans 11:25 that the callousness of Israel has come "until the complement of the nations may be entering", after which time all Israel shall be saved. The incident with Elymas seems to be a picture of God's plan to set aside (or blind) Israel, for a time, while the word goes to the Gentiles.
PAUL BECOMES THE CENTRAL FIGURE IN ACTS
Remember Paul had received a dual commission. He was to go to the "nations and kings" and to the "sons of Israel". As he traveled Paul would generally go first to the synagogues. He gathered some believers, but others who rejected him and even attempted to kill him.
Peter, who had been the primary figure in the early part of Acts, begins to fade, and Paul becomes the primary figure after the incident with Elymas.
REJECTION BY THE JEWS; SALVATION TO THE NATIONS
Throughout the remainder of Acts we read of the persecution of Paul by the Jews who rejected his message. Finally in Acts 28:17 Paul calls together the "foremost of the Jews". Some were persuaded, but others disbelieved (Acts 28:24-25). As they disagreed with one another, Paul concludes the book of Acts with these words:
"Let it be known to you, then, that to the nations was dispatched this salvation of God, and they will hear." (Acts 28:28)
The final two verse in Acts report that Paul remained in Rome for two years, welcoming all who came to him. He heralded the kingdom of God, and taught "that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ". We learn what he taught as we read the letters of Paul, from Romans through Philemon.
PAUL'S MESSAGE NOT JUST A CONTINUATION OF PETER'S
We err when we think there is just one "Gospel". I was always taught that when we read the word "Gospel" in the Bible it is always the same. When we define "The Gospel" it is a compilation of every occurrence of the word in the entire New Testament. But this is mixing together things that are different.
"Gospel" comes from the Greek "evangel". It simply means "good news". This is made clear from Luke 1:19 where the "evangel" is brought by Gabriel to Zechariah, and it is news concerning the coming birth of John the Baptist.
Throughout Matthew the "evangel" concerned the coming kingdom. But as the kingdom is rejected, could the "evangel" have changed? First the "evangel" went only to the Jews, who awaited their kingdom. Peter caused quite a stir when he took the "evangel" to Cornelius, a Gentile. They were all quite amazed when the holy spirit fell upon these Gentiles who heard.
When Paul went to take the "evangel" to the proconsul (a Gentile), Elymas (a Jew) tried to stop him.
But it is not just a difference of who the "evangel" is being preached to! It is a different message.
There are several instances where Paul refers to the evangel as "my evangel". Why does he use this terminology. Is there not just one evangel.....the evangel?
In Romans 2:16 Paul says that "God will be judging the hidden things of humanity, according to my evangel, through Jesus Christ." Here Paul is speaking of the nations, not of the Jews who are awaiting a restoration of their kingdom. It is a different topic; a different message; a different evangel.
In Romans 16:25-26 Paul again refers to "my evangel", and here he makes reference to "the revelation of a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now..." Could Paul's "evangel", then, contain new information from God not previously revealed by the prophets of old, or John the Baptist, or even Jesus Himself?
Paul tells us in Galations 1:11 that this evangel he brings "is not in accord with man. For neither did I accept it from a man, nor was I 9; taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
If Paul's "evangel" is simply a continuation of the same "evangel" being proclaimed by Peter, why would Paul have not simply studied under Peter and the other apostles? In Galations he feels it is important to tell us that he did not get his evangel from any man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
In Galations 2:7 Paul makes the distinction between "the evangel of the Uncircumcision" and the evangel "of the Circumcision". Grammatically, the genitive case is used, and not the dative case. This means that the proper translation is not the evangel to the Circumcision or Uncircumcision, but the evangel of the Circumcision or Uncircumcision. The distinction is not made between the recipient of the evangel. Instead, the distinction is made in the evangel itself. Paul has been entrusted with the evangel "of the Uncircumcision" and Peter is entrusted with the evangel "of the Circumcision".
We struggle with this distinction today, and try to blend the messages together into one "Gospel". This is exactly what those in Peter's day tried to do. It is the reason they challenged Paul for not requiring circumcision of the Gentile believers. They had a hard time understanding that God was doing a new thing, which is why Paul found it necessary to explain that his evangel came not from men, but was a revelation from God, and it was a different evangel!
If we fail to see this distinction, we blend together things that are different as we proclaim "The Gospel". When Jesus is talking about the kingdom which is to come, and when He talks about Gehenna (most often translated "hell") as the fate of those being punished for their crimes in the kingdom, we see the need to "spiritualize" the Kingdom and Gehenna because we think it is all part of the same message. Whereas Jesus was talking about the physical fate of those deserving punishment in the physical kingdom, we have come to see Gehenna as an eternal hell for the Unbelievers. But in doing so we ourselves have become unbelievers...... at least to the extent that we do not believe from God's Word that there is still a kingdom to come upon this earth, with Christ reigning upon the throne.
IS THE KINGDOM STILL TO COME?
Is a physical kingdom still to come? Certainly! Just before Christ ascended into heaven He is asked by His followers, "Art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). The Lord does not chatise them for missing the point. He does not tell them an earthly kingdom is not to come. Instead He tells them, "Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father has placed in His own jurisdiction."
Remember Peter's message in Acts 3:19-21: "Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon."
The kingdom is still to come. But Israel has been hardened "until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved..." (Romans 11:25).
THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The Book of Revelation is an unveiling of the kingdom that will one day come upon the earth. It is the kingdom in all of its fullness that was foretold by the prophets. The Jews had been hardened for a time, until the complement of the nations enters the ecclesia (the "called-out ones" – generally translated "church"). But now the time has come for "all Israel to be saved" (Romans 11:26). This is the time that Peter spoke of when he encouraged the Jews to repent, "so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before for you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all..." (Acts 3:19-21).
So Christ does return, and the kingdom of the heavens as prophesied by Daniel and proclaimed by Christ now comes upon the earth.
"And loud voices occurred in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of this world 9; became our Lord's and His Christ's, and He shall be reigning for the eons 9; of the eons! Amen!" (Revelation 11:15)
But even through the very end of Revelation, the kingdom is for the Jews. The nations are blessed through Israel, but Israel is prominent.
But a part of Paul's message was that "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek..." (Romans 10:12). In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul tells us of this new thing God has done. Here he says that the nations were once, "in that era":
1. Apart from Christ
2. Alienated from the citizenship of Israel
3. Guests of the promise covenants
4. Having no expectation
1. Christ razes the barrier
2. He makes the two (Jew/Gentile) into one new humanity
3. He reconciles both into one body
The rejection of the kingdom by the Jews seems to defeat God's purposes, but God's will cannot be thwarted. The rejection the kingdom evangel has resulted in the Gentiles being brought into the ecclesia..... the Body of Christ. Like Joseph's rejection by his brothers which eventually led to the fulfilling of God's purposes, now Israel's rejection has ultimately been used by God to accomplish His purposes.
To help us understand Paul's function as God's chosen instrument, let us remove him from the scene for a moment. In the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life" the viewer (and George Bailey) are shown what would have happened in Bedford Falls had Bailey never been born. What if Paul had never been born, or what if he had been judged and destroyed for persecuting and killing the early Believers.
Without Paul, our Bibles would contain 13 fewer books. We would jump from Acts to Hebrews. The kingdom which was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and proclaimed in Matthew through Acts will come more quickly. There is no setting aside of Israel until the complement of Gentiles comes in, which Paul spoke of. The Gentiles are only blessed indirectly through the nation of Israel.
But if there is no delay for the sake of the Gentiles, there is also no need for Hebrews through Jude, which were letters directed to the scattered Jewish believers (those who had received the evangel of the Circumcision), as they awaited the kingdom. We lose 8 more books from our Bible.
The kingdom which was preached by Christ, and which was later proclaimed by Peter and the other apostles after the resurrection in Acts, now comes in Revelation. As Revelation ends we have the Jewish kingdom restored, and the nations are blessed through Israel.
Christ reigns upon the throne. Satan is in the lake of fire. Those whose names were not found written in the scroll of life have also been cast into the lake of fire.
Without Paul, this is where things end. At least this is the extent of God's plans that would have been revealed to us, if Paul had not been given more revelation to be shared.
George Bailey is brought back to reality. His mouth is bleeding, his clothes are wet, and Zuzu's pedals are back in his pocket (my apologies to those who have never seen this movie).
Paul did live! Paul did see the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, as undeserving as he was. God did reveal things to Paul, which he shared with us in his evangel.
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, as both are on equal standing as joint heirs. Just as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Through one offense for all mankind for condemnation (Adam), thus also it is through one just award (Christ) for all mankind for life's justifying. It is God's will that all men are saved. God is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will. Christ is the Saviour of all mankind, especially (but not exclusively) of believers.
But if the book ends with the lake of fire burning, how can these things come to pass?
When we read a book we are used to events that flow chronologically as we read. But the Bible is not an ordinary book. The end of all things is not found in Revelation, for God showed things to Paul which had been secrets in the past, but which were revealed to him. Things were revealed to Paul which were not revealed to John, the writer of Revelation.
As John was given the revelation he recorded which is found at the end of our Bibles, he was shown the events upon the earth as the promised kingdom was instituted. As Daniel had prophesied, it was a kingdom which was greater than any previous kingdom. Christ Himself is upon the throne. The righteous live, and the wicked are punished.
But it is within Paul's writings that we are told what will happen even beyond the events of Revelation.
As Revelation comes to an end, we see the end of the ages. But as the last "Amen" of Revelation 22 is uttered, there is more to come. The crowning event of the ages is found in 1 Corinthians 15, the "consummation" of the ages. Here God reveals what happens when the ages have concluded.
Many believe the end of Revelation is a description of the eternal heavens that we will experience when the resurrection takes place. But there are a number of reasons to conclude that this is not the case, and that 1 Corinthians 15 happens after the end of Revelation 22.
In Revelation 21:1 John perceives "a new heaven and a new earth", and he sees "the holy city, new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven...." The New Jerusalem is not heaven itself, but it descends out of heaven.
|22:5 The slaves of God are reigning
21:24 There are still "kings of the earth"
|15:24 All sovereignty, authority and power are nullified.
|21:5 Christ is seated on the throne
||15:25 Christ must reign until He places all enemies under his feet.
15:28 When all is subject to Christ, Christ subjects Himself to God.
15:24 All sovereignty, authority and power nullified.
|21:8 Lake of fire (second death)still exists
||15:27 Last enemy (death) abolished.
|22:2 Leaves on the tree for "thecure of the nations" (would seem to imply corruptible bodies needing the leaves to sustain life.)
| Note the Jewish Character
||Note the universal character
|21:12 Twelve tribes
21:14 Twelve apostles
21:24 Nations outside city
|No Jewish connotations in 1 Cor 15.In
Paul's writings, no barrier between Jew and Greek.
|Overall, a picture of a veryphysical place, with mortalbodies....much like our presentworld, except with Christreigning and keeping evil out (22:14-15)9;
||Overall, a picture of a spiritual realm,
with no corruption, no reign, no power. All are subjected. No enemies; no
death. No sin. No rebellion. The purpose of the ages has been achieved. God is now all in all. (How can He be All in all with death (the enemy) present?
THIS IS A DESCRIPTION OFTHE FINAL AGE (AEON)
THIS IS A DESCRIPTION OF THE CONSUMMATION, WHICH OCCURS AFTER THE AGES HAVE BEEN COMPLETED.
THE SAVIOUR OF ALL
The culmination of God's Word, then, is found in 1 Corinthians 15 when God becomes All in all. The book of Revelation does not take us quite this far.
With God all in all, all things have been reconciled to God, despite the plans of the enemy and the rebellion of the flesh which have seemed to triumph at times. Corruption is eliminated, and even our bodies are now incorruptible, not even needing the leaves from the tree of life to sustain life. The worst enemy of all, death, has been abolished.
In 1 Corinthians 15 we finally see every knee bowing before the Lord. Salvation to all has not meant the ignoring of sin or rejection. The lake of fire, the second death, has accomplished its work. All men now recognize the wondrous ways of God, and His grace as expressed through the work of Christ.
The Salvation of all does not negate or minimize the work of the cross. The work of Christ upon the Cross, and the power of God as displayed through the resurrection, were both very necessary. But now, at the end of the ages, we see the true scope of God's work. Despite the sin and rebellion of humanity, God has found a way to bring every soul to the point of acceptance, and every knee now bows before Him.
The ages have ended. The purpose of the eons has now been fulfilled; to reconcile all to God. Wickedness and evil are gone. Death is no more. God is love, and He is All in all. Eternal life in perfection has begun!
STUDY & THINK FOR YOURSELF
Don't take my word for these conclusions. Do not take the word of scholars, teachers, or pastors. They do not even agree amongst themselves.
Furthermore, the most common teachings within the orthodox church today are based largely on traditions and teachings passed along through the church since the 5th century. These teachings are not based upon the word of God, but upon the fallible traditions of men and the fallible translations of Scripture which are confused and which are strongly influenced by the biases of the orthodox church.
In the realm of science, theories are proposed and then tested to detect error. Corrections are then made to the theory. It is the same with theology. Do not simply accept the theory (theology) that has been handed to you. Study and think.
Your current beliefs about God, and about the destiny of mankind after death, have been shaped by things you have been taught since childhood. I'm not asking you to throw out your beliefs and accept mine. I am asking you to consider what I am presenting as a theory to be tested. This is not a theory I developed myself. Many have believed these things since the early days of "the church" (see the chapter titled "Testimony From Church History").
Use the methods suggested in this book to get back to the actual words used by God in the original languages. Consider the evidence. Study God's Word. Think and pray, and come to your own conclusions.