The Ages to Come
The word "eternal" is a useful word to talk about God in the same way that "infinite" is. But we assign no theological or Biblical meaning to the word "infinite" because God Himself does not use it. So it must be with the word "eternal." As a Biblical word, it is a tare. "Eternal" life is, rather, the life of the age to come, when all shall know God in all things, revealed now in us.
The Ages to Come
I am reading and studying your material with real interest. There is a comment you made in your article "The Revelation of Christ" that I wish you could make plain to me. You said something to the effect that many will realize they will have to wait until another age to enter into the perfect purpose of God.What is your frame of reference for that belief?
I enjoy the revelation you walk in and have received much help in my own walk with God from your writings… Thank you and please continue being a blessing through the sharing of your insights!
It is questions like this that help me focus my writing, and so I enjoy answering them. I have been aware of the concept of the "ages to come" showing itself in my writing, because it is how I think about what God is doing. I need to lay out why I think that way.
First, we need a bit of history. From the passing of John, around AD 100 until AD 385, the church went steadily downhill until it hit rock bottom. Of course, from the time that Paul began to teach Christ in us, the wolves were circling the church. However, Jesus made it clear in His parable of the tares that after the disciples were gone, there would be a time of the enemy planting his seed in the kingdom of God. More than that, Jesus said that He intended to leave the lies of the evil one in His church until the very end.
AD 385 was rock bottom in the fall of the church into Roman darkness. That was the year when the first Christian was put to death by other Christians for "heresy." It was the year when Augustine (a true believer, and thus better able to fuse wrong thinking with Biblical thinking into Christianity) began to write The City of God, which would, among other things, cement the idea that the believer has two natures that oppose each other, with the "fleshy human" nature dominant, and without resolution in this life - into Christian thinking.
But also, in that year, the young emperor, seeing Himself as a Christian, decided he could not also be the high priest of Roman paganism. The bishop of Rome, Damasus, a man who gained his position as bishop by murder, seeing the opportunity, picked up that office and thus all the paganism of the ancient world was merged with the church and Christianity, including the idol statute of Jupiter being renamed "Peter." Damasus had a personal secretary, a brilliant and bitter man, filled with a hatred of that which is human, named Jerome.
Most of the church in that day was Greek. But as the power was shifting to Rome, the western Christians wanted the Bible translated into Latin. That is what Jerome did. A brief look at his life is enough to know that though he was brilliant, it is doubtful that he had any personal knowledge of Jesus inside of himself.
In translating the Bible from Greek into Latin, Jerome, out of the bitterness of his own soul, committed one of the greatest crimes against God in the history of man on this earth. He stands as one of the most destructive anti-apostles in church history. You will see his (and Tertullian's before him) bitter hatred of the human reflected in the writing and thinking of so many Christians down through the centuries and thus forced back upon a New Testament that contains no such thought.
The Greek New Testament is filled with a discussion of and the thinking of a series of future ages, long periods of time, in which God will continue to unfold His plan of redemption. Jerome ended that way of thinking with the translation of the Greek word "aeon," a period of time, into the Latin word "eternal," meaning both "unending time" and "a realm of being separate from time." Thus, when Jesus was speaking of the sheep and the goats, He said, and His hearers heard, "These on my left shall go into a time of pruning." He used an agricultural term well known to his hearers - the time of the year that the grape owners would trim their grapevines.
I did that just this last January. Pruning my grapes is one of my favorite tasks of the year. It is when I get to shape the future growth of the vine and ensure that its fruit will be abundant. Now, when I gaze out my back window and see, through the grape arbor, the fruit of that time of pruning, I am so pleased.
Jerome translated Jesus' words, "a time of pruning," into "everlasting destruction."
The word "eternal" is a useful word to talk about God in the same way that "infinite" is. But we assign no theological or Biblical meaning to the word "infinite" because God Himself does not use it. So it must be with the word "eternal."
As a Biblical word, it is a tare.
The entire concept of "hell" as the church understands it is completely pagan - "Hella" the Germanic goddess of the underworld. If we read the New Testament as the first century believers read it, "everlasting destruction" would never come near our thinking as it was completely absent from theirs.
Rather, the future was understood to be a series of ages, periods of time, in which God will continue to unfold His wisdom through the Church. Thus, when I read the word "eternal" more and more, I automatically read it as "an age of time." "Eternal life" is, rather, the life of the age to come, when all shall know God in all things, present now in us.
The New Testament is very clear about the end of all things. Paul says in Philippians both that Jesus has the power to subdue all things to Himself and that all will bow the knee and confess Him as Lord (by the Spirit) including those who are in the place of the dead - Hades - the unseen realms. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that all things will become subject to the Son. Then the Son will turn and present a fully redeemed creation back to the Father, and God will be all things in all things. But Hebrews says that we do not now, in the present age, see all things submitted to Jesus.
We know that in this present age, God is not redeeming all. He is drawing out of this age a firstfruits unto Christ. Now, the New Testament refers a number of times to the future "Age of the ages." That means the same as King of kings, or Song of songs, etc., that is, the greatest age out of all the many ages of time yet to come. I personally do believe in the yet coming age of the millennial reign of Christ, simply because I am convinced that the whole point of this whole thing is that God intends to prove His word in this earth and in our bodies. That requires 1000 years (one day) of walking upon this earth in the full revelation of the tree of life, completely separate from the curse of Adam. This earth is part of our inheritance. God will not leave this earth unfinished, but He will fulfill all of His intentions, as they were from the beginning, upon it.
God says that in the ages to come He will show forth His great wisdom through the church. I extend from that to a dim glimpse of that future work that, when looking back, we may well consider to have been the greatest of all the ages. I suspect that in that age, you and I, as the firstfruits of Christ, will go to each one sitting in darkness, individually and personally, and draw each one, bit by bit, into all the love and redemption of Christ. In the future, we will do many wild and adventurous things (God is anything but boring), but I suspect that we will treasure forever the experience of taking the kindness and redemption of Christ into every shadow and drawing every hurting person into His love through the time period of the greatest of all the ages.
Christ does all things through us, His firstfruits; when the Son gives the whole creation back to the Father, fully redeemed, there will be no visible separation between Him and us. We will share in all of His glory in that moment.
The idea that Christ cannot begin redemption in anyone's life in any age to come is not taught in the Bible, neither is the idea that Christ cannot complete salvation in anyone's life in this age and on this earth. The more I come to know Christ, my Savior, personally in me, the more I realize how much "Christian" thinking treats Him with such dishonor and disrespect. It's as if we humans are responsible for salvation and Jesus is "sitting up there" with His hands tied, unable to accomplish anything apart from our finding and following the right formula. And to make matters worse, every Christian imagines that he or she has the "right" formula, and everyone else has the "wrong" formula.
Most Christians adamantly insist that Jesus cannot begin redemption for anyone in the future, and they just as dogmatically argue that He cannot complete salvation in anyone right now in this age. They insist on, even demand, an extraordinarily limited Savior, really, a wimp. I don't see any resemblance between this "wimp" that they insist Jesus is and the powerful and glorious One who fills me to overflowing.
Jesus said that Christianity through this present age would be filled with lies, that the lies would stand alongside the truth looking just like the truth, and that He has no intention of removing those lies until the end of the age.
Three of the greatest tares in Christian thinking are the concept of "eternal" as it presently exists in the church, and the pagan definitions of heaven and hell. (Again, "eternal," as a way to talk about an infinite God, is perfectly useful.)
Having almost completely removed those ideas from my thinking as I read the New Testament (in other words, not forcing un-Biblical definitions onto the things God says), I now see everything God says in the New Testament in quite a different context than I once did. And thus, my new way of thinking spills over into everything I write. This new way of thinking enables so many strange things God says to make perfect sense. And it removes all the contradiction inside the New Testament that has caused Christians to fight and to kill each other for centuries, pointing the finger and speaking "anathema" at each other with great vehemence, always delighted to discover that it is the other guy to whom the Lord says, "Depart from Me, I never knew you."
But more than that, I find that the more I acknowledge the good things of Christ inside of me, the more I speak about myself those things that God says about me and about Christ in me, and not anything that God Himself does not speak about me, the more I find my mind and view and outlook are changing to believe all that God says is actually true, with confidence and great joy.
But now, let's look a little closer at the statement I wrote as you refer to it: "You said something to the effect that many will realize they will have to wait until another age to enter into the perfect purpose of God."
God's mercy swallows up judgment, but in the view that mercy carries judgment inside itself, not in the view that mercy eliminates judgment.
So, Jesus speaks of those who will enter into a time of weeping and gnashing of teeth. John, in the first chapter of Revelation, says that the time when Christ appears visibly to all will be a time of mourning - a time of great sorrow and shame. Christ appearing in us is our hope of glory, Christ appearing outwardly to those who have not come to know Him inside of themselves is their shame.
This is why the angel says in Revelation 11 that the outer court will not be measured. Only by allowing Jesus to immerse us into the Spirit of God do we come into a personal knowledge of Christ in us. Those who insist on seeing Christ as "back then, up there, some day" will lose their opportunity to know Him as their life inside of them right now.
Here is my present understanding - again, through a glass darkly and subject to further enlightenment from the Spirit of God through His word.
I suspect that those believers who do not lay hold of all the salvation of Christ inside of them, who insist on keeping God separate from them and they from God, will lose, for an age, the opportunity to know Christ as their life. They will wait, maybe even in some measure of blessing, yet also in a "darkness," but they will see those believers who walked the same earth, in the same age with them, who did not limit God, but who believed Him for all that He speaks. And they will know that they could have shared in that glory if they had wanted it, if they had valued it more than their "Christian" - separate from Christ - life.
It is in this way that God has appointed for them this "time of pruning" for their sakes, that they will come to know and appreciate the value of knowing Christ in them. I suspect, however, that they will have to wait through the 1000 years during which the firstfruits of God will prove all that God says in their bodies on this earth before they also will be allowed to enter into all the fullness of Christ.
When my son graduated from high school, I insisted that he get a full-time job and work for a period of time before he thought about college. He did that, and then a year later he started college classes with great excitement. After high school, he had no idea what he wanted to study; now he knows exactly what he is after. More than that (as I shared with him), while learning discipline was part of the benefit of working long hours at a low-paying dead-end job, now he also has deep in his gut the personal knowledge of the extreme difference between educated work and uneducated work. This in-the-gut knowledge is essential to a young man so that he does not waste the opportunity of college with frivolity, but knows what he wants and goes for it.
I, knowing the agony of uneducated work, have insisted that my son, also, gain that knowledge. Why? Because as a father, I am created in the image and likeness of God. I have in no way been unkind to my son. On the contrary, I know that not giving that knowledge of barrenness and futility to him would be, in itself, a crime against him. Because I love my son, I insist that he go through a time of pruning, so that he can experience more fully a time of fruitfulness.
This is how God thinks, and it is the only way God thinks when He speaks of judgment and wrath, of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
God, by subjecting us to the horrors of vanity, causes us to know the great value of abandoning any desire for possessing "our own life in this world," and the indescribable value of knowing intimately another life as our very own, the life of His dear Son. There are many, many Christians who do not see great value in knowing Christ revealed in them all the way to their physical deaths. They die in the knowledge only of something "back then, up there, and some day."
But salvation, according to the gospel, occurs in the flesh. Those who lose their physical body, while not yet knowing Christ revealed in them, also lose the opportunity for such knowledge. Heaven is not the revelation of Christ. If we do not cast off all the curse of Adam out of the life of Christ inside of us, we cannot know the full extent and intimate knowledge of Christ in every part of our being. Without the curse of Adam still hanging its tentacles upon us, the law of sin and death (any Christian who dies physically is killed by the condemnation of the law of sin and death) - casting that curse off, we cannot know Christ as God intends for us to know Him.
Thus they enter a "time of pruning." And when that season is over, Christ will come again to them in the power of His redeeming love - inside of them.
God has an order for all things, and each will come into his appointed time of knowing that Christ is our life according to the time of God's appointment. We do not choose Christ, He chooses us, as Jesus said.
God is removing the tares from our minds until we see Christ in all things inside of us. And thus, we see Christ in all the creation and purpose of God. And thus we defeat everything that speaks against God and against the revelation of Christ inside of us.