Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Six: The Ages Presented
We trust it has been made clear that eternity belongs to a different category from time, that implies a different state and condition of existence and that, when we become acquainted with God and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, we have in this life only a germ or earnest of the eternity into which God will bring us at the end of time. In fact, when a believer dies, it is popularly said that he passes into eternity; but this is not an accurate statement, for, altho the condition of the departed Christian is more spiritual than in this present life, nevertheless he is still largely under time conditions (Phil. 1:6). Where there is movement and progress analogous to that on the earth, it implies change and transitoriness. Likewise even the resurrection state has its degrees, and in consequence its progression. "One star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead"; but we know it is God's purpose to bring all to the full "measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:3), and while this is doing, it is still time.
It may aid us in clearness of thought to know that even God's manifestation in time is different from the absolute and eternal God. He has to accommodate Himself to the creature. We know our Lord Jesus Christ "was made flesh, and dwelt among us"; and, tho there were glimpses of His glory, they were at the best but partial. The Holy Spirit's person and work have had to be humbled that there might be adaptability to us in a temporal universe. The title of a suggestive book on the Holy Spirit is The Temporal Mission The Holy Ghost.* There is no doubt that the revelation of the Father suffers a similar accommodation and that He shows the same spirit of love and humility in bringing us an unveiling of Himself that we can apprehend. We can enjoy the sunlight when it is properly dealt with by our atmosphere, but who can gaze with impunity into the eye of the sun? What mortal could live in that glorious sphere? Do not wonder if some divine truths do not look right to us. We live in too dense an environment to see things as they truly are. The straight rod partly thrust into the water looks bent. Much of our apprehension of truth needs to be corrected because of the refraction caused by time conditions.
*By Cardinal Manning (Appleton & Co., New York, 1866).
We are now ready to consider the word, in both the Old and New Testaments, which is most frequently translated "eternal," but which should be translated "age." This word in the Old Testament is used both as a noun and an adjective. The New Testament there is the noun "age" or "eon" and the adjective which signifies "pertaining to an age or to the ages." We have no adjective to express this in English except some such word as "eonian." This word is not in common use, but it is probably the best that we have. Eons are used in geology and in some other sciences for long periods of time.
If one has seen the absolute difference between time and eternity, he will understand that making time endless, we do not get eternity, for eternity means the absence of time, viz., timelessness. Eternity in its absolute sense only obtains when time ceases. An old writer puts the matter clearly:
"Whatever suffers the condition of time, even tho it never began to be, and should never cease to be, yet it can not be called eternal. For it does not comprehend and the embrace whole at once; it has lost yesterday, and has not yet gained tomorrow."
There is no word in the Bible, nor in the nature of the case can there be, for a "forever" or an "eternity" of time, because time ends when God becomes "all in all" and then only is there the full eternity.
It is not necessary for one to have a knowledge of the original languages, altho that is a wonderful help, nor to be a student of philosophy, to see that the words translated "ever" and "forever" and "eternal" can not possibly mean either "forever" or "eternal" or "eternity." All one needs is to take the English Bible and compare Scripture with Scripture with the aid of a good Concordance, such as Young's or Strong's.
I. It will be found that our translators in numerous places had to translate this word for "age" in several different ways. If it meant either "forever" or "eternal" in an absolute sense, this would not have been necessary. At the best, this word they so translate must be only a relative term.
II. It does not take any knowledge of the original languages to see that if the word "age" means ''forever" or "eternal" in the singular, a plural would be an impossibility. But the word "ages" in the plural occurs quite frequently. In a number of instances it is translated ''ages," as Eph. 2:7; "That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." Age can not mean "forever" in this passage. In Col. 1:26 "ages" is used in the plural. The translation would make nonsense if it was translated by "forever." The mystery would be "hid forever," and hence could never be made known.
III. If this word "age" signified eternity, it could have no beginning as well as no end. In the latter part of 1 Cor. 2:7 we read in our English Bible, "which God ordained before the world unto our glory." The word translated "world" is this same word "ages." Here the apostle is speaking of something "before the ages." This certainly indicates that the word "age" does not mean eternity, and also makes plain the fact that the ages have a beginning, which eternity does not have.
In Titus 1:2 we read, "God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." This word translated "world" is the same word "age" in a plural, adjective form joined to the word "times" in the plural. The clause should be translated "God, that cannot lie, promised before age times." This text also signifies that the ages are temporal in their meaning.
In 2Tim. 1:9 we have a similar expression, which should also be translated "before age (or eonian) times." The ages or time clearly had a beginning and hence are not meant to signify eternity.
IV. It is clearly taught in the Scriptures that the ages have not only a beginning but also an end. We have already shown even if the ages or time continued forever that that would not be eternity. The use of the plural "ages" shows that some end before another or others begin.
1. In Matt. 13:39 it is written, "The harvest is the end of the world." Here again the word that is translated "world" is the word "age.” The text should read, "The harvest is the end of the age." The same word is found in Matt. 13:40; 24:3; 28:20.
2. In 1Cor. 10:11, in the last part of this verse, we read, "Upon whom the ends of the world are come." This should read, "Upon whom the ends of the ages are come." Therefore the ages have an end and are not eternal.
3. In Heb. 9:26 we find; "For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
In reference to the first word translated world," it is the regular word for "world" or "universe," whereas the second word for “world" is the word "ages" and reference is again made to the fact that the ages have an end.
Further, this text speaks not of the ends but of the end of the ages. It is therefore evident that the ages have an end and do not last forever, nor are they eternal. This also negatives the idea that there is an infinite series of ages, for it speaks of the end of the ages, ages being in the plural; and, besides, as we have already shown, the fundamental idea of eternity is not continuous time. The very structure of our mind and thought, as well as the Word of God, demands an eternity without time succession.
"Age" or "Ages to Come"
The phrase "age" or "ages to come" needs to be definitely examined.
In Matt. 12:32 we find "Neither in this world, neither in the world to come." The word "world” is "age" in this verse. The clause should read, "Neither in this age nor in that which is to come. Here we have a reference to another age which to is to come after the age when Jesus was preaching the Gospel on this earth.
In Luke 18:30 we have the words, "in the world to come life everlasting." Here the word "world" should read "age" again. The words "everlasting life" will be considered later.
In Eph. 1:21, when correctly translated, the word "age" should be substituted for "world” to translate the original word. The usual thought that comes to most minds in speaking of "the age to come," or the next age, is that of heaven; but to those to whom the Word of God was first given, the next age always meant the Millennial age, that is, the time of their being restored to their own land and of the personal presence of their Messiah and of untold temporal, physical and spirit blessing.
We again refer to Eph. 2:7 where the Word speaks of "the ages to come." Evidently there is more than one age to come": there must at least two, or the plural, "ages to come," would not be appropriate.
In Isaiah 65:17 we read of God creating "new heavens and a new earth"; and in Rev. 21:1, we have opened to us a marvellous time when God will be making all things new, including the heavens and earth. We see in Revelation that this period follows the Millennium. If the Millennium be an age of surpassing blessing, what must this new age be!
"The Age of the Ages"
This line of thought throws light on the expression in Eph. 3:21, "throughout all ages, world without end." If one looks at the Greek of this passage, the above phrase can hardly be called a translation. Some one has designated it as "a flourish." The Revised Version in the margin is nearly accurate. The whole verse reads: "To Him be glory in the Church in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen" (R.V. margin). The "age of the ages" is, therefore, the most glorious Age of all the Ages that are included in God's marvellous plan. The phrase "the Age of the Ages" can be understood if we think of some similar expressions. If there is any day that is the best day of our life we may say it is “the day of days." The book of Canticles is called the "Song of Songs"; that is the best or the greatest song. The "Holy of Holies" means the Holiest-of-all.
This idiomatic method of expressing the superlative leads us to examine with a new interest the phase so frequently translated "forever and forever," but which is literally not "forever" at all, but "for the ages of the ages." We know by the phrase "the age of the ages" that there is one age that is the supreme age. We also know from. Heb. 1:8, in the original, of the close connection of "the age of the ages" and the Millennium. It reads in the literal Greek, ''But to the Son (He says) Thy throne O God, (is) for the Age of the Age." In this verse it implies that the grandest age of all springs forth from the millennial age, which is often spoken of as the age for Israel as a nation. Hence we think of these two ages and only two as the supreme ages in God's economy. As far as God's revelation of the ages is concerned these two ages are The Ages par excellence that lie in the future. Eternity in its absolute sense does not emerge till after these two ages are ended. This idiomatic use of two ages being called supreme, by styling them "the ages of the ages,” is paralleled in more than one place in Scripture.
In Ezek. 44:13 is found in the Hebrew unto the Holies of the Holies." If the Holy of Holies is an idiomatic way, in the Hebrew, of saying the Holiest of All, then the Holies of the Holies is an idiomatic expression referring to the two specially holy places, viz., the Holy Place and the Holiest of All. Thus the two Holiest places would designate the two and only the two of the temple proper, thereby omitting the outer court, etc.
A similar construction is found in Lev. 21:22. With this key the two future ages are found to be the most glorious ages of all. The theory of "ages tumbling on ages" or an infinite series of ages is purely imaginary. These are the two definite, final ages and always have the definite article before them. Time comes to an end when the ages end and eternity, with God "all in all," becomes an accomplished reality.
When we read in Rev. 11:15 that "He shall reign for ever and ever," we know that it literally reads "for the ages of the ages"; viz., during the Millennium and also during "the Age of the Ages."
We also learn from Rev. 22:5 where the Word speaks of the reign of the saints, ''they shall reign forever and ever," or, as it is in the Greek, "they shall reign for the ages of the ages, "that is, during the same two great ages that our Lord, as the Redeemer, reigns.
Rev. 19:3, where the smoke of Babylon is represented as going up "forever and ever," that is, for the ages of the ages; but it certainly ceases when all things are made new. It lasts only for these two ages.
Again we need to notice Rev. 14:11. "And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever." This verse refers to the length of time that the suffering lasts of those who worship the antichrist in the great days of tribulation before the Second Coming of Christ. This phrase here, "forever and ever," is the same one that literally says, "for the ages of the ages and these ages come to an end. Even if we have not followed the entire argument, we may know not only from the Scripture referred to in Rev. 11:15, that Christ's reign, as Son of man, is to end. Compare 1Cor. 15:24-28: "Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; . . . And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." The reign of Christ, as Son of Man and Redeemer, comes to an end when His work of redemption is completed at the end of the ages. Then all things are subject to Him and He hands over all to the Father and He Himself has no more redeeming work to do as Son of Man, but in that capacity becomes subject to the Father. This shows that the end in 1Cor. 15: 24, the great goal and end of all time.
The punishment of the wicked is for the ages of the ages. Death itself ends before our Lord hands over His completed work (1Cor. 15:26). Our Lord's redemptive work was potentially finished when He died on the cross, but the application of it to His creation will not be completed till the great end of the Ages. It might be well to notice that altho the Son of Man becomes subject to the Father, the Scripture does not say that the Father becomes "all in all," but "God (becomes) may be all in all," that is, the whole Godhead becomes "all in all."
Before concluding this Chapter it might be remarked that the two great ages to come are to be found separately treated in the next two Chapters.
The question may also be asked if we can distinguish the ages since the beginning of time. We think that, as far as is necessary for our understanding of the ages and God's purpose and plan in them; this can be done.
We believe that in Gen. 1:1 at least two great ages are connoted, because the word "beginning" is in the plural in the Hebrew. The verse should be read, "By beginnings, God created the heavens and the earth"; and, lest any one should question this, in the New Testament, in Heb. 1:10, it has the word "beginning" in the Greek in the plural. Also it should read: "And, Thou, Lord, according to beginnings didst lay the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the works (plural) of Thy hands." Evidently that which is called the creation from Genesis, Chapter one, verse two, is, at least, the third creation. This third creation may be said to come to an end at the Flood. From the Flood to the Second Coming may be called "the world that now is," or the "present evil age." A Millennial world will follow and that will pass into the wondrous "Age of the Ages," or "The New Heaven and the New Earth," with its many generations. The Greek literally reads, "I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Corresponding to these different worlds are the six different Ages. The first two ages referred to in Gen. 1:1 may be said to be prehistoric. How much of the conflict between science and religion would have been prevented by merely noting that" the term "beginning" was in the plural! There is room for millions of years, if necessary, in this; first verse of the Bible. We know that there was a cataclysm between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. These early creations ended in "waste and ruin" (Gen. 1:2, Hebrew). There may be a long period between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis one. From Gen. 1:2 to Gen. 8:14, we have the Antediluvian Age. From Gen. 8:15 to Rev. 19, we have the Age of Promise, sometimes called the "present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). Then the Millennial Age will follow, and finally the Age of the Ages. There are thus, six ages. The number six seems to us appropriate as it is the number of creaturely self-will and also of the work of God in bringing the creature into His image.
It is also to be noted that when we use the word "age," we do not mean dispensation, as there may be a number of dispensations in an age.
In eternity, heaven and earth were not separated, but formed a glorious oneness and they will again reunite as one at the end of the ages. All separation comes originally from sin.
The first two ages, which are noticed in the plural of the word "beginning" in Gen. 1:1 and Heb. 1:10, may be distinguished spiritually even tho it does not appear to be God's purpose to speak particularly of them in the Bible. The fall of Satan and his angelic associates evidently was in two stages. The first was a fall into selfhood as intimated in Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-15. The result of this was the "casting down" (katabole, Greek) from the eternal state into a temporal one and the separation of the spiritual glory that originally existed into a heaven and an earth. God's creative work operated even in the "casting down" and this temporal world and universe was founded. This explains the reason that two different words are used in the original Greek for the word "foundation": they are katabole and themelion. The first one signifies a "casting down"; the second is the regular word for "foundation." In the "casting down" of the creation because of sin, God introduced His creative work and made it the foundation of His temporal universe. God's creative work is always animated by love and has so crystalized and bound His falling creation that it is kept from descending to such an extent that evil would have unlimited scope and development.
There are some careful students of the Word that make the word katabole refer to Gen. 1:2, which literally reads, "And the earth became a waste and a ruin." There is no doubt that judgment and ruin are spoken of in Gen. 1:2, but the time referred to is the sad condition at the end of the second great age. Their explanation fails to take into full account the eternal creation (Col. 1:16) and to note that the "casting down" is used synonymous with "foundation." Heb. 1:10 uses the same root that always means "foundation." Compare with it Eph. 1:4 and John 17:24, which have the word katabole, or "casting down," referring apparently to the same event from the standpoint of the first fall.
In the first age there was a heaven and an earth and, altho the first sin of the angels had taken place, the sin was confined and the creation was largely spiritual.
In the second age there seems to have been a further fall which caused the spiritual creation to become earthly and grossly material, something after the manner as we know it. This implied in Gen. 1:2, which represents that age in ruins.
The arrangement of the ages as presented in this Chapter is further attested by their remarkable correspondence and contrast.
The above diagram of the six great ages with eternity at each end is perhaps more easily apprehended as thus presented. The ages and eternity would be more truly represented by bending the diagram upward from each end so that the two eternities become one and the base line forms a circle. See diagram on the next page.
The descending arrow represents the foundation of the earth called in a number of passages in the original "the casting down." It also represents the beginning of time. The arrows indicate the course of time in the ages and the ascending arrow in the sixth age shows the end of the ages and the return of all things into God’s eternity again. This illustrates the great law of circularity referred to in the Chapter, God’s Accommodation to a Fallen World.
The first age and the sixth age need to be thus associated and compared. Both have a spiritual heaven and earth with evil little in evidence.
The second age and the fifth age help to explain each other. The second age shows the earth becoming a waste and ruin; while the fifth or Millennial age represents the earth as especially blessed and as the age ends, the earth and heavens are purged by fire.
The third age reaches from Adam to Noah; and we are told of the fourth age, "as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man" (Luke 17:26). Also the third age begins with the first Adam and the fourth age is especially the age of the Second Adam, containing His First Coming and concluding with His Second Coming.
These six ages, thus so wondrously related, are arranged according to God's own plan and have enacted in them a redemption that provides not only for sins committed, but also for the very root, sin and selfishness (2Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:6) and, further than this, delivers us from the rudiments and beggarly elements of this world, for, through the cross, "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). This plan of God, or, as it literally reads, "according to the plan of the ages" (Eph. 3:11), will work out as God has purposed; it will not fail, God shall be "all in all" (1Cor. 15:28). The saving work of Christ is to last throughout the ages, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and for the ages (Heb. 13:8, literal).
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