The Doctrine of the Ages in the Bible
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1984
Transcribed, edited and expanded by David Sielaff, January 2005
Read the accompanying Newsletter for January 2005
This is the third of a three-article series about the Ages in Scripture and God’s Plan of the Ages. “The Time Periods for Salvation, Part 1” (the article for November 2004) is found on the ASK website at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041101.htm. “The Time Periods for Salvation, Part 2” (for December 2004) is at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041201.htm. These two articles originated from the 1975 booklet by the same name, with my footnotes added.
This article for January 2005 is Part 3, an independent article transcribed from a 1984 audiotape by Dr. Martin. It contains his updated view of the subject of the ages as of 1984.
One doctrine that gives problems to Christians today it is that which concerns the Ages. The truth is the majority of Christian people today do not understand that the Bible itself talks about various ages both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Most people do not even realize that such a teaching exists in the Bible.
In fact when you even mention a doctrine like this many people at first consider it as heretical because they cannot conceive that such a teaching is in the Bible at all. The main reason for this is because the Bible, being of Hebrew and Greek origin, has several Greek or Hebrew words that are not quite rendered in the fashion that the people in the Old or New Testament times understood them. If we get proper translations of the Old and New Testaments I think we can begin to understand that there truly is a doctrine of the ages.
You might even put it in the plural, that there are doctrines of the ages. This is because there are ages that pertain to the people of Israel, certain times when things will happen to them, and other times when they will not happen. There are ages that pertain to the Gentiles. There are even ages that pertain to angels. There are ages which pertain to the Son of God while He was here on earth, and what He will do in the future.
We know in the Bible that there are various ages. If we could get the proper translation of the Old and the New Testaments — and there are some translations out that are like that and we are very thankful for them — but if you get those and understand what the original Greek and Hebrew have to say, then you are in much better shape to understand what the ages are all about.
One reason I wish to teach on this topic is to bring up-to-date some of the things we have gone into as long as 10 years ago. 1 This doctrine of the ages is not something unique to us. In fact anyone who reads the Bible in the originals and can understand what Moses, the prophets, and the apostles have to say, could be well aware that ages do exist.
An age means a time period, usually very long, but it does not have to be long. It depends on circumstances. An age has a beginning, it has a middle part, and it has an end. That is the most important thing. It has an end. If it has an end, it must have also a beginning. It is not something that you can equate with “eternity,” or even the word “forever.” The word “forever” has no end, it means it goes on and on and on, ad infinitum.
The ages of the Bible are not that way. They have beginnings. They have a middle portion between the beginning and the end, but they always have an end. This is why it is so important for us to realize this: so many words in the Bible are mistranslated by such words as “eternal,” as “forever,” or “ever and ever” when in actual fact the original writers did not intend that type of meaning at all.
Some of the basic doctrines of Christianity today — false doctrines — are based on a misconception, misunderstanding, or mistranslations of the Hebrew and the Greek on this very subject. The doctrine of the ages has been, and is, vastly misunderstood by many people.
Let me say on the outset that I do not know every little teaching (or big teaching), or every detail about the doctrine of the ages. But we do have some knowledge and God has graced us with a good deal of understanding on this material, and especially if a person will simply read what the original Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments have to say, you will begin to see many wonderful, fantastic truths that remain hidden to most people simply because they do not see the proper translation of the divine revelation.
That does not mean that we have some esoteric knowledge that no one else has because these things can be known from the Scripture if a person will pay attention to them. More than 99% of people today do not comprehend nor do they take into consideration the doctrine of the ages as it relates to salvation, as it relates to Israel, as it relates to the ekklesia, as it relates to the millennial period coming in the future, or to the Great White Throne judgment. All of the doctrines dealing with time periods mentioned in the Bible are not even comprehended by most people because they do not understand what the doctrine of the ages happens to be.
That is why we are at least able to read what the Scripture says and I hope we are able to apply some of these teachings in a proper way, so that we can come to some basic understanding of what this subject is all about.
As far as the ages are concerned, I will first quote to you from the Rotherham translation. Rotherham wrote about 80 years ago 2 and there are other translations I could quote as well that have virtually the same thing. But Rotherham is well known by many of us and he translates in Ephesians chapter 3, verses 8–11 a teaching from the apostle Paul that deserves to be read in its entirety. It is only about four verses, yet it is full of divine truth about what the present holds for us, what the future will hold, and how there is a plan of the ages that God has put into operation through Jesus Christ. This plan involves you, it involves me, and it involves everyone that was ever on earth. The very reason for mankind to be placed here is a part of the plan of the ages which we find the apostle Paul talking about.
Let me show from the Rotherham version starting in Ephesians 3:8:
“Unto me, the less than least of all saints was given this favor, unto the nations [the Gentiles] to announce the glad-message [the good news, the Gospel] of the untraceable riches of the Christ, and to bring to light ...”
Ephesians 3:8–9, Rotherham
This is what we all need. We need to see something as it is being illuminated by God Himself through the Word of God, Christ Jesus. What Paul was saying was that the Gospel message about the untraceable, or the unsearchable riches of Christ are now being brought to light,
“... what is the administration of the sacred secret [the great mystery] which had been hidden away from the ages in God, who did all things create ...”
Ephesians 3:9, Rotherham
This is worded a bit awkwardly in English, but Paul is saying that these teachings now being brought to light through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit was an administration of a “sacred secret which had been hidden away” from previous ages which God had created.
“... in order that now, unto the principalities and the authorities in the heavenlies [even the angelic entities] might be made known through means of the assembly [the ekklesia], the manifold wisdom of God, according to a plan of the ages which he made in the anointed Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3:10–11, Rotherham
In other passages Paul says that this plan of the ages was made before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). It was completely known, and fully devised, and clearly understood, and in reality already put into action before man was ever placed on this earth. You and I are a part of the “plan of the ages” which God decreed for all of us.
The reason we are in this flesh for some 70-odd years, or however long, is to be part of that “plan of the ages.” We are destined to become members of the very family of God. Indeed, right now in a nascent sense, we are already the children of God (Romans 8:26, Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:9–10, 4:4, 5:2), but we are destined to become even greater than we are now, because the physical body that we possess at the present time is not what we will have in the future. Our bodies must be changed to a spiritual type of composition and our characters must be changed also into a type of spiritual character that is possessed by God and by Christ Jesus.
These things will be given to us in the future when the fullness of the plan of the ages is brought to its conclusion. That is why we need to know what this plan is all about. The apostle Paul in the books of Ephesians and Colossians was talking about this sacred secret, this mystery, which in other ages had not been made known by God. Of course, the Mystery was known by God Himself, but it was not made known by God to man, not even to angels.
The apostle Peter said concerning Jesus Christ:
All these things the apostle Peter said, even “angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:3–12). Not even they have been able to understand completely what was the plan of God concerning the ages.
The apostle Paul said, however, through the Holy Spirit, that the ekklesia of God, the assembly of people, the holy ones back at his time (and we could extend it up to our time today), that the knowledge of this sacred secret has now been brought to light through the knowledge of Christ and that the “plan of the ages” which He made in Christ Jesus, our Lord, before the foundation of the world, can now be made manifest.
That is why it is important for all of us to know what that plan of the ages happens to be. It involves salvation. It involves the salvation of all people on earth, all human beings. But people on earth will gain salvation in time periods which God Himself has designed. Not everyone, as we all know, accepts Jesus Christ at the present time. The vast majority in the world does not — nor have they ever done so.
If a person does not accept Christ Jesus and if a person does not have God’s Holy Spirit then they cannot be considered a Christian, according to Paul in Romans chapter 8. 3 That does not mean that those people are bad of themselves. That does not mean that they will not have an experience with God in the future. But it does mean, according to the “plan of the ages” at the present time, that some are accepting God now and some are not.
Let me tell you, the plan is going exactly as God intended. There is no deviation whatsoever in the plan of God relative to the ages or anything else. Everything is going exactly as planned. 4
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, ... Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
Ephesians 1:5, 9–12
In the Book of Revelation it says that Jesus Christ was then “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). That does not mean that He was actually slain, but in the plan of the ages, at a very strategic time period, Christ Jesus came into the world and died. When He did die, he died for the salvation of the world on time, according to the “plan of the ages.”
This salvation that we have in Christ does embrace the totality of the human race because we find in 1 Timothy chapter 2 the apostle Paul speaking about God:
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:4
That means the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The definite article is there, “that all men will be saved and come to unto the knowledge of the truth,” the truth of the divine “plan of the ages.” If you do not understand it completely yet, if I do not understand it completely yet (and we may not), we one day will know exactly what the plan of the ages happens to be because all the truth will be given to us. We shall come to a full knowledge of the truth of God. It will come primarily through the pages of this Bible, the Old and the New Testaments.
Let me tell you this, the standard that we have in front of us here, the 49 books of the Old and New Testament, that we find in the Bible is just the basic outline of the truth. It is not the fullness that God can give us in the future, but it does give us all the standard teachings that we need at this present time in this flesh to comprehend as best we possibly can what the “plan of the ages” really happens to be.
The apostle Paul was willing to admit that even he saw things “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and we only see in part. We do not see completely yet. But when that time comes when our physical bodies are changed into a spiritual composition and our characters are united with Christ Jesus to have His perfect righteousness, then we will have the fullness of the plan of God revealed to us in all its glory. It will be consistent. It will be beautiful. It will be awe-inspiring.
Quite a lot of that plan was revealed to the apostle Paul and others back some 1900 years ago, and we have it recorded in the Bible.
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 2:4–5
We do not need any man on this earth, whatsoever, to stand in the way between you and God — except Christ Jesus. By the way He is not on this earth except in Spirit. He is in the heavens at the present time. We should look vertically if we want to find where the head of the church is, and the only one between us and God the Father happens to be Jesus Christ.
Do you realize that each one of you only has one individual between us, ourselves, and God the Father, the creator and sustainer of the universe? That person is Jesus Christ, who we find is the creator of the universe under God. Only one, that is Christ Jesus. That means that we are third in order below God the Father and Christ in the ranking order of governing the universe. I know that we are just human beings at the present time, and very fallible, and sinners. That is correct, but we are developing through the means of God and through His power and glory, to attain to the full stature of Jesus Christ Himself, to be just like He is, and to be in Him.
In actual fact, since He is the firstborn of God, and we are going to be in Him, there will not be any second-born people of God once salvation comes along, because we all will be in the firstborn. We all will share in the glories of this universe, both the physical and the spiritual, the invisible and the visible. We all will be co-heirs, co-partakers of this vast universe under God the Father.
When will all of this happen? In verse 6 it says: “Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:6). There is a mistranslation in the King James Version. The original Greek for “in due time” says that the testimony of Christ will be testified all right, and He will become a ransom for all, that is true, but not simply “in due time” but it means “in its own time periods,” in its strategic time periods. This scripture here is also a part of the doctrine of the ages and the plan of the ages.
We are not saved immediately, all of us. Some are saved, that is quite true, but not all, everyone in his own order said the apostle Paul. There are some at Christ’s coming, and there will be some at another time, but all will eventually, when the plan of the ages has come to its fruition, come to a oneness with God, according to Ephesians chapter 1:
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven [Greek, “heavens” plural], and which are on earth; even in him.”
This is all part of the doctrine of the ages of the Bible. Ages have a beginning. They have an end to them. These strategic time periods mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:6 also are part of the plan of the ages.
This teaching of the ages necessarily involves the use of Hebrew and Greek words for you to understand them in a perfect way, if that is possible. However, we can go a long way in comprehending what the words mean if we just analyze what the Old and New Testaments have to say on these words. To really see them you need a concordance which will give you every instance that these words denoting the ages are found in the Scripture.
In the Old Testament the word that is predominantly used for “age” is many times translated as “forever” or “everlasting” when they really should not do so because if you see some of the usages of this word in the Old Testament, it could not possibly be “forever.” In no way could it be that way even when it refers to God. The word does not necessarily mean that at all when it refers to Him in the sense of perpetuity, or forever, or in an ad infinitum sense.
The word in the Old Testament is olam, as we would give it in English characters. This word olam is used almost 500 times in the Old Testament. If you would get a concordance like Wigram’s The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament 5 on sale in most religious bookstores today. Look under “forever” and it will tell you that the Hebrew olam is mainly the one that is used in the Old Testament. Then you go to that word olam and you look up all the usages found in the King James Version. What you will find is that it is translated “forever” (about 250 times), sometimes “from everlasting to everlasting,” sometimes “forever and ever” (24 times) and just “everlasting” alone it is translated 60 times. 6
But it is translated in other contexts very differently. These other contexts show clearly that the word cannot always be used as “forever” which means no termination whatsoever. This is because two times it is translated “of ancient times,” or “of old times,” sometimes “of old.” Sometimes it is translated just simply “old,” or “ancient, “anymore,” “world,” “continuance,” “lasting,” “long time,” “anytime.” Sometimes it is translated simply as “long” and in others it refers in most interesting ways to lengths of time which have various duration of days or years to them.
The shortest length of time where olam is used in the Old Testament is for a 3-day period. If you look in the book of Jonah where it describes Jonah’s ordeal of being in the fish’s stomach, he says that he was in the fish’s belly, according to his perception, “forever,” for olam.
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever [olam]: yet have you brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto you, into your holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto you with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. And the Lord spoke unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
It says he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, for olam, but he was only there for three days. This means that sometimes olam conveys a period of time of time which is less than a human life. At other times it means just a human life span. In the Bible it even says in Moses that an ancient slave of Israel had to have a hole drilled into his earlobe. That hole was to identify him or her as a slave and it was to last “forever,” as far as the King James Version translates it. It only means for olam. It means for as long as a person remains a slave, then it would be in existence (Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 15:17). Obviously if you cause a hole to be put into the skin a vestige would stay there until the person dies, we know that, but a Hebrew slave could be redeemed after 6 years by the sabbatical year scheme, certainly no longer than a jubilee period. So the word olam does not necessarily mean “forever.”
The same thing is found in the New Testament. I would say it is more important to distinguish the words in the New Testament than even in the Old Testament. When we come to New Testament times the apostle Paul says new revelation had been given, a new enlightenment had come on the scene, a new understanding that even the angels did not know before, and the prophets of old did not understand (Ephesians 3:8–11). Paul said in Ephesians and Colossians that even he did not understand at first until the revelation of the Great Secret, the Mystery, or as Rotherham translates it, “the sacred secret,” when it was revealed to the apostle Paul about 61 C.E. It comprised the “plan of the ages” which angels did not even know about, but God knew. Now, the apostle Paul and other apostles began to understand. It had to do with the doctrine of the ages.
Two words are used in the New Testament, which you will find translated time and again, not only in the King James, but in even more modern translations, as “forever” or in some cases “eternity” or “eternal.” The two words are cognates of one another. One is aion; that is the noun form. The other is aionian, which is the adjective form. They mean virtually the same thing. It says that for aionian times certain things will take place. In almost all translations today translators will render the word aion as “forever” or “everlasting” and they will translate the adjective aionian as the “everlasting life” rather than “aionian life.”
There are some translations that maintain the Greek transliterated as aionian. That is very good and fine to do every time you encounter the terms aion or aionian. They happen to be perfectly good English words. You have heard about the eons, the eons of time. Even to us eon means a period of time usually in close association with the word “age” which has to do with something beginning, something ending, but usually it is a long period of time. You might say “the age of Abraham,” or “the eon of Abraham.” It means a long time ago, a long period of time, but it does not mean at all “forever.”
When you find Wigram’s Greek Concordance to the New Testament 7 and look up the word “forever” or “everlasting” in the English it will show you that it comes from the Greek word aion or the adjective form aionian. Then look up where these words are used in the context of the New Testament and you will find some very interesting meanings because clearly they do not mean “forever.” This is where most people misunderstand the doctrine of the ages, because when they read the New Testament in most modern and old translations they read “forever.” It is no wonder they get all mixed up on the doctrines of punishment, the doctrines of reward that God wants to give us in the future, the doctrines of what is happening here on earth today, and what happened in the past. It is no wonder they do not understand because they are not using the proper English words to give a correct rendition from the Greek.
For example, the word aion is used several times to mean a period of events which were before these periods, for example before the ages. See 1 Corinthians 2:7 and 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2, and I could go on and on. You will look in the New Testament that it says that there were events before there were the ages or before an aion. Obviously aion cannot mean eternity, can it? 8 If it is “before an age” and age means eternity, how can you be before eternity? It is an impossibility.
In these verses that I gave you above, they speak about “before the ages,” before they ever began. Certain things occurred before the ages. In fact I will tell you one thing that happened before this age in which we are living, and before the age of Adam. It involves you. It involves me. It is that you and I, and all of us together as God’s children, were picked out and were understood as personalities before the ages began, before Adam and Eve were ever placed on earth. That is what it says in the New Testament.
That is why it is important to understand what aion and aionian mean, because they tell us that something happened before this sequence of ages took place. In fact it talks about the present age, in the singular, in Galatians 1:4, in Luke 16:8 it calls it “this age.” Also in Hebrews 9:26 it says there will be an “end of these ages.” The rendering in the King James Version is:
“For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end [completion] of the world [aions, ages plural] has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
How can that mean “forever” if there is coming an end to the ages? Look at it in the original of Hebrews 9:26. In fact it talks about another age that will be called “the coming age” (Matthew 12:32).
“And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world [aion, age], neither in the world [aion, age] to come.”
It says there will be ages in the plural to come, more than one age, after the one we are in. There is more than one age. You will find that in Ephesians chapter 2
“That in the ages [aions] to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Even Luke in 1:33 speaks of future ages in the plural:
“And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever [to the aions, plural]; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
I have already referred to the “plan of the ages,” in the plural in Ephesians 3:11. Then the apostle Paul has a strange expression in Hebrews 1:8 9 and he says there is an age of the age.
“But unto the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever [to the aion of the aion (both singular), “to the age of the age”]: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom.”
That means this is most excellent, a superlative age.
Then, thanks to another confusing King James Version translation, in another expression in Ephesians 3:21 Paul speaks of “the age of the ages.”
“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages [generations, not olam], world without end [of the aion (singular) of the aions (plural)]. Amen.”
Then in another in Revelation, John says “ages of the ages.”
“And the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever [to the aions (plural) of the aions (plural)]: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name.”
Some people have wondered, how in the world can you translate that as eternity when it says “eternity of eternities”? That does not make any sense. But “ages of the ages,” superlative ages, makes sense. Now in the Old Testament we have expressions “olam of olam” which means an age of the age, similar to “aion of aion” just like the New Testament has. The Jewish scholars were asked this question: why if you are going to use the word olam which means age or world to come as in “olam to come,” why would you say “olam of olam,” meaning “age of age”? It seems to be a superlative. That is their answer. They said because the Sadducees who were the priestly sectarian group back in the time when Christ was here. 10 They did not believe in a resurrection in the future. In fact they did not even believe there would be another age. They believed that the only age was the one they were in (and that we are still in). They had the Old Testament Scripture to make it quite clear that there was a future age to come, the millennium as we might call it, and as we interpret it today. The Jews said that the reason God finally said “olam of olam” was because it means that there is a present age now and an age to come. That is their explanation and it makes perfectly good sense.
In the New Testament we have in Greek,
That may seem a little confusing to you, but these are distinctions that you find in the New Testament. If you have Wigram’s Concordance which will give you every reference and show you whether it is singular or plural, you can begin to make some sense of what the apostles Paul, John, Peter, and even Christ Himself were trying to say about this “plan of the ages.” In the 25th verse of Jude it speaks that there will be future ages, definite future ages in the plural.
“To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever [panta tous aiones, to “all the ages,” plural]. Amen.
I wish I knew all about those ages. If you can find out exactly when all the ages began and when they end, and what happens in each one of them, would not that be wonderful? We do know things only darkly, not absolutely, at this time. However, we can know quite a good deal if we will just pay attention. The point I want to bring out — and it is most important that we realize this — is that the word olam in the Old Testament, or the word aion or its cognate forms in the New Testament, they never mean “forever,” “everlasting” or “eternity.” They never mean that of themselves.
You can improperly insert the concept of eternity into the texts relating to olam and aions, and in many cases this is done when it refers to God. 11 Certainly we know from other Scriptures that He lives for all eternity. He always had an existence and He always will have an existence. But because we have words like olam and aion associated with God and His eternity, some people have equated the meaning of olam and aion as having an identification with eternity. That is not the case. God Himself, though He is eternal, deals with people in different ways, in different ages, at different times. We must understand that or else we will get into a great deal of confusion regarding doctrines of the Bible. 12
Let me tell you one doctrine specifically where you will get into problems. It is one which hardly anyone today of the mainline denominations understands, whether they are evangelists in a tent or convention halls, or whether they are in staid denominational church buildings, a big denomination or little, it makes no difference, most of them get all mixed up when it comes to the doctrine of punishment for sin. Punishment for sin is time and time again associated with the doctrine of the ages, with the doctrine of the olam in the Old Testament and more particularly with the doctrine of aion, or aions, or the aionian in the New Testament and it is most often mistranslated “forever.”
Let me give you an example of how disastrous this can be if you translate the word aion in the New Testament as “forever” or “for all eternity.” Look at Revelation 14:11 where it says that people will be put into a lake of fire and they will be tormented — it seems — like for a long, long time. Do you know what it says in the King James Version and in most other English translations of the Bible? It says they will be in torment “for ever and ever.” So we have the doctrine of eternal hell fire. The Scripture makes it quite clear that the fires of hell will one day go out. Oh, how many people do not like that! It says that the Tophat, that is Gehenna, one day will be holy to God. It says that in the Jeremiah 7:31–32.
It says also there shall be a new heavens and a new earth in which there will be happiness and joy, and the old things will be done away. You will not remember them any more. The smoke of the torment is supposed to go up forever and ever and ever. Even the apostle Peter says that the world will be burnt up, that is quite true, but then it will be refashioned to be a new heavens and a new earth in which dwells righteousness and goodness and eternal life, truly everlasting life in God, because only God has eternal life. The only “eternity” in you is His Spirit, which comes from God and is part of God Himself.
You are the one who will have everlasting life in the future. But the point is this, if you translate those words “forever and ever” then you have a hell fire that supposedly will burn forever. And if the punishment of sin is to be in that hell fire forever, then I suppose that is where you will be. Indeed, that is exactly where you will be.
The point is that these words translated “forever” will get us into trouble. Let me show you how simple it is from the example of the New Testament to indicate how long the fires of hell, the punishment for sin, will last.
Did Jesus Christ pay for our sins? The answer, according to all the New Testament, is yes. What happens to be the consequence of sin? If you ask most people today they will say you go to hell fire and burn forever and ever, because that is what it says, does it not? Well, it does not say that, it says for olam or it says for aion, and that has an end to it. The ages have an end.
They may say “My Bible says forever and I am going to accept it.” If you want to believe mistranslated words, go right on. That is perfectly all right, but the words really do not mean forever. You can absolutely prove it. If the consequences of sin happen to be hellfire burning in torment forever and ever and ever, without any relief and that is a consequence of sin, then you do not have a Savior in Jesus Christ. That is a fact.
We do have a Savior. But if you say that the sins we commit are not repented of, and that we are going to hellfire and burn forever (which is normally the teaching you find in 95% of Christendom today), then Jesus Christ cannot be our Savior. From the beginning of the New Testament to the end it says that He paid the penalty for our sins. Our sins were placed on His back. If our sins, no matter if they are small or great, were to take us into hellfire and burn forever, if that is the consequence of sin, then for Jesus Christ to pay that penalty for sin, He must be in hellfire burning for ever and ever. He would have to be because that is the supposed “penalty for sin.”
However, eternal hellfire is not the penalty of sin. The penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23). What did Jesus do on that tree of crucifixion at the Mount of Olives? He died for us.
Some people say, well, the consequence of sin is to die for all eternity, to be dead for all eternity. Some denominations teach that. That is not true either, because if the consequences of sin without repentance is to be dead forever and ever and ever, well, those sins were put on Jesus’ back, that means He would have to be dead forever and ever and ever. But He was up out of the grave three days later and He is at the right hand of God the Father right now, and preparing to come back to this earth.
Christ met the penalty for sin, but the penalty for sin was death. I tell you that if you are put into a lake of fire, do you know what results? Death results. What is the lake of fire in the Book of Revelation? It is the Second Death. That is exactly what it says. Do you know what we want to make it? The second life. And not only life, we make it for all eternity. We put on a punishment for sin that the Bible does not even imagine.
If we translate the words correctly we would know in the first place that the word aion has a beginning and the word aion has an end. We would not have to worry about all of these things. It can mean a short time and it can mean a long time. The word olam in the Old Testament was for three days while Jonah was in the belly of the fish. It may have been a long time to him if he was conscious at the time, which I doubt seriously that he was, but if he was it must have seemed a long time. It only lasted for three days.
There will be torment in hellfire in the lake of fire, but if a human being is tossed in the lake of fire, then I doubt he will last very long. I doubt he would even feel it very much, although the word “torment” is there. But the duration only lasts for an olam in the Book of Isaiah, or in the Book of Revelation it is aion. The punishment for sin may be various means of death, by fire, by crucifixion, or whatever, and Christ went through crucifixion. The point is He died for us and that is the penalty for sin.
It says that even Gehenna will be holy one of these days. The earth and the heavens will be made over altogether. Do you know what will happen to the Lake of Fire? The Lake of Fire is equated with death, the place of the 2nd death (Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 14, 21:8). But do you know what will happen to death? “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death one of these days will be abolished! If death is abolished, then the 2nd death is abolished, or the 3rd death (if there is such a thing), or the 4th or 5th. I do not know how many there are. We only read in the Scripture of 2nd death, but it does not make any difference. If death will be abolished, the 2nd death will be abolished.
It even says that hell (hades in Greek) and death itself will be put into this caldron called the 2nd death, which itself will be eliminated when death is eliminated, and then God will be “all and all”:
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he has put all things under his feet. But when he says all things are put under him, it is manifest that he [the son] is excepted, which did put all things under him. 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.”
1 Corinthians 15:26–28
What we ought to do is to read what the Scripture says on these matters. It does say, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). We are all from Adam, we all will die. But also it says, “in Christ shall all be made alive.” We will all be made alive “in Christ.” “In Christ” He will get rid of death by abolishing death. Then God will be “all in all.” If you get rid of death, the only thing you have left is life.
“In the dispensation of the fullness of times” that Ephesians 1:10 talks about, whenever that will be, that shall be the conclusion of the “plan of the ages,” sometime in the future. If you know exactly when that time will be and how many ages there are in the future, please write and let us know. I am not absolutely certain. I know that there are at least two more ages after the Second Coming of Christ. The first is the millennium. There may be more. However, I know this much, there is a “dispensation of the fullness of time” and when that occurs — which means the conclusion of everything — then death will be abolished, completely eliminated, and all creatures within the universe will become one with God, with Christ, whether they are in the heavens or in the earth.
That is what Ephesians says. That is what Colossians says. That is what Philippians says. It means that we will all have a redemption in Christ when the “plan of the ages” is completed and comes to an end. The ages have a beginning, they have an end. In fact before the beginning of the ages you and I were picked out by God, 13 predestinated to be able to come at a certain time and to live on this earth. Then the ages began. The ages will go on, various ones will continue. Then the various ages will come to an end. Just exactly when all of that occurs is revealed in Scripture if we can look at it.
If you want to know all the details, pay attention to the Greek and the Hebrew. This doctrine of the ages is one of the most important in the Bible. We need to pay close attention to it if we want to understand how God saves us now and in the future.
The ages are the key to the plan of salvation.
Ernest L. Martin, 1984
Edited by David Sielaff, January 2005
“Age of the Ages”
by David Sielaff
I believe a better understanding can be reached about the aion called the “age of the ages” if we closely examine the information available.
There is an “age to come” (aion in Greek, in Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Ephesians 1:21; Hebrews 6:5; and Revelation 20:2–7) that prophetic commentators commonly refer to as the Millennium. This age begins at the return of Christ Jesus to earth, it lasts for 1,000 years, and ends with the replacing of the present heaven and earth with a new heaven and earth. The apostle Peter considered the flood to be such a transition between ages. Certainly a major change such as a new creation would mark the end of one age and the beginning of another. The “age of the ages” marked by that new heaven and earth also witnesses the coming down from heaven of the City of God called New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation.
Last year I came across a book in Dr. Martin’s library that proposed the “great white throne” judgment would last for 1,000 years. I thought this was a remarkable concept that had great implications. I was soon reminded that Dr. Martin proposed the same thing in his book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine in chapter 16 “The Resurrections from the Dead,” pp. 244–246. 14 As the apostle Peter wrote (with precision I might add):
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.”
2 Peter 3:10–13
This “day of the Lord” that Peter referred to will be a time of judgment. These events have no relation to the Second Coming of Christ. These events occur 1,000 years after that event, immediately after the rebellion at the end of the Millennial age when Satan is loosed (Revelation 20:7–10) at the time of the dissolution of that age, and the time of the creation of the new heaven and new earth. Peter earlier said:
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against [until] the day of judgment and perdition [destruction] of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
2 Peter 3:7–8 (citing Psalm 90:4)
For many years of my Christian life I misunderstood the obvious statement by Peter that the subject of this passage was judgment. That is the same judgment of the “great white throne” put forth by John in Revelation 20:11–22:5. That “day of judgment” that Peter later identifies as the “day of the Lord” will last 1,000 years, just like the Millennium. Jesus made a significant statement on a symbolic Jewish feast day:
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’
Peter’s “day of judgment” conforms to the last “great day” of the Jewish autumn feast days, which relates directly to the “age of the ages.” That last day was the 8th day of the autumn festival, the day after the Feast of Tabernacles (which represented the rest for God’s people, the Millennium of God). It is a day of salvation.
I often wondered why the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ occurred after 4,000 years of creation, with 2,000 years of life continuing for the age after that most important event in world history. Then Christ returns to rule for 1,000 years to complete a 7,000 year plan of God. This did not make sense to me. Why did Christ come to earth four-sevenths of the way through the Plan of the Ages?
However, with the insight that the “great white throne” judgment will last 1,000 years, suddenly everything seems to fit. Just as Christ is the center of God’s Word, 15 so too Christ comes at the crisis, the center point of history, exactly 4,000 years in the total 8,000 years. The result is there are 2,000 years after Christ’s incarnation for man to live and endure without knowledge of God or His outward presence; then comes 2,000 years of God’s nurturing and saving all mankind. 16 (There is no “age” after this, in my opinion.)
If you choose to believe that God’s plan was 7,000 years in duration, do not give up that thought! One could just as easily consider the 1,000-year “great white throne” judgment as the 1st day of a new “week” of creation (although “time” will lose its meaning after the ages have ended). After all, a new heaven and a new earth will inaugurate that “day.” So whether you consider the “great white throne” judgment as the tail-end of the 7,000-year plan of God or the beginning of a “new day” of creation, it matters little.
Consider the purpose of the “great white throne” judgment. It will be the period of time, “the age of the ages,” during which the vast majority of mankind will be reconciled to God and redeemed. “God has concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). Only a few (of which you are one) will inherit the Kingdom of God that will last from Christ’s Second Coming, through the Millennium, and through the end of the “great white throne” until God becomes “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
This view also corresponds with the “age of the ages” relating to the presence of God in the diagram: “The Plan of the Ages and the Temple” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041201.htm. Judgment will occur with God the Father and Christ being present on the new earth at New Jerusalem. At that time the bulk of humankind will be resurrected to be taught the full knowledge of God, just as Paul said will occur:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge [Greek, epignosis, full knowledge] of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time [in their own eras or time periods].”
1 Timothy 2:3–6
That “due time” will be the “great white throne” judgment 17 when tens of billions — perhaps as many as 40 billions — of people will know Christ as their God, their Mediator, their Savior, and their Ransom for sin — just as you know Him today. Get ready, be prepared, and study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15). Though death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), “even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
You will witness and participate in every event of “the ages of the ages”:
(1) Christ’s Second Coming;
(2) the Millennium and its glory;
(3) the dissolving of the old creation;
(4) the creation of the new heaven and earth;
(5) the descent of New Jerusalem; the “great white throne” judgment; and
(6) the final reconciliation of all to God the Father.
Even then, as I have written before, that only will be the beginning ...
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
David Sielaff, January 2005
1 This statement refers to the concepts put forth in two previous articles: "The Time Periods for Salvation, Part 1" and "The Time Periods for Salvation, Part 2" originally a single 1975 booklet, 10 years before Dr. Martin spoke this message. DWS
2 From 1984 when this tape was presented. DWS
3 Note how often the word "spirit" is used 21 times in the first 27 verses of Romans chapter 8. DWS
4 See Ephesians 1:5, 9 and Philippians 2:13. DWS
5 This work first appeared in 1843 compiled by George V. Wigram. The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament: being an attempt at a verbal connexion between the original and the English translation; with indexes, a list of the proper names, and their occurrences, etc., 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zodervan Pub. House, 1974). For a more useful edition using Wigram's as a basis, see The New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, coded to Strong's Concordance numbering system (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1984). Many larger public libraries will have this volume. DWS
6 For a complete listing of verses where olam occurs, see Addendum 1 in the article "The Time Periods for Salvation, Part 1" at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041101.htm . DWS
7 For the Greek New Testament, see George V. Wigram, The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament: being an attempt at a verbal connexion between the Greek and English texts; including a concordance to the proper names; with indexes, Greek-English and English-Greek, and a concordance of various readings, 5th ed. (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1885). For a more useful modern edition using Wigram's as a basis, see The Word Study Concordance: a modern, improved, and enlarged version of both The Englishman's Greek concordance and The new Englishman's Greek concordance: expanded to include key numbering, an alpha-numeric index, a word family index, and the cross-reference headings by George V. Wigram and Ralph D. Winter (South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, c1978). Many larger public libraries will have this volume. DWS
8 Neither can the adjective have a force of eternity or endlessness. DWS
9 This translation in Hebrews 1:8 comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint version. DWS
10 There were three religious and political factions of the Jews: the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (who were the priests). ELM
11 Inserting meaning into a text is called "eisegesis" which means explaining the text with your own ideas and not the intent of the author. This is what theology has done since the 3rd and 4th centuries with false doctrines of an immortal soul, a trinity of the Godhead and an eternal punishment in hell for unbelievers. They have read those doctrines into the text. The correct study of the Bible is to extract meaning from the text. This is called "exegesis." This is done by reading the words of Scripture an the meaning proceeds out from a word, a phrase, or a passage as they are molded, Influenced, and qualified by the words around them. A study of doctrines should also note the discussions or arguments using similar words, phrases, passages and concepts as they are moulded by nearby elements. DWS
12 The ages relate to God, as He is their Creator (Hebrews 1:2). The ages do not define God. God defines the ages. Like the sabbath (Mark 2:27), the ages were created for man, not man for the ages. DWS
13 Dr. Martin later came to understand that the choosing or picking was done by means of a lottery. See Essentials, chapter 25, "How Are We Chosen?," pp. 414-416. DWS
14 This was somewhat disconcerting because I had forgotten - several times - what I had read, even though I went over the material of those pages of Essentials at least 6 times in various editions and edits. Such a good example of reading but not learning, not having the information "sink in." DWS
15 See the "Diagram: the Symmetry of the Bible" at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/reference/d050101a.htm.
16 Also, there are 2,000 years after the flood until Christ's incarnation, and 2,000 years after Christ, until His Second Coming.
17 This will not be a black throne of punishment only (although there will be "destruction," of evildoers, 2 Peter 3:7), rather it will be more of a "great white throne" judgment of education and correction.
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