"The End of the World"

Every occurrence of the phrase “end of the world” (in the King James Version) is mistranslated. The literal rendering is “end of the age” (Greek: aion). The idea of "the end of the world" has confused many people. The stereotypical "prophecy nut" carries the sign saying "THE END IS NEAR," and he is always wrong.

1. Matthew 13:39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world age; and the reapers are the angels.

2. Matthew 13:40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world age.

3. Matthew 13:49 So shall it be at the end of the world age: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

4. Matthew 24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world age?

5. Matthew 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world age. Amen.

6. 1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world age are come.

7. Hebrews 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world [Gk: kosmos]: but now once in the end of the world age hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

8. Extra credit: Ephesians 3:21 (cf. Isa. 45:17)
Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Lit., “to all the generations of the age of the ages”)

These verses signify the end of the Old Covenant, not the destruction of the planet. A proper understanding of Christ’s “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) will aid our understanding of the “end of the age.” Christ predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which happened 40 years later, in A.D. 70.

Matthew 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 38 Behold! Your house is left to you desolate;

After making this prediction, His disciples asked for signs of this event, so they would know when it would happen.

Matthew 24:1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?”

Jesus then proceeds to spell out the signs that would precede His coming and “the end of the world,” which, as we’ve seen, really means the end of the Old Testament age. Let’s read Luke’s account of Jesus spelling out the signs of His coming and the “end of the age,” as it brings out the immediacy of Christ’s coming in judgment against Jerusalem:

Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Verse 27 takes us back to one of the critical “any moment” verses we began with:

“The Son of Man is about to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. There are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28; cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27)

This is clearly an event that was about to happen to that generation, and did in fact happen: Jerusalem was laid waste. It was a time of tribulation greater than any Israel had ever experienced, and greater than any that Israel would ever experience again.

Let’s connect the context of the “New Heavens/New Earth” in 2 Peter 3 with the heavenly terminology found in Matthew 24:[1]

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and all of the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to another (Matthew 24:29-31).

The Preterist says Matthew 24 –– the entire chapter –– was fulfilled in the first century. The “Great Tribulation” was the complex of events that occurred prior to and during the siege of Jerusalem, culminating in its destruction in A.D. 70. Jesus seems to be saying that the Second Coming will occur immediately after the Tribulation. Did the Second Coming occur in A.D. 70? Have we missed it?

First, let us be clear about one thing at the outset: there is just no getting around that word immediately. It means immediately. Acknowledging that the tribulation took place during the then-living generation, we must also face the clear teaching of Scripture that whatever Jesus is talking about in these verses happened immediately afterward. In other words, these verses describe what is to take place at the end of the Tribulation—what forms its climax.

In order to understand the meaning of Jesus’ expressions in this passage, we need to understand the Old Testament much more than most people do today. Jesus was speaking to an audience that was intimately familiar with the most obscure details of Old Testament literature. They had heard the Old Testament read and expounded countless times throughout their lives, and had memorized lengthy passages. Biblical imagery and forms of expression had formed their culture, environment, and vocabulary from earliest infancy, and this had been true for generations. There was no Oprah, no Fox News, no ESPN, no Britney Spears. (Recall, for a modern parallel, the influence of the Puritan Pulpit in colonial America.[2])

The fact is that when Jesus spoke to His disciples about the fall of Jerusalem, He used prophetic (Biblical) vocabulary. There was a “language” of prophecy, instantly recognizable to those familiar with the Old Testament. As Jesus foretold the complete end of the Old Covenant system—which was, in a sense, the end of a whole world—He spoke of it as any of the prophets would have, in the stirring language of covenantal judgment. We will consider each element in the prophecy, seeing how its previous use in the Old Testament prophets determined its meaning in the context of Jesus’ discourse on the fall of Jerusalem. Remember that our ultimate standard of truth is the Bible, and the Bible alone.

The Sun, Moon, and Stars

At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus said, the universe will collapse: the light of the sun and the moon will be extinguished, the stars will fall, the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The basis for this symbolism is in Genesis 1:14-16, where the sun, moon, and stars (“the powers of the heavens”) are spoken of as “signs” which “govern” the world. Later in Scripture, these heavenly lights are used to speak of earthly authorities and governors; and when God threatens to come against them in judgment, the same collapsing-universe terminology is used to describe it. Prophesying the fall of Babylon to the Medes in 539 B.C., Isaiah wrote:

Behold, the Day of the Lord is coming,

Cruel, with fury and burning anger,

To make the land a desolation;

And He will exterminate its sinners from it.

For the stars of heaven and their constellations

Will not flash forth with their light;

The sun will be dark when it rises,

And the moon will not shed its light. (Isaiah 13:9-10)

Significantly, Isaiah later prophesied the fall of Edom in terms of de-creation:

And all the host of heaven will wear away,

And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;

All their hosts will also wither away

As a leaf withers from the vine,

Or as one withers from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)

Isaiah’s contemporary, the prophet Amos, foretold the doom of Samaria (722 B.C.) in much the same way:

“And it will come about in that day,”

Declares the Lord God,

“That I shall make the sun go down at noon

And make the earth dark in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9)

Another example is from the prophet Ezekiel, who predicted the destruction of Egypt. God said this through Ezekiel:

“And when I extinguish you,

I will cover the heavens, and darken their stars;

I will cover the sun with a cloud,

And the moon shall not give its light.

All the shining lights in the heavens

I will darken over you

And will set darkness on your land,”

Declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 32:7-8)

It must be stressed that none of these astronomical events literally took place. God did not intend anyone to place a literalist construction on these statements. Poetically, however, all these things did happen: as far as these wicked nations were concerned, “the lights went out.” This is simply figurative language, which would not surprise us at all if we were more familiar with the Bible and appreciative of its literary character.

What Jesus is saying in Matthew 24, therefore, in prophetic terminology immediately recognizable by his disciples, is that the light of Israel is going to be extinguished; the covenant nation will cease to exist. When the Tribulation is over, old Israel––the old heavens and earth –– will be gone.


[1] Much of the following is taken from David Chilton, Paradise Restored, Tyler, Texas: Dominion Press, 1985.

[2] Harry Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, Oxford University Press, 1986.

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