The Two Ages and Redemptive History

People write to ask us "why is your website called ''?" The idea of two ages is an ancient one, and it finds expression in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and it is most fully developed in the writings of the Apostles. As to our understanding of the Biblical paradigm of two ages we owe much to the work of Geerhardus Vos--particularly his magnum opus, The Pauline Eschatology. The designation "age" comes from the Greek word aion, from which we get our English word aeon, an age (of history). When we speak of aeons or ages, it is clear that we are speaking in historical categories--as when we speak of the Bronze Age or the Iron Age or an ice age or "the Age of Aquarius." Sometimes we speak of our own time as "the church age" or "the New Testament age." These designations are accurate and useful, but we do not find these age-designations in the Bible.

What does the Bible say about the church age--the age we presently live in, between the ascension of Jesus Christ and His return (parousia)? In the Old Testament the prophets spoke about a coming day when God would act decisively for salvation and for judgment. Often they would preface their prophesies with a statement like "the days are coming when...." That day when God would come and act was called "the Day of Jehovah," the Day of the Lord. God's decisive action in the future would bring an end to the present age and inaugurate a new age (i.e. the age to come)--an age of superlative blessing and superlative righteousness. The whole creation would partake in the glory and liberty of that new age; all of God's promises would be fulfilled and God would be present with His people as never before; all nations would worship the God of Israel; and there would be no end to that age nor any diminishment of the blessedness which characterized it.

Between the prophesies and their fulfillment--that is, while the present age continued and the future age was postponed--pious, faithful Israelites lived in expectation of the coming Day and the coming Age. Many of them understood from the prophetic word that the coming Day was tied up with the coming One, the promised Day was ushered in by the promised One. By faith they trusted in that promised One and found the consolation of the promised Day springing up inside of their souls.

We derive the expression "two-age" from our confession that in Jesus Christ God Himself acted decisively for salvation and for judgment, fulfilling the promises, bringing an age of surpassing and eternal blessedness and unprecedented and final righteousness. In other words Jesus Christ was the promised One who inaugurated the age to come. In Jesus' own preaching the phrase "the kingdom of God" (or "the kingdom of heaven") is a synonym for the promised age. The miracles Jesus did were a testimony to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. It was not until Jesus died and rose again and ascended to the Father--not until He accomplished redemption, undergoing the end-of-the-world judgment of God on the cross and undergoing the end-of-the-world salvation of God--that the kingdom of God came in its fullness in the person of the Holy Spirit. Thus the promised, future age has come with all of its soteriological benefits. And, yet, the present age continues, an age characterized by weakness and corruptibility, suffering and sin. The once-for-all transition from the present age to the age to come has taken place in the person of Jesus Christ; and, yet, we still live in the "under-the-sun" world of Ecclesiastes, the world of the curse.

Or do we? The answer may be found in the dynamic of the already and the not-yet. The already / not-yet dynamic has been recognized by numerous New Testament exegetes--both Reformed and not-Reformed, Protestant and Catholic. The already / not-yet paradigm as regards the arrival of the age to come is not an already and not-yet of degrees. When we say that the age of salvation has come, we do not mean it has partially come, and partially it has not-yet come. No, we are living in the promised age of salvation; we are living in the resurrected (i.e. saved) Christ. And we are living in the present evil age (Gal 1:4), the age of violence and apostasy.

It is the resurrection and ascension of Christ brings about the overlap of the two ages. The coming Age is present in the coming One; and as the One who came is presently in heaven, so, too, is the Age that came. As believers are joined to Christ, raised and seated with Him in the heavenlies, they enter into the eschatological age of the Spirit into which Christ Himself entered. Thus, while they continue to live "in the world" they have already begun to live "in the heavenlies." In other words, while they continue to live in the present age, they have been translated with Christ to the age to come. This translation to the age to come, according to Geerhardus Vos's exegesis of Paul, is synonymous with salvation. In order to illustrate the Biblical teaching of the overlap of the ages Vos draws for us the following diagrams:

According to the popular Judeo-Christian conception, history is basically linear, beginning at the creation of the heavens and the earth and finding its completion sometime in the future when God brings all things to a consummation with the making of the new Heavens and the new Earth.

This World (Gen 1:1) Timeline of Historical Events
World to Come (Rev 21, 22)

This view illustrates Jehovah's sovereignty of creative activity at the beginning and end of time. It lacks, however, the complexity created by Christ's cross and resurrection within history, and its relationship to the first creation and the last creation for the glory of God.

For Christ the end-of-the-world judgment intruded in time at the cross; and, on the third day, the end-of-the-world salvation intruded in time for Christ. The pouring out of the Spirit of the risen Christ has meant the intrusion of the world to come (2 Cor 5:17) within the present age for the sake of the Church (Gal 1:4, 5). The Church now finds herself in the age of the Spirit, the age of fullfillment and final blessing (Eph 1:3ff). It is out of this age that she lives, even as she awaits (Rom 8:23) and strives after (Phil 3:20) the appearance of Her Savior--when the not-yet is swallowed up into the already, when the present age dissolves into the age to come, when she realizes in glory who she is in the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18), transformed into the same image as her Lord (1 Cor 15:45-49).

The diagram above pictures the church presentally positioned with Her Head in Heaven (Col 2:10), while she sojourns with her feet in this world (Heb 11:9), walking after the Spirit toward the end of this world (2 Pet 3:10), when and where she shall experience consumate glory (Rev 21:2) just as the Pioneer of her faith (Heb 2:6-10). Being made to participate in Christ's cross-resurrection-ascension the church participates in the age of final, heavenly (Spiritual) blessing--all those who believe and hold fast to the gospel (Col 1:22,23). The church's union with Christ means that they have been united to the crucified and risen Christ in heaven, complete and full in Him, knowing the power of His resurrection (age-to-come) (Eph 2:6) and being conformed to His death (present age). Following her Savior from glory to glory, the church is conformed to the pattern of salvation established by Him: temporary humiliation -- everlasting exaltation. As a participant in His exaltation, the church is equipped to participate in His sufferings (Phil 3:10)--taking up the cross to this age, so she might die to its lusts (Gal 6:14), in order that she, like her Savior before her, might gain God Himself as her very great reward (Phil 3:8).