A new age

When one of Jesus’ disciples expressed concern about having left everything in order to follow him, he responded, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:28-29). The new world that Jesus referred to was more than just a physical regeneration of our planet. The Greek word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) refers specifically to Messianic restoration of both people and things and points to the spiritual regeneration that is necessary for eternal life. “The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light” (G3824).

The Apostle Paul eluded to a new age that would follow the one we currently live in when he said, “God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). The Greek word that is translates ages, aion (ahee-ohn’) is properly translated as “an age, by extension perpetuity (also past); by implication the world…The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration. Aion, as a noun, means ‘an age, era’ and signifies a period of indefinite duration” (G165). From that standpoint, Christ’s kingdom exists in the past, present, and future because it is an eternal kingdom. When it began or when it will end is not something that can be determined, but the ages that are associated with Christ’s kingdom do have beginning and ending points in time.

Jesus indicated that the kingdom of heaven has both a present and future state, but the difference between the two is sometimes confusing. In order to clarify the transition from one to the other, Jesus’ disciples asked this question about the future state of his kingdom, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). The second coming of Christ was understood and expected even while Jesus was still alive on earth. The Greek word parousia (par-oo-see’-ah) is used of the return of Christ, at the rapture of the church and signifies, “not merely His momentary coming for His saints in the rapture, but His presence with them from that moment until His revelation and manifestation to the world in His second coming” (G3952). Jesus warned his disciples that his second coming would be camouflaged by a satanic effort to disrupt the physical establishment of his kingdom. He said, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6).

Jesus said there would be a definite end to the current age we live in which is sometimes referred to as the Church Age or the Age of Grace. This age is thought to have begun after Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit’s ministry was launched. Therefore, Jesus’ life on earth and subsequent death marked the end of another age associated with the Mosaic Law which was established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Moses, who was God’s designated representative during the exodus from Egypt, had a similar birth to Jesus’ in that he was born at a time when the people of Israel were suffering under the rulership of a demonic king. Exodus 1:22 states, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” Moses was kept alive through divine intervention and was raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter, but “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11:-12).

Moses crime was discovered and he was forced to flee into the desert where he spent 40 years shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 3:1, Acts 7:39-30). Exodus 3:1-6 indicates that Moses had an encounter with the preincarnate Jesus Christ (note on Exodus 3:14 and 23:20-23). It states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The unusual and unique manner in which God appeared to Moses at Horeb, a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, could be a type of preincarnate advent of Christ. “Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable of Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7, Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

When Moses saw the flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, the thing that he noticed about it was that “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Exodus 3:3). This might seem to signify God’s mercy, but he later told Moses, “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-21). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). The statement that the angel would not pardon their transgressions may have meant that he was not able to pardon them because the penalty for sins wasn’t paid until Jesus died on the cross. The thing that uniquely identified the Age of Law was that Jesus was present, but not in bodily form. When Moses asked God what name he should use to identify him to the people of Israel, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM'” (Exodus 3:13). “Jesus alluded to this name of God in John 8:58 when he declared, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (note on Exodus 3:14).

The instruction Moses received to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go into the wilderness so that they could make sacrifices to him (Exodus 3:18) seemed ludicrous at first, but God explained to Moses that he intended to demonstrate his ability to accomplish this impossible task in order to convince Pharaoh that he was in charge of the situation. God said, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3;19-20). God’s use of force was necessary because Pharaoh’s heart had become hardened to the point that it was impenetrable (H2389). The reference to striking Egypt implied that physical force would be used and that God would be directly involved in the process. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, pala’ (paw-law’) “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381), so it’s clear God intended to use his supernatural abilities the get Pharaoh’s attention and he seemed willing to go to any lengths to deliver his people from Pharaoh’s control.

Jesus’ description of the end of the Church Age indicated that it would be a time of great distress. He said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Jesus’ use of the metaphor of birth pains to portray the transition from God’s grace being available to whoever believed in Jesus to the judgment of all mankind made it seem as though there would be a gradual change from the influence of the Holy Spirit in the world to the inevitable reign of Antichrist that would intensify over time. Jesus told his disciples, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14).

Jesus linked the end of the Church Age to a single event that would take place in a single day or hour and associated it with another event that marked the beginning of the Kingdom Age. Jesus warned his disciples to take flight immediately when they saw this sign. He said:

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Jesus noted that a great tribulation would occur during the transition from the Church Age to the Kingdom Age (Matthew 24:21). This period of time is often referred to in the Bible as “the day of the LORD” (Ezekiel 30:3) which is thought to continue through the millennial reign of Christ. I believe Jesus’ second coming marks the official start of the Kingdom Age and according to Revelation 19:11 this event takes place immediately following the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven (Revelation 19:6-9).

Jesus said his return to earth would be immediately after the great tribulation and “all the tribes of the earth 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 out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31). This seems to suggest that all believers both those that have died and ones that are still alive will be gathered together at Jesus’ second coming. Because the marriage supper of the Lamb has already taken place at this point, it could be that the Greek word that is translated his elect in this verse, eklektos (ek-lek-tos’) refers only to Jewish believers (G1588). The Apostle Paul used eklektos’ root word eklegomai (ek-leg’-o-om-ahee) when he said God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5). We know that Paul was referring to non-Jewish believers when he said this because adoption does not apply to the children of Israel.

Some of what Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse may have only applied to the Jewish remnant that would be dealt with under different circumstances than his church. When Jesus talked about the day and hour of God’s judgment, he referred back to the days of Noah which were before the Age of Law. He said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:36-42). Jesus indicated that people will be unaware of what’s coming when suddenly half of the population apparently disappears.

Jesus said, “one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:40). The Greek words Jesus used that are translated taken and left have somewhat opposite meanings from what you might usually think. The Greek word aphiemi (af-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated left, means to send away as when a husband divorces his wife (G863). The word aphiemi appears in Matthew 22:22 where it says, “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” Therefore, the ones that were left were the ones that were no longer present in the field and grinding at the mill when the Son of Man came (Matthew 24:29-31). The Greek word that is translated taken, paralambano (par-al-am-ban’-o) means “to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office” (G3880). Jesus made it clear that although everyone was swept away after the flood came in the days of Noah, when the Son of Man comes, half of the population will be taken or integrated into his kingdom. Jesus went on to say, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Kingdom Age will be ushered in by what appears to be a sudden and cataclysmic event similar to the flood that wiped out every living thing on earth. Jesus’ analogy of two men working in the field and two women grinding at the mill seems to be associated with Christian ministry because in his parable of the weeds, Jesus said while the owner of the field’s men were sleeping, “his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away (Matthew 13:25). Jesus later explained this parable to his disciples and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39). Jesus’ admonition to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) likely meant that during the great tribulation, Christians who are not filled with the Holy Spirit will be tempted to abandon their faith and seek refuge in the devil’s camp, therefore they need to make sure they are spiritually healthy at all times.

The power of prayer

The first of Jesus’ twelve apostles to be killed for his involvement in spreading the gospel was James the brother of John (Acts 12:2). “This event took place about tens years after Jesus’ death and resurrection” (note on Acts 12:1). Herod, the king responsible for beheading John the Baptist, appeared to be trying to increase his popularity with the Jews. It says in Acts 12:3, “And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take Peter also.” The hostility between Jews and Christians seemed to stem from a political agenda that promoted peace at any cost. The reason Jesus was killed was because Jewish religious leaders thought his ministry would lead to Roman persecution (John 11:48). Caiaphas, the high priest that condemned Jesus to death, said it would be better for the Jews if Jesus’ ministry was terminated than to have the nation of Israel cease to exist (John 11:50).

Peter’s imprisonment seemed to signal that an end to Christianity in Jerusalem was approaching. After his arrest, it says in Acts 12:5, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” Peter attributed his miraculous escape from prison to the Lord, who sent an angel to deliver him out of the hand of Herod, “and from the expectation of the people of the Jews” (Acts 12:11), but Luke’s account of the situation made it clear that prayer was the force behind Peter’s deliverance (Acts 12:12). The interesting thing about Peter’s release was that it was completely unexpected. When he arrived at the home of Mary where many were gathered together praying, he was mistaken for a ghost. Luke reported:

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

The Greek word translated astonished, existemi (ex-is´-tay-mee) suggests that the people who saw Peter probably thought they had lost their minds or were actually in a state of shock as a result of seeing him standing in front of them (G1839). It wasn’t until Peter explained how the angel of the Lord had physically removed his chains and led him out of the prison past all the guards that the people praying for him realized their prayers had been answered (Acts 12:17).

Peter’s escape from prison was the impetus for Herod returning to Caesarea and looking for entertainment elsewhere. Herod focused his attention on Tyre and Sidon, perhaps as a way of distracting himself from the frustration of not being able to stop the spread of the gospel. Luke’s account of Herod’s death showed that the prayers of the church were having a significant impact on the Roman empire. He said, “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:21-23).

Spiritual insight

The prophet Zachariah could be the most fortunate of all the Old Testament prophets because he was given an extremely close and in-depth look at God’s plan of salvation. There are numerous prophecies contained within Zachariah’s book that show without a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. Although Zachariah was a contemporary of Haggai and was called to preach at almost the exact same time, the messages of these two men were very different. Haggai spoke in a very practical way about the need for God’s temple to be rebuilt, while Zachariah focused on the bigger picture and shared the spiritual insight he gained from eight visions he was given of God’s transformation of his earthly kingdom. The first thing Zachariah pointed out was that God was not finished with the Jews. They would be restored to his favor and would eventually triumph over their enemies.

Zachariah’s first interactive experience in the spiritual realm involved an interpreting angel that enabled him to understand the activities he was witnessing. The initial scene appeared to be a spiritual outpost where God’s messengers gathered to report their findings on earth. The messengers reported to a man identified as “the angel of the LORD” (Zachariah 1:11). “Traditional Christian interpretation has held that this ‘angel’ was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger-Servant” (note on Genesis 16:7). Zachariah 1:11 states, “And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest.” Looking at Zachariah’s eight night visions as a progressive unfolding of future events, it is likely that the messengers’ report of stillness and rest referred to the period of time when the Medo-Persian Empire existed. For the most part, God’s people were allowed to do what they wanted to during the reigns of  kings Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus, and Artaxerxes (538 – 432 B.C.).

Zachariah’s second vision showed that the temporary rest God’s people enjoyed would come to an end when God began to restructure the kingdoms that existed on earth. Daniel’s prophecy revealed that the Medo-Persian Empire that had conquered the Babylonians would be replaced by the Greek Empire, and then, the Roman Empire would be established (Daniel 7:4-7). Each of these kingdoms would become more terrifying than the first, until finally, God would cut-off the Gentile kingdoms (Zachariah 1:21). Zachariah’s third vision revealed that God’s people would flood the borders of Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s birth (Zachariah 2:4-5). Apparently, God would supernaturally enable people to return to the Promised Land that had not previously done so (Zachariah 2:9). According to Zachariah’s prophecy, God’s eternal kingdom would begin to be established on earth during the ministry of Jesus; the evidence being a voluntary joining of all the nations into a single spiritual kingdom. It says in Zachariah 2:11, “And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.”