THE course of times, in the Scriptures, is divided into three grand divisions: the eons or ages, the time before they began, and the time after they have run their course. Almost all of God's revelation is confined to the eons, yet it is of the utmost value to know that they are not eternal in the past nor everlasting in the future. They have definite boundaries. We know nothing of the commencement of time before the eons, nor of the end of the time after the eons, but the eons themselves are marked by a definite beginning and a predetermined end. Eternity, if we wish to use a term not sanctioned by Scripture, might be loosely applied to either the pre-eonian or the post-eonian times, but can never be correctly coupled with any age or eon, or with the whole course of the eons. Just as we are, at present near the end or conclusion of an eon, so the time will come when mankind will reach the consummation of all the eons. Each one is a definite length of time and the duration of all the eons is but the sum of the duration of each one. Very little, indeed, is said of the times before the eons. Paul, to whom alone the full scope of God's revelation was disclosed, tells us of the times outside the eons, just as he, too, enlarges the sphere of God's grace to include the entire universe. In both space and time he transcends the earth- bound eonian limits of previous unfoldings and enlarges our vision to include heaven as well as earth, and all time, of which the eons are but a parenthesis. He tells us of God's promises given us before the eonian times (2 Tim.1:9; Titus 1:2). The translator's of our Authorized version, realizing the fact that their theology would not allow them to render it "eternal" or "everlasting," as they have done everywhere else except in Rom.16:25, changed boldly to "before the world began," leaving out the word times and substituting world for "eternal." The Revisers, to their great credit, were consistent to the point of absurdity. They render it "before times eternal," an impossible phrase, which, while it mars their work and makes no sense, at least suggests to the discerning student that "eternal" is not as ancient as has been supposed.
In passing, it is worth while to note the great value of consistency in the translation of this passage. Judged by every other standard, the old reading is much better. Yet the absurdly consistent rendering is the one which transmits the true thought, distorted though it be. One step further in the same direction and the Revisers would have discovered to our view the great doctrine of the eons. They should have chosen some term which connects their eternal with their oft-repeated margin for "ever." This we have tried to do in the words "eon" and "eonian."
The conclusion of the eons is likewise involved in obscurity in our versions. They suggest that this august event has already occurred at the manifestation of Christ (Heb.9:26). However the words may be translated, the argument of the passage is clear. The high priest went in every year with the blood of others. Not so Christ. He sacrificed Himself once. There was no sacrifice on His part from the disruption, when sin entered, until His manifestation. Neither will there be any further offering needed all the way to the conclusion of the eons, when sin is repudiated. The single suffering of Christ suffices both for the past and future, from sin's entrance to its exit, from the disruption to the conclusion of the eons, when sin is put away. There is a sense in which sin is "put away" potentially or in the experience of the believer, but in the sense here indicated, as the antithesis of the disruption, it can refer only to the actual removal of sin itself - which will occur at the very time indicated, the conclusion of the eons.
Having discovered that the eons are a definite division of time, with a commencement and a conclusion, the way is open to consider the eonian times themselves.
Five eons or ages are referred to in the Scriptures. These, with the time before and the time after the eons, make seven subdivisions of all time. To the student of numbers in Scripture and in nature these figures are satisfactory and significant. The material sphere shows similar features. There are three great divisions, subterranean, terrestrial and celestial. Both sound and light divide, first into three and then into seven subdivisions. The number seven denotes completion or perfection and should not be associated with the eons, for they are the scene of sin and imperfection. It is only their passing that procures perfection. They are well characterized by the number five, the number of weakness and work.
The five eons are separated from one another by the four great physical and moral cataclysms which punctuate the history of the human race and the earth which it inhabits. These are: the disruption of Gen.1:2, the deluge, the judgment period of this unveiling, and the fiery ordeal which ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. What other events can compare with these for scope and intensity? These affect the physical and moral constitution of the earth and its inhabitants to such an extent as to introduce a new and unprecedented state of affairs which constitutes a new eon or age.
As this Unveiling gives us an account of two of these great crises which are still future it will help us to compare them with the corresponding catastrophes in the past. The fiery cataclysm which transforms this earth into a new one has its counterpart in the first disaster of which we have any record. After the earth had been created perfect it became (not was) "waste and void." Without inquiring into the meaning of these terms, it is enough to know that Isaiah uses the same expression, and insists that it was not so created (Isa.45:18). It became so. The first earth was swept away by water. So the present earth will be refined by fire. The first was a physical regeneration. The last will be a chemical recreation.
The judgments which occupy the bulk of this Unveiling have their counterpart in the deluge. As it was in the days of Noah so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.
These four great crises in God's dealings with the earth are the boundary stones between the five eons or ages. There was one eon before the cataclysm of the second verse of Genesis. Another filled in the time until the deluge. The present evil eon commenced then and will last until Christ comes to claim His regal rights. Then comes the kingdom eon which yields to the last grand eon when a new heaven and a new earth usher in the day of God.
These five eons are divided into two groups. The first group comprises the first three eons. The second group includes the last two, which are often called the eons of the eons. The last one is once called the eon of the eons (Heb.1:8). We learn from this that the first three eons are preparatory to the last two, which spring out of them. The first three eons are in man's day and are most unsatisfactory when viewed by themselves. But when we consider them as the ground in which the seed which springs up and blooms in the last two eons finds its roots, they take on a new and more satisfactory character. The present evil eon crucified the Lord of glory and thus proclaimed its utter depravity, yet, at the same time, its very sin provided the sacrifice on which repose all the blessings and glories of the last two eons.
These two groups of eons are opposites, The first group is full of human failure and culminates in the utter alienation of the race from God. The second group is actively under the sovereignty of Christ and He proves such a magnificent success that, at their close, the whole human race is reconciled to God.
The Unveiling occupies the closing years of the evil eons but covers the whole range of the eons of the eons. In fact it carries us across the crisis from the eons of shame into the eons of glory.
We cannot help expressing our deep regret that our translators should ever have rendered eon by ever. In one place they were forced to render it more correctly. Speaking of a secret which God hid (Col.1:26) they should, to be consistent, have had it "hid forever . . . but now is made manifest to His saints." Only the evident absurdity of their usual rendering kept them from using it here. But is it not just as ridiculous to ascribe glory and dominion to God now, on the earth, when He has no hand in its government and His name is blasphemed on every side? The Scriptures ascribe honor and glory to Him for the eons of the eons - not in this present evil eon.
It is, if anything, even more to be deplored that the Revisers, who had such an excellent opportunity to correct this theological fraud, and who advertise their intention to avoid this fault in their preface, did not render this word by some consistent system, or at least allow of a uniform marginal note. As it is they give the word "age" in the margin in about half of its occurrences, but leave the other half unnoted. The intelligent reader must infer from this that the word "age" does not occur in the latter cases, and is thus led astray.
It is no proof of devotion and loyalty to God to intrude with the endlessness of God's glory where that is not the point, and more especially when such a course eventually leads to other distortions of the Scriptures which emphatically deny His grandest glory. To say that God will be glorified on the earth does not deny His heavenly glories. To ascribe honor to Him for the eons of the eons does not imply that He will be dishonored after they have passed by. On the contrary to falsify this fine phrase by "for ever and ever" makes impossible the ultimate reconciliation of all the consummation after the eons of the eons have run their courses. It thus denies that He will become All in all. This is the honor and glory which does last for ever. All others are transient and lead to it or are merged into it.
If we look back, He is the Creator of all. This is truth absolute and we cannot allow any modification to mar it. In the future He is the Reconciler of all. This, too, is truth absolute and we dare not deny His desire or ability to accomplish it. For this, creation was only the prelude. For this the cross was endured. This is what Christ's resurrection secured. This is the solution of the entrance of sin, the answer to all the problems of the eons.
Let it then be distinctly noted that those who hold to the Scriptural doctrine of the eons do not limit the life or glory of God, but rather refuse the limitations which rob Him of His greatest and grandest glory.
The last two eons are the only ones mentioned in this Unveiling, and they are always joined together in all of the fourteen occurrences. In fact the phrase "for the eons of the eons" occurs in every instance except one, and there it is almost the same, for eons of eons" (Rev.14:11), the article being omitted twice.
How much more satisfactory and full of meaning is the opening doxology in the light of the doctrine of the eons! "To Him who is loving us and looses us from our sins by His blood and makes us a kingdom and priesthood to His God and Father - to Him be glory and might for the eons of the eons! Amen!" Once we see that it is the purpose of this book to unveil His glories for these two eons the aptness of the praise appeals to us. The kingdom and priesthood spoken of are confined to these eons. In fact it is only in these that His glory and might are displayed. Before these eons He was veiled in weakness and shame, not manifested in majesty and power. After these eons He will lay aside all the glories connected with the kingdom and priesthood. God Himself, we read, will tent with mankind on the new earth. And at the consummation, all sovereignty and authority and power will vanish and the Son will cease to reign, for He hands over the kingdom to the Father. Is it not much grander to see His subjection to the Father after all else has become subordinate than to think of the endless exercise of might to cope with evil and hold it in check? Is it not infinitely more to God the Father's glory that His might should not find endless exercise but that it finally effects the purposes of love? Much that finds a fitting place in these doxologies may well be His for ever, but there is always some glory which has no place beyond the pale of the eons.
This is even more evident in the two passages where this phrase is associated with the reign of Christ and His saints (11:5; 22:5). The abolition of all sovereignty and authority and power precludes the possibility of an endless reign either by Christ or by His saints. They certainly do not reign now. They certainly will not reign when every form of government has passed away. They reign in between these two conditions - in the eons of the eons.
Most, if not all of us, approach the Scriptures with the superstition that the consummation will find the earth one vast charnel house and death will reign supreme over all except a favored few. To suggest that the phrase, "Who lives for the eons of the eons," does not describe the endlessness of His life insinuates that we consign Him to the realm of death after the eons have passed by. Not so! He is the Conqueror of death. His conquest will not be complete until the consummation, when the death state will be abolished absolutely. If we would only grasp the Scriptural teaching representing the final outcome of all, that the time will come when death will be vanquished completely, and all who were held in its power will be alive, then it will become trite and trivial to say that He lives forever. Eventually all will live forever. But not all, by any means, will live for the eons of the eons (1 Cor. 15:20-28).
What is "eternal" life? Is the word life a chameleon which suddenly changes its significance when the word "eternal" touches it? There is no valid reason whatever why we should understand life in this phrase in any but its usual force. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that, although the believer has "eternal" life, millions of saints have died and millions more will give up their life in the grim persecutions of the Lord's day. If we live while we are dead, why then we can just as logically say that we are dead while we live! Prejudice repudiates such a statement, but prejudice should not decide. We know that we are alive and not dead. And we ought to know that any saint who dies never entered into "eternal" life. If he had he could not die. Cannot we see the unreasonableness of such trifling with the sacred Scriptures? If life is death and death life, then we no longer have any revelation from God.
Paul, speaking to Titus, reminds him of the expectation of eonian life, which God, who cannot lie promised before the times of the eons (Titus 1:2). Again, near the end of his epistle, he repeats the expression, "the expectation of eonian life."
John, the beloved apostle, who so often speaks of eonian life for his ministry is especially adapted to the coming eon, gives us the same expectation: "And this is the promise that He has promised us, even eonian life" (1 John 2:25).
But what of the Scriptures which affirm that some have eonian life? In John 3: 15,16 it is the subjunctive, may have, so that no present possession is in point. In John 6:54 the Lord defines His position. Of certain, He says, "he is having eonian life and I will be raising him in the last day." Having eonian life is not incompatible with death until the last day." It is evidently life beginning with the resurrection. It is not life in this eon, but in the coming eon (Luke 18:30). The gift of God is eonian life (Rom.6:23). Not merely a continuous existence, but life for the eons of the eons when it will be worth while to live. In brief, eonian life is life for the eons of the eons. It is not a miserable existence in this evil eon, subject to infirmity and decay without actual dissolution. Such a fate would be unutterably fearful to contemplate. But more than this it is not death with its decay and corruption. It is life. Life beyond death. Resurrection life, when all who are Christ's will have been made alive to join in His glorious unveiling. It is life for the eons of the eons.
The doctrine of the eons is of the utmost value in placing this prophecy in its true perspective. It does not give us "the end of the world." It does not carry us beyond the eons. It ends, or rather consummates, nothing. It describes to us the turning point in God's dealings with mankind. It portrays the greatest crisis in the history of the human race. It carries us out of the evil eons into the good.
This prophecy does not lead us into "the final state." To the very end it occupies us with transient administrations which precede the consummation. As it is the unveiling of Jesus Christ in His official glories it is manifestly not concerned with that august ultimate when He lays these glories aside and abdicates the throne in favor of His God and Father.
Hence this scroll must be viewed; not as a visitation of final vengeance on the race, but as the beginning of His active and open intervention, through Christ, to bring mankind back to Himself and to usher in the long promised blessings which lead to His final goal.
THE EONS OF THE EONS
As the usual translation "for ever and ever" utterly darkens the truth as to the time periods occupied by this unveiling, it will be well to compare this rendering with others of like structure in order to convince ourselves of its stupidity. The Hebrew idiom, by which the greatest is expressed by relating it to others of its class, has been adopted in English and is well understood. The following list of the principal phrases of this kind shows how inconsistently this phrase has been translated. Indeed, it is hardly correct to say that it has been translated. It has been perverted and corrupted in order to uphold a popular but God-dishonoring error.
|ORIGINAL ||ENGLISHED ||STULTIFIED |
|[The Bible is the] ||book of books ||book and book |
|[The Lord's Coming is the] ||day of days ||day and day |
|shir eshirim ||song of songs ||song and song |
|qdsh equdshim ||holy of holies ||holy and holy |
|ta hagia ton hagion ||holy of holies ||holy and holy |
|kurios kurion ||Lord of lords ||Lord and lord |
|basileus basileon ||King of kings ||King and king |
|aion ton aionon ||eon of the eons ||ever and ever (R.V.) |
| || |
throughout all ages, world without end (A.V.)
The stultifying effect of theological tradition is seen in the change made by the Revisers, who altered "world without end" to "ever and ever." Because they had been inconsistent elsewhere they determined to be consistent in their inconsistency here. According to the Authorized Version we should have even more startling results. Then the Bible would be a book without end!
The translation "for ever and ever" if intelligently and heartily applied to the interpretation of this book should drive the reader insane. But if we consider the two eons as the final and finishing eons of the series, as the holy places in the tabernacle were of the rest of the sanctuary, then all is illumined with a holy yet loving light, and our heads and our hearts are not seared, but satisfied.