Of all the phrases in Scripture used to describe a prophetic period, few are more compelling than “the consummation of the age.” What this term means and how it used in Scripture are essential to an understanding of end-time prophecy. Also, what practical bearings it has upon Christian faith and practice should be carefully considered whenever we study God’s word. In this short article, I hope to bring out the importance of this term, and what it should mean to ourselves.
We’ll recall that one of the last discourses delivered by Christ to His disciples was given on the Mount of Olives. The discourse was begun when Christ predicted that the Jewish temple would be destroyed. His disciples, naturally wondering about their Lord’s prophecy, asked Him privately: “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3). In answer to their three questions, Christ then proceeded to sketch a basic outline of those events which would transpire from His ascension in the clouds of heaven, to His ultimate second coming in glory.
What was meant by the phrase “end of the world?” The original Greek reads “sunteleias tou aionos.” The word sunteleia signifies the “meeting together” of all that marks the consummation of the age. The “age” in question is the same one which Christ defined as “this life” in His parable of the sower (Matt. 13: 22; cf. Luke 8: 14). It is the “present evil age,” which began after the flood and will continue until Christ’s coming brings in a new and better age, called the “regeneration” (Matt. 19: 28) or the “thousand years” (Revelation 20: 2-6)
The crisis in which the sunteleia culminates is the telos or actual end. When Christ described the signs which would precede the “abomination of desolation,” He gave us a rundown of the sunteleia, and not of the telos. The telos begins in the midst of the 70th week, and runs until the “time of the end,” when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of Christ (Rev. 11: 15).
E.W. Bullinger, noted Bible scholar and author of the Critical Lexicon and Concordance To The English and Greek New Testament, writes:
“The whole period covered by “the day of the Lord” is called the final meeting of the ages, or the sunteleia; but, the crisis in which it culminates is called the telos, the end of the age.
Both are rendered “end” in the New Testament, but the use of these two words must be carefully distinguished.
Sunteleia denotes a finishing or ending together, or in conjunction with other things. Consummation is perhaps the best English rendering.* It implies that several things meet together, and reach their end during the same period; whereas telos is the point of time at the end of that period. For example, in Matt. xxiv. 3 the disciples ask, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the sunteleia of the age.”
In His answer to this question the Lord speaks of the whole period, and covers the whole of the sunteleia. But three times He mentions the telos (1) to say that “the telos is not yet” (verse 6); (2) to give a promise to him “that shall endure unto the telos” (verse 13); (3) to mark the crisis in verse 14, which comes immediately after the close of the preaching of “the gospel of the kingdom.” “Then shall the telos come.” The sign of the telos is the setting up of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” (Commentary on Revelation, pg. 88-89).
In the Olivet Discourse, Christ gives but the briefest description of the sunteleia, informing us that the period will be characterized by “false Christs” and “wars and rumors of wars,” and “rising of nation against nation.” He also apprises His disciples that persecution will come, and that many shall be betrayed and delivered up to death. These are the beginning of sorrows–that is, they are the prophetic indications that the “telos” is drawing near. Other marks of the sunteleia include an increase of iniquity among men, and a proclamation of the “Gospel of the Kingdom” for a witness unto all nations. See Matthew 24: 4-14 for a complete synopsis of this period.
The Apocalypse bears witness to Christ’s prophecies. The sunteleia or “final meeting” of the ages, is expanded and elaborated by John in Revelation 6. Under the first seal, we see a false Messiah (Rev. 6: 1-2; Matt. 24: 4-5). Under the second, wars (Rev. 6: 3-5; Matt. 24: 6-7). The third is characterized by famines (Rev. 6: 5-6; Matt. 24: 7). The fourth by pestilences (Rev. 6: 7-8; Matt. 24: 7); and the fifth by martyrdoms (Rev. 6: 9-11; Matt. 9-10). The fifth and sixth seals extend unto the time of the end, covering also the entire period of the telos. Therefore, we have in the first four seals particularly, a perfect delineation of the sunteleia.
But when, we ask, does this period of the sunteleia begin? Unfortunately, the Scripture gives us no definite time-frame. Instead we have the Lord’s injunction to pay heed to the “signs of the times” and to “be watchful.” Those who are awake and on watch, with their loins girded and their lamps burning (Luke 12: 35), will not be caught unaware when the sunteleia sets in. In fact, they will clearly identify that time when it arrives, and warn others that the “Day of the Lord” is at hand. The question that many Christians are now asking is: has the sunteleia begun?
We can only get an answer by diligently studying the Scriptures. We’ll discover in the Discourse which our Lord has left us a compendium of those signs by which we may know that the time has arrived. Have we seen the rise of false Christs and Messiahs who deceive many? If so, then we are in the sunteleia. Have we heard of wars and rumors of wars? If the answer is yes, then that period has arrived. Let us not bicker with the inspired Word, but study carefully the discourse which the Lord has given us, that we may know and understand when the age is reaching its appointed end.
My own opinion is that we are now in the period denominated as the “sunteleia.” Does this mean that the Dispensation of Grace has ended? Heaven forbid! The present Dispensation will not close until the 70th week of Daniel begins. This will mark the official commencement of the Dispensation of Judgment. It should be noted, however, that the Dispensations of grace and of Judgment do overlap for a time. And it is this overlapping of the two dispensations that makes the sunteleia a meeting-point of ages. As all the indications suggest, that is the epoch we are now in.
Of course, many predictions relevant to this period remain to be fulfilled. We have yet to see the reconstitution of the apostolic churches as addressed in the epistles of Revelation 2 & 3. Also, the consolidation of various national governments into a conglolmerate beast, is something that is yet in its infant stages. The rebuilding of the Jewish temple, too, must occur before the actual 70th week begins. Therefore, we have a “little way to go” before the Dispensation of Grace merges into the Dispensation of Judgment.
What, then, is our duty at the present hour? It is to faithfully bear witness of Christ and to preach His Gospel. That means that the time has now come to re-publish the “Gospel of the Kingdom.” We mustn’t wait for Christ’s chosen apostles to step on the scene and do it for us. Let us at once begin the re-proclamation of this “good news” to the Jewish people. For their reception of this Gospel has never been more needed than now.
Above all, let us stop our ears to lying deceits of those who cry “peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Let the children of this age build their walls and daub them with untempered mortar (Ezekiel 13: 10). Their walls will surely fall when Tribulation comes. But those who recognize the signs of the times and continue to walk in the Spirit, will receive blessings from above, as the Lord comforts us in the midst of all affliction, giving us joy in adversary, and continued assurance while the whole world lies in wickedness. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gifts.