George & Eileen Anderson

There is the danger - it happens all the time - that we religious folk are too busy being nice and boot-licking to God, burbling 'Yeah, right on, amen'...

...without stopping to ask 'Hey, is this making sense?'

We caught ourselves at it the other day.

There was this phrase 'World without end, amen'. It's got a lovely ring to it, eh. Anglicans have it written into their weekly script; the rest of us can find it in Ephesians 3v21.

What - does - it - mean?

(Before you start pondering, here's the answer: absolutely nothing!)

Anyhow, we didn't know the answer at that point. But we knew there were umpteen bits in the Bible that said the opposite. About the end of the world.

And it's hard to have the end of a world without end.


Now, part of our problem is that we use the good old King James Version. Not out of prejudice, oh no, not us; just familiarity. If we'd taken a look at something modern, we'd have seen that 'world' is simply a flight of fancy, a translator's clanger, a total mistake. The Greek is AION (noun), AIONOS (adjective), from which we get the perfectly good (although infrequently used) English word aeon or eon - an age. As in Ice Age or Stone Age.

A special, extremely long, period of time.

Derek Prince explains: The Greek adjective 'eternal' is derived from the noun AION, from which we get the English word 'aeon'. An AION is a measurement of time in the following literal translations:

It is obvious that the English translations do not even begin to convey the depth of meaning of the Greek phrases. My mind cannot fully comprehend that there could be even one age made up of ages, much less that there are ages made up of such ages.

(Derek Prince, Challenge Weekly, 22/6/99)  

So the verses that go on about 'the end of the world' are simply teaching what events will occur around the end of this age - the major division of time which marks a drastic shift in God's dealing with man.

The Jews have always understood the concept of Ages. The church has officially ignored the concept. But at this point in time it could be more than of intellectual interest. We are in the transition from one Age to another. According to Ussher, the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus was on 2nd October 1997. According to the Gregorian calendar, the corresponding date is 25th December 2000. Whether the next Age began (or begins) on the anniversary of the Messiah's birth or ascension is debatable; the point is that this time of transition demands special alertness,

And Ephesians 3v21 is giving glory to Jesus the Messiah (Young's Literal Translation) to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.


Let's just digress for a moment to look at the Big Picture.

There have been several (...some would say many...) ages. There was the age (perhaps more than one) from when God created the heavens and the earth to the time when he began the six days of creation. There was the age from the first day of the six until the fall of Adam. There was the age from the fall to the flood. From the flood to the call of Abram/Abraham. From Abraham to Jesus the Messiah. From Jesus until around now. And from around now through the literal reign of Jesus on earth from Jerusalem, Israel.

Some people understand more ages, some fewer. But you get the idea.

The important thing to remember is that, in God, the Big Picture is not - and never has been - the saving of sinners. God's plan included that and included the fall. The plan began with the first act of creating substance. And the ultimate aim is to unite all creation, every last part of it, in himself.

You can get a glimpse of this in John 17vv21-23, and in several of the more breath-taking passages in the epistles. We tend to get bogged down in the details of everyday living - and these details have an importance. But never, ever, forget there is the Big Picture, without which nothing makes sense.

That was a digression. Keep it in mind, though, while we go back to ages and aeons...


Now, finding that 'world' was a mistranslation should have satisfied us. But we have one of those concordances (you have got a decent concordance, haven't you? Not that inadequate one at the end of your Bible. Not poor old Cruden's. But either Young's or - preferably - Strong's.) that, in addition to showing every verse with a specific English word in it, also works sort-of-backwards. You can find all the different ways a Greek or Hebrew word has been translated, and then look up every verse that has the same original word. Quite an eye-opener, we assure you. And, for the computer nerds, it's easier on a computer.

(Just in passing: okay, we don't expect translators to use only one English word to translate each occurrence of the original Hebrew or Greek word. But sometimes translators get carried away.)

So we looked up AION (noun) and AIONOS (adjective). To our surprise they were translated as follows: age; course; world; world began; world without end; beginning of the world; while the world standeth; eternal; for evermore; everlasting; ever; for ever; for ever and ever; (and, with a negative) never.

Why, oh why, should anyone use some 14 words and phrases when the simple noun 'age' and its adjectival form 'age-long' would have sufficed?

Answer: theological bias.

The Roman church needed to put the frighteners on people who weren't very bad, weren't very good, and weren't very interested in supporting the expensive religious mumbo-jumbo that Rome had devised. So a simple two-part doctrine was invented (...with the distortion of the 'keys of the kingdom' being given to Peter, and the doctrine of Purgatory introduced as a sure-fire money maker, plus a totally fictitious Limbo for unbaptised babies...): do the church thing and go to Heaven; disobey and go to Hell.

For ever.

And it's coloured our thinking and preaching ever since.

(Hey - before you burn us at the stake for heresy - there is a literal place called Hell; there is - or will be - a literal Lake of Fire. People do and will go there. 'Going to Heaven' is less accurate; the redeemed go to Paradise; again a literal place.)

And to promote the Hell-or-Heaven-for-ever fiction, the simple word 'age' was dropped (except in two verses); instead, 27 times 'for ever' was used, and 20 instances 'for ever and ever' was used. For the adjective 'age-long', 67 times either 'eternal' or 'everlasting' was substituted. And whenever that would have made absolute nonsense of the text (imagine 'the end of the for ever') the translators plucked a word straight off the wall. No fewer than 37 times they used 'world' as a nice, meaningless replacement.

We've been sold a pup.

The trouble is, we've gone along with the endless punishment dogma. 'If you walk out of this meeting tonight without deciding for Christ, you'll go to a lost eternity.'

Who says?

The Bible doesn't. Except when it's mistranslated. Sure, there are many warnings about the danger of disregarding God's requirements. (Check them out carefully, though. Many relate to believers. It's worth pondering the implications of that one.)

But there is nothing to say that if you disregard God's call ( distinct from some preacher's burblings on a dull Sunday evening) that when you die he'll lock you up and throw away the key. For ever and ever.

Because if God did, that place would represent one area of his universe, his creation, where rebellion was able to hold out against him. For ever and ever.

That would be dualism. Small scale, yes. But dualism.

Don't trot out the usual slogan about 'God respects man's free will'. We're long-in-the-tooth Calvinists from 'way back and won't buy into that. For one thing - God is no respecter of persons. He said so; he should know. For another thing, sure, we have a will - but a free will? What d'you mean by 'free'? Define 'free'. Look: our wills are conditioned by our upbringing, our environment, heredity, fashion, physical and intellectual limitations, brainwashing and propaganda. Free?

Did God respect Saul/Paul's free will? Saul wasn't free - his anti-Christian attitude was an all-consuming zeal nurtured in the society he lived in. Then God knocked him off his horse, gave him a direct message from Jesus and blinded him for good measure. Would you dare say he 'made a decision'? Or 'chose Christ'?

So what about the fate of those who don't get such strong-arm treatment? If God doesn't do everything in his power to rescue a sinner (as distinct from merely making salvation 'available'), can that sinner be tormented for all eternity? What about God's love? Or God's justice?

Certainly sin needs dealing with. Wilful sin needs drastic treatment. But can God throw away the key?

No. Not according to scripture. Not only is punishment specifically stated to be 'only' age-long (...which is no soft option, as this current age is 2000 years long - quite some prison sentence...) or sometimes the length of two ages (...more on that and the so-called 'unforgivable sin' later...), but the Bible gives a clear example of a second chance after death.

'Impossible,' some will say. 'It is appointed unto man once to die, and after death - judgement.'

Yes. Then a second chance. Hang in there.

Who preached the longest sermon on record? Answer: Noah. Preached righteousness for 120 years. With not much success. Only seven converts; eight if he counted himself. Not even enough for a minyan (Jewish joke). So at the end of the sermon he and his wife, his three sons and their wives, got on board the Ark, God shut the door - and the Flood came and drowned the rest of mankind.

They died. And after death: judgement. It is reasonable to assume that those people were in Gehenna, the place we call Hell, located in the centre of the Earth. The place referred to in the historical account (not a parable, please!) of Lazarus and the rich man.

Pause. A long pause. Some three-and-a-half thousand years. Could you believe that a lot of behavioural and attitudinal problems would have been worked through in that length of time?

Then - another sermon. A far shorter one. Definitely not more than three days and three nights in duration. Possibly far less. The long-awaited Messiah, Jesus the Son of God descended into Hell and preached to the spirits imprisoned there 'who were disobedient in the days of Noah'. Read the account in 1 Peter 3vv18-20 and 4v6. (Be aware that both the Amplified and the Living add bits that simply aren't there to make the passage fit their theology.)

And if God is both a just God and a God of love we can assume this is the pattern for the disobedient in all ages. Those who will not take the proffered surgery during their lifetime and experience the maturing which comes from a personal relationship with God will have to go through a long, slow, painful process to achieve the same result.

Remember - both aspects in that last sentence are through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus on the cross. There is no other way to the Father. Only the time-scale is different; as it is in this life when at any instance a believer may accept or reject the dealings of God regarding some aspect of sin.

Now, all this clears up the anomalies that have long puzzled thinking people. Like - what is the fate of the heathen who have never heard the gospel? What about children who die? What about bad Christians and good unbelievers? Suicides?

And the perennial question: why doesn't God save my spouse or child? We've picked at this in other writings. Let's look at it in the context of all of the above.

God is not willing that any should perish. True or false? It's Bible, so we'd better say true. If you ask anything according to the will of God, you have what you ask for. True or false? Again, true.

So where's the problem? To be honest - it doesn't work. According to many people. Yet the scriptures are unconditional...

Just one thing. There's no guaranteed performance date. No promise of an instant answer - just an assured answer. Perhaps not in this life. But ultimately, for sure.

God is faithful.

He is also quite - what's the best word: vigorous? short-tempered? intolerant? - with those who stubbornly, wilfully, opportunistically oppose him when they, of all people, know better. It's mistakenly called the Unforgivable Sin; it's worried some dear, anxious souls down the centuries. It's worth a look at.

Brinkmanship. How far can you push the envelope? We get asked sometimes just how bad you can be before you lose your salvation. It's a strange question. Strange people ask it. The 'unforgivable sin' represents just such an attempt to find how far is too far. In simple terms: it's the point where God loses his sense of humour.

In the specific example given in the gospels, top-flight Bible experts came to check out Jesus and dismissed the exorcism of a deaf and dumb demoniac as performed by the power of Satan.

Forget for a moment that we make the word 'Pharisee' mean 'hypocrite'. That's a modern figure of speech. Pharisee (Hebrew: P'rusim) is the name of a (former) Jewish denomination. Many of their number had memorised the Torah. They knew their Bible (in the original Hebrew), the nuances, the oral traditions surrounding it. The scribes were the lawyers; and law meant Biblical law. Those guys were the spiritual authorities who told the common people how to think.

And they got it wrong. Catastrophically wrong. For any number of political and self-seeking reasons they refused to acknowledge the working of the Holy Spirit.

The response from Jesus - read it in Matthew, Mark and Luke - is phrased coldly, legally, to cold legal experts. All sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven (he doesn't say when, but even that statement makes much of our evangelical blackmail null and void), even blasphemy against the Son of Man. But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - the sin those men had just committed - would not be forgiven 'in this age or the age to come'.

Legally, that's interesting. Interesting for what it doesn't say. Because it doesn't preclude forgiveness in an age subsequent to the one to come. You could imagine this sentence etched deeply on the minds of those men after they died, giving them the faintest glimmer of hope over the past two thousand years, and through the next thousand as well.

In other words, brinkmanship - getting close to the edge - is a mug's game. God's love is boundless, but he doesn't suffer fools gladly. The simple, yes. The ignorant, yes. But the wilful perversity of highly trained authorities?

Now can you understand why Paul continually marvelled and rejoiced at his salvation? Why he called himself the 'chief of sinners'? That was no gooey, pious humbug. He was one of the top-flight religious legal experts who had sailed close to the wind - and who had found mercy before it was too late.

Hopefully, all this is halfway to answering a question that comes up whenever anyone dares suggest that the punishment of sinners might conceivably come to an end in some far-distant age.

The question is: why bother to preach the gospel if God ultimately intends to save everybody?

And the answer ought to be obvious. Why let people go the long way round? Why not let them in on the secret that there's a here-and-now relationship with God that lifts them out of the age-long painful plod and puts them on a challenging course that is custom-built for them.

Writer Doug Frank made the following perceptive remark in an address entitled 'FEELING EVANGELICAL':

'If we take a listening ear to the Bible I think we'll notice, for example, that the Bible's approach to hell, which symbolises the abandonment of God. isn't nearly as clear as we thought it was. In several places, Jesus suggests that all of us experience the suffering of hell, in this life or the next. He tells stories that imply a limit to hell's loneliness, an escape from hell He seems to feel the fires of hell in his own body, and other passages suggest that even though hell feels totally cut off from God. God is somehow there too, bringing us hope of salvation What can all this mean" I think if we listen sensitively to these passages, we might find that hell symbolises something much more important than a place where had people go to be forever tortured. We might find that hell is a reality that God suffers with us, and from which God labours and will labour eternally to rescue all of us.'


The following scriptures are relevant to the theme of The End Of The World Without End. They are from the KJV with the thees and thous updated, and the verses run together to give a coherent narrative. Marginal readings are in curly brackets { } and translators' additions in squared brackets [ ].

Therefore as by the offence of one {or, by one offence} [judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one {or, by one righteousness} [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life. For God has concluded them all {or, shut them all up together} in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. And, having made {or, making} peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified {or, a testimony} in due time.
(Rom 5:18; Rom 11:32; Col 1:20; 1 Tim 2:3-6)

For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge that if one died for all, then were all dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. For when we were yet without strength, in due time {or, according to the time} Christ died for the ungodly. Namely, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us {Gr. put in us} the word of reconciliation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. (2 Cor 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22: Rom 5:6; 2 Cor 5:19; 1 Tim 4:10)

You have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me for you: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote before in few words, {or, a little before} whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: till we all come in {or, into} the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature {or, age} of the fulness of Christ, who hath saved us, and called [us] with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; and [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Eph 3:2-5; Eph 3:9; Eph 4:13; 2 Tim 1:9; Phil 2:10-11)

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then [comes] the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy [that] shall be destroyed [is] death. For he has put all things under his feet. But when he says all things are put under [him, it is] manifest that he is excepted, who put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven {Gr. the heavens}, and which are on earth; [even] in him: For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom {Gr. him} [be] glory for ever. Amen.
(1 Cor 15:22-28; Eph 2:7: Eph 1:10: Rom 11:36)


One sensible objection to punishment and purifying in Hell being only for a limited, though long, period is this:

If 'eternal punishment' is correctly age-long punishment, then believers don't have 'eternal life', but merely age-long life. Same word, so same translation - right?

Right. Just cut out the word 'merely'. Let's explain.

We've been fed a wrong concept of time. You'll hear evangelicals go on about 'eternity past' and 'eternity future', with 'time' sandwiched somewhere in between. It's totally, philosophically and scripturally wrong.

Imagine the pages of a book, laid out in sequence: one, two, three ... ninety-nine, one hundred. There, before you, is the story. Page one introduces the main characters, page three boy meets girl. Page four to ninety-nine, problems and adventures. Page one hundred, they live happily ever after. (We're romantics at heart.)

Let your eyes flit from page to page in any order, at any speed. In front of you the characters are living out in strict sequence their lives a page at a time. The fact that you can glance from beginning to end - and back again - doesn't affect the folk in the story.

That's God's viewpoint. Where a page - or a day - can be as a thousand years, or vice versa. But God is outside the story sequence; and when he writes himself into the plot he doesn't vanish from outside; he is literally in and out simultaneously.

However, the characters don't exist 'outside'. They don't exist 'before' page one simply because there is no 'before'. And in our story - the story of this universe and the story of mankind - the tale starts with 'In the beginning'. That was the start of life, the universe and everything. There was no before. The only other was God, neither before nor after, but outside. 'I am that I am', the ineffable name of God.

And 'age-long life' is what God gives to those characters in the story. They - we - are born into the story already 'dead in trespasses and sins'. Salvation gives us life in the story.

But the story isn't endless. It's a creation. (Even the book of Revelation speaks of an end to time.) And God has plans for the characters to step outside the story. To identify with him in the unlimited reality that he enjoys.

And although there may be no words to adequately describe or even hint at what that holds for us, each one of us knows deep down in our spirit that it will be the ultimate home-coming, the long-awaited union that our hearts have always yearned for. When the characters and the author shall at last be one - 'as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us'.

George & Eileen Anderson, PO Box 946, Whangarei, New Zealand

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