What did Jesus mean by the phrase “at the end of the age?” Many read that statement recorded in Matthew chapters 13 & 24 and interpret Jesus is speaking about the end of the world (second coming). But is that what he was speaking about?
The phrase “to the end of the age” in the greek referred to the end of a present era and the commencement of a new era/dispensation. One “age” or era leads to another. Jesus spoke of both “this age” and “the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). The current age, the one in which Jesus was living when he spoke these words, was the age of the Temple sacrificial system. The age that Jesus was about to commence was the age of grace, which we also call the church age. Instead of predicting the end of the world, perhaps Jesus was actually speaking of the end of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the commencement of the new dispensation of Christ’s ekkelsia and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on all people.
In both Matthew 13 and Matthew 24 Jesus is speaking about the Kingdom of God/heaven. This is a reference of a time when God will rule through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of humanity. He also uses some disturbing language like blazing furnace and weep and gnashing of teeth (Jewish idiom).
Forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. For 3 1/2 years the Romans surrounded the city of Jerusalem so no one could enter or exit the city. History records this was a horrific time for those trapped inside of Jerusalem and the weeping and gnashing of teeth could be heard for miles. At the end of the 3 1/2 years the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed and the Temple burned to the ground.
Here’s a little history: The only place the Jewish people could make their animal sacrifices was at the Temple. There hasn’t been a Temple sacrifice since 70 A.D. and there won’t be until the Temple can be rebuilt. The likelihood of the Temple being rebuilt is slim. For one reason, the Islamic mosque is built over the Temple’s foundation. Secondly, because God doesn’t want the Temple rebuilt because he has put an end to that era (at the end of the age) and we now live in the era of grace commenced by Jesus’ death upon the cross.
We have experienced “at the end of the age” in many different ways. Some of us are old enough we have experienced the “end of the age” for 8 track tapes and the commencement of music stored in our iPhones. The end of party line telephones and the commencement of cell phones. The end of traveling by horse to traveling by car or plane.
Jesus lived and spoke of “the end of one age” and predicted the commencement of “a new age to come” (Matthew 12:32). I believe we can say with contextual surety that Jesus in these chapters is speaking of the end of the Old Testament law and the sacrificial system as a means to having fellowship with God, and the commencement of fellowship with God through Christ. Can these verses also apply to the end of the world when Christ returns? Perhaps these verses can also be used to give us some insight to circumstances as the end of the world draws near. However, we should be careful not to make too much of the language and idioms Jesus uses in applying these verses to the end of the world.