By Charles H. Welch
This English word is employed in the A.V. to translate more than a dozen Hebrew words, and seven Greek words. Those of dispensational importance, however, are two. They are the Greek words telos and sunteleia.
Telos means ‘the end’ in the sense of completion, fulfilment, or realization, not so much the end in the sense of cessation.
Thus in Greece, one might have been invited to a party celebrating the happy fact that the firstborn son had come to the end of his life, not of course that he had died or ‘ceased to live’, but that he had attained to the great goal of life and reached man’s estate. Closely associated with this word are the derived words teleios and teleioo, which are translated ‘perfect’ again with the basic idea of attaining a goal, not of being sinless or flawless. It is an easy transition then for the word to indicate maturity as over against infancy. This aspect, however, is discussed under the heading PERFECTION OR PERDITION , and is also a feature in the structure of the epistle to the HEBREWS which should be consulted. When we examine the Scriptures which contain the other word sunteleia we shall have to include one or two references to telos in the context, but the one passage that demands consideration at the moment is 1 Corinthians 15:24. The structure of 1 Corinthians 15 will be found in the article entitled EARTHLY THINGS, and the twenty-fourth verse is a part of the teaching of the apostle concerning the relationship of resurrection with the goal of the ages. In verses 20-23 the figure that is stressed is the ‘firstfruits’ both in connection with the first (20) and second coming (23).
The Corinthians are now taken one step further in the endeavour to impress upon them the fundamental
importance of the resurrection. The very goal of the ages is impossible without it. This is shown in the verses that
1 Corinthians 15:24-28
A 15:24. The end.
A 15:-28. That God may be all in all.
There is no word for ‘cometh’ in the original of verse 24. It simply reads ‘then the end’. Some understand the words to mean ‘then the end rank’ but we can find no justification for such a rendering. Cremer, in his note on to telos, says that this word does not primarily denote the end, termination, with reference to time, but the goal reached, the completion or conclusion at which anything arrived, either as issue or ending; or as a result, acme, consummation, e.g., polemon telos, ‘victory’ (literally ‘the end of war’, end, not measuring time but object); telos andros, ‘the full age of man’ (not the end of man - death), also of the ‘ripening of seed’. In Luke 1:33 and Mark 3:26 the idea of termination seems uppermost. The idea of issue, end, conclusion, is seen in Matthew 26:58, ‘to see the end’; James 5:11, ‘Ye have seen the end of the Lord’; 1 Peter 4:17, ‘What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel?’
The idea of a goal reached is seen in Romans 6:21, ‘the end of those things is death’; Philippians 3:19, ‘whose end is destruction’. So also 2 Corinthians 11:15; Hebrews 6:8. When the apostle wrote the words of 1 Corinthians 15:24, ‘then the end’, what goal had he in view? What is the object of resurrection? Does it not take man back into the place intended for him in the Divine purpose, for which sin and death had for a while rendered him unfit? The goal, this end in view, is contained in the words of 1 Corinthians 15:28, ‘that God may be all in all’. Although ‘the end’ is mentioned immediately after the resurrection of those that are Christ’s at His parousia, it is not attained without a reign of righteousness and a rule of iron. The uninterrupted statement of the end is as follows:
The reader is aware, however, that the end is not attained in this unbroken sequence. The first ‘when’ is conditional upon the second, ‘when He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power’. This will not be effected by one grand miraculous stroke, but by the reign of Christ as king, ‘For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet’. He reigns ‘till’, His reign has one supreme ‘end’, and that end cannot be reached while one unsubdued enemy exists.
In this category comes death, the last enemy of mortal man. ‘Even death, the last enemy, shall be abolished’. This is included in the Divine purpose, ‘For He hath put all things under His feet’. The resurrection therefore is absolutely essential to the fulfilment of the great purpose of God. But it may be asked: Can such an expression as ‘destroyed’ or ‘abolished’ speak of resurrection? Take the statement of 2 Timothy 1:10:
This refers to the Lord Himself, in the first instance. He abolished death when He arose from the dead. Not only did He abolish death, but He commenced that destruction of all rule and power which He will carry through when He sits upon the throne of His glory:
Other passages illustrating the meaning of katargeo (‘put down’, ‘destroyed’, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26) are Romans 6:6; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 13:11; 2 Corinthians 3:7; Ephesians 2:15; and 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
When we read ‘all rule and all authority and power’, we may be inclined to make too wide a sweep, but the corrective of verse 26 enables us to see that we are dealing with enemies. There are two distinct actions, and two distinct classes in view in these verses. The enemies are ‘abolished’, but others are ‘subdued’. This word ‘subdued’ (hupotasso) is a cognate of tagma, ‘order’, ‘rank’ of verse 23, and looks to the perfect order and alignment that will characterize the kingdom of Christ. It is used of Christ Himself in the words, ‘Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him ... that God may be all in all’.
The first occurrence of the word is beautiful in its suggestiveness. That One of Whom it was prophesied that ‘all things should be subjected beneath His feet’ did not presume to act out of harmony with the Father’s will for Him during His boyhood, for:
In Romans 8:7 the two words ‘enmity’ and ‘subjection’ are seen to be irreconcilable:
The word ‘subject’ involves the idea of a ‘willing surrender’. All must come down in that day. Some by being ‘abolished’ or ‘destroyed’, others by a willing surrender like unto that of the Son of God Himself. In Romans 8:20 it is revealed that the creation has become involuntarily subjected to vanity, and this cries aloud for that willing submission of all things to the true goal of all creation which is summed up in Christ. The word is used in Philippians 3:21, where the transforming of the body of humiliation is said to be according to the self-same energy whereby He is able to subject all things to Himself. Surely this cannot include the power that destroys - it is foreign to the thought. Destruction or subjection is the idea of 1 Corinthians 15.
While 1 Corinthians 15 is mainly concerned with the human phase of the great purpose of God, as expressed in the words ‘in Adam’, nevertheless the reference to ‘all rule and all authority and power’ goes beyond the sphere of Adam. Before the Son delivers up the kingdom, all rule, authority and power (arche, exousia, dunamis) will be abolished. Ephesians 6 reveals that the Church of the one Body has principalities and powers among its spiritual enemies, and Colossians 1:16-20 shows that some principalities and powers will be reconciled. Once again we are forced to see that the reign of Christ before ‘the end’ is reached will be a process of discrimination. Some will be ‘destroyed,’ others will be ‘reconciled’, and when all enemies will have been abolished and all the redeemed and unfallen brought into perfect line (subjection carries with it the idea of perfect order and harmony) with the great Archetype of all, then ‘the end’ is reached and God will be all in all.
There is a tendency on the part of some expositors to wander outside the passage and introduce subjects which are quite foreign to the intention of the apostle. This is so with regard to the word ‘death’. What ‘death’ is intended in verse 26? The subject is introduced in verse 21 definitely and exclusively. There can be no doubt as to what is intended:
Its sting is removed (verse 55), which sting is sin (verse 56). By comparing the two balancing portions of this chapter together we shall get further and fuller light upon the whole subject. The two portions are balanced in the structure:
These amplifications by the apostle of his own words are worth more than libraries of other men’s thoughts, and give us inspired explanations which to see is to come under an obligation to accept and hold against all theories.
Sunteleia. This word occurs six times in the New Testament and always in combination with the words tou aionos ‘of the age’, namely in Matthew 13:39,40,49; 24:3; 28:20 and Hebrews 9:26. The first passage gives the clue to the meaning of the phrase ‘the end of the age’, ‘The harvest is the end of the world’ (Matt. 13:39). When the apostles asked the Lord:
they used an expression familiar in their mouths as household words, for the Septuagint uses the word sunteleia for the harvest ingathering. In Exodus 23:14-16 we learn that Israel were enjoined to keep three feasts in a year:
The word ‘ingathering’ is this word sunteleia, a term in common use in Palestine. The apostles’ question is practically ‘What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and the true antitypical harvest ingathering at the end of the age?’ The Lord in His reply differentiates between ‘the end’ telos and ‘the end’ sunteleia, saying that even though they may hear of wars and rumours of wars, ‘the end’ telos is not yet, only after all has taken place, that is predicted in verses 7-14, will ‘the end come’ (Matt. 24:14).
When these simple facts and essential differences are known, the great commission of Matthew 28:20 will be seen in its true dispensational light. ‘Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the sunteleia of the age, Amen’ (Matt. 28:19,20). There is no reference here to the gospel of the grace of God, indeed, that gospel was not then known. The commission speaks of ‘making disciples’ of all nations matheteuo, a word never employed in the epistles. The baptismal formula is never used so far as the subsequent record of the Acts and epistles is concerned, and the main feature of this commission is the teaching to ‘observe’ commandments already given, and which belong to the dispensation of the King’s advent, not to the extension of the gospel of grace among the Gentiles as it is today. Matthew 28:19,20 will have glorious results in its own proper season, but it is a poor substitute for the preaching of the ‘One Mediator’ which Paul declared was the testimony for its own peculiar season, namely now during the intervening dispensation of grace during Israel’s blindness.
Just as the ‘end’ of 1 Corinthians 15:24 transcends everything that the lesser ends of Matthew 24 or 28 can comprise, so the commissions given to the apostles and witnesses at different times deal with narrower or wider phases of the one great purpose and should be kept apart, and not confused. Neither the commission of Matthew 28 nor that of Mark 16, Luke 24 or John 21 are the marching orders of the Church today, these can only come through the one apostle who has been given to the Gentiles today, namely the apostle Paul. See the article APOSTLE for fuller exposition of this and related themes.