We live in an evil age. This much is clear. When we are surrounded by continual sickness, anxiety, sin, and death, it can make us long for the day to come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Rev. 21.4).
What may not be as clearly realized is that for those who are in Christ, we can actually already experience what that age to come will be like (at least in part). Even when this world is at it’s very worst, in Christ we can already taste the age to come. We can see and experience what our promised inheritance will be.
Two Distinct Ages
The Bible describes the world in terms of two distinct ages. For example, in Jeremiah 31:31, the Lord says “the days are coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” There are two ages. The present age, and the age to come when God’s laws would be written on the hearts of his people.
Similarly, Ezekiel 36:26, the Lord speaks of a day that is coming when “I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you.” Again, we see two distinct ages. The present age, and the age that is coming, when God’s people will be given a new heart to walk in obedience.
While Old Testament examples such as these could be multiplied, it is important to notice that this “two age” concept continues into the New Testament.
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt. 12:32)
There is no one who… will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mk. 10:30)
Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:34-35)
Paul frequently uses this two-age concept as well.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12.2)
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away…. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (2 Cor. 2:6, 8)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age; according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5)
Throughout the pages of the Bible there are two distinct ages, the present evil age, and the age to come. We are living in the present age, the age of corruption and death. But we anticipate a better day to come, a day when things will be different, a day when things will be as they should be.
Which Age Are We In?
Although the Bible is clear that there are two distinct ages, it would be a mistake to overlook the way the Bible claims that in a very real sense the age to come has already begun.
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Mt. 12:28)
Yes, Satan’s ultimate defeat still lies in the future. The “present evil age” continues. But Jesus made the claim that the age of God’s Kingdom has already come.
The demons were aware that Jesus was already doing things that were characteristic of a coming age.
And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29)
We live in the present evil age, but even now, those who are in Christ have already “shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6.4-5). There is a very real sense in which we have already been delivered from the “present evil age” (Gal. 1.4).
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1.13-14)
Did you catch what Paul said? We are living in a present evil age, what Paul calls “the domain of darkness.” This much should be self-evident. Funeral homes are still in business. Sin continues. Pain continues. Satan continues to oppose God’s people. And yet, at the same time, in Christ we have already tasted the powers of the age to come, we already share in the Spirit, we have already been delivered from the present evil age, and we have already been delivered from the domain of darkness.
So which age do we live in? There’s a sense in which we experience both at the same time. We live in the present evil age, surrounded by the domain of darkness. But we have been delivered from that age. We are not to be conformed to this age. For those who are in Christ, they are already able to taste the age to come.
Two Word Pictures
The idea of experiencing both the current age and the age to come at the same time can be a little confusing. It can be helpful to consider two pictures given to us by Paul.
We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23)
It is by the Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11). When we put to death the deeds of the body (8:13), and when we are willing to suffer with Christ (8:15), there is a very real sense in which we are already the beginning of God’s new creation.
Although creation is currently groaning, longing to be set free from the bondage of corruption (8:18-22), Paul says the firstfruits of the Spirit are already present in the children of God.
A Down Payment
Similarly, Paul describes the Spirit as a down payment, the first installment, or a guarantee of what is to come.
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 5:5)
In him you have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and believed in him, and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:13-14)
When a bank is looking to make a loan, one of the first things they look at is the down payment. They want to know the borrower has “skin in the game.” If a borrower is willing to put 20-30% down on the front end, the lender can have confidence that the borrower is serious in his intentions to repay the loan.
If we want to know that God is serious about his intentions for the age to come, look no further than the Spirit. In the Spirit, God has given us a portion of the age to come. When we see the Spirit working in the lives of Christians, this should give us confidence that God will complete what He has begun.
A Taste of Heaven
We are surrounded by the present evil age of sin and death. And yet, the harvest of the age to come has already begun. The firstfruits can already been seen. The down payment is already in the books.
We have already been delivered from the present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Jesus Christ came “so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). “God has sent his Spirit into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Gal. 4:6-7).
But what does this look like? What is the evidence that we have the Spirit in our hearts? Paul tells us in Galatians 5.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:22-23)
The Spirit is not something that just automatically happens to Christians, as if we lose control of ourselves. It’s quite the opposite. The Spirit is evident in the lives of Christians when we do control ourselves. It takes continual effort and practice, which is why Paul says “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). We must continually cultivate the fruit of the Sprit in our lives.
When our lives are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, there is a very real sense in which we are the firstfruits of the age to come. We are God’s down payment – the guarantee that something greater is coming. We are, as Paul says, “a new creation” (Gal. 6:15).
Do you want to know that the age to come will look like? Look for the fruit of the Sprit in the lives of God’s children. Look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. Look for those who crucify their own fleshly desires. That is the work of the Spirit. That is evidence that a new age has begun.
The firstfruits are already in the garden. The down payment can already be enjoyed. And At least in small part, we can already taste heaven, and it should encourage us to long for the age to come.