“But the end of all things is at hand.” 1 Peter 4:7
Eschatology is a theological term describing the study of the end times, or study of the last days. Its importance cannot be overstated since the focus of Bible prophecy is to inform the reader of the end times and prepare him for them.
In this study there is no more important word to understand than the simple word “end.” In the New Testament there are two Greek words translated “end,” when that word is related to time prophecy. They are the words “telos” and “suntelia.” It is the purpose of this article to note the difference between these two terms and their usage in the Scriptures.
Strong’s Concordance defines telos as “the point aimed at, as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state (termination.)”
Suntelia is defined by the same source as “entire completion, i.e. consummation (of a dispensation.)” Professor W. E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words adds to the concept of suntelia: “The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax.” Vine gives, as his primary definition, “a bringing to completion together (sun with, teleo, to complete . . . ) marking the completion or consummation of the various parts of a scheme.”
The distinction, then, between the two terms is that telos refers to a final, definitive termination, while suntelia refers to a period of time in which a series of climactic events lead up to the telos, or final conclusion. In summary, telos applies to a point in time, and suntelia to a period of time.
The following texts use suntelia:
Matthew 13:39: The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Matthew 13:40: As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
Matthew 13:49: So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
Matthew 24:3: And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Matthew 28:20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Hebrews 9:26: For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
In the first three references we find allusion to the parable of The Wheat and the Tares where the consummation of the story is in the time of harvest. This harvest becomes the focal point of the lesson. By using the word suntelia to describe it, the Lord would have us to understand that this harvest is not a momentary event, but covers a period of time.
Harvest, as related to end-time prophecy, describes the period of time when the church of the Gospel Age is gathered to be with her Lord. That Jesus is present during this harvest seems strongly indicated by Revelation 14:14, “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.”
This accords well with Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:3: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” It also connects the harvest with Paul’s word in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Many Christian derive the thought from this text that the harvest of the church is instantaneous, a “rapture.” This is based on the conclusion that the word translated “together” refers to time and not to place. Lexicographers agree with this thought. Strong’s identifies it as meaning “at the same time,” though he does note that it is frequently used of close association. However, “at the same time” does not necessarily mean “at the same instant,” but can mean “during the same time period.”
That the latter is the thought of this word “together” is indicated by two factors. First, in Philemon 1:22, where Paul asks his friend to “withal prepare me a lodging.” Here the word translated withal is the same as that translated together in our Thessalonians text. Instead of withal we would today use the expression in the meantime. This referred to the period of time between Paul’s letter and his arrival at Philemon’s house.
The second indication that the word together in Thessalonians refers to a period of time is that it describes the same work as the harvest of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13. There Jesus plainly said that the harvest is “the end [suntelia, ending period] of the age.”
The fourth reference to suntelia is in the disciple’s question in Matthew 24:3 which provokes the famous Olivet sermon: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
On several occasions, in answering this question, Jesus says “but the end is not yet.” On each of these occasions, however, he does not repeat the word suntelia from their question, but substitutes the word telos. We will examine this further when looking at that word.
The fifth reference by our Lord to suntelia is in Matthew 28:20 where he assures his followers, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [aion, age].” This text serves two purposes: first, to assure his disciples of his abiding spiritual presence with them, and second to distinguish that presence from a more personal presence in “the end of the age.” What we have already noted about the harvest and the Lord’s presence during it shows us the import of this distinction—the eager anticipation of his church for the time when he “would come and receive you unto myself.”
The final usage of suntelia, in Hebrews 9:26 is only peripherally related to our discussion since it refers to the first advent of our Lord rather than to the second. But it does go to illustrate the point, for the focus of Paul in Hebrews is not on the event of his death, but his advent, the last three and a half years of which were devoted to the putting away of sin “by the sacrifice of himself”—once again, to a period of time and not a point in time.
The Greek word telos is used ten times in the New Testament in regard to end time prophecy: Matthew 10:22; 24:6, 13, 14; Mark 13:7, 13; Luke 21:9; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 15:24; 1 Peter 4:7. Six of these references are found in the Olivet prophecy, and we will examine them last.
The text in 1 Corinthians 15:24 is also peripheral, for it refers to the end, not of the current dispensation, but the Millennial age. However, it does serve to show that the end referred to here is not a period of time, but that point of time when “he shall have” turned the kingdom over to God.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, the expression “the ends of the ages” uses the plural and shows the meeting point of two dispensations, thus demanding the word telos, referring to a definite point of time—where the beginning of one age meets the terminus of the preceding period.
The usage in Matthew 10:22 is rather indeterminate, whether it refers to the church collectively enduring to the end of the age, or to the individual Christian enduring to the end of his or her life. If it is the former, then it relates to our subject, and obviously includes the full termination, when the last member of the church is found faithful.
This brings us to our theme text of 1 Peter 4:7, “the end of all things is at hand.” This expression is closely akin to one found twice in the book of Revelation: “for the time is at hand.” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10) Both the New International Version and the Revised Standard Version translate this “for the time is near,” in agreement with Strong’s definition of the Greek word here used.
Obviously Peter did not think that the final termination of everything was already present, but neither did he anticipate a delay of some 2000 years before it would. John, the Revelator, on the other hand had his extended vision on Patmos for that very purpose, to show him the great amount of history which must transpire before the fulfillment of their desires. He sees his vision from the perspective of “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) Most commentaries agree that “the Lord’s day” here, while it may include the thought that the vision was seen on a Sunday, has a larger application—to the great Day of Christ, the Millennium. Standing at that point of time in a figure, John still sees the end of time, the telos, as future. He is standing within the suntelia, viewing the telosas still an unfulfilled prospect, howbeit one that is near at hand.
The Olivet Prophecy
The remaining texts using telos in an end time scenario are found in the various Gospel accounts of the Olivet prophecy. Since they are largely repetitious, we will only treat the references in Matthew 24.
After the disciples ask for the signs of the suntelia [end] of the aion [age], Jesus proceeds to paint a black picture of future history, filled with “wars and rumors of wars.” But, he assures them, “see that ye be not troubled, for these things must come to pass, but the end [telos] is not yet.” (Matt. 24:6)
The reason for this postponement of “the end” is shown in verse 13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Though similar to Matthew 10:22 considered above, there is a distinct difference. Here the context calls for a dispensational interpretation, both because of the question of verse 3 and the postponement of the end in verse 6.
Then, in verse 14, we see revealed just when this “end” [telos] shall be:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
The final climax of the end of the present world order will immediately follow a world-wide proclamation of the truth of the Gospel.
In summary, let us notice the effect of the interchange of the two words suntelia and telos in Matthew 24. The disciples inquire about the climactic ending period of this present evil world. In answering, Jesus lists events within that period, but cautions that these do not mark the final termination of the age which concludes the end period.
The signs which Jesus gave were within the suntelia, but did not mark the final telos, thetelos of the suntelia—the end of the end.