Word of the Week
April 10, 2021
Telos: The End is in Sight
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
1 Peter 4:7
I have never even imagined that I could run a marathon. However, I began walking in half marathons when I was in my mid-50s. I soon discovered a familiar pattern: great energy for the first mile, the excitement of passing people for the next three miles, and then a remarkable phenomenon kicked in. Starting around mile 8, time started to slow down. The miles got longer and longer. By mile 10, I couldn’t remember why I had been so foolish as to sign up for this experience!
Finally the course curved around a corner and you could see the finish line in the distance. Suddenly you felt the urge to move faster. Images of Eric Liddell started to float through your mind and you picked up speed. You heard the cheers of the crowd and you started to run . . . for at least the last 100 feet. And you were done!
Seeing the finish line makes all the difference.
The New Testament makes it clear that Christians can look toward the end of the race, and there is a Greek word that perfectly describes that goal.
The word telos means “end” and it appears over 40 times in the New Testament.
Of course, the word can have different shades of meaning.
It can mean “outcome.” When Jesus was arrested, Peter followed Him into the high priest’s courtyard to see how it would all turn out – “to see the outcome” (Matthew 26:58).
It can simply mean “end,” the moment when something ceases. Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a face that glowed so brightly that he covered it with a veil. Paul tells us that the afterglow eventually came to an end (2 Corinthians 3:13).
It can describe a purposeful “goal.” The apostle Paul explains that the goal of his teaching was to produce pure-hearted love and clear consciences (1 Timothy 1:5).
It can describe the inevitable “result” of our choices. Philippians 3:19 warns that false teachers will end in destruction as a consequence of their evil.
We experience two kinds of “ends.” In the first, something simply stops. A basketball game ends because the clock runs out. In the second kind, something ends because it has reached completion. A construction crew stops working on a building because the job is finished. One end may be a disappointment; the second end is an accomplishment.
When I walked a minimarathon, I was always aware of the bus that followed the slowest walkers, ready to pick up anyone who couldn’t keep up. Who wants to be scooped up with the stragglers? No, the goal is to reach the finish line on your feet, even if you if you can hardly walk afterwards!
You can see both elements in a passage like Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The Old Testament law did come to an end as a requirement for approaching God. But it didn’t just stop. It stopped because Christ completed God’s perfect plan for providing salvation.
Now we look forward to God’s Telos, the finish line of history. We are part of the grand story that begins with creation and ends with the eternal kingdom of God. Scripture speaks clearly of “the end,” when Christ returns to complete God’s program and fulfill God’s promises.
That’s why telos so often describes the prophetic climax of God’s kingdom program. Christians know that history is more than repeating cycles. It is the great story which has a beginning and an end.
- Jesus told His disciples that the world would reel from wars and rumors of wars. Sounds familiar, right? But He specified that “the end” was still in the future (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9.
- Peter announced that “the end” of all things has come near (1 Peter 4:7).
- Gabriel announced that once Jesus sets up His kingdom, it will never have an “end” (Luke 1:33).
God, in fact, is the eternal Telos. Twice He proclaims, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” [telos] (Revelation 21:6; 22:13).
The Lord has placed the finish line in a spot where we can see it by faith. Jesus says, “Persevere to the end” (Matthew 10:22) and Hebrews says, “Hold steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:6). Are you exhausted? Discouraged? Look ahead to the end and finish strong! You only get your medal when you pass the finish line.
- Telos is part of a larger family of related (cognate) words. You won’t regret taking time to examine at least three of the word cousins.
Teleios – perfect, mature (20 times)
Teleioō – to make perfect or complete (24 times)
Teleō – to bring to an end (26 times)
- Telos also occurs with the surprising meaning of “tax, custom duty” (Matthew 17:25; Romans 13:7). Perhaps this is an ancient version of the sentiment that “Nothing is certain but death and taxes”!
Q & A
Q – Does the Greek give us any clue about why Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus?
A – “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, a favorite choice of kids who want to earn a reward for memorizing a Bible verse. It is also the only verse in the New Testament that uses the Greek word dakruō for weeping. Dakruō comes from the word for “tear,” telling us that the Lord’s eyes were filled with tears.
The usual word for weeping in the New Testament is klaiō, which is often used for the loud, vocal wailing done by professional mourners at the death bed. The noun for “tear” appears in descriptions of very intense grief, but it is possible that Christ’s tears were a quieter expression of grief.
We get a more complete account of Jesus’ emotions when we add the description in verse 38, which says that Jesus was deeply angered. The verb used here was used by one secular writer to describe the angry snorts of a war horse.
Next week we will begin a look at some of the military terms used in Ephesians 6 to describe spiritual warfare. Learn the foundations of strategy!
©Ezra Project 2021