29 This I say, brothers, time has become short such that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the world in its current form is to pass away (1Cor7:29-31)
As I observed in a recent post it is evident that Paul envisaged the coming of Christ to be imminent. The apostle is not commenting here on the brevity of mortal life in comparison to eternity as some preachers utilize this text. For it would hardly be appropriate to tell Christian husbands to act as if they had no wives, especially in view of what he wrote in the opening of this chapter concerning married partners’ duties to each other (vv2-5), Nor of course in the context of establishing families and building the faith for future generations would it be practical for as many Christians as possible to remain single (v7)! The exhortation must either be in the context of anticipated short-term persecutions or the tribulations pertaining to the end of the age. The verses I have featured strongly suggest it is the latter (vv29+31). Either way, Paul will certainly not have envisaged the dispensation in which he lived and preached to continue for another 2000 years.
But as Jesus Himself affirmed, Heaven and Earth are to pass away, but as to when that shall happen no one knows; neither the prophets, nor the angels, nor even the Son of God but the Father alone (Mk13:31-32). As I have also been indicating (as does Paul when he is rightly understood), the same has applied to the current age – its precise nature, purpose and in particular its duration was known only to the Father (Eph3:3-11; cf. Acts1:7).
The Lord’s return is the point at which the world is put to rights (i.e. judged), after which God shall come down from Heaven to dwell with men (Rev21:1-3) As that passage affirms, heaven in its current form shall no longer exist. Earth, according to Revelation and the Apostle Peter shall either be radically renewed or replaced, but terrestrial life shall continue. The new heaven and earth to which John’s Revelation and Peter’s epistle refer shall be a place where righteousness dwells (2Pet3:13). For the wicked (children of the devil) will have been removed (Mt13:49) and God through Christ and His saints shall reign in a more immediate, executive sense (Rev5:10). For what Scripture is clear about is that when God’s Kingdom is fully realized the world order (Greek: κόσμος) will radically change. In Jesus’ words, many who are first shall be last and vice versa. This is the time Paul is alluding to in this passage and he was expecting it to be imminent, but it wasn’t for reasons I explained in a recent post. It is not just the extraordinary scope and scale of the Gentile’s Kingdom inheritance (to which Paul refers in Rom11:25) that was delaying matters, but phenomena regarding which no first century apostle could possibly have been aware. In particular, long-term technological developments which the Lord has determined need to be in place – not necessarily for the Parousia itself which will be a miraculous event, but for what is required so that His people may prepare for it, and (for all we know) for the new heaven and earth to be established thereafter.