In the prior post (The Superscriptions), we learned that the phrase, “for the end,” or “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced ice-toe-telos, means that something that was formerly continuing comes to an end. Apart from the Psalter, this exact phrase is infrequent in Scripture. Only three examples outside Psalms can be found. In Joshua 3:16, a river of water quits flowing, allowing the Israelites to cross the Jordan. In Daniel 11:3 a period of years comes to an end. And in 2 Corinthians 3:13 the visible shining on the face of Moses faded away and ceased. Although the meaning of this three word phrase in the superscriptions to the psalms cannot be known with certainty, due to the lack of context in the titles, it is possible that the phrase carries the same sense in the psalmic superscriptions as it does in the three passages mentioned just above. If the meaning is the same, then the reader needs to ask, What is coming to an end that was formerly continued?
The Ending of Prophecy
Peter in the New Testament identifies David, to whom Psalms 56-60 are attributed, as being a prophet. (See Acts 2:29-30.) Many, if not most, of the psalms prophesy of Messiah.
A genuine prophecy has two parts: 1) the prophetic statement, and 2) its fulfillment. If a prophecy never arrives at its goal (telos), then it has no completion (telos). Goal (or aim), completion, and fulfillment are all meanings within the semantic range of definition of the word “τέλος, telos.”
Deuteronomy 18:22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (ESV)
So, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) can indicate that the period of prophecy is coming to an end by means of its fulfillment. In this sense, the focus would be on the ending of the prophecy, upon that which fulfills it, upon its termination.
Luke 22:37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled (verb form τελέω) in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (ESV) (Literally, “the things concerning me have an end.” KJV, τὸ περὶ ἐμοῦ τέλος ἔχει.)
The Person or Thing that Fulfills a Prophecy
Under the first definition “end” of “τέλος” Joseph Thayer in his lexicon writes, “equivalent to he who puts an end to: τέλος νόμου Χριστός, [the end of the law is Christ]. “Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes (NET). The Orthodox Church appears to have adopted this sense of the word in the Septuagint, which is the Bible of the Old Testament this church uses. The Orthodox Study Bible writes for example, under Psalm 56 (57), “Ps 56 prophesies the death and Resurrection of Christ (the End, v. 1).”
Christ the End
In addition to Luke 22:37 and Romans 10:4 (see above for both), there are two verses in Revelation in which Christ is “the end.”
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
So we see that Christ is the goal of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the termination of prophecy. All Scripture is wrapped up and completed in Christ.
What in Scripture Finds Its Ending in Christ?
In this section we will combine Luke 22:37 and 2 Corinthians 3:13.
Luke 22:37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. (KJV)
2 Corinthians 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: (KJV)
Comparing these two verses, the verse in Luke seems straightforward and easier to understand. NET Bible expands the more literal KJV, “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.” In this prequel to his crucifixion, Christ tells his disciples that the Old Testament prophecies about his sacrificial death are shortly going to happen. That is, they are about to be fulfilled, part two of a genuine prophecy (see above, under “The Ending of Prophecy”).
Jesus in Luke quoted Isaiah:
Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (ESV)
When Christ stated, “the things concerning me have an end,” his primary meaning is that Isaiah’s prophesy is about to be fulfilled. NET Bible captures this nicely, “what is written about me is being fulfilled.” A secondary meaning within the context of the theology of the New Testament is that the ending itself, which was Christ’s passion followed by his resurrection, had a purpose, a goal, and a result beyond the mere fact of fulfillment. This ending Paul explores in 2 Corinthians 3. The phrase used so frequently in Psalms, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) appears in verse 13, where it is translated as “at the outcome” in the ESV, and “at the result” in the NET, and “the end” in the NIV.
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome [εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos)] of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-18 ESV)
Note: This author prefers Thayer’s primary lexical definition (1a) of τέλος, (telos) in verse 13, as opposed to that used in the translation above. Thayer writes the meaning of τέλος as, “1. end, i. e. (a.) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be.” This author believes Paul’s intended meaning to be, “… 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the final disappearance [termination] of what was being brought to an end.” In other words, because the visible glory of the Lord’s presence, which came with the giving of the Law, was fading away with time, Moses, not being as bold as Paul, placed a veil over his face, so that the Israelites might not witness the final disappearance of that glory. But Paul has hope, because the glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit, increases with time. This results in boldness of preaching for Paul.
The following chart summarizes the main point of Paul’s passage: the glorious New Covenant of Spirit righteousness through Christ has replaced the less glorious Old Covenant of condemnation through the Law, which even in Moses’s day could have been perceived as fading away and ending, that is, coming “to an end (εἰς τὸ τέλος, ice-toe-telos)”, if Moses had been bold enough not to cover his face with a veil to hide this fact (verses 12-13).
The Significance of “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end“ in the Psalter
First, seen in the light of the New Testament, a light which opens one’s eyes as though a veil had been lifted, psalms that bear in their titles the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end,“ describe how the end of the era current at the time of their writing would come about. That is, these psalms describe how events would unfold in the life of Messiah that would bring an end to all that went before, including the era of those readers. A large part of what went before was the Law of Moses.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (ESV)
Paul said it, not this author. This is not a harsh overstatement. Consider, the Lord of life, the King, the Anointed Messiah, and Son of Jehovah Almighty in Psalm 2, the Lord who sits at the right hand of God in Psalm 110, the eternal Creator of Psalm102–consider that this One died a shameful death by cruel crucifixion. Nothing in existence could possibly be harsher than that death on a cross. Such a poignant death must have had poignant reasons and results. Among these was the end of the old death-bringing order of Law given by Moses and the replacing of it with the new life-giving order of righteousness in the Spirit through Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4-18).
Colossians 2:14 [He canceled]…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)
“For the end” also signifies Christ himself. Christ is the end of the Old Covenant and the foundation of the New. He is the end toward which the history of Israel moved. The packet of psalms, 56-60, foretell what he did in order to merit the identity and name, The End.
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
What if “for the end” means “for the chief musician,” as many Bibles translate?
Christ is the Chief Musician. As speaker of most of the first person psalms and as head of his worshiping body, Christ leads the congregation in praise and thanksgiving to his most wonderful Lord, the God who saved him. He leads his people in worshiping faith.
“For the end” is a beautiful way of alerting the reader that the psalms which follow this superscription are special psalms to which the reader should pay special attention. As we continue to travel through this packet of five psalms, 56-60, which all bear this three word title and the words, “for a memorial,” I pray that the Lord would bless us so as to remove the veil that lies by nature over our hearts before we turn to Christ.