We have already seen that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all present. Now we look at God’s eternal nature. The eternity of God can be defined in this way.
God is eternal. He existed eternity past, present and future. God is outside of time because He is the creator of time. Because God exists outside of time, He see’s the past, present and future simultaneously.
Get ready to be stretched if this concept is new to you. It was new to me not to long ago and it stretched me in a good way. Sure I always believed God existed eternally, but the application of that truth is what got to me and made me really have to study the Scripture in order to be able to say, "yeah that’s what it teaches." But before we get into all the application and philosophy of God’s eternal nature, let’s examine some Scripture so that you know I’m not just making this all up.
13Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
This is one of the definitive verses concerning God’s eternal nature. Notice the present tense of the name that God gives, "I AM." God is not the merely the one who was and is and is to come (sure He is all that to; Revelation 1: 8) but He is also the self existent one who transcends time because time itself is created by Him. Perhaps another verse that is similar in nature to the passage in Exodus would help to illuminate this point.
"57So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
Ponder that statement for a moment with me. It would seem to be grammatically incorrect. Was Jesus merely incorrect in His grammar? Did the apostle John just make an error when He wrote down Jesus’ statement? No. Jesus said what He said quite intentionally. By saying this the way He did Jesus clearly identified Himself as God. He said he is the "I AM" of Exodus 3:13-14. The Jews reacted quite unfavorably to such an assertion and attempted to stone Him (John 8:59).
Aside from the clear identification as being one with the Father that Jesus made here, we can learn a lot from this statement concerning the eternal nature of God. Jesus could have merely said that "Before Abraham was I was there because I’m God." But He chose His words carefully to reveal Himself in a more descriptive way. The present tense that Jesus used when He said "before Abraham was I am" not only tells us that He is God, but also that He, as God, is eternal and He transcends time itself. Jesus did not merely exist in the present but He also existed in the past as He does also in the future.
(Now might be a good time to pause, take some Tylenol, drink an 8oz. glass of water and get ready to turn the wheels in you brain.)
God is not only omnipresent at all places at once in the physical sense, but also He is omnipresent throughout time. Past, present, and future. God can confidently make assertion about what will happen not only because He can control the outcome of the future and make sure His will isn’t thwarted, but instead He can say that the victory is won and the devil is defeated because God has already wrote the ending to the story and exist in the future as much as He does the present and as much as He does the past.
Here is an illustration that I find helpful. God observes His creation not as we do as temporal beings, but as the sovereign Lord over all creation. He is the painter, we are a part of the painting. God is not merely in the process of painting the picture, the picture is already complete. God views the past, present and future, complete and simultaneously. He asserts prophecy not because He is merely confident He can make it happen, but He asserts prophecy because it is already done. Consider the following verses
6It has been testified somewhere, "what is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for Him? 7You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned Him with glory and honor, 8putting everything in subjection under His feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside of His control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. 9But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Emphasis mine)
Look at what Scripture tells us. It says that everything has (past tense) been put into subjection under the feet of Christ. It’s done, finished, complete. But Scripture also tells us that as of now we do "not yet see everything in subjection to Him."
We look at the world and say "there is evil all over the place" we don’t see that Jesus has all of this under His subjection, but He does. Why? Because God sees the future judgement of Satan, evil and sin as already completed. It is finished. We don’t see it now as temporal beings, but God has already won the battle in the future. He exist outside of time and the story is already over. This is part of why God knows all things, because it is already finished and done according to His will. Not that God would be incapable of seeing the future, but it’s a moot point, because God wrote the future.
Now here come the objections, I can imagine, that this doesn’t seem fair. After all we as humans like to think that the story is still being written, the picture is still being painted. And on that note, we like to think that we have an active part in how things turn out. We tend to assume that God reacts to what we do to accomplish His purpose. I submit to you that such a view is unbiblical. In fact I submit to you that nothing happens apart from the will of God. God does not dance around the "Janga tower" trying to keep us humans from knocking it over as we manipulate it however we want. God does not sit and wait to see what we do and react accordingly to keep the world on course. God is the author of creation. Look at what Scripture says about our glorious God Jesus Christ.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. 17And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Emphasis mine)
God created all things and He is the one who gives authority to rulers and kingdoms, and He uses them to accomplish His purposes. This theme occurs time and again throughout Scripture. People think they are in control, and indeed it is true that they are doing what they want, but only according to God’s will.
Someone might here object, "are you saying that sin is according to God’s will?" Well, no. Not the sin itself, God hates sin. But God does use people’s sinful actions that they already want to do, according to His will. How about an example.
Jesus, before Pontius Pilate, is a perfect example of God’s sovereignty in appointing rulers and using them according to His purpose.
10So Pilate said to Him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?" 11Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin."
Pilate’s authority was given to him by God, and it was Pilate who delivered Jesus over to be crucified. Romans 13:1 tells us "....For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." God throughout Scripture uses men’s sinful actions to fulfill His plan.
Acts 2:23 says,
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Emphasis mine)
Clearly the murder of Jesus was a sinful thing, and yet clearly it was ordained by God to take place. Another great example was the sinful actions of Joseph’s brother’s. They sold him into slavery and lied to their father saying that a wild beast had killed him. Even though this was a sinful thing for them to do, because it happened, Joseph eventually (through a long chain of trying events) became second in command of the nation of Egypt. Because of this many people were saved from a great famine in the land. (Read the whole story to fill in the details Genesis 37-50) This was not merely coincidental, but the plan of God. After Joseph’s father died, his brother feared that Joseph would seek revenge, however Joseph replied in this manner.
20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Constantly God uses the sinful actions of people and nations to fulfill His plan. He does not merely react to them and make something good of it, He plans them. Does this make God responsible for sin as some might object? No. God doesn’t make anyone do anything that they don’t already want to do in their flesh. (Or as NIV would say, in their "sin nature")
We will talk more about the will of man versus the will of God as our conversation continues into the doctrine of Unconditional Election. But for now I will leave you with the previous Scriptures to ponder for yourself.
Let’s get back to the main point of this post, which is God’s eternal nature. It’s easy to go on rabbit trails when talking about the eternal nature of God, because it effects so many other doctrines in Scripture (if not all other doctrines). The point I am really trying to make is that God is eternal, He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, and because of this He interacts with His creation in a way that is totally "other" than the way we interact with creation. He interacts one way as "creator", we interact in another way as part of His "creation." Because of God’s timeless eternal nature, He interacts with the world in the past present and future simultaneously, and that is sure to effect the way we understand God as we look at any other teaching in Scripture.
I will also note that it is because God exists outside of time and sees His creation as a "finished painting" so to speak, that God was able to apply forgiveness of sins to the "Old Testament believers." In God’s perspective, the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ was finished when creation was created. Therefore the sins of Abraham and other like Him were forgiven on the merit of Jesus Christ’s death satisfying God’s wrath for sin. Therefore it is written in Romans 3:23-26,
"23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be receive by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. 26It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Emphasis mine)
God passed over the sins of the Old testament saints like Abraham, among others, who were justified by their faith in the promises of God to save them (just as we are saved today). God was just in so doing because in the sight of God, His wrath for sin had already been satisfied by Christ.
This, again, is by no means an exhaustive discussion on the issue and there are more Scriptures then I could count that would be applicable tot this discussion, but hopefully this has been a good introductory discussion on a subject that is probably a little bit new to many. I encourage you to study it further yourself.
In Him -Jacob Allee
P.S. Soon we will touch on the issue of God’s immutability.