Five Steps Through Time

In our twenty-first century world, most human beings are very attentive to time. Everything in our society is related to time in one way or another. We get up in the morning at a certain time. We go to school or work for a specified amount of time. We buy products with warranties that are valid for a particular period of time. Many sports are regulated by time. The list could go on and on. While it is true that everyone understands what the word time means, you might find it difficult to define the word. According to Webster's Dictionary, time is "the measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues."

Today, we will examine the Bible topically as we strive to understand what God's word teaches about the subject of time. It is important that we realize the differences between the various ages that have been, the one we are currently living in, and the one that is yet to come. There are five periods of time that the Bible describes (though not in these exact words): Eternity Past, the Patriarchal Age, the Mosaic Age, the Christian Age, and Eternity Future. Let us consider what the Bible has to say about each of these ages of time individually.

Before we can understand this period, we must first strive to comprehend what eternity is. If something is eternal, then it has no beginning or end. Technically, it is not correct to speak of eternity as a period of time since time is measured duration and eternity cannot be measured. Nevertheless, using this terminology is helpful in our communication--as long as it is understood that I am speaking in an accommodative sense.

It is extremely difficult for the human mind to truly comprehend eternity. It is a challenge to fully grasp the notion of something having no beginning or ending, since there is nothing we can see or know physically that is eternal. Everything we experience through our physical senses is temporal (i.e., not eternal). The things we fully understand have a beginning and an end. However, in spite of this, the Bible describes a Being who has always existed. The Godhead (i.e., the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is that eternal being. God has no beginning and no ending. Psalm 90:2 states - "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." God existed before time ever began! "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). This very first verse of the Old Testament implies that God has always existed, because in order for God to create anything "in the beginning", He would have had to be there before "the beginning" started!

But, what about the ages of time between the "everlasting to everlasting"? That brings us to...

The word patriarch means father. This age began with the creation of man. We refer to this period as the Patriarchal Age because God generally spoke directly through the fathers to all people so they could hear, believe, and obey God. The book of Genesis is filled with examples of God speaking directly to the fathers (6:13ff; 9:8-17; 12:1-3; 18:16ff; etc.). Even though man had no written law from God during this age, God still expected obedience. For example, in Genesis 4:3-7, Cain and Abel made offerings to the LORD, but only Abel and his offering were accepted. Was God being unfair to Cain by rejecting his offering? Absolutely not. Although there is no written record of it, it can be deduced that God had at one time verbally specified what type of offering He would accept. We know this to be the case because "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain..." (Heb. 11:4). Additionally, we know that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Thus, God had specified what type of sacrifice He would accept, and Abel acted by faith in obeying God's word. Cain did not act by faith; he disobeyed and God was displeased.

Sin first entered the world during the Patriarchal Age when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6). Later in the same chapter, the first glimpse of man's redemption from sin is alluded to. In Genesis 3:15, God declared to the devil - "And I will put enmity between you [i.e., Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed [i.e., Jesus Christ]; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (cf. Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). As the Old Testament unfolds and more prophecies are given, it becomes clear that there would be a Deliverer who would die for the sins of the world (Isa. 53). However, the people who lived during the Patriarchal Age knew very little of this future Redeemer. But, in spite of that fact, God still expected them to live obediently to His will that He had spoken to them. Sadly, within 1600 years of the creation, the human race had forgotten God (Gen. 6:5-8). Nevertheless, Noah found grace in God's eyes, and he and his family were saved from the worldwide flood that the Lord brought upon the Earth. They were spared because Noah, like Abel, also acted "by faith" (Heb. 11:7) and "did according to all that God commanded Him" (Gen. 6:22).

The Patriarchal Age continued through the lives of men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (Gen. 12-50). The children of Israel then spent generations enslaved in Egypt (cf. Gal. 3:17; Exo. 12:40) until God raised up Moses to deliver them from bondage (Acts 7:25). He led them from Egypt to Mount Sinai.

This age begins with the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exo. 20). This law was binding upon the Israelites only (Deut. 5:2,3), and one of its purposes was to bring them to Christ. As Galatians 3:24 affirms - "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ..." The old law would prepare the Israelites for the coming Savior, Jesus Christ.

The judges (e.g., Deborah, Samson, Samuel, etc.), the kings (e.g., Saul, David, Solomon, etc.), and the prophets (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) all lived during the Mosaic Age. In order to be pleasing to God, they were required to obey the commandments of the law, which included sacrificing animals to atone for their sins (Lev. 17:11). This law served its purpose but is no longer in force today because Jesus "has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). When Jesus died on the cross, the Mosaic Age ended and the Israelites were no longer under the authority of the old law. However, the Old Testament is still useful today. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). We study the Old Testament today to learn from the men and women of the past but not to ascertain what we must do to be saved or how we must live as Christians.

When Jesus came to this Earth, His mission was "to seek and to save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10). In order to accomplish this, He established a "better covenant" (Heb. 8:6)--the New Testament. This new covenant was made possible by the blood of Christ, which He shed on the cross "for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28).

After Jesus died on the cross, He was buried in a tomb. However, three days later He arose from the grave! He later ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69). Seven weeks after the resurrection, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the church was established. The Jews listened to Peter speak (2:14ff), and they realized they had committed a terrible sin in crucifying the Son of God. They asked - "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responded by saying - "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins..." (2:37,38). They received the word and did as Peter instructed (2:41). "...And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (2:47).

From that point on, the church existed, and men and women were added to it by the Lord when they obeyed the gospel plan of salvation. We today can be added in the same manner to the one and only church--the church that Jesus built and paid for with His shed blood (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). There is no other church! Any religious body that exists today that does not have the New Testament as its guide is lost (Matt. 15:1-13)! Denominations are inherently sinful because they divide the body of Christ (I Cor. 1:10; John 17:20,21) and do not accept the authority of the Scriptures in all matters (Col. 3:17).

If we carefully examine all the ages in which man has lived on Earth, we can see that, in general, God has consistently required the same thing of His people. God has always demanded an obedient faith (James 2:14-26; Heb. 11)! This was true of Abel and Abraham. It was true of Moses and David. It is still true for us today. Granted, the people living before Christ had different laws given to them by God, but nonetheless, the Lord was pleased with them when they showed their faith through obedience to Him. Today, God wants us to submit to His will as recorded in the New Testament and faithfully serve Him. If we do these things, then we will be prepared for the final age.

In this last period, there are only two places: heaven and hell. Everyone who has ever lived will be in one of those two places forever. This final step through time begins at the Judgment Day when Jesus Christ will return and the faithful shall "meet the Lord in the air" to be with Him forever (I Thess. 4:17). Sadly, not everyone will be with God in heaven, because most will choose to live unfaithfully to Him while on Earth. As Jesus said - "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Few will find it, not many. We determine our eternal dwelling place by the way in which we live our lives. God does not randomly determine who will burn in hell forever or who will enjoy life evermore. God has given man freedom of choice, but man must someday give an account for the choices he has made and either reap a reward or suffer the consequences (II Cor. 5:10,11).

The key point to remember is that anyone can make it to heaven if he will only prepare himself! While on this Earth, many prepare themselves for physical things (e.g., school, work, meals, recreation, etc.), but are they getting ready for the day of judgment? Are you preparing your soul for eternity with as much care as you do with the trivial things of this life? I hope so, because the judgment is coming, and the word of God will be the standard of judgment (John 12:48). You must believe what the Bible teaches and you must obey the Lord, because Jesus will only save those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8,9; Matt. 7:21-23). No one will want to be numbered with the disobedient when God takes vengeance in flaming fire "on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (II Thess. 1:8,9). "Everlasting destruction" is a very scary thought. To suffer for a year would be horrible. To suffer for a century would be unbearable. But, to suffer forever is unimaginably dreadful. Yet many reject the Bible as their guide and blindly choose this fate for themselves.

Let us look to those who have gone before us and learn from them. Let us rightly divide the word of God and realize that the New Testament is binding for us today. Let us strive to always be spiritually ready, for one never knows when death will come or when the Lord may return. Friends, are you ready for eternity? Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.

Five Steps Through Time