Eternity

The apostle John’s revelation of what is going to take place in a time period referred to as the last days concludes with a vision of an eternal world that is yet to come into existence. John said, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The Greek word translated passed away, parerchomai (par-er’-khom-ahee) has to do with a change in physical state. John was not saying that the first earth would cease to exist, but that the planet we live on would no longer have the same characteristics or properties that it once had. For example, when water changes to ice, it is no longer a liquid, but a solid mass. John noted that the new earth would not have any seas.

The primary difference between the first earth and the new earth that John’s vision revealed was that God would be living among his people. John said, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). John also saw that there was no temple in the new Jerusalem because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:22-23). John also stated, “the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there” (Revelation 21:25).

One of the most intriguing aspects of John’s description of the new Jerusalem was that it was “coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The imagery of a city being the bride of Christ makes it seem as if Christ’s church has been transformed into a physical structure. The Greek word translated church, ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah) refers to a religious congregation, the group of people that inhabit a building. Ekklesia “designated the new society of which Jesus was the founder, being as it was a society knit together by the closest spiritual bonds and altogether independent of space” (G1577). The Greek word translated bride, numphe (noom-fay’) means “to veil as a bride” (G3565) indicating that the wedding ceremony was in progress when the new Jerusalem descended from heaven.

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of a family to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul instructed husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Paul went on to say, “For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29-30). And concluded, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

The joining together of Christ and his church appears to be a physical union that takes place in heaven, but manifests itself on Earth. The Greek word translated joined, proskollao (pros-kol-lah’-o) means to cleave or be glued together. “Inherent within this word are two aspects with the second aspect being stressed. In order to cleave, one must first make a clean break; hence, cleave as in to cut. Then, once cleanly separated a joining is easy” (G4347). What this suggests is that Christ’s church will be taken out of the world through the rapture in order to make a clean break from the world’s sinful practices. At the end the millennium, the church will return to earth and be permanently joined with Jesus in the form of the new Jerusalem, a physical structure that the people of his church will inhabit.

An angel took John to see “the bride, the lamb’s wife.” John said, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10). John’s description of the new Jerusalem is similar to what many people think heaven will be like. He said, “the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it was transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21). John went on to say, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and of either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).

It could be that the new Jerusalem is where believers live in heaven until the city is brought down to Earth and is integrated into Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus told his disciples before his death, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus’ prayer for the church was “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23). The Greek word translated in, en denotes a fixed position and suggests that Jesus was referring to a permanent relationship rather than a place or location where everyone would be together.

The reason Paul indicated the joining together of Jesus and his church was a great mystery (Ephesians 5:32) could be because it is incomprehensible from a physical standpoint. It can only be understood from a spiritual perspective. What we know about the spiritual realm is that it has physical properties but it is invisible. We cannot see God or his angels and yet, they exist and are active in the physical world in which we live. When the church is raptured, it will become invisible to the physical world, but it may continue to be involved in the activities of the physical world in some way. At the conclusion of the millennium, the church will likely have a new role and will return to Earth as the new Jerusalem where all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be free to come and go (Revelation 21:27). In its eternal state, the church might become like Adam and Eve who originally had the privilege of communicating with God directly on a regular basis (Genesis 3:8). Once Satan’s presence is eliminated from Earth, God’s relationship with mankind will continue uninterrupted for eternity.

The judgment

The covenants God established with Abraham and his descendants were divine pledges to be Israel’s God as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny with one condition “Israel’s total consecration to the LORD as His people (His kingdom) who live by his rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament). The covenant between God and Israel was initiated at Mount Sinai and was an outgrowth and extension of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants 600 years earlier (note on Exodus 19:5). At the time the Sinaitic Covenant was initiated, Moses was given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and other laws that were to govern the Israelites’ behavior. Afterward, Moses affirmed the covenant when he “took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

Jesus’ arrival on Earth marked a transition from the Sinaitic Covenant to the New Covenant which was “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ – a covenant of pure grace” (Covenants of the Old Testament). Jesus parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought about a new approach to salvation. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:15-16). The point Jesus was making was that John the Baptist concluded the ministry or work of the law and the prophets. From that point forward, God’s grace was being made available to everyone and people were eagerly receiving it.

As he concluded his three-year ministry on Earth, Jesus prepared his disciples for what still lay ahead of them in their mission to save the world. Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents there would be a period of time when he would be absent from the world, but his work of salvation would continue. Then, he would return and establish his kingdom on Earth. According to the book of Revelation, there will be two separate judgments that will take place after Jesus returns. The first takes place before the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4), and the second judgment takes place afterward. Revelation 20:11-12 states, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works.”

Jesus’ description of the judgment that will take place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory” (Matthew 25:31), could be one or the other of the judgments that are mentioned in Revelation 20, or a different one altogether. It seems likely that Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment because it signifies the ultimate completion of his work on Earth. Jesus said “before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:32-33, 46). The basis of this judgment could be the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples (John 13:34) or the great commandment that was summarized in Mark 12:29-31. Either way, the central focus of Jesus’ judgment will be the love that is shown to others based on the example he gave during his three-year ministry on Earth (Matthew 25:34-40).

The hour

Jesus described his appointment with death as an opportunity for his divine character to be manifested to the world. He told his disciples, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). Even though he knew he would be brutally murdered, Jesus thought of his death as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). The picture Jesus created of a seed being planted in the ground portrayed his death as a source of new life. The reason Jesus said the seed would abide alone unless it died was to convey the point that his sinless life entitled him to entrance into heaven, but there would be no one there with him unless he paid the penalty for the sins of everyone else.

Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). Jesus’ message was probably intended to motivate his followers to make a sacrifice similar to his own. The idea that they would lose their life by trying to hang on to it, was Jesus’ way of saying that the temporal pleasures of this world were incomparable to what they had to look forward to in heaven. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for his disciples to continue believing in him after he was crucified, but wanted them to understand that his only purpose in coming to this world was to make a way for them to be with him later. He said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

The hour Jesus referred to was the appointed time for him to leave Earth and return to his Father in heaven (John 13:1). So that his disciples would know that there was no mistake in what was happening, Jesus said:

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel spoke to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be case out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.(John 12:28-33)

Jesus’ intention in dying for the sins of the world was not to bring glory to himself. His identification with God was specifically linked to the glorification of his Father. “As the glory of God is the revelation and manifestation of all that He has and is,” so Jesus’ life was a “Self-revelation” in which God manifested all the goodness that he wanted to give to the world (G1392). It was because Jesus willingly gave up his life on Earth that he was able to picture the hour of his death as a seed being planted in the ground. The fruit that he expected to come from it was human immortality.

The new temple (part 12)

The first command that God gave Abraham was, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Genesis 12:1). Later, after Abraham began to dwell in the land of Canaan, The LORD said to him, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Genesis 13:14-15). It’s possible that the spot of land Abraham was standing on at the time this promise was made to him was the location of the new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book.

The new temple was located in the center of a foursquare piece of land measuring 25,000 reeds (approx. 50 miles) by 25,000 reeds. Each of the tribes of Israel were given a portion of the land surrounding the new temple based on their birthright, rather than their birth order. Due to the fact that Jacob’s twelve sons were born by four different women; two sisters, Rachel and Leah; and two handmaids or servants; the sons’ inheritances were equal in size, but not equal in their location. The tribes descended from maidservants were placed farthest from the sanctuary (Note on Ezekiel 48:2) and the tribes of Judah (Leah’s son) and Benjamin (Rachel’s son) were placed closest to the sanctuary.

The reason the location of the tribes was important with regards to the sanctuary or temple of God was because it says in Ezekiel 48:35, “the name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there.” God’s physical presence in his temple was unique to the new temple described by Ezekiel. Previously, a cloud had filled the house of the LORD as a visible manifestation of the presence of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10 and note). I believe in the new temple, Jesus will be sitting on a throne and will be visible to all who enter the sanctuary. The only question is, will he remain there after the millennium is over?

The Hebrew term for ever or everlasting, olam (o – lawm´) is associated with time (5769). Olam is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point.” It is possible that what we are able to see now is a result of the earth spinning at a particular rate that makes somethings visible and others things invisible. Perhaps in the future, the earth will not rotate, but will merely stand still in a stationary position. Without movement, there may be an opportunity to see things that were once hidden from our view. Like when we are in a moving vehicle speeding along a highway, objects are missed because there is only so much we can take in. Eternity could be just a point in the future when movement stops.

The new temple (part 10)

The new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book was clearly meant to be established on earth, but there were some aspects of the temple that appeared to be linked to eternal life. For instance, the prince who was identified as a leader of the congregation was recognized as the LORD’s servant, David and Ezekiel said, “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever (Ezekiel 37:25).

It has been suggested that the reference to “my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23 and note) was not an indication that king David himself would be the prince, but that it would be a ruler like David, probably someone from his line of descendants. It seems unlikely that after the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ there would be a reinstatement of David’s birth line. It can only be assumed that the prince Ezekiel was referring to would actually be the resurrected king David or merely a human form of Jesus. What is certain about the prince is that he will have “sons” (Ezekiel 46:16) that receive an inheritance from him.

John’s gospel opens with a detailed description of how Jesus, the son of God, became human. John said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John also prescribed a method whereby all humans could become sons of God. He said of Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

The process the apostle John referred to in John 1:13 was later referred to by Jesus as being born again (John 3:7). Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). It seems reasonable to assume that the prince associated with the new temple will be a human form of Jesus because after all, Jesus was a man that walked on the earth and his flesh was not destroyed when he was crucified. There is no other explanation in the Bible as to what happened to the human part of Jesus or why he became a man in the first place, other than, so that he could reign as a man over the kingdom of God on earth during the millennium.

The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

Final destination

The Bible often portrays life as a journey that involves traveling along a pathway that leads to a particular destination.  Although there may be several stops along the way, we eventually reach our final destination, which we usually associate with death. Jesus taught that death is not the end of life, but a point in time when the final destination of our lives will be determined or reached. Talking to his twelve apostles about true discipleship and life after death, Jesus said, “if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).
King David talked about his hope of resurrection after death in Psalm 16. He said, “My flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11). At the time of David’s death, salvation was not yet available. That’s why he said, “Thou wilt show me the path of life” speaking in the future tense. According to David, everyone who died went to hell, including himself. Even though David believed in the Messiah, his sins had not yet been forgiven.
The path of life David referred to was a marked-out, well-traveled course to salvation (734/2416). The Hebrew word David used for path, “orach represents a race course rather than a highway or a primitive snake-laden path.” The apostle Paul also used the analogy of a race course for the life of a believer (I Corinthians 9:24). Even though king David never became a Christian in the sense of being born again, he expected to receive his salvation by faith (Psalm 16:9). For David, that meant he would be released from hell, a place where the dead reside. Hell or sheol is “contrasted, in regards to locality, with heaven, the one being regarded as down and the other up. It is spoken of as an abode for those who have departed from the way of life, and have chose the path of evil” (7585).
Isaiah indicated that those who sin against God “have chosen their own ways” (Isaiah 66:3) and will one day have to face the wrath of God (Isaiah 66:16), but his judgment won’t take place until God’s plan of salvation has been communicated throughout the whole world (Isaiah 66:19). The final result of rejection of God’s free gift of salvation is being “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). This is what Jesus was talking about when he referred to hell as  “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43).
In the final words of his prophecy, Isaiah depicted the final destination of those who rejected Christ as one that is visible from Jerusalem. After God creates the new heavens and the new earth, Isaiah declared, “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). Then, as if punctuating the close proximity of heaven and hell, Isaiah went on to say, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, and neither shall their fire be quenched: and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

Practice makes perfect

The concept of time is relative to experience. The more experience we have with something, the less we become aware of time while doing it. Therefore, the more we do something, the less time it seems to take. Eventually, we may reach a level of experience where we lose track of time or become completely unaware of time while doing something. It is at that point when eternity or “time out of mind” (5769) begins to make sense to us.

Solomon said that “to every purpose there is time and judgment” (Ecclesiastes 8:6) and “better is the end of a thing than the beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Sometimes we avoid a certain experience because we think we won’t like it or it might turn out badly. Therefore, we do not reach a point where we can see things from an eternal perspective. For example, a person gets divorced and decides to never remarry because the breakup was too painful.

Solomon said, “then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done” (Ecclesiastes 8:17). The words translated work and done are associated with practice. They refer to something that is done habitually, a lifestyle that has become a way of life. It is difficult to get an eternal perspective on something if you only do it once, especially if you don’t get to see the outcome or end result. From an eternal perspective, a bad result is better than no result if you learn from your mistake.

 

In his time

Solomon said, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). If you think of the world as God’s possession, then the purpose of every thing in the world is to bring God pleasure; it exists for his delight (2656). Another way of looking at purpose is desire and from that perspective comes the will of God, that which the Lord voluntarily chooses to or decides to do in the life of every person.

Solomon said of God, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There are two types of time operating in the universe in which we exist. One is the time that we are aware of, which can be measured by a duration (6256), and the second is the time that we are not aware of, what is referred to as eternity (5703). These two types of time are related to each other and are used by God to make every thing beautiful.

One of the ways that God translates time that is of a specific duration into eternity, or time without end, is through relationships that are restored after many years of having no contact. I was recently reunited with a friend I hadn’t had contact with for more than 40 years. I couldn’t remember her face or the sound of her voice, but when we reconnected, I knew it was my friend.

Solomon said, “God requireth that which is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). The word translated requireth, baqash basically means “‘to seek’ to find something that is lost or missing, or, at least, whose location is unknown” (1245). I believe it gave God pleasure to reunite me with my friend and it happened at a time when both of us were seeking God’s will. I was not a Christian when my friend and I first met and our friendship dissolved after I was raped. Our first meeting after we reconnected happened to take place at the church I attend.

In his explanation of the benefit of relationships, Solomon said, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). The same word is translated lift up and help in this passage. The Hebrew word qûwm (koom) means not only to arise and stand up, but also to come about and is “used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (6965).

Often times, I believe our purpose is dependent on other people. In order for God’s will to be accomplished, a relationship must be restored. That’s why time, in the sense of measureable duration, is required for God to make every thing beautiful, because he has to wait for us to reconnect with the person that can lift us up.

An eternal perspective

It says in Romans 5:5, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” The term shed abroad denotes movement across time and space (1537). What this implies is that believers in the Old Testament of the Bible, such as king David, received the Holy Spirit just as believers in the New Testament did.

The imparting or filling of the Holy Spirit occurred on an individual basis as a result of God’s divine election. Prophets who were also known as seers were often given visions of future events that were to be communicated to God’s people. In a sense, God’s ability to transcend time is transferred to the believer through the Holy Spirit and He makes it possible for us to see what God sees.

The words of David recorded in Psalm 109:4-8 may have been a result of his seeing the crucifixion of Christ. David said, “For my love they are my adversaries…And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Psalm 109:4-5). These words do not seem to coincide with events in David’s life, but fit perfectly with Christ’s betrayal. In Psalm 109:8, David said, “Let his days be few and let another take his office.” This verse is mentioned in Acts 1:20 indicating that David’s words were prophetic.

David’s ability to see future events may be why his psalms are so timeless. Thousands of years after David lived, his psalms are still being memorized and quoted by many believers. David understood the struggles of life and was able to put them into the proper perspective, an eternal perspective with Jesus Christ at the center of it.

I believe David’s words at the end of Psalm 109 could be a picture of the day of judgement, when believers will be vindicated by Christ. “I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea I will praise him among the multitude, for he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul” (Psalm 109:30-31).