God, History, Time and Eternity

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Ps. 90:2)

     The Bible is a record of what matters most to us.  It gives us insights into realities we could never know except that God has revealed them to us in understandable terms.  God has not revealed everything to us, but what He has revealed is perfectly true.  Scripture gives us insight into things eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly, angelic and human, good and evil, and above all, the thoughts, character, and actions of the Triune God.  We live in time-space history, which is driven by divine choices, angelic choices, human choices, and natural causes.  God’s choices are always supreme, all creatures being subordinate, influenced and controlled.  The Lord allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but never beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  God’s providential control over creation guarantees there are no accidents in history, but that all is within His sovereign plan.  “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  There is no one who can comprehend all His ways, or who can stand against Him when He acts.  “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

     Most of us think about history in time and space, which began when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  However, according to Scripture, history moves backward and forward beyond time and space and touches things heavenly as well as earthly.  The heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 refers to material heavens and planet earth.  The Hebrew word translated heavens is plural (שָׁמַיִם shamayim) and refers to:

  1. The atmosphere around the earth (where birds fly; Gen. 1:20).
  2. The stellar heaven which is the universe beyond the earth (Gen. 1:14; 15:5).

Paul mentions a third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), which is the heaven beyond the universe, and is the place where God rules all things (Dan. 2:44).  Most Christians think of heaven as the place where God rules from His throne.  “Scripture implies the existence of three heavens. The first is the atmosphere above us, that is, the blue sky. The second is the stellar heaven. The third is the highest heaven where the throne of God is.”[1] 

     It is important to be aware of these distinctions because there is both an earthly history and a heavenly history (i.e. the third heaven).  These are connected and touch each other, for things which occur in heaven have direct impact on the earth (Job 1:1-20; 2:1-7; 2 Chron. 18:18-22; Luke 22:31-32), and things which occur on the earth impact things heavenly (Matt. 18:10; Luke 15:10).  The fall of Satan first occurred in heaven (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18), and afterward he came to earth and influenced the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).  On the other hand, God the Son came to earth and became a man (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived a righteous life (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), was buried in a grave, and rose again to life on the third day after His crucifixion (Matt. 20:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  In His resurrection body, Jesus bore the wounds of the cross (John 20:24-28) and carried those wounds with Him when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).  All this reveals that heaven touches earth and the earth touches heaven.

     In the Bible, God occasionally pulls back the curtain of time and space and gives us glimpses into things eternal, revealing a history before time, before the creation of the world.  We learn that God Himself is eternal, for “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2; cf. Deut. 33:27; Ps. 93:2; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 10:10).  From eternity past there was a loving and glorious relationship among the members of the Trinity, who exist as three distinct Persons (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 1:17; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:20), and God the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  All three Persons are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, loved each other, and made decisions and promises which impacted the world and entire course of history.  There was forethought and intentionality to the creation of the heavens and earth, to mankind, to permit the fall of Adam and Eve, and to provide a monergistic solution that righteously judges sin and saves lost sinners.  To deal with sin, the Father designed and prepared a body for Jesus, and this decision was made in heaven, for “when He [God the Son] comes into the world [time and space], He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb. 10:5).  God the Holy Spirit created Jesus’ body in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), for an angel from heaven told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  During His time on earth, Jesus lived a sinless life and walked in perfect obedience to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8-11; 1 John 3:5).  Jesus offered a prayer just a few hours before going to the cross, a prayer spoken among His friends, a prayer in which He mentions a glory and love He enjoyed with the Father before the world existed.  Jesus said, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).  This prayer reveals a wonderful relationship that existed from eternity past, which relationship broke into time and space for our benefit, and resumed its full expression when Jesus returned to heaven.  It was also from their relationship in eternity past that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), which choosing was secured by means of the cross.  From His eternal choice, God promised us eternal life, which speaks both of a current relationship with the Father (John 17:3), as well as an eternal destiny forever in heaven (John 3:16). 

     Our current experiences are connected with our eternal destiny which is assured to us who are in Christ.  Throughout our earthly life, God works through His Word, through others, and through circumstances to grow us spiritually in order to form the character of Christ in us.  All of God’s work in us is intentional, designed to prepare us for the life we will come to know when we leave this world and enter into His eternal presence.  Life on earth—in time and space—becomes more meaningful when we live beyond ourselves, beyond our struggles, beyond our circumstances and see everything within the context of eternity to which we belong right now.  I say we belong to eternity “right now” because as Christians we possess eternal life from the moment we believed in Christ as our Savior (John 10:28).  Eternal life is not what we can have, but what we have from the moment of salvation onward.  Our eternal life is the forever-life that finds its greatest experiential expression when we leave this world and enter into the presence of God in heaven.  At death, the flow of time ceases and all worldly experience comes to an end when we pass into eternity.  Until then, we enjoy eternal life here and now with God who has saved us and adopted us as His own.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1865.

Who were the Magi?

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:1-2)

Three MagiThe Magi are first mentioned in the OT book of Daniel and were called “magicians” (Dan. 2:2, 4-5, 10).  They were most likely astronomers, but some practiced astrology.  It appears throughout history they were a mixed group, with some being believers and some unbelievers.  Matthew records a group of Magi who were positive believers, who had traveled a long distance to come and greet the newborn King of Israel and to give Him gifts and worship Him (Matt. 2:11).  All Israel should have gone to greet the baby Jesus upon hearing the news that the “King of the Jews” had been born (Matt. 2:2), but instead, it was Gentiles from the East who came to give respect.  By the time the Magi arrive to visit Jesus, Mary and Joseph are living in a “house” (Grk. oikos – house, permanent dwelling) and Jesus is called a “Child” (Grk. paidion – young child), and is no longer a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes (Matt. 2:11).  According to the Gospel of Luke, it was perhaps a year earlier that the Jewish shepherds came and expressed joy at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-20).  Concerning the identity of the Magi, Dr. Thomas Constable states:

It is not easy to identify the Magi (from the Gr. magoi) precisely. The Greek word from which we get “magi” comes from a Persian word that means experts regarding the stars. Centuries before Christ’s time they were a priestly caste of Medes who could interpret dreams (cf. Dan. 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7). Later the term broadened to include men interested in dreams, magic, astrology, and the future. Some of these were honest inquirers after the truth, but others were charlatans (cf. Acts 8:9; 13:6, 8). The Magi who came to Jerusalem came from the East. Probably they came from Babylon that had been for centuries a center for the study of the stars.[1]

       Matthew records no specific number for the Magi, and three are chosen only because there were three gifts given to Christ at His birth.  It’s possible there were many Magi, maybe even more than a hundred.  It’s difficult to imagine Herod or anyone else in the city of Jerusalem being surprised by the presence of three Magi from the East.  However, for more than a hundred Magi to suddenly appear in the city, asking “Where is He who has been born King of Jews?” (Matt. 2:2).  That would more likely gain the attention of a lot of people, including king Herod.  Today we mention three Magi mainly because of the three gifts that were given to Jesus at His birth. 

Their worship was heightened by the giving of gifts . . . gold . . . incense and . . . myrrh. These were gifts worthy of a king and this act by Gentile leaders pictures the wealth of the nations which will someday be completely given to the Messiah (Isa. 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:20; Zeph. 3:10; Hag. 2:7-8). Some believe the gifts had further significance by reflecting on the character of this Child’s life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used for embalming). These gifts were obviously the means by which Joseph took his family to Egypt and sustained them there until Herod died.[2]

       Scripture is silent about the names of the Magi or any noble offices they might have held.  By the end of the 6th century A.D., some in the church had assigned kingly offices to at least three of the Magi and given them names as well.  Dr. D. A. Carson writes:

The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (died c. 225). It probably developed under the influence of OT passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah (cf. Pss 68:29, 31; 72:10–11; Isa 49:7; 60:1–6). The theory that there were three “wise men” is probably a deduction from the three gifts (2:11). By the end of the sixth century, the wise men were named: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gasper. Matthew gives no names. His magoi come to Jerusalem (which, like Bethlehem, has strong Davidic connections [2 Sam 5:5–9]), arriving, apparently, from the east—possibly from Babylon, where a sizable Jewish settlement wielded considerable influence, but possibly from Persia or from the Arabian desert. The more distant Babylon may be supported by the travel time apparently required (see on 2:16).[3]

       The MagiWhat Matthew emphasizes in his Gospel account is that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, born in the line of Abraham and David (Matt. 1:1, 17), and is the rightful King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).  The Magi recognized Jesus with gifts that honored Him as King and gave the worship that is due Him.  Matthew tells us, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat 2:11).

       So then, Scripture pulls back the curtain for a moment and gives us a little information about the Magi.  We know they came seeking the King of Israel, and worshipped Him properly.  Though we cannot know all we would like to know about them, we can identify with them in their recognition of Jesus as King.  Like the Magi, we can offer Jesus the worship that is due to Him.  After all, He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 2:1.

[2] Louis A Barbieri, Jr., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 22.

[3] D. A. Carson, “Matthew” In , in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 85.

Overcome Evil with Good

       The Christian lives in a fallen world, and in order for him to overcome evil, he must grow spiritually and live in regular dependence on God the Holy Spirit to sustain and direct his life.  The Holy Spirit will never lead the Christian independently of Scripture.  Learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will, as the Christian cannot live what he does not know.  Change his mind and you’ll change his ways.  After regeneration, the Christian’s mind is still filled with a lifetime of worldly thinking, which will cause him problems to the degree that it remains the basis for his decisions in life.  If he thinks like the world then he’ll live like the world.  Worldly viewpoint should give way to the light of God’s Word as the Christian begins to adjust his thinking and bring it into conformity with the mind of God.  As Christians, we are always in the process of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).  We do this so we will “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).  For the Christian, overcoming evil starts with a change in thinking that leads to a change in behavior.  Without solid thinking rooted in Scripture, the Christian will not be able to stand against the evil pressures Satan will put on him. 

       The Christian living in society sometimes faces tremendous pressure to conform to the values and behaviors of those around him.  Not only does the Christian face the external pressure of those who are weak and have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system, but he also faces the pressure of his own sin nature that has a natural affinity with the devil’s world.  Mic-2 If Satan were a broadcaster sending out his radio signal, the sin nature would be that internal receiver that is automatically tuned to its message.  There is a part of us that is corrupt and is naturally bent toward evil, whether moral or immoral, and we must be aware of this flaw within ourselves.  We are given a new spiritual nature at the moment of salvation, which is naturally tuned to God’s message and is receptive to the Holy Spirit.  The Christian’s new spiritual nature is continually in conflict with his old sinful nature, as these are in complete opposition to each other.  The Apostle Paul tells us, “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17; cf. Rom. 8:5-8).

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[1]

       Those in the world who have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system often demand that others in their periphery conform to their values.  Persecution often comes in stages and is defined as “the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution.”[2]  Evil men often employ pressure tactics of all sorts, including violence, in order to obtain their objective.  In fact, it was during a time of great persecution by the Roman government that the apostle Paul wrote to Christians and told them they must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).  Satan was trying to destroy the early church and many in the Roman government were used by him to persecute Christians.  Many Roman officials demanded that Christians recognize Caesar as a god to be worshipped, and if those Christians refused, then they would be persecuted and put to death.  The Roman government did not separate state from religion, and if a Roman citizen refused to worship as the state mandated, that citizen would then be guilty of treason and could face capital punishment.  Many Christians living in Rome faced persecution because they refused to worship Caesar as a god, and the result was often torture and death.

     The persecution of Christians became heightened in the summer of A.D. 64 when the emperor Nero falsely blamed them for a fire that had burned much of the city of Rome.  The false charge unleashed the anger of many hostile citizens, and the fury of Rome exploded against the early church and many Christians died a horrible death.  Later, the emperor Domitian (ca. A.D. 81-96) carried out attacks against Christians and persecuted them as well.  Herbert W. Workman writes:

Some, suffering the punishment of parricides, were shut up in a sack with snakes and thrown into the sea; others were tied to huge stones and cast into a river.  For Christians the cross itself was not deemed sufficient agony; hanging on the tree, they were beaten with rods until their bowels gushed out, while vinegar and salt were rubbed into their wounds. …Christians were tied to catapults, and so wrenched from limb to limb. Some…were thrown to the beasts; others were tied to their horns. Women were stripped, enclosed in nets, and exposed to the attacks of furious bulls. Many were made to lie on sharp shells, and tortured with scrapers, claws, and pincers, before being delivered to the mercy of the flames. Not a few were broken on the wheel, or torn in pieces by wild horses. Of some the feet were slowly burned away, cold water being dowsed over them the while lest the victims should expire too rapidly. …Down the backs of others melted lead, hissing and bubbling, was poured; while a few ‘by the clemency of the emperor’ escaped with the searing out of their eyes, or the tearing off of their legs.[3]

       To avoid such persecutions by Roman governmental officials, the Christian had only to denounce his faith and say “Caesar is lord.”  Some might argue that it would have been better to give recognition to a Roman emperor rather than suffer greatly or watch family members be put to death.  However, the demands of Christianity (now, as well as then) are such that a believer can never worship a substitute for the living Christ.  When confronted with persecution, any compromise of faith is shameful in the face of those who have testified for Christ with their life.  The early Christians understood that there was never a time when they could deny Jesus as their Lord and be justified in doing so.  Just as three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel stood before a mighty king and were willing to face suffering rather than deny the only true God (Dan. 3), so thousands of early Christians where willing to face Roman persecution even if it resulted in their death. 

       Because persecution was part of the normal Christian experience in the early church, Paul knew there would be Christians who would be tempted to retaliate against their attackers and do evil to those who did evil to them.  Unjustified attacks will stimulate the sin nature within the Christian.  Because the sin nature is usually the first responder in evil situations, the Christian must be careful to exercise self-restraint and not act impulsively, but control his emotions.  The Christian must be governed by God’s Word and never by his hot temper, as the Scripture tells him to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). 

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:17-19)

       It’s easy to retaliate and kick the one who kicked you, or hit the one who hit you, or curse the one who cursed you.  But this is not the Christian way.  Jesus suffered unjustly many times throughout His life, and especially during His illegal trials which led to His crucifixion.  And even though He was verbally reviled, “He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).

As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace.[4]

       The persecuted Christians living in Rome could face their evil attackers with courage because they knew God was in control of their circumstances as well as their eternal destiny.  Just as three Hebrew children were able to stand against the pressure of a Babylonian king and face the torment of fire rather than compromise their faith, the Christians living in Rome faced their attackers by trusting God and His Word.  By faith, the Christian has confidence in the face of suffering because he knows “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  Even if the Christian should face death, he knows he will leave this world and come immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), have a new home in heaven (John 14:1-6), receive his resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-57; Phil. 3:21), obtain his eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4-5), and enjoy the reality of the eternal life he received at the moment of he trusted Christ as his Savior (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 John 5:10).  Jesus Himself stated “do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

       Living in God’s will is not always easy, and it does not guarantee a positive response from those who follow worldly values.  The teaching of Scripture is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Sadly, there are many Christians who suffer for sinful reasons and it is good that they suffer, if it teaches them humility and respect for legitimate authority.  The Apostle Peter tells Christians to “make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16).  We cannot stop suffering in this life, but “it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17).  We cannot control what other people think or how they behave, but we can control our response to them, and we can make sure that what we do is pleasing to the Lord by being obedient-to-the-Word believers.  In this way, we can overcome evil by doing God’s will for our lives; and this is good. 

       The Christian cannot control much of the suffering that comes into his life, but he does not have to be overcome by that suffering, as he can look to God and maintain faith in His Word.  Jesus was not overcome by the cruelty and suffering he experienced, but showed love and forgiveness to His attackers (Luke 23:34), and “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Stephen, who spoke strong words of truth while filled with the Holy Spirit, prayed and asked God to forgive those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60).  Paul and Silas demonstrated loving concern for the jailer who kept them in chains, sharing the gospel with him when given the opportunity (Acts 16:22-31).  Our lives may be vulnerable to the unjust pain and suffering caused by others, but we must look beyond the suffering and be willing to love even our attackers for the sake of Christ in the hope that they may come to know the gospel and be saved.  

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

 [2] Geoffrey W. Bromily, “Persecution,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 771.

 [3] Herbert B.  Workman, Persecution in the Early Church (Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1906), 299-300.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1, 556.