ETERNITY OR THE PLAN OF THE AGES
The thinking person who will go out under the great dome of heaven and in a meditative mood will observe the physical phenomena round about him--in the heavens above and on the earth beneath--will have his soul flooded with emotions and ideas. Numerous questions will come into his mind, one of the foremost of which is, Are the things which I observe eternal or was there a time in the past when they came into existence? The physical universe is either eternal in nature or it had a beginning some time in the past. As we have already seen in Chapter I, we know that there are two classifications of existence--mind and matter. What we have already seen leads us to the conclusion that mind antedates matter. In view of all the phenomena we cannot avoid this conclusion. The great mind whom we call the Almighty, has existed throughout eternity of the past, or He had a beginning. The contemplative soul cannot believe that there was a time in the past when there was no mind. Although a person cannot understand with his finite powers how the Supreme Intelligent Being could exist throughout all eternity, it is more in keeping with reason and sound judgment to accept His everlasting existence as a postulate rather than to attempt to rest in the agnostic position of doubt or in that of denial regarding His existence.
Moreover, as we face the future, we cannot avoid the conclusion that there will come a period when time shall cease and all matter constituting the present universe will be swallowed up into oblivion, forgetfulness, and nothingness. Scientists however tell us of the indestructibility of physical phenomena. It is true that things change their form and combinations but, as far as man knows the material universe is indestructible. But, since God declared that the heavens and earth shall pass away, we shall believe Him rather than men. The very craving of the soul of man for continued existence argues for a never-ceasing eternity. It is impossible to eradicate from his innermost being this innate conception of the future concerning which the Scriptures speak abundantly.
Thus from contemplation of the world in which we live, the thinking person comes to the conclusion that the present is but a passing phase of existence. Time and events march onward. Of course, we know more about our own day than we do of the past or of the future. This situation is natural. We are convinced in our innermost souls that there is a whence and a whither to all things.
Turning now from the observation of nature and contemplative thought to the revelation which is found in the Bible, we see evidence that what we call "time" was, speaking in a figure, projected infinitely into the past--without any beginning. Moreover, from its sacred pages we learn that, after, the material heavens and earth pass away, there will be the eternal universe which will continue throughout the "ages of the ages." A superficial study of the Scriptures has led to countless mistakes and great confusion regarding eternity in both the past and in the future; but a thorough and scientific investigation of the Word causes these errors, that are misleading many people of our day to vanish. It likewise brings into bold relief the true, scriptural teaching upon this most important subject.
I. THE MEANING OF THE WORD IN
THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGES RENDERED "FOREVER"
From Genesis to Revelation one reads in the Scriptures of various things that endure or last "forever." In many instances, however, an examination of the facts of each context shows most conclusively that the word thus rendered does not connote eternal existence or unceasing action but, since in our version the word "forever" appears, the student untrained in biblical literature immediately becomes confused. From the nature of the data presented in many contexts he sees that the meaning which it has in the popular mind often clashes with the facts.
In the Hebrew Bible there are two words which are almost universally translated by the English word "forever." Such a rendering is made regardless of the facts of the various contexts. The translators unfortunately seem to have forgotten, in many instances, that these words had different shades of meanings. Anyone who will look at an English dictionary or at a lexicon of any other language can instantly see that words, as a rule, have different meanings and shades of ideas. In order to ascertain the significance of a certain word in any context, one must note the facts of each setting; but to select a certain definite meaning--even though it be the inherent, fundamental idea of the root word--and to apply this in every instance is to do violence to the language.
One must always remember the Golden Rule of Interpretation which is, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense: therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise." When the literal, primary meaning does not make good sense in a given context, a secondary or figurative meaning must be used. To fail to apply this rule is to introduce confusion into the thought.
An examination of the various contexts in which the two Hebrew words--'olam and 'ad--occur shows that these terms express the idea of continuity, perpetuity. The length of time is to be determined by the facts of the context and the things with which they are connected. For instance, in Genesis 21:33 we read of Abraham's calling upon the name of Jehovah, "the Everlasting God." The Almighty had no beginning; neither will He ever pass out of existence. This word when modifying the idea of God signifies eternity in both directions. For example, in Exodus 15:18 we read that "Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever." The evidence shows that God is the supreme ruler who was, who is, and who is to come. It is He who reigns throughout all eternity. Another rendering of this verse, which is correct grammatically, is "Thou, O Jehovah, dost reign for ever and ever." Thus the expression "for ever and ever," indicates eternity in both directions if we adopt this translation. But if we take the text reading, it indicates eternity in the future. Moses, speaking for God, said, in Deuteronomy 32:40, "For I lift up my hand to heaven, And say, As I live forever." Here we see that God is speaking of His existence which is throughout all eternity. In order to convey this idea, He uses our word rendered "forever." Hence the facts show that in this instance it connotes all eternity. Once more, we see in Deuteronomy 33:27 that God speaks of Himself as the "eternal God." Without doubt this statement connotes all eternity. In Psalm 33:10 David said that God will bring the plans and the counsels of the nations to naught; in contrast with them, he affirmed that, "The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast for ever." Here we see that "for ever" indicates "throughout all the ceaseless ages of eternity in the future." Solomon, in Proverbs, chapter 8, discussed the question of wisdom and personified it. Continuing his description, he asserted "I [Wisdom] was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was." Once again, we see that the Prophet Isaiah speaking of the Word of God declared that it will stand fast forever (Isa. 40:8)--throughout future ages.
Numerous are the passages which speak of God, of His existence, and of His Word, and of their continuing forever. But these will suffice to show that this word does connote all eternity--perpetuity without any limitation--in either or both directions.
On the other hand, we see this same word modifying things connected with this world, which had a definite beginning and which will have a specific ending. In the first verse of Genesis we are told that God created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning." The Apostle John, Revelation 20:11, declared that the material universe will pass out of existence at the end of the Millennium when the great white throne judgment is set. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." From these facts we see that the material universe had a beginning and will have an end. In view of these facts many of the sacred writers use this word in describing scenes that pertain particularly to this earth. For instance, in Genesis 49:26 Jacob spoke of the hills as being "the everlasting hills." Our word cannot in this connection connote eternity because their duration is limited by the existence of the earth. Again, we see Moses' using this same idiom in Deuteronomy 33:15. Here he spoke of "the everlasting hills." In Genesis 6:4 we read of the Nephilim, the fallen ones, who were the sons of God, and of their going in unto the daughters of men. To these unions were born "the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown." Here 'olam is rendered "of Old." Since the writer was speaking of the offspring of those unholy marriages to which he referred and called them men of old, it is evident to everyone that here the word does not connote the idea of eternity. On the other hand, it signifies ancient times. Once again, we read in Genesis 13:14,15 that God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and to his seed "for ever." The beginning of the time of their ownership was the date of the promise which looked out into the future. Since it was referring to the land of Palestine which is on this earth and which will pass away at the judgment of the great white throne following the Millennium, it is evident that "for ever" in this instance cannot mean eternity. The facts in the context show that it is limited by the duration of the thing of which it is a part, namely, the earth. The Lord constantly said in the law concerning the various regulations and the ceremonial services, which were given to Israel at Mount Sinai, that they were to be observed "for ever." Since these instructions pertained to the service of the tabernacle and temple worship which was carried on in Palestine by the Jews, and which will be resumed and observed throughout the glorious Millennial Age--possibly with certain exceptions--it is obvious that 'olam here does not connote eternity but refers to things pertaining to this earth.
When one thus studies the context where our word occurs, one will see by the facts the exact meaning of the term in a given case.
The general principles which I have enunciated concerning olam are true with reference to ad, which is likewise translated "for ever" throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. One or two other phrases are sometimes translated by the English word "forever." The same general principles must be observed in the investigation of these terms as in the case of those already studied.
There are certain phrases and combinations of these words which simply lay emphasis upon the idea of continuity. When any of these appear, one must likewise take everything into consideration to determine the specific meaning of a given expression.
In the new Testament the word aion, which primarily means an age, and the corresponding adjective aionios are in the Greek language what the words discussed above are in the Hebrew tongue. These words indicate continuity, perpetuity, but the limit to be placed upon any one passage must be determined by the context in which it appears. For instance, God speaks of Himself in Romans 16:26 as "the eternal God." Here the word aionios is used. Sometimes this term is rendered "age lasting" by certain translators who have a theory to support. If that is its only meaning, God will last only through a given age and then cease to exist. This thought is preposterous. The self-existing, eternal One speaks of Himself as "the eternal God." Paul also speaks of Him who "is blessed for ever" (Rom. 1:25). He uses similar language in referring to Christ in Romans 9:5: "... of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever." To God the Father be glory into all the ages--forever (Rom. 11:36). In the Book of Revelation we see that God and Christ are both spoken of as abiding, or living, forever and ever. We also read of their reigning forever. In these expressions the word which primarily means "age" appears. Since God, Christ (Messiah), and the Holy Spirit live and reign forever and ever, throughout all the ages of eternity, it is clear that the expression "forever" which translates our word aion or a phrase containing this word indicates ceaseless eternity when referring to them.
But we see that sometimes this same word is applied to the earth, which after the Millennium passes out of existence. In such instances it cannot have the meaning of eternity but rather a limited connotation. Sometimes it modifies the present age which terminates with the return of our Lord; on other occasions, it indicates the Millennial Era. In certain contexts it refers to this earth. Such expressions are used metonymically. In this use we speak of the earth in terms of the period of time during which it is in existence.
From a thorough survey of the use of this noun and its derivatives, we see that in each instance the facts of a given context must be studied carefully in order to understand exactly what was meant by the sacred writer. A full sweep of eternity--past, present, and future--appears in the doxology of Jude: "Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen." A more literal rendering of the phrase, "before all time," is "before every age." The eternity prior to the creation of the world, according to this literal translation, breaks up into ages. The future, after this world passes out of existence, is likewise divided into ages. The section of eternity called in this doxology "now" also falls into definite periods or dispensations.
A glance at the chart shows that eternity is divided into three sections: in the beginning, time, and the ages of the ages. It is at this point for us to note the principal events in the unfolding of the ages, which is based upon the infallibly inspired Word of God.
In Genesis 1:1 we read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In John 1:1 we like wise see these words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." These two passages refer to that portion of eternity which antedated time. This section of eternity goes back and back, finding no beginning. In those past ages the triune God existed, for we are told that "In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth" (literal translation).
This portion of eternity designated "In the beginning" was divided into ages. This is seen from the correct rendering of Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, Even from age to age, thou wast God" (literal translation). An examination of this verse as it appears in our ordinary translations shows that these renderings do not represent the original Hebrew. This fact becomes evident when one realizes that Moses was literally speaking of that part of eternity antedating time. Thus in speaking of God's existence during that time, he could not say that God was from everlasting to everlasting because all eternity cannot be pushed back prior to time. But since the word translated "from everlasting to everlasting" also means "from age to age," we see that the proper rendering in accordance with all the facts of the context is that God existed from age to age during that period of eternity.
II. THE CREATION OF THE HEAVENLY HOSTS
After the ages upon ages of the past eternity had rolled by, God created the heavenly beings. A reference to them is found in Job 38:6,7 : "Whereupon were the foundations thereof [the earth] fastened? or who laid the corner-stone thereof, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?" An examination of the first five verses of this chapter shows that the Lord Almighty was speaking of the creation of the universe. Following this statement, He asked Job the question found in this quotation. These morning stars, who are the sons of God, were in existence prior to the creation of the universe. They were intelligent beings who could comprehend, at least in a limited way the significance of that which was unfolding before their entranced vision by the creative activity of the Lord Almighty. Further light upon these intelligent creatures is thrown by the prologue of the Book of Job--chapters 1 and 2. Here we see the throne of the Lord God Almighty. There come into His presence the sons of God to give an account of their ministrations in their appointed spheres. Among them also appears the great adversary of both God and man, Satan. When all these facts are weighed, it becomes increasingly evident that the sons of God in these chapters are the intelligent beings whom God created prior to His calling the universe into existence.
Another picture of the throne of God in heaven and the assembled angels before Him is found in 1 Kings 22:13-23. We catch a glimpse of a similar scene in Psalm 89:5-8. These sons of God are referred to in the expressions, "assembly of the holy ones," "the sons of the mighty," and "the counsel of the holy ones." Other references are to be found that deal with the hosts of angelic beings that were created before the foundation of the world, but these will suffice to give sufficient light on this momentous question in determining the time of their being created and their identity.
A marvelous paragraph which gives us further insight into the great government of God throughout the universe is found in Psalm 103:19-22. The heaven of the heavens belongs to Jehovah, and His kingdom rules over all. In this kingdom there are cherubim, seraphim, and all ranks and orders of angels. According to this quotation these heavenly beings are mighty in strength and fulfill His word, hearkening to His voice. In other words, they are servants of the Almighty, who carry out His administration throughout the vast universe. Psalm 148 is indeed a hallelujah chorus. In the first six verses the writer is looking into the heavens and calling upon them to render praise and adoration to God their Maker. As his eyes scan the heavens, he calls upon those intelligent beings in the great heights of the vault above to praise God. Then his eyes focus upon the heavenly bodies, such as the sun, moon, and stars, and the waters that are above the heavens, and he calls upon them as if they were animate beings, charging them likewise to render adoration to the Lord. Thus by the proper functioning of the heavenly bodies as they are controlled by the angelic hosts, glory and honor, praise and adoration are given to the Almighty.
Since there are various ranks and orders of angels, as a study of the different passages relating to them indicate, we naturally suppose that this vast host of celestial beings is organized, similar to that of an army of government. This idea is further confirmed by the fact that the Lord used the term, host, which was a military expression indicating an organized army under the leadership of some great general. A further study of this most interesting and enlightening subject will lead to marvelous insight into the government of God in both the past and the present. The passage which illuminates this subject especially is Ezekiel, chapter 28. Here we find an oracle from the Almighty addressed by the prophet to the king of Tyre. Ezekiel lived at the time of the Babylonian captivity. In fact, he was carried to Babylon in the second deputation of exiles from Judah. By the prophetic vision he was projected three centuries into the future and saw the Tyre of the time of Alexander the Great. (One should read Ezekiel, chapters 1, and 26-28, in order to get the full picture.) In the prophet's time Tyre was on the mainland. Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years besieged it but was never able to conquer it. Finally, he withdrew and gave up the siege as hopeless. The Tyrians, not being willing to be subjected to such ordeals as this harassing siege, abandoned their city and moved to and fortified an island about a half a mile out in the sea. Here they built one of the strongest fortresses of ancient times. This Phoenician city, in the days of Alexander, was the mistress of the commercial world. In fact, it was the emporium for the three continents--Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was to trade and commerce what New York or London is in the business world today. The king, whom the prophet addressed, no longer thought of himself as a man, but called himself a god, claiming that he was sitting in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas. Such arrogance is not unfamiliar to one who is conversant with ancient history. For instance, the Pharaohs of Egypt of the Middle Kingdom claimed that they were the sons of Amen-Ra, one of the principal gods of the land. The sovereigns of various countries have thought of themselves as the offspring of the gods. But we need not go back to ancient times to find this obsession. The Emperor of Japan speaks of himself as "the son of heaven." His subjects consider him in this light. Such is the representation of the prophet concerning the king of Tyre, against whom the oracle was uttered.
According to Ezekiel 28:3 the Lord declared that this man was wiser than Daniel, and that there were no secrets (of men in their relations with others) hidden from him. The language is that of soberness and of divine revelation.
Moreover the Lord declared, according to verses 4 and 5, that this man had hoarded riches and had built up a world-wide trade by his wisdom and understanding and his international commerce and trade. The "deceitfulness of riches" is indeed a reality and proved so in the case of this king. When he was thus successful and had built up his international trade and commerce, his heart was lifted up in arrogance and pride. No intelligent created being can remain in a humble and dependent attitude when riches, honor, glory, and the adulation of his fellow-creatures are heaped upon him. Pride and a haughty spirit always go before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
The oracle of the Almighty to this man who in his own eyes was so very mighty is this: "Because thou hast set thy heart as the heart of God, therefore behold, I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their sword against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit; and thou shalt die the death of them that are slain, in the heart of the seas. Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou art man, and not God, in the hand of him that woundeth thee. Thou shalt die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah" (Ezek. 28:6-10). These words pronouncing doom upon this rich, haughty monarch constitute the sentence of judgment announced against this heathen king by the Lord God Almighty. This threat was carried out and executed by the Lord in His using Alexander the Great to capture the city and to raze it to the ground. The facts regarding the destruction of Tyre may be found in any authentic history of that time.
A careful study of Ezekiel 28:1-10 reveals the fact that the prophet in this section of the chapter was speaking to a literal, historical character who was reigning over Tyre and who was conquered by Alexander the Great.
If one will carefully study verses 11-19 of this chapter, one will recognize instantly the presence of a sinister being, mighty in power, clever in wisdom, and diabolical in character. In these verses we shall see that, though they are addressed to the king of Tyre, they indicate a larger circle than that was ever traversed by any mortal man. When we recognize this fact, we see that this chapter is an example of what Bible teachers call the "law of double reference." In such passages the description of one person or scene blends imperceptibly into that of another, in both of which there are similarities and at the same time dissimilarities. This principle might be further illustrated by a stereopticon which produces the dissolving effect. At first one picture is thrown upon the screen which gradually fades. At the same time there appears the outline of another one. By the time the first one has completely vanished from the screen, the second one is in full view. Thus in verses 1 to 10 we see only the prince of Tyre, a man puffed up with pride and conceit, claiming that he is a god because of his great insight, wisdom, and abundant riches. In verses 11 to 19, on the other hand, we recognize a different character--one who sealed up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. This one was in Eden, the garden of God. Moreover he did reside in what we, humanly speaking, might call a crystal palace. Before this time he was "the anointed cherub that covereth." As a matter-of fact he was "upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created till unrighteousness was found in thee." This one is such a unique character that it behooves us to study most carefully what God says in regard to him.
Let us note the fact that he was created (vs. 15). He sealed "up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty" (vs. 12). From the standpoint of wisdom and perfection of beauty he sealed "up the sum." This language means that he possessed these qualifications in the highest degree possible. When God created him, He made the highest possible creature that He could call into existence. He possessed all his characteristics and capabilities to the nth degree. Deity could not have created a higher personality than this one was.
He was "the anointed cherub that covereth." What is the significance of this language? When this fourteenth verse, in which this statement occurs, is studied carefully, it is seen that this one, as the anointed cherub, was upon the holy mountain of God and was walking up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. The reference to his being in the holy mountain of God is doubtless an echo of that which is found in Isaiah 14:12-14: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations! And thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." The "holy mountain of God" without question is "the mount of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north" (Isa. 14:13). Moreover he walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. When did he do this? Where were these stones of fire? These references are doubtless echoes from the vision of the Almighty which was granted Ezekiel as we see in chapter 1 of his prophecy. In this chapter we get a glimpse of the revelation that was made to the prophet when he was by the river Chebar. He saw coming out of the north--that is, out of the region of the polar star--"a great cloud, with a fire infolding itself, and a brightness around about it, and out of the midst thereof as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire" (Ezek. 1:4). Out of this fire there came forth four living creatures, each having four faces and four wings. Beside each of them were wheels within a wheel. As the anointed cherub he was in the mount of God and in the midst of the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:16). Obviously the phrase, "the anointed cherub that covereth" refers to his position of being chief of the other cherubs mentioned in the vision. Resting upon these stones of fire was a firmament. This was immediately above the heads and the wings of the cherubims. Upon this firmament was placed a mighty and glorious throne. Seated upon it was the Almighty, Jehovah the God of Israel, the supreme ruler and controller of the universe.
Let us now examine more carefully the information which we have gleaned thus far from Ezekiel, chapters 1 and 28. This being, of whom we are studying, was the anointed, the covering cherub.
This language indicates that he was what we in military terms, would call a generalissimo¹, the commander-in-chief of a mighty force. The cherubim, it seems from Ezekiel, chapter 1, are the celestial beings who support the firmament upon which the throne of God rests. But this anointed or covering cherub was supreme over all the other cherubim, and we have reason to believe over all the hosts of heaven. Being the highest type of creature that could be brought into existence and being given the dominant authority and power under Deity, he was therefore supreme under God, since there was no creature under Deity who was his equal.
Since this anointed cherub was the highest of all the created beings and was the most powerful, having supreme command, it is easy for us to understand how the other angelic beings would be placed under his authority and power. Thus as chief he was nearest the throne of God and was the one who "wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire." These facts are set forth in Ezekiel 28:14,15. These verses refer to Satan's original position of authority and power before the creation of the universe. In Genesis 2:1 we read, "And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them." Some expositors have suggested that the hosts mentioned in this verse are the angelic beings. This position may be correct. But one cannot be certain. Yet from Job 38:6,7 we are certain that the "sons of God" were present when He created the universe. Satan, as set forth above, was the great leader of this vast throng.
¹ Some commentators think that this anointed cherub performed priestly functions. So far as I have been able to determine, I see no evidence for this position, though I shall not be dogmatic.
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