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What is Eternity?

Struggling For a Description of The Beyond

By John Edmiston

 
Imagine a child's school ruler lying in the midst of an infinitely large billiard table. The ruler is straight, measured, calibrated and predictable. It is like Time as we know it. Year follows year, minute follows minute as surely as the measurements on a child's ruler follow a regular and orderly succession. Then consider an ant walking along the edge of the child's ruler - half on the ruler and half on the billiard table. Should the ant wander away from the ruler it will find a vast green land that has no graduations, where you can go backwards as easily as forwards and which has no beginning or end. This land of the billiard table is what we call Eternity. It encompasses the ruler called Time and yet goes far beyond it.

Time - as we know it, rests on Eternity for its existence and orderliness. Time is a very controlled portion of Eternity. Even if we could go back for millions or billions of years we would not find eternity. Even a billion years ago one minute would follow the next in orderly succession and our watch would still give order to our days. The past would still be the past and the future as opaque as it is today. We live "on the ruler" where there is past, present and future, where actions are either complete or incomplete, where the future is opaque to mortal minds, where there is a thing called causality where if A causes B then A must "come before " B in Time.

However some humans are like that ant, they wander off the ruler and experience Eternity. They are often called mystics, prophets or madmen. They come back with a terribly muddled sense of time. They come back with God's calendar and announce that "He is coming soon.." and He is! The next great event in Eternity, the next "day" in Heaven is the day of the Lord! For with God Time is different. For Him one day can be as a thousand years. That one day when Jesus hung on the cross was prepared for and thought over for thousands of our years. That one day for God contained as much meaning and power as a thousand years of ordinary history would. Each day of Creation saw events unfold at blistering pace as God worked and at His pace 1000 years work could be done in a single day.

At other times 1000 years of Australian history, or the rise and fall of governments and empires is of little moment, just ripples in the pond. Just another ordinary day in glory. The prophets of God are taken by God into His realm and they look down on that small ruler that begins at Creation and ends at the Judgment. They see it for what it is, a fragment, just one of many ages, just one aeon, in all that God is doing. It floats there like a piece of driftwood on a vast ocean or a dry stick in a vast desert. Eternity towers all around it and everything else cries "Glory!". They gain a great sense of transience and they grasp that our "true life" - is the life we have in Christ.

The life we now live in the flesh, while it is good, is a mixture of the "real you" and the "passing away you". For instance you battle with sin, you experience a struggle between "two natures", you wonder who you really are some days. But the "real you" (if you are a Christian) is hidden in Christ with God(Phil 4:1-3) and is seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6,7). John the apostle humbly admits that much of what we are is hidden from us but he is confident that it will be revealed when Christ returns. (1 John 3:1-4). Paul makes it a constant theme of his writings that this new self is glorious, immortal, imperishable, undefiled and perfectly sinless. In fact the "real you" is just like Jesus (1John 3:1-2). I sense that when we get to heaven and find out who we really are that this eternal being will be both wonderfully strange yet we will recognize him/her as having been there all along, our true and better self.

And here is the key to our experience of Eternity - we walk by faith, not by sight. As long as our eyes are glued to the ruler, that piece of flotsam , then we perish with it. But when we receive and believe the words of those who have glimpsed Eternity - the prophets, and especially the Word of Him who came from Eternity as the fullness of Deity in bodily form (Colossians 2:9) ,Christ Jesus, then we find life. Your life, the True Life, the life that is in Eternity, your Eternal Life, is lived by faith. We grasped hold of Eternal Life as we grasp hold of the Word of God through participating faith. Faith does not just agree with God's Word, or sentimentally gush over how nice it is, faith acts on God's Word. Faith participates in the promises of God by taking appropriate and obedient action. That action may be as gentle as a prayer or as bold as David fighting Goliath. Men and women of faith are men and women of obedient action.

And here we come to a mystery. Eternity clothes itself in Time. Jesus clothed Himself with human flesh and transformed it into a glorious body. The principles and actions and rule of Eternity want to be lived out here on Earth in the lives of believers. While this life is in some senses not particularly important it is paradoxically very important. It is the stage on which we demonstrate God's love and justice and where the Kingdom of God is made real in the midst of great evil, hatred and injustice. We can give people a glimpse of Eternity in our actions here and now. The faith of Abraham was not content with contemplation it was a journeying active faith. The faith of David was not just a faith of writing Psalms and singing songs but of battles and overcoming and falling and being forgiven and striving for God with a whole heart to build a holy Kingdom. The faith of Jesus did not just teach but healed, and withstood pressure, and resisted temptation and He set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem and endure death. It was a sacrificing active strong muscular faith.

The faith of Paul drove him, constrained him to preach and to suffer. The faith of Noah caused him to build Noah's Folly - a great huge boat parked on dry land. And it caused him to endure scorn for 120 years until he was proved wise and faithful and became the ruler of the new world after the flood. When we grasp hold of Eternity, through faith we become as silly as a prophet, as mad as Noah, as presumptuous as David fighting Goliath, as weak as Paul and end up as defeated as our Lord. And that's not a bad way to be! But it doesn't make sense if your world is a child's ruler -ordered and predictable and safe. Eternity is a dangerous place for mortals. But all who are in Christ are immortals. Our real self will live forever because of righteousness though our bodies will perish because of sin. (Romans 8:10-14) It is like this - you are an inhabitant of Eternity and your citizenship is in heaven.

(Philippians 3:20 NIV) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV) But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, {23} to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, {24} to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Our link with Eternity is our spirit.

(1 Corinthians 15:50 NIV) I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Our mortal bodies do not participate in the Kingdom of God though they are subject to it. They will be raised as spiritual bodies.

(1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NIV) So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; {43} it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; {44} it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

It is "in the Spirit" that prophets and apostles get their revelation of what Eternity is like..(2 Peter 1:21 NIV) For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Here are just a few examples:

(Revelation 4:2 NIV) At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

(Revelation 17:3 NIV) Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.

(Ezekiel 11:5 NIV) Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon me, and he told me to say: "This is what the LORD says:...

(Acts 7:55-56 NIV) But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. {56} "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

The spirit within us is formed by God for communication with Him. (Zechariah 12:1 NIV) ....The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares:... (Job 32:8 NIV) But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.

And it is the spirit that knows our innermost thoughts and represents our true self and personality. (Proverbs 20:27 NIV) The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man ; it searches out his inmost being. (1 Corinthians 2:11 NIV) For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

So we see that Eternity is revealed to us - or more precisely to our inner selves, our spirit, by means of God's Spirit which can discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart and reveal God's truths to us. This is explained in detail by Paul in 1 Cor 2:10-16 which we will take a moment to look at:

(1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NIV) but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. {11} For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. {12} We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. {13} This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. {14} The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. {15} The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: {16} "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

(1) God reveals Himself to us by means of the Holy Spirit who is given to us that we might understand what God has freely given us.(verses 10-12) The gospel would be nonsense unless the Spirit made sense of it to us. He is our supreme teacher on all spiritual matters (John 14:26, 1 John 2:20,27).

(2) The Spirit's teaching is specific - down to the very words to be used.(verse 13)

(3) Eternity is inaccessible and incomprehensible to those who do not have the Spirit. (verses 14&15).

(4) Because of what Christ has done on the cross we are given "the mind of Christ", best translated "the mental framework" of Christ. Our new mind needs to be matured and renewed in the image of its Creator (Col 3:11) but it is full of life and peace because it is fixed on the Spirit and inherited from Christ. (Romans 8:6) As we - that is our new nature, matures we can grasp more and more of Eternity through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:13) which we have received (1 Cor 2:12).

Eternity then is that realm beyond the "twelve inch ruler of Time" where God is ever-present and which is accessible to Christians through Christ and which we perceive (yet dimly) through the revealing work of the Holy Spirit to our spirits. For those who cleave to Christ are one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17).

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.