TIME is a good four-letter word. Its spelling is simple, but its meaning is complex. "Time" is defined in 67 lines in my medium-sized dictionary. In an exhaustive dictionary, "time" is defined in 230 lines. I had no idea a simple four-letter word could be so complex.
An example of the secular world's confusion is found just off Times Square in New York City. At Rockefeller Center, where throngs gather during the holidays to see the Christmas tree and the skaters and not far from where the frenzied crowd parties each New Year's Eve, a portion of a Scripture verse is inscribed over a doorway of the NBC building. When I first saw it in 1984, NBC had just decided to eliminate all religious programming from its network. Yet a Bible verse was once considered important enough to carve over a main entrance. "Wisdom and knowledge shall be the strength of thy times... " The quote is from Isaiah 33:6. The remainder of that verse reads, "...and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure."
Strange, isn't it, that even NBC ignores its own verse and that Times Square is ignorant of the real meaning of time? Worse, many Christians may be equally ignorant and similarly confused. No subject is more glibly stated and less meaningfully understood than time itself.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF TIME
Two major views of time divide believers and their divine, heaven-sent revelation in God's Word from the darkened mystics who were first confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The issue is whether time is linear or circular. Are we going forward or are we running in circles?
First-century pagans thought time was an entrapment to be evaded, a prison to be broken out of or ignored if one's mental gymnastics could provide adequate escape. Oscar Cullman wrote a fascinating book, Christ And Time, in which he states,
In Greek thought, time is not conceived as a progression line with a beginning and end, but rather as a circle. The fact that man is bound to time must here be experienced as an enslave- ment, a curse. Time moves about in the eternal circular course in which everything keeps recurringthat is why all Greek striving for redemption seeks as its goal to be freed from this eternal circular course and thus to be freed from time itself. (pg. 52)
Against this view of cyclic time stands God's contrasting revelation of linear time. Even though Carl Sagan teaches that "all that ever was, is or is to be, is the cosmos," the physical creation is not eternal. Creation had a beginning; it has a temporary shelf-life and will one day be gone. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) "...the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat...." (II Peter 3:10)
Into a secular world living on its cyclic merry-go-round and wanting to get off, the message of Jesus Christ as "the same yesterday, and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8) came to jolt the pagan world into God's reality of time. Oscar Cullman continues, "The New Testament knows only the linear time concept of Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow; all philosophical reinterpretation and dissolution into timeless metaphysics is foreign to it.... Because time is thought of as a progressing line, it is possible here for something to be 'fulfilled'; a divine plan can move forward to complete execution." (pg. 53)
One powerful argument for the divine Grafting of Christianity in Christ is that it could not be an absorption of surrounding paganism; it brashly confronted and contradicted prevailing secular thought. Paul stood the pagan world on its ear saying, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Gal. 4:4 & 5) The world was trying to exit time. God's redemptive plan directed Christ to enter it. Thus, for all its hazards, if we synchronize with God, time is our ally and not our enemy.
Christian time is always linear and sequential. In the New Testament, several different Greek words describe elapsing time.
chronos - time generally and sequentially
genos - a generation or average lifetime
hemera - a day or short period of time
hora - an hour or extremely short period of time
kairos - a season; a select, opportune, extremely strategic and unrepeatable period
aion - age or very long period sometimes thought to be interminable; used for eternity or eternal (our word aeon or eon comes from it)
Our study of time focuses on the last two. First, consider "aion," a long period of time. Three major eras are designated by "aion."
The age before creation This is implied by the two ages that follow it. This age had no beginning, but did have an ending. Eph. 3:9 speaks
of "...the beginning of the ages (aion)..."
The age from creation to its end This age has a beginning and an
ending. Gal. 1:4 speaks of "this present evil age (aion)."
The age to come This has a beginning, but no ending. Eph. 1:21
declares Christ is Lord of powers "...not only in this age (aion), but also in that which is to come."
Aions, or ages, are grouped together in Ephesians 3:21. "To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all ages, forever and ever..." This actually means "...throughout all generations, unto the age of the ages." Mark 10:30 has two time concepts. Those sacrificially serving God shall receive 10,000 percent return "...now in this time (kairon)...and in the age (aion) to come, eternal (aionias) life."
Every place in the New Testament where we have a translation reading "eternal life," the Greek word for eternal is the same word as age (aion). Thus we have unique "age" or everlasting life in Christ as John 3:16 states.
Since God does not repudiate the age or time concept, but rather sanctifies it and counts spiritual significance along a linear time-line in ages past, present and future, we may view time as an ally and not an enemy. The healthy Christian view of time separates us from pagan nonsense and futility. It has a special bearing on redemption's plan historically and a bearing on our personal lives victoriously.
Most wedding ceremonies have unwittingly absorbed the incorrect view of time. Before the couple exchanges rings, the minister usually says something like, "This ring is a circle, the emblem of eternity." Nowhere in all Scripture is eternity past or future ever shown as circular. If the present age is linear, then the ages past and future are linear, too. The same Greek word is used to describe all three.
When a Christian assumes he is on a wearisome merry-go-round and says, "Stop the world! I want to get off!" he may, in fact, have joined the world.
When a Christian marks time, retreats, drops out or regresses, he contradicts God's basic structure of time and His unique purpose for his life. It is the human view "under the sun" rather than the divine. This human idea of time supposes "That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun," as Ecclesiastes 1:9 sadly states.
A Christian must be sequential to be properly consequential!
When Christianity reverted to the pagan view of time, it lost its power. The earliest heresies were those that rejected God coming into time in the incarnation. Christianity "re-paganized" when it conceived of God as totally divorced from time. Today's "in-house" heresies of materialism and mysticism seem to involve parking or exitingfreezing time or fleeing time. But God is marching on. We must discover His direction and cadences, fall in step and never break rank while we move through this present age between that which is past and that which is to come. As Julia Ward Howe wrote,
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die (live) to make men free
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah... our God is marching on.
This attitude with its inevitable conduct correctly glorifies...
THE PRINCE OF TIME
Hebrews 1:2 dignifies the age/time-line concept as God's creative genius in Christ. God "has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ...through whom also He made the worlds (ages)." "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...." (John 1:14) William E. Booth-Clibborn wrote,
Down from His glory, ever living story,
My God and Savior came, and Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, to His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears, and agony.
Oh, how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God's fullness, dwelleth in Him.
He who made the aeons made time, the present age and entered it as human. What a challenge to the eastern mystic who is intent on gaining nirvana oblivion.
Jesus Christ is Lord of both the weekly and yearly cycles. Most everyone is involved in its result even if ignorant of its cause. The weekly cycle of seven days is linked to Christ's creative genius at the beginning of the present age. Christians especially recognize the seventh of seven days before His death and the first of seven after His resurrection. The entrance of Christ into time dominates the annual cycle that proves Him Lord of time.
In Mark 2:27, 28, Christ proclaims Himself Lord of the Sabbath. In Rev. 1:11, Christ declares, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last (beginning and the end)." In Gal. 4:4, Paul declares that Christ came in the fullness (ripeness) of time. Heb. 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (into the ages or aeons)."
Periodically, men have tried to alter the weekly cycle. In 1792, French revolutionaries attempted to recycle to a 10-day week. It lasted thirteen years. In 1917, Russian revolutionaries proclaimed a five-day week and a six-week month. It lasted eleven years. All previous attempts have reverted to the seven-day cycle. The International Organization for the Standardization of Metrics has designated Monday the first day of the week. Many school children are being taught that Monday is the first day of the week rather than Sunday. One is hard pressed to find a date book or planner that places Sunday first. As long as the church is here, these efforts probably will fail. In the Great Tribulation to come, Antichrist will "...intend to change times and law" (literally, time and law). (Dan. 7:25)
The yearly cycle more dramatically exalts Christ. The world's calendar is the Christian calendar. The Muslim, Jewish and Christian calendars are linear, but only one has an astonishing mid-pointthe birth of Christ!
History is littered with failed attempts to establish other benchmarks. The Romans figured from the founding of Rome. The Caliph Omar established Muhammed's flight from Mecca as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. The astronomer LaPlace attempted to make 1250 AD the starting point of history due to a unique celestial event that took place. In 1948, the new Jewish state of Israel adopted a calendar dating from creation. But they have all given way to the Christian calendar, counting time either before or after the birth of Christ.
Jesus Christ is the ONE both literally and chronologically. Think of it! There was no year "zero," only a year "one" both coming and going. Counting down, there was 4 BC, 3 BC, 2 BC, 1 BC and then AD 1, AD 2, AD 3, 4, 5 and so on. The Jews have tried an end-run around the facts by substituting BCE (Before the Common Era) or CE (the Common Era) for BC and AD, but the designations are identical. The world's calendar has a mid-pointthe birth of Jesus Christ!
A monk in the Middle Ages originated the idea of counting ahead from Christ's birth, but no one knows quite how we began dating back from His birth. Only about 200 years ago did widespread usage of descending years to the birth of Christ begin, indicating that Christ's subtle influence on time itself is increasing even as more time passes since His coming.
The world is really on the Christian calendar, but it doesn't know why. Did an army march, was a battle fought, has a global parliament met or a dictator imposed his will? No! But the world is on a timeline with descending years to Christ's birth and ascending years from it. A miracle has occurred, performed quietly by the Lord of time.
Subtly, everyone honors Christ. The atheist who dates a check, the student who dates a paper, the business man who dates a contract, the doctor who dates a birth certificate and even the coroner who dates a death certificate all attest to Jesus Christ, the Lord of time, who cleanly bisected all history. Worldwide, men count time to Him and from Him. If men were honest, they would confess life only in Him. Jesus is the Lord of both creation and re-creation. "...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (II Cor. 5:17)
How tragic when one is party to...
THE PERVERSION OF TIME
The perversion of time is basically two-fold: a repudiation of time and a distortion of time. One repudiates time by living in the cyclic world of transcendental meditation, the New Age Movement or Christian Science. Any "ism" denying the reality and meaning of God's created universe denies time as well. These are clever denials of the reality of matter, the sinfulness of humans, the deity and incarnation of Christ, His shed blood, His bodily resurrection. His visible return, a future judgment, hell and the pressing need for the new birth.
Today, we confront much of what the early disciples faced in a hostile, pagan world whose citizens yearned to transcend time. Christians know that time is, time is running, time is running forward, time is running out and time is running up in the rapture of the church.
Some people are also caught in a distortion of time, preoccupied with a single aspect. They are lopsided in either the past, present or future. In the '60s, a generation called itself the "now generation," which became the "me generation." Its reality was only the momentary high, the one-night stand, the immediate gratification. Youth became a state instead of a stage. They were one third right, but, being two thirds wrong, they destroyed any lasting enjoyment.
Actually, there is no such thing as a free-standing present. It goes by too fast and cannot be captured. There is only the past and the future, and they overlap slightly somewhere in "now." You can't grab even one second as it goes by! It is like looking straight out the car window and trying to focus on the nearest landscape as it speeds past. It's a blur. But if you look ahead at something coming, you can see it when it gets there and you can follow and enjoy it as it goes by.
"Now generation" victims sought balance by wearing clothes and hairstyles that reflected an ethnic or cultural heritage. They were seeking a lost past shrouded by mere present tense. That generation also devoured science fiction to compensate for future loss. Majoring in present tense was a disaster. Today's generation also focuses on the "now," striving to own the biggest and best material possessions and desperately trying to avoid aging.
On the other hand, people are often preoccupied with only past or future. They say, "I remember when..." "Back in the good old days..." "When I was a boy..." They live in the past and thus ignore the present and the future. Others, while living only for the future, may disregard the past and overlook the present. Sadly, all of this can also be said of many Christians.
The past is historythat's commemoration. The future is prophecythat's anticipation. The present is immediacythat's application. Since there really is no such thing as the present, the Christian's momentary delight is a spiritual blend of the recollection of the past and the anticipation of the future.
Our world needs balanced time, a wealth of equilibrium that Christians possess in the treasure of Scripture. Getting into sync with God balances the essential quality of time past, present and future. It reveals...
THE POTENTIAL OF TIME
Several fabulous texts balance the believer's time. Consider Psalm 16, David's chronological spiritual diary. It is one of six Michtam (extra special) Psalms.
David speaks of his past: salvation "...my soul, you have said to the Lord..." (vs. 2), dedication "I have set the Lord always before me." (vs. 8), and instruction "...the Lord...has given me counsel." (vs. 7)
He speaks of his present: "O Lord, you are [my] portion...." (vs. 5), "My heart instructs me.." (vs. 7), "...He is at my right hand.." (vs. 8), "Therefore, my heart is glad..." (vs. 9)
And he speaks of his future: "I will bless the Lord..." (vs. 7), "...I shall not be moved." (vs. 8), "My flesh also will rest in hope." (vs. 9), "You will show me the path of lifeat Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (vs. 11 )
Because of this blessed focus and proper mix of future and past, David boldly declares, "My heart is glad" (emphasis added). The Apostle Paul, awaiting execution, also had time in balance in II Tim. 4:6-8. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (past) "I am already being poured out as a drink offering." (present) "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness." (future) We blend these in each communion service as outlined in I Cor. 11:26. We "proclaim (present) the Lord's death (past) till He comes (future)."
Without this exquisite biblical blend, we can get stuck in idle nostalgia, empty materialism or wispy mysticism. We must move along God's timeline with balanced perspective. Christianity is a pilgrimage, not a parking lot. We must avoid the "campsite" mentality of Peter, James and John who wanted to remain on the mountain at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:4). But God said, "This is my beloved Son... hear Him." (vs. 5), and so they came down from the mountain to confront challenges, criticism, the demon possessed and the Cross. "Hearing Him" is moving on to the Christian maturity of Hebrews 6:1. "Let us go on to perfection" actually means, "let us be carried forward."
How can this be done?
Admit it propositionally. God's time is linear, not circular. If you are on a treadmill or a merry-go-round, confess it as sin and move on. Tell God you will move along His divinely appointed time line.
Affirm it publicly. Baptism shows that you accept God's historical and finished work in Christ and are willing to express it in the present. Our witness to the return of Christ and our daily responsibility shows we will give account to Him in the future. II Cor. 5:10 warns, "For we must all appear before the judgment seal of Christ: that each one may receive the things done in the body...whether good or bad." We can rejoice that present spiritual investments will bring future rewards. Celebrating the Lord's Supper affirms all three time frames: His death in the past, our witness in the present, and His return in the future.
Apply it personally. In our trials, we can quote one man's favorite verse, "And it came to pass...!" Our worst fears of the future can be cast upon the Lord. The phrase in Prov. 31:25 describing the woman who "shall rejoice in time to come" actually means, "She may smile at the future." Songwriter Stuart Hamblen aptly put it this way. "My heart can sing when I pause to remember, a heartache here is but a stepping stone, along the trail that's always winding upward. This troubled world is not my final home."
In our opportunities, we must apply Ephesians 5:16, "Redeeming the time..." Paul uses the word "redeeming" referring to taking something out of the market place. And time here is the Greek word "kairon," which is used for a unique, unrepeatable period. Make the most of the moment! In Christ, the present can be captured for eternity. Be a bargain hunter in the marketplace of time. Time is like mannawe either use it or lose it. Time will not be repeated, but it may be redeemed. Malachi 3:16 declares, "Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for them who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name." Rev. 14:13 promises that the works of faithful people follow them after death.
In his unsaved condition, Jacob was, as I once heard him described, slippery as an eel and so crooked he could have crawled through a barrel of pretzels and never touched a one. But, as Genesis 32 records, one night Jacob was saved. He is saved by grace and uses the word in Genesis 33:5, 8, 10 & 11. He publicly expressed this by building an altar he called El Elohe Israel (God, the God of Israel) Later, he built another altar called El Bethel (the God of Bethel). It was no longer just the place of God, but the God of the place. Jacob knew he was God's traveler along His divine timeline.
Still later, Jacob erected two pillars showing life's best and worst times. The best was after God talked with him (Gen. 35:14), after which "Jacob journeyed." (vs. 16) But then he faced the most wrenching experience of his life to that time. His beloved Rachel, for whom he worked for fourteen years, died in childbirth near Bethlehem where Jesus would later be born. Jacob was devastated. He named the baby boy Benjamin ("the son of my right hand") showing the close relationship between Jacob and Rachel. He set a pillar on Rachel's grave, and, even after this tragedy, "Israel journeyed" (vs. 21). Jacob moved on in the will of God.
A missionary once wrote from the jungle, "We don't know what is around the next bend in the river, but we know who controls the current." Psalm 31:15 says, "My times are in Your hand."
We must learn the lesson of God's linear will, find out the eternal direction He is moving, fall into step with His divine cadence and not break step for any reason. Our past salvation and future victory means present joy.
Just a few more miles, beloved,
And our feet shall ache no more;
No more sin and no more sorrow;
Hush thee, Jesus went before.
And I hear Him sweetly whispering,
"Faint not, fear not, still press on,
For it may be ere tomorrow,
The long journey will be done."
Scripture quotations are from The New King James Version of the Bible © 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc. except for
Isaiah 13:6 from TheScofteld Reference Bible, King James Version © 1967 Oxford University Press, Inc.