Most people find it difficult to imagine eternity. This is largely because the only kind of existence they have so far experienced is that of a world where everything happens within a framework of time and distance that can be measured. God alone understands eternity fully, because he alone is eternal (1 Tim 1:17). Human beings lives in a created order of which time is a part (Heb 1:2). Even the words they use to speak of eternity come from a world governed by time.

The meanings of words

When the Bible writers referred to eternity, they usually used the word for ‘age’. This was a word that denoted a length of time, without specifying its beginning or end. The writers used the word in relation to things that were very old or that would last for a very long time (Ps 24:7; 125:1; Hab 3:6; Rom 16:25). Concerning the past, the word could mean ‘a long time ago’ (Josh 24:2; Luke 1:70); concerning the future, it could mean ‘endlessness’ (Dan 2:44; 2 Peter 1:11). When they referred to immeasurable time, the writers may have used such expressions as ‘to all ages’ or ‘from age to age’, which have been translated as ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ and ‘for ever and ever’ (Neh 9:5; Ps 21:4; Rom 1:25; Eph 3:21; Jude 25).

The writers used similar expressions when they spoke of God as the eternal one (1 Chron 16:36; Ps 90:2; 106:48). Divine actions are called eternal, or everlasting, because of the character of the eternal God from whom they originate. This applies to both salvation and judgment (Isa 45:17; Jude 7), to life and destruction (John 17:2; 2 Thess 1:9). From a human standpoint, eternity is the age to come, in contrast to the present age (Mark 10:30; Eph 1:21). Eternal life, being the life of the age to come, is endless, because the age to come is endless. More importantly, it is life of a particular quality. It is a life that shares in some way the nature of God and that God gives through Jesus Christ (John 1:4; 5:21,24; 8:51; 17:2-3; see LIFE, sub-heading ‘Eternal life’). Even in the present age, believers in Jesus Christ have the life of the age to come – eternal life, the life of the kingdom of God (Matt 19:16,24; John 3:3,5,15; Col 1:13; see KINGDOM OF GOD).

Divine and human viewpoints

Jesus’ teaching concerning the nature of eternal life showed that it was more than merely life stretched out for ever. It was life of an entirely different order from the normal life of this world (John 4:14; 6:51,63; 17:3). Likewise eternity is not time stretched out for ever, but is something of an entirely different order. The realization of this helps to ease the difficulties that may arise in understanding God’s foreknowledge. God is not limited by time, and therefore he sees time differently from the way human beings see it (2 Peter 3:8). An illustration that may help is that of a rod suspended horizontally in mid-air in a room. The rod has a beginning and an end, and represents time.

The room represents eternity (assuming now that its floor, ceiling and walls are removed and it extends endlessly in all directions). From any point in the room (i.e. eternity), a person can see the whole rod (i.e. time). Human beings, who live in time, might be likened to an ant moving along the rod. They have a record of what is past, they are conscious of what is present, but they do not know what lies ahead. God, from the viewpoint of eternity, sees the whole of time as eternally present before him. (See also TIME.) It is therefore inadequate to think of God’s eternity solely as everlasting existence. God is not limited in any way. His characteristics and qualities are immeasurable in every aspect of his being (Deut 33:27; Ps 103:17; 145:13; Isa 54:8; Rom 1:20; 1 Tim 1:17; see GOD).

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