Something even more startling about Time and timings emerges as we look at the ministry of Christ in the New Testament.
Isaiah 53:6 reveals that it was on the cross that God “laid upon him the iniquity (sin) of us all”—the past tense showing again that it was a “done deal” in God’s heavenly timing although it had not yet happened on Earth. This nevertheless confirmed that forgiveness for sins would come from Christ’s substitutionary death on Earth.
Now things are about to get truly mind blowing—vital aspects of Jesus’ ministry, before he was actually crucified, depended upon his personal sacrifice that was still to happen on Earth!! For example, he forgave sins (Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:48) and healed many people.
Matthew 8:16,17 confirms this extraordinary timing:
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken though the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:4)—
“He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases”.
Let’s dwell on this extraordinary situation a little longer. Isaiah around 700 BC was foretelling the consequences resulting from the death of the future Messiah, that he would take our infirmities and diseases upon himself so that provision for these could be made for us. Matthew 8:17 is proclaiming that Jesus centuries later was already healing people on the basis of his own impending death, described in Isaiah and written down centuries earlier, but which had not yet happened on our planet! Despite this, Jesus was already forgiving sins and doing the healings that would be accomplished during his own future crucifixion on Earth.
How can we make sense of that?
We can only conclude that in one sense, Jesus’ death had already happened from the perspective of God in Heaven because he had declared it—past tense. But for Jesus on Earth, the horror of the cross lay ahead—future tense.
This illustrates two stages of timing exist for earthly reality:
Stage 1 – God in Heaven credits an event to have happened already when he decides it in Heaven and scripture records it as such—in advance of it actually happening on Earth.
Stage 2 – Humankind on Earth experiences that event which God has already decided in Heaven, frequently after many earthly years. It may then happen in an instant, or as a development that takes a short or long time.
This also explains how Jesus was declared in 1Peter 1:20 to be “chosen before the Creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake”. This is a crystal-clear statement of how Two-Stage Process works. Similarly, Revelation 13:8 identifies Jesus as the sacrificial lamb “who was slain from the Creation of the world”.
Both of the above quotes were written in the Greek language in the New Testament, with its strict attention to the past and future.
A further unexpected feature of scripture arises from this principle:
God is purpose-focussed rather than Time-focussed, such that scripture may range widely and unexpectedly through Time on Earth.
For example, when one of God’s authors inspired by the Holy Spirit is writing about the Messiah in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is concerned for the mission of that special person and the details may span many centuries in a sentence. This is why the Jews of Jesus’ day expected a coming King as well as a Saviour, all at the same time. They did not realise that many centuries would separate two comings. The first coming was the incarnation at Bethlehem, the second will be the “Second Coming” shortly before the Judgement.
The famous quote from Isaiah 9:6,7 illustrates this distinction:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given (First Coming), and the government will be on his shoulders (Second Coming).
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that Time on and forever (Second Coming—continuing after Judgement).
Between Christ’s coming as a child, and his future return to the Earth to rule and reign, twenty centuries have elapsed already. However, one purpose of the child was to rule and reign at some future Time, and so this intention is confirmed within a few words of his prophesied first coming. The purpose remains unchanging while it is Time that flows.
Purpose, determined by God in Heaven, takes precedence over timing on Earth!
This is a vital principle for us to remember in our own lives and plans. In fact, who we truly are, and why, is contingent upon God’s purposes for us rather than on timing.
A comparable spanning of Time and timing being subservient to purpose was identified when Jesus personally selected a passage to read aloud in the Nazareth synagogue. He unrolled the scroll, found Isaiah 61:1,2, then read aloud the ancient prophecy about himself (Luke 4:16-21):
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Note that the anointing and the authority to do these things had not been given at Jesus’ birth, or at his baptism some weeks before when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, or during his encounter with Satan in the wilderness, or even the previous day—it was only fulfilled that very day on which he announced the start of his public ministry.
But why did Jesus stop reading the scroll there? It is because the verse in Isaiah continued with the phrase, “…and the day of vengeance of our God”, and Jesus was not ready to proclaim that, because it was not yet God’s Time for that to happen. Until now, that day still lies ahead.
Prophecies can catch us by surprise, in the sense that predicted events which we expect to happen in a slow development can do so with unanticipated rapidity. For example, twenty-five forecasted details from the Old Testament of Christ’s betrayal, trial, death and burial were fulfilled within only twenty-four hours at the end of his life. I wonder how many of these were recognised by the learned spiritual leaders of the day? Some of these leaders had even been complicit in his judicial murder, despite the ringing prophecies describing his suffering and death. The Apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 2:7-8 gives an insightful explanation that in addition confirms the accuracy of prophecy beginning in Heaven but spanning many centuries on Earth:
We declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden
and that God destined for our glory before time began.
None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
What does “Time in Heaven” involve, where important events on Earth are predetermined, and why has God designed humankind to function on a planet in a Universe that is characterised by a different Time and timings to those in Heaven?
Let’s explore this question that is especially relevant to the Creation—and to ourselves personally.
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