Time in Eternity

by Glenn Conjurske

A strange notion has taken hold of the minds of many, namely, that there is no time in eternity. Many good and great men have embraced this opinion, and taught it as though it were self-evident truth. The notion may seem harmless at first sight, but when its ramifications are viewed, it is found to be pernicious enough. There may be little danger in the notion itself, but the principle by which it is maintained overturns the sound interpretation of the word of God, and in fact deliberately sets the mind of man above the word of God. More on that ere we conclude.

But first it should be pointed out that the advocates of this theory make little pretense of basing it upon Scripture. Its real foundation is philosophical reasoning—-though not deep or sound reasoning, I am persuaded. Yet one text of Scripture is commonly cited for its support, namely,

Rev. 10:6-7, which says, “And [the angel] sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” A note in Tomson’s edition of the Geneva New Testament (first published in 1576) informs us upon this verse, “Neither time it selfe, nor the things that are in time: but that the world to come is at hand, which is altogether of eternitie, and beyond all times,” and on the word “time” itself, “There shall neuer be anymore time.”

This has been quite generally supposed, but I remark in passing that no premillennialist has any excuse for believing so, for he must certainly know that there must be a thousand years of time beyond the event of this verse. The real and only meaning of the verse is that (as we would say), their time has run out. The day of grace has run its course, and come to its end, and the day of judgement follows. And yet there is no need to consult premillennialists to find this understanding of the verse maintained. Swete says (The Apocalypse of St. John, in loc.), “…not `Time shall be no more’ … as the ancient commentators for the most part interpret, but `there shall no more be any interval of time, any further delay.”’ Bloomfield says (The Greek Testament, in loc.), “I cannot but agree with Prof Scholefield, that neither the common translation, nor another which has been proposed (`that the time should not be’), gives a satisfactory sense; and that the words ought to be rendered, `that there should be no more delay.”’

The fact is, this very verse itself certainly teaches us that time as such shall continue on through eternity, for the angel swears by “him that liveth for ever and ever.” Now “ever” is a time word, which means “at all times,” as the reader may learn from any dictionary. If you insist upon the Greek rather than the English, the case remains just the same, for the Greek says, quite literally, “him that liveth unto the ages of the ages.” Ages are time, and the fact is, eternity and things eternal are constantly described in Scripture in terms of time. But ere we proceed to demonstrate that, we must first pause to define what time is, for it is more than likely that those who deny its existence in eternity have no clear idea as to what time is, and have never thought deeply enough to know what it is they are denying. If they had, they would likely soon have detected the foolishness of their denial.

Simply stated, time is that state of things in which one moment succeeds another—-in which one event, or one action, or one thought, follows another. Wherever one thing follows upon another, there is time. Wherever there is an end or a beginning, of anything whatsoever, even of a thought, there is time. Wherever anything is repeated, the second occurrence following after the first, there is time. Wherever there is motion, there is time. Wherever there is activity, there is time. Wherever there is change, there is time.

This last statement will of course be used against me by shallow philosophers. God, they will affirm, does not change. There is therefore no time with him. Let such philosophers consider what it is they are saying. “All things are always present to him,” they will affirm. Does this then mean that one thought never succeeds another with God, that one of his acts never succeeds another, that he had always created the world, or rather, is always creating it, that one word which he speaks never succeeds another? Take one example only. Exodus 4:14 says, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother?” etc. “Was kindled.” He was not angry with Moses a moment before. Moses’ words provoked his anger, kindled it. If this is not so, then words mean nothing.

God changes not in his character, in his person, in his attributes, and perhaps in some other things besides. But whatever the Lord’s “I change not” may mean, it does not mean that one thought, one emotion, one act, one word, does not succeed another in God, the same as they do in those creatures which he has made in his image. “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” But these fine-spun philosophical theories give the lie to the plain word of God. And if this word of God did not exist, these theories would give the lie to that common sense with which the Creator of man has endowed him.

Was God then feeling this anger against Moses equally through every moment (excuse the term) of all of the revolutions (excuse that also) of eternity? Had Moses always committed the act which provoked that anger of the Lord—-nay rather, was he before God always committing it? Was God always speaking this word “Aaron” (both syllables at once), and at the same time (excuse this) speaking also the following word, “the Levite”—-simultaneously also, and unchangingly throughout all of eternity, speaking also the following word, “thy brother”—-along with some billions or trillions of other words? Or did God speak his words in succession, one following the other? If he did, there is time with God.

We certainly know that there is time in heaven. The four beasts of the Apocalypse “rest not day and night, saying Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8). This they do “day and night.” This is time. And if the second “holy” which they speak follows the first, and the third the second, and the second repetition of the whole formula follows the first, etc., etc., then that is time. If one word follows another, then one moment (in which those words are spoken) follows another, and that is time. The Apocalypse also tells us (8:1), “there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” No one will doubt that half an hour denotes time. This “in heaven.” It is also in heaven (Rev. 6:11) that the souls under the altar are told that they must “rest yet for a little season”—-where the Greek is v , that is, “time.” But I must proceed to demonstrate time in eternity.

Whatever we know of eternity is told us in terms which denote time. This leads us properly to the conclusion that eternity in fact is time. It is time of endless duration.

Of eternal torments we read, they “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev. 20:9). All of this denotes time. And what can “ever and ever” mean (or “ages of ages” if you prefer the Greek), if not a succession of times?

Again, “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image.” (Rev. 14:11).

God is said in several places to have acted “before the foundation of the world.” This must then have been before time existed, according to the theory of some, yet the use of the word “before” proves unquestionably that time did then exist. One thing cannot come before another if there is no time. The only other alternative is to affirm that the world has always existed, and is eternal as God himself. To say that it was always present to the mind of God is begging the question. Did it actually exist? If it did, then there was no creation at all, and surely God did nothing before the foundation of the world.

God himself is commonly spoken of in time words. He is “the Ancient of days.” (Dan. 7:13). He is “him that liveth for ever.” (Dan. 12:7). He is “him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” (Rev. 1:4).

But the common language of Scripture is all set aside by our philosophers, who affirm that in so speaking God is only condescending to the weakness of human thought, or the weakness of human language. But I deny that any such weakness exists, either in human thought, or in human language. These philosophers have no trouble expressing themselves concerning what they regard as a state of timelessness, and why cannot God? Is their mind above his? Have they a better command of human language than God does? God could as well call himself “the timeless God” as “the everlasting God.” He could as well call himself “him who knows no time” as “him who is, and who was, and who is to come.” He could call himself “the Eternal Now,” or “the Changeless Now,” instead of “the Ancient of Days.” But the fact is, God has not spoken such things, for they are not the truth. What he has spoken is the truth. But these philosophers must set their minds above it, and I have even known one who practically put more faith in Einstein’s theory of relativity than in the words of the everlasting God. This is unbelief. And however it may be passed off as some kind of superior reason, it is really not superior at all, but very shallow thinking. It does not go deep enough to understand the thing it denies. It denies the obvious, and affirms the absurd. The state which it imagines is an impossible one, except only on one hypothesis, namely, that there is no life. But so long as there is activity, then one moment must follow and succeed another, and that is time. And so long as there is life, there is activity, and heaven and eternity are full of both.

We all speak popularly of “time” and “eternity,” and draw a sharp contrast between the two, and I suppose no harm is done by this, so long as we mean nothing more by it than to contrast the present with the future—-the state of things which exists now, with the state of things which shall obtain then. Yet the terminology is not altogether proper, for in reality eternity is nothing more than never-ending time. Eternity is made up of time. Eternity is time.

Glenn Conjurske