Modern man, particularly modern Western man, lives with the illusion of having mastery over time. We strap it to our wrists or consult it on our phones. We schedule appointments, plot out projects, and carve up our calendars. It’s predictable, manageable, measurable, and consistent. We remember our past, live in our present, and look forward to the future. Simple. No, not really.
Time is not too terribly complex, until you think about it. Every sunrise we’ve seen actually occurred slightly more than eight minutes before. Every experience we have is neurologically on time delay. We are cognizant of it after it happens, if only by nanoseconds. What we perceive as being the present isn’t. And that is just the start of the problem. What of the past? Our memories are subjective and the timelines we learned in history class are relative (are those dates Julian or Gregorian?). And the future, who knows it?
Philosophers have wrestled with these issues for centuries, if not millennia. Unfortunately, science hasn’t been much help in clarifying them for us. The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes the arrow of time as we experience it – a unidirectional flow from past to future – but fails to explain why it moves in that direction at all. To make matters worse, the math works just as well in the opposite direction but the world clearly doesn’t. The coil spring of our universal clock ticks relentlessly forward, heedless of Einstein’s relativistic physics or of writers’ time-traveling fantasies.
That we think of time as being progressive – moving forward – at all is such a distinctly Western trait that most of us seldom question, let alone ponder, its origins. A people who looked forward to a future with surprises and hope didn’t really exist in the world until God called Abram. The Sumerian culture he lived in, as well as all the ancient cultures that surrounded him, perceived all of life and time itself as cyclical: what is has been and will be again. Man had no true destiny, only fate. His duty was to pay homage to and fulfill his part in the cycles of the cosmos. What would be would be; there was no changing or escaping it. And then God said to Abram, “Go.”
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
Abraham’s journey of faith into the unknown in obedience to the Unseen was a break from his culture and his culture’s wheel of time. It began an understanding in man of a true progressive history that led to a better tomorrow. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
This new view of time, one that shattered the potter’s wheel and shredded the spider’s web, as moving forward toward a better day is how most of us live through time but is in contradiction to how science defines its arrow. The Second Law of Thermodynamics stated simply tells us that in a closed system, disorder always increases. Absent input from the exterior, things get more chaotic. Oxford chemist Peter Atkins captures the depressing aspect of this materialistic reality:
“We have looked through the window on to the world provided by the Second Law, and have seen the purposeless-ness of nature…All change, and time’s arrow, point in the direction of corruption. The experience of time is the gearing of the electrochemical processes in our brains to the purposeless drift into chaos as we sink into equilibrium and the grave.”
And as depressing as Atkins’s analysis is, it is nothing more than a true observation of the state of the universe. Scripture informs us that the creation has been subjected to futility and is in bondage to decay. On a macro-cosmic scale, things do move from bad to worse. Absent external intervention, the heat signature of the universe will become completely uniform and all life will cease to exist. This forward motion toward chaos, death, and decay is not how God has defined time.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
The creation account shows a definite move from chaos and disorder – without form, void, dark – to order, “Let there be light.” As each day unfolded, time moved forward and things became better, more organized and fruitful. Time surely passed from day to day. So even though we can tell the progression of time today through the decay of elements, flesh, and worldly systems; it cannot be what time’s flow truly is.
Decay set in with sin for “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God cursed the ground He had blessed. Thorns and thistles bloomed to block man’s toiling plow. Cain murdered Abel and empires subjected men to slavery. Flood, famine, savagery, and sorrow; the Bible shies away from none of these. The naked truth of sin is exposed for all to see, particularly in the lives of the patriarchs and princes. Man expends his energy to build and conquer while sin continues its degrading work.
But laced throughout the entire work is the promise of redemption, the coming of the Redeemer. With every sheep’s slaughter, with every festival’s song, with every captive’s deliverance, and every victory won was beat the drum that Messiah would come. And then, he was there.
His appellation, Jesus of Nazareth, is the height of humbleness. It obscures the legacy of his birth while marking him as a man of time and place. Here we find no breathy, ineffable Tetragrammaton or the answer of a question with a question. From his rightful place on the ground, Saul of Tarsus called out “Who art thou, Lord?” and He replied, “Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecuteth.” Jesus of Nazareth; not the Son of God, not Jesus the Messiah, not even Jesus ben David ben Abraham of Bethlehem. No, Jesus of Nazareth; a historical man from a historical place whose mystical body Saul was chasing like a wolf charges after its prey.
The Son’s entrance into our space-time continuum is well documented. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise,” Matthew says as if starting a man’s story as all men’s stories start: ordinary and human. But as the intrigue on his entrance unfolds, Matthew lets us in on the time-traveling wonder of this helpless babe now arrived to the dismay of kings. When the magi came to Herod seeking the born King of the Jews, he questioned the experts as to where this event was to take place. In Bethlehem of Judah, they informed him, for so said the prophet Micah. Matthew records for us the portion of the prophecy the scribes provided, inviting us to view its fuller context. And when one does, the ages unfold ever so slightly and give us a glimpse beyond the obvious.
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [Emphasis added.]
Jesus himself began to reveal the time-bending aspects of his existence as he interacted with his critics.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
This wasn’t a quaint use of language or even a figure of speech. It was a declaration of divinity. Before Abraham was, he said, I AM. Rest assured; those who heard him in that earthly time and space understood full well what he was saying. We know this from their reaction. “Then took they up stones to cast at him” verse 59 informs us. They did not take kindly his claim to eternal existence.
The veil was pulled back a bit farther on the mountain top. There under the cloud of God’s glory, the Son shone brighter than lightning. Peter, James, and John looked on with amazement as Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus. The time frames that combined on that day are startling to our linear perspective. Sometime circa 27 AD, Jesus of Nazareth led his innermost circle up into a high mountain. While there, the veneer of our space-time peeled momentarily away to reveal the Son in the glory he had “before the world was.” Attendant at the event were Moses, whom the Lord buried around 1406 BC, and Elijah, whom the Lord swept up in 848 BC. They discussed with Jesus what was yet to come: his death and what he would accomplish in Jerusalem. Time travel indeed!
The hour finally came when the Lamb of God laid down his life. Sometime around what we would call 3 PM on Nisan 14th, Jesus commended his spirit into the Father’s hands. Those hands are omnipresent and the journey Jesus’s spirit undertook is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that through the course of the next three days, he continued to declare his finished work.
Christ’s crucifixion isn’t a matter of historical debate. The event is documented in secular sources of the day as well as the Bible. It occurred at a definite place and in a definite time. It was a singular event, as the writer of Hebrews informs us.
24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
He appeared once to suffer and sacrifice himself for sin. But look at the time bends in verse 26: since the foundation of the world (past), now (present), in the end of the world (future), hath appeared (present perfect, action completed sometime in the past). And if this weren’t challenging enough, John writes of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
All of our iniquities were laid on him. The entire time span of mankind’s sin, from its first bite to its last blasphemy, was placed upon Jesus as he hung on the cross and he tasted death for every man – past, present, and future. A temporal event with eternal consequences, the crucifixion made possible man’s redemption and creation’s repair.
Romans 8:11, 18-21
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
When the Lord gave Moses the instructions for the first Passover, He said “this month shall be unto you the beginning of months.” God changed how the Jews marked time and the beginning of the year. It would start with deliverance, lead to liberty, and culminate with inheritance. On that ominous 14th of Nisan, the children of Israel slaughtered their lambs and splashed blood on their doorposts. That night, while the Destroyer reaped the firstborn throughout Egypt, Israel rested safe beneath the blood in cruciform on the doors of their houses.
The progress of time, its ever-moving-forwardness, is a product of God’s ever-pressing-onward redemption. The earth was without form and void and God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. The day had dawned.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Before the foundation of the world, the Father chose us in Christ. From its establishment, the Son committed himself to our redemption. “Here am I, send me,” moved to “Lo, I come,” pressed forward to “I am he,” advanced to “it is finished,” and continued with “He is risen!” The eternal Son of God suffered once and tasted death for all in every time frame. No sin past, present, or future can withstand the cleansing power His blood when appropriated by faith. And His blood, the heartbeat of redemption, is what time flows forward on.
The hour has come for us to awaken from our slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost over; daylight nears it dawning. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and don the armor of light.
 Thomas Cahill in The Gift of the Jews documents this world-changing journey. It is a fascinating read. My caveat to the reader is that it is not written from an Evangelical perspective.
 All Scriptures are from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
 Genesis 12:3
 Quoted by Dan Falk, In Search of Time: The Science of a Curious Dimension, (New York: Thomas Dunne Books 2008), 141.
 Romans 8:19-22
 Genesis 2:17
 Genesis 2:17-18
 See Exodus 3:13-15 and Judges 13:15-22.
 Acts 22:7-8
 Matthew 1:18
 Matthew 2:1-6
 John 17:5
 Deuteronomy 34:5-6
 2 Kings 2:11
 Luke 9:31
 Luke 22:44-46
 Revelation 13:8
 Hebrews 2:9
 Exodus 12:2
 Ephesians 1:4
 Revelation 13:8
 Isaiah 6:8-10 with John 12:41; Hebrews 10:7; John 18:4-6; 19:30; and Matthew 28:6 respectively.
 Romans 12:10-14