When we look to the future as God has written it, we necessarily encounter a critical concept: time. There was no time before God created it. Prior to this, God existed forever in the eternal past as the Trinity, consisting of the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Because God is the Creator of time, He exists above and beyond its boundaries and limitations. Because God transcends and governs time and all that occurs within it, His pronouncements about time are certain. In other words, when God says something happened in the past or will happen in the future, it is a fact.
God’s first reference to time in His Word occurs in its first sentence, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is when the universal clock started ticking, at the moment of creation. But this is not the earliest revelation we have of this world and God’s purpose for it. The Bible actually reveals the thoughts and experiences of God prior to the beginning of time, and this is where we must go to comprehend God’s design for the future—a design that centers around a Person, a plan, a prerogative and a proclamation.
To know the Person around whom all history is oriented, and especially regarding God’s design for the future, we look to the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. Here, this central Person—God the Son, Jesus Christ—unveils His relationship with God the Father as nowhere else in Scripture, a relationship that centers around their shared glory. As presented in the Introduction, the revelation of the glory of God is the theme of all Scripture. And in verse 5, Jesus makes an interesting request to His Father regarding that divine glory, as He prays, “And now, Father, glorify Me in your own presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed.” Jesus is saying in the eternal past, He enjoyed a glorious existence with His Father, one He now desired to be fully showcased. Then in verse 24, Jesus continues, “Father, I desire they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that you have given Me, because you loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
What is this glory God the Son was given by God the Father before time began—a glory Jesus desires to be fully displayed? And who are the ones given to the Son by the Father? The Bible reveals that the glory God the Father is bequeathing to His Son centers on a kingdom, given to the Son by the Father. The prophet Daniel describes it as follows:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man [i.e. God the Son, Jesus Christ], and He came to the Ancient of Days [i.e. God the Father] and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.Dan 7:13-14
In other words, before time began, God the Father designed to give His Son a kingdom, whose citizens would represent a cross-section of all peoples, nations and languages, forever marveling at the Son’s glory and worshipping Him for it. This coming kingdom, then, is where everything with regard to the future is aiming. If you ever become confused in your study of eschatology, you can reorient yourself by recalling this fundamental truth: all things are headed toward the kingdom God the Father has determined to give to His Son, Jesus Christ.
What about the makeup of the kingdom? Who are to be its citizens, whom Jesus describes as given to the Son by the Father, and how do they become eligible? To answer this, let us return to John 17 and look at God the Father’s plan for delivering this kingdom to His Son. The chapter begins with Christ’s statement to His Father that, “the hour has come” (v. 17:1b; cf. 12:23). What hour? We get a clue from 1 Peter 1:20, where it says of Christ: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you [believers]” (emphasis added). Foreknown as what? Verses 18-19 give the answer, when it says of these believers, “… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
What Peter is saying is before the foundation of the world, God the Father planned to send His Son, Jesus Christ, as the perfect Lamb of God who would ransom sinners from their sin. This is what Hebrews 13:20 refers to as the “eternal covenant” between God the Father and His Son. The implication of this covenant from the eternal past is profound: sin and its only sufficient atonement via the shedding of blood (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22) were both anticipated before the foundation of the world. In other words, God’s plan that Christ would die for sinners was established before any sinner ever existed! It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul writes, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:9; emphasis added).
God the Father thus determined before time began that He would save sinners and call sinners by His own grace and for His own purpose. This purpose, we now know, is for those who are redeemed by Christ to forever worship Him in His kingdom for His sacrifice in suffering the just punishment for sin on their behalf (Lam 3:1; Rev 5:9-11). The hour of which Jesus spoke in John 17:1 was the hour God the Father had determined before time began would be the pinnacle of all history, when His Son would endure the Father’s wrath in judgment against every sin of all who would ever repent and believe in the Son’s substitutionary sacrifice, and so satisfy the divine condition for atonement (cf. Isa 54:4-6; 9-11; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Scripture says this is the highest form love has ever taken (John 15:13; Rom 5:6, 8-10), and since love is preeminent among the holy virtues of God (1 Cor 13:13), Christ’s suffering in obedience to His Father’s will is the most glorious act of all time. Knowing all this was imminent, Jesus’ desire at the Last Supper prior to His crucifixion was for the Father to share in the glory He was about to display, which is why He proclaims, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him at once” (John 13:31-32).
There is something more to emphasize about those giving tribute to Christ for His glory in His kingdom to come: each and every one of the kingdom’s citizens was chosen by God the Father individually and by name in eternity past (John 6:37, 44; 1 Cor 1:26-31). Note how Paul unveils this truth in his second letter to the Thessalonians (NKJV):
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Thess 2:13-14; emphasis added
To the Ephesians, Paul explains that God the Father,
…chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will,to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.Eph 1:4-5; emphasis added
In other words, God chose a portion of humanity before time began—the elect of God—to be saved from their sin by His Son, all according to His own purpose and plan that His Son might be eternally glorified. Paul states his entire ministry is, “…for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10; emphasis added).
This is a stunning revelation: every person who comes to Christ was chosen by the Father prior to His creation of the world (John 6:37, 44, 65). In other words, the future kingdom participants were determined by the prerogative of God before time began. They were individually selected and their names were written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life before any of them ever came into being (Rev 13:8; 17:8), all for the purpose of exalting the Son’s glory forever. Does that sound unfair to you, that God would choose some and not others for the kingdom He planned to give to His Son? That’s understandable, because it’s a human inclination, spawning from the human mind. But you must remember the human mind has been corrupted by sin, and cannot be trusted to know what is truly fair or right in this world (Eph 4:17-18; Titus 1:15). Prior to its regeneration by Christ, the human mind is incapable of understanding the true justice of God (Rom 8:7-8). Not only that, the events of this world are not arranged around what humans think is right or best, but around what God has determined will portray His glory most magnificently. Notice again God’s rationale for His sovereign election of sinners, that they might be “to the praise of His glorious grace….” (Eph 1:5; emphasis added). The salvation of sinners, as with all things, is ultimately designed to enhance the glory of God.
How was all this to be known? How were humans ever to understand God’s sovereign, eternal plan, demanding repentance from sin and belief in the Savior’s sacrifice to save? Here we come to God’s proclamation, the Word of God, also foreknown before time began. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “…we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor 2:7; emphasis added). What is this “secret and hidden wisdom” which God planned before He made the world? His holy Word, and in particular the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Of this gospel, Paul declares he was
made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace…to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.Eph 3:7, 9-10; emphasis added
Paul is saying that God’s plan for the purpose and future of the world was not only known by Him, but was actually established in His Word prior to the existence of time. And it is this Word, and this Word only, to which we must turn if we are to understand the future God has planned for the world.
The Triune God experienced a Trinitarian glory between its Persons from eternity past. Out of this glorious existence, God the Father determined before the foundation of the world to glorify His Son by giving Him a kingdom, made up of a wide cross-section of redeemed sinners. Of His own prerogative, He chose these sinners individually for the purpose of glorifying His Son, who would pay the price of their atonement and so rescue them from their deserved damnation. As we have seen, the Bible is clear this was all transpiring within the mind of God before time began, before any creation had occurred.
You can read more on this topic in Colin’s book, What the Bible Says About the Future.
Colin Eakin is an orthopedic surgeon in Palo Alto, California and member of Creekside Bible Church in Cupertino, California. He lives with his wife and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of God's Glorious Story and most recently, What the Bible Says About the Future.