Time And Eternity


Everything around us has a beginning and an end. We were born, we live a certain period of time and then we die.  Everything is perishable.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20

Here we see the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things. Nothing lasts forever on earth.  Everything in heaven lasts forever.

Even our universe had a beginning, and it will have an end. When the end comes everything on earth will be destroyed and come to an end. There will be nothing left. Even our vast universe will be completely destroyed.

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” 2 Peter 3:10

It is difficult for us to think of something being eternal. We have never witnessed such a situation and thus it is difficult for us to comprehend.

When I was a child, I used to repeat over and over again “You mean it’s forever and ever, and ever and ever?” trying to comprehend in my mind what eternity would be like.

We have all heard the illustration that if a bird were to pick up one grain of sand on the Atlantic coast and fly to the Pacific coast and deposit that grain then fly back and forth until it had carried every grain of sand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, eternity would just be beginning. But even in this illustration, there is a period of time for this to be accomplished. But in heaven there is no time.

God lives outside of space and time. God had no beginning, and he has no end.

“One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” 2 Peter 3:8

It is impossible for the human mind to comprehend existence without an end.

We say, “We will spend eternity in heaven.” But this statement betrays our inability to say what it really means. “Spend” is a word for time. It expresses duration. In eternity there is no duration.

It is an existence that has no time references. There is no point of reference from which we can clock time. There is no such thing as time in eternity.

There will be no clocks in heaven. Eternity is not something we pass through in the sense of having a beginning and ending. It is always NOW with God and eternity.

We are discussing an existence that is beyond our present experience. The Holy Spirit uses many metaphors, that cause us to wonder, to be amazed, to be speechless. This is especially true when we are given descriptions of hell and heaven. To use a modern-day phrase, “It blows our minds.”

There are actually few words in human language that can even begin to get across the concept of eternity. However, the Holy Spirit had to use human language to express to us something that is beyond our comprehension. Such words as forever, endless, without end, eternal, and everlasting, are about as close as we can get in human language.

In the Old Testament the word used to express eternity is the Hebrew word “olam.” While it can refer to eternal life that comes after this life, it is interesting that it is also used to express physical things as eternal.

In Habakkuk 3:6 the “Everlasting mountains” are mentioned. Yet we know that mountains will not last forever.

In reference to the ordinances of the Old Testament, it is said frequently that these ordinances are an everlasting covenant. See Leviticus 24:8 / Jeremiah 32:40 / Ezekiel 16:60, KJV. It is also interesting that in later translations this word is rendered as a “lasting” covenant.

We know that the Old Testament covenant was not to last forever because it would come to an end. It would be replaced by a new covenant written on the hearts of men.

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” Jeremiah 31:33

I had a friend as I was growing up who was an orthodox Jew. He would ask me why I believed the New Testament since the ordinances of the Old Testament were said to be “forever,” that evidently God intended for them to last forever.

In Genesis 17:8 the Lord said to Abraham that he would give to him the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession.  Yet when the new covenant came into existence it was no longer necessary that they possess that land. The Passover is spoken of as an everlasting ordinance of God, Exodus 12:24. This is no longer true.

Also, the Sabbath was an everlasting covenant with Israel, Leviticus 24:8. This is no longer true. The same thing is said concerning the priesthood, Caleb’s inheritance and the temple. We know that all these things had an ending.

Thus, we can conclude that the word “olam” which means “eternity” can be used to express existence without an end. With God, there was no beginning nor will there ever be an end.

However, the word “olam” can also mean that something would last for a predetermined length of time (the Mosaic dispensation) and then come to an end. It is essential that we see that the word “eternity” can be used in two different ways.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for eternity is “aionios.” In the New Testament, this word appears many times and is usually translated as “forever” or “eternal.”

But just as in the Old Testament, it can be used in two different ways, so it is with the New Testament word “aionios.” First, it can be used in the sense of an existence with an end. Second, it can be used to designate an existence for a predetermined period but will eventually be terminated.

The word “aionios” is used fifty-one times in the New Testament in reference to the existence of the righteous in a heavenly state where there will never be an end. This same word is used at least seventy times where the context applies it to that which is of a temporary nature and will eventually come to an end.

When reading passages where the Greek word “aionios” (eternal) is used, we need to determine from its context if it is talking about an existence without an end or if is it speaking of a pre-determined period of existence with a final end.

The reason for going into detail about these two words is because of the different views that are held by Biblical students concerning the final punishment of those who are not Christians.

One common view holds that God will eternally torment the lost. There will never be an end to their suffering. This view is probably the view that is held by a majority of members of the Lord’s church.

There is a second view which holds that the lost will receive a just punishment for their sins. Then the Lord will annihilate them.

Then there is a third view that says there will be degrees of reward and degrees of punishment, both of which will be eternal without end.

It might be well for us to take the time to consider the arguments used to substantiate these positions.

First View

Hell is an unending existence of torment for the lost. They will suffer torment, and agony, unendingly, while the saved will enjoy eternal bliss in heaven without end.

Morally good people who have not obeyed the gospel, those who have never heard the gospel who die in ignorance, those who are evil, all will suffer punishment for eternity with no end.

Matthew 25:46 is used for this view.

“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If the word “everlasting” means an existence without an end so does “everlasting punishment” mean an existence without an end.

In other words, “everlasting” means the same to both the righteous and the unrighteous.

Second View

Hell will be an existence of torment for the lost, but its duration will be according to their crimes or sins. The length of torment will be determined by the severity of their sins.

Some sins are worse than others. So, their punishment will be determined by the seriousness of their sins. After their punishment is completed, they will then be annihilated.

What scriptures are used as proof of this? Galatians 6:8 is one scripture.

“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

Living after the flesh Paul says leads to “corruption.” The word “corruption” refers to something that is coming to an end. The one who sows to the Spirit will have everlasting life in contrast to those who sow to the flesh who will be destroyed.

Their earthly lives on this earth will come to an end. The way we live our lives on earth will have its consequences. The wicked will be destroyed and then annihilated. On the other hand, the righteous will be preserved in eternity without end.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

The word “destroy” is used for both the body and the soul. We know what happens to the body. It decays and returns to dust. It changes in its composure. When applied to the soul it indicates that it will change in its composure.

Another Scripture used to prove this view is 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

“These will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.”

In this context, Paul is speaking of the coming of the Lord.

The punishment will take place at his coming. The emphasis is not on duration or beginning but on the fact that at His coming those who do not know God and those who have not obeyed the gospel will be punished with destruction. Notice that punishment is the eternal destruction of the soul.

We might note how destruction is used by Christ.

“And the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:27

No one was left. Everyone outside the ark perished.

“The same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:29

The inhabitants of these two cities were completely wiped out. No one was left.

In hell, destruction has eternal consequences. Destruction expresses the idea of duration. But it is a duration that has an end. This end will be annihilation. Annihilation then is the result of destruction.

The end result of destruction cannot be reversed. It is an irreversible action that will never change. The lost will always be non-existent. The lost will never come back to live again.

This is why Paul could say destruction is eternal or everlasting. Punishment will be measured out according to the severity of one’s sins, and then annihilation will take place for an eternity.

The reverse of this is true of those who are saved. Hebrews 5:9 says, “And having been perfected, He became the author of salvation to all who obey Him.”

When one is baptized the cleansing blood of Jesus saves him or her. The act of salvation is a one-time act. This does not mean one cannot fall away so as to be lost. It does mean that if one remains faithful the certainty of one’s salvation will continue and will be realized in its fullness at the final coming of the Lord.

One does not keep on being saved over and over again. Once redemption has taken place it is full and complete. The process of God’s salvation will eventually end with the end of the world.

When the world ends there will no longer be people to be saved. When one is saved, there is an unending or eternal consequence that results from salvation. The consequence is heaven which is eternal and will go on without there ever being an end.

The punishment, judgment, condemnation, and destruction of the wicked will be a one-time event just as redemption; salvation and justification are one-time actions.

The consequences of all these actions will be eternal, having no end.  They are eternal in nature. They are irreversible. If one is destroyed, he will always be destroyed.  If one is saved, he will always be saved.

Third View

This view is similar to the first view. It holds that both the wicked and the saved will live eternally either in heaven or in hell. There will be no end to their existence.

Some who hold this view, however, believe there will be degrees of reward for those who go to heaven and there will be degrees of punishment for all those in hell.

This view is based to some extent on Luke 12:47-48.

“And that servant who knew his master’s will and did not prepare himself, nor do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes, but he who did not know, and committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask more.”

Many stripes and a few stripes seem to indicate degrees of punishment.

Our system of justice comes from God. Many scholars say that the Law of Moses is actually the underlying basis of our judicial system. We measure out punishment in our courts according to the seriousness of the crime.

For example, stealing would not receive as severe punishment as one who commits murder. Under the Law of Moses, there were some things people could be stoned to death for. Other lesser crimes received a lesser penalty.

The Old Testament abounds with examples of where God’s justice is measured out to an individual according to the severity of his or her crime.

We would think that God’s perfect system of justice would be the same in the Day of Judgment.

Reward also is determined by how dedicated a person may be. In everyday life, we see this principle. A person may receive a bonus, a raise in pay or a promotion because he is a dedicated worker. It is common to reward people for their diligent efforts.

In the spiritual realm, there are some Christians who are more dedicated than others. In fact, we find all levels of commitment and dedication in the Bible.

The apostle Paul was probably one of the most dedicated, if not the most dedicated Christian we read about. When we read the letters to the seven churches in Asia, Revelation 2-3, we can see many degrees of faithfulness.

To some, a Christian’s reward will be based on the degree of their faithfulness. Others say that instead of degrees of reward, they will enjoy heaven to a greater degree than others because they have been more involved in spiritual matters in their earthly lives.

Their love and dedication to the Lord were of such a degree they will have a greater appreciation of heaven than others who have not had the same degree of love and appreciation of the Kingdom (church) here on earth.

This does not mean heaven would not be enjoyable to some. Quite the contrary. Just to be in heaven would bring the greatest delight, joy, and praise from our lips.

Just being in the presence of God and seeing his glory would be a joy that is unspeakable. I once heard Gus Nichols express the idea that some may enjoy heaven to a greater degree than others. Of course, all of this is speculation, and it is not wise to speculate too much.


We have left you with three views of what eternity could be like. None of these views affect or change any fundamental doctrines pertaining to our salvation.

One thing is certain. There is a literal heaven and a literal hell. God will work all things according to what He has planned concerning the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous.

Any feeble efforts on our part to explain how we think God should punish the wicked or how He should reward the saved will not change God’s eternal plan. The wicked will be punished for their wickedness.

No one will go unpunished for their rejection of God, their evil and wicked works, or their persecution of the saints. God is a just God and will render unto all according to their deeds.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

Those who have been faithful to the end will be richly rewarded. Jesus will say to these, “Well done good and faithful servant……Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:23.

Again, eternity is a concept that we cannot fully comprehend. Existence with no end is something our finite minds have difficulty grasping.

There is nothing in our present experience that is comparable to eternity. We walk by faith and not by sight, 2 Corinthians 5:7. God has said it and we believe it.

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Paul heard “inexpressible words.” Thus, we leave this subject with the Lord and look forward to the day when our faith will become sight.