To say that God is eternal deals with God’s being before the foundations of the world. Now, some would say that God is eternal in the sense that He has always existed and there will never be a time when He does not exist. He is alpha and omega, beginning and end. Some think of God as being outside of time. This is the classical idea of God being “from everlasting.” However, I find that we’re promised eternal rewards. What could that mean? Are the rewards somehow timeless in the sense that they are without beginning or end? This doesn’t make sense. We know that we have a beginning, and many of us can think back to a time when we weren’t Christian.
Once again it seems like the obvious answer is that God knew us from before the foundations of the earth, and He had foreknown what we would do, and then set up rewards accordingly. What if that isn’t the case? What if we really do earn rewards in time, and then Jesus “brings His rewards with Him” (Revelation 22:12, Isaiah 40:10)? The idea of an eternal reward is that it does not corrupt. Why does it not corrupt? We need to focus upon the why question, because simply saying that it doesn’t corrupt leads us to sloppy theology. The reward might actually have a beginning. It might indeed be that the beginning of our gaining that reward, which if we read Matthew 25:34, 46 we find that our rewards are considered an inheritance, and “eternal life” was within time itself. Eternal doesn’t necessarily mean without beginning or end, but instead that it is outside of our measurement of time.
One of the classic examples of eternality is a ring. Find on a ring beginning or end. At one point in time, that piece of metal had a “start and finish,” so to speak. It had edges. But now, the ring has no beginning or end. We cannot find where the “edges” came together. So it is with God, and so it is with eternal rewards. We cannot find “when” we earned the reward, but only ask the question, “When Lord?” Thus, I prefer to define eternal as “outside of the physical realm.” Because our rewards, or our inheritance, are outside of the physical realm, it does not corrode or corrupt. This would not be limited to God, but would also include consciousness, minds, angels, demons, and anything else that is simply not physical. I do believe in God’s timelessness, and I wholeheartedly affirm that God is without beginning or end. That, however, doesn’t seem to be the definition of eternality. There are things outside of God deemed “eternal.”
To say that God is outside of our measurement of time would give ample reason to say that God is timeless. There may be time outside of this time, and there might not be time outside of this time. What is more important than saying that God is timeless because He is eternal is to understand that eternality itself would indicate something more than mere “timelessness.” What we look forward to is to be remade, or reformed, into God’s likeness. As John writes, “We know that when we see Him we shall be made like Him,” 1 John 3:2. One of the points of being eternal is that we will not face death. Though our physical bodies will pass through the veil of death, no Christian should fear death because it is the second death, or the lake of fire, that is to be feared. Though our physical bodies might ‘die’ and corrode in the grave, that by no means suggests that the eternal existence of our being (our souls or consciousness) will also decay and corrupt.
As Christians, we look forward to the day that we will be made “like God.” That likeness is not necessarily saying that we will be God. We were formed in His image, and made in His likeness. That forming was only precursory to the glory that God intended for humanity. Our putting on the glorified and resurrected bodies is the ultimate intent of God for humanity. It is that glorified form that we look toward. The glory of resurrection is the eternal reward, and therefore we ought not to see God as being eternal in the sense of timeless, but eternal in the sense of beyond, or transcendent, of the physical plane.
Eternality has many implications, the most central being transcendence. We’ll look into God’s transcendent nature and what precisely that means momentarily. To sum up and conclude our inquiry, we define eternality as “outside of the physical realm.” The most important aspect noted is that the eternal does not corrupt or perish. The only way for an eternal being to perish would be for a “second death,” as mentioned in Revelation 20:14. Little wonder, then, why Jesus tells us to not fear they who can destroy the body only, but to fear the One who can destroy both flesh and spirit in hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:4).