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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, November 04 2021

God's plan before time began

Everything from the mighty sun to the tiniest cell is governed by time, and has a beginning and an end. Until the last century scientists believed time was eternal and absolute.

by Mario Seiglie

Even Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the famous scientist who discovered gravity, believed time was eternal. It was only during the 20th century that Einstein's theory of relativity and the detection of cosmic background radiation, among other findings, indicated time actually had a beginning and was woven into the very fabric of space.

Also, all the known ancient religious books except for the Bible describe time as being eternal. Only the Bible boldly claims there was a moment when time, as we know it, did not exist and this concept is mentioned in several places.

As the astrophysicist Hugh Ross points out: "Because humans are trapped in time, where time is linear and cannot be halted or reversed, the idea that anything could exist 'before' time defies imagination. Yet, both the Old and New Testaments, uniquely among pre-modern texts, refer to God's activities 'before the beginning of time' (see for example Proverbs 8:22-23; John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:9)" (Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, 2008, pp. 128-130).

God "inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15)—in other words, it is His dwelling place from where He can intervene at will in the universe (Isaiah 46:10). The Bible reveals that not only has God always existed, but that He made great plans for humanity "before time began."

The reason you and I were created is to have an unending relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and all whom They would eventually glorify (Hebrews 2:10).

As 1 John 3:1-2 tells us: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!... and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

The grace of God, His undeserved favour toward us, is something that was planned before time began. "God . . . has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" (2 Timothy 1:9).

Prior to the beginning of time, God established a way for us to be forgiven of our sins. Before mankind existed, God the Father and the Word who became Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14) were willing to have Jesus, beloved Son of the Father, sacrificed in suffering and death as a substitute for our sins. "And if you call on the Father...knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things...but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (1 Peter 1:18-20).

God planned the universe and our existence down to the smallest detail and has revealed His marvelous plan through His prophets and apostles. This plan of salvation is outlined by the festivals of God laid out in the Bible, which reveal seven main steps. This plan of salvation culminates in the opportunity for all who have ever lived without knowing God to be resurrected and offered the chance to accept Jesus Christ's sacrifice for their sins. They will at last have the "veil" of deception removed which kept them blinded from God's spiritual truths during their lifetime in this age (Isaiah 25:7-8).

God's gift of eternal life, His grace and the hidden brilliance and wisdom of His wonderful and gracious plan for the salvation of mankind was established prior to creation for all to one day choose and enjoy.

Herod the Great

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.