Keeping a Balanced View of Time
“Show us just how to count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.”—Ps. 90:12.
1, 2. What do we all experience as to the passage of time?
LIFE is a precious possession. Without it nothing else matters. (Matt. 6:25-27; 16:26) But even in our modern world the life-span of humans remains short and all too soon comes to an end. Just as the writer of the ninetieth psalm long ago put it: “Seventy years is the span of our life, eighty if our strength holds; the hurrying years are labour and sorrow, so quickly they pass and are forgotten.”—Ps. 90:10, New English Bible.
2 In many lands, when a person has reached thirty years of age he is in what may be called the “prime of life.” Yet, the shortness of the human life-span means that he is then already beginning to go ‘downhill’ physically, beginning to experience a slowing down of body abilities and functions. Yes, how quickly the years pass.
3. Why do people get impatient about accomplishing their desires?
3 No wonder, therefore, that we humans are generally very conscious of time. No wonder, too, that humans alone of all earth’s living creatures are intelligently concerned about the future, actively planning for it, keenly interested in what it will bring. (Eccl. 3:11) Because of having just so much time ahead before their life runs out, people incline to become impatient to see the attainment of their desires.
4, 5. (a) How is Jehovah God different as to his view of time? (b) Why is God’s selection of a time to do a thing more desirable than that of humans?
4 Imperfect man’s situation is therefore very different from that of his Creator, who is eternal, timeless in His existence. The same writer of the ninetieth psalm wrote of Him: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or earth and world were born in travail, from age to age everlasting thou art God. . . . for in thy sight a thousand years are as yesterday.”—Ps. 90:2-4, NE.
5 But does this make Jehovah God indifferent toward time? No; nor does it prevent him from having a keen, active interest in the future and its developments. However, because of his being able to view things, not from the standpoint of imperfect, short-lived humans, but from that of eternity, Jehovah God is never pressured by anxiety to see something realized before time runs out on him. (Ps. 90:2; 2 Pet. 3:8) He is able to survey the whole stream of time and determine just when to act and to cause his unfailing purposes to work out precisely at the right time, the best time for all concerned, neither too soon nor too late.
6. Even though God has eternal time, does this prevent him from committing himself to do a certain thing at a specified time?
6 With his knowledge of the future and his all-powerfulness, God is able to commit himself to a particular time schedule for the future, and at times he has made this known to humans. For example, he told Abram (Abraham): “You may know for sure that your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs, and they will have to serve them, and these will certainly afflict them for four hundred years.” (Gen. 15:13; Acts 7:6, 7) True to the prophecy, at the end of the four hundred years Jehovah God freed Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, from slavery, and their exodus from Egypt began.
7. (a) How was God’s time schedule exact in connection with the Babylonish exile of the Jews? (b) With the Messiah’s appearance?
7 Later, God foretold a seventy-year period of desolation for Judah, and when that period expired the Jews were released, right on schedule. (Jer. 25:8-11; Dan. 9:2) Similarly, the appearance of the Messiah was foretold to come 483 years (sixty-nine “weeks” of years) from the time of the issuing of the order to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, and precisely on time, at the completion of that period in the year 29 C.E., Jesus Christ was baptized and anointed as the promised Messiah.—Dan. 9:24-27.
8. Is it possible for us to know when a certain feature of God’s purpose will take place if he has not announced a precise time?
8 So, when Jehovah God makes known a certain time for the outworking of some feature of his divine purpose, his faithful servants can rely implicitly on the exactness of the published schedule. But when he has not made such announcement, then it remains beyond their ability and power to determine the time of the realization of that purpose. That is the case with the timing of the outbreak of the “great tribulation” that God’s Son foretold, a time of divine judgment that opens the way for the start of the thousand-year Kingdom rule, which will bring untold blessings for this earth and its inhabitants.—Matt. 24:21, 22; Rev. 7:14-17.
THINGS CONCEALED AND THINGS REVEALED
9. What does God’s word through Moses at Deuteronomy 29:29 show as to our understanding of His purposes?
9 Should we think it strange that God would retain certain knowledge for himself in this way? As far back as the time when the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land, the prophet Moses recorded these inspired words at Deuteronomy 29:29: “The things concealed belong to Jehovah our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons to time indefinite, that we may carry out all the words of this law.” Yes, all that we really need to know to serve Jehovah God faithfully, and that we need in order to sustain us in our hope and conviction, this, God reveals to us. But where it accomplishes his purpose better, he can also conceal matters, with no hurt or lack to his servants.
10. (a) What do Jesus’ words just before his ascension to heaven reveal as to our knowing certain times or dates? (b) When some of the early disciples made a mistake about timing of events, what did the apostle Paul write to them?
10 The Greater Moses, Christ Jesus, also said to his disciples, shortly before ascending to heaven: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” This was in answer to their inquiry about the restoring of the kingdom, something they doubtless ardently desired to see. He then went on to say: “But you will receive [what? Not knowledge of those ‘times and seasons which the Father had placed in his own jurisdiction,’ but] power when the holy spirit arrives upon you.” (Acts 1:6-8; 3:20-23) God would and did empower them to accomplish their assigned work and service in harmony with his revealed will for them. There were things, however, they did not know and, later, some disciples were inclined to jump to conclusions about certain promised events, in effect trying to hurry them up. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5.) But all that they really needed to know to be of strong faith, conviction and courage, and to act wisely, God supplied to them.
11. Did the disciples know the exact date for the destruction of Jerusalem, or what?
11 It was that way with regard to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century of our Common Era. Christ Jesus revealed to his disciples the conditions that would precede and lead up to the destruction of that unfaithful city, the center of Jewish worship of that time. Seeing those conditions making up that “sign,” his disciples would “know that the desolating of her [Jerusalem]” had drawn near. (Luke 21:10-20) He told them that “this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Mark 13:30) So it was a matter of immediate concern for them, something for their generation. But they were not told just when it would come.
12. (a) Without having a date, how were the Christians in Jerusalem able to escape before the city was destroyed? (b) What test was there on those who withdrew as soon as Jerusalem was freed from siege?
12 The time arrived when they saw the feature of the sign relating to the encirclement of Jerusalem by encamped armies of Rome. Circumstances (the temporary and unexpected withdrawal of Roman forces) thereafter allowed them to flee the doomed city and seek refuge in the mountainous regions. They still did not know just when the actual destruction would take place. In reality, about four years elapsed between the time of their flight and Jerusalem’s desolation. It would have been easy for them during that time to relax their vigil or assume that they had misread the sign and, as a result, fail to give strict heed to Jesus’ warning: “Let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.”—Luke 21:20, 21.
13. (a) What time prophecy of Jesus was actually fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem? (b) Was that time warning, though not giving a precise date, profitable for Christians?
13 One thing is sure: Their generation did see the fulfillment of what God’s Son had warned about. Those who had paid attention, who stayed vigilant, succeeded in escaping the disastrous calamity that ravaged Jerusalem. But history shows that hundreds of thousands of other persons did not. These were, in effect, asleep as to the significance of the conditions prevailing and the urgency of the day in which they lived. When Rome finally sent its forces back and sprang shut its military trap on Jerusalem in 70 C.E., it caught the city packed with thousands of visitors attending the Passover festival of that year. Of these and of the local residents, hundreds of thousands died within a period of just about five months. They had failed to show faith in the divine warning given through God’s Son; they had not ‘discerned the time of their being inspected.’—Luke 19:41-44.
14, 15. What evidence do we have that Jesus’ warning then to his disciples has a worldwide fulfillment in our time?
14 Today we live nineteen centuries removed from that momentous period. Yet our time is far more critical. Writing toward the close of the first century, and hence decades after Jerusalem’s destruction, the apostle John described the same things Jesus had given as a “sign” to his disciples in his prophecy embracing Jerusalem’s desolation. But Revelation, received by John from Jesus, was of things future, yet to take place. (Rev. 1:1) And what John recorded shows that the “sign” given by Jesus would take on a global aspect, with war, famine, high cost of food, and disease epidemics affecting large segments of people in many parts of the whole earth. (Rev. 6:3-8) He thereafter refers to “the great tribulation” through which a “great crowd” of God’s servants would pass alive and in safety, persons out of all nations, tribes and tongues. (Rev. 7:9-15) That tribulation, too, was part of the things yet to come.
15 This “revelation by Jesus Christ” therefore demonstrates that Jesus’ prophecy, as recorded at Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, about the “great tribulation” was not limited to the first century. It shows that the tribulation Jerusalem experienced was but a miniature fulfillment of that prophecy and that its major fulfillment on a global scale will make Jerusalem’s tribulation seem small indeed by comparison. Just as surely as the generation living and hearing Jesus’ warning in the first century was the generation that experienced a fulfillment of his words, just as surely will this generation—the generation seeing the major fulfillment of his “sign” identifying the last days of this system of things—be the generation to experience the global tribulation due to come.—Matt. 24:34.
16. Since we do not have a day or even a year for the outbreak of the “great tribulation,” is there reason to be indifferent?
16 What, then, has God revealed to us about this? He certainly has not left us without guidance. By prophecies such as those just considered he enables us to know where we are in the stream of time. The fulfillment of his prophetic word convinces us that God is not sleepy nor slow, and as the apostle Peter said regarding those acting wickedly, “the judgment from of old is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.” (2 Pet. 2:3) We have ample information and evidence to cause us to be confident that we live in the “time of the end” as regards the present unrighteous system of things. Yet, beyond this, there are things that God has not revealed to us. One of those things is the time for the outbreak of the “great tribulation” prefigured by the tribulation that came upon Jerusalem, a tribulation that will be global in its fulfillment.
TIME FACTORS THAT GOD HAS NOT REVEALED
17. We know that we are at the close of six thousand years of human history, but what relationship does this have to God’s rest day?
17 There are reasons why we cannot know this. For one thing, even though Bible chronology clearly indicates that we have reached the mark of six thousand years since the time of the creation of the first human, Adam, it does not tell us just how long after that event the sixth creative day came to its close and the seventh creative period or “day,” God’s great rest day, began. Genesis chapter two, verse three, says that Jehovah blessed and made sacred that “day,” and it therefore seems reasonable that it will see within its bounds the removal of the wicked old order and the establishment of God’s righteous new order by means of the thousand-year reign of God’s Son. Thus there is reason for believing that that thousand-year period will form the closing part of that great rest day and will restore the earth and its inhabitants to a perfect state. That would enable God to say of that seventh day and its results—as he did of other creative days—that “it was good.”—Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31.
18, 19. (a) What took place, after Adam’s creation, before God’s rest day began? (b) How was Adam, at his creation, quite different from a newborn baby?
18 But that great rest day did not begin immediately after Adam’s creation. Other events took place after Adam’s creation but before the close of the sixth creative day. One of these is of great importance to all of us. That is the creation of the first woman, Eve. Without that none of us would be alive today, for, as the apostle Paul states at 1 Corinthians 11:12, “just as the woman is out of the man, so also the man is through the woman,” all of us needing a human mother to be born.
19 How much time elapsed between the creation of the man and that of the woman? The Bible does not reveal this. It could have been a relatively short time. Adam was created—not as a child or an adolescent—but as a full-grown, fully mature man, both physically and mentally. He did not have to crawl first to learn to walk, nor babble sounds until able to speak. He was created with these abilities and could communicate with his heavenly Creator and could be set to work to cultivate and care for his garden home. He could comprehend divine instructions and also the prohibition concerning the proscribed tree of the knowledge of good and bad. (Gen. 2:15-17) In those respects, then, he would have been in position to receive a wife at any time.
20. Yet, in what respects could Adam at his creation be compared to a newborn infant?
20 True, and yet Adam was in certain respects like a newborn infant upon being created. Why? Because, fully adult though he was, the day of his being created was still the first day he had lived. Everything he saw—every tree, flower, plant, every stream, lake, river, every creature of all the bird, animal and fish creation—he was seeing for the very first time. This was true of everything he did. When he walked he took his very first step; and so too with the experience of running, climbing, touching, smelling, tasting, eating—all were brand-new experiences for him. What enormous curiosity he must have felt as he examined the fascinating handiwork of Jehovah God and became acquainted with his garden home! How long would he be allowed time to satisfy that curiosity before taking on added responsibility as a family head?
21, 22. What factors make it possible that Adam was quite some time in Eden before Eve was created?
21 That Edenic home does not seem to have been some tiny plot of ground. It contained all the varieties of trees within its boundaries, according to Genesis the second chapter. And there was a “river issuing out of Eden to water the garden,” one large enough to separate and form the headwaters of four major rivers, some of which still flow today. (Gen. 2:8-10) It would take time for Adam to go exploring all of this in order to become familiar with the area he was assigned to care for and cultivate.
22 “But,” one might ask, “would it not be pleasant if he were to share all these new experiences right away with a human companion, a wife, and thus learn together with her?” That might be, and yet might it not be more appropriate if he first gained considerable knowledge and experience beforehand? Then, when joined by his mate, he would be in position to answer her questions and explain things to her, thereby enhancing her respect for him as her informed head. (Eph. 5:22, 23) God’s direct warning to Adam regarding the consequences of disobediently eating from the prohibited tree placed Adam in the position of God’s prophet to the companion He would later create for the man.—Gen. 2:16, 17.
23, 24. What, respecting time, does Adam’s naming all the animals indicate?
23 The only information the Bible actually supplies us is that, before creating Eve, God began bringing to the man all the creatures He had formed and “the man was calling the names of all the domestic animals and of the flying creatures of the heavens and of every wild beast of the field, but for man there was found no helper as a complement of him.” (Gen. 2:18-20) It takes but a few words to describe this; but how long did it take in actuality?
24 The brevity of the Genesis account surely does not require our thinking that God simply gathered all the animals and birds into a big group and then had them file past Adam while he quickly called off names for them, one by one. True, he may have had to deal only with basic family kinds rather than all the varieties of creatures that have developed out of those family kinds. But even so, we cannot rule out the possibility that God’s “bringing” these creatures to Adam may have involved their moving in sufficiently close to allow Adam to study them for a time, observing their distinctive habits and makeup, and then select a name that would be especially fitting for each. This could mean the passing of a considerable amount of time. And we may note that, when Adam did finally see his newly created wife, his first words were: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:23) This too could indicate that he had waited for some time to receive his delightful human counterpart.
25. What conclusion can we reach as to the time that elapsed between the beginning of man’s history and the creation of Eve, along with God’s ‘resting’?
25 What, then, does this mean? Simply this: That these factors, and the possibilities for which they allow, prevent us from saying with any positiveness how much time elapsed between Adam’s creation and that of the first woman. We do not know whether it was a brief time such as a month or a few months, a year or even more. But whatever time elapsed would have to be added to the time that has passed since Adam’s creation in order for us to know how far along we are within God’s seventh “day,” his grand day of rest. So our having advanced six thousand years from the start of human existence is one thing. Advancing six thousand years into God’s seventh creative “day” is quite another. And we do not know just how far along in the stream of time we are in this regard.
26, 27. In view of what we have discussed, is chronology of no interest to us?
26 This does not mean, however, that chronology is of no concern to us. It is natural that we should be interested in it, since God has seen fit to make it an integral part of his inspired Word. Of the ancient prophets, the apostle Peter says that “they kept on investigating what particular season or what sort of season the spirit in them was indicating . . . when it was bearing witness beforehand about the sufferings for Christ and about the glories to follow these.”—1 Pet. 1:10, 11.
27 We today are rightly concerned to know what “season” we are now in, and God provides us with that needed information. God’s prophets of old had absolute faith in the certainty of the fulfillment of all that God had said. Though not knowing certain details or time factors, we can and should have that same solid faith in the unchangeableness of God’s purpose. God’s Son has provided us with powerful reason to stay alert to the outworking of that purpose, as the following article shows.
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JEHOVAH’S PROMISES COME TO PASS EXACTLY AT HIS APPOINTED TIME
Messiah appeared at the exact time foretold
Jehovah caused Israelite release from Babylon to restore land of Judah after 70 years
After 400 years of affliction, the Israelites were released from Egypt right on time