As we saw in last week's sermon, in the plan of God for his creation, his acts of creation did not cease at the end of the six original days when he made this present earth and heavens. The book of Revelation speaks of the new heavens and the new earth—heavens and an earth that we have not yet experienced.
We also explored some of the reasons why God did not simply and immediately create the heavens and the earth in perfection, as the new ones will be. There was an education that needed to take place before the perfect could come—an education not for God about how to make all things, but an education for those of us whom he endowed with a free will about how to live in a perfect creation.
Satan’s Alternative Reality Exposed by Light
Satan has filled the present world with lies of alternatives to the authority of God and has managed to convince even a very great number of people in this present age to believe these lies. These lies have brought a murky darkness of understanding about the ways of God to people of the world. They do not see the works of God that he is still doing, and they refuse to accept the fact that God is sovereign over all creation.
But there are many of us who have chosen to follow God. We have not done so because we are of greater intelligence than the people of the world, or because we are better in any way. It is simply because we have, out of our own free wills, chosen to accept the words of Jesus Christ when he helped us to understand the total and completed plan of God. The Apostle John called Jesus the “true Light who gives light to every man.”
But John continues to say that when Jesus came into the world, and even though the Jesus had actually made the world, the world did not recognize him. He came even to his own whom he had created, and they did not receive Him, “but to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
The Promise of Jesus
When Jesus was about to leave the earth and again ascend to his eternal abode in heaven, he said the following words for the benefit of those of us who have believed in His name:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God—believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many places to live. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)
The coming to earth of Jesus was in the plan of God from the very beginning. This incarnation of Jesus was necessary in order to bring the light of understanding about the ways of God to us. In the same gospel as I quoted above, John not only calls Jesus the “Light,” but he also calls him the “Word,” because just as he brought to us the light of understanding, he also brought a more complete revealing of the Word of God.
John begins his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2 BSB).
John also writes of his experience with Jesus in one of his letters: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have beheld and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life.” (1John 1:1).
The Way of Salvation
As important as the work of Jesus was in bringing the Light of understanding and the Word of life, his most important mission in coming to earth was to bring Salvation.
Jesus stated in the same conversation that he had with his disciples about going to prepare a place for them this statement: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 BSB).
After Jesus ascended back into heaven, the Apostle Peter stated to the ruling council of the Jews (the “Sanhedrin”), that “Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 BSB).
Peter also said in one of his letters that it was the very sacrifice of Jesus that provided the salvation from entrapment of sin that had come to those of the world. Peter writes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His stripes you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB).
The 4000 Year Delay
Since our salvation is dependent upon Jesus giving himself as the perfect sacrifice, and seeing that the need for salvation began with even the first man and woman, it might seem puzzling why God waited so long before he provided for us the means of complete redemption. As we have seen, that redemption requires the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Why, we might wonder, did not God provide for the coming of Jesus Christ very soon after Satan’s deception in the Garden of Eden, and not thousands of years afterwards?
The age of the earth is one of those issues that is sometimes hotly contested, estimates ranging from a mere 6000 years, as believed by some creationists, to billions of years old as taught by some evolutionists. However, even among those who accept the world begin created by God, there are many who believe it is at least more than a few thousand years old.
My own feeling is that as important as this question is, it is perhaps not as important as we make it out to be, and that spending too much time and effort into this question perhaps can divert us away from that which is truly important. I myself tend to believe that the earth is not millions of years old. I feel that it is perhaps older than the 6000 years that some say, but the earth’s age would be numbered in the thousands or tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands or millions.
Nevertheless, even if it is as little as 6000 years old, it still leaves us with the reality that after sin entered into God’s creation, he waited a good long time before he provided the perfect sacrifice for this rebellion. Jesus was born about 2000 years ago, meaning that God waited a minimum of 4000 years until Jesus was given as a sacrifice for our sins.
The Education Begins
There is perhaps more than one reason that God waited these thousands of years, but I would like to focus on what I believe to be the principle reason. I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon that it requires of us an education to learn how to live with a free will in the perfect world.
Adam and Eve first lived in that perfect world, but they did not properly know how to live in it, while at the same time exercising their free wills. Those who have been born again by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will also eventually live in a perfect world. We must live there as those who have learned the lessons that God has taught us.
The principle reason God waited 4000 years was because it was during that interval that he was educating us as a human race. He was bringing us to realize and accept our own frailty and inability to live up to the standards that we ourselves think that we ought to keep.
It Begins with the Temptation
To begin to understand this, let’s read again the account of the original disobedience to the word of God, which I call the original rebellion:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field that the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ ”
The woman answered the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat of it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”
“You will not surely die,” the serpent told her. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom, she took the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6 BSB)
There are several aspects of this story that are unusual and even beyond what we can know. I am certain that there are many elements to the story that have not been recorded for us, but you will notice that it all began with Satan, who came to the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. The serpent’s first step was to plant a doubt in the mind of Eve, which caused her to question the instructions of God. This act alone was something which she probably never before considered. Up to that point, she simply accepted what God told her—and rightly so. He had created her!
But Satan began by causing Eve to have what was perhaps the first doubt that she had ever experienced: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ ”
Eve affirmed to the serpent what God had told her, also adding the instructions of not to eat of the tree, not even to touch it. I do not think that the addition of this prohibition stated by Eve is significant, but what is significant is that she knew that the results of disobeying would mean death.
What is Death?
We have to wonder if Eve understood the concept of death as we do today. When God told her and Adam that they would surely die, what did she envision? Today, when we hear the word death, we naturally envision someone lying on hospital bed who has just passed, or perhaps we think of a funeral or a casket.
But what did Eve envision? I seriously do not think that physical death had been part of her experience up to this point. She and Adam were vegetarians, given for food “every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed.” It is not even likely that they had experienced the death of any animals.
I do not believe that physical death was how Eve understood God’s words when he said that they shall surely die. I believe that she understood the concept of death even better than we do today, because at the very heart of the understanding of death is separation from God.
The physical death that we experience on this earth is when our spirits are separated from our bodies, leaving our bodies lifeless. But true death is separation even from the source of life—that is God Himself. That is why, when the Bible speaks of “eternal death,” it is referring to eternal separation from God, the source of all life.
God told Adam and Eve, “On the day that you eat of this tree you shall surely die.” When God gave the first man and woman this warning, they probably understood it to mean it would in some way mean a separation from Him.
What is Evil?
If Eve understood concept of death as I suggested, the serpent’s denial of these words of God not only caused her to question God in negative terms, but it also placed within her a form of evil ambition—that she could be equal to God. It of course was the same original evil ambition that Satan had when he first began to seek to replace God’s authority with his own.
Like death, evil is another of the concepts that I do not think that Eve understood as we do. Before Satan planted the seed of evil within her, she had never before experienced the notion. Perhaps God, on his walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, had told them about this; but to them, it was nothing more than an abstract concept.
What the serpent said seemed to make sense to Eve, and what could be wrong in wanting to be like God? Besides that, the fruit of the tree actually did look tasty. Perhaps she should just try a bit. She also gave to her husband Adam, and he ate as well.
The results of this first act of rebellion seemed to be immediate: “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed together fig leaves and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7 BSB).
Innocence Turns to Death
Some theologians call the period of time up until Adam and Eve first sinned as “The Age of Innocence.” This is because they did not know good and evil. Like a small and innocent child who runs around in his or her bare butt, they felt no shame or even anything unusual about having no clothing.
But with Adam and Eve’s first experience with evil, they immediately felt shame in their nudity. This is not because there is something inherently evil about the human body—far from it. We have been made by God and indeed are the crown of his creation.
This is one of the passages of the Bible that I take not only literally—that is, the temptation of Satan, the eating of the fruit, and Adam and Eve’s reaction in their first taste of rebellion against God—all of this I take as literally accurate, but there is also a fair amount of allegorical truth to it. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, it was true that their eyes were opened to evil, as Satan had told them, but the results of the opening of their eyes were not what they expected. They did not feel enlightened. They instead felt ashamed.
Satan had told them that they would be “like God,” but what actually happened is what the Lord God told them would happen: In that moment they died.
In saying that they died, I do not mean that their bodies literally dropped lifeless to the ground, but they died in the sense that for the first time in their lives, they felt estrangement from God. They had been separated from God.
The Responsibility that Comes with Having a Free Will
The shame that they felt in the nakedness of their bodies was because they were now for the first time experiencing the inner conflict of good and evil, a conflict with which we are all familiar. There are, of course, many differences between good and evil, but a fundamental distinction is that what is good seeks the light and seeks to be obvious to all, and that which is evil seeks the darkness and seeks to be covered up.
I mentioned that Jesus is called “the Light” in Scripture, and Jesus said, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God” (John 3:19-21 BSB).
Paul writes, “For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible” (Ephesians 5:12-13 BSB).
This is the fear that Adam and Eve felt for the first time in their lives. They felt that they needed to cover the nakedness not only of their bodies, but even now hide themselves from God. They felt a separation from him. They had died.
In these days we speak so positively of having a free will and having “our rights to choose for ourselves,” but here for the first time in history, we see that there is also a negative side to having a free will: A wrong choice might lead us to death.
Hiding from the Light
Adam and Eve now suddenly felt exposed. They felt like they needed to cover themselves. Their solution was to sew together some fig leaves to make for themselves a sort of apron. This may have done something to cover their physical nakedness, but it did nothing to cover their exposure to God.
That is why when they later heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they went and hid themselves from his presence. I have the sense that the walks that God had with the first man and woman was a regular practice, since it has always been God’s intention to have fellowship with us, but this time, Adam and Eve did not come out to meet him as they had done previously.
The Lord God called out to the man, “Where are you?”
“I heard Your voice in the garden,” Adam replied, “and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
A Temporary Remedy
The fellowship had died. Adam and Eve were now hiding themselves from God. From this point on, the need arose to begin the education to restore the fellowship between man and God. After God told them of the grievous consequences of their disobedience, he made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
As I before mentioned, it is likely that up to this point in their lives, Adam and Eve had not yet experienced a physical death of any creature. That now had changed. They have seen that not only did their sin bring a death of separation between them and God, but it also required the physical death of an animal to make a covering for them.
It was lesson #1 in the sacrificial system—the shedding of blood was necessary to cover the guilt of sin. It was a lesson that was to continue for at least 4000 years. In those years, God would expand on the teachings, which would be culminated when Christ was sacrificed for us.
You will notice that with even this covering that God made for Adam and Eve, it required the shedding of sacrificial blood of the animal whose hide was used for their clothing. Nevertheless, all of creation was not yet restored to its former and perfect state, neither was perfection yet accomplished for Adam and Eve. To arrive at a perfect state of existence, it would take a perfect sacrifice. That perfect sacrifice would come only after thousands of years of the education, an education that lasted all throughout the time period of the Old Testament.
Next week I will talk about that lesson, it is a lesson that took not only 4000 years to complete, but now has been with us for an additional 2000 years. In the 4000 years that preceded Christ, the lessons looked ahead in time through the prophets. In the 2000 years since the sacrifice of Christ, we look back to the teachings.
Have you benefited from the education that God has provided, or have you, like so many people who persist in loving the deeds of darkness, continued to doubt and rebel against the teachings of God?
The answer to this question is not as obvious to all as you might assume. As we will see in a couple of weeks, it is sometimes the most “religious” appearing people who are the furthest from having learned the lesson that God was attempting to teach us.
It is only you who can determine what is in your thoughts and in your life, and it is only those who have learned the lesson well who will one day live in the eternal kingdom where perfection is combined with inhabitants who have learned to live in it. They are the ones who have learned the proper use of their free wills.
 (2 Corinthians 4:4) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.