God and a Millennium (a New Year sermon)
‘For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night’
— Psalm 90:4
1. Recognise that there is more than one perspective on life. Perhaps the most basic thing here is that there is more than one way of seeing things. It is always worth looking at a thing from another angle. It’s good to get a fresh perspective. A proverb says, The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. Think of optical illusions such as the beautiful woman and the old hag. It is pride that refuses to look at a thing from any point of view but its own. This is one area where post-modernism can help us. Multi-perspectivism can be helpful. Of course, we do not go to the extreme of saying every view is equally valid. We do not deny objective truth. We merely say there is more than one way of skinning a cat.
Certainly when it comes to time we must recognise that there is more than one perspective. This should not be difficult for us to see. Certainly the older we get the faster time seems to pass. Children hear adults speak of 10 years as not long and can’t believe it. There are clearly different perspectives to be had on time and on life.
2. Recognise, in particular, that God’s perspective on time is different to man’s. Of course, the main thing to see here is that God’s perspective on time is different to man’s. Isaiah 55:8, 9 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ This is what Moses recognises. For man 1000 years is a long time. Think of all that has happened in this past millennium. It is interesting that in the list of men who lived from Adam to the flood — though many lived extraordinary lengths of time — not one reached 1000. Adam (930), Seth (912), Enoch (905) Methusaleh (969). We know that none of us will ever reach such ages. The length of our days is 70 years — or 80, if we have the strength. Moses was 120. It is possible someone reading this will live to see the next century but we know none will see another millennium.
For man 1000 years is more than a lifetime – for God it is like a day gone by or a watch in the night. Some days seem longer than others. I heard someone remark that Christmas Day always feels a long day – probably because for many it involves an early start, a late night and little to do. It’s nothing like 1000 years though and when we look back even on the longest day it seems nothing. A watch in the night is a period of 3 or 4 hours. A sentry on duty from midnight to 3 or 4 o’clock may find it rather tedious work on a cold night but looking back on it, it is nothing like 1000 years.
How different God is to man. What is the furthest back any of us can remember? May be 10 years, 20, 30 even. None of us can go back even 100 years. We cannot imagine what it would be like to live for centuries but in God’s eyes 1000 years is like a day gone by or a watch in the night. How different the view from above. It is so different when we see things from God’s perspective too. We need to get that perspective. It is found in the Bible. It is good to hear others’ opinions — but best to know how God sees it. We must consider the millennia of the past and the future in this perspective.
3. Understand why God has the perspective he does on time. We need to ask the question how it is that 1000 years can seem very brief to God and yet be for us such a long time. The answer lies in the difference between the character of God and of man.
A. All time is equally present with him. The first factor is that all time is present with him. He is not a creature of time as we are. We can remember last Sunday fairly easily as it is not long ago. However, to try and think of something that happened 1000 years in the past is not easy as it is so far off. God is not like that. He is the great I AM. He lives in an eternal today. He is not only everywhere he is also always. Not only does he fill every place but also every time. Think of man in a car travelling along the motorway and a helicopter above – that is the difference in perspective.
B. He sees the end from the beginning. ‘I make known the end from the beginning’ (Isaiah 46:10) he says. Part of what makes time seem so long to us is our ignorance. We do not know what will happen next. Journeys to new places always seem to take longer going than coming back home. One of the reasons time in childhood seems to pass so slowly is that there is little thought about the future and little idea of what will happen next or how long it will last. But God always knows the end from the beginning.
C. He sees everything in terms of eternity. Of course, another reason why this is so is because God sees everything in eternal terms. As creatures of time there is a tendency for us to forget that God himself had no beginning and has no end and is not bound by time as we are. When we compare a day with 1000 years the 1000 years seems like an eternity. God, however, compares 1000 years with eternity itself and so it seems like a day gone by or a few hours in the night. For God the last 2000 years are like 2 days or 2 periods of sentry duty for the angels of heaven — it is only half way through the night!
Moses puts it in these terms to help us. We sometimes talk of dog and cat years. A cat of 13 is 91 in our years. Here one of our years = 365000 years to God. A life time of 70 = 25,550,000 to God. Bengel puts in monetary terms. For a poor man £1 is a significant amount of money but for a very rich man even £1000 is not a great deal. Of course, these are only pictures. In reality God is the eternal God. We need to get this divine perspective and then we will see time as we ought to. We will see how very brief a millennium really is. Though hundreds of years passed from Abraham to Moses, then from Moses to David and David to Jesus, yet in God’s eyes it was no time at all once it past. We will see it is so if we seek the divine perspective.
4. Learn these lessons from a realisation that in God’s sight a thousand years is like a day. There are at least 4 lessons for us to learn here:
A. The length of time already passed without a resurrection is no reason to suppose one will not come. In verse 3 Moses speaks about men returning to dust. The Bible teaches very clearly that although men do indeed turn to dust nevertheless the resurrection day will certainly come. Should the inhabited world have been turning 7000 years or more and may turn for as long again and more nevertheless the great resurrection day will come. It has been but a week or two at the longest, as it were, that those who have been in their graves longest have been there. Do not doubt the resurrection.
B. The length of time passed without the return of Christ is again no reason to doubt it. This is the point Peter makes in 1 Peter 3. He talks about scoffers in the last days who say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’. He warns, however, that as God sent the flood in Noah’s time, so it is his purpose to judge this world again by fire. In verses 8, 9 Peter says, ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:
With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ It is God’s patience that delays Christ’s return not any uncertainty about the event. As sure as this new millennium has arrived as expected so in due time the Lord will return just when God has purposed. There is no delay. A 2000 year wait or more seems long to us but it is nothing to the Lord. Be patient until that day. The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
C. Remember the brevity of life. When we think how 1000 years is but a day gone by, a few hours in the night, in God’s sight it reminds us how brief our lives really are. Time is hurtling by. Soon the 22nd Century will be dawning no doubt and we will all be in our graves. Are you ready for eternity? Have you made your peace with God? Are you trusting in Christ and knowing his forgiveness now, before it is too late?
D. Take the long term view. People have often written off Christianity.
Only the other week Angus Wilson was doing it in the Evening Standard. Yet, the gospel is in a stronger position now than ever. The very fact the whole world has marked this 2000 date is a potent symbol of the advances the gospel continues to make. Yes, there is decline here but we must not let that cloud the fact that world-wide the gospel has been advancing these 2000 years and will continue to advance. Communism may engulf it for a season; Islam may stay longer; but all will disappear while the truth marches on.
E. Look to God, the eternal God. Compare Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He has upheld his people in the last 2000 years and will do in the coming millennia. He is ready to save all who look to him. Look to him.
Gary Brady, Child’s Hill Baptist Church, North London.
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