Jesus Christ - "the Same yesterday, today and forever more" - by Keith Petersen
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to-day, and to the ages [to come]” and in Revelation 21:6 the Lord says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Many think that divine principles may have changed - or, at least modified - over time. God’s revelation of Himself to man has taken different forms according to the dispensation - i.e., in Abraham’s time He was the Most High God (Genesis 17:1) and then with Jacob, Jehovah, and, in the burning bush to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. Finally, in the Christian dispensation the revelation of God is set out in Jesus Christ - “He is the truth God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). However, it has always been the same God who revealed Himself. Indeed, Psalm 102:27 shows that one of God’s names is “the Same”.
As there is no change in the nature, mind and being of God Himself according to what is seen in the verse quoted above, it is also a reflexive truth that the divine principles upon which God has always operated in His universe have never changed. This is seen in James 1:17 where it is said, “the Father of lights, with whom is no variation nor shadow of turning” and in Malachi 3:6 the Lord says distinctly in His relationship towards Israel, “I change not.”
The importance of this is that it helps to confirm and consolidate in the Christian’s mind that an understanding and knowledge of God extends retroactively into time past and, in like manner, into the future - which is to say, God hasn’t changed and His attitude towards and approach to men has remained constant and faithful to Himself (see Hebrews 6:17 where God speaks of “the unchangeableness of his purpose”). Thus, we can depend upon this reality - David could say that God was his “rock” (Psalm 18:2) - the implication being that of immovability in place and purpose.
Thus, we understand as shown throughout scripture that since “the beginning” God has desired a full and eternal relationship with man made in His image. God has never wavered from this reality. In the garden of Eden the Lord walked in the cool of the day seeking, reverently speaking, the company of that very man (man and woman) that He had created. Of course, at that time man fell morally through independence - “For this [cause], even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12) - and man was driven from that earthly Paradise “lest he stretch out his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” This is a righteous judgment, of course -how could God righteously allow a creature now saddled by a sinful nature “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22) but unable to properly control the evil (“for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practice” - Romans 7:18) have life eternal?
However, God never relinquished His rights over and His desire in respect of His relation to man. In the garden of Eden he clothed Adam and Eve with coats of skin - involving a provisional and substitutionary sacrifice(s) of the life of an animal - a sacrifice made acceptable (as were all and every right sacrifice in the Old Testament) in view of looking forward to the sacrifice of Christ Himself on the Cross of Calvary. Adam clearly took up in faith the entirety of these circumstances in mind and heart at that time by looking forward - he called his helpmate “Eve” - the mother of all living. How conscious Adam must have been of the just nature of the curse then fastened upon him, and how conscious of the grace of God to grant him many hundreds of years more of life before the pronouncement of death actually took place.
The Holy Spirit subsequently showed the record of faith down through the corridors of time - “by faith Abel”, “by faith Enoch”, “by faith Noah”, “by faith Abraham”, “by faith Sarah”, etc. Faith, of course, involves the work of God in the heart and soul of man - “ye are saved by grace, through faith; and this not of yourselves; - and it is God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8). As an aside, this latter scripture shows unequivocally that, reinforced by John 1 where it says, “but as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God”, men do not arbitrarily choose repentance and salvation; but, rather, the transaction is of God. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned”.
Some puzzle over the nature of salvation in the Old Testament as ultimately the law was brought in through Moses, and through the law was introduced the sacrificial system of the Israelite (the nations had sacrificial systems in place, too; but, they were to demons as to which sacrifices Israel did ultimately deflect - “They did not destroy the peoples, as Jehovah commanded them; But they mingled with the nations, and learned their works; And they served their idols; and they were a snare unto them: And they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons, And shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood”). The question might and does arise for some: `Did God save men one way in the OT and then change the way man could be saved in the NT? Was there a change in Divine principles?
The purpose of the law was twofold: first, it gave man an opportunity to prove before God and his fellow man that he was, after all, inherently righteous and thus able to fulfill righteousness in his path here on earth - “ye shall observe my statutes and my judgments, by which the man that doeth them shall live” (Leviticus 18:5) and “Every commandment which I command thee this day shall ye take heed to do, that ye may live [i.e., “do” the commandment and by so doing “live without death” - Editor] …. And thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8).
Second, as God well knew, since man in his sinful estate is not able, on his own merit, to keep the commandments (“by works of law no flesh shall be justified before him; for by law [is] knowledge of sin” - Romans 3:20), the law came in to illustrate the sinfulness of man - “So that the law indeed [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Did then that which is good become death to me? Far be the thought. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death to me by that which is good in order that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am fleshly, sold under sin” - Romans 7:13 - 14.
In this way the law was given to Moses as a testimony as to practical righteousness in relation to all men - then and now. Of course, sin was in the world (and, by sin, death) before the law was actually given - the proper definition in scripture of “sin” is this: “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). This is to say that sin involves independency from the moral perfection of God’s authority and rights over man. The law never saved the Israelite nor any other man - it could not since the law could not be kept in perfection and in its entirety (“For whoever shall keep the whole law and shall offend in one [point], he has come under the guilt of [breaking] all. For he who said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become transgressor of [the] law” - James 2:10 - 11). Only the Lord Jesus fulfilled the law as is seen in Matthew 5 - “think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfill.”
God has always saved men, therefore, on the basis of their understanding of and faith in Him. This has never changed. It is remarkable to read the Psalms and the prophets in the Old Testament and see these expressions of understanding and faith. Abel, as mentioned, offered of the flock - he understood that it was a substitution for his own death as a sinner. Cain, on the other hand, brought of the fruit of the ground. God had not only cursed the ground on man’s account as fallen from grace (Genesis 3:17); but, there was death involved and the scripture is clear - “without blood-shedding there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
It is said of Abraham in Genesis 15 that the Lord “led him out, and said, Look now toward the heavens, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said to him, So shall thy seed be! And he believed Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him [as] righteousness” - in Romans 4:11 he is called “the father of all them that believe.” All these illustrations of faith are emphasized to help in the understanding that God is unchanging - He has been saving men through faith from the very beginning and is continuing to save them in the same way - by faith - in this present time. There has never been any difference in this as shown in Romans 3, “for there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
Much else could be said, but it is trusted that these words will help - at least in the general understanding - to make apparent that God is indeed the Same - our unchanging God. Otherwise, the nature of God might be open to speculation - which is to say, that there could be something impermanent or untrustworthy in His nature. But, this is patently not so - He is our One Unchanging God. Amen.