Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Psalm 90:2 ESV
A dream came to Daniel during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign as the king of Babylon. He saw four mighty beasts rising from the sea. Listen how he described them:
The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.Daniel 7:4–8
The most common interpretation views the beasts as representing the great succession of four kingdoms to come: Babylon, Persia, Alexander the Great, and Rome. Yet despite the powerful might of these empires, Daniel then beholds another King.
As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.Daniel 7:9–12
We are meant to notice a jarring distinction. The beasts are fierce and powerful, and they appear one after the other. Their time and authority are both finite and limited. The Ancient of Days, however, is not beastly in appearance; rather, He is arrayed in white and fire. Although the beasts were dreadful composites, this King possesses the awesome terror of purity. From His exalted throne, He rules over all things, including the beasts themselves.
ALL OF TIME IN HIS HANDS
Mark Jones explains the significance of this name for God by noting, “he does not get old; he is not ancient or young. Rather, the phrase “Ancient of Days” suits our limited understanding by pressing home to us that God contains in himself all times and ages.” Time and ages of time are contained within God rather than time containing Him. We call this attribute of God His eternity or eternality.
God’s eternality means that He is eternal or, as the Scriptures often say, everlasting, and the Bible is indeed replete with declarations of His eternality.
We can begin in Genesis 1:1 where we find that God is the Creator who began the beginning, which necessitates His existence outside of the cosmos and the timeline that it inhabits. In Genesis 21:33, after making his covenant with Abimelech, Abraham called upon “the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.” His revealed name to Moses, I AM, implies eternal and perpetual existence in Himself. Moses prayed in Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Isaiah called us to “trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock” (26:4). Jeremiah said that He “is the true God; he is the living God and everlasting King” (10:10).
In the New Testament, Paul ties God’s divine nature to “his eternal power” (Romans 1:20). He has “eternal dominion” (1 Timothy 6:16) and an “eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11). Furthermore, throughout the New Testament, we find the offer of eternal life through redemption in Jesus Christ, which could only be granted if He Himself possessed eternal life. Indeed, Tozer’s observation that “the idea of endlessness is to the kingdom of God what carbon is to the kingdom of nature” is correct. Because God is endless, we can hardly speak rightly of God without touching in some measure His eternality.
We must, however, note specifically what we mean by God’s eternality. The eternal life that God grants to us, as we will discuss in a moment, is not like His. Unlike Him, we have a beginning, but in Him, we will have no end. Yet God’s eternality runs throughout the past as well as the future. With no beginning, He simply is, from everlasting to everlasting. This also means that His eternity is atemporal or outside of time. He alone is able to declare “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10) because He is beyond the boundaries of time as the Creator of time itself.
Stephen Charnock summarizes this thought well:
[God] is not in his essence this day what he was not before, or will be the next day and year what he is not now. All his perfections are most perfect in him every moment; before all ages. As he hath his whole essence undivided in every place, as well as in an immense space; so he hath all his being in one moment of time, as well as in infinite intervals of time… He is what he always was, and he is what he always will be.
INTO MAN’S HEART
In the fifth chapter of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds himself in a dangerous game of riddles with a creature called Gollum, whose final riddle of the game is:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
While muttering to himself for more time, Bilbo happens to state the answer: time. As the riddle describes, time is not a healer of all wounds; it is the devourer of all things. No mountain, king, tree, or steel is mighty enough to outlast this unstoppable force. We are creatures within time. We are limited and, in some ways, governed by it. We should, therefore, be used to its inevitable effects. It should not be as strange to us as it so often is. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes reveals why we wrestle with the boundaries of time, saying that God “has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (3:11).
The Eternal One has placed eternity within our hearts, a yearning for life without end. As I mentioned above, we too are eternal, although not in the same sense as God. Like angels, we have a beginning, but our existence will continue forever. Unlike the angels, we are physical creatures as well as spiritual, so while our spirit continues, our present bodies are subject to decay and ultimately death. Yet even with its nearly one hundred percent success rate, death was not God’s original design for humanity. Eternity is etched into our hearts because Eden was a place without death, a center of eternal communion with God. Death only arrived as a consequence of our rebellion against God (also an act of grace, but a consequence nonetheless). It is, therefore, an enemy to be defeated, not a natural part of life to embrace. Although its sting has been removed for those in Christ and it has become a gateway to life eternal, we still rightly view death as an intruder, not as a friend.
Yet this life’s physical death is a taste of the second death that our sin has earned. In Revelation 21:6-8, Him who sits upon the throne speaks these words to John:
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Both believers and nonbelievers will be resurrected in the end, one to eternal life and the other to eternal death. The lake of fire, the second and eternal death, is the just consequence of sin because sin is rebellion against God in all of His eternality. Justice demands for the penalty to fit the crime. But if this still seems too harsh, recall John 17:3 that we have cited many times before: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is knowing, loving, and enjoying God for all eternity. The heavenliness of heaven is not measured by riches, comforts, and pleasures given to us but by beholding the riches, comforts, and pleasures found in God Himself. His presence makes eternal life both eternal and life. Therefore, all who reject Him can only know eternal death, which is hell. They can find no joy in His presence; rather, they hate Him and will continue to do so without end.
All people will come to one of these two destinies, life or death. Thus, let us pray the prayer of Moses: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). By meditating over the reality that our time in this life is numbered, we are then able to fix our eyes upon eternity with the Eternal One through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Heed, therefore, the exhortation of Thomas Watson:
Brethren, we are every day traveling to eternity; and whether we wake or sleep, we are going our journey. Some of us are upon the borders of eternity. Oh study the shortness of life and length of eternity!
 God Is, 52.
 Knowledge of the Holy, 72.
 Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 178. As cited in A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones.
 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 64.