As I begin to write this article, the last echoes of the Christmas season are fading. As you are reading this article, much of the world is centering on the annual Easter celebration.
Amid this year’s Christmas season it dawned on me why no one today cares about the pagan origins of both these holidays, even though it’s common knowledge that both are rooted in rituals and practices that had nothing to do with Christianity or the Bible.
People keep these festivals, I realized, seeking to receive hope and joy in their lives. Whether the holidays have religious significance or are only a sentimental idea based in commercialism, I think people are looking to fulfill a deep hole in their lives that the modern world cannot fill. That they seek it through ancient pagan forms, and fail, is the tragic truth of our modern times. True hope and joy will not be found in anything less than the reality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Lamb of God who was foreordained from before the foundation of the world.
The price would be staggering. It would require this perfect Being to suffer, shed His blood and die for very imperfect human beings.
The unbiblical teachings of Jesus being born in the dead of winter and then killed on a Good Friday and resurrected a day and a half later on a Sunday morning actually hide the critical truths of God, His purpose for human life and why Jesus was born into human flesh, lived a sinless life and then suffered and died so that man might be redeemed to God.
The truth of the resurrection is also covered over by a false narrative called Easter Sunday. You need to understand the bright hope and joy contained in the meaning of Jesus being the Lamb destined to be slain from the very beginning.
“The precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb . . . foreordained”
The New Testament mentions Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God in 31 verses—26 of those being in the book that concludes the Bible, Revelation. Obviously this is a major theme of this prophetic book about the future of humankind!
Jesus was announced at the beginning of His ministry as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; John 1:36). And 1 Peter 1:19-20 tells us we are redeemed, bought back from death, “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” and that He “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest [revealed] in these last times for you.”
Revelation 13:8 similarly refers to, as often translated, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
What is meant by the phrase “the foundation of the world”?
This world inhabited by human beings dates from the book of Genesis where we find man created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and especially the world, or society, that begins when Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil found in their garden home (Genesis 2:9).
It has been a world where sin has reigned, leading to suffering and death. Sin separates man from God. Sin robs us of hope and joy. The foundation of our world dates from this event in the garden when Adam and Eve rejected God and chose to go their own way. We live with the tragic results in the unending wars, crime, suffering and death we see all around us in this world.
We find the phrase “foundation of the world” in several places in the Bible. We should note in 1 Peter 1:19-20, just quoted, that Jesus as the Lamb who would offer His own blood in sacrifice was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.”
In this one word used here, before, we find the trail to fully understanding the source of hope and ultimate joy that comes from the knowledge of what God is doing with human life and where we all fit in the purpose God is working out here within the physical realm.
Before this age
God gives us only brief glimpses into what went on before the foundation of the world that is now inhabited by the physical creation of animals and human beings created in His image. This refers to whatever existed and whatever happened before the Genesis story—before the beginning, before there was time as we understand it.
We measure time by the orbit and revolution of the earth in conjunction with the sun and moon. But there was a “time” when these and the rest of the physical universe did not exist. Science has generally settled on the idea of a “big bang,” a beginning moment when the universe came into existence. The effect of this event can be measured. But what existed and what happened before that moment cannot be seen nor measured.
The Bible, however, gives us understanding of what “was”—what existed—in that period.
What “was” in that period was the Word and God. John 1 puts it this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Here is revealed the astounding truth that there were and are two divine Beings who existed “in the beginning.” John calls one of them “God” and the other “the Word”—although “the Word was God” also. (Later we come to know them in the Bible as God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.)
This corresponds with Genesis 1:26, where more than one divine Being is also revealed: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .” Both the apostle John and the book of Genesis present two divine Beings as existing “in the beginning.” This is the clear teaching of Scripture.
What was Their purpose and plan?
How did these two Beings exist? We can begin to under-stand by looking at John 17:24. Here, not long before His crucifixion, Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
God and the Word, both uncreated, existed in eternity in a loving, unified relationship. Between Them was complete unity of purpose. Such words as harmony, unity, cooperation, concern, care and mutually benefiting applied to these two Beings in this realm of prehistory outside of and before time as we know it.
Another way to understand this existence is the absence of conflict, hatred and envy—all the human characteristics that lead to the suffering we see in the physical realm. Such evil, or sin, did not exist between God and the Word. This is the glorious state within which they existed—spirit, uncreated, with splendor, majesty and eternal life inherent within Themselves.
So much of human experience is defined by suffering. The peace and harmony and goodwill we seek among nations are sadly lacking. Yet this is the essence of the existence God and the Word shared. To put it in one word, it is love that was their seamless bond. “God is love,” we are told in 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16. It is who and what They are and share in a glorious spirit existence apart from us.
But most importantly for us—incredibly—it is what they decided to share.
The hinge of history
At some point “before the foundation of the world” these two Beings came to the most momentous decision of all eternity. They decided to share this glory. They determined to extend spirit life, the essence of Their existence, beyond Themselves.
It would be done through a unique creation of beings made in the image of God—like Him in significant ways, yet composed not of spirit but of physical created matter. These far lesser, physical beings, called human, would have the potential to share in the glorious spirit existence of these eternal Beings, God and the Word. Through a process called redemption or salvation, a path would be established by which the human creation could choose to enter the glory of a spiritual relationship and existence with God.
But bringing to existence additional beings sharing in this glory could not be done without one of the two electing to divest Himself of this glory to create the path of salvation. Which of the two would do this? How did they determine who would do this? We are not told in the Bible. We only know what occurred. In this knowing we have the revelation of the most selfless, giving and loving action in eternity.
Remember what we read earlier about Jesus as the Lamb who would offer His blood being foreordained from before the foundation of the world. The Word, who would later become Jesus Christ, was predetermined from this point of decision to be the way by which humanity could attain to the glory of eternal life.
But the price would be staggering. It would require the eternal, ever-living Word becoming flesh and living a perfect life as a human being. It would require experiencing all the temptation we experience in this life (Hebrews 4:15). But most of all it would require this perfect Being to suffer, shed His blood and die for very imperfect human beings.
The Word, through whom God created the worlds and mankind in it (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), would be the path by which the creation could be brought into oneness with God. This is a weighty theological concept for modern minds unaccustomed to such thought to grasp. But it is what we need to understand as we think about God and the purpose of life being worked out here on earth. The false teachings surrounding Christmas and Easter do not begin to cover such concepts—in fact, they obscure them.
God chose to become man
John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Being known as the Word had decided well before this to become part of the physical order—to become flesh, to become human.
The moment of decision, this hinge of history before human history, when it was determined that the Word would become the Lamb, set a course, a purpose that is unalterable.
From timeless eternity the Word and the One who would later be known as God the Father (called “the Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 7:22) decided that at a certain point the Word would enter physical time and space and live as part of the created order—as a human being made of the dust of the earth.
This was a supremely unselfish decision by the Word. The apostle Paul was inspired to write about this in Philippians 2:5-8: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, New Living Translation).
The Word had an equal status with God but willingly, by choice, emptied Himself of this glory. It was the greatest act of humility. Because He did this, the Father has placed Him in authority over all things—“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9-10).
The incarnation—God became flesh
The act of the Word becoming flesh is recorded in the Gospels. While it is traditionally focused on during the Christmas season, regrettably it is poorly understood from many perspectives. Jesus Christ was not born on Dec. 25 in the dead of winter. This is a well-known fact attested by many Bible scholars. But as I pointed out at the beginning of this article, most people simply do not care. We are living through a period of “fake news,” and the Christmas traditions are among the most fake of all news!
The significance of Christ’s birth is something for us to contemplate every day of our lives and not just once a year. Not only is it one of the great hinges of history, but it opens our personal door to a richly purpose-filled life that transcends our moment in time.
Resurrected, the Word had returned—the fully realized Lamb of God who was foreordained to be slain from before from the foundation of the world!
God recorded the facts of the events to show us the deep significance of the Word becoming flesh. When our minds look into the real reason for this event we probe the deepest mystery of the universe.
In Matthew’s account an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him, “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). God the Father caused the impregnation of Mary by His Holy Spirit and through this miracle accomplished this critical part of the eternal purpose.
The announcement to Mary adds more: “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).
The idea of a virgin giving birth is very difficult for modern minds to grasp and believe. Many theologians have rejected the clear biblical teaching while still trying to explain faith. But this event, the conception of the divine Word to become flesh and blood in the womb of a virgin, demonstrates God’s commitment to share His glory with humanity.
The Bible shows seamless continuity from the movement of the Word into the womb to birth as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and adopted son of Joseph. As an adult Jesus would tell the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). This is a clear reference back to the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush, who when asked His name replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM . . . you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). He was, in fact, the God who interacted with human beings before His physical human birth.
Jesus existed and exists from eternity, uncreated, and was God with God the Father in the beginning. This is the key to our hope—God becoming flesh and dwelling among mankind.
Uncreated Spirit was placed into the womb of created flesh in this incarnation. Jesus is called the “only begotten” (John 1:14; John 1:18), meaning He is the only one to have started human life in this manner. This was the first and only time in all eternity this has happened. God became man, Spirit became flesh, so mankind made of flesh might have opportunity to become spirit and share in the glory of God. This is God’s eternal purpose for human life!
We all desire to have hope and to live a life of joy and confidence. At the beginning of this article I noted that people keep the holidays of Christmas and Easter seeking joy and hope. No matter whether their motive is religious, secular or purely nostalgic for a time and place that never was, each year when these holidays come around it stirs something within people—a craving for meaning and something or some purpose beyond them.
But for many the hope each year goes unrealized. A frenzy of holiday spending and buying leads to a mountain of debt when we really need to be indebted to God the Father and Jesus Christ for something we could never earn and never buy.
Jesus said the truth shall make us free. It is only God’s eternal spiritual truth that can free us from the shackles of fear, uncertainty and ignorance placed on us by false knowledge, the “fake news” of today’s world.
Saved by His life
The Easter traditions of rabbits, eggs and the Good Friday–Easter Sunday scenario (which cannot fit with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:40 that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights) are more counterfeits that only hide the joy-filled truths embedded in the events of the week of Christ’s death and resurrection as told in the Gospels.
Let’s go back to 1 Peter 1:19-20, which we read earlier. It states that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus the Lamb, Him being foreordained to this role before the foundation of the world. His death was the fulfillment of the anticipated event. No more was mankind without a means to be reconciled with God.
Now sin could be forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and sin’s sure penalty of death (Romans 6:23) was removed by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God in our place. Through repentance and faith in this sacrifice, a new opportunity opened for all. Access to the presence of God in heaven is possible (Hebrews 4:14-16). But that’s not all.
Jesus was resurrected after three days and three nights in the grave. When the women went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week, they found the stone rolled away and an empty tomb. The angel announced to them, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6). By the power of the Spirit the Father resurrected Jesus and restored Him to the glory They once shared (Ephesians 1:19-20).
Before His death Jesus asked the Father to return Him to the “glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Scripture tells us Jesus had to ascend to the Father (John 20:17), which would be in fulfillment of the wave-sheaf ritual that foreshadowed this event (see Leviticus 23:10-14). This occurred on the day after His resurrection and must have been a magnificent moment in eternity. The Word had returned! He returned the fully realized Lamb of God who was foreordained to be slain from before the foundation of the world.
While no scripture details this, we can logically piece together what happened and what could have been the exultant moment when He who had been the Word, the Christ, the slain Lamb now restored to glorious immortality, came to the Father to receive “dominion and glory and a kingdom . . . an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away” (Daniel 7:14).
We can imagine Jesus Christ coming to the throne of glory “with His own blood [entering] the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12) and angelic voices shouting, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). This exultant moment must still echo in eternity!
A glimpse into God’s throne room
In Revelation 4 and 5 we see recorded a vision of the throne of God in heaven. There we see angels and other spirit beings who apparently fill key roles in implementing and monitoring God’s purpose and activity throughout the universe. At the center of all this lies a great sea of crystal glass with a throne upon which sits One who lives for ever and ever, the Father.
And standing there is a Lamb appearing as though it had been slain. The multiple horns and eyes He appears with here seem to represent the power and penetrating vision of the Spirit of God gathering all the knowledge of the world. By His sacrificial life He is worthy. Mankind’s redemption price has been paid, and we await the moment when the eternal plan of God moves into its next phase, bringing both judgment and rescue.
For the Lamb who was foreordained to be sacrificed before the foundation of the world, time and eternity are ever present in this scene. Creation waits for the unveiling of the glory of God in this world when the Lamb who was slain will come to the earth a second time to reveal God’s purpose to all mankind and offer God’s gift of salvation to all!