Did God Forgive from the Beginning?
God is outside time, right? And He is also all-powerful? So why then did He bring in an Old Covenant, then replace it with a New Covenant and make the world wait till the time of Jesus to forgive people?
In other words, if Jesus’s death was for all time, couldn’t God have forgiven people right from the beginning?
It’s of the Essence
The essence of your question, I think, is: Why wait? Why not sort sin out as soon as it occurred? Why did the earth have to wait for Jesus? Didn’t that cause a lot of people to miss what he did, because they lived BEFORE he came?
We won’t know the full details of this on this side of the grave. Nevertheless, (as usual) if we “think out of the box’ a bit, we CAN understand some of the issues.
First, God decided that the world needed PREPARATION for the redemption he was going to bring.
The reason has to do with his JUSTICE. God’s plan to redeem mankind also had to include suitable action against the one who led man astray. This involves allowing satan to condemn and destroy himself by overstepping the mark in his fight against God.
We see this in the crucifixion; satan’s plan was to remove Jesus from the scene by killing him. God used this to make Jesus the sacrifice which would pay the penalty, take the punishment we deserve.
Allowing satan to fall into this trap involves the passing of time. We look at the thousands of years and say “what a huge time-scale”! God looks and says, “Moments!”
So there was a time period between the Sin and the Son.
God filled it with Jesus’s STORY. Even before He came, he was the central character in the OLD Testament – the events, the instructions, the prophecies, the practices.
For example, here’s Peter quoting Moses on Jesus: Acts 3 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’
Moses was a picture to Israel of one aspect of the Messiah, so they could believe in Him BEFORE he came.
Here’s a quote from Jesus about how Salvation was fully available in Old Testament times, by believing the revelation God had already given:
Luke 16:28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
I have written more about this preparation of the world in the answer to the question “The Cross”, so you should read that too.
And there goes another reason – God’s word to us is a STORY. He did not produce a systematised theological instruction book. Pretty well the whole of the information in the Bible about God, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the Christian life comes through stories about real people. Even some of the tightly packed theology in Paul’s letters was given in the context of the specific problems in churches which needed to be corrected by a gentle touch on the tiller.
Stories come from events which take time.
Why not before?
There is one part of your question which has always fascinated me. Why couldn’t forgiveness stretch back before Jesus? The answer is: it could, and it did!
Here’s the “relevant revelation”:
1 Cor 10 1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
Here Paul explains that the second person of the Trinity (the Son) was present, as God, and as the Messiah (which is what the Greek word “Christ” means) with his people Israel at the time of the Exodus. The cloud is the cloud of the presence of God which led them though the desert to the Promised Land. The sea is the sea which pulled back to let them across, then drowned Pharaoh’s army. The Rock is to the rock which Moses struck which poured out water in the desert so that Israel would not die of thirst. This, Paul points out, is a picture of Jesus who gives us life when we are as good as dead.
Something Old, Something New
Another thing we need to get right is that there is not as much difference between the Old and the New Covenant as we like to imagine. The Law of Moses was given to maintain a little godliness in a rebellious nation. (eg. Matt 19 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning”.)
The Law does not bind us any more, but that is not because it is ineffective these days – it still applies in full! See what Jesus said:
Matt. 5 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
The reason the Law does not bind us is that we are “IN” Jesus, and HE has fulfilled every demand of the Law – essentially on our behalf!
[Here’s two other references which give different nuances on the same subject:
Eph. 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
Gal 3 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.]
So what purpose did the Law serve? It was (another) picture of the sacrifice which paid for our relationship with the Father. Here’s the writer to the Hebrews on this subject (by the way, the word “shadow” here has the significance of “something which is the same shape, but has not got so much detail as the real thing”).
Heb 10 1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves.
So, in a nutshell, God decided that Jesus would come to a world prepared for him, the right place, the right time. BUT His sacrifice would be for ALL time and every person.
I hope that covers your question, let me know!