How Is God the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever?
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- Updated Mar 12, 2021
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
There’s an age-old truth, though not everyone recognizes this truth. Sometimes within Christian communities, discussions emerge about a seemingly profound difference. To some individuals, the God in the Old Testament is vastly different from the God in the New Testament. Some would argue that God is much more punitive in the Old Testament, quick to punish sins, a more ‘fire and brimstone’ type of God. Then they assert that God in the New Testament is much more patient, forgiving, and kind. Maybe this God doesn’t even deal out punishment for sins and if so to a much lesser degree. The truth is that the God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament are one and the same God. We know this because Scripture says as much.
How Do We View God?
We Christians understand God in three parts. Firstly, we view God the Father. Secondly, we view God as the Son, Jesus. And lastly, we understand God as the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. These three components existed during creation in the Old Testament, indicated by “our image” (Genesis 1:26). And the three facets of God continue to exist today. The aforementioned verse indicates that God is the same throughout Scripture. However, the more we read, the more we notice and change in descriptions of God and even His relationship to believers. For example, certain sacrifices were required for atonement, and then they were not. Jesus Christ was once not born, and then He was.
Why this change? Though the descriptions may seem different, the God being described is the same. Pastor Mike explains, “in the Old Testament God reveals Himself, yes, to be um, clearly communicating to His people what right and wrong are and that there’s a consequence for choosing right and a consequence for choosing wrong. But he also reveals His heart to be the heart of someone who loves.” He cites the Psalms as an example of descriptions where God is shown to be patient, and longsuffering on behalf of His people. This matches the behavior of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus Himself spoke on sin and also at times referred to Hell (Mark 9:43). Christianty.com cites a similar view from David Murray:
In fact, Jesus spoke of hell more than any other biblical person. We can thus conclude that God is not different. Between both testaments, He remains the same, but the relationship to the people changes. More specifically, how we understand God changes. Important to remember is that God created humankind in His image (Genesis 1:26). Later passages of Scripture go on to describe God’s love for humanity with terms such as “an everlasting love”. How God treats us is consistent. God loves us, but does not like our sin. Therefore, in the Bible we receive story after story, lesson after lesson, admonishing us to be better people.
Instead of viewing God as changing, we have to acknowledge our ever-changing perspective of God. Typical of the human experience, we view God through a cultural lens and family teachings. For example, in the Antebellum South Scripture was once used to defend slavery. Then leading up to the Civil War, the Bible became a tool for ending slavery. Much like learning a subject in school, our understanding of God will shift with the times. The more we want to learn, the more we will have to study, pray, and be in community.
Though we can conclude now that God is the same, what did the writer of Hebrews 13:8 mean when they said it thousands of years ago? How did they know?
The Context and Meaning of Hebrews 13:8
Interestingly, the author or authors of Hebrews is unknown. This final chapter of Hebrews begins with exhortations to the ancient church about love and faith. Within the first line, fellow believers are encouraged to continue showing love to one another (Hebrews 13:1). The love described here is best defined as the ancient Greek word ‘philadelphia’ also known as brotherly love.
The first paragraph goes on to describe other appropriate behaviors for believers, such as honoring marriage, showing hospitality to neighbors, and staying away from obsession with money. By the fifth verse, the tone of the passage shifts from loving others to maintain faith in God. Here, believers are reminded that God will never leave nor forsake them and that He will always help them (Hebrews 13:5-6). Then a couple of lines later we read a very important detail about Jesus.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Knowing that Jesus is God, all the descriptions whether God or even Jesus are mentioned by name are interchangeable. The remainder of the passage encourages the listeners to go about their lives practicing obedience to God, to leaders, and all for the purpose of performing God’s will and bringing Him glory (Hebrews 13:21). At the end of the passage, the writer offers a farewell and grace to all who heard the message.
An important detail to note, though it is briefly mentioned is that while Jesus is the same, not everyone who teaches about Jesus will teach the same message. Instead, some people will share their own “strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9). This is to be avoided in order to follow God’s biblical teachings. This same admonishment applies to believers today. Though Jesus, or God, or the Holy Spirit remains the same day after day, our understanding of God can benefit or be limited by the culture and the teacher. We too have to be careful with the messages we hear and what we choose to believe.
What Are the Implications of God Being Immutable or Changeless?
Knowing that the qualities of God are immutable or changeless gives clarity to discussions about whether God is different between the Old and New Testaments. God is always the same, but the teachers are different. Some teachers align with God’s precepts and others do not. This may sound scary at face-value, but this is good news. If we know that God does not change, but people do, then we can do as the Hebrews writer suggests and “carefully observe the outcome of their lives” (Hebrews 13:7).
When we observe we can weigh someone’s message against Scripture and see if the teacher’s words match. If we receive a good message from someone who is faithful then we can begin to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). The more we can emulate proper Christian living, the more we will bring glory to God, and magnify His name in our lives. If God is unchanging, then this also means when we read about God’s promises in the Bible, we know that what He says will come to pass will in fact occur. If God said that He will never leave nor forsake us then we know His Word is true. Unlike people, God’s nature is consistent, and therefore His love will never end.
Why Should We Be Encouraged by God's Consistency?
Much like our human relationships evolve with time and effort, the same applies to our relationship with God. The more of His character that is revealed, the greater our sense of understanding. Recognizing God’s character as unchanging is encouraging news. The love that led Him to create humans in Genesis and the love put on display by Jesus continues to play out today. God’s love is available to us. We can read the Bible and know confidently that all of God’s promises are true. Scripture is true.
Therefore whenever the Bible tells us to not be afraid, we know not to be afraid. If the Bible tells us that God heals, then we know God heals. The more we know about God and His unchanging character, the stronger our relationship with Him, but also the more we can tell others about God. There will come times in our lives when fellow believers need reminders, or a nonbeliever wants to hear more about God. Now, we can speak with much more wisdom and much more clarity.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Arthit_Longwilai
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”
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