December 18, 2017

Salvation: BC or AD?

Layton Talbert

Who split time?” A billboard along the highway daily poses that rhetorical question. The sign juxtaposes images of a lightning bolt on the left and a multi-colored explosion of fireworks on the right, divided only by the unmistakable outline of a cross. The statement it makes, and the reflection it invites, is as eloquent as it is simple.

Two years ago we witnessed the worldwide celebration of a new year and, as popularly counted, a new century and millennium. Television audiences could tune in literally all day long and watch one international celebration after another as the tide of the New Year swept through each successive time zone, and the sunrise of a new millennium dawned on the shores and borders of country after country on this spinning globe. Even nations that do not officially tabulate their years in terms of B.C. and A.D. paused to recognize the event and participate in its celebration.

The division of all of time between B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord”) is an ongoing witness to the inescapable centrality of Christianity for all of humanity. Its testimony is silent but potent, ignored but always there, like the silver- tongued stars declaring in every dialect the glory of God to anyone and everyone who will pause long enough to ponder and hear (Ps. 19:1–4). But like the stars, this division of time has become mundanely familiar to most people. Familiarity does not always breed contempt. Sometimes it breeds mere indifference. Which is worse? At least contempt shows some awareness of the object. Indifference simply ceases to take any notice of familiar realities surrounding us.

Presbyterian pastor Henry Van Dyke (better known as a poet and writer of short stories) reflected that when one considers the international impact of the coming of Christ, “we do not wonder that mankind has learned to reckon history from the birthday of Jesus, and to date all events by the years before and after the Nativity of Christ.” Even the attempt to remove the Christo-centric time designations cannot escape Him entirely. In their dating system, the substitution of B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) instead of B.C. and C.E. (Common Era) instead of A.D. still marks time from the same event.

The tacit admission of the centrality of Christ in human chronology remains. God in His providence has willed it to be so. Whether we ignore its message or not, its witness will one day raise its voice—along with the stars (Ps. 19), and the stones (Luke 19:37–40), and the Queen of Sheba (Matt. 12:42)—either to condemn us for our unbelief in the face of their testimony, or to bless us for hearing their witness to the centrality of the Son of Man and His rightful claims upon us and on all of human history.

But the division of all of time between B.C and A.D. is more than a witness of a distant reality. It is a providential parable, a reminder of our personal need of a present spiritual experience. We sinners desperately need change—cleansing from the guilt of our sinful past and freedom from its bondage. We need more than a new year, more than a ‘new leaf.’ We need a new life. Merely turning over a new leaf is the empty and short-lived effort of someone who ignores the fact that all the old leaves that he has turned before are scrawled with the graffiti of failure. Changing bandages is futile if, “from the sole of the foot even to the head,” we are “full of wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” (Isa. 1:5–6). If that is God’s view of me as a sinner, I need something radical. I need someone who can “split time” for me — someone who can alter me so thoroughly and internally and permanently that I am able to divide my life into two distinct segments — B.C. and A.D.

What Jesus Christ did to all of time collectively, Jesus Christ does to everyone individually who comes to Him. That is precisely why He came and split time in the first place! He intervened and split time for the human race that He might intervene and split time in your life and mine. In the familiar lines of the Christmas story, we read that the angel directed Joseph to call His name Jesus (which means “Savior”) “because he it is that shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). And any person who comes to Christ in faith is “in Christ” and becomes a “new creature”; old things pass away, and all things become new (2 Cor. 5:12).

Any man or woman who is not “in Christ” is still living in the dark, B.C. age of sin, under the glowering cloud of the wrath of a holy God (John 3:36). How can it be otherwise if we have willfully rejected the one remedy for our condition, which He Himself sacrificially provided through the suffering of His own Son? How can it be otherwise when by our denial of our need and our disbelief of God’s own testimony, we are calling Him a liar (1 John 5:10–13)?

But anyone who will turn “in repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21), and will embrace Him as Savior can have deliverance from sin. That’s why His name is Jesus, remember? Because He alone can save — that is, rescue and deliver — from sin’s dominion and practice and consequences. And for anyone who does that, Christ splits time. Your life will be as distinctly divided between B.C. and A.D. as the centuries of human history. All the “old things are passed away”; that’s B.C. Everything becomes new and you yourself become a “new creation”; that’s A.D. It is as new and radical as being born all over again. That is why, in John 3, Jesus Himself described the change He works in people in exactly those terms, as a “new birth.”

Becoming a Christian is not getting a new lease on life; it is getting an altogether new life! It is not like turning the page and writing a fresh new chapter in a book. When you become a Christian, God pens “The End” and closes the cover of the book of your old life, and begins writing a whole new volume. The first, the old “B.C.” volume, is over. The second, the new “A.D.” volume, is a sequel, but everything is different. You will have the same name, but you are not the same person. That’s what God does in conversion; that’s what Christ does when He splits time.

When Christ came, He permanently split time. All human history is defined by its relation to that event. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, yet the world knew Him not (John 1:10). When He came, He came to His own things—the world He Himself had fashioned and created and peopled and sustained (John 1:1–4) — but His own people received Him not (John 1:11). But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12). When Christ saves, He splits time. Every human life is defined by its relation to that event. Are you living in B.C. or A.D.?

Dr. Layton Talbert is a Frontline Contributing Editor and teaches theology and apologetics at Bob Jones Seminary, Greenville, SC.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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