Volume 46 | Number 4 | July–September 2018

Inglés Español

The Time and Generations

By Dr. H. T. Spence

To understand God’s appointment for our lives and our generation, we must define and understand both the terms time and generation.

What Is a Generation?

In the book of beginnings, we have the word genesis, dealing with “origin” and generation, dealing with “posterity.” Eleven generations are presented in the first book of the Bible. The Hebrew word for generation has the understanding of “births,” an account of a man and his descendants. The Greek word bears a similar meaning. Sometimes the term refers to a race or class distinguished by common characteristics, such as a “faithless and perverse generation.” There are also contexts where it can refer to an age, or the average lifespan, or a generation. Sometimes it is used as a figurative transference of thought applied to duration in eternity. Ephesians 3:21 declares, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end [Gr., ‘to all generations of the age of the ages’]. Amen.”

But what is a generation in time or history? A generation in the Bible typically spans 40 years. However, we read that Abram’s seed will be “a stranger in a land [Egypt] that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. . . . But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again” (Gen. 15:13, 16). Here, a generation is 100 years (4 x 100 = 400 years). This is understood by the fact that Abraham had his promised child when he was exactly 100 years old; the age of a man when his first child is born is the raw definition of a generation. The average of these two lengths (100 and 40) is 70 years. In Psalm 90:10 seventy is a generation according to the average age of a man at his death (rather than when the man’s first child is born). Significantly, David died at 70 years old and reigned for 40 years. In summary, a generation in the Bible is primarily the age of a man when his first male child is born and, secondarily, the age of a man at his death.

A biblical generation length is primarily 40 or 100 years. However, on occasion it is measured as 70 years. As a result, the Bible uses these three time spans to represent the length of a given generation.

Two Perspectives of Time

Two prominent words in the Bible for time are chronos and kairos. Although both are defined as “time,” they each imply different concepts of time. Chronos refers to measured time, as in minutes, seconds, hours, and years. Kairos has the distinctive meaning of an “appointed time,” suggesting more of an appointed season or an opportune moment. As a Christian, I must come to understand both of these times in their specific contexts in my life.

Becoming a Christian with the presence of Christ in the life and the Word of God as the lamp and light to my feet and path, I discover a fresh, insightful perspective of my life and the concept of time. It is through the Word of God that I find why I exist. Through the Word of God, I am enabled to find the will of God for the divine purposes and appointments of my life

We have often brought the clarity of two unique Greek words for God’s will. Boulema is the deliberately designed, purposed will of God. This is God’s sovereign and predetermined will that appoints the time for me to be born and the time of my death. This concept of God’s will also appoints who my parents will be, as well as my race and my country. It resolves the generation and period of history in which I will be born and live. We read of this concept of the will of God in Acts 13:36:

For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God [boulema, the sovereignly appointed period of history, his generation, his contemporary], fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers

Yes, we all have our appointed generation designated by God’s sovereign will.

The Greek word thelema expresses the wish will of God, the heart desire of God for my life in my generation. We see this earlier in Acts 13:22:

And when he [God] had removed him [Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will [thelema, the heart desires; plural in the Gr.].

For the most part people tend to be reactive in life; their basic responses are in the context of what has come into their lives. They live basically by reactions to things, to circumstances. As Christians with the Scriptures, we need to become more proactive, preparing before things come into our lives instead of waiting for things to happen and then trying to adjust to them. We are not simply to be the horse with the blinders plowing the ground for hours and hours; we are to be as the hawk whose sharp senses are scanning the area from the flight above. Yes, I must come to know this about my life through the Scriptures

The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15, 16, “See then that ye walk circumspectly [exactly, diligently, perfectly], not as fools [those who are spiritually destitute of God’s wisdom], but as wise [those who have been taught of God and know what they need to do].” But what is this “redeeming the time, because the days are evil”? It means continually buying out the time (Gr., kairon) or the season. As the merchants observe the time for buying and selling to make the best gain, this is what we are to be doing for the time appointed for our living. We are to be redeeming the time (kairos), the opportune moment, or the due season. Psalm 90 calls upon God to “Teach us to number our days.” Our time on earth is brief.

But the kairos is the season of time, the time for opportunity, the convenient time. I must respond, I must work, I must do it in that kairos; it is the brief window or the brief opportunity. Some moments are more valuable than other moments. It is not simply how much we can cram into twenty-four hours, the chronos. We must be sensitive to the moments in dealing with an individual about God, in dealing with our children, as well as to the season in coming to Christ, and the season in seeking God.

Chronos and Kairos

One of the great inventors of our generation Dr. John C. Taylor made what is called a “chronophage” (chronos, time; phage, eater). It portrays a mythical, insect-like creature which controls a magnificent golden clock. In 2008, Stephen Hawking (close friend of Dr. Taylor) presented the clock to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. This chronophage represents how time is consumed and never seen again. This unique clock shows how time is both universal and extremely limited at a personal level; time can never be regained, almost as if it were eaten up by a relentless, menacing creature with the grasshopper image consuming every minute and then every hour. Dr. Taylor made the following observation:

Basically I view time as not on your side. It will eat up every minute of your life, and as soon as one has gone, he’s salivating for the next. It’s not a bad thing to remind students of. I never felt like this until I woke up on my 70th birthday, and was stricken at the thought of how much I still wanted to do, and how little time remained.

The Greeks liked to personify just about everything; chronos was depicted as “Old Father Time,” a weary, bent-backed old man with a long grey beard, carrying a scythe and an hourglass. His resemblance to the Grim Reaper is not accidental. Kairos, on the other hand, was for the ancient Greeks, a young man graceful, agile, and handsome. In our Christian understanding, kairos has a sense of “the right time” and of “ripeness.” For example, the book of Ecclesiastes goes on to say: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” This is kairos.

In the New Testament context, kairos refers to a “decisive point,” “the appointed time of God,” or to God’s order and scheme of things. These are times of significant opportunity, times when remarkable things can happen. Then in John’s Gospel we encounter the incredible story of the “Word made flesh” (the Logos), where the Jesus of history, the Jesus of chronological time, is also the Christ of eternity, the one who exists for all time and who will always be there even when this momentary, mortal, chronological life comes to an end.

According to Stephen Hawking’s theory and Dr. John Taylor, time began at the initial explosion of the Big Bang theory; its ripples, as well as the expanding of the universe, have continued (although at one time, it was believed they were slowing down). But the God of eternity created time in His great wisdom. It was the offspring of eternity, and somehow it is parallel with present, continuing eternity. Time existed before I came and will continue after I leave this world.

There is considerable misunderstanding in our society concerning the nature of time. Time simply is; it cannot do anything. Time provides the historical framework in which things happen, but time has no innate ability itself. To express the same thought in different words: time is quantitative, not qualitative. This is an important distinction with several implications. It is common for materialists to assert (in attempting to explain the origin of the material universe) that, given enough time, inorganic matter might create itself.

Some years ago, Dr. George Wald of Harvard University penned an article entitled “The Origin of Life,” which appeared in the prestigious journal Scientific American. Wald argues that it is possible that life spontaneously generated itself. Note how he explains this miracle:

However improbable we regard this event [the accidental origin of life], or any of the steps which it involves, given enough time it will almost certainly happen. . . . Time is in fact the hero of the plot . . . Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible becomes probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles (Scientific American, August 1954, Volume 191, Issue 2).

This is an absurdity that defies all logic. How can mere time provide the process by which the inorganic is transformed into the organic? Time may facilitate, but it cannot create. People don’t just get better with time, change with time; there must be some working in that dimension of time to bring about the change. God has given to each one of us a segment of time, a season of time in the vastness of the all-encompassing scope of time.


I was appointed to live within a generation in time; my days are numbered, and there is a day laid up for me when I will be called to my long home. Within my season of living in time, there will be the unfolding of time (chronos); within that chronos there will be kairos—seasons. I must respond in these seasons, or the seasons could be lost permanently if I do not lay hold of them. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 4:7b). God has appointed my time and times (seasons). He will speak to me and deal with me in those seasons, and then those seasons will pass. Psalm 31:15 declares, “My times [my seasons] are in thy [his] hand.” The Book of Ecclesiastes proves that everything under the sun is in the timetable of God for the seasons—everything. David did the will of God in his appointed generation. He did all the will of God in the seasons of his life, even his recoveries from sin and failure

God “hath determined the times [seasons] before appointed” (Acts 17:26). Will I respond, grow, and yield when each season comes? Within the chronos time of my life (made up of seasons), there will be seasons (hora) of crises that will be turning points in my life, either for the worse or for the better. I must understand what the will of the Lord is in the seasons of my life in order to respond with wisdom and to respond with submission.