In verse 8 God also refers to himself as “The God who is, who was, and who is to come.” Previously I pointed out that that’s actually echoing that great name for God that was disclosed to Moses at the Burning Bush when God said, “I am who I am.” It’s a way of saying that God is “pure being.” In other words we could put it this way: He exists in all the tenses of the Hebrew verb. He existed in the eternal past, he exists now, he will always exist.
And that’s drawn out a little bit in the Old Testament, and certainly John was aware of that as he writes these words. It’s found in Isaiah 44:6, for example, where God says, “I am the first and I am the last, and apart from me there is no God.” Or again, in Isaiah 48:12, God says similarly: “I am he. I am the first and the last.” The rabbis took that further. They reflected on the meaning of Exodus 3:14, in parallel verses, and they expressed it this way: God is saying, “I am he who is and who will be. I am now what I always was and always will be, and I am he who is and who was, and I am he who will be.”
Well, what does that mean? One thing it means is that God won’t change. He is today what he always was. And what he is today he’ll always be. Now that should be a great comfort to God’s people because it means that God can be counted on to be what he’s revealed himself to be. This isn’t true of mere men and women. Human beings are in a constant state of change and we can’t always count on them.
Not only does God’s character not change, his truth doesn’t change. We sometimes say things we don’t really mean because we don’t know our own minds and hearts. Or we sometimes say things that we think are true at the time, but we find later that they’re not or that we can’t stand to them. Isaiah says all flesh is grass. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8). God is the only being in the universe whose word can be always and absolutely trusted.
And not only does God’s character not change or his truth not change; neither do his purposes change. Our plans do change, because we can’t see the future. Also we lack the power to do all we may have planned to do. God doesn’t lack in any of those areas. He has perfect knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. He has infinite power to accomplish his desires. It says in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man that he should lie or a son of man that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act?” The answer, of course, is no. God’s plans are made on the basis of his perfect knowledge; and his perfect power sees to their accomplishment.
Again, if God’s purposes do not change, then God’s purposes for his redeemed people will not change, and that purpose is to make us like Jesus Christ. We read about it in Hebrews 6:13-18:
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater than him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
God’s purpose is to bring his own into the full enjoyment of their inheritance. What we find in Revelation is God opening our eyes to see in the flow of historical events exactly what he’s doing from his own perspective.