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The book of Revelation describes Jesus as "slain before the foundations of the earth":

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (Revelation 13:8, NIV)

What does this mean? The "angel of the Lord" who appeared to Moses is Jesus, as I understand the following verses:

Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:13–14, NIV)

In addition, Numbers 29:13 indicates that Jesus didn't have a human body before the foundation of the earth:

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 29:13, NIV)

What does it mean for Christ to have been slain before the creation of the world?

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@MattGutting Revelations 13:20. Though the wording is different enough in different versions that it could mean something different than what's implied by the OP – LCIII Jul 15 '14 at 16:51
Slain before foundation: Revelations 13:8 | Angel of the Lord: Exodus 3:2 | God is not a man: Numbers 29:13 – JREAM Jul 15 '14 at 16:52
The Burning Bush Appearance was [most likely] not a Christophany - it was God [the Father], as He calls Himself "I AM" to Moses, and while Jesus also calls Himself "I AM" when questioned by the Pharisees, that was an identification of Himself as coequal and coexistent with God the Father. – warren Jul 15 '14 at 16:56
This would be better on Biblical Hermeneutics. – DJClayworth Jul 15 '14 at 17:10
@DJClayworth This is not about a particular text but about a thread of things through the whole Bible and is a very doctrinal issue, not at all suitable for BH. However well suited here, it is what it is because I don't think we can migrate this -- at least not asked this way. – Caleb Jul 15 '14 at 21:54

7 Answers 7

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You're going to find mixed opinions about what this means, but the most common thing you will find is that this is referring to Christ being destined to die for us since before the creation.

We must remember that God is not confined to our perception of time - He is limitless, almighty, all knowing. He knows all things that have been, are, and are to come. This means even before the Genesis 1:1 God knew the sacrifice that would need to be made in order to bring mankind to Him.

We know Christ was always with God from this point as the Word, and through Him things came to be (John 1). We also know Jesus knew/came to understand this through such verses as John 17:5:

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Now let's look at the word "foundation". In English we have two definitions:

  1. the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level.
  2. an underlying basis or principle for something.

Well we know this isn't talking about a building per say, so definition two is probably the most likely. This would read into "Jesus was slain before the [underlying basis/principle] of the earth." In other words, He was destined to die before the idea to create the Earth was even fulfilled.

If you're in to the extra-biblical research being done on the Hebrew language, taking the word "Barasheet" (the first word in Genesis in Hebrew translated as "in the beginning") and breaking it up into its pictographs, then translating those we get:

"The Son of God [will be] destroyed (or killed) [by his own] hand (or effort) [on a] cross."

Bet-Resh; "Bara" = "Son of"
Aleph = "God; the first"
Shin = "destroy"
Yod = "effort" or "hand"
Tav = "cross"

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Thanks for such an in-depth great answer – JREAM Jul 15 '14 at 18:10
This answer has the same flaw as the question: the Bible text does not say before the foundation of the world, but from the foundation of the world. There is a major difference between the two! (And that's assuming that this isn't an entire misreading of the text, as outlined in the answer by @RadzMatthewCoBrown. – Lee Woofenden Jul 21 at 16:29

Notice the reading of the King James Version:

Revelation 13:8 (KJV) And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Modern Translations read differently:

Revelation 13:8 (ESV) and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 13:8 (NLT) And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made--the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered.

Revelation 13:8 (NASB) All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

It seems that modern translations show that the Lamb was not slain before the foundation of the world.

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The reason it is written that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world is to draw our attention to his deity. Jesus is not restricted to time and therefore everything has already been completed throughout eternity. Jesus reveals himself in the flesh for our witness: "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,"1Pet 1:20. Because Jesus was crucified before the foundation of the word, this gave way for those in the Old testament to "drink of the same spiritual Rock," as we drink from today-that Rock is Christ.(1Cor 10:4). How else could the gospel have been preached to Abraham(Gal 3:6-8). Jesus said, "before Abrahams was, I am,"(John 8:56).

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Just like St. Augustine f.e., I believe that God lives outside of time. Unlike him, I have come to know that time is but another dimension in our universe, the fourth dimension of space-time. So time, as shown in relativity theory by Einstein, can f.e. be bent just like any other of the four dimensions.

But if God lives outside of time, he can observe time just as we can observe space. When we look at things, we can pretty much decide upon the perspective we take and view the whole stretch of, let's say, the length of what we are looking at, if the object is small enough to not escape our view port.

Now, the Bible tells us that God holds the universe between his thumb and his forefinger. That would by no means escape his viewport.

Let us make an example. I can touch the middle of the desk in front of me, and then touch it's left end, before touching its right. If time is only a dimension, and I am not a slave of time, that means subjected to it as we are (we experience time as a half dimension, since we can only travel through time forward, and are not free to select the speed in which we travel), God can touch time in whatever order he wants.

In that scenario, Christ can easily be slain before the world even exists, touching a later point in time (after creating it in the first place, since, as a dimension of this universe, it did not exist before creation). One could view it just like the creation in Gen 2: God made man, and then put him into the garden. He made man before anything grew (maybe even before plants even were created), but put him into creation in the afternoon of the sixth day (i.e. a much later time).

Thinking this through, the experience of the cross becomes something outside of time. The moment I accept the work of Christ at the cross, the cross happens for me. This event outside of time becomes real and manifests in time at a set time.

God knows the end from the beginning. (Isa 46:10) God planned it all before time was. (Eph 1:4)

This is how God works. We pray, and he puts the answer into our future. We prophecy, as he reveals to us what he put into the future already. He said: it is finished, as he had accomplished all, including future things.

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The Bible declares that Jesus is the Express image of God's person, meaning that if you had to put a face to God it would be the face of Jesus. God is invisible in Spirit but came and made Himself visible through the Person of Jesus Christ. He is not just the Son of God but He is the express image of God Himself. Therefore, when Jesus was slain before the foundations of the world God already had His plan for salvation in mind. The Perfect lamb Jesus Christ would come and die for the sins of His people. Now if God had not put on flesh to redeem us we would never have been saved because the Bible declares that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. But not just any blood because this blood had to be pure and sin free, so the only man that was without sin was God when He put on flesh because the bible says that we were all conceived in sin. So how can it be that Jesus was the only one who had no sin? Because He is God manifested in flesh 1 Tim 3:16 and John 1:1 & vs 14

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There are other references in Scripture that present this same phenomenon of the apparent eclipse of time. For instance, in Revelation 13:8, Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." Now the cross occurred at a precise moment of history. We know when the Lamb of God was slain. But the Bible says it occurred before the foundation of the world. How can an historical event, which occurred at a certain spot on earth, in the biblical reckoning be said to have occurred before the earth was even made? The passage does not say that the Lamb was foreordained to be slain before the foundation of the world, but it says He was actually slain then. Surely it means that the cross was an eternal event, taking place both in time and eternity. In time, it is long past; in eternity, it forever occurs.

The same is true of the resurrection and even the second coming of Christ. When any Christian dies, he passes from the realm of time and space into timelessness, into the NOW of God, when the full effect of these timeless events is experienced by him to whatever degree his spiritual state requires. But the Lord's return is an event yet to take place in historical time when the Church is complete and the end of the age has come. Perhaps this is the meaning of the Lord's words: "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live" (John 5:25).

A problem passage for some, in this respect, has been Revelation 6:9-11 where John sees the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God under the altar in heaven. They are crying out to God, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" In response they are told to be patient a little longer until the full count of martyrs is complete. This seems to indicate a sense of time in heaven and a need to wait for something in the future. How do we explain this in the light of what we have just seen regarding time and eternity?

The explanation, of course, is that John, who sees all this, is still a man living in time and space on earth. It is necessary, therefore, that what he sees in heaven be communicated to him in the symbols and language of earth. This is a common phenomenon in the Book of Revelation. In the first chapter John sees Jesus in heaven. Does he really have long white hair and feet like burnished bronze and does a sharp sword come out of his mouth? No, clearly these are symbols which convey to John the power, wisdom, and glory of the Lord Jesus in his glorified, risen estate. The truth conveyed by the vision of the souls under the altar is evidently their identification with and concern for their brethren who are still on earth. They express themselves in terms of time and space in order that John (and we) may understand.

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Jesus being slain before the foundation of the world tells me in his being slain he finished the work of redemption before the foundation of the world. This was efficacious in saving all those God had planned to save in the Old Testament before the crucifixion and all those after the crucifixion. Jesus coming in the flesh to this material world was a physical manifestation of what had already occurred.

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Welcome Nancy. Sadly, this answer seems to just express your opinion, which isn't what this site is about: please take a minute to learn how this site is different from others, and review how to write a good, supported answer. – Nathaniel Aug 1 at 22:20

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