Question: "When was before the foundation of the world?"
Answer: The Bible refers to the “foundation” of the world in various passages. To found something is to establish a thing or lay the groundwork or secure the underpinnings for it. The “foundation of the world” is a reference to God’s act of creation. When Scripture refers to something that has been true “from the foundation of the world,” it means “for all of human history.” But when Scripture refers to something that happened “before the foundation of the world,” the event under discussion occurred before anything was ever created, in eternity past.
In Ephesians 1:4, we read of something that happened in eternity past: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (ESV). This is an amazing passage, with its emphasis on God’s choosing—before the world was even created—those who would become believers. Before God had created anything at all, at least three things were already true: God saw mankind as lost and in need of a Savior; the eternal Savior was present; and the details of the work of redemption were planned out. In all of this, God had our transformation to holiness in view (see also 2 Timothy 1:9).
In another passage that shows God’s eternal plan, Scripture says that Jesus Christ, “a lamb unblemished and spotless . . . was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19–20, NASB). The apostle Paul speaks of “God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:7).
The eternal nature of God the Son and His eternal relationship with God the Father are evident in Jesus’ high priestly prayer: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24, ESV). The Son of God is not a created being; He possessed glory with the Father, was loved by the Father, and dwelt with the Father before the universe was created (see also John 1:1–2).
The Bible’s glimpses of what happened before the foundation of the world should give the believer great comfort. We have a Savior who is eternal. God’s grace was extended to us from eternity past. God’s plan of salvation, being eternal, is unchanging; nothing can frustrate, amend, or impede that plan. From before the foundation of the world, God laid out His design to love us, redeem us, shower us with grace, and make us holy. “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son . . . that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4–5). “Praise be to his glorious name forever” (Psalm 72:19).