Like many people I was drawn to a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by a few special verses of scripture one of which was Romans 3:16, "Sin pays a wage, and the wage is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The irrevocable gift of everlasting life from God goes a long way towards alleviating our deep-seated fears of death and dying. But "eternal" life from God is not only life that goes on forever, it is life which is qualitatively different from ordinary "natural" human life. It has been said that the resurrection power of Jesus works best in a cemetery, and until we come to know God all of us are "dead in trespasses and sins"--cut off from the living God. Apart from the life granted to us by the indwelling Spirit of God we are incomplete and unfulfilled and can not live what the Bible calls our normal humanity!
The subjective and experiential qualities of time are a fascinating topic for discussion. We have all been through seasons in life when we were bored or depressed when a single hour of time dragged by as if it would never end. (1) At the other extreme, joyful, happy times of spontaneity and enjoyment can be so packed with meaning we are unaware of the passage of time at all. Then there are those anecdotal events reported when a person comes close to death in an accident when they report all the events of their entire lives pass in review before their eyes in the twinkling of an eye. In general though we live to a ripe old age, most of us can look back to wasted years, to dreams that never came true, to many examples of our misuse of the time on earth God gave us when we were born. Can this "lost time" be redeemed, bought back, reclaimed in eternity? The answer is yes, all these things are possible in the kingdom of our God.
Each of us, as a created spirit, began his or her existence at a point in historical time (at conception or at birth--take your choice). Having been created and brought into existence by God we were made immortal beings, thus we shall all continue to exist forever. If we chose not to dwell with God as a member of His family, our only other option is to be cut off forever in conscious separation Him. Love and forgiveness of sin and eternal life are freely offered to us till the day we die, but we are each free to decline the offer and say "no." For instance we have the teaching of Jesus, "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'" (Matthew 25:31ff). The Bible does not teach cessation of consciousness nor annihilation after death, nor the possibility of reincarnation. All of mankind ends up in one of two possible states: living forever apart from God or living in union with Christ as part of God's family. We all have to live somewhere forever, but obviously there is an infinite difference in the "quality" of life in one kingdom as opposed to the other.
At spiritual rebirth the human spirit is regenerated. It is reconnected to God, cleansed of sin and corruption and joined in union with God the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell us and to complete God's work in our individual lives. The soul (mind, emotions, will, conscience) is also made new and put on the path that leads to wholeness and fulfillment. This is all according to God's good purposes for the individual. The process called "sanctification" takes a lifetime of course--however Christians are destined to be "conformed to the likeness of God's Son. "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." says the Apostle, (Philippians 1:6).
That part of man that is not immediately redeemed by the new birth, by our coming to Christ, is the body! We are actually spirits. The spirit is that innermost part of ourselves--our true personhood and identity--and as spirits we must live in a body of one sort or another--we are not free to roam around the universe without a body. The human body is called a tent or a house in fact. John says Jesus Christ, the Word of God, "tabernacled among us" (John 1: 14) (2) The human bodies we inhabit temporary are like Adam's body. These physical bodies are made of common elements of earth energized and vitalized by the unique spirit within. It is through the sense organs of our physical bodies that our spirits gather sensory data and interact with the physical world which is external to us. The body's marvelous biological clocks likewise arise from complex interactions of our physical bodies with the environment, the ecosystem, on earth. For the body to exist and live, it must not only have an indwelling spirit, (3) but an external life-support system (air, water, food, temperature zone, etc). Yet the physical material world is embedded in another world, the spiritual realm, and all real life comes from a great outside Source which is in the unseen world.
The spirit and soul of man are intangible--not made of the stuff of atoms and molecules but of the substance of heaven. Our spirits already "dwell" in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus as soon as we know our Lord personally (Eph. 2). Man was actually designed to live simultaneously in two worlds--the material and the spiritual--according to Genesis 2:7. We, the followers of Jesus already have "eternity in our hearts" and everlasting life is something we are already living. Thus Jesus could say "Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.." (John 8:51)
In the physical, material world--because it is so familiar to us--we know quite a bit about time. We know that the material world is a "space-time" continuum. The Bible gives us God's clock and calendar standards for human history (called "dynamical time" in physics). He chose the rotation of the earth on its axis to define the day, the moon's period orbiting the earth as the time division we know as the lunar month. The time required for the earth to make one circuit in its orbit about the sun sets the length of the year. Special events were to be marked by eclipses, comets, the motion of the planets and other astronomical events. For the Jews, God gave a cycle of annual feasts and holy days linked to the astronomical calendar to map up His program for man's redemption through a promised Messiah. For our convenience and our record keeping his has given us clocks and calendars to live by so that we will know that we are headed towards one final destiny or another with many reminders about the brevity of life and the certainty of judgment to come.
Most of us are preoccupied with worldly things and have difficulty adjusting to different kinds of time and different clocks in heaven as compared to earth. In our fallen world, for instance, everything is "broken" and our ability to experience and enjoy events in life has been severely damaged. For one thing we can only experience "linear time"--the flow of events one at a time from the future into the present and fading into the past. Tim in heaven is very likely to be multidimensional. That is, there may be more than one "time-corridor" we can travel in! God, for instance, sees our past, our present and our future as a panorama which is always "now" in God's experience. He always knows the beginning from the end and directs everything that happens from outside the space-time continuum we are trapped in. He is not constrained at all by time as we are. (4)
Time on earth is measured and sensed through our physical bodies. Time is also measured in heaven, but according to different standards. (For example, we have Revelation 8:1 "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. "). We know little about the kind of clocks they use in heaven. God has recording angels moving behind the scenes of history "writing down" every detail of every event taking place on earth so that men may held accountable for their actions at the Last Judgment. Time on earth is linked to events taking place in heaven, but not in a one-to-one fashion. This is one reason we have difficulty unraveling the flow of events in the book of the Revelation when the narrator takes us back and forth between events happening in heaven and events on earth that are in some way linked to great events in heaven.
As noted, God Himself is outside of time. He is, in the words of Isaiah, "the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity". (57:15) Time is a created dimension. This is true both in the physical, material world, and also in the invisible world of the spirit which the New Testament calls "the heavenly places." If there is absolute time it is not measured by one of our earth clocks, all our ideas of time and the value and weight of events in history is seen, weighed and measured by difference clocks and scales in heaven.
In his declaration to Christians that "the body is dead because of sin---your spirits are alive because of righteousness" the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 assures us that God renews, repairs and enlivens our as yet unrestricted bodies, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies [here and now] also through his Spirit which dwells in you." Then Paul links the wearing out and ultimate death of the present body to the aging and decay of the entire "old creation" we are living in: He says, "the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." The resurrection of our bodies will be accompanied by a renewal of the entire creation as well.
Presently we live in a fallen world. Even though we are connected to eternity and to heaven here and now--through Jesus Christ our Lord--time for us has not yet been repaired and restored. We still "waste time" work inefficiently and fall short of obeying the call to "redeem the time because the days are evil." Our happiest moments are tinged with sadness. The best of our interpersonal relationships are lacking to some degree. As we age our bodies creak and groan and give out, and the memory fades. Our friends and loved ones leave us at the wrong time--and God does not always explain His actions.
We were born-again for something far better. According to the Bible it is already there and waiting for us. Resurrection bodies are made, most probably, for real time travel. Resurrection bodies--our new "space-suits" made for heaven never wear out and will do all we need them to do for our immortal spirits. Along with many glorious experiences waiting for God's children in heaven will be a richness and quality of life, a depth of fellowship with the living God who is Himself an eternal fount of life. Time itself will be changed. Yes, God will wipe away every tear and "all things will be made new."
"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Moses, Psalm 90:4-12)
1. Arthur Custance, "Journey out of Time," available on Internet, http://www.custance.org.
2. Notice the exact language of 2 Cor. 5:1-7 in this regard: "For we know that if the earthly tent (Greek: skenos = tent) we live in is destroyed, we have [now] a building ( Greek: oikos = house) from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed [in our present tents] we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling [i.e., our new bodies], so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight..."
3. James 2:26, "the body apart from the spirit is dead"
4. See C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity" for his discussion of time and eternity and the nature of prayer. Prayers such that of Jesus in John 17 are "outside of time" in a sense and our Great High Priest prays for all those who would become believers during the 2000 years that was to follow His death.
Time and Eternity
Jesus' Death: Six Hours of Eternity on the Cross
How Old is the Universe?
August 6, 1998