Sunday, January 16, 2011

Out Of Time

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NKJV

There have often been times in my spiritual life where I have had to consider the possibility that I think too much. To be sure, some have mentioned that very thing to me as I have had occasion to teach. Yet I believe that is exactly what God has intended for us to do when He chose to reveal Himself through His written Word. I'm sure many of you have heard the phrase “inquiring minds want to know”, and I for one believe this is exactly what God wants from us. It should be our desire to know Him more, and examine His word closely to find the wisdom He has placed there for us.

This passage from Paul's letter to the believers at Corinth has always intrigued me. I remember as a child asking if this verse means that when we die we just sleep until Jesus comes. Yet as I grew and matured I began to see other things in this verse that made me want to look a little closer at the subject of our physical death, and what happens to those believers that have already passed away.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

This passage should also be familiar to most of you as it is the one most often used to explain where we go when we die. The accepted belief is that all believers pass immediately into God's presence upon the death of their physical bodies, where they wait with Him for the event we call the rapture when souls of those who “sleep” will be reunited with their old bodies in order to experience the rapture along with those who are alive.

As a child, and as a parent, I can't count the number of times I have asked the question, and heard the question; Why? While many might believe this to be a foolish question, in college I had a professor tell us that there was no such thing as a dumb question. What is dumb is not asking a question so you never get the answer you need in order to understand. When looking at this passage from Corinthians, I couldn't help but ask the question why? If believers who are absent from the body are already with God in Heaven, why do they have to come back to earth and put their old bodies back on? If the answer is because they need for the old body to be “transformed”, my next question is just what were they wearing in Heaven all these years?

Then let's not forget that if those believers who have already died are in Heaven right now, why does Paul define death as “sleep”? Many look at this and come to the conclusion that when we die our soul is somehow placed in a state of “sleep” where we wait for the day of the Rapture when we will be awakened. If so, then where are the souls of those already dead? In Heaven “sleeping”?

I hope that by sharing with you the questions I have had about this passage, you understand I am not trying to in any way offend someone who has already received an answer they are comfortable with. I am simply sharing with you how my thoughts and conclusions about this subject have evolved into what I personally believe, and which may or may not surprise you as I share it.

An event that occurred when I was in college actually helped me become comfortable with what I believe is the answer to these questions. While on spring break I took a ski trip to Heavenly Valley in Lake Tahoe California, (now there is irony for you) where I suffered an injury to my knee which required surgery. It is the only time in my life where I had to be placed under anesthesia, and it literally changed my thoughts on sleep, and this passage from Corinthians. Why? Let me try to explain. We all are familiar with sleep. We usually sleep every night in order to let our bodies rest and recuperate from our efforts during our waking moments. If you are like me, that passage of time is usually accompanied by dreams, and or waking moments where we are aware of the passage of time. Yet when I was put under for my operation I experienced something quite different than sleep as I was used to.

As I laid on the table the anesthesiologist introduced himself as he began his preparation for putting me under. As he worked I told him I had never been out before and wondered what I should expect? Although he was wearing a mask, (I'm convinced they do that so you can't identify them later) I could hear him chuckle as he said I wouldn't remember a thing. Then he began to give me whatever it is they give you and told me to count backwards from 100. I believe I remember 98 but that was it, and then the next thing I remember is hearing someone telling me to wake up! I mean seriously, I heard myself say 98 and then heard someone say wake up. I remember asking why and they told me it was all over, and everything was fine. It wasn't until later when talking with the surgeon that he told me the operation lasted a little over three hours!

Now if you have ever been in the hospital you realize there isn't a whole lot to do but lay there and think. The thought occurred to me that although three hours of time had passed, to my consciousness, it was just an instant. My awareness of the passage of time was suspended completely, and figuratively I guess, I stepped “out of time” and into “timelessness”. In a way you could say that while time went on for those who were awake, for me, time stopped. I then couldn't help but wonder if it was something like this that Paul was trying to convey to the Corinthian believers. While I thought about this, I then began to consider the question of time as we understand it, and the fact that in Heaven it would appear from what the Bible says that there is no such thing as time.

Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."
John 8:58 NKJV

Now here is a verse that really makes my head spin. Often one might come to the conclusion that Jesus is simply saying He existed before Abraham was born, but if that were the case He would have said that. What He says is “I AM”. The truth is we are being told that time as we know it is a dimension of this earth, and not of Heaven. If that is the case then there exists a possibility many may have never considered and it goes something like this; If there is no such thing as time in Heaven, isn't it possible that although believers from ages past might have already died, we all arrive in Heaven at the same moment in time?

Sound strange? At first I thought so too, but the longer I thought about it, the more sense it made and the more questions it answered rather than raised. By now I'm sure you know my intent with this blog is to simply introduce you to subjects or passages for you to study further on your own, and this one is no exception. I want to share a couple of paragraphs from two different sources I used to further my understanding of this idea with you in the hope that they will also help you.

The first is from a physicist named Lambert Dolphin, who has an extensive library online that I frequent regularly as I study. This short paragraph can be found at the link provided at the end of the paragraph, but I also included his web address for you as well.

A paradox concerning the nature of time and eternity is the possibility that neither heaven nor hell are yet populated-all believers reach heaven at the same "time." The dying thief, Stephen the first martyr, the Apostle John-and all the rest of us-may arrive in heaven at precisely the same "instant." When a person in our time frame dies, he or she leaves time and enters eternity and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," that person "time travels" instantly ahead to the event called the Rapture. By the way, if heaven is still empty, except for Jesus, as seen from our vantage point in time, prayers to Mary or St. Jude or any of the saints are pointless. As far as eternity is concerned, we may all get to heaven at the same "time."
To confuse you even further I might add that in another sense all believers are already in heaven in spirit and soul, though not in body (see Eph 2 and Heb 12:18-29). Without our new resurrection bodies, however, we cannot experience heaven in all its fullness. Yet, since heaven surrounds us on all sides, we are really already there in spirit. All that is lacking is the transformation of our perishing outer bodies!

This next quote is from a book by Arthur C. Custance Ph. D. called “Journey Out Of Time” a study of the interval between death and the resurrection of the body.

When Adam dies, let us say, in 3074 B. C., he steps out of time and passes at once to meet the returning Lord. And when Paul dies, let us say, in 67 A. D. -- over 3000 years later -- he, too, steps at once into the presence of the same returning Lord. Since for both men the return of the Lord marks for them their journey out of time, both men make that journey across Jordan simultaneously, and therefore together -- in company with one another. Where there is no time, there can be no greater or lesser delay in being received by the Lord, no longer or shorter period of waiting depending upon the historical setting of the death of the individual. That historical setting has no relevance. It does in prospect for the individual, but not at the moment of its occurring. It does while we are still dwelling in time and death is still future, but not when we once come to step into Jordan and make the journey out of time. At the moment that our feet touch the waters of Jordan, we each of us instantly move forward to the same point in eternity and pass over together to meet the Lord on the other side. It is clear that since time is eclipsed when we begin this journey, the death of each saint must mark, for him, the end of time. The last day of this life is, for him, not merely his last day but the "Last Day" of which the Lord spoke as the climax of the present age! Moreover, it was then that the Lord said He would raise us up: "I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). This is therefore tantamount to saying, "I will raise him up on his last day." But more than this: the last day of the believer and the last day of the unbeliever alike becomes also the Day of Judgment (John 12:48(2)). In 1 Peter 1:5(3) the Lord's people are assured of being kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation -- not unto judgment, but unto a salvation that (as Peter puts it) is "ready to be revealed in the last time." Part of our problem has been that we have interposed a space of time between departure from this life and the last day when our bodies are to be resurrected, where in fact there is no "time" for such a space to exist in. We have done this because we have confused time and eternity, making eternity not so much an entirely different order of experience but merely an extension of time, and time merely a fragment of eternity
Journey Out Of Time...Chapter 13, Resolution. pp. 149,150

The Corinthians were asking Paul the same question we have all asked at one time or another. Since time is a reality for us in this dimension, we feel the need to explain the passage of time between death and the rapture of all believers into God's presence at the end of this age. Yet if we can somehow grasp the idea of timelessness, it becomes easier to see how the idea of all believers arriving at the same time is not only feasible, but logical. Besides, let's never forget the following verse;

But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Matthew 19:26 NKJV

Where do believers go when they die? To heaven, of course. The better question might be when do they get there? Since Paul clearly says we will ALL be changed at the Last Trump, doesn't it make sense that Paul is telling us the time that we all get there? Study this on your own and come to your own conclusions, but rejoice in the fact that by faith in the resurrected Lord, we as believers know we will spend eternity with Him in a place where there is no time.

Keep Watching.