Sooner or later, everyone who believes in resurrection of the dead asks questions like: "what happens to you after you die?" "Where are you and what are you doing in the time between your physical death and your physical resurrection?" "Can you look down on earth, see events, and hear people talk?" "Is your spirit and body alive even though your body is dead?"
One thing that is common to most of these questions is time. We assume that there is time between death and resurrection, so we think that there has to be something filling up that space of "in-between" time. Some people say you'll spend time in heaven watching events on earth, others say you wait in some nether-world, and still others say you stay unconscious in the grave waiting for resurrection. Most answers to these questions don't seem to completely satisfy.
Our current understanding of science and physics I think may give insights into these questions. Einstein's famous theories of relativity and subsequent research based on them show that space and time are intertwined and can never be separated. If you have a physical existence, then you are also stuck in time. In fact, physicists even say that physical bodies can affect (for example, can slow down) the passage of time, and that going very fast in time can cause physical objects to shrink.
The theory also says that time can pass differently for different people. In theory, if a person could travel at near the speed of light, he would barely age at all, even while his fellow-humans on earth passed through thousands of generations of aging and death.
Even when we are physically still, we are moving rapidly, since we sit on an earth spinning at a rate of 1,000 miles an hour (at the equator), even as it flies through space at 66,636 miles an hour. Even so, it takes time to move. No one can be in two places at the same time (as any parent knows!), and it always takes time to get from one spot to another. Plus, time always goes forward. We can't go back in time, and even stop in time, and it's not possible for a human to make any time machines, except in science fiction. We constantly change in physical position and time.
These are the rules of our universe, and we are bound to them. However, there may be other "dimensions," or kinds of existence that are different than ours. They may not have space and time as we know it. In fact, they could exist right here and we'd never be able to sense it with our very physical nature.
God, on the other hand, is not part of our "space-time continuum." God created the world outside himself, and it is different from Himself in many ways. In a sense, you may say that God is part of another "dimension" with different rules. God, being a spirit, takes up no space and is not bound to a physical existence as we are.
One reason that Revelation's "descriptions" of God and His existence are so mystical and ethereal (for instance, many things seem to be translucent) is that John is trying to use the very limited terms of our physical world to describe things that aren't physical. Since God is not part of our physical existence, he doesn't need time, and isn't bound to time. His existence is not physical or time-oriented. God is eternal, that is, He doesn't have a past, nor is He now in the present and will be someplace else in the future.
God is "eternal," which means that past, present and future are all the same to him. "Eternal" doesn't mean "never ending," as many people think, but is a complete lack of time passing in any way. God isn't so bound to time that he can't go back to the past or forward to the future if He wants to. God doesn't wait for anything, because to God "a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day." (2 Peter 3:8) Some people think about just the first part of this verse and conclude that time just passes quickly for God because he has a life span so much longer than ours. But taken as a whole, the passage is saying that time means nothing to God-- because it's not a part of His existence and he's not bound I it. Whether the "time" is a microsecond or a billion-light years, it doesn't matter-- it's all the same to Him. God doesn't change over time as we do, because he isn't bound to progressing through time as we are. James 1:17, God "does not change like shifting shadows."
Jesus does not constantly change in position and time-- "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
What does all this have to do with what happens to you after you die?
Well, after death, we are freed of our physical existence. We are no longer bound to physics (a physical nature), but we become part of God's spiritual existence.
The Bible speaks of death as a "departure" or "release" from that which is only a dwelling or tabernacle as Peter expresses it (1 Peter 1:13, 15; 2 Timothy 4:6). Old Testament examples of the departure (and in one case, a re-entry) of spirits of men from their bodies include Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:22. For the Christian, this departure from the body means immediate presence with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). In these cases, they leave their physical nature behind. They then are no longer bound to the limitations of physical existence and to the one-way passage of time. We see this in Jesus' post-resurrection life. He didn't need time to move into the room in which the disciples lived-- He just suddenly appeared there- and disappeared just as fast (it didn't take Him any time to do that, but chose to appear in physical/temporal form, because that's the only way in which He could talk to us in ways we could see and hear ).
What does it mean to be apart from physical life and time? It means we don't need time to go from place to place, because there is no time to wait for, and no physical places to travel across.
It also means that we don't need to "wait" for anything to happen once we've died physically. Since we'll be in God's existence, we won't need space, and time won't pass. We won't need to "wait" for resurrection, because it will be as though it's already happened. We won't need to "wait" for judgement, because we won't be in a "space-time continuum" in which we have to wait for it to come. We won't need to "wait" for our descendants to die and go to heaven, because it will seem to us as though Abraham, we, and our great-great-great-great grandchildren all enter God's existence "at the same time" (even though there won't be time there anyway).
V. P. Wierwille's book Are the Dead Alive Now? Was written largely to solve the problem of passage of time between death and the return of Christ. Time-oriented words, such as the word "now" in the title, pepper the book. He writes, "the dead will not live again until they are raised some time in the future.... cannot be alive now.... Scriptures, which tell the timing" (page 14). He thinks that dead people are not aware of time, nonetheless, time must pass, "But within the dimension of time, the moment of a man's death is neither his gathering together unto Christ.... In a sense of time he does not go immediately to heaven, but descends into gravedom" (pp. 23-24) (Side note: V. P. seems to assume that people have personal existence in "gravedom" even though they're unconscious.) Wierwille reads a long passage of time into the middle of Hebrews 9:27, "The time elementbetween the word die in verse 27 and the word but is the time span between a man's death and his being raised.... until that time, all who died are not in heaven.... (p. 26). His gravestone in Ohio reads "waiting for the return."
Would much of Are the Dead Alive Now even have been written if Wierwille hadn't felt such a need to deal with the issue of time passing?
From the perspective of people living on space-time earth, it seems that time passes. But from the perspective of those in God's existence, there is no time.
So when we talk about "waiting" for resurrection or judgement, perhaps we're asking the wrong question (like asking, "what color is joy?" or "how fast does kindness travel?"). We can't imagine anything outside of our space-time existence. But God is outside it, and when we join him outside space and time, everything is different, and waiting does not even exist.
By Dr. John P. Juedes, 1998 rsr_time
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