Roger arrived at our house out of breath to tell me, “Grandpa Gerardo’s been failing and wants to see you, Pastor.”
My aged mentor, Jethro, arrived at the same time Roger and I did, walking slowly and stopping often to rest. Gerardo’s small grandchildren had gathered around his bed; each child in turn stood close as the dying man placed a trembling hand on the child’s bowed head him to bless him. The children then sang:
Come quickly dawn! God’s glory fills the skies!
Hail the new beginning when with Christ we rise.
Oh joyful hope! God’s trumpet gives us wing!
Gaze on Jesus’ face and with archangels sing.
Gerardo beckoned to me; I knelt by him, head bowed as the children had done, and he blessed me. I read 1 Peter 5:10 to him: “After suffering a little while, God will call you into His eternal glory, made perfect in Christ.”
“In Christ!” the gasping man gripped my hand. “My comfort! In Christ!”
Roger’s forehead creased as he asked our aged mentor, “Jethro, how can an abstraction like ‘in Christ’ comfort grandpa?”
“It’s not abstract to one facing death, Roger. Peter compared being in Jesus to Noah’s family being in the ark; we’re raised to glory along with Him, in His body.”
“But how can we be in Christ, Jethro?”
“It’s an important mystery, son, because those two words appear nearly a hundred times in Scripture. By your baptism you not only died and were buried with Christ to sin but also…”
“I remember! I rose with Him! You told us that rising with Jesus is essential to our salvation.”
“Exactly. 1 Corinthians 15 states that we enter into eternal life only by participating in Jesus’ resurrection, rising in Him.”
“But grandpa’s resurrection won’t be until the far future when Jesus returns.”
“Not far future for God, son, and not for your grandfather; his resurrection has already happened as God sees it, as Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3 affirm.”
“Already happened! How can that be, Jethro?”
“God has neither past nor future; Jesus taught in John 5 that our resurrection ‘now is’. Time cannot govern the eternal One; He created it ? a thousand years is as a day to Him. Jesus declared, ‘before Abraham existed, I AM’. Gerardo’s about to look upon Jesus’ glorious face in the resurrection because in God’s sight, your grandfather has already been raised in Christ.”
“Amen!” affirmed the trembling voice. “Yes! Yes! Amen!”
Roger recalled, “I’ve read that the dead enter a long intermediate state in a temporary body in which they either suffer or are in bliss until the resurrection.”
“A popular belief, son, but those rewards and punishments are a purpose of the resurrection and follow it, as Daniel 12 and Luke 14 show. 1 John reveals that we’ll see Jesus as He is at His coming when he raises the dead. Not before.”
Roger frowned again. “Then why do some theologians put rewards and punishment before the dead are raised by Christ, saying that they have a ‘temporary body’?”
“For centuries men have tried to account for the time that the dead endure until Jesus returns to raise them; some try to find it in Paul’s phrase, ‘absent from the body… at home with the Lord.’ However, Paul mentioned no temporary body. The dead in Christ are in God’s hands and time rules neither God nor those in His hands. Can you grasp that, Roger? God created time for us on the fourth day of creation, right? See that clock ticking on the wall over there? It cannot limit God’s experience to a moment at a time as it does for us; thus it does not affect the dead in His hands.”
We listened. Tick… Tick… Tick… Was the clock’s face smiling or mocking?
“To respect some time-honored creeds,” Jethro added, “I’ll allow that God could provide a temporary body; it’s not worth arguing over. What we can be quite sure of are two clear scriptural truths:
One, our risen life comes only through Jesus’ resurrection and our participation in it.
Two, judgment, punishment, rewards and seeing Jesus face to face, are all part of the resurrection. Shifting them to a time frame not even mentioned in Scripture is shaky speculation.”
“That’s heavy theology,” whined Roger. “My grandfather won’t understand it.”
“I do, son,” gasped Gerardo. “I’m on… its threshold.”
“The time factor is what I don’t grasp,” Roger admitted.
Our elderly mentor drew a diagram.
The Dead, Already Risen in God’s Sight
“God is everywhen as well as everywhere,” he explained to Roger. “He reigns over time; this comforts us when facing death. See this horizontal line in the drawing? It is a believer’s life. He’s born here, dies here and rises here. Between dying and rising, he ‘sleeps in Christ’ as Paul said; his life is ‘hidden in Christ.’ Between dying and rising, time folds up for him like the ribs of a paper fan.”
Gerardo reached for the drawing with an emaciated hand. Jethro handed it to him and continued explaining, “A believer dies and the next thing is seeing Jesus face to face in a glorified body; Jesus said that hour is coming and already is, in John 5. He also said something similar to the thief dying on the cross. We die and then the eternal dawn.”
“Come quickly dawn!” Gerardo gasped, and pressed the sketch to his breast.
Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick… The clock replied.
“Jesus… see You soon… not in limbo… blessed hope… blessed hope!”
“Don’t talk, grandpa,” Roger begged. “Rest.”
Tick… Tick… Tick…
Roger asked Jethro, “What about those who die without Jesus?”
“He said in John 5 that He’ll raise them to a ‘resurrection of judgment’.”
“Christ told Martha when her brother Lazarus died, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. I see! Life, like forgiveness, comes through Jesus. Die with Him to receive pardon and rise with him to receive life. Why do theologians fog it up so?”
“Not all do, just those who stop at Jesus’ death when telling the gospel, as do many gospel tracts. Every time the apostles testified for Jesus, they gave His resurrection prime importance, essential to His saving work. Your church will send workers where other worldviews prevail; it’s crucial that they teach the apostles’ view of Jesus’ life-giving resurrection and not a moldy Western view. Entire people groups lie trapped under the evil one’s blanket of darkness and need to see the risen Christ not only fulfilling heaven’s legal requirements to save them, but also being their one escape route from death; He’s the life-giving Spirit as the resurrection chapter says, 1 Corinthians 15.”
We became silent as the clock ticked; it seemed to be running faster and louder. Time ? heaven’s fleeting gift to mortal man! Jethro gripped the old man’s hand and leaned close. “I’ll join you soon, pal. Say Hi to Jesus.”
Tick… Tick… The dying man nodded, smiled and closed his eyes.
“’Bye, grandpa.” Roger murmured and sobbed. He turned and clung to me. “The end of a noble life!”
“Not the end,” I told him softly. “The beginning of a greater life in glory!”
We consoled the family, and as we left the house some time later, Jethro told me, “Yesterday I was a child. Now I’m near the door God opened for Gerardo. You can’t tie the clock’s hands.”
“You said that departed believers are in Christ and therefore outside of earth’s created time. That’s hard for my mind to get hold of.”
“Paul said our resurrection has already happened and that our bodies of flesh aren’t what’s raised; we’ll have vibrant, glorified bodies. Leave the time issue to the Eternal One; He rules time; it cannot rule Him. Sadly, some theologians still cling to the pagan Greek view of absolute time.”
“To avoid that assumption, I guess one needs to be well educated, Jethro.”
“No. The educated can struggle even more with it. You saw how Gerardo grasped it; his rural society hadn’t been bombarded by a Socratic worldview in which time rules God, or gods as the ancient Greeks believed. Also, the fact that God is outside of time eases the dilemma of His foreknowledge making us into robots destined to live out an inescapable fate.”
“True. The resurrection chapter, First Corinthians 15, glorifies Jesus as life-giver, Jethro. I’ve noticed that false doctrine never glorifies Him; it diverts attention from His complete work.”