Roger arrived at our house out of breath to tell me, â€œGrandpa Gerardoâ€™s been failing and wants to see you, Pastor.â€
My aged mentor, Jethro, arrived at the same time Roger and I did, walking slowly and stopping often to rest. Gerardoâ€™s small grandchildren had gathered around his bed; each child in turn stood close as the dying man placed a trembling hand on the childâ€™s bowed head him to bless him. The children then sang:
Come quickly dawn! Godâ€™s glory fills the skies!
Hail the new beginning when with Christ we rise.
Oh joyful hope! Godâ€™s trumpet gives us wing!
Gaze on Jesusâ€™ 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 1Â Peter 5:10 to him: â€œAfter suffering a little while, God will call you into His eternal glory, made perfect in Christ.â€
â€œIn Christ!â€ the gasping man gripped my hand. â€œMy comfort! In Christ!â€
Rogerâ€™s forehead creased as he asked our aged mentor, â€œJethro, how can an abstraction like â€˜in Christâ€™ comfort grandpa?â€
â€œItâ€™s not abstract to one facing death, Roger. Peter compared being in Jesus to Noahâ€™s family being in the ark; weâ€™re raised to glory along with Him, in His body.â€
â€œBut how can we be in Christ,Â Jethro?â€
â€œItâ€™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 alsoâ€¦â€
â€œI remember! I rose with Him! You told us that rising with Jesus is essential to our salvation.â€
â€œExactly. 1Â Corinthians 15 states that we enter into eternal life only by participating in Jesusâ€™ resurrection, rising in Him.â€
â€œBut grandpaâ€™s resurrection wonâ€™t be until the far future when Jesus returns.â€
â€œNot 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.â€
â€œAlready happened! How can that be,Â Jethro?â€
â€œGod has neither past nor future; Jesus taught in John 5 that our resurrection â€˜now isâ€™. Time cannot govern the eternal One; He created it ? a thousand years is as a day to Him. Jesus declared, â€˜before Abraham existed, I AMâ€™. Gerardoâ€™s about to look upon Jesusâ€™ glorious face in the resurrection because in Godâ€™s sight, your grandfather has already been raised in Christ.â€
â€œAmen!â€ affirmed the trembling voice. â€œYes! Yes! Amen!â€
Roger recalled, â€œIâ€™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.â€
â€œA popular belief, son, but those rewards and punishments are a purpose of the resurrection and follow it, as Daniel 12 and Luke 14 show. 1Â John reveals that weâ€™ll see Jesus as He is at His coming when he raises the dead. Not before.â€
Roger frowned again. â€œThen why do some theologians put rewards and punishment before the dead are raised by Christ, saying that they have a â€˜temporary bodyâ€™?â€
â€œFor 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 Paulâ€™s phrase, â€˜absent from the bodyâ€¦ at home with the Lord.â€™ However, Paul mentioned no temporary body. The dead in Christ are in Godâ€™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 Godâ€™s experience to a moment at a time as it does for us; thus it does not affect the dead in His hands.â€
We listened. Tickâ€¦ Tick… Tick… Was the clockâ€™s face smiling or mocking?
â€œTo respect some time-honored creeds,â€ Jethro added, â€œIâ€™ll allow that God could provide a temporary body; itâ€™s not worth arguing over. What we can be quite sure of are two clear scriptural truths:
One, our risen life comes only through Jesusâ€™ 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.â€
â€œThatâ€™s heavy theology,â€ whined Roger. â€œMy grandfather wonâ€™t understand it.â€
â€œI do, son,â€ gasped Gerardo. â€œIâ€™m onâ€¦ its threshold.â€
â€œThe time factor is what I donâ€™t grasp,â€ Roger admitted.
Our elderly mentor drew a diagram.
The Dead, Already Risen in Godâ€™s Sight
â€œGod is everywhen as well as everywhere,â€ he explained to Roger. â€œHe reigns over time; this comforts us when facing death. See this horizontal line in the drawing? It is a believerâ€™s life. Heâ€™s born here, dies here and rises here. Between dying and rising, he â€˜sleeps in Christâ€™ as Paul said; his life is â€˜hidden in Christ.â€™ Between dying and rising, time folds up for him like the ribs of a paper fan.â€
Gerardo reached for the drawing with an emaciated hand. Jethro handed it to him and continued explaining, â€œA 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.â€
â€œCome quickly dawn!â€ Gerardo gasped, and pressed the sketch to his breast.
Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick… The clock replied.
â€œJesusâ€¦ see You soonâ€¦ not in limboâ€¦ blessed hopeâ€¦ blessed hope!â€
â€œDonâ€™t talk, grandpa,â€ Roger begged. â€œRest.â€
Tick… Tick… Tick…
Roger asked Jethro, â€œWhat about those who die without Jesus?â€
â€œHe said in John 5 that Heâ€™ll raise them to a â€˜resurrection of judgmentâ€™.â€
â€œChrist told Martha when her brother Lazarus died, â€˜I am the resurrection and the lifeâ€™. 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?â€
â€œNot all do, just those who stop at Jesusâ€™ 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; itâ€™s crucial that they teach the apostlesâ€™ view of Jesusâ€™ life-giving resurrection and not a moldy Western view. Entire people groups lie trapped under the evil oneâ€™s blanket of darkness and need to see the risen Christ not only fulfilling heavenâ€™s legal requirements to save them, but also being their one escape route from death; Heâ€™s the life-giving Spirit as the resurrection chapter says, 1Â Corinthians 15.â€
We became silent as the clock ticked; it seemed to be running faster and louder. Time ? heavenâ€™s fleeting gift to mortal man! Jethro gripped the old manâ€™s hand and leaned close. â€œIâ€™ll join you soon, pal. Say Hi to Jesus.â€
Tick… Tickâ€¦ The dying man nodded, smiled and closed his eyes.
â€œâ€™Bye, grandpa.â€ Roger murmured and sobbed. He turned and clung to me. â€œThe end of a noble life!â€
â€œNot the end,â€ I told him softly. â€œThe beginning of a greater life in glory!â€
We consoled the family, and as we left the house some time later, Jethro told me, â€œYesterday I was a child. Now Iâ€™m near the door God opened for Gerardo. You canâ€™t tie the clockâ€™s hands.â€
â€œYou said that departed believers are in Christ and therefore outside of earthâ€™s created time. Thatâ€™s hard for my mind to get hold of.â€
â€œPaul said our resurrection has already happened and that our bodies of flesh arenâ€™t whatâ€™s raised; weâ€™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.â€
â€œTo avoid that assumption, I guess one needs to be well educated, Jethro.â€
â€œNo. The educated can struggle even more with it. You saw how Gerardo grasped it; his rural society hadnâ€™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.â€
â€œTrue. The resurrection chapter, First Corinthians 15, glorifies Jesus as life-giver, Jethro. Iâ€™ve noticed that false doctrine never glorifies Him; it diverts attention from His complete work.â€