Table of Contents
Part III:The Nature of the Interval
The most important
"time-marker" to which history now moves forward is
the day of the Lord's return.
That day marks, for the Lord's people, a focal point. It is the
day of their reception into his presence,
faultless and with exceeding joy!(1)
This reception is not only said
to be an event firmly anchored to his Second Coming, but
it is also said to
be an event, equally firmly anchored, to our departure from this
body. Thus we are driven by what is
clearly revealed in Scripture to conclude that these two events
his Second Coming and our departure
are in fact a single event, both occurring at one and the
Two events become one: what are the implications?
is as true for Adam and for Abel as it is for Paul and for you
and for me, then clearly the Lord's
coming again occurs simultaneously with the death of Adam and
the death of Abel and the death of Paul
and your death, and my death. Though, as viewed by the record
of history, these five deaths are spaced
1. "Now unto him that is able to keep
you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence
of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour,
be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.
Amen." Jude 23, 24.
over an immense period
of time, yet as seen in the light of eternity, these five deaths
all occur at the same
moment, the moment of his return.
When Adam dies, let us say, in
3074 B. C., he steps out of time and passes at once to meet the
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"
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
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
Day of Judgment (John 12:48(2)). In 1 Peter 1:5(3) the Lord's people are assured of being kept by the
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
2. "He who rejects me, and receives not
my words, has one who judges him: the word that I have spoken,
the same shall judge him in the last day." John 12:48.
3. ". . . [the believers] who are kept by the power of God
through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last
time." 1 Peter 1:5.
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
Delitzsch noted that if the laying
aside of the body in the grave is really coincident with the
the spirit into glory, then death itself becomes synonymous with
resurrection. But he feels that death is
never referred to as a resurrection of any kind.(4) Yet death and resurrection
may indeed be coincident.
They are not synonymous, but they do occur together in
the sense that they form a single experience. It is
not that the interval between them is shortened almost to the
vanishing point as time is apt to be in a
deep sleep: time is actually eclipsed altogether. Death becomes
an immediate "graduation" into a higher
this was how the rabbinical commentators supposed Adam and Eve
would have departed
this life had they not sinned: by a process akin to a graduation
which involves no dying at all but rather
marks "a joyful incident in man's career."(6)
Jordan: a paradigm of death
Consider now the actual circumstances
surrounding the crossing of Jordan by the Israelites as they
4. Delitzsch, Franz, A System of Biblical
Psychology, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1966 reprint, p.535. It
was a view, however, held by Philo Judaeus. Commenting on Genesis
2:17, he said, "The death of man is the separation of the
soul from the body, but the death of the soul is the decay of
virtue. . . . Whenever Moses speaks of 'dying the death', he
means the penalty of death, not that which takes place in the
course of nature. That one is in the course of nature in which
the soul is parted from the body, but the death-penalty takes
place when the soul dies to a life of virtue, and is alive only
to that of wickedness. . . . When we are living, the soul is
dead and has been entombed in the body as a sepulchre; whereas,
when we die, the soul lives forthwith its own proper life, and
is released from the body". [See his Account of the World's
Creation Given by Moses, Loeb Classical Library, translated
by F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, Harvard University Press,
1971, p.217, 219]. Then physical death is tantamount to the resurrection
of the soul.
5. Edith Buxton (daughter of C. T. Studd, famous wealthy English
cricketeer who became a missionary) expressed it this way: "Everything
that has happened to me seems to point to there being no death.
There is always the beyond new life, new hope. The corn
of wheat falls into the ground and apparently dies, but the day
comes when the fresh green of new life appears. We waste our
emotions in dread of death, who is really a friend of whom few
of us are worthy. The end of this life is no stopping place but
a translation of our poor lives into a new dimension of activity
in eternity" (Reluctant Missionary, London, Hodder
& Stoughton, 1968, p.190).
6. Ginzberg, Louis, Legends of the Jews, Philadelphia,
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955, vol. 5, p.129. The
Rabbis referred to a peaceful death as "a kiss of the Almighty".
about to enter the Promised
Land, a picture of the saint about to cross the "Jordan
of death" into heaven.
What happened? Joshua 3:13, 1517 tells us how the Lord spoke
to Joshua and said:
And it shall come to pass,
as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the
the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters
of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan
shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above. .
And as they that bare the ark were
come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the
ark were dipped into the brim of the river (for Jordan overflows
all its banks all the time of
harvest), that the waters which came down from above stood and
rose up [i.e., were backed
up] . . . and were cut off. . . . And the priests
that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood
firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites
passed over on dry ground until
all the people were passed clean over Jordan.
What a remarkable
paradigm this is of the arrival of the child of God face-to-face
with the river of death
a river which, when that time comes (i.e., the time of God's
harvest and reaping), seems so often to be
"overflowing all its banks."
We live beside the St. Lawrence
River, a mighty stream with a substantial current because it
five miles wide to one and a half miles wide where we are. Every
so often it rises with surprising
suddenness, not over its banks it is true (due to their height)
but by several feet. It swirls around the dock
submerging it entirely, making everything tremble. The river
is a very large moving mass of water and it is
mysterious and ominous. Even though it has never actually caused
us any harm, it is frightening to
observe. Such must have been the appearance of the river Jordan
when it was overflowing all its banks.
And death must seem like this sometimes, even for the departing
saint. In anticipation, it may nearly
always seem so.
But what happened to the Jordan
at Israel's crossing? As soon as the feet of those who were
about to cross it stepped into the river, the river simply ceased
to exist as such! They went over dryshod. Jordan
touched them, once they had touched Jordan.
Jesus said: "If any man keep my saying he shall
never taste of death" (John 8:52). When Jesus also said,
"whosoever liveth and believeth shall never die"
(John 11:26), all that Martha could read into this was the promise
of resurrection. However verses 23 to
25(7) seem to me
to indicate that the Lord was hinting at something far more wonderful!
But Martha was
unable to follow, and the Lord pursued it no further.(8)
Now I suggest that this is a reflection
of the events which terminate the life of the child of God in
world. When the moment of death arrives, we never experience
it consciously as death. Just as the
priests that bore the ark of the covenant found that the river
disappeared when they stepped into it, in the
same way the saint, once he or she arrives on the threshold of
death, will find that the Jordan of death no
longer exists. As Paul says, death has been (not will
be) abolished for the child of God, and life and
immortality have been brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10(9)). I do not mean abolished
for those who mourn,
but abolished for the one who is mourned. Death is not an enemy
for the departing saint, but only for the
When we reach that threshold, we
shall leave the world behind as the children of Israel finally
behind when they crossed over into the Promised Land. Stepping
out of the world of space means stepping
out of the world of time: stepping out of time means stepping
into eternity. Depending on how one views it,
it is either an exit out of time or an entry into eternity.(10) Physical death marks the
7. "Martha said to Jesus, Lord, if you
had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that
even now, whatsoever you will ask of God, God will give it to
you. Jesus said to her, Your brother shall rise again. Martha
said to him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection
at the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and
the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall
he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes, Lord: I believe that
you are the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the
world." John 11:21-27.
8. As J. S. Whale observed, death and God are the two most absorbing
and challenging subjects with which the human mind can occupy
itself. "Death", he said, "is the one inescapable
fact which compels men to choose between despair and faith".
He also noted that "Making sense of life means ultimately,
and always, making sense of death". Further, "Death
cannot be a purely natural fact for one who is not a purely natural
being, but a [redeemable] person, made in God's image".
See his Christian Doctrine, London, Fontana Books, 1957
(first published in 1941, Cambridge University Press), p.170,
9. "But [God's grace] is now made manifest by the appearing
of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought
life and immortality to light through the Gospel." 2 Timothy
10. The Roman philosophers, rejecting annihilation, concluded:
mors est aut exitus aut interitus ("Death is either
an exit or an entry"): as quoted by J. B. Heard in his The
Tripartite Nature of Man, Edinburgh, Clark, 1868, p.134.
in this journey out of
Time into Eternity.
When the dying soul leaves the
world of time, then that which for those who remain in the world
is still future becomes for him an immediate present. Those who
"dip their feet into Jordan" discover that the Lord's
return, hitherto a future event, is upon them NOW. It is not
momentarily now as in a vision which
will fade, but NOW in a reality which is for ever. Death is not
a temporary lapse into unconsciousness from
which we shall later recover: it can only be called a "falling
asleep" when viewed from the position of
those who remain locked in time. For those who depart, there
is no period of sleeping from which they will awaken
in due time.
When Stephen's feet touched the
waters of his "Jordan" he saw the Lord standing to
receive him. Surely
we are not to suppose that this was merely a pre-vision. Undoubtedly
the Lord really did receive Stephen
unto Himself. But since the Lord will not receive any
of us until He returns for us (John 14:3(11)), then for
Stephen both events - his dying and his reception by his
Lord must have occurred at one and the
same moment. No one, in dying, has to wait for the coming
of the Lord. We cannot speak of waiting when
"time is no more" (Revelation 10:6(12)). Only those who are still bound in this space-time
world have to
wait. As each saint leaves this world, there is, instantly, a
moving forward to that end point the Lord's
return to receive him unto Himself.
When time becomes eternity
And so, as we one by one touch
the waters of Jordan with our feet, we pass at once into the
the Lord whom we rise to meet in the air as He returns, and our
new bodies rise with us to make us
complete in our identity as individual persons. But then we shall
discover that those whose feet touched
Jordan before us have also that instant joined with us,
while those who (in the process of history) are yet
to die in the Lord before He comes, are also joining us as we
make the journey. For we shall experience the
telescoping of past, present, and future that future
which, from the point of view of the living,
intervenes between our being laid in the grave and the Lord's
return. But we who have gone to be with the
11. "If [though] I go and prepare a place
for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that
where I am, there you may be also." John 14:3.
12. "[The angel] sware by him that liveth for ever and ever,
who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the
earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the
things which therein are, that there should be time no longer."
Lord will not experience
"the delay" which is yet to be experienced by those
left behind who must still
complete their pilgrimage in time. For us, our pilgrimage
and their pilgrimage will have been completed
at once. It will be as though we shall observe their coming to
see us off on the train as we approach the
crossing over into that other country, only to find, when we
arrive at our destination, that they too are on the train and
have made the journey with us!
Thus the "enemy,"
death, has no power to separate us from the Lord but only to
separate us from our
loved ones, a separation which (if what I have said is true)
occurs for the living but not for the departing.
The loss is theirs, for they remain when we are gone. The
loss is not ours because in our experience they
make the journey with us, time and delay being things which belong
to the life of this world, not to that
world. That is why so much care was taken to deal with the
question of the nature of Time in the first part
of this volume.
As the child of God makes this
passage over Jordan, the river ceases to be a river, and every
event in God's
scheduled programme for the future as revealed in Scripture which
must come to pass between now and
the Lord's return, is instantly observed to have been fulfilled
already. There is no waiting: the Lord's return
is immediate yet within the time frame of historical processes
these same events do not happen until
the end of the age, a time still future for those who must plod
through the intervening years.
Within the framework of time and
space, the resurrection of the body at the Lord's coming is yet
but to the dying Christian it is in the immediate present.(13) In the reality of that
other world, there is no
difference between "is coming" which looks to
the future, and "now is" which lies in the immediate
present (John 5:25 (14)).
Nor does the dying child of God. experience any discontinuity
imposed by Jordan.
13. A similar situation is implicit in 1 Peter
1:7: "that the trial of faith, being much more precious
than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might
be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of
Jesus Christ". Here Peter encourages the saints to persevere
in spite of severe persecution in order that we might in the
end "be found unto praise and honour and glory". When
is this praise and glory to be manifest? Is it not when we go
to be forever with the Lord? Yes, surely; but this is not precisely
what Peter says. He says "at the appearing of Jesus Christ".
When Paul speaks of an "instant audience" when we die,
Peter speaks of instant praise and glory upon his returning.
This is, by my thesis, precisely the same thing! They are one
event. Even John seems to have this in mind: "Little children,
abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence
and not be ashamed before Him at his coming." (1 John 2:28).
When we go into his presence at our departure from this life
it will coincide with his appearing, because our departure and
his return ("his coming") ARE one and the same event
whenever our departure may be.
14. "[Jesus said] the hour is coming, and now is, when the
dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear
shall live." John 5:25.
each child of God passes out of this world, he passes at once
into glory, actually experiencing no
death nor the slightest loss of consciousness nor any time interval
in which events continue to unfold in
the world he has left and which still awaits the Lord's visible
return as a future event. Nor does the dying
saint experience any sense of separation from the loved ones
who remain behind. For him the "time" that
must elapse until those left behind will rejoin him at their
dying, is completely eclipsed. They thus arrive in
the presence of the Lord when he does.
Implications of this eclipse of time
But this principle can be extended.
The joyful destiny of each saint in dying is to be received at
once by the
Lord as He returns to the earth. His own death is the Lord's
return, and the more imminent that death is,
the more imminent is the Second Coming of the Lord. Nor shall
we, once in his presence, wonder about
what is happening to the saints we have left behind. They will
not, in our experience, have been left
Such being the case, the same experience
must necessarily be shared by all the saints alike, all who have
departed this life and all who will yet depart this life from
the creation of Adam to the death of the last
saint before the Lord's return. For each and every one of them,
all history and all intervening time
between that death and the Lord's coming again is totally eclipsed,
so that each must find to his
amazement and delight that as he himself passes over Jordan,
Adam too is just about to pass over his
"Jordan" to be received by the Lord, and so is Noah,
and Abraham, and David, Isaiah, the beloved Luke,
Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe, Spurgeon, and you,
From the point of view of the living,
this in-gathering must always be seen as sequential (1 Corinthians
How otherwise can we talk about it? But it is nevertheless experienced
as a single glorious
moment when the sheep pass into the presence of their Shepherd
with joy. None will precede by reason of
historical accident or prior birth; and none will be late. None
will have longer to wait than others: for
none have any waiting at all.
15. Is Jesus hinting at this when he says:
"Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be
first" (Matthew 19:30) and "So the last shall be first
and the first shall be last: for many be called, but few chosen"
16. "For as in Adam al die, even so in Christ shall all
be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits;
afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then comes the
end when he shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even
the Father, when he shall have put down all rule and all authority
and power." 1 Corinthians 15:2224.
is only when seen from this side of the grave within the framework
of time that we can speak of some
preceding others into the Lord's presence. Seen from the other
side of Jordan, such precedences are
meaningless, since where there is no time, there can be no precedence.
Thus for those who have passed over, being
"present with the Lord" is an already-event. Nevertheless,
as seen by those who have not yet
passed over Jordan, "no man has yet ascended into heaven."(17) Historically, the departed
are not there
yet because we are not there yet. In experience the departed
are there, because we are there too.
Examples of the eclipse of time
To eclipse time is to cancel out
all intervals. To cancel out all intervals, whether the interval
be long (as
might be supposed for Abel already six thousand years in the
grave) or short (as for the saint who was
buried yesterday) is simply to bring the terminal event of
the Lord's return to the same instant for all.
Thus, when Adam died, he passed at once in his experience into
the Lord's presence, and may have been
surprised (speaking "foolishly") to find Noah and Abraham
and Daniel and you and me all joining him at
the same instant so that we rise to meet the Lord together. Sleeping
and waiting are only terms that
accommodate our bondage to time. Adam's last day, 5000 years
ago, was and is, in his experience, the
Last Day, the great day of the Lord's return.
There are other such telescopings
of events in Scripture. Did not the Lord say, "Before Abraham
was, I am" (John 8:58)? Consider what this means. Let us
call the time before Abraham "A," Abraham's time "B,"
the moment when the Lord spoke these words "C." About
two thousand years elapsed between Abraham
and the Lord's incarnation; yet the Lord placed "C"
before "A" and made all three situations coincident
using the present tense of Himself: "I am,"
We might have expected Him to say, "Before Abraham, I was."
But this is not what He said.
On another occasion, the disciples
were stormbound on the Sea of Galilee and in immediate fear of
shipwrecked. Suddenly, they saw the Lord coming towards them,
calmly walking across the tumultuous
17. Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost,
noted that "David is not yet ascended into the heavens"
(Acts 2:34) and Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus said,
"No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down
from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven" (John
waves. Naturally they were terrified:
it must have seemed to them a portent of the end of their lives, an
end for which they were not yet prepared. But the Lord Jesus at once calmed
their fears saying, "It is I: be
not afraid" (John 6:20). We then have an interesting observation:
"They willingly received Him into the ship;
and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went."
When we see the Lord coming, we are in
fact already "home," at the land whither we go. Once again,
it is not a question of suddenly accelerated
time or shortening of distance. It is not a question of time going more
quickly, it is a matter of total
eclipse: not of experiencing a contracted interval, but of arriving
at a point that has no extension.
We have already noted (Chapter
4) an example of the telescoping of space and time when
we read in Luke 4:5 that during the period of temptation in the wilderness
the devil showed to the Lord "all
the kingdoms of the world in a moment (Greek:
a point, )
The dying thief's "today" was
nothing less than "the day" of the Lord's returning to receive
us all. That very day, before he was to see another sunset, he was caught
up with the rest of us to meet the Lord in the air
and was indeed that day and forever with the Lord. It is to be
so for us all: "absent from the body,
present with the Lord." There was and is no delay.
Admittedly, it is difficult to conceive
of a timeless sleep. But when we exercise our time-bound minds upon
the subject, we are almost forced in this situation to use the analogy
of sleep since the appearance of the
body of the deceased so obviously invites such a simile. Certainly Scripture
uses the concept of sleep,
though perhaps as an accommodation to our restricted imaginative capacity.
Yet when the child of God
departs this life, although he may be said to have fallen asleep, it seems
that in truth he does not
experience falling asleep at all.
As the Lord Himself assured us, "He
that lives and believes shall never die" (John 11:26) which, in the
present context, translates into "He that lives and believes shall
never sleep." Not to "taste of death"
(John 8:52) can only mean not actually to fall asleep either. In other
words, in departing, we journey at once without loss of consciousness
into the presence of the Lord exactly as Paul also assured us, despite
the appearance to the contrary as the mourners look upon our apparently
I may be accused of excessive literalism,
but as I read what Scripture tells us, I assume that not to taste
death means just that
not to taste of death at all. I believe that the
abolishing of death and the
recovery of immortality, so far as experience is concerned means
the abolishment of death though
obviously not yet so far as appearance goes in this world
I also believe that the necessity
of the resurrection of the body, in order to allow for the conscious
expression of the spirit and thus the real existence of the whole
human person, is clearly indicated by the
resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ in his manhood. He evidently
could not continue as to his
manhood without embodiment. This is entirely in harmony with
the assurance of bodily resurrection
which forms such a prominent part of Paul's theology and of the
promises of all the other New Testament
writers as well.
Putting it all together, we have
to suppose that the dying saint does indeed pass at once out
of time into
eternity, out of this world into the next, out of the company
of earthly companions into the glorious
company of the Lord and his saints, instantly. This translation
occupies no time whatever, not even the
fraction of a second, since there is no room for even that fraction
of a second's delay in a timeless world.
The logic requiring an interim state
Now, as we have emphasized again
and again, the effect of projecting a time interval even
one conceivable between death and resurrection has been
to invite a continuing debate as to what
happens to the disembodied soul in the interim. Once an interim
was assumed, it seemed necessary to occupy it with conscious
existence despite the lack of a body which, as far as the evidence
goes, is for man
the only organ or vehicle of consciousness.
Now while Martin Luther did
not reject the concept of an interval of sleep, he did reject
the idea that it was
a time of conscious waiting. The soul, he held, is indeed indestructible
because it is in God's keeping; but
this does not necessarily involve conscious existence while it
is disembodied otherwise, why bother
with bodily resurrection? But a large segment of Protestant theology
failed to see the force of Luther's
reasoning and, like the Roman Catholic Church, accepted an intermediate
state which involved a kind of
ghostly half-fulfilled condition of existence while the soul
awaited embodiment. It is strange that we have
held fast for so long to some such form of provisional existence,
with all the difficulties it involves. You
may recall Luther's
remark (on page 80 in the preceding Chapter 6), made with characteristic
forthrightness: "It would take a foolish soul to desire
its body when it is in heaven!"
Some time after this manuscript
was completed and about ready to be submitted to a publisher,
acquired a copy of The Theology of Martin Luther by Paul
Althaus, and was delighted to find towards the
end of it that Luther clearly anticipated some of the ideas which
have been explored in the present
volume. It seemed disruptive to introduce his insights piecemeal
and I have therefore adopted the policy
of inserting some of the observations of Althaus as they relate
to my thesis (with some condensing in the
interests of brevity) in this final chapter.(18)
Althaus quotes extensively from
Luther, using apt phrases interjected appropriately into his
commentary. For simplicity and clarity, I am simply reproducing
the comments of Althaus, placing them
between quotation marks, while setting in a bolder typeface the
actual words of Luther himself in the
hope of particularly drawing the reader's attention to their
compatibility with my thesis. All these
excerpts from Althaus' book will be found to occur between pages
412 and 417 inclusive. In what follows, I
have indicated deletions from the Althaus text by the use of
a succession of dots.
Althaus, noting Luther's comments
on "whoever believes in me will never die" (John
"This is what a man
must hold to when he dies. In this he finds a place to rest in
for he is then held and preserved in the bosom of Christ to
the Last Day. This deep insight
demonstrates the significance of Luther's reformation for eschatology.
doctrines said much about the various places where the souls
of the dead were. Topographical maps
of the intermediate state (Zwischenzustand) were available.
. . .
"The hope of the early Church
centred on the resurrection on the Last Day . . . . This
resurrection happens to the total man and not only to the body.
Paul speaks of the
resurrection not of 'the body' but of 'the dead.'
18. Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin
Luther, Philadelphia, PA., Fortress Press, 1966 (3rd printing,
1975), translated by Robert C. Schultz, p.412-417. For permission
to quote at length, I am most grateful to the publishers.
with this hope for the resurrection on the Last Day, we find
still another thought in
Paul. Dying leads immediately to full participation with Christ
and life with Him (2 Corinthians
5:6 ff; Philippians 1:23). The apostle apparently felt that there
was no contradiction between
these two thoughts. In this letter to the Philippians, he first
says that he expects to be
immediately united with Christ, and later says that Christians
expect to receive a new bodily
existence, and therewith life out of death, from the Lord when
He comes again. Paul makes no
attempt to reconcile these two thoughts. . . .
"The Church's doctrine
of eschatology, however, attempted to put these two expectations
hope into a temporal relationship to each other [my emphasis].
This is done through the
concept of an 'intermediate state' between the death of the individual
and the Last Day when
he will receive a new bodily existence."
then explains how the New Testament idea of resurrection which
affects the whole man gave way
to the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul. The Last
Day, as a consequence, lost much of its
significance, since departed souls have already received all
that is decisively important long before this.
Eschatological interests were no longer strongly directed to
the Day of Christ's coming again.
But the difference between this
and the hope of the New Testament is, of course, very great indeed.
that, against this background, as Althaus points out, we are
better able to measure the real significance of
Luther's Reformation in relation to eschatology.
"Luther generally understands
the condition between death and the resurrection as a deep
and dreamless sleep without consciousness and feeling. When
the dead are awakened on
the Last Day, they will like a man who awakes in the morning
know neither where they
were nor how long they have rested. For just as a man who
falls asleep and sleeps soundly
until morning does not know what has happened to him when he
wakes up, so we shall
suddenly rise on the Last Day; and we shall know neither what
death has been like nor how
we have come through it. Luther therefore says nothing about
souls without their bodies
enjoying true life and blessedness before the resurrection.
Althaus quotes from Luther verbatim: "We are to
sleep until He comes and knocks on the grave and says, 'Dr. Martin,
get up'. Then I will arise in a moment and will be eternally
happy with Him." Althaus then comments on this by saying
that Luther can, as the Apostle Paul does, stress the fact that
Christ and eternal life await us immediately [emphasis
mine] beyond death. Holding these two views side by side
created no problems for Luther. For he recognized that our earthly
concepts and measurements of time
are no longer valid on the other side of death.
Althaus quotes Luther once again:
"Here you must put
time out of your mind and know that in that world there is neither
nor a measurement of time, but everything is one eternal moment.
. . ."(19) Since there
measuring of time in God's sight, a thousand years before Him
must be as though they were
only a day; for this reason the first man Adam is just as close
to Him as the last man who will
be born before the Last Day. . . .
on this statement, explaining that (in Luther's view) for those
who have died, the Last
Day comes very soon after their death -- even immediately (so
Luther) when they die. As Luther himself
put it: "Each of us has his own Last Day when he dies."
Pursuing Luther's argument,
Althaus observes that we therefore arrive at the end of the world
Last Day at the very moment of our death. Yet it comes no sooner
to the departed than to all generations
after us, until the temporal end of the world. Quoting Luther
once again, "In that life a thousand years
before God will not even be one day. And when we are resurrected,
it will seem to Adam and the
patriarchs just as though they were living half an hour ago.
There is no time there. . . . The patriarchs will not reach the
Last Day before we do."
Althaus concludes: "This understanding
of the Last Day as something which is always near and even
present when we die is the unity in which these two lines of
expectation, which we found previously in
Paul, flow together without excluding each other" [emphasis
19. Althaus has a footnote here in which he
remarks: "Note that Luther thinks of time as being set aside
not only subjectively for those who sleep, but also objectively
in God's eternity".
Reactions to this
The discovery of Luther's position
on this subject, a position of which I was previously quite unaware,
came as an exciting one. And it encouraged me greatly since it
can be very disturbing to find oneself way
out in left field where no one else is. When I first began to
explore this line of thought and wrote about the
subject in the early 1930s, few Christians of my acquaintance
could either understand or accept the idea of
timelessness. As the Theory of Relativity filtered down into
the arena of the intelligent reading public and
the idea of timelessness became a subject of discussion, it was
possible to present my thesis to more
receptive audiences -- as was done before the Kelvin Institute
in the 1930s, and at an InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship Conference held at Elburn, near Chicago,
in 1954. In 1958 a Doorway Paper explored
the thesis in some detail and the response to it encouraged me
to attempt a book length manuscript to
cover it more thoroughly -- and thus came about the writing of
this volume. The translation into English of
the Theology of Martin Luther and its publication in 1975
therefore came as a wonderful stimulus to
finalize Journey out of Time.
I know this has not been an easy
book to read. If my thesis should turn out to be a generative
will struggle to put it into more effective form, to create ways
of saying things with greater facility and to
employ analogues which better suit the purpose than mine have
In due course what has really been
terribly difficult to reduce to comprehensible language will
out so simply and so effectively that it will seem obvious to
the reader how it all ought to have been set
forth in the first place. But the first attempt to describe a
new concept is always the most difficult, and only
very rarely succeeds until others who happen to be sympathetic
to the idea have had time to try their
hand at it also.
It seems to me that the whole subject
rests somewhere in a kind of neutral territory that lies between
intellectual comprehension and intuition an almost inspired
perception that is of a spiritual nature.
Over the years, I have often observed that minds less trammeled
with education and more nurtured on
simple Bible study will grasp the complexities of the situation
and go away rejoicing with a very real
understanding. And not infrequently they have added to my own.
Others have gone away shaking their
learned heads and saying, "All too speculative frankly,
I don't think we ought to trouble ourselves with
Yet there are some who do "trouble themselves
with such things," and who are still open-minded and
who have the possible advantage over others of not knowing enough
of what has been said in the past,
and are therefore not in a mental straight-jacket as a result.
It is possible to know too much of traditional
wisdom to be able to learn any more: too much has to be un-learned
first. It is amazing to discover what
one may not see when habit of thought and fear of being
counted 'odd' have successfully put blinkers on
Events portrayed diagrammatically
In conclusion, I want to make one
more attempt to work out my thesis, as I see it, in the historical
of biblical events from the day of Adam's creation until the
day of the Lord's return. And I want to do it with
a series of diagrams, each of which builds upon the previous
one, thus hopefully making their meaning
fairly easy to grasp. I know how frightening diagrams can be!
I am making only two basically
simple assumptions as to the historical framework, neither of
to be considered as anything more than a reference point for
the sake only of concrete discussion. The
two assumptions are that Adam was created somewhere around 4000
B. C., and that the Lord will return in
the not too distant future, let us say 2020 A. D. The actual
dates are quite unimportant in themselves as far
as the diagrams are concerned. But for many readers it may help
to be rather specific in order to make
the picture fit within the framework of biblical history as commonly
understood, allowing very loosely for
what is prophesied about the future.
Adam's creation date can be altered
to suit the reader's preference and it will make absolutely no
difference to the diagrams if all the figures are adjusted accordingly.
And as to the date of the Lord's
return, it must be understood as entirely provisional it
is, after all, totally hidden from us at the
moment. All we know for certain is that it is a future
So, looking first at Figure
Here we have a span of history
B.C. and A.D., with Adam's date of creation at one end and
the Lord's return at the other. The First Adam was placed on
the earth to have dominion over it and he failed miserably. The
Second Adam will come to the earth to have dominion over it
and will succeed magnificently. These two points in time are
therefore highly significant and antithetical.
If Adam was created 4004 B.C., as many chronologists
in the past have concluded, and if he lived 930 years as the
Bible says, he died somewhere about 3074 B.C. It depends on the
length of the biblical year, whether it was 360 days long or
365 days long. I have indicated this presumptive data on the
diagram. At the other end of the scale I have shown the Lord's
return to earth as being in 2020 A.D. The arrow at this point
indicates his descent from heaven. This is not to be taken as
a prediction, it is adopted completely
arbitrarily in order to be specific for the reasons stated above.
I am not pretending to be a prophet. All
that is assumed with confidence is that we are to enter his presence
at the time of his coming again. The
Figure is therefore straight forward enough and quite easily
And so we add names as the centuries
go by and as the saints come one by one to the crossing of Jordan.
Arriving there, each finds Jordan has dried up. Each also finds
all other saints touching its bank at the
same moment; and each passes directly over into the presence
of the returning Lord, all making the
journey together at the same moment (Fig. 12).(20)
"Whosoever believes. . . shall never
Here, then, is a possible solution
that I believe accommodates all the crucial passages which are
otherwise difficult to reconcile. These "irreconcilables"
would now seem to disappear as the whole
picture which emerges displays a beautiful concordance with itself.
And the problem of a kind of
half-identity in a supposed interim is resolved, since there
is no interval in which such a half-identity
would ever be experienced. Where there is no time, there can
be no interval.
Such a resolution preserves intact
what has always seemed to me the most wonderful prospect for
departing saint, namely, immediate passage into the presence
of the Lord and immediate participation,
with all other saints from Adam to the end of the age, in the
Lord's return to the earth in glory.
For the living who remain behind
as each saint makes this journey, death is still an enemy because
separates from loved ones. But for those who step into Jordan,
death is neither a separation from loved
20. This was 'foreseen' by Enoch, "the
seventh from Adam", who saw "the Lord coming with ten
thousands of his saints" (Jude 14). Even John seems to hint
at this when he says, "We know that, when he shall appear,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1
John 3:2). In other words, we shall not see Him until He appears,
i.e., until He comes again. Or, to put it differently again,
when we see Him it will be at his coming again. Thus our leaving
this life "this day" will prove for us to be the time
of his coming again, as it will for all his saints. Thus we shall,
like Enoch, see Him coming with all his saints when we go at
once to be with Him.
ones nor an interim
of waiting: only immediate glorification. Nor is there any discontinuity
of consciousness or of the sense of personal identity, since
we are never without a body.
Thus in the evening of life when
the time finally arrives for us to depart to be with the Lord,
the shadow of
death is turned into the morning of a new day (Amos 5:8(21)). Every man is equidistant
from that great Day.
No one arrives embarrassingly early, or late: and every one will
be perfectly clothed for the occasion. It
will be the most wonderful union imaginable.
This fusion of present and future
is reflected in the Lord's words: "The hour is coming and
now is when the
dead shall hear the voice of the son of God: and they that hear
shall live" (John 5:25). Seen from this side of
Jordan, the hour is coming is a future thing, whereas
and now is is a present reality in the experience
of all the saints who arrive at the Crossing, whether past, present
or future. The is coming belongs to
time: the now is belongs to eternity.(22)
I want to re-affirm my belief that
those who object to the idea of soul-sleeping are right in doing
sleeping and awakening of the soul are appropriate descriptive
terms only from the point of view of those
who still live within the time-frame of this world. The saints
who depart to be with the Lord do not
experience sleep. Where Jordan is rolled back and no longer
flows, where death has been abolished,
where there is no dying, there can be no sleeping either and
no loss of consciousness. There is no river
to cross. I am emphasizing this because I should like to make
my thesis quite clear. Even if it should prove
to be incorrect when examined by others without my bias, it seems
important that it should at least be
In the prospect of death, the saint
anticipates it with mixed feelings like anyone else, just as
of Israel faced a Jordan river in flood with apprehension.
It is only when the moment arrives to touch the
21. "Seek him who makes the seven stars
and Orion, and turns the shadow of death into the morning, and
makes the day dark with night. . . ." Amos 5:8.
22. The Lord's words could, of course, refer in this case to
the effect of his earthly ministry on his audience at that moment.
But his words in John 5:2829 ("Marvel not at this:
for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall
hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good,
unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil,
unto the resurrection of damnation") seem to make this unlikely,
for the reference here is clearly to physical resurrection.
flood waters that these
waters are seen to have been cut off from above so that the river
as such no
longer exists. We thus walk over dryshod into glory without dipping
our feet in the waters themselves,
regardless of what clinical appearances there may be to the contrary.
In the experience itself, death
is not a descent followed by a resurrection, but an immediate
As Jesus said: "Whosoever lives and believes shall never
die." Only to those who remain locked in time
does it seem a descent, and for them the promise of rising again
is therefore very necessary. The eclipse
of time for the departing believer in this experience obliterates
any pause that might be anticipated
between departing and arriving.
The transition is a single smooth
journey out of time into eternity, from a lower order of consciousness
into a higher one, from a dying world into an incorruptible one
that passes not away above all, from a
Presence that is mediated, into a Presence that is immediate.
And so shall we ever be with the Lord.
close with an expression of personal faith. Paul tells us that
"Christ in us is the hope of glory"
(Colossians 1:27). I am convinced this is true, almost inconceivable
though it is. I cannot examine my own
soul without despairing of the state of it. Though I have known
and walked with the Lord for almost fifty
years, I do not yet see except upon very rare occasions
and then only in a very tentative way that I
am a better person than I was when I first became by his grace
a member of the blameless family of God.
Yet those few brief moments of clearer vision assure me that
there is indeed a seed of new life that is
bearing everlasting fruit in my heart as the Lord Jesus Christ,
my Saviour, finds ways and means to
re-form (one could almost say re-incarnate) Himself in me as
a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17(23)). For
this is the source of my new life (Galatians 2:20 (24)). This, and this
alone, is my hope of glory: Christ in me.
It is the assurance of Paul and it is the hope of every child
When I find myself in his wonderful
presence, it will not be as a miserable wretch, apologizing before
for my ragged soul that would seem scarcely worth the price of
its purchase. No, it will be a glorious new
me! It will be a perfected spirit (with all that belongs to the
old sinful self buried and done with for ever)
reunited with a resurrected body made like unto his "glorious
body" (Philippians 3:21(25)) to form in some
wholly satisfying way a new, yet identifiable, Arthur C. Custance.
But because that name represents the old
person and not the new, that name, like the old person it represents,
will no longer be used or even
remembered. I shall have a new name (Revelation. 2:17(26)). This is the promise
of eternity . . . a glorious
new nature worthy to behold the Lord in his glory and to form
a part of his royal court.
Meanwhile, I do not look for the
Lord's return and the glory that shall be revealed as an event
after I depart from this scene. I look for it the very moment
I am called home to be with Him.(27) And I
have every confidence of joining Him with all his saints who
have gone before me and with all who shall
have come after me. This is my expectation: and this will be
What a day of rejoicing that will
23. "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he
is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold all things
are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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24. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet
not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live
in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who
loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
25. "[the Lord Jesus Christ] shall change our vile body,
that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according
to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto
himself." Philippians 3:21.
26. "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says
to the churches; To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the
hidden manna and will give him a white stone, and in the stone
a "new name written, which no man knows except he who receives
27. For Arthur Custance, "that very moment" was October
22, 1985, at noon.
28. And what a fulfillment! The One who had kept him from falling
in this life, now presented him before the glorious Presence
not only "faultless" but "with exceeding joy"!
That is the prospect promised in Jude 2425: "Now unto
him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you
faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy,
to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion
and power, both now and ever. Amen.