The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: C

Previous Index Next

Collapsed time

Rather than concluding that 'the judgment' cannot be taken literally (because of time constraints), perhaps the meaning of time will be collapsed around the Lord's return. Thus, the descriptions of the judgment can still be taken on a literal level. For example, we are taught that we must each appear personally before the Lord Jesus at the judgment, and have some kind of two-way dialogue with him (Rom 14:10; 1Co 4:5; 2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1). If we must each appear personally before the Lord Jesus, we have two options: (1) Either time is collapsed so that we all appear before Christ individually -- in what might seem to outsiders to be the merest moment of time, or (2) We appear before him in real time, in which case there must be some kind of queue, and a period of several months at least. (Some have suggested a number of years -- up to 40! -- for such an individual judgment.) This "judgment in real time" creates many Biblical and practical problems: ie, (1) where will thousands of waiting responsible be housed, and fed?; (2) will they be "mortal", or in danger of dying again?; (3) will they be able to sin?; (4) will they be able to repent?... to pray?...; etc.

Thus "judgment in real time" ought to be rejected in favor of the idea that the meaning of time will be collapsed at the Lord's coming.

Indeed, it seems that the whole process of resurrection, gathering, judgment and immortalization may take place in a split second, although it will seem far longer. If we could break this split second into real time, there would be: (a) emergence from the grave, (b) judgment involving a period of time, (c) then the righteous being grouped at Christ's right hand, and (d) finally they would all be immortalized together.

"Come... inherit the Kingdom" is spoken to the whole group of sheep; we will be immortalized together, at the same time. If we are all judged individually in real time, this is impossible. Some would be immortalized months or years before others.

This collapsing of time at the Lord's return would explain why "the resurrection" is sometimes used as a description of the whole process of resurrection, judgment and immortality. This was how Paul saw it (Rom 8:11; 1Co 15:42-44,52; Heb 11:35). Likewise he saw the trumpet blast as the signal of both the call to judgment (1Th 4:17) and also the moment of glorification (1Co 15:52).

A collapsing of time would also mean that the place of judgment is irrelevant. There are practical problems with the idea of judgment either in Jerusalem or Sinai. If it all happens in real time, Christ would come, raise the responsible dead, take us to (perhaps) Jerusalem, assemble us there for several months or years, and one by one grant us immortality. There seems no space for this in the Biblical description of events on the Last Days. Christ comes with the saints to save Israel from their enemies. Unless there is a secret coming of Christ to gather and judge the saints, after which he is revealed to the world, then this just isn't possible. And the idea of a secret coming of the Lord of glory just cannot be reconciled with the clear descriptions of his coming in the New Testament. The coming of Christ in glory with the saints to establish the Kingdom is the coming of Christ.

Depending how one reads the Heb text of Zec 14:6,7, this idea of collapsed time at the Lord's return is Biblical: "It shall come to pass in that day, that it shall not be clear in some places, and dark in other places of the world; but the day shall be one, in the knowledge of the LORD, not day, nor night... at evening time it shall be light" (AV mg).

This collapsing of time would also explain why it is impossible to construct a chronology of events in real time for the coming of Christ; the various prophecies of the Last Days just don't seem to fit together in chronological sequence. If indeed time is collapsed, this would enable all these prophecies to come true, but not in real time. The events around Christ's return were prefigured by those at the time of Joshua's conquest of the land. Some of the records of his campaigns require a huge amount to have been achieved by his soldiers within a short time. "The sun stood still" may well mean that time was collapsed (Jos 10:12,13; cp Isa 28:21).

To appreciate God's timeless perspective is one of the fundamental battles of faith; what God said has happened (our redemption is the supreme example). The 'gap' between His fiat and its fulfillment is only a perception of time-bound mortals. In the Kingdom, eternal life will be life without time, without these 'gaps', rather than life that 'lasts' for unending time. Understandably, given our nature, we tend to see the events of the Lord's coming, and the Kingdom itself, from a far-too-real time-perspective. We find it hard to escape the paradigm of time, and therefore we often attempt to force God's timeless revelation (e.g., concerning the events associated with the judgment) into our time-bound view.

An interesting possible corroboration is found in the KJV of Rev 10:6,7, where the mighty angel of God stands upon the sea and the earth and swears that "there should be time no longer (the NIV reads: 'no more delay')... but... the mystery of God should be finished." And Peter, when speaking of the time leading up to the return of Christ, tells us, "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (2Pe 3:8). Even now, our standard references of time are meaningless to God, because He supersedes time! In the words of Isaiah, He "inhabiteth eternity" (Isa 57:15, KJV). How much more evident will it be to us in the future when Christ returns, that God and His family exist above and outside and beyond the reach of time!

So... as a side point: it might be noted that, for the glorified saints, the reward will not only be living forever, but also escaping time altogether!

[This article is a follow-up to one written by AH, which appeared in The Christadelphian Watchman (edited by GB and NF), Sept 1995 (see Article, Judgment seat, unresolved problem).It includes correspondence from DH, originally published under "Judgment seat: a response" in The Watchman, Nov 1995 -- as well as additional thoughts by GB.]

Previous Index Next