And Time Shall Be No More?

The concept of eternity is often beyond the capability of our intellects to grasp. Surveying Christian history, we find conflicting thoughts and ideas about time and how it intersects with eternity. On the one hand, James Milton Black, who wrote “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” penned the words, “and time shall be no more.” Conversely, John Newton in Amazing Grace declared, “when we’ve been there ten thousand years.” Can we reconcile these two thoughts?

Support for the concept that time will someday cease rests mainly on a mistranslation of Revelation 10:6 in the KJV: “…that there should be time no longer.” Nearly every other translation renders it as “There will be no more delay.” Verse 7 goes on to explain that there will be no more delay as “God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled” (NLT). Either time will cease, or it won’t, but does it make any difference?

Time is a mystery

The greatest minds in history cannot fully define time. On Earth, time is measured with two significant factors: the Earth’s rotation and its orbit around the sun. Seconds and minutes may seem arbitrary, but days and years are defined. What do we need to contemplate when considering the cessation of time?

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first Earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Let’s begin with our concept of eternity and heaven. It is common for Christians to believe that they will go to heaven and spend eternity there when they die. Perhaps it is convenient to overlook the promise of a new heaven and new Earth to go along with our resurrected, incorruptible, immortal bodies. But if we believe that God has more in store for us than a disembodied eternity, the end of time is an interesting question.

Can time and eternity coexist? “Eternity is the concept of endless time, or more fully, of being beyond time; only God is intrinsically eternal.” [1] Beyond our present existence, is there any reason for measuring durations of time?

How Long?

In John’s vision of heaven in Revelation, the concept of time is referenced. Consider those who were martyred for the Word and their testimony: They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Revelation 6:10 (NIV). We read in Revelation 8:1, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

It could be argued that references to time in the book of Revelation are there to help us relate to these events. If we concede that point, there is still the question of how it was determined that “time would be no more?” Further, it is not our intention to prove the point one way or another. In fact, we should be continually examining what we believe about the Bible.

Greek Influence

Greek philosophy, specifically Platonism, has had a far greater impact on Christian thinking in doctrine than most people would like to believe. Randy Alcorn coined the term Christoplatonism to describe the philosophy that “has blended elements of Platonism with Christianity.[2]

Among the beliefs derived from the influence of Platonism are: “that our eternal dwelling place is a spiritual dimension and not on earth” and “planet Earth is basically evil and beyond restoration.” This view of eternal life has been called “the spiritual vision model.” Influence by Platonism, heaven is viewed as primarily a spiritual entity.

Another model of eschatology is called the “new creation model.” It is contrary to Platonism, emphasizing the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It looks to a coming new earth, bodily resurrection, and the renewal of life on this Earth.

 How many people still get excited when reading: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the Earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25–27 (NIV).

Time and Eternity

Returning to our consideration of time in eternity, things in the new creation will be different than they are now. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Revelation 21:23 (NIV). There will be no night in the city, but it also says “that on no day will its gates ever be shut” (V. 25).

In summary, the question of time and its relation to eternity is secondary to understanding the influences on our interpretation of Scripture. For those who hold to a spiritual vision model of heaven and eternity, time may be superfluous. The new creation model proposes that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam. This was the dominant view in the church in the first and early second centuries. Subsequently, “the spiritual vision model took over as the prevailing view of eternal life.

It is doubtful that we have solved the question of eternity in a few words, but we should be challenged to examine everything, understanding the influences that affect what we believe. With this in mind, I leave you with the words of Ira Stanphill from the song I Don’t Know a Him Him Him About Tomorrow: “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”

Steve Ekeroth

 

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[1] J. A. McGuire-Moushon and Rachel Klippenstein, “Eternity,” in Lexham Theological Wordbook, ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[2] Alcorn, Randy C. Essay. In Heaven, 475. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.