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Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (6) Time and Memory, Faith and Hope in Heaven

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
We have been dealing with the condition of the blessed in the intermediate state, that is, the state between the ÒnowÓ of their death and entrance into glory and the final day when the resurrection will take place and they will receive their glorified bodies from the Lord. One of the questions often asked in this connection is, ÒIs there ÔtimeÕ in heaven?Ó Various hymns allude to the fact that Òtime shall be no moreÓ - ÒAnd he swore with his hand raised to heaven, That time was no longer to be...Ó What does this mean? Is this accurate and how must this be understood?
The Vision of the Souls under the Altar
What John sees in Revelation 6:9-11 is not heaven itself but a symbolic vision of heaven. We must not forget this--it is symbolism. However, this symbolism would be meaningless or impossible to understand if it did not reflect reality.

In this vision, John sees the altar of burnt offering at the base of which the blood of slaughtered animals had to be poured out (Lev.4: 7). Under this altar John sees the souls of the slaughtered saints. ÒThe life [or ÔsoulÕ] is in the bloodÓ (Lev.17: 11). Now, the souls of these martyrs cry out for vengeance upon their killers.

Then, to each of these slaughtered souls a white robe is given, symbolizing holiness, righteousness, festivity and victory. They are assured their prayers will be answered but that they must wait yet a little ÒseasonÓ--a short time until the number of the martyrs is full. Then will come the final Day of Judgment.

From this we may conclude that these souls have been resting for some time already, that they are resting now and that they must rest a little while longer. In other words: they have a past that they remember; they have a present in which they live; and they have a future that they are approaching. There is ÒtimeÓ in heaven, for there is movement from the past to the present into the future.

Can the saints in heaven remember anything of this world, and if yes, does that not mean they will also remember some of the bad things? Is that possible in a perfect world?

The rich man in the parable in Luke 16 remembered (from hell) that he had five brothers on earth. It is a parable and memory is not the point of the parable; however, the Lord would not be teaching things which are untrue. Have the righteous no memory? Matthew 25:37-40 seems to imply they do (last judgement parable of the righteous being rewarded for the good they did). Further, the saints in heaven praise God for His wonderful deeds--how can they if they cannot remember them? Also, does not the singing of this song (Rev.5: 9; 14:3; 15:3, 4) in itself tell us of progression of time--from the line sung to the line being sung to the line that will be sung next? The fact that there is music proves that there is past, present and future in heaven. (Lest we argue that souls cannot sing for they have no ÒvoicesÓ--true, but they are intelligent beings and even as we can sing inside, in our hearts, so can they and they are probably capable of many other things which we do not know about.)

If memory of the past exists in heaven, what about faith for the present? It has been said many times, in one way or another, ÒFaith will vanish into sight; Hope be emptied in delight...Ó Is this true? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we will no longer be looking for the fulfilment of the promises, for that we will have. But faith in the sense of trust in God will still be there. It will be all the more gloriously enjoyed, for nevermore will anyone have to say, ÒHelp thou my unbelief.Ó So faith will be present and the enjoyment of it will ever increase.

ÒNow abides faith, hope and charity [love,]Ó the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:13. They remain--also hope does. This can be readily understood in connection with the existence of the saints in heaven now: they look forward to the resurrection when their LordÕs glory will be fully revealed and their persons made complete. That is hope.

Does that mean they are not happy now? Let us take a simple illustration: a child has been promised a beautiful gift for his birthday. He knows this gift is coming but he knows he will not have it until his birthday actually arrives. He is excited; he counts the days. Ask him if he is happy and he will say, ÒOf course, because I am getting this beautiful gift on my birthday.Ó That is hope and that is what is experienced in the intermediate state.

After that state is completed, will there still be hope? Hope is a form of expectation and expectation means there is something yet to come. In heaven, right now, the souls of the redeemed really live, thanking God for his blessings in the past, trusting Him in the present and anticipating more blessings and joys for the future.

Is There Time in Heaven?
If all this is true, and it is, we can come to no other conclusion than that time does exist in heaven. We must not confuse the issue by thinking that ÒtimeÓ and ÒeternityÓ are opposite notions; they are not, but they are different. Amongst Dutch Reformed people, the influence of Dr. Abraham Kuyper may have given rise to the notion that time does not exist in heaven. This great theologian based this idea on his reading of Revelation 10:6, ÒAnd he sware by him that liveth forever and ever... that there should be time no longerÓ (Dutch Statenvertaling: Ô...dat daar geen tijd meer zal zijnÕ). Although this is an accurate word for word translation, the idea of the combination of words in Greek is Òthere shall be a delay no longerÓ or Òthere shall be no more delayÓ. It has to do with the fact that a period of waiting is past but now, without further delay, GodÕs judgments will begin. This is how it reads in the New King James, the NIV, the RSV and other versions and that is the meaning.

To think that man in heaven would exist in a life form that can no more be divided into time units is to ascribe to him a life like GodÕs. We do not have that kind of eternity. Even in heaven we shall not be ÒaboveÓ time. As another theologian (Dr. H. Bavinck) wrote: ÒThose who have died remain finite and limited beings and cannot exist in any other way than in time and space. The measurement of space and the computation of time, to be sure, will be entirely different on the other side of the grave...Ó There will be a different kind of time scale, but just what this will be we do not know.

ÒIs there time in heaven?Ó Yes, in the sense that there is progression of moments. Heaven has a history. Once there were no redeemed saints; then, Abel entered and following him, one by one, a long stream until, at the last day, the last one will be admitted. But if we ask whether, in every respect, time will be as we now experience it, the answer must be ÒNo.Ó

In view of all this, we also conclude that there will be progress in heaven. There will be progress in, for example, knowledge, love and joy. Although the Bible does not state anywhere in so many words that there will be progress, many Reformed scholars believe it is implied.

a. This is part of having everlasting life. This life is lived in succeeding moments, as we have just seen; it does not stay ÒputÓ in one position. To live means to think, to love, to enjoy, to have fellowship, etc. For finite beings (beings who are limited and who cannot have the fulness of all things at once, as can God) this means there must be growth in these areas. Such growth is not inconsistent with perfection. On earth a Òperfect childÓ can and must still grow. The perfect Christ as child certainly increased in wisdom, stature and favour with God and man--so it may be in heaven.

b. This follows from the fact that God is infinite and we are finite (1 Ki.8: 27; Isa.40: 25; 44:6; 45:5; 66:1; Acts 17:27, 28, etc.). When in heaven the finite comes into connection with the infinite and there is no sin or death, would it not make sense to believe that the finite will make progress? Will the vessels not continue to fill up by having the inexhaustible beauties of heaven poured into them? Even in heaven we shall strive to know more of the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ.

c. This follows from the fact that there will be no sin in heaven (Matt.6: 10, Rev.21: 27). The main obstacle to progress is gone. Does it not make sense to believe that minds no longer clouded by sin will progress further in knowledge than minds that are so clouded? One of the great joys of heaven will be to learn and learn and to see before you an endless ocean of knowledge, which is yours to take, a little at a time.

d. This follows from ScriptureÕs symbolic language (1 John 3: 9, Rev.22: 1 ff., Ezek.47: 1-5) picturing eternal life as a germinating seed, a growing and fruit bearing tree and an ever deepening river. All these imply progress,

e. This follows, finally, from the BibleÕs teaching about the abiding character of hope. Hope is the joyful anticipation of good things to come. Earthly hopes are not always fulfilled, but not so in heaven. There every hope attains fulfilment and, at the same time, hope continues on and on for the eternal joys of heaven cannot ever be exhausted by finite man; there is always more to come. This is part of the beauty of heaven.


1.If memory goes with us into heaven, will we also remember our sins and those loved ones who have not been saved? (Will we ÒmissÓ them?)

2.It is said above, Òthere will be progress in knowledge, love and joy,Ó Can you add others to this list? Will there be progress in holiness?

3.The last line is, ÒThis is part of the beauty of heaven.Ó What would some of the other parts be? Are these ÒpartsÓ separate from each other? In a few words, what is the real heart of all this glory for you?

4.As man, the Lord Jesus was perfect and sinless. Did that exclude the possibility of progress? (See Hebrews 5:7-10, especially verse 8)

5.Is there any practical value in this idea of progress in heaven? E.g. could there be any relation between our rate of spiritual progress here and our rate of growth in knowledge, love, joy, etc., there?

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