It was a long, but productive day. It started earlier than usual, and my evening was scheduled too. The day fell in the middle of a ten day stretch that was particularly busy, so when my head hit the pillow at 9:30 p.m. sleep came almost instantly. I opened my eyes at 2:00 a.m., glanced at the clock, and immediately fell back asleep. The next thing I knew it was 5:30 a.m. and time to rise to a new day.
Time flies when one is sleeping well! I am sure that, both globally and locally, much took place in the eight hours from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. – but nothing took place from my perspective. Time flew from night until morning, with just a 20 second pause at 2:00 a.m. Any “catching up” that I needed would be available after I woke up, but there would be no possibility or necessity of moving backwards.
The New Testament speaks of a very similar scenario in the sleep of death. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then, we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-17)
Do you hear all the good news in these verses? The death of believers in Jesus will be much like my recent night. As we fall asleep in Jesus, whether our lives have been long or short, productive or not, time will fly by until our Lord returns on the last day. Then all who have fallen asleep in Jesus will open their eyes, receive glorified bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15.42-57), and be united with all believers of all time. Together, we then will be placed into a new creation ready to spend an unimaginable eternity together as one people gathered around Christ. And, I imagine, any “catching up” if needed will be available – without the possibility or necessity of moving backwards.
Here in time we miss those who fall asleep before us. Our lives are continually stung by the death of loved ones. But that is not the end of the story. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15.56-57)
Does it feel at times as though time is flying by faster and faster – even when you are NOT having fun? Imagine how it must be for God to whom “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand year as one day!” (2 Peter 3.8) Do you find that even though some days seem to go very slow – think “boring” – when you look back your primary question is still, “Where did the time go?”
Now I don’t want you to think that my every night is the same as the one described in the first paragraph. Some nights I am restless, tossing and turning – feeling as though I will never fall asleep. Other times I seem to wake up multiple times for thousands of different reasons. And my thoughts between my evening prayers and the morning ones are not always the healthiest.
But I do want you to think – and to know – that a sleep is coming for you and all believers in Christ that is well described in a 19th century hymn. “Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep from which none ever wakes to weep. A calm and undisturbed repose, unbroken by the last of foes. Asleep in Jesus! Peaceful rest, whose waking is supremely blest; no fear, no woe, shall dim that hour that manifests the Savior’s power.” (TLH 587) “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4.18) … and I hope you are encouraged, too.