Do We Become Transcendent?

This article needs to start with a definition. What do I mean by “transcendent”? In this case, I am talking about a quality of God. God is outside of the laws of physics and the constraints of time. He transcends how we normally think of existence for this reason. God can and does work within the created universe. His presence is found within the created universe. But He is not bound by it.

This idea of God being transcendent is mainly derived by His creation of all things, including the Laws that govern the universe. One must be outside to initiate either this universe or Heaven. The Bible also says that Jesus, “holds all things together.” The implication is that space-time is not necessarily permanent and continues to exist by the deliberate action of the Son of God.

Do we ever transcend space and time? Does our death make us transcendent? This idea is expressed in one theory of how our time of death relates to Judgment Day. The idea is that at our death we move outside of time to Judgment Day directly. There is no “Heaven” in our future. We move straight to the Resurrection. What would make this possible? Throughout the New Testament believers are described as being “in Christ” and as we are bound in some way to a transcendent being, we ourselves become transcendent.

This is very speculative about what “in Christ” all entails. If we are transcendent during the intermediate period, the period between our death and Judgment Day, then why am I not transcendent now? I am “in Christ” right now. I am quite bound to space and time for the moment.

I think it is fine to be speculative about eternal life as long as you know you are doing so, and you have no Word of Scripture to better guide you. In this case, I think we do:

 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11 (ESV)

Here we see martyrs (dead by definition) in Heaven (a part of creation). Heaven probably is a space-time that is distinct from our universe. Time in Heaven may not correlate with time on Earth in a one-to-one relationship. But it clearly has time. The martyrs are asked to “wait”. They wonder “how long?” Those are time statements.

Since this is Revelation, is this just a vision with metaphorical meaning that applies to us on Earth only? Are we being asked to wait? It’s possible, so I give you this additional verse.

 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV)

Paul’s language is a little confusing, but he is speaking about an existence in Heaven. Heaven is not the resurrection or New Earth. We come from Heaven with Jesus on Judgment Day to the Resurrection and the New Earth. (1 Thess. 4:14)

From this I would conclude that we are never transcendent. We die at a certain time associated with our universe. We arrive in Heaven at a time associated with Heaven. We experience time in Heaven. We return to this Earth with Jesus at a certain time. The laws of physics and our limitations within those laws may differ somewhat, but it is still a life governed by how God creates our environment. Being “in Christ” may have some aspects that we would never imagine, but being transcendent, even for a moment, is not one of them.

The Special Status of Martyrs

The word “martyr” gets in the news these days in the context of suicidal Muslim terrorists.  It is ironic that such people are called “martyrs”.  The word actually means “witness”.  What does their actions and their death say about their theology?  I hear, “God is full of hate”, “I am full of hate”, and “I will do anything to advance my selfish ambitions for the afterlife.”  Not exactly a compelling witness.

Christians have long used the word “martyr” for those who lost their lives because of their faith.  They did not commit suicide or even seek death, their lives were taken from them out of hatred for God or his message.  Their witness was “The gift of eternal life is better than this life”, and “I am not afraid to die because I trust God”.  That is a very different witness.

Martyrdom for Christians is not something isolated to the first century.  While the Romans took their share, genuine disciples of Jesus have been killed through the centuries, sometimes even by nominal Christian institutions.  Today, Christians are under the greatest threat of death in Muslim and Communist countries.

A strong theme, maybe even the main theme, of the book of Revelation is that martyrdom for the sake of Christ is well worth it.  Martyrs get special mention in Revelation 6:9-11, 12:11 and 20:4.  What do these passages teach us about this special class of people?

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had be slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  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?  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:9-11)

This passage is important because it rules out the idea of soul sleep or that we go immediately to Judgment Day at our death.  It also lines out one of the criterion for the timing of Judgment Day–there are a preset or pre-known number of martyrs.  You might think this a strange and morbid standard, but to be a martyr is a high honor.  Those who experience this are chosen for this.  Their location “under the altar” brings to mind where the blood of the sacrifices was poured.  Only the sacrifice of Christ has merit in saving others.  But the death of the martyrs hasn’t historically deterred faith in Christ but it has counter-intuitively advanced it.  They are a sacrifice pleasing to God in the sense that they truly trusted him, and their deaths advanced the Gospel.

The gift of a “white robe” is common for all who die in Christ.  It is probably not clothing but a reference to a heavenly body that is pure.  The desire for judgment may be a surprise.  It doesn’t feel like love for your enemy.  Such judgment is just, however.  It doesn’t preclude the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.

In Revelation 12 the martyrs are honored and their praise is sung.  In Revelation 20 it speaks specifically of souls who were beheaded.  This is probably synecdoche and actually refers to all martyrs.  Here they have the honor of reigning with Christ.  What is that?  In this context, it would seem that they are part of God’s divine council, which actually participates in making decisions executable on Earth.  This honor would make sense since their lifetimes were cut short on Earth.

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