Benjamin Franklin reminded us that time is “the stuff life is made of.” Our earthly existence is marked by time. We “waste” it and “spend” it and “save” it; we have “time on our hands,” or we “make up for lost time”; we speak of those who have “all the time in the world,” while others are “running out of time”; and, then, “when our time is up,” we exit this world. What about in heaven? Will we still experience time as we do now? The short answer is we really don’t know.
First, let’s be clear that, when we say “heaven,” we are referring to the dwelling place of God. Revelation 21:3–4 says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The chapter goes on to describe the New Jerusalem, where believers will dwell for eternity.
Some argue that we will not experience time in heaven because we are told, “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; see also Revelation 22:5). If the cycle of day and night is done away with, perhaps that signals the end of time—or at least our measurement of time. Also, we know that God exists apart from time (2 Peter 3:8), so perhaps those dwelling with Him will also be outside of time.
However, others point to what seem to be clear references to experiencing time in heaven. For instance, Revelation 8:1 says, “There was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Was the “half an hour” simply John’s measurement of the period of silence from an earth-bound perspective, or did the residents of heaven also realize the passage of time?
Those in heaven appear to be aware of the passage of time on earth, and they may even describe it as “long.” Revelation 6:9–10 says, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been 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?’” Without a doubt, how long is a time-related phrase. These examples occur prior to the eternal state, but they may support the idea that time factors into our existence in the dwelling place of God.
Revelation 22:1–5, speaks of the New Jerusalem: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. . . . There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” The mention of “every month” and “for ever and ever” indicates the passage of time. One might suggest that John was only able to explain his vision in time-bound terms, and that his words do not exactly represent the reality of the vision. However, month is still a time-related word.
When God created the world, He created time—there was a “beginning” (Genesis 1:1). He called the creation, including the reality of time, “very good” (Genesis 1:31). It seems, then, that time is something good and well-suited for God’s creation. As part of God’s creation, we are subject to time. Will that change in eternity? We cannot be sure.
Heaven is beyond our understanding. But we can rest in the fact that our God is good and what He has prepared for us is good. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children’” (Revelation 21:5–7).