The Bible talks about something happening “in the twinkling of an eye.” Who will experience changes that occur seemingly with no passage of time?
Recently I underwent a major operation at our local city hospital. This was my first time to undergo a procedure involving general anesthesia, and I had little idea what to expect.
After going through various preliminary stages of preparation, I was led into the operating room. A kindly medic sat me down on the side of a bed, while another man was behind me doing something to my lower back.
The man beside me was chatting to me and then, mid-sentence (or so it seemed), he said, “Well, that’s all done!”
I was astonished! I was then told that a five-hour operation had taken place during what to me was a split second of time. I had no awareness at all of that missing five hours!
Some days later the anesthetist visited me at my bedside to see how I was doing. I told him of my amazement at having no recollection at all of being put to sleep for the operation. He laughed and said, “In the twinkling of an eye!”
To me, as a Christian, that phrase sounded very familiar!
“In the twinkling of an eye” in the Bible
This expression was, of course, used by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Paul had initially thought that Christ would return during his lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). He thought he would be among those true Christians who would be alive and changed to spirit bodies in a split second, in the twinkling of an eye! Though he was wrong about the timing, this will clearly be true of those Christians alive at Christ’s return.
But what about the dead in Christ? As Paul stated, they will be raised from the dead at Christ’s return and become immortal with spiritual bodies. Will it be for them like my recent experience, in that they will have no consciousness of the passage of time between their death and resurrection? How surprised will they be to learn they had been dead, in some cases for thousands of years, and they had no awareness of it?
However long they had been dead, that time will have passed “in the twinkling of an eye.”
The Bible compares death to sleep
Many passages in the Bible compare death to sleep (for example, Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
Surprisingly to many, no passages in the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul that remains conscious after death. (See our article “Do Humans Have an Immortal Soul?”)
In fact, the Bible confirms that we have no conscious thought after death, until the resurrection:
- “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
- “There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (verse 10).
- “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17).
- “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:4).
While asleep in the grave, we will have no consciousness of the passage of time. The time until our resurrection will pass “in the twinkling of an eye.”
Adam and Eve
God is fair and just and not willing that any should perish without a full opportunity.Having now experienced my first operation while in a deep sleep, I find it interesting to look back into Genesis to read the account of Adam and Eve. When God decided to provide a wife for Adam, He carried out what was in effect the world’s first surgical operation.
“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22).
Adam had fallen into a deep sleep and woke to a missing rib and, shortly afterward, to a beautiful wife too. Like everyone in modern times who awakens after anesthesia, Adam likely had no remembrance of what had just taken place.
The great Flood
We read in Genesis that after Adam’s sin, the human race degenerated, grieving the Creator.
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).
“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (verse 11).
God determined to bring a flood upon the earth to wipe out all of humankind except for righteous Noah and his family. In that pre-Flood world, humans lived extremely long lifetimes, and it is likely the world population grew enormously. Guesstimates of the world population at the time of the Flood have ranged from hundreds of millions to the low billions.
All these people except for Noah’s family died in the Flood as the waters rose to cover even the mountaintops. As the waters raged across the earth, these unfortunates were swept away and died.
They will all live again, being brought back to life into a very different and safe world. Despite having died thousands of years earlier, they will have no recollection of the time they were dead. It will have passed in the twinkling of an eye.
The valley of dry bones
This well-known passage in Ezekiel 37 depicts a resurrection to physical life of an enormous number of people—“an exceedingly great army” (verse 10). Ezekiel describes the bodies being systematically reconstituted. Bones will be reconnected, flesh will be added, and finally they’ll be given the breath of life. They will then stand up on their feet.
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the LORD”’” (verses 11-14).
This huge mass of physical people will be resurrected to live a physical life once more. They will remember their former lives, but the years, centuries, millennia even, that they have been dead will have passed in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye! They will have no memory of their time in the grave, but a complete memory of their lives beforehand.
The men of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba
When scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, He answered: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah . . . The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:39-42).
We see in these passages that the time is coming when people of different generations and centuries will be brought back to physical life together, and it seems one generation will criticize another for passing up the greater opportunity they had to repent.
Jesus’ own generation will receive the greatest condemnation, for the very Son of God was present among them, and they didn’t recognize Him. Even worse than that—they scourged Him and put Him to an ignominious death on a cross.
The rest of the dead
We read in Revelation 20 that Satan will be chained and put away for a thousand years. We then read of the resurrection of the righteous who will be resurrected and reign with Christ during this thousand-year period.
“This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:5-6).
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (verse 5).
We can see that all will have a chance at eternal life, if not in their first life, then in the resurrection. God is fair and just and not willing that any should perish without a full opportunity. All those billions of people who will be brought back to life in their allotted time will likely have a full memory of their former life, but no memory of the time they spent in the grave. That time will have passed “in the twinkling of an eye”!
Study more in our free booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?