Forever With the Lord
February 2nd, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
FOREVER WITH THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
2-2-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Forever with the Lord. In these more than twelve years that we have been preaching through the Bible, we have come to the last portion of the wonderful apocalyptic revelation of Paul in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter. And I read the portion, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
"And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:17-18]. I know they are written for our consolation and encouragement and comfort, for they were dictated by the Comforter Himself, the Holy Spirit [John 16:7, 12-15]. And the same word that is His name, "parakletos," called "the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Consoler, the Helper, the Exhorter," the Spirit of the Lord here in our midst; this is the same word in verbal form as His name: "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. We are to speak of them, we are to remind each other of them, we are to repeat them. This is the Christian faith and the Christian hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13], that we sorrow not, as others who have no faith and no hope, but to the Christian, this life is but the beginning of a pilgrimage that shall someday find its home in heaven. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words"; to speak of them, to memorize them, to repeat them, to read them, to say them:
Then they that love the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a father spareth his own son that serveth him.
Blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy, and blessed is he that readeth it.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:18]
God’s people are to speak of them, to repeat them, to say them.
And what is the comfort? For one thing it is the comfort of the blessed promise [Titus 2:13]: an exalted, glorious, incomparable hope that we shall live again; the hope of the resurrection, that we shall rise. If we are buried in the heart of the earth, it is a body that sleeps. And some day, at the trumpet of God, at the voice of the archangel, at the presence of the shout of the angels in heaven, we shall rise from the heart of the earth and the dust of the ground and shall live in His sight [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. That is it, partly: the hope of the resurrection. It is partly this comfort [1 Thessalonians 4:18]; it is partly the bliss of the assembly of God’s children. Our separation, our dissolution, is transient and momentary; but our reunion is eternal and forever. This comfort is partly the bliss, the joy, the inexpressible glory of the gathering of God’s children before the great white throne of grace. It is also partly the comfort of the joys of heaven. The glories of heaven are multifarious, multitudinous. There are many facets; each one of which is more beautiful and iridescent than the other. It is partly the glories and the joys of heaven. But the comfort is mostly my text: "So shall we ever be with the Lord." It is mostly that. "So shall we ever be with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Now, in the language in which Paul wrote that, there are two meanings that would escape us, looking at it in the English language. And it is of those two meanings, hid away here in this language in which Paul wrote it, that comprised the sermon of this morning. Paul says here, "So shall we," and there are several words that he could have used for "ever," but he uses one, pantote, "So shall we pantote." And the word means "through all vicissitudes, through all seasons, through all times, through all ages, always, in every place, in every trial, in every turn, in ever fortune, "So shall we pantote with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. Now what he’s saying is that there is no separation possible or permissible between our Lord and His people. Death cannot divide us, nor can storm and fury and wrath and judgment take us away; we are forever with the Lord. He has set His love upon us. Paul himself wrote of it beautifully in the concluding climactic peroration of the eighth chapter of Romans, "For I am persuaded, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come . . . nor any other creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 8:38-39]. Pantote: whatever fortune in life, in death, in things present, or in things to come, never divided from Him. Paul has an expression, a phrase, that he uses over and over and over again in his writings. It is a little one, "in Christ, en Christou, in Christ." We are in Christ. In Colossians, he would say it like this: "For your life is hid with Christ in God" [Colossians 3:3]: forever with the Lord; now in this life, in this present distress, in this weary and sinful world – we are in Him.
We are the sheep that follow after our Shepherd. We are the members of His mystical body. We are the branches of the spiritual vine. We are in Christ now. There is a league between us; there is a bond and a covenant indivisible that forever binds us and holds us together. Not ropes of sand, but cords of steel. We are in His army. We are in His school. We are in the household of faith. We belong to Him. And His presence is felt among us. He hath said, "Going, teaching, baptizing, making disciples, Lo, I am with you unto the end of the age" [Matthew 28:18-20]. And again, "For where two or three are gathered together [in My name], there am I in the midst of you" [Matthew 18:20], of them, of us. How many times have we heard the feet of our Savior behind us as we have gone on one of His missions? How many times have we felt the touch of His hand as we have sought to do His work? How many times have we felt the breath of His presence as we have assembled in prayer or in these holy and consecrated services? We are with the Lord now, like Enoch, walking with God, and there’s no gulf to defy [Genesis 5:24].
But, if the Lord tarries, there will come a time when we shall fall in death, then what? That’s what Paul is saying. There still shall this Friend, that sticketh closer than a brother [Proverbs 18:24], stay by us and with us. He shall never leave us, nor forsake us [Hebrews 13:5]. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff," tokens of Thy presence, "they comfort me" [Psalm 23:4]. When the Lord meets His saved in death, there’s no iron gate through which we pass. But rather, we close our eyes upon this earth and open them in glory; and there is our Lord, forever, pantote, forever with the Lord, still with the Lord.
I stood beside the dying bed, where lay a child with aching head
Waiting Jesus’ call
I saw him smile, ’twas sweet as May, and as his spirit passed away
He whispered, Christ, Christ is all
[W. A. Williams, "Christ is All," 1904]
Forever with the Lord; no division. In life, not separated; in death, not divided. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Then a time into which I cannot enter; I have thought of it so much, I have read through these pages, but I cannot find an ultimate answer. Then a time when the body slumbers, a period of intermission, of disembodiment. I cannot enter into it, nor is it revealed in the Word. There is a time when our pure spirits shall ascend to the church and assembly of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, in the Book of Life, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant [Hebrews 12:22-24]. I cannot say, it is not revealed, that intermission of disembodiment, when the body slumbers in the ground and the spirit returns to God who made it [Ecclesiastes 2:7]. All I know is this: that we are still with the Lord. Forever, pantote, still in that vicissitude, in that turn, in that stage, in that season, in that time that I do not know of, we are with Him. The Lord said to the dying thief, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. For three days our Lord was disembodied, pure spirit. Where did He go? What was it like? I have no word; I cannot say. It is a mystery into which I cannot enter. And how is it that we, pure spirit, rise to be with the Lord? I cannot say. All Paul says about it is this: "Absent from the body, present with the Lord" [2 Corinthians 5:8]. There is a period in there, I cannot say, just that we’re with Him, we’re with our Savior.
Then this infinitely precious and glorious and climactic revelation: the passage of our text this morning. There is something else and other and over and beyond; this still is not all. Forever with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17]; there is something else, something further, something besides. Even when we are with the Lord in this life, there is still a veil in between. Earth is still not heaven; even though our heavenly pilgrimage begins in this earth. Still there is a veil in between. The body of our Lord was called "a veil" [Hebrews 10:20]; it hid His glory, it hid His deity. Just once in a while did its glory shine through, like on the transfiguration [Mark 9:1-8]. This body is still a veil to us; it hides us from the Lord. We’re still not actually gloriously beholding, looking into His actual face [Hebrews 2:9].
And another thing: with all that we can say, our souls still live in a corrupting body. Why, age and illness and death I see on every hand. Give us time, let the days wear away, and my eyes fail in their strength, and my hand is enfeebled; I am growing old. The processes of life continue here, even though we’re His, we belong to Him. Our life is hid with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3]; I still live in a decaying body. And however the faith of our fathers, the sepulchers of Israel still guards their dust. And however the dust of the martyrs may be flung to the four winds of the heaven, it still is here in our midst. There is something else, there is something beside, there is something more, there is something further. And that glorious revelation is in this passage in the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians: he says that someday, some glorious and triumphant day, some victorious day, "with the shout of heaven, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God," he says that, "these who have fallen in Christ shall live again, rise first; and we who are alive and remain at that coming, climactic, and consummating hour, that we shall be immortalized, transfigured, changed, and caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." And there it is again, "And still we are with the Lord, forever with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Job expressed that faith in the centuries and millenniums ago. "I know that my Redeemer liveth . . . And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, whom mine eyes shall look upon" [Job 19:25-27], resurrected, glorious, immortalized in this body with flesh and with bone. "For this mortal must put on immortality, and this corruptible must put on incorruption; and then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" [1 Corinthians 15: 53-54]. Forever with the Lord, raised to live in His sight [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
And now that other word that I said had such meaning in the language in which Paul wrote it: "And so shall we pantote, forever, through every time and age, whether in the grave or in glory, whether in the present or in the future, always with our Savior"; then the other word is the word that he uses for sun, I mean, for "with," he uses the word sun. I looked up, this week in preparing this message, I looked up the prepositions in the Greek that are translated "with." And I counted fourteen of them, fourteen different Greek prepositions that are translated "with." And of the fourteen, Paul chose, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit of God, Paul chose the word sun. Now I believe I can illustrate the feeling of that Greek preposition by an English word that we have made from it: our word "sympathy" comes from a conjunction of two Greek words: sun, meaning "with," and pathos, which is the Greek word for "passion," for "suffering." Sun-pathos, "sympathy," is "to suffer with." It is in your heart. Well, he uses that preposition when he describes our relationship with the Lord: "We are to be forever, are now, shall be"; that word sun. Oh, you can be associated in a business; you can be associated as a fellow citizen in a country. How many ways could you be with different people? But this word that he uses means "an intimate fellowship and communion and association." "So shall we ever be intimately in fellowship and communion and association with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
And that’s two ways. First, we shall be with the Lord in the likeness of His glorious body; "For we shall be like Him, we shall see Him as He is" [1 John 3:2]. We shall be with our Lord in resurrection glory; we shall have a body like His glorious body. Again, I cannot understand that. "Handle Me, and see," He said, "for a spirit hath not flesh and blood, such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39]. And yet, He could go through a wall, He could go through a door [John 20:19-26], He could be present and in a moment the eye couldn’t see Him [Luke 24:31]. I cannot understand that. All I know is that He says, "We shall be like Him" [1 John 3:2]. That’s what that word sune means. It refers first to our association with our Lord in resurrection glory. If we fall asleep, we shall be immortalized, raised incorruptible [1 Corinthians 15:53-54]. If we tarry until He comes, we shall be changed, In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and we shall all be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]; with the Lord, like He is.
Then the other meaning of that association refers to our fellowship, our being together with the Lord. We are as He is, and He as we shall be: with Him, like Him, associated with Him, intimately His very own, and He ours. In reading, I came across a thing that happened in the life of Alexander the Great. Two men entered the pavilion of the mother of Darius, the king of Persia; and she, being a prisoner, arose and did obeisance to the one whom she thought to be Alexander. She found that it was Hephaestion, Alexander’s close and intimate friend. And when she found her mistake, she bowed and humbly begged the pardon of Alexander, for doing obeisance to the wrong person. And Alexander the Great replied to the mother of Darius, "Madame, you made no mistake; for he too is Alexander." That is, Alexander so loved him, and cherished him, that Alexander looked upon him as his other self. "He too is Alexander." And that is the children of God. Do you remember in the last chapter of the Revelation, John the sainted apostle fell down to worship at the foot of the prophet: who spake unto him. And the prophet said, "Nay, I am of thy fellow servants of the prophets: worship God" [Revelation 22:8-9]. Well, what it meant is that the prophet was so like Jesus, so caught His spirit in his character and his bearing, that John fell down to worship him too. That’s our Lord and His people: so like Him, so like our Savior, we and our Lord; sun, with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
When you get to thinking about that, as the Bible reveals it, oh, with what meaning. He is the Shepherd, but He is no Shepherd without His sheep. He is the Bridegroom; but He couldn’t be a Bridegroom without His bride. He is the Savior; but He could not be a Savior without His saved. He is the Redeemer, but He could not be a Redeemer without His redeemed. He is our Lord and King; but He could not reign without us, His subjects. Like Paul says again, "We are the fullness of Him who filleth all in all" [Ephesians 1:23]; forever with the Lord, we in Him, and He in us; we like Him, and He like us, all of us with Jesus our Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
And in final word of the passage – and this is the fourth sermon I’ve preached on it – in final word, some of these days, some of these days, with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, with the trump of God, the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. But He will not descend without His saints, without His people. When He comes, when He comes, when He comes, there He comes still with His people [Zechariah 14:5; Jude 1:14]. We died with the Lord when He died, we were buried with the Lord when He was buried, we are raised with the Lord in His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. We ascended with the Lord into glory [Ephesians 2:6]. Someday we are coming again in majesty with Him [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. A cloud received Him, and a cloud shall receive us [Acts 1:9]. The shekinah glory bathed the feet of our Lord [Revelation 1:15]. The shekinah glory shall bathe these unworthy feet too. He shall descend with angels singing. We shall be with Him; forever with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Oh my brethren, if the touch of the hem of His garment could heal us [Matthew 14:36], and if the very sight of the Lord could raise the dead [Matthew 9:24], think, think what it shall mean when we see Him actually, really, finally with no veil in between. Forever with the Lord; "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:17-18].
Oh, holy and blessed faith; oh, promise of God; oh, Savior of our souls; oh, Keeper of our lives! While we sing this song, while we make appeal, somebody you, to trust our Lord today, would you come? It is still early. On the radio, on television, if you’ve never given your heart in faith and in trust to our great and able and keeping and coming Savior, would you bow your heart where you are, would you kneel by the side of your chair, would you give heart and life and destiny in trust to Him? Would you today? And in this great throng of people, in this balcony around, down these stairwells, at the front, at the back, would you come? In the press of people on this lower auditorium floor, taking the Lord as your Savior, trusting Him, a family of you, or one somebody of you, while we make appeal, would you come? On the first note of this first stanza, into the aisle, down to the front: "Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to Jesus." As He shall say the word and lead the way, would you come? Would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
WITH THE LORD
I. These words full of comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
are dictated by the Comforter Himself, the Holy Spirit
They are to be repeated by the saints(Malachi
3:16-17, Revelation 1:3)
is the comfort?
blessed promise – hope of resurrection
glory and joy of heaven
that we will ever be with the Lord(1
II. So shall we pantote with the
– through all times, changes, seasons, ages, a continuance of our present
fellowship with our Lord
separation between our Lord and His people(Romans
are with the Lord now, in this life
favorite expression – "in Christ"(Colossians
There is a union of heart between us(Matthew
Enoch, we walk with Him now, no dividing gulf to defy
bear about a dying body – if the Lord tarries, then what?
Friend who sticketh closer than a brother(Proverbs
18:24, Psalm 23:4)
eyes on earth, open them in glory
a while this body slumbers, but our spirits shall ascend (Hebrews 12:23, Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8)
III. The climactic moment when we shall see
Him face to face
are deeply, painfully conscious that while we are present in the body we are
absent from the Lord
souls still live in a corrupting body
There is yet another grand event(1 Thessalonians
4:16-17, Job 19:25, 1 Corinthians 15:53-55)
infinite glory, when we "sun, withthe Lord"
– denotes accompaniment, fellowship, sympathy
a. One with Him in
resurrection glory, the veil taken away(Luke
One with Him, intimately associated, we as He is(Revelation
are the fullness of Him that filleth all in all(Ephesians
due time Christ shall come – His saints with Him