The Soul After Death


The Soul After Death

May 13th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 6:9-11

05-13-62    10:50 a.m.



On the radio, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.   And this is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Soul After Death.  It is the sermon on the intermediate state.

In our preaching through the Word of God, we have come after these many years to the last and the climatic book; the Revelation.  And we have had a little period in these days past, through the Easter season and through our revival meeting, when our pulpit has been given to other subjects and to other things.

This morning, we begin again preaching through the Revelation.  The last sermon was a sermon on the fifth seal.  John saw in the hands of the great God Almighty a book, sealed with seven seals.  And when search was made throughout all God’s creation: through the heaven above, the earth below and underneath the earth in the nether world, the earth beyond the grave, there was no man found, no one in the heaven, the heaven of God, no one in this terrestrial earth, and no one in the netherworld who was found worthy to open those seals and to look on that book: God’s plan of redemption, God’s book of salvation.

And while John was weeping, no one was found worthy to buy back the lost inheritance of Adam’s race – while John was weeping, one of the elders, himself redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – one of the elders said, "Weep not, for the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed to loose the seals and to open the book," [Revelation 5:5] to buy back the redemption lost in the sin of Adam.

Then the main body of the Revelation begins.  At chapter 6, each one of those seals is opened.  And as each seal is opened there is revealed to us a part of the great climactic program by which God shall cast out the usurper and the interloper.  God shall cleanse this world of all stain and sin and God shall give back to His people the inheritance they lost in transgression.

Now, the previous sermons have been on the opening of these seals.  Next Sunday morning will be the opening of the sixth seal, which is the great judgment day of the Lord, where "the great day of His wrath is come and who shall be able to stand?"  That will be the sermon next Sunday morning.

Now, the sermon this morning is a second one prepared on the opening of the fifth seal.  And the reading of the passage is this:

And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held;

And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

[Revelation 6:9-11]


Now, the sermon last time was on the meaning of that fifth seal and the meaning of the words that we have read in the text.  The subject this morning concerns the fact of the living, the existence, the conscious life of those souls that John saw in heaven.

The difference between soul and spirit is this.  Pure spirit has no relationship to a body.  God is spirit and He has no body.  Angels are spirits and they have no bodies.  Satan is a spirit and he has no body.  But, a soul must have a body.  If a soul is separated from the body, if the soul is disembodied, it may be referred to as a spirit.  But, that word "soul" always implies a body.  There is no such thing as a soul that does not have, somewhere, a body.  When your spirit is in your body, the soul lives.  When your soul is beyond the body, disembodied, your spirit lives.  But a soul must have a body.

Now, John says, though these martyrs were slain, they were dead – John says, "I saw their souls in heaven and I heard their cry."  One might say that this is an unreal situation.  It is a vision.

That is correct.  But it is a vision of reality.  It is a vision of fact.  It is a supernatural vision of facts before the time, but it is a vision of the facts themselves.  This is reality that John sees before the time.  Then, in death, it is not the end of them.

Their bodies lie moldering in the ground.  Their bodies lie corrupting in the earth.  Their blood has been spilled out in the ground.  But, their souls are still alive in conscious existence in heaven.  They speak and they know what is happening here in the earth.  And they live and speak unto God.  Human eyes, eyes of the flesh, cannot see them.  But they are known to the eyes of God and, in this supernatural prophetic state in which God elevated John and brought him up into heaven to see things that were to come, John says, "I saw them and I heard them."

Now, one of the common revelations throughout all Scripture is to be found in that presentation: that death is not the end of our life.  But there is a conscious existence beyond the grave and beyond this day and this earth whether one be saved or unsaved, righteous or unrighteous, good or bad, wicked or holy, the soul lives beyond this death and this grave.

There was a certain rich man.  There was a certain beggar.  And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.  And it also came to pass that the rich man died, and he had a funeral.  The poor man didn’t have a funeral.  They just dumped him out in some potter’s field.  But the rich man died and was buried, sumptuously.

And in Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, crying for Abraham to send Lazarus, the servant, poor man.  He had been in the habit of ordering people around all of his life.  Why not order them beyond?  "Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Ah, these men are what you call dead.  But they are in a conscious existence in another world.  So let’s take these two as typical of us all.

The unrighteous, the unbelieving, the blaspheming, the repudiating, the scorning and the scoffing, they also live beyond this death and this grave.  This man, who spurned the Word of God, who would not listen to the prophets, nor to Moses – this man, who refused to turn, to repent, this man who had all that life could offer – he lived in big houses, north and south.  He had vast arrays of men he commanded.  He lived very sumptuously, but he was like the Book says.  He didn’t repent.  He didn’t turn.  He didn’t look to God.  He didn’t believe the Book.  He didn’t accept the message of the prophets or of Moses.  And in his sumptuousness, he died, as all inevitably die.

But he is like all others who die like that, whether they’re poor or whether they’re rich, when they die in unbelief and in unrepentance and in unforgiven sin.  He went into a netherworld that is filled with agony, and pain and torment.  When he died, when he shut his eyes in the hospital, or shut his eyes between those sheets of silk, or shut his eyes on that eiderdown pillow, or shut his eyes in that palatial home – when he shut his eyes, he lifted them, he opened them, being in torment.

What an indescribably horrible and awful and tragic thing!  So, the soul of an unbeliever, of a man who dies without the atoning sacrifice of Christ, is in torment.  He’s in misery.  He’s in pain.  He’s in agony.  So much in the Bible, if we had time, we could enter into that.

Another thing about these who die unrepentant; they are in prison somewhere in God’s netherworld.  They are in prison, awaiting the Great White Throne Judgment Day of the Lord.  In 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 19, they are described as in prison, "The souls, the spirits in prison."  And these, referred to in this passage, are those that laughed at Noah when Noah for 120 years preached righteousness and called a vile and blaspheming world to repentance: to turn, to believe.  They are in prison, waiting the great judgment day of the Lord.

Now, that is referred to, again, in 2 Peter chapter 2, verse 4 and verse 9, "God spared not the angels that sinned but cast them down to hell" – not Hades; here, to Hell – "and delivered them in chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment."  Now, in the ninth verse, he says, so with all who are lost.  "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and He also knoweth how to reserve the unjust until the day of judgment to be punished."  There is, then, a fire, a flame, a burning, a torment, a misery and agony, a gnashing of teeth, a madness, for the soul that dies without Christ.  Oh!  Those things – we ought to give ourselves to soul-winning, to evangelism, to pray, to appealing the soul that dies without Christ.

Then, then there is that sinful life, that lost soul that turns in faith to Christ.  Have you done that?  Have you?  Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sins?  Have you?  If you were to die today – and we could – is it right between you and God?  There is a soul that turns, that repents, that confesses, that asks the mercy of God.  What of them?  What of them? 

Three things about them; first, they enter immediately into paradise.  Luke 23: And one of the malefactors turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, we died justly for our sins, but Lord, in that day, when thou comest into Thy kingdom, Lord, remember me, have mercy upon me."  And Jesus answered and said, "Verily, truly, I say unto thee, today, shalt thou be with Me in paradise;" [Luke 23:43] today, today.  And the poor man died and the angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom.  "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."

Well, now where is that?  The Bible is very plain about what it means in the word "paradise."  That’s a Persian word, meaning "park": Beautiful, beautiful park of God; the land of a historic Eden.  Well, "today with me in paradise."  Where is that?  I say the Scripture is very plain.  Now, you look at it.  In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 2, Paul says, "But he was carried out of the body or in the body, he didn’t know, but he was carried up into the third heaven, into the third heaven."

The first heaven is the heaven where the birds fly and the clouds overspread.  The second heaven is the heaven of the great wider universe, the Milky Way, the heaven of God’s stars.  And the third heaven is the heaven of God, where God’s throne is, where the saints of the Lord are, where Jesus is.

By the way, would you let me stop this exegesis to make a comment about that diminutive little atheistic infidel who’s come over here from Russia, saying that he flew around this world seventeen times, whose name is Tito, a little pipsqueak? That little fellow says, "I have proved there are no angels.  And I have demonstrated there is no God.  I was up there in the sky, and I went around the world seventeen times, and I never heard any angels wings and I never saw any angels fly, nor did I meet God.  Therefore," says that little birdbrain from Moscow, "there is no God." 

I have never yet heard an argument for atheism that was anything else but stupid.  I’ve never heard one yet.  I’ve heard professors talk.  I’ve heard infidels talk.  I have listened in bull sessions until I went to sleep.  I have never heard an argument yet for atheism that wasn’t as stupid as this latest demonstration from Tito of the Soviet Union.

Now, wait a minute.  Let’s get back to the sermon.   We’re saying where paradise is.  In the second chapter, in the fourth verse of chapter 12 of the second Corinthian letter, Paul says, "I was carried up into paradise."  So, Paul says that, when he was carried up into the third heaven, in verse 2, he refers to that same place as paradise in verse 4 in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians.

All right, that same thing again.  In the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation and verse 7, the Lord says to the people of Ephesus, "You be overcomers, and I will give you to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."  Then I turn the page in the Revelation to chapter 22 and verse 2, and there John says, "I saw the River of Life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. . . . and on either side of it was the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."

You remember?  Then the tree of life, which Jesus says is in the paradise of God, is in heaven.  That’s where our beloved, sainted loved ones have gone.  Then, the first thing the Book says, we are in heaven.  We are in paradise.  We close our eyes to the weary things of this world and we open our eyes to the glories of God’s great heavenly home.

Now, the second thing; what is it for the Christian to die, for the believer to die?  It is, second, to be with the Lord.  That’s the reason I had you – because I have several things to say about it – that’s the reason I had you to read this passage in the second Corinthians letter and the fifth chapter.

And that’s the reason that I had our editor of the Reminder, instead of saying these are people deceased or these have died, I said, "Oh, don’t do it that way.  That’s the way a heathen would do it.  That’s the way a pagan would write it.  But write it down in your book, in our Reminder, write it down like this, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."  And when we list our beloved dead, these who have died in the week preceding, always their names are under that passage of Scripture, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord," 2 Corinthians 5:8.

That’s the second thing of the soul that dies who believes in Jesus.  Immediately, he is with the Lord.  That’s the passage that we read out of the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Luke just now, "Today shalt thou be with me – with me in Paradise."  And that is the great foundation that lies back of what Paul writes in the first chapter of this precious book of the Philippians, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is a gain."  Nobody but a Christian could say that,

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: – the toil and the weariness of this ministry – yet what I shall choose, I wot not,

For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. 

Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is needful for you.

[Philippians 1:21-24]


I was asked and gladly shared, to see one of our members who is now dying.  Just a matter, is it five minutes from now?  Is it this evening?  And as I stood with the family around that hospital bed, oh, with what assurance can a minister of Christ say, God says it is better over there, better over there.  Here, languishing and lingering and suffering in the dissolution of this house of clay.

What is it to die for a Christian?  "To depart and to be with Christ, which is far better."  A real Christian ought to come to the edge of that great eternity that is to come with triumph and with assurance, with a song in his heart and a smile on his face.  "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  I desire to depart to be with Christ which is far better."  Then, the Christian soul is the soul that is with Jesus in death, God having prepared some better thing for us.

I wish we had time to quote all of these passages.  You remember how the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans – how it ends?

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, 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]


It is, second, to be with Jesus.  Nothing shall ever separate God’s child from our blessed Lord.

Now, a third thing, quickly; it is to rest in blessedness.  "And the Lord said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season."  That is, they are resting.  That is, they are not wandering, melancholy ghosts.  But they are blessedly at home with our Lord.

I wish I had time here to preach a sermon, and maybe will when I come to the verse in Revelation 14:13, "And I heard a voice from heaven say unto me: Write, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.  Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors."  So for the soul that goes out of a body, and that soul has trusted Jesus, it is, first, to go to heaven into Paradise.  It is, second, to be with our Lord.  And it is, third, to rest in blessedness and in the holiness and glory of God.

Now, dear people, let me sum up another sermon just as rapidly as I can before we go off the air.  And, listen to it.  May I make some deductions from these passages of Scriptures, some things that are evident from them?

One, there is no such thing in the Word of God as "soul sleeping," no such thing.  Even those passages in the Old Testament that appear to say that are describing the rot and the ruin of death.  They are speaking from appearance, the corruption of the body.  But there is nothing in the Word of God of the sleeping of the soul.  We go to be with our Lord in heaven.

All right, a second deduction, a second avowal, a second corollary, a concomitant.  There is no such thing in the Word of God as a "purgatory."  That is inconsistent with the all-sufficient satisfaction, the all-sufficient adequacy of the atonement of Christ.  As says the great triumphant writer of the Hebrews, closing his ninth chapter:

As it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment. 

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look to Him shall He appear the second time, apart from sin and unto salvation.

[Hebrews 9:27, 28]


All of it in Christ; we don’t enter any purgatorial fires.  We are saved by the grace of God, not by any suffering on our part – by His suffering – and we open our eyes and see His blessed face.

All right, a third corollary; at the end of this life, there’s no alteration after death.  How we die, that is fixed in for eternity.  As the eleventh chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes says, "As the tree falls, so shall it lie."  As the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew says, when that door was closed, those five foolish virgins knocked and knocked and knocked, but the door was closed.  Oh, oh, oh, as the Book of the Revelation says in its last chapter, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still."  It is settled forever.  And as the first passage to which we turned, "There is a great gulf fixed, so that these do not go here and these do not go there."  It is an eternal fixedness.

And now, the last avowal; this, I think, is the very heart of the Christian faith, for many pagan philosophies taught immortality, a shadowy existence of some kind beyond the River Styx.  But this is the very heart of the Christian hope; that intermediate state, the disembodied soul, is not the hope of the Christian.  The hope of the Christian is that we should be raised from the dead, that we shall experience a resurrection by the same power of God that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, and that we shall be people; God’s redeemed creation in a new world and in a new heaven.

You remember the passage that you read?

For we know – for we know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

For in this we do groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from God;

[2 Corinthians 5:1, 2]


Not that we would be unclothed as Dr. Fowler will always pause to say, not disembodied spirits.  Heaven abhors disembodiment like nature abhors a vacuum.  "Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that God might give us this resurrected body, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."  [2 Corinthians 5:4]

The great triumphant chapter of 1 Corinthians 15:

For this mortal must put on immortality and this corruptible must put on incorruption. 

And when this mortal shall have put on immortality and this corruption shall have put on incorruption, then shall be brought to pass the saying written: Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where is thy sting, O death, and where is thy victory, O grave? 

Thanks be unto God who gives us a victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1 Corinthians 15:53-57]


That is why that when those early Christians died, and it was against Roman law to bury their dead, they burned the body, they cremated the body. That’s why those early Christians carefully took the body of their sainted dead, and in deep, hidden caverns beneath the city, they reverently laid them away.  Because they believed as Christians that God, one day, would speak life to these who had fallen asleep in Jesus.

Don’t let any man rob of you of your hope.  That’s what it is to be a Christian.  You, you and these crippled limbs will be strong and straight.  And these blind eyes will see.  And these dumb ears will hear.  And this weak body will be remade into the strength of God and we shall be like unto our living Lord.  All of the blessedness and the preciousness of the hope God hath given unto us, who in faith look up to Him!

Now, I don’t know where this time goes.  It seems to me I just introduced my subject, and we’re far over that radio time. God bless us, dear people, as we open our hearts to the truth of the Lord.  There’s so much against us in this doubting and disbelieving world.  But, ah, what God hath in store for the one who’ll put his trust and his faith in His Son.

And that’s our appeal to you this morning.  Give your heart to Jesus.  Give your heart to Jesus.  Give your house and your home to God.  Rear up those children in the love and nurture of the Lord.  Live with a song in your soul, however the tears may veil this valley of sorrow.  Come with us.  Sing with us.  Rejoice with us.  Do it now.  Make it now.  Trusting Him as your Savior, putting your life in the fellowship of this precious church, come today.  Come today.  I’ll be standing here to the left of our Communion table.  Come and give the preacher your hand.  "I give my heart to God, pastor."  Or, "I want to put my life in the church."  Make it now, while we stand and while we sing