What Shall I Do in the First Five Minutes of Eternity?
April 5th, 1966 @ 12:00 PM
WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF ETERNITY?
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-5-66 12:00 p.m.
And we are your debtors, Dan Beam and Lee Roy Till; and your debtor, oh so much, the Palace Theater. The Interstate Management is so gracious to us, has been through the years and the years. This is the forty-seventh year that our dear church has conducted these downtown pre-Easter services, and ever since there has been a Palace Theater, they have been conducted in this great spacious auditorium. Dr. Truett led them for twenty-five years, and this is now the twenty-second year it has been my high privilege to share this hour with our people in the city of Dallas. Now it is a busy lunch hour for so many of us, and we understand that, and anytime you have to leave, you feel at ease and at liberty to do so. You will not bother me in the least, and all the people in this great congregation this noon hour understand. If you can come for five minutes, welcome. If you can come just for a prayer or for a song, do so. Stay as long as you can, leave when you must, and God will honor our turning our faces for these few moments heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward.
The theme for this forty-seventh year is "What Shall I Do?" Yesterday, What Shall I Do in the Hour of My Death? Several people have asked me, "How is it, pastor, that you have chosen such a line of thought and subject and message as this?" Well, I hadn’t particularly thought of the background of my own purpose and choice. Maybe it lies in the kind of a world in which I live. You just saw Lee Roy Till leave the platform; he and Dr. Fuller have a funeral service in a few minutes. And then at two o’clock, Brother Mel Carter and I have another funeral service. I live in that kind of a world, a world filled with tears, and heartache, and bereavement, and separation, and death. It is everywhere and, of course, accentuated in my own life.
So the subject, What Shall I Do in the Hour of My Death? And the man that I bury at two o’clock is much younger than I. Tomorrow, What Shall I Do At The Judgment Bar of Almighty God?" For we shall all stand some day at the judgment bar of God [Romans 14:10]. Thursday, What Shall I Do With My Sins? "For all of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. And Friday, What Shall I Do With Jesus which is Called Christ?
The message today is partly sad and partly glad. What Shall I Do In the First Five Minutes of Eternity? For the Scriptures reveal to us that our translation is immediate, it is instantaneous. When we close our eyes in death, we open them in the eternity yet to come. And to those who die in the Lord, there is an immediate and essential blessedness. "And it came to pass," said the Savior, "that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom" [Luke 16:22]. God’s sainted dead are immediately in the presence of the Lord. The Savior said to the malefactor who turned in repentance in the day of His cross [Luke 23:42], the Lord said to him, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. When the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned, the Book of Acts recording the story says that as he fell before the violence of the men who took his life, he saw heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of Glory ready to receive His first martyr [Acts 7:55-56]. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "Absent from the body, and present with the Lord."
I spoke to the staff that publishes our little church paper, the Reminder, and I said, "Don’t call that column ‘Obituaries’ or ‘The Dead’ or some other like name. Write ‘Absent from the body, and present with the Lord.’" These are the loved and sainted dead. Close their eyes to this mortal and earthly scene and open their eyes to the bliss and the glory of heaven. Would to God I could stop there, and in the power of the Spirit, describe, and that only, what the Lord hath reserved for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
But as there is a dark and a seamy side to history and to our lives and to all the story of mankind, so there is a sadness and a tragedy in the eternity yet to come. "And it came to pass that the rich man died and was buried, and in hell, in Hades, he lift up his eyes, being in torments" [Luke 16:22-23]. The unrepentant and the rejecting dead immediately open their eyes in a world of perdition and condemnation. You know it’s a strange thing that in the Old Testament and the New Testament, in the Hebrew and in the Greek, there is an identical, syllable for syllable, there is an identical revelation made.
In the Old Testament in Hebrew, they used the word sheol, just a designation for the place of the dead, sheol. But the Hebrews divided it into two parts, Abraham’s bosom, the home of the blessed, and topheth, the abode of the unrepentant. An identical thing is also in the New Testament and in the Greek. They called the netherworld Hades, referring just to the place to which the departed dead go, and they also divided it into two places exactly as the Hebrew did in sheol, one they called paradise, which is exceeded by the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, in the eternity, and the other, Tartarus, or torment, tartaros, is the word used by Simon Peter [2 Peter 2:4], and it is followed by the eternity of the gehenna, in hell.
We speak first and sadly, tragically, we speak first of the lost, and the unrepentant, these who die in unforgiven sin. What Shall I Do the First Five Minutes In Eternity? We boast of our realism, and this modern generation likes it in drama, and art, and literature, and stage, and screen, and television, realism. Let’s be really realistic in truth and in fact, as if a man sat down before a doctor and said, "Doctor, don’t beat around the bush. Tell it to me straight. How long have I to live? How many days?"
So with a man seated in front of a preacher: "Preacher, tell it to me straight. Don’t beat around the bush. And I’m not asking to hear any of that stuff in the books of psychology. Nor am I expecting to hear a rehashing of a newspaper editorial or a radio commentator. Preacher, does God say anything? What of my soul? Do you have a word from the Lord?" And the Lord is very plain, most so, and the Scriptures are most specific. They describe the fate of the lost and the future punishment of the unrepentant. It would have been a tragic omission, were it so and God not have told us. And I cannot escape that it is Christ the Lord Jesus who held little children in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16]. It is Christ, our Lord, who spoke most and most solemnly of that tragic estate.
There are three pictures that God uses: what He means by being lost, waking up, opening our eyes in torment. One is separation, separation. Crime relates to law, vice relates to society, sin relates to God, and sin will separate always [Isaiah 59:1-2]. Sometimes in the great assize the Lord would say it is like the wheat and the tares [Matthew 13:24-29]. Sometimes He would say it’s like the fish gathered in a net [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would say like five wise and five foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would say as two sleeping in a bed; one taken and the other left. Two grinding in a mill; one taken, and the other left. Two working in a field; one taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34-36]. Sometimes He would say and it’s like a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:32]. Sometimes He would say and it is like Dives and Lazarus, and a great gulf fixed in between [Luke 16:26]. There is separation, the wicked and the good, the repentant and the unrepentant shall not always live together. There is coming a time God says when they shall be separated [Matthew 25:31-46].
The second picture of God, when He speaks of the lost who die in unforgiven sin, is one of suffering. And Dives said, "Oh, oh send Lazarus, that he might dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame" [Luke 16:24]. The Lord sometimes would use the expression "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth" [Matthew 8:12, 13: 42, 13:50, 25:30], suffering, suffering. And they took Samson, and put out his eyes, and they bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house [Judges 16:21]. Sin binds, and it binds, and it grinds, and it grinds, and it grinds.
And the third picture is death. "And Samson bowed his head and cried, saying, ‘Lord, let me die, let me die with the Philistines’" [Judges 16:30]. "And whosoever name was not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life was cast in the lake of fire. This is the second death" [Revelation 20:14-15] – separation and suffering and death. And if seated before the doctor, and he said, "It is a tragic disease, an unspeakable sentence," and he added, "but, oh, I have a remedy, I know a cure," wouldn’t you say, "Doctor, let us thank God. Tell it me. Tell it me." And if God says we are lost in sin and face an inevitable judgment, then He adds, "But there is a healing, there is a saving," why don’t we respond, "O God, tell it me"?
As the servant said to Naaman returning home in anger and a leper, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then when he saith, Wash, and be clean?" [2 Kings 5:13]. There is life for a look at the Crucified One, and we turn in the blessedness of the Savior, asking God to forgive our sins and to save our souls [Romans 10:9-13]. Washed in the blood of the Crucified One [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and for the redeemed, oh, what a hallowedness, and what a sanctity, and what a preciousness, the first five minutes in eternity for God’s children. And the angels came and carried that poor beggar into Abraham’s bosom, into Paradise [Luke 16:22].
My friend, think of it, closing your eyes on this mortal world and waking to behold the city of God. Stepping on shore and finding it heaven, grasping a hand and finding it the Lord’s. Breathing new air and finding it celestial. Feeling invigorated and finding it immortality. Oh, there is so much we do not know, but some things we do. As God said in Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things of God belong unto Him: but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." "How will it be like, pastor, in glory when I stand in the city of the Lord my first five minutes in eternity? What will it be like?"
Ah, with breathless and abated interest, I open the Book. Just for these seconds almost that remain, look, look. It is a place and so very emphasized as such. "I go to prepare a topos, place, a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" [John 14:2-3]. So when I enter the glory that is yet to come, I shall find myself in a place, not a state, not a condition, a place! Heaven is a place. The New Jerusalem is a city [Revelation 21:2]. The glory that is to come shall fill with grandeur indescribable a place!
Why, my brother, for one thing, a body has to have a place. There is no such thing as a body without a place, and Jesus has a body! When His disciples were terrified and affrighted and thought they had seen a spirit, He said, "Come handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39]. And He showed them His hands and His feet and the scar in His side [John 20:26-27]. We also shall live in an immortalized, resurrected, glorified body! "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. And a body must have a place. And when I am translated to glory, we shall find our home a place.
Again, we shall recognize each other. The Lord was recognizable, even carried in His body the stigmata, the scars. It was Jesus Himself. Mary knew Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:16]. John recognized His resurrection by the way He folded a napkin [John 20:3-8]. The two disciples in Emmaus [Luke 24:1], recognized Him by the way that He said a blessing [Luke 24:30-31]. It was Jesus Himself. And the promises that the Lord Jesus Himself shall descend from heaven, "Behold, if I go away, I will come again" [John 14:3]. We’re looking for the blessed Lord Jesus Himself. And you will be yourself. The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah having never seen them, lived thousands of years after their death or translation, yet they knew them [Mark 9:5]. And the Lord said, "God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not God of the dead, but of the living" [Matthew 22:32], that is, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in the presence of the Lord God. And you will live, you yourself, it’ll be you and not some other thing or somebody other.
Paul writes a significant word in the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. "For now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known, or as God knows me" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. What does he mean by that word know, we shall know in heaven? And we shall know each other even as God knows us. In the fourth chapter of Genesis; "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare a son" [Genesis 4:1]. That is a procreative knowledge, father, mother, son, daughter. The "know" is not that. There will be no procreation in heaven. The knowledge will not be – I don’t like to use the word carnal – it will not be earthly. It will not be as we have known it in marriage and giving in marriage.
But it will be this kind of a knowing. "And as they broke bread, He was known unto them." And He vanished out of their sight [Luke 24:30-31]. It is that kind of a knowing. It is an intuitive knowledge. It is a knowledge like God knows. He needs no one to tell Him, you just know. As the disciples knew Moses and Elijah, they just knew them [Mark 9:5]. And the Lord said in glory we shall be like the angels [Matthew 22:30]; this is Michael himself, Michael [Revelation 12:7], this is Gabriel, Gabriel [Luke 1:19], and you will be you, and we’ll know each other – not in the flesh, unredeemed, unregenerated – but we shall know each other in Christ. You shall be you, and we each one shall be ourselves. It is a personal resurrection and a personal immortality.
And a last, oh, so brief a presentation, and a last, and we shall be assigned in glory. There will be activity and development and service and administration. I have always thought one of the travesties of God and of heaven and of the life to come is a cloud somewhere and a man with flapping wings and a tarnished halo. Ah, there’s no such a thing presented in the Word of God! To sit as on a cloud, never, but the Bible presents our life in heaven as one of intensest activity and employment. For example, the parable of the pounds, the Lord said to the servant that had gained ten pounds, "Be ruler over ten cities." And to the one who had gained five pounds, "Be thou ruler over five cities" [Luke 19:16-19]. There shall be administration in glory. In the Revelation, all through the book, "and His servants shall serve Him" [Revelation 22:3]. We shall have the whole creation of God’s rejuvenated universe in our hands, the true dominion brought to us in the Savior that God first gave to Adam [Genesis 1:26-28], the whole world and the universe above it.
And we shall grow in the likeness of our incomparable and living Lord, all of us, through the ages like unto Him. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 4:6]. "And we all, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Corinthians 3:18], from glory to glory, changed into His image. "It doth not appear what we shall be; but we know, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is [1 John 3:2]. Through the centuries, the eons and the eternities, growing in the likeness of our Lord, busy in the administration of God’s universe, this is the promise of what heaven shall be.
As Kipling tried to describe it in the language of an artist,
When earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are all twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded,
And the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it –
Lie down for anaeon or two,
‘Till the Master of All Good Workmen
Shall set us to work anew.
Then they that were good shall be happy:
They shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall have real saints to draw from –
Magdalene, Peter and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting
And never grow tired at all!
And only the Master shall praise us,
And only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money,
And no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It.
For the God of Things as They are!
["When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted," Rudyard Kipling, 1892]
God shall give us assignment in glory, a life of intensest and most glorious activity. Ah, bless the hope to our souls forever.
And our Master, in the love and promise, in the mercy and goodness of Jesus our Savior, may we do good for Thee in this life, and lift up our eyes to the more glorious assignments that await us from His gracious hands in eternity, in His precious name, amen.
THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES IN ETERNITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The transition is immediate
A. The saved enter a state of blessedness (Luke 16:22, 23:43, Acts 7:55-56, 2 Corinthians 5:8)
B. The lost enter a state of tragic loss and torment (Luke 16:22-23)
C. Identical revelation in Old and New Testament regarding a place of the dead
1. In Hebrew "Sheol" – Abraham’s bosom or topheth (Luke 16:22, Isaiah 30:33)
2. In Greek "Hades" – Paradise or tartarus (Luke 23:43, 2 Peter 2:4)
II. The lost
A. Separation from heaven (Matthew 13:24-29, 47-52, 25:1-13, Luke 17:34-36, 16:26)
B. Suffering (Luke 16:24, 13:28, Judges 16:21)
C. Second death (Judges 16:30, Revelation 20:14-15)
III. The saved (2 Kings 5:13, Luke 16:22, Deuteronomy 29:29)
A. A place (John 14:2-3)
1. Resurrection of the body (Luke 24:39, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
B. Recognition (John 20:16, 20:6-8, Luke 24:30-31, John 14:3, Mark 9:5, Matthew 22:30, 32, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Genesis 4:1)
1. Poem, "L’Envois"