Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-10-68 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the life of our Lord we are in the sixteenth chapter of the Third Gospel. So turn to it, and we shall read the story together. Luke chapter 16, and we shall begin reading at verse 19 and read the story to the end of the chapter. And if your neighbor does not have his Bible, you share your Bible with him. Let’s read out loud together Luke chapter 16, beginning at verse 19; and if on the radio you share the service with us, get your Bible out and read it out loud together. Remember the title of the sermon: The First Five Minutes In Eternity. Luke 16, beginning at 19; now, let us read together:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeing Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come to this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
In the assignment of such a subject as this, I dare not enter into a world of speculation. The world beyond, the world unseen; the world into which we enter when we die is not a world that is revealed to human philosophy and human reasoning. There never have been any men who in anywise rivaled the intellectual prowess, and acumen, and astuteness, and learnedness of the ancient Greek philosopher. But as he peered into the distance unknown all he could see was some shadowy world beyond the River Styx.
And in nowise, and in no sentence, in no paragraph, in no book, in no word has the Greek philosopher been able to pull back the veil of the curtain that lies between us and death. Nor has the world of science in which we live been able to add aught to what is known of the world that is yet to come. The psychologist, the sociologist, the physicist, the chemist, the scientist, the medical doctor; in whatever branch of study modern inquiry may probe, pursue, learn, experiment, there has been no whit added to the knowledge of the human race regarding the world that is yet to come.
That is why in so many instances you will find men of books, men who fill the professors chairs, who scoff at immortality and who make fun and ridicule a life that is yet to come. Yet I do not know of a persuasion that is more universal or more universally entertained than the feeling, the intuitive knowledge, in the human soul that there is something beyond this life; that a man does not die like an animal. There is something immortal in him. There is God in him. There is eternal life in him. You can’t rid that out of your own persuasion. However you may persuade yourself, "I am an infidel, and I do not believe in an afterlife," yet always that lingers in the soul. There is something over, and beyond, and in addition to this present life.
When I turn to the Bible, I find so much of the Bible that concerns itself with a revelation, an apocalypse, an unveiling of the life that is yet to come. The prophets saw it. Jesus spake of it. The apostles revealed it, and, of course, the entire Book of the Revelation is an unveiling of the glorious life that is yet to come. So, not speaking speculatively, or philosophically, or metaphysically; not speaking as a man might reason, but speaking only from the Word of God, we have in the Scriptures a very plain and a very real revelation of what it is when we close our eyes to this life and open our eyes to the life that is yet to come.
So the title, The First Five Minutes In Eternity. First of all, without exception, there is no exception to it, without exception the Bible presents to us that our entrance into that other life is immediate. There is no such thing in the Word of God as soul sleeping. There is no such thing in the Word of God as a purgatory, as a limbo, as a period of probation, as some place where souls are gathered until certain sins are paid for, and certain atonements are made, and certain reconciliations are brought to pass. There is nothing like that in the Word of God. But in God’s Book always, always and without exception the revelation is made that immediately, immediately we are ushered into the life that we are to live forever.
Now that life is in two parts: there is a blessedness in life, and there is a cursedness in damnation, and those two are always presented in the Bible. There is no gray with God. There is a black or a white. There is no halfway salvation with God. We’re either saved or we’re lost. We are in heaven or we are in hell. To us things are sort of in the state, they are somewhat this and somewhat that; but not with God.
We are either saved in Christ, our sins are forgiven in Jesus and we are forever in the presence of God, children of the King, or we are shut out and we are lost. And it is always one or the other. Now in the Bible, always we are ushered into eternity in that life that we are to live in; in which we shall exist world without end forever and ever. If it is a life of bliss, when we die we enter into that life immediately. So it is here in this story; when this poor man died, Lazarus, the angels came and carried him into Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22], which is the Jewish word for heaven. Immediately when he died he was taken by the angels into heaven.
All through the Word of God that is exactly followed, exactly. The Lord Jesus will say to the thief that died by His side on the cross, "Verily, verily I say unto thee, Today shall thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. "This day," semeion, today; and there’s no way to translate that any other way except that way. "Today," semeion, "this day thou shall be with Me in Paradise," and that little word that we publish in our Reminder; 2 Corinthians 5:8, "absence from the body, present with the Lord."
When I lay down this life, I assume all of those riches of glory that God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Absence from the body, present with the Lord; there’s no time in between. There’s no intermediate state. There’s no purgatory. There’s only one great redemptive triumph that awaits; that is the final resurrection of the body from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. But immediately upon death I enter into that eternal life in God in Christ in glory [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Now, the same thing also obtains in the other world. And it came to pass that the rich man died, and in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment [Luke 16:22-23]. Again there’s no intermediate state. There’s no purgatory. There’s no limbo. There’s no assembly of lost souls as though they were awaiting for some other occasion, or judgment, or hour. Immediately in death, when he died, in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment. My first five minutes in eternity I am in heaven, or I am in hell. I am saved, or I am lost. I am with God, or I am shut out from the glories of heaven.
Now let me speak of those two states briefly, as they are revealed here in the Bible. First the state of the lost, of the damned; what do you think a preacher ought to do? Do you think a preacher ought to stand in the pulpit and speak of all of these issues of the day? Approaching all of these psychological studies of human behavior, talk about current issues; all of those whims of current of thought that sweep through the world of the academician, of the world of the university, of the world of economics and politics, and at the same time face people who are themselves dying and never mention, never preach, never speak of the revelation of God in this world.
What would you think of a doctor who, when a patient came to see him and he said, "Doctor what is this little pimple I have on my hand or on my face?" And the doctor were to say, "Why, that is something immaterial. It is just a little pimple that will soon go away," but the doctor knows that it is cancer. What would you think of a doctor who looked at that and did not tell his patient, "This is a serious thing and we must treat it, or else it means death?" Should not a doctor true to his profession, if he has any spirit of right of ethics at all, shouldn’t he take his patient and say, "You have a malady that is fatal and immediately we must minister to it?"
What would you think of a doctor, and a patient came to him with a cough, and he said, "It is something immaterial. It is just a cold and it will soon pass away," but the doctor knows that he has tuberculosis? Wouldn’t it be better, is it not better, is it not right, is it not ethical for the doctor to say to his patient, "You have a serious malady that leads to death, and we must minister to it?" So with the man of God, however he may read and study the issues of the day, and however he may be trained in psychiatry, or psychology, or sociology, and be conversant with the winds of the currents of all the things of modern political, economic, and social life; is he not first of all the man of God to tell us what is true for our souls? "Pastor, does God say anything about the world that is to come? Does God say anything about my sins? Does God say anything about the death that I inevitably face? Is there a word from the Lord? Tell me preacher, does God say anything for I am a dying man facing someday an almighty judgment?" God does say much. He says much.
There are three things that He says about us who are sinners and who are facing death. One: what is it to be lost? To die without Christ, to die without the atoning covering of our sins; no man shall see God’s face in unforgiven sins. What does God say? First, God says to be lost is to know separation from heaven.
So much, so very much of what Christ said has to do with that great day of separation. Sometimes He will say it as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats [Matthew 24:31-46]. Sometimes He will say it like this, as the wheat is gathered into the garner, and the chaff is burned with unquenchable fire [Luke 3:17]. Sometimes He will say it like this, as fish caught in a net, the good is kept, and the bad is thrown away [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He will say it like this, as in a bridegroom at a wedding; five that were wise entered in, and five that were foolish were kept outside; and the door was shut [Matthew 25:1-13].
Sometimes He would say it like this, "Two shall be grinding in a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left [Luke 17:35]. Two shall be working in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left [Luke 17:36]. Two shall be sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left" [Luke 17:34]. And sometimes He will say it like this, there is a great gulf fixed between those that are with God, and those that are shut out from heaven [Luke 16:26].
But always there is presented that idea, that certain revelation, that sin and wrong and violence and iniquity shall not forever continue in this world. But there shall be a great purging, a cleansing, and God shall take out of His kingdom all that do wrong and all that offend. There is someday a great separation.
A second picture that God gives in His Word to what it means to be lost is this of suffering, "And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment" [Luke 16:23]. Sometimes the Lord will speak of it as a place of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth [Matthew 13:42, 50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30]; where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched [Mark 9:44-48]. But always that presentation, that damnation and hell and separation is a place of suffering; indescribable agony and horror of hurt; all the burden of soul that comes to the one who feels the cause of what it means to be lost, to be lost.
And the third great picture that God gives of what it means to be lost is that of death: it is called the second death; to be shut out from God, for heaven to be closed, to be in the abyss of eternal night and darkness is to die forever [Revelation 20:11-15]. To die a second time a third time a thousand times to die forever and ever. These are the things that God reveals in the Bible of what it means to be lost. "And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and begged of Abraham that he send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue; for he said I am tormented in this flame" [Luke 16:23-24]. The tragedy of the soul that dies in unforgiven sin is the tragedy that brought Jesus down from heaven to save us from so great a judgment and so terrible a damnation [Hebrews 10:4-18; 1 Timothy 1:15].
Now as tragic, and as sad, and as sorrowful as the plight and the estate of the lost, is the glory, and the sweetness, and the preciousness of what it is to love Jesus and to die in the Lord. Have you seen a great Christian die? Have you? Have you visited somebody who has trusted Jesus as his Savior and who lifts of up his eyes to the world that is yet to come? Have you heard their testimony? Have you listened to their words of praise and expectancy and glory?
Did you have a Christian mother, did you? Did you have a Christian father, did you? Is your mother in heaven? Is your father in glory? In your experience, have you known those who have died in the Lord, in the faith, in the fullness and forgiveness of Jesus? There is nothing in life or in the world to come that rivals in sweetness and in preciousness the hope of those who lay down their lives in the love, and in the mercy, and in the grace of Jesus. And to live like that, ready anytime, Lord, today let it be. Tomorrow may it come. Even so Lord Jesus, if I know my heart, I’m ready, ready Lord. Speak, call any day, any time. What is it to die in the Lord? The first five minutes in eternity; And it came to pass, that this poor man died, and the angels came and carried him into Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22], the Hebrew word for heaven. What is that like?
First: it is a place, a place. The Scriptures are very distinct in that. The sweetest chapter in the Bible is the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. More tears have been shed reading that chapter than any other passage in the Bible. I could not tell you, visiting in homes and especially as a younger pastor asking for the Bible out of which to read as the family gathered round, I’ve opened the chapter to the number 14 and looked at the tear stains on that Book. "I go to prepare a topos," and there’s no other way to translate that word except place. "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a topos, a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" [John 14:2-3]. We’re going to have bodies, and a body requires a place. Jesus has a body, resurrected, raised from the dead, immortalized, glorified, Jesus has a body [Luke 24:36-40]. And you will have a body when you are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. This is the heart of the Christian faith.
All of the ancient religions believe in some kind of immortality. Those ancient Egyptians that we saw in the Cairo museum were all bound up in those endless sheets of the Book of the Dead. They are prepared for the life that was yet to come, wrapped up there. All kinds of instructions of how they are to do and how they are to be in the world to come. The ancient Egyptian believed in immortality. The ancient Greek believed in immortality in that shadowy land beyond the River Styx.
But there was no religion in this earth that ever believed in the resurrection of the dead until Christ was raised and the message of Jesus was preached; that this body is as sacred in His sight as is our soul and our spirit. That’s why the Christians lovingly laid his dead away. The Greek burned the body. The Romans burned the body, and by Roman law it was against the law of the state to bury the body. That’s why the Christians cut out underneath the city of Rome those vast cavernous endless catacombs. For to the Christian to destroy the body, to burn the body was blasphemy itself. And they carefully, lovingly, tenderly laid their dead away.
This is the attitude of the Christian toward the house in which we live. You are not your own. You were bought with a price; glorify therefore God in your body [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. This is the temple of the Holy Spirit and is precious in the sight of the Lord [Isaiah 43:4]. The same Lord God that created your spirit is the same Lord God that fashioned and created this house in which we live [Psalm 139:13]. It is a fallen spirit. We sin in our souls. It is a fallen house. We face decay and death. But there is a full redemption of the purchased possession; as God has regenerated our spirits and made us alive and quickened in Him [Ephesians 2:1].
So someday God will raise our bodies from the dead, and a redeemed soul, and a resurrected body shall be joined to live in God’s sight forever and ever [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. There is a place called heaven [Revelation 21:1]. There is a place in that third heaven; the first heaven where the birds and the clouds are, the second heaven where the stars are, and the third heaven where God is and where the New Jerusalem is that shall descend from God out of heaven. And in that city, in that place God’s redeemed are gathered home [Revelation 21:2-3]. It is a place. We shall live in a place, and we shall be ourselves. You shall be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we. We shall be people living in a topos, in a place [John 14:2-3].
Second: our recognitions. We shall know one another in heaven. There are inexplicable mysteries in that, into which I cannot enter. But all of life is a mystery. The signature of God is mystery. Whatever God does is beyond human comprehension and explanation. The whole universe is incomprehensible to us. We don’t explain it. We just see it. So it is with our recognitions in glory.
I cannot understand them, but Jesus said we shall be as the angels [Luke 20:36]. Gabriel is Gabriel, and Michael is Michael, and Moses is Moses, and Elijah is Elijah, and Jesus is Jesus, and you will be you. How do you know those things? Because they are intuitively recognized, they are intuitive recognitions; you just know it is a gift of God.
For example, and I must hasten, the time has gone. For example, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elijah [Luke 9:28-33]. Why, my brother Moses had been dead one thousand four hundred years. Elijah had been dead a thousand years. Yet, when Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on the top of Mount of Transfiguration, James, and John, and Peter knew them immediately. How did they know them? By spiritual intuitive recognitions.
We shall be that way. We shall know each other. In fact we shall not really know each other until we know each other in glory. "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face . . . then shall I know even as also God knows me" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. We shall know. We shall recognize. We shall be as we are in this life only purified, glorified, immortalized in the life that is yet to come.
And last: not only shall we be in a place [John 14:2-3], not only shall we know one another [1 Corinthians 13:12], but we shall live a life of infinite eternal happiness, bliss, glory [2 Corinthians 3:18]. People sometimes draw pictures of those in heaven, sitting on a cloud thumbing some kind of a harp with wings and nothing to do. There is no idea like that in the Bible. We have in the Bible the idea of administration. I think God is going to turn over the administration of all creation to us.
There will be governments. There will be systems. There will be planets, and sidereal spheres, and Milky Ways; all God’s creation is going to be turned over to us. There is administration. Not only that, but there is growth. We are going to continue in all of those expansions of knowledge, and understanding, and spiritual acumen and appreciation and comprehension. It’s just begun.
What we know in this life we shall continue in the life that is yet to come. "For we all," as Paul says, "for 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]. Here and there and yonder growing, and growing, and growing into the glorious likeness of the Son of God. Think of it, think of it.
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 rests, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good good workmen
Shall set us to work anew
Then they that are good shall be happy
They shall sit in a golden chair
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comet’s 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 weary 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, 1886]
There will be assignments. There will be growth. There will be administration in the glory of the light that is yet to come. This is but an harbinger, an earnest of those good things God hath promised for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you to give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church; as we make the appeal would you stand by me. "Pastor, tonight I give my heart to the Lord." Or, "Pastor, tonight I’d like to join hands with the people of this dear church, in love and prayer and fellowship and work and devotion; exalting Jesus. My hope is in Him and here I am. If I were to die tonight, I’d die trusting the Lord." While we sing this song, on the first note into that aisle and down to the front, come; if you’re in this balcony round there’s a stairway at the back at the front and on either side, there’s time and to spare. Make the decision now. Make it now. And in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming, and the Lord bless you in the way. "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming." Or just you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.