WHERE WE GO WHEN WE DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-3-69 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio, you who share the service, and the throng of people in this great church tonight, take your Bible, all of us, you who listen on radio and you who are here, and turn with me to Luke 23, Luke 23. As you know, every Sunday night I preach a message from the life of our Lord. And we are in Luke, and the twenty-third chapter of Luke; and the message is entitled Where We Go When We Die. Now Luke 23, we will start at verse 32 and read through verse 43 [Luke 23:32-43]. Luke 23, starting at verse 32 and reading through 43; now all of us reading out loud together, everybody:
And there were also two others, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided Him, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar,
And saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.
And a superscription also was written over Him in the letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.
No sweeter incident, nor one more meaningful or preciously encouraging, is to be found in all the Word of God than this. But one of the malefactors turned, and in repentance and in confession, “Lord, we die justly; we receive the due reward for our deeds. But Lord, someday,” and he had that common messianic hope, “someday, Lord, when the kingdom comes, would You remember me?” [Luke 23:41-42]. And Jesus said, “Not just someday, some far away day, some other day, some hoped for day, but Today,” and that word is so emphatically there, semeion, “this day, Today,” semeion. “Verily I say unto thee, Today,” that Friday, “this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:41-43].
Now another title for the sermon might be The Intermediate State. For as I try to develop this message you will immediately see that there is an interlude, there is a time lapse between when a man is saved; that is, when his spirit is regenerated. As the Scriptures say, “He has eternal life, eternal life” [John 3:15]; when a man is converted, when he’s saved, when he’s born again, God gives him eternal life; his spirit is regenerated, he is saved [Titus 3:5]. But God purposes for us some other thing. Not only does God propose to heal us in our hearts, to make us perfect in our spirits, to fashion us inwardly after the blessedness of Jesus, but it is God’s purpose also to redeem the whole purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14], which includes this physical frame, the body, the resurrection from among the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
Now when I say that, you can see immediately that there is an interval of time between when a man is converted, when his spirit is regenerated [Ephesians 2:1], and the day when his body is redeemed also, when his body is resurrected, and glorified, and immortalized [1 Corinthians 15:44]. For example, how long has Abraham been dead? [Genesis 25:7-8]. Abraham has been dead for four thousand years. So I know there is that much interval of time between the day when God perfects the spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:23] and the day when God raises the dead body [1 Thessalonians 4:15]. Now that time in there we call the “intermediate state.”
And just by way of emphasis, this morning, remember I read this passage out of the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, that the whole creation fell in the sin of Lucifer, all of it [Romans 8:20-23]. And Eden was destroyed and the race fell in the sin of Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22]. So in both of those transgressions, the fall of Lucifer, of Satan, which destroyed the created firmament in the universe, and in the recreated, restored garden of Eden in this planet, when Adam fell [Genesis 3:1-6], the whole system of God was cursed, and made void, and waste, and we were [Genesis 3:17]. God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And that day that Adam transgressed [Genesis 3:1-6], that day he died in his soul, he became a fallen spirit.
And in the day of the Lord, and isn’t it a strange thing, a thousand years is as a day in God’s sight? [2 Peter 3:8]. There has never been a man who has lived to be a thousand years old. Methuselah [Genesis 5:27], and Adam [Genesis 5:26], and all of those who had length of days, they all fell short of a thousand years. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And Adam died in his soul that day [Genesis 2:17, 3:1-6]. And Adam died in his body in the day of the Lord [Genesis 5:5].
So it is with us. When we sin, when we reach the age of accountability, we die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. We are lost. And when we are regenerated, when we’re born again, when we’re saved, we’re made eternal, immortal, children of God [John 3:3, 7; 14-16, 10:27-28]. But this old body still gets old, and it sickens, and it wastes, and it dies. But God says, that the whole creation groans waiting for the adoption to wit: the redemption of our body [Romans 8:22-23]. Here, Paul is saying, that when God redeems the body, when the resurrection day comes, when the great consummation of the age is at hand, at that time God shall remake the whole universe [Revelation 21:1]. And included in it are these immortal, glorified bodies that God shall give us [1 Corinthians 15:42].
Now I’m going to speak in this little moment that remains, we could be here all night long speaking of these things, I’m going to speak of that intermediate state. Ah, what strange and amazing ideas do I read; of purgatory, and how many believe in purgatory? “When you die, you go to purgatory.” Or, “Your soul sleeps.” It falls into unconsciousness and your soul sleeps, the doctrine of soul sleeping until that great resurrection day. And a thousand other things do I read, not any one of which is according to the Word of God. For the Lord is very explicit. This is something that we ought to know, and God told us that we might know.
Why, I see my family die, my father die, my mother die. I stand by the dying bedside of our people all the time. It is an inalienable part, it’s a constituent, integral part of this pastoral ministry. And am I to see my own people die, and am I to watch my flock die, and my sheep die, and have no idea of what becomes of them? I am not to know? I am to speculate? I am to guess? Is that how the Lord left us? No. He answered very meticulously, and plainly, and specifically in the Word of God, that we might have a full, and abounding assurance. Now I’m not denying there are ten thousand details that I’d like to know of this afterlife. I am not told. It is not revealed. Oh, there are things that I want to ask God someday! And you are like that too. But the great, fundamental, primary answer God has given us, plainly. So let’s look at it.
Where we go when we die: in that intermediate state between the time that I’m saved, the heart is regenerated, and the day that this body is raised from the dead, in that intermediate state, where am I? And am I conscious? All right let’s begin. Is it possible for a spirit to have consciousness, to be sentient, to be intelligent, to be alive, is that possible? Well, I can answer it specifically. Jesus said, “God is spirit” [John 4:24]. And does God live? Does God know? Does God feel? Why, the whole Book is that; God knowing, God doing, God feeling, God loving, God moving, God living. He is called, in the Bible, the “Living God” [Matthew 26:63; John 6:69; Romans 9:26], and God is spirit [John 4:24]. Yes, a spirit can be sentient, can be intelligent, can be aware, can be alive, the spirit. And we haven’t time to follow that through.
All right, when we die, the spirit, our soul, we are also still living. Because the Bible says that He gives to us eternal life [John 3:14-16, 10:27-28]. Well, that doesn’t mean it lasts for say, ten more years for some of us, or fifteen years for others of us, or forty years for others of us, and then it ceases, no! It is eternal life. It is given to us that day that we believe in the Lord and it goes on forever, beyond the grave. Now the Lord specifically has written in this Book that we are never separated from Jesus, never, ever. The climactic sentences that close this eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, you remember those words?
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come . . .
Nor any other created thing shall ever separate us from Jesus, from the love of God in Jesus our Lord.
Nothing ever separates us from the Lord. In life He is with us. At the dying bed, He is with us. And in that grave and beyond He is with us. We are never separated from the Lord.
Now where do we go sentiently, intelligently, livingly? Where do we go when we die? This body of corruption is put in the grave. But I’m not in that grave. That is a decaying house made out of dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7]. But a spirit is not made out of dust, and it does not decay. And when my body is buried in the ground, where am I, where do I go? Now the Lord is very specific in that, very specific, unusually so. Paul wrote in the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, “For we know,” we who are Christians, “we know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved,” if I die, “we have a house, a building, a tabernacle of God made without hands, eternal in the heavens” [2 Corinthians 5:1]. This is the glorious resurrected body in which we shall live [1 Corinthians 15:42]. Because “in this,” he says, “we groan” [2 Corinthians 5:2]. We are subject to pain, and age, and senility, and death, “earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,” this resurrected, glorified body. “Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” [2 Corinthians 5:2, 4].
The Bible hates, abhors disembodiment like nature abhors a vacuum. And when people discount the physical and the human in life, they are doing something that God Himself has created and done. God must like matter; He made it. God must like body; He made it. He incarnated Himself in it [John 1:14] and the head of this universe is a man, the Man Christ Jesus. The only God you’ll ever see on that throne of glory is the Man Christ Jesus [1 Timothy 2:5]. They are not three Gods. There are One. And that God is Man, the incarnate Man, the God Man Christ Jesus. And for us to discount the flesh and the body is something alien to the mind of God.
I had a woman one time of a certain denomination who came here and heard me preach. She was invited as a guest, you know, of a family. And I happened to be preaching on the twenty-fourth chapter of this Book of Luke. And the passage in the chapter happened to be, “And He said to them, Children, have you here any thing to eat? And they said, Yes, and they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them” [Luke 24:41-43]. Now that is the resurrected Lord in His resurrected body; and He ate. He ate. And this dear woman, when she heard me preach, went out and said, “How vulgar and how physical,” as though eating, or drinking, or to have a body is a denial of the spirit and of the purposes of God for our lives. That’s not so. In the redemption that is to come, we’re going to have bodies. And you’re going to be you, only you won’t be sick anymore, and you won’t be old anymore, and you won’t be crippled anymore. You won’t be blind anymore [Revelation 21:4-5]. We’ll be perfect, as God intended for us to be, in our glorified bodies. That’s the purpose of the dear Lord for us.
Now in that glorious future into which we enter when we die, Paul, going on down in that fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter said, “We are absent from the body when we die and present with the Lord”; absent from the body, and present with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That’s why I went to the editor of our Reminder years ago, and I said, “Don’t you put down there ‘Obituary,’ or ‘These are our dead.’ Put down there ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord.’” And from that day to this, these many, many years, when you open the Reminder and see there the list of our beloved dead, here are our mothers, and our fathers, and our children, and our wives, and our families, “When you publish them there, put that there, ‘Absent from the body, buried in the ground, but present with the Lord.’” There they are. In the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the fifth seal he saw the souls of the saints of God there in glory [Revelation 6:9-11]. And then above all is this passage that I read, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
“Well, pastor, where is Paradise? Where is Paradise? Going to be with the Lord in Paradise; where is Paradise?” Three times that word “Paradise” is used. It’s a Persian word fundamentally, as you trace its etymology back and back. It is a Persian word and it means “a park, a beautiful park.” A park, where the trees, and the flowers, and the green grass, and the rippling stream; Paradise, etymologically is a park. Now what does Jesus mean when He says, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise?” [Luke 23:43]. What is Paradise, and where is it?
Now three times that word is used in the Bible. First time is when Jesus used it: “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:24]. Second time it is used is by Paul, in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians, where he says that he was given revelations and he was “caught up into Paradise, and there heard things it was not lawful for a man to utter” [2 Corinthians 12:4]. Now that’s the second time it’s used. And the third time it is used is this, and here’s the key: as the Lord sent His message to the church at Ephesus, He says, and listen to Him: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” [Revelation 2:7]. And now I know exactly where it is. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
So wherever Paradise is, the tree of life is there. I turn my Book, God’s blessed Book, I turn my Book and I read:
And he showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
And in the midst of the street of it, right down through the middle, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bear twelve manner of fruits . . . and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the people.
Paradise is in that city of God. Paradise is that New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2], where Jesus is preparing homes, mansions, dwelling places for His saints [John 14:2-3]. That’s the sweetest promise in the Book.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare 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.
That’s where our beloved dead go when they die and that’s where I’m going when I die. I’m going to that beautiful city. That’s another way of seeing heaven, only it isn’t the consummation of the age. It’s that glorious city that Christ is building, preparing to which place God’s saints are gathering [John 14:3; Revelation 21:9-27]. And someday, to come down out of heaven and the great city will rest on this very earth [Revelation 21:1-3].
I must close. I do so with the final word of the blessedness of the estate of these who die in the Lord. When I got through preaching this morning, there was a dear couple seated here talking to one of the deacons in our church. I could not be here and others they knew could not be here. And what had happened in the family was his mother had died, dear old aged mother. His mother had died and he was talking to that deacon right there about burying his mother. So they came up, the deacon and this dear man and his wife came up to me here this morning, and I said to him––he was crying, his wife was crying––I said, “I understand. I understand.”
There is a sadness about the breaking up of the home that’s unlike any other sadness in the earth. You just can’t explain it, when the family circle finally dissolves. I said, “I understand. But God says it is better over there than it is here. God says so” [Philippians 1:21]. God says we are not to sorrow and to weep as others who have no hope because they are at home and at rest with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. That’s why so many times at a memorial service I’ll take a text, Revelation 14:13:
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.
They haven’t lost. God’s written down in the book every word they spoke, every moment of commitment and belief that sanctified their lives. And it’s their inheritance and their reward forever and ever. That’s why sometimes, I wonder if people think I’ve lost my mind, but that’s why I have said so many times, “When time comes for me to die, I don’t want this old house to be kept alive by artificial means. I want to go to be with the Lord because I believe it is better over there than it is here.” Like Paul says, “I am in a strait betwixt two, desiring to go to be with the Lord, which is far better; to abide with you is necessary” [Philippians 1:23-24]. That is, as long as God gives us work to do, Lord give me strength to do it. But when my task is finished and my work is done, I want to go to be with Jesus. Then he said that most meaningful Christian sentence, I think, in literature: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21].
When my work is done and my task is finished, God says it’s better over there, and I want to go [Philippians 1:23]. When that day comes for you, for me, for all of God’s children, we’re not to cringe or to fear. But we’re to be triumphant and victorious. It is the crowning day, O God, that my best hour, and my finest hour––if I could use the phrase––would be when I’m translated to be with the Lord; dying as a Christian ought to die, believing in God, and in heaven [Revelation 2:10].
Now we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you to come; or a couple you to come; or a one somebody you, to come, “Tonight, I want to give my life to the Lord.” “I want to put my life in this church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. “I want to take Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. “I want to answer God’s call.” However the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
GO WHEN WE DIE
I. The interval
A. Conversion, soul
B. Body redeemed at the
C. The whole possession
redeemed (Romans 8:19-23)
A. It is possible for
the spirit to have life and cognition
B. For the saved
from the body, but with the Lord (Romans
8:38-39, 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4)
entry into paradise (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians
12:2, 4, Revelation 2:7, 22:1-2, John 14:1-3)
A state of blessedness (Luke 16:22, Revelation
14:13, Philippians 1:21, 23)