Beyond the Gates of Death
February 27th, 1972 @ 7:30 PM
BEYOND THE GATES OF DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-72 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Beyond the Gates of Death. In our preaching through the life of Christ, we are in the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John; and we invite you now to turn to the fourteenth chapter of John, and we shall read the first six verses. John chapter 14 and all of you get a Bible. If you do not have one, you share your neighbor’s Bible. Choir you have a Bible up there? Let us see you do that; everybody hold up his Bible. Oh dear, that is the best sight in the earth, and you who listen on radio, if you can, get a Bible and read it out loud with us.
I would suppose that more tears have fallen on the words that we are beginning now to read than upon any page in human literature. Nor is there a passage more comforting than the one that we shall read out loud together. John chapter 14, the first six verses; now all of us reading it out loud:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. 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.
And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
Thomas saith unto Him, Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.
This, of course, is the word of our Lord to His sorrowing disciples when He made the solemn announcement that in the next almost hours, for this was said on Thursday night, in almost hours He would be taken from them, that He would be crucified, that He would die the death of a malefactor and a felon [Luke 18:31-33]. And because He said those words, sorrow had filled their hearts [John 16:6].
Thus He spoke in such comfort and such precious and godly assurance [John 14:1-6]. At the prospect of death we are not to be troubled. We believe in God, we do, we are to believe in Christ, we shall. And the reason for our untroubled souls at the prospect of death lies in the promise, “In My Father’s house are many abiding places, many homes, many mansions” [John 14:1-2]; down the streets of glory there are beautiful homes and so many and so multiplied, so innumerable that there is room and to spare for us all. So the subject, Beyond the Gates of Death: what is it to die?
To those who are infidels and atheists and unbelievers there is nothing. The grave is the end of it all. We face impenetrable and inexorable night. It is forever nothing. They would say, “We don’t go on, we go out.” And their prognostications concerning this planet on which we live are doleful and lugubrious and melancholy in the extreme. They say that the world will perish in one of two ways. One, it will perish by fire. It will either fall into the sun or the traffic controls of the starry universe will go awry. There will be some vast stellar confrontation, some vast cosmic collision, and the whole universe will find itself in atomized pieces. That’s one prognostication. It will perish by flame and by fire.
Then the other is just the opposite. There are those who say that the world will perish in ice; that the light of the sun and its heat will gradually fade and that the world will turn into a great planet of ice where blizzard winds sweep over it, where all vegetation freezes, and all life ceases to exist.
And not only that do these unbelieving scientists predict the doleful and tragic catastrophic future of the earth, but they also have the concomitant and corollary that inevitably follows—that the life on this planet, and that includes us, has no purpose and no meaning and no use whatsoever. To them our life in this world is nothing but that of a jungle where the weak perish and the strong survive, that a man is nothing other than somebody caught in a web of circumstances over which he has no control, that the race is ground beneath the upper and nether stones, millstones of blind chance and cruel fate, that all that awaits us is the juggernaut of the chariot that rolls over the whole frame and body of humanity. That is the philosophy and the outlook and the future of infidel science and those who reject the presence and mercy of God.
When I read those things I think how different is the word of our Lord, who says the very hairs of our heads are numbered [Matthew 10:30]. God knows all about us. He writes our names in His Book of Life [Luke 10:20]. He cares for us. His very eye is on a sparrow that falls to the ground [Matthew 10:29]. And far and away from our life being purposeless and without meaning and without destiny, with no future but the grave and the night—far from that, that our lives are precious in His sight, and He has a heavenly plan for us all. What lies beyond death? To those who are infidel and atheist, nothing, just to die, to perish, to cease to be.
What lies beyond the gates of death? There are those and many of them, very learned and noble in life, there are those who say––and George Eliot is one, and I quote from her––there are those who say that we live again in the lives of those whom we have influenced. That is our immortality, and that is our future. “When we perish, we die, we perish, life ceases to exist for us, but we live again in the hearts and in the lives of those whom we have influenced and whom we have touched.”
But a philosophy like that makes of all things the Christian faith most useless. If all there is of our life is just what we live in other people, then the grave is a king forever, and death reigns supreme over all mankind! There’s not any future. There’s not any immortality. There’s not any heaven. There’s not any hope. There’s not any tomorrow. We just live, influence somebody, then go out like a spark or like a candle. We die ultimately, inevitably, inexorably, irretrievably, forever!
That’s why Paul could say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. That would mean that our Lord saved Mary Magdalene, who had seven demons [Luke 8:2-3; John 19:25, 20:11-18], He saved her for nothing but the grave. He saved Zaccheus from a life of political dishonesty [Luke 19:1-10], just to die. He saved all of the faithful just that they fall into the grave. And those holy affections, and heavenly ambitions, and visions, and dreams that have been kindled in our souls are nothing other than fantasies and vain hopes. They’re like fairy tales and legends and dreams that have no substance and no reality.
O dear God! and how different the words of our Lord! He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: and he that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die, never die, live forever” [John 11:25-26]. He said, “I give unto My sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. Just how long is that life? Is it for a month? Is it for a day? Is it for the years of our pilgrimage? Or is it forever and forever? “I give unto them eternal life,” He says [John 10:28]. He says that “He that believeth in Me is passed from death unto life” [John 5:24], already! It is a possession that we have the moment that we trust in Him; life now, life through the grave, life through the gates of eternity, life beyond death, and life forever. This is the great purpose of the first advent; that He might regenerate our souls [John 10:10]. And this is the great purpose of His second advent; that He might redeem our bodies [Romans 8:23].
Now in just for this moment, I want to take the order of those things as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures; what God purposes for us, that good thing by which He assures us who face this inevitable hour of the dissolution of our bodies, what lies beyond death. First, in the passage that we read, “In My Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a topos,” t-o-p-o-s, “I go to prepare a topos for you; and if I go and prepare a topos for you, I will come again, and take you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” [John 14:2-3].
Now you can take that word topos through every lexicon and every dictionary known to the Greek speaking world, and it has one simple, plain meaning, and just one. It is a place, like Dallas is a place, like Texas is a place, like any other place is a place. The word has that one and simple connotation. It can be defined in no other way: “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:2].
A body needs a place. Jesus has a body. We have bodies, whether they are now mortal or immortal; whether we are in the flesh or resurrected and regenerated; whether we are in this dying pilgrimage or whether we are redeemed to immortality: a body must have a place! And our Lord says He is going to “prepare a place” for us [John 14:2]. Heaven is a place. The New Jerusalem is a place, just as Dallas is a place. And our home in heaven is in a place [John 14:2-3; Revelation 21:1-3].
The city has streets, and on those streets are mansions [John 14:2]. We shall have addresses. We shall live in God’s sight where we can look upon God’s face [Revelation 22:3-4], where we can be together and roam this whole creative universe. I think our central city is the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2]. That’s the address, that’s the street, that’s the place. But I think all creation is ours to explore, the vast infinitude of God. There is no end to it. That’s what we mean by “infinity.” That’s the first thing. He has prepared for us a place [John 14:2-3].
Now in death we go to that place [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That’s our home. Not here, but there. If you live long enough the day will come when every member of your family is on the other side of the great river. The day will come when every friend that you know is on the other side of the river. The day will come when you are absolutely a stranger and left alone.
Oh! I so well remember, in my last pastorate in Oklahoma before coming here, there was a full blooded Cherokee Indian, who was one hundred six years old, who died. I had baptized him. I baptized him when he was over a hundred years old. He was a godly convert, even in his age. I used to go see him, sit down by him, talk to him about the days when he was a part of that tragic trek over the Trail of Tears, coming out with the Cherokees, coming out of North Carolina into Oklahoma. He had one request in his death, one request. He wanted to be buried by the side of his wife.
So the old Cherokee Indian died, and immediately they called for me. And I made arrangements with the funeral home to bury that old, old man. And I told the funeral director that he had said to me the one request of his life was that he might be buried by the side of his wife. And I can understand that. That their dust might be side by side, and then, in the great resurrection from the dead, they might stand up in God’s sight together.
You know what the funeral director did? He and I searched through every record. We searched through every lot. We did everything that we could to find where that loved wife had been buried in that cemetery. And he had so long outlived her, and the days had so multiplied and passed, until nobody remembered where her fallen frame had been laid to rest in the heart of the earth.
So what we did, we went to the side of the cemetery, and there dug the grave, and laid him by, alone. And as I stood there and watched them fill up the grave, I thought, “How sad, how sad.” But that sadness is a part of all of our lives, if we live long enough. You will be a stranger in the earth if you outlive all of those who know and love you. O Lord, why couldn’t we just go up to heaven together? Why couldn’t we, Lord Jesus? I’m just illustrating that our inheritance is not here, it’s there! [1 Peter 1:4]. Our home is not here, it is there! [John 14:2-3]. Our hopes are not here, they are there! [Philippians 3:20]. Every dream and vision we have for the eternity to come lies in the mercy and goodness of God who hath provided some blessed thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. That is our home; the new and glorious city, Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-3].
Do you remember the poignant, and beautiful, and effective, and moving epitaph that the English writer and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, penned for his grave when he died? When you visit his grave, there it is written on the headstone:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live, and gladly die,
And I lay me down with a will.
This be the verse, ye grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
[“Requiem,” Robert Louis Stevenson]
That is our home. That is our eternal abiding place, topos, in the beautiful city of God: the heavenly Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-7].
All right, the order; He has gone to prepare for our coming, and if He delays then we go to be with Him, and that is our home and that is our address; a place, a mansion in glory [John 14:1-3]. Now the consummation of the age is when the Lord shall come again [Titus 2:13]. He came the first time to redeem our souls, to regenerate us inside [John 10:10].
But the second time He comes, it will be for the whole, redemptive, purchased possession [Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14]. When He comes the second time it will be to recreate, and to restore, and to remake, and to revivify, and to resurrect this fallen frame. We shall live in His sight. We shall be raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. “This I say, brethren,” wrote the apostle Paul, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”; as long as we’re in this house, we’re shut out from the face of heaven.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .
But I show you a great mustērion: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-54]
When the Lord comes we shall have our new and resurrected bodies [Philippians 3:21]. God gives us now a regenerated spirit [Titus 3:5]. And at the consummation of the age, when He comes down from glory [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], He gives us our new and our resurrected bodies [Revelation 21:3-5].
And now, last, we shall be ourselves in that day and in that time. You will be you, and I shall be I. And if that is not so, then the resurrection has no pertinency and no meaning whatsoever! [1 Corinthians 15:17] If there is something else and something other to be resurrected, and I am left dead, the word “resurrection” and the promise of Christ and the Holy Scriptures have no meaning whatsoever [1 Corinthians 15:17]. If there is a resurrection, then it must mean that I am I when I am raised from the dead.
So many times will I be asked, as you, and you ask it to one another, “Do you think we’ll know one another in glory? Will we be people there, persons there? Will you know me? Will I know you? Will we be real in heaven? Will we?”
My predecessor, one of the noblest men of God who ever lived, Dr. A.N. Hall, who died at Muskogee, my pastorate in Oklahoma before I came to Dallas; he had a reply to that question that was just marvelous to me. Somebody would ask Dr. Hall, as the question always would arise, “Will we know one another in heaven? Will we know one another?”
And he would reply, “My brother, we will not really know one another till we get to heaven.” Then he would quote that incomparable verse from the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know,” and the King James Version translated, “even as I am known” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. And the meaning of that passage is actually this: “but then shall I know, even as God knows me.” We know partly now, see partly now, understand partly now; but when we are in heaven we shall know fully! And that means you, and that means I.
A dear and precious somebody said to one that was loved, you know, “I get to know you more and understand you more every day.” You’re that way with somebody you love. Think of the projection of that through all of the years of eternity. Getting to know you, and you’ll be you to know, not somebody else, you!
And what God hath assigned us for heaven, those planets, those starry universes, those sidereal spheres, those Milky Ways, those vast constellations; all of it hath God prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And our lives will be beyond what a man has ever seen, and what his ears have ever heard, and what his imaginations have ever devised in his soul; what God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
That’s why the marvelous assurance of the incomparable passage, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, this is the place that I have prepared for you” [John 14:1-3]. What lies beyond the gates of death? You and Christ, and the redeemed, and the marvelous incomparable life that God will give to us to share together, world without end, in His whole heavenly, celestial creation, all of which He has made for the saints, for His people, for the redeemed, for us to enjoy in Him and one another forever. It’s just glad and grand and glorious to be a humble follower of the Lamb, to trust in Christ, to believe in Him [Acts 16:30-31], to give your heart and life to the Savior [Romans 10:9-10], and to face every exigency and every open day and every tomorrow in the faith that God has prepared some great, grand, glorious, better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
And that’s our invitation to you tonight. In a moment when we stand to sing, to give your heart to the Lord, to put your life with the people of God in the circle of His church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, would you make that decision now? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Into that aisle, down to the front; down one of these stairways at the front and the back and on either side; in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, somebody you; a family, a couple, or just you make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that aisle, here to the front, answering with your life, do it now, make it now. Make the decision now, and on the first note of that first stanza, come, come. God bless you in the way, angels attend you as you respond, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GATES OF DEATH
A. We are not going on;
we are going out
1. The world will
perish by fire
2. The world will
perish in ice
B. Life has no meaning
1. A jungle in
which the weak perish, the strong survive
C. How different from
the teachings of Christ
III. Temporary influence
A. George Elliot:
“Living again in lives made better by our presence.”
magnifies victory of the grave
the faith to indescribable uselessness (1
B. How different the words
of Christ (John 11:25-26, 10:28, 5:24)
IV. Immortality, personal life, resurrection
A. The order
1. A place for us
there in death (Luke 16:22, 23:43, 2 Corinthians
final consummation where Christ returns (1
a. He gives us now a
b. At the consummation,
He gives us new resurrected bodies
B. A real life of real
1. We will know
each other (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)