WHERE WE GO WHEN WE DIE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
1-26-75 10:50 a.m.
It was a joy for me, in acquiescence to a request by one of our godly deacons, to prepare a message on the intermediate state, Where We Go When We Die. It is the purpose of God very expressly, explicitly, emphatically revealed in the Holy Scriptures—it is the purpose of God that the whole possession be redeemed; that is, not just a man’s heart, spirit, soul be regenerated, born again, redeemed, ransomed, but that the whole man be redeemed, ransomed, be saved; my soul and spirit, but also the house in which I live, the body, the tabernacle of my soul.
You find that so many times repeated in the Bible. For example, in Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul refers to us who have been regenerated, been born again, as having been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Do not worry; God is going to keep us. Having saved us, and bought us, and redeemed us, He is not going to let us be lost, fall into the abyss of damnation. “We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest,” the down payment, “of our inheritance until the redemption of the whole purchased possession” [Ephesians 1:13-14]. God is not done with us when He saves our souls and regenerates our spirits. It is the purpose of God to redeem all of us, every piece of us, every part of us; my mind which is fallen, my emotions which are fallen, my heart and soul which are fallen, and my body which is fallen. God will redeem all of it, the whole purchased possession.
He will say it again, and these are just typical passages—he will say it again in the incomparable eighth chapter of Romans, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” [Romans 8: 22]. The stars are blasted, and the suns are fallen and turned to cinders, and this planet Earth on which we live is seared by deserts, and is tormented by tornadoes, and hurricanes, and drought, and flood, and injury; the whole creation, even the animal world groans, and loathes, and pains until now. And we too, we who have received the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 1:13], even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption; to wit, namely, the redemption of the body [Romans 8:23].
My heart has been saved, my spirit has been regenerated [John 3:6], but my soul lives in a mortal body of carnality, of corruption, of pain and illness and finally senility and death [Genesis 3:19; 2 Corinthians 4:6]. But it is God’s purpose, not only to redeem my soul but also to redeem my body, the whole purchased possession; Christ paid for all of me when He redeemed me on the cross [1 Peter 1:18-19].
Now it is very apparent that there is a time interval between the day when I was saved and the day when my body is redeemed. My body is still subject to corruption and food for worms. It is not redeemed. My soul is redeemed [Psalm 49:15], but my body is not redeemed. I am still a captive of illness and weakness and death. Now the redemption of the body is at the great consummation of the age, at the coming of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:42-50]; then, if I am still alive when He returns, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, I will be immortalized and glorified [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. If I die before the Lord comes, these who sleep in Jesus will He raise first; it is then that the body is redeemed at the consummation of the age [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
But there is a time lapse, an interval, an interlude between the conversion of my spirit, the saving redemption of my soul [Psalm 49:15], and the redemption of my body [Romans 8:23]. In that time interval, what happens to us? Where do we go? How is it with us? For some, that time interval has been long, long; think of the years Adam has been dead, think of the years Noah, or Abraham, or even Moses. There is a long time interval in our human judgment and understanding between the time that the man was saved and the time that his body is redeemed—an interval between when he goes to be with the Lord and when his body is raised from the dead. That’s what I call the intermediate state, and to that subject we address ourselves in prayer and with God’s help this holy hour.
In that interval of time between the conversion of my spirit and the resurrection of my body, if I die in that interval of time, I am still alive; I am still conscious; I am still filled with intensest life [John 11:25-26]. Is such a thing possible that a spirit lives and is cognizant, and is knowledgeable, and is sensitive, alive? Yes! Because God is spirit; and God has volition, and personality, and will, and love, and feeling, and life, and ableness, and power. God is spirit; and He is alive.
In the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of Hebrews, the angels are described as ministering spirits sent to encourage and help us who are the inheritors of salvation [Hebrews 1:14]. Angels are spirits; they are alive; they have names; they go on missions; they worship before God; they do His service in heaven and in earth.
When I am separated from this body I am still alive [John 11:25-26]. I have intensive being. I am also in that separation, what you call death; I am with Christ [2 Corinthians 5:1-2]. It is an entrance into the full presence of the Lord. In a beautiful, meaningful passage, Paul is talking about, in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, the dissolution of this tabernacle; when a man dies and his spirit goes to be with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:4-8]. In the discussion he says—if I could put it in language that we use today—that the soul abhors disembodiment as nature abhors a vacuum [2 Corinthians 5:4]. Not that we would be unclothed, disembodied, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life [2 Corinthians 5:4]. But, but between the time that a man dies and the time that he has his resurrected body, there is an interval. So speaking of that, he says that even though for that time period we are disembodied, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8].
And in the passage Paul uses two beautiful Greek words translated here; “We would love rather to be ‘absent’ from the body, and to be ‘present’ with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8]; ekdēmeō, “to be away from home,” “to be on a far journey,” “to be absent from the body,” ekdēmeō, as regards the body, but, endēmeō, as regards our Lord, “absent from the body,” “away from home,” as to the body; ekdēmeō, but endēmeō, “at home” in the presence of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That is why the apostle avows in Philippians 1:21, incarcerated, facing execution and death, he said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.” Not losing Him, gaining Him; not shut out from His presence, but into His presence; ekdēmeō, as to the body, away from the body, but endēmeō, present at home with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8].
In that intermediate state when we die, if the Lord delays His coming, we are introduced into Paradise. Three times is that word used in the New Testament; “Paradise,” an old Persian word referring to a park, a beautiful place. “Paradise,” first time it is used is on the cross when the Lord said to the repentant malefactor, “Today, sēmeron, today, this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
The malefactor almost certainly was a Jew; he was a Jewish seditionist, an insurrectionist, and as such was being crucified by the Roman government. He was most certainly a Jew. When he said to the Lord Jesus, dying by His side, “Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember me” [Luke 23:42], almost certainly that malefactor had in mind a messianic kingdom that was yet to come. But the Lord said, not some tomorrow, not some far off day, but now is the salvation of God, and now is the gift of eternal life and messianic glory; “Today,” sēmeron, “this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]; now, now.
The second time the word is used is in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, the apostle Paul is writing of himself, though in the third person, and he says; “I know a man about fourteen years ago who was raptured up into the third heaven” [2 Corinthians 12:2]. Then the next verse, verse 4 he says, “I know such a man who was caught up into Paradise” [2 Corinthians 12:4], both times referring to the same event and to himself. The third heaven, then, he calls Paradise. The first heaven, where the birds and the clouds go by; the second heaven, the Milky Way, the celestial spheres, the stars in the firmament; and, the third heaven [2 Corinthians 12:2], where Jesus is, and where the saints are—called Paradise [2 Corinthians 12:4].
And the third time the word is used is in the second chapter of the Revelation, when the sainted seer is addressing the church at Ephesus, and the Lord says to the church at Ephesus, “He that overcomes will I grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” [Revelation 2:7]. And that tells us where it is. In the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation, John says:
And I saw a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life . . . and the leaves are for
the healing of the people.
John saw that tree of life in the New Jerusalem, in the city of God, that someday shall come down out of heaven [Revelation 21:1-2, 22:2]. And Jesus said that that tree of life is in Paradise [Revelation 2:7]. So Paradise is the beautiful City of God, the New Jerusalem [Revelation2 1:2], where these go, where they are translated when they are ekdēmeō “from the body,” and endēmeō “with the Lord.” The Scriptures say other things. They say that there we are at rest in quietness and in blessedness. When Lazarus died—the poor, wretched beggar, who was laid at the door of Dives—hoping that the crumbs that fell from the table, he might be able to wrest from the dogs. When he died he was carried into Abraham’s bosom, another name for Paradise [Luke 23:43], and there he was comforted [Luke 16:19-22, 25]. The only happiness that that wretched beggar knew was when the dogs came and licked his sores [Luke 16:21]. Living a life of penury, and want, and need, and hunger, and illness, but there, Jesus said, “He is comforted in Abraham’s bosom” [Luke 16:25], in Paradise, in the city of our God.
In the Revelation 14:13, “I heard a great voice saying, Write.” What shall I write? “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” “Ah,” we say, “How unhappy! He has died, how sad this funeral service, how wretched a fortune these that are in the cemetery,” that’s what we say. God doesn’t say that; God says, “Write, makarios, blessed, happy 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” [Revelation 14:13].
In the sixth chapter of the Revelation when the fifth seal was opened, he saw the souls of those who had laid down their lives for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus [Revelation 6:9]. He saw them underneath the altar, the altar where the blood was poured out in sacrifice. Blood has a voice. Blood cries unto God, and the blood of Abel cries unto God from the ground [Genesis 4:10]. And these souls, lives, that had been poured out under the altar as a sacrifice, they cried to God, “How long, how long?” [Revelation 6:10]. And the Lord clothed them with white garments, beautiful robes of glistening, celestial purity, and God said, “Wait. Wait. Rest until the consummation of the age, until the great judgment day, rest, wait” [Revelation 6:11]. This is the ekdēmeō, from the body, and the endēmeō, with Christ in Paradise, in the city of God, waiting for the redemption of the whole purchased possession—not only my spirit, but, my body also [Ephesians 1:14].
Now we speak of the recognitions of immortality. What is it like if I am in the presence of the Lord disembodied, waiting for the resurrection? What is it like? Am I known and does God know me? And do we know each other? Is the life a real life? The apostle writes in the famous and beautiful, incomparably beautiful, thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians he says, “Now we see through a glass, dimly, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” [1 Corinthians 13:12].
We are going to take that word “know” and translate it literally, just exactly as the word means. “Know” is ginoskō. Epiginoskō means to know by experience, and we can translate it recognize. For example, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke in the sixteenth verse, as Jesus walked along with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24;13-15], it says, “Their eyes were holden that they did not epiginoskō, they did not recognize Him” [Luke 24:16]. Let us use the word “recognize” Him. The word translated here is “know,” let us say “recognize.” That is exactly what it means, “recognize.” They did not recognize Him [Luke 24:16].
And in the thirty-first verse of that twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, it says, and the Lord sat down with those two disciples in Emmaus for supper time at even tide, that in the saying of the blessing, “their eyes were opened, and they epiginoskō, they “recognized” Him” [Luke 24:30-31]. Now, let us keep the word, that’s the one he uses here; “I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. I am recognized, and I will recognize as God recognizes me, as fully, and as beautifully, and as wonderfully.
My illustrious predecessor, Dr. A.N. Hall—who twenty-eight years was pastor of the church in Muskogee, upon whose death I was called as undershepherd—Dr. Hall one time said, “People ask me, ‘Will we know one another in heaven?’ And I reply, ‘My brother, we will not really know each other till we get to heaven!’” We are recognized even as God recognizes us, and we recognize Him. We shall recognize; we shall know each other [1 Corinthians 13:12].
You see, if I’m not known, if I’m not I, and if you’re not you, if you don’t have a name, and you’re not known, it’s nothing other than annihilation. You might as well not be raised from the dead if you’re not known, if you’re a not entity, if you are a nothing, a nameless something. It is being recognized, it is being known, it is being you as you and I as I that makes life real; there is no real life without it.
Gabriel will say, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” [Luke 1:19]. Jesus will say, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, Saul” [Acts 9:5]. In the last chapter of the Revelation, He will say, “I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches” [Revelation 22:16]. The Lord will say, “I call My own sheep by name” [John 10:3]. A number? No. A glob? No. Somebody you, somebody I, He knows my name. He speaks to me, and I’m somebody in His sight and in His presence; He knows me. And without that mutuality of recognition there is no complete life, none.
A naturalist can know everything in the earth, the rocks, and the rills, and the mountains, and the prairies, and the fields, and the continents, and the oceans, and even the insects and the animals. A naturalist can know them all, but they don’t know him. They don’t respond! They are passive, and that’s not life!
When God saw the man that He made living alone even in the paradise of Eden He said, “It is not good” [Genesis 2:18]. And He made for him an help meet [Genesis 2:21-23], one like him to talk to him, to be with him, to be a companion, to love him, and that completed the man that He made. So with our life, if we don’t know each other, and God doesn’t know us, and I don’t have a name, and I’m not I, and you’re not you, then immortality and heaven and Paradise are meaningless. It is another word for annihilation. It’s knowing each other that makes life full and rich and complete.
One of the craziest things I ever heard; I was speaking recently at a conference in California, and the man who spoke before my address was Dr. Charles Allen, who is pastor of the First Methodist Church in Houston. And Dr. Charles Allen said—he is one of the most interesting speakers I ever listened to—Dr. Charles Allen said, “A man came up to me and asked, ‘Dr. Allen, who is the greatest president that the United States ever had?’”
And Dr. Allen replied, “Lyndon Baines Johnson.”
And the man was amazed, “You mean above Washington, and Lincoln, and all the great presidents of the United States, you think LBJ is the greatest president the United States ever had?” Dr. Allen said, “I certainly do.” And the man said in incredulity and astonishment, “Well, what makes you think that LBJ is the greatest president the United States ever had?” He said, “Because one day he walked up to me out of the crowd and extended his hand and said, ‘Hello there, Charles Allen, how you getting along?’” And Dr. Allen replied, “He is the only president of the United States who ever came up to me and said, “Charles Allen, how you getting along?”
Now he has a point. He has a point. He knows me, and He calls me by name [John 10:3]. And without that nomenclature, that knowledge, that recognition, Paradise is annihilation. It’s the knowing, it’s the recognition, it’s the being we, you, I, that makes it livable, glorious, heavenly, makes it life.
I haven’t time to go through the Scriptures—ah, how are we encouraged in that! Saul knew Samuel the minute that he saw him; his spirit raised, brought back, he recognized him at a glance [1 Samuel 28:14]. David said, “I cannot go to my child but my child that is dead cannot come to me, but I can go to him” [2 Samuel 12:23]. The disciples, three on the top of the mount of transfiguration, intuitively knew Elijah and Moses; never seen them in their lives, been dead a thousand and fourteen hundred years, intuitively knew them [Mark 9:2-5].
Dives and Lazarus recognized Abraham and recognized each other [Luke 16:22-24]. The Lord said to Mary and Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again” [John 11:23]. Thy brother? Yes, not some non-entity, nameless something, but “thy brother shall rise again.” He said to the thief dying by His side, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43], presupposing recognition. “Today, you and I, I know you, you know Me; we will be together in Paradise.” The Lord was known by His human recognitions, scars [John 20:27-28], tone of voice [John 20:14-16], the way He folded a napkin [John 20:6-8], the way He said a blessing at the table [Luke 24:30-31], and we shall know each other in glory.
Ah! How beautifully have we seen that in the lives of these whom we’ve loved and lost for just a while. When Lottie Moon was dying, clasping and unclasping her hands in Chinese recognition, she called the names of her Pingtu Christians–some of them had been dead for forty years.
When my mother came to the end of the way, after a long illness of almost seven years, an invalid, stricken down, destroyed by a terrible cerebral hemorrhage; seated by her side, my mother said to me, “Son, have you seen my father?”
“Why, no, Mother. He has been dead over fifty years.”
“Oh, son, he’s here! Son, have you seen my mother?”
“No, no Mother, I haven’t seen her.”
“Well, son, you must see them, they’re here! Have you seen Brother Joe?” Brother Joe died fifty years before I was born, “No, Mother, I haven’t seen Brother Joe.”
“Son, you must be sure to see them. They’re here!”
“Well, Mother, what makes you think they are here?”
She says, “I have seen them! They have visited with me, and son, before you go back to Dallas, you must visit my mother and father. You must see them.”
I put my arms around her old bent shoulders, and I said, “Don’t worry, Mother. I’ll see them. I’ll see them.”
What do you think of that? Just before a translation, how many times have I heard them say to me, “You know, my sainted father said, ‘Look, look, I see the face of Jesus!’” And how many times have these—who stand at the grave of someone loved— have they said, “You know just before she died, before he died, looked up and said, ‘There’s mother. There’s father. There’s husband. There’s wife. There’s our precious child.’” These are little glimpses of the recognitions of immortality: ekdēmeō, from the body; ekdēmeō, from this house; endēmeō, at home with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. “God having provided some better thing and some better place for us” [Hebrews 11:40]. Ah! The preciousness, and the sweetness, and the blessedness of the holy comfort we have in the promise of our blessed Lord, going before us to prepare a way for our coming in our day and in our time [John 14:1-3].
In this moment that we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, giving himself to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], coming into the fellowship of the church, as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life; on the first note of the first stanza, do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.