WHERE DO WE GO WHEN WE DIE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Luke 23: 43
3-11-79 7:30 p.m.
And what a gladness it is also to welcome the uncounted thousands and thousands of you who are listening to this service on radio. And it is a gladness on our part to welcome you. Each night, as you know, and next Sunday morning—because they are children—a service is sponsored by a division in our congregation. And tonight, it is sponsored by our music division and by our Silent Friends chapel. And their pastor, Joe Johnson, is interpreting the message tonight. They asked me to preach on the subject: Where Do We Go When We Die? And I never had an assignment more precious to my heart than this one they have given to me.
In the twenty-third chapter of Luke; and if you want to turn to it, we will read the text together. Luke chapter 23, we will read verses 39 through 43. Where Do We Go When We Die? Luke chapter 23:39-43. Now all of us reading out loud together. Luke 23 verses 39 through 43. Now together:
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.
Where do we go when we die? It is the purpose of God to redeem the whole possession, not just the spirit, the soul, but also the physical frame and the body. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle wrote:
The creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together unto now.
Even the cow giving a calf, even a horse giving birth to a colt, pains and travails; the whole earth is in agony. “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they”—all the creation around us—“but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves . . .” [Romans 8:22-23].
Saturday—yesterday—I went out to see four of our deacons who are grievously ill. And just before I came into the service I received a note that one of our fine deacons had just died. “The whole world groaneth and travaileth and we ourselves” who have the Spirit” [Romans 8:22-23], we are groaning with the creation waiting for what? The adoption, the redemption of our body [Romans 8:23]. The like phrase is used by the apostle in Ephesians 1:14, God has given us “the earnest of our inheritance”—talking about the Holy Spirit—“until the redemption of the whole purchased possession . . .”
It is the purpose of God, the elected, stated, revealed purpose of God, to deliver us completely, to bring us back into the pristine purity and holiness and happiness of our first original created father and mother in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:8-25]. We are going to be fully redeemed, our spirit, our soul, and our physical body [1 Thessalonians 5:23], as well as the whole creation around us [Romans 8:22-24]. There will be no more burned-out stars, and there will be no more deserts on the earth, but it will be beautiful and glorious as it was first created by the hands of a perfect, holy and omnipotent God [Genesis 1:31].
Now, it is very plain to see, and that gives rise to our message tonight—it is very obvious that between the time my spirit is redeemed, my soul is regenerated, between the time I am saved and the time of the resurrection of my body, the re-creation of my body, there is a great time period; there is an interval in between; my body is still corrupt though my regenerated spirit, my born again soul, lives on the inside of it [Romans 7:25]. There is a time interval between the day when I accepted Jesus as my Savior and I was born again in my heart, and the day when my body is resurrected from the dead or changed in a moment, when Jesus comes down to receive His own [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17].
Now that time period may be very brief for some, but for others it still continues. Think how long that time period is between the death of Adam, or Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, and the great day of the resurrection. I call that, and most of the students who write call that, the “intermediate state”; the time period between my generation, regeneration in my soul, and the day when my body is raised incorruptible; the redemption of the whole purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14].
Now when I die, my spirit, regenerated, recreated, is separated from my decaying body, which is placed in the heart of the earth. What happens to me, and what am I, and where do I go when I am separated from this corrupting body? Is it possible for a spirit to have life, and cognition, and emotion, and sensitivity, and recognition? Indeed, yes. God is Spirit [John 4:24]. The angels are spirits; they are ministering spirits, sent from God to minister to us who inherit eternal life [Hebrews 1:14]. And in the spirit—the real me that lives on the inside of this house—in death, I go away to be where? To be with the Lord. In that glorious passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul speaking of the separation of the spirit from the body, he says, “We are confident . . . and willing to be ekdemeō as to the body and to be endemeō, as to the Lord”; in the King James Version: “We are confident and willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Ekdemeō means “to be away from home”; endemeō means “to be at home.” So he says, “We are confident that when we are ekdemeō, from the house, this body, we are, endemeō, we are at home with the Lord.” Therefore we are told by divine Scripture that the moment that I leave this house, I am at home with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That’s why Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. I leave this house of corruption and decay and death, and immediately I am at home with the Lord.
That is why in the passage you just read, “Today, sēmeron, this day, sēmeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Three times is that word used in the Bible; and it is a glorious description. It’s an Old Persian word meaning “park, paradise.” It is used here first. “Today, this day,” sēmeron—this day, not some other day, some other hour; not sleeping in the grave a thousand years, but “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
The second time it is used is in the twelfth chapter of the second Corinthian letter where Paul says, “I was caught up to the third heaven” [2 Corinthians 12:2]. And then repeating, he says, “I was caught up into Paradise” [2 Corinthians 12:4]. So Paradise is the third heaven, where God is.
The third time the word paradise is used is in the second chapter of the Apocalypse. When the Lord addresses His letter to the church at Ephesus, He says, “He that overcometh will I give the right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” [Revelation 2:7]. And that gives us the cue as to where it is. For in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the second verse, it describes the river of life that flows out of the throne of God, and on either side of the river is there the tree of life [Revelation 22:1-2].
And in the second chapter of the Revelation it says that tree of life is in Paradise [Revelation 2:7]. So Paradise is the beautiful Holy City that someday shall come down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:2]. That means that when I die, immediately, I am with the Lord in Paradise, in heaven, in that holy and beautiful Jerusalem, the city of God. That’s where I go when I die. And that is a state of infinite and beautiful blessedness.
In the beautiful story in Luke, when the beggar died, when Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels into the “bosom of Abraham” [Luke 16:22], which is a Talmudic word describing the Paradise of God, the heaven of our Lord. In Revelation 14:13, the Spirit says, “Write.” What? “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 are at rest in the Lord.
In the fifth seal, he saw the souls of those that were martyred underneath the altar of God [Revelation 6:9]. That is a picture in the sacrifice; the blood was poured out under the altar [Leviticus 5:9]. And those who have been martyred for the name of Christ are looked upon as those who have sacrificed their lives for God [Revelation 5:9], and they say to the Lord, “How long?” [Revelation 6:10]. And God replies to them, “For just a while. Rest for just a while, until the great day of retribution and judgment” [Revelation 6:11]. In this interval, in this time period between the day of my death and the day of the resurrection of my body, we are with Jesus. We are with the Lord in Paradise [Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8], which is a name for the beautiful and holy city of God [Revelation 2:7, 22:2].
Now are there recognitions in Paradise? Do we know each other? Are you, you? And am I, I? Do we have names? In one of the magnificent passages that Paul wrote in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians he says, “Now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face”—then shall I, the way he said it: “now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I also am known” [1 Corinthians 13:12].
What Paul is avowing there is that in Paradise, in heaven, we shall know even as God knows us. And he uses the word there epiginōskō, “know.” That means “to know experientially, to know really and actually.” You can translate the word “recognize”—“recognize.” We shall recognize each other; even as God recognizes us.
You have that word epiginōskō used in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke. It says, “As the two walked along with the risen Lord their eyes were holden that they did not epiginōskō the Lord” [Luke 24:16]. They didn’t recognize Him.
Then it says when the Lord sat down at supper time and blessed the bread, “their eyes were opened, and they epiginōskō, they knew Him” [Luke 24:30-31]. They recognized Him. That’s the word that Paul uses about us in heaven, epiginōskō. We shall know each other even as Christ knows us [1 Corinthians 13:12]. And these who are in heaven have names as we have names. “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God” [Luke 1:19]. That’s what he said, “I am Gabriel.” He has a name. Jesus says, “I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches” [Revelation 22:16]. He says, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5], as He appeared to the apostle Paul.
All of these that are revealed to us in that intermediate state are revealed to us as having names. They are people just as you, just as I. It is remarkable in the Old Testament, Saul recognized Samuel [1 Samuel 28:14-15]. Samuel had been dead for years, but he recognized Samuel. King David said, “My little boy cannot come to me, having died, but I can go to my little boy. I can go to him, to recognize him” [2 Samuel 12:23].
In the transfiguration, they recognized Moses and Elijah by name; spiritual intuition. They knew who they were though they had never seen them [Matthew 17:1-4]. In that marvelous story of Dives and Lazarus, Dives recognizes Abraham and talks to Lazarus; and Lazarus knows Dives and Abraham [Luke 16:19-31]. The Lord said to the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again” [John 11:23]. Thy brother, you will know him. Your brother shall rise again.” The Lord said to this malefactor, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43], recognizing each other.
The whole story of the Word of God is just that. We don’t enter into some limbo. And we’re not gathered together in some darkness without face and without name and without personality. But when we are gathered to the Lord, we are somebody. And that somebody is you, only glorified.
Our Lord was like that; His recognitions were personal. He was Himself. And they recognized Him as they had known Him in the days of His flesh. You look. Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. When he said, “Mary,” there was just a way that the Lord said it that she recognized it was Jesus [John 20:11-16]. The apostle John said when he went into the tomb, the empty tomb, and saw the napkin wrapped up and laid in a place by itself, he recognized how Jesus folded up a napkin. And when he saw it, he believed that the Lord was alive; that He had been raised from the dead [John 20:6-8].
The two on the way to Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said a blessing. Jesus had a certain way of saying grace before He broke bread. And in the saying of the blessing, they recognized Him. They knew Him [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. And of course, as He stood before the disciples and doubting Thomas present, He lifted up His hands and said, “Behold, the scars, the nail prints in My hands and behold the scar in My side” [John 20:26-28]. His recognitions are personal. Jesus is Jesus, and you will be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we.
It will be a full redemption of the purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14], when God has completed His work of grace and glory in us. And what a precious rendezvous that will be in God’s heaven some day.
In speaking on Lottie Moon last Christmas, describing her death in the harbor there in Kobe, the frail little missionary in the hour of her translation began to clasp her hand in Chinese greeting style, and began to call the names of the Pingtu Christians that she had known forty years before, greeting them as they welcomed her into heaven. And I had an experience kind of like that.
The last time I went to see my dear old mother, she had been invalid, stricken, so seriously stricken, for seven long, invalid years. The last time I went to see her, as I sat by her bedside, she said to me,
“Son, have you spoken to my father?”
I said, “No, Mother.”
She said, “Son, have you greeted my mother?”
I said, “No, Mother.”
She said, “Son, have you spoken to my brother, Joe.”
I said, “No, Mother.”
Her father and mother had been dead for over fifty years. And her brother Joe had been dead for over seventy years. And she says to me, “Have you spoken to my father, and to my mother, and to my brother Joe?”
“No, Mother, I haven’t.”
And then I said, “Mother, where are they? How could I?”
She said, “Why, son, they are here.”
I said, “Mother, they are here?”
“Yes,” she said, “son, they are here.”
Well, I said, “Mother, what makes you think they are here?”
She said, “Son, I have seen them. And they have visited with me. And they are here. And son, before you go back home, I want you to visit with my father and my mother and my brother Joe.”
I said, “Mother, I don’t know about this moment, but I promise you someday I will visit with your father and your mother and your brother Joe.”
How do you explain that? Just before death, there is my sainted father and my precious mother and my brother Joe.
It just seems that everything we know and experience as a Christian and everything that we read in the Bible is the promise that, in that beautiful, and upper, and heavenly home, God makes us perfect even in our imperfection [Revelation 21:3-5].
He regenerates the fallen nature, and the miracle is the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7]. He was still Jesus of Nazareth, though immortalized and glorified [Luke 24:39]. And when we are fully redeemed, you will be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we [1 John 3:2-3]. And we shall greet one another in that glorious and heavenly morning.
I can just—I can just picture that precious and solemn day. I can hear the rushing of feet over those golden streets [Revelation 21:21]. I can hear the shouts of acclamation and joy at those pearly gates [Revelation 21:21]. And I can visualize the incomparable gladness and glory of the redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19], when they meet once again before the throne of God’s grace and praise our Lord forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Where do we go when we die? Into the presence of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8] who is in the Paradise of heaven [John 14:1-3, 20:17], which is the holy city of God; our home forever and ever [Revelation 21:1-5].
And that is our invitation to your heart tonight, to join with us in the praises of God who hath wrought so great a salvation for us; who has promised such precious deliverance for us; who has purchased the whole possession; not just the heart and the spirit, but our house of clay; to be redeemed, resurrected, glorified, immortalized; all of us together, a redeemed family of the Lord [Romans 8:21-23, 29].
Come and join us. I do not know of a greater sorrow or a greater tragedy than some of the members of the family with their faces toward heaven and other members of the family forever lost and left behind. O God, that the Lord would give us a complete and heavenly circle unbroken; all of us, in the presence of our blessed Savior some glorious and final day.
And that’s God’s invitation to your heart. He pleads, “Come.” “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely [Revelation 22:17]. Open doors, open invitation, open love, the open invitation and appeal of our Lord: “Come.”
“Tonight, pastor, I want to complete the circle of my family, and I’m accepting Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. One of the men before I came to the pulpit, said, “Pastor, my lost father is here tonight, preach to him, make an appeal for him.” Father, what more precious thing could you do than to complete that circle, give your heart to God?
Some of you coming into the fellowship of the church, to help us praise the Lord; some of you answering God’s call as He speaks to your heart; as the Spirit shall open the door, shall make the word regnant, appealing, oh, so meaningful to your life, answer Him, “Yes, Lord, here I am, here I come.” I’ll be standing on that side of our Lord’s Supper table. Come and stand by me. “Here I am, pastor, God has spoken and I’m on the way.” Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, make it now, do it now. God bless you now, while we stand and while we sing.
GO WHEN WE DIE
A. Purpose of God to
redeem the whole possession (Romans 8:21-22)
1. All creation
groans (Romans 8:22-23)
B. The earnest of our
inheritance (Ephesians 1:14)
C. We and the creation
around us will be fully redeemed
II. The interval
A. Between time my soul
is regenerated and body re-created
1. May be brief
for some; long for others
III. The life of the spirit separated from
A. It is possible for
the spirit to have life and cognition
B. For the saved
from the body, but with the Lord (2 Corinthians
5:1-2, 8, Philippians 1:21)
entry into paradise (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians
12:2, 4, Revelation 2:7, 22:3)
A state of blessedness (Luke 16:22, Revelation
A. We will know even as
God knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12, Luke 24:16,
1. We have names (Luke 1:19, Revelation 22:16, Acts 9:5)
2. We will
recognize each other (2 Samuel 12:23, John
B. Our Lord recognized
as Himself after the resurrection