The Intermediate State


The Intermediate State

February 12th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM

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, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Luke 23:39-43

2-12-84     10:50 a.m.


Welcome, the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television.  This is the First Baptist Church of Dallas, the oldest church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Intermediate State.  It is the first sermon in the doctrinal series on eschatology, the last things that consummate the age, the second coming of our Lord.  This concerns our death and what happens beyond the grave.

Let us turn to the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the Third Gospel, Luke 23, and I shall begin reading at verse 39 [Luke 23:39].  Our Lord is hanging on the cross, and on either side of Him was an insurrectionist, crucified with Him.

And one of them, a malefactor, which was hanged on the cross with Him, said, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.

But the other malefactor 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 turning to Jesus he said, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.

And Jesus said unto him, Verily—

[Luke 23:49-43]

You know that’s a strange word.  In Hebrew it is “Amen.”  In Greek it is “Amen.”  And in English it’s a translation, “Truly, verily, absolutely, confidently, assuredly” [Luke 23:43].

Verily I say unto thee, sēmeron, This day, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.

[Luke 23: 43]

Where we go when we die; there is no one of us but that faces that inevitable fortune with intensest interest.  No one of us has ever stood by the side of an open grave, or has ever seen one whom we loved and lost for a while, but has wondered into what kind of a world do they enter when they leave us to go to be with God.  That is a mark of the image of the Lord Creator in us.  It is the man who remembers past history, who seeks meaning in the present, and who looks at death and scans the future for its meaning.  No animal writes history.  No other creation of God seeks meaning in the present.  And least of all is there any of God’s creatures who contemplate its death.  But the man does; we do.  We cannot hide our faces from it, nor can we deny our intensest interest in it.

This is the very keystone and heart of the Christian faith and the Christian message.  It has to do with resurrection.  It has to do with our Lord Christ.  In His triumph over death and the grave He brought an ultimate victory to all of us who face that inevitable judgment [1 Corinthians 15:55,57].  And our hope of a life beyond the day of death and our promise of a resurrection from among the dead is, I say, the very soul and center of the Christian message.  As Paul wrote in Ephesians, and as he wrote in the eighth of Romans, God purposes the entire redemption of the purchased possession, not only to save our souls, but also to resurrect and to redeem our bodies from the dust of the ground [Ephesians 1:14, 2:4-8; Romans 8:15-23].

When we look at death, there is manifestly a time period between the day that we die and the great resurrection day when we are raised from among the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  For example, Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses have been dead thousands and thousands of years, but the resurrection of their bodies has not yet been consummated [Daniel 12:1-2].  Where are they in this interval, in this intermediate state?  Our answer can only be found in the revelation of the Word of God.  The mind of man cannot penetrate the darkness beyond death.

There has never lived a generation of men so brilliant in mind as those ancient Greeks, yet as they peered into the darkness beyond death all they could scan in their mythological presentation was the shadowy figures of those who had gone before, who somehow yet lived beyond the dark River Styx; and no other penetration of mind were the Greeks ever able to bring, in all of their multifaceted and marvelous literature. Whether it be the soft sentimentalism of Platonism, or whether it be the brilliant philosophical presentations of Aristotelianism, or whether it be the harsh, hard Stoicism, or whether it be the hedonistic, atheistic Epicureanism, they were never able to penetrate the darkness that lies beyond the grave.

But the Holy Scriptures in the revelation of God brings to us a marvelous, a clear, and a lucid light.  For one thing, the Scriptures know nothing of the extinction or the annihilation of the soul.  All of those sentences that we read in the Old Testament that describe the waste and the chaotic nature of death refer to the appearance of the human body; they never refer to the soul.  In Holy Scripture the soul is presented to us always as being immortal.  When God creates the soul it is a gift forever.  He never takes it back, nor is it ever destroyed.  It is like matter: when God created substance, matter, He created it forever, eternally.  Matter cannot be destroyed; it is here forever.  It may change form: we may burn a log, but we don’t destroy it; it just changes into vapor or atmosphere or ash, but the substance of it is still there.  We cannot destroy matter.  Once God created it, it is eternal.  It is thus when God created the soul.  It is forever; it is immortal.

In that magnificent twelfth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wisest man who ever lived said, “The dust shall return to the ground from whence it came; but the soul, the spirit shall return to God who gave it” [Ecclesiastes 12:7].  In the tenth chapter of the Book of Matthew our Lord said, “Do not fear him who can hurt the body, but not the soul:  fear Him who can cast both soul and body into Gehenna; fear Him” [Matthew 10:28].  In the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the opening of the fifth seal, John says, “I saw at the base of the altar the souls of those who had been martyred for their testimony of Jesus Christ” [Revelation 6:9].  They were dead in this life, but they were alive to God.  John says, “I saw them.”  John says, “I heard them speak” [Revelation 6:10].  They were invisible to men, but they were not invisible to God, or to John in his exalted and supernatural state.  They were alive though they had been slain.

This is a truth that God forever brings to our minds in the revelation on these sacred pages.  And as I contemplate that revelation and consider that truth, I cannot but think to myself, “Could it be, is it possible that there is life apart from the body?  Do we still live when we are dead?  Could it be that there is spirit alive, cognizant, though there is no body and no substance and no matter to enclothe it?”  Then I remember:  God is Spirit [John 4:24].  He does not have body or form.  It was only in the incarnation that God became flesh and dwelt among us as a Man [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:14].  Then I remember Hebrews 1:14; the angels are spirits.  They do not have bodies, and yet they minister, the Scriptures say, unto us.  Then as I consider it deeper I come to the conclusion the real world, the actual world, is the world of the invisible, of the unseen, of the intangible, of the spirit.  The transient, temporal world is the world of substance and matter, but the real world is the world of soul, of mind, of spirit!

Look:  Paul closes the most marvelous tribute in beauty, the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he closes it with this word, “For there abideth faith, hope, love, these three.”  “There abideth faith, hope, love, these three” [1 Corinthians 13:13].  Suppose I ask one of you, “Come up here and lay on this podium a piece of faith, and let me look at it.”  And I ask one of you, “Come up here and lay a piece of hope on this lectern, and let me look at it.”  And I invite one of you, “Come up here and place a piece of charity, of love, on this desk, and let me look at it.  So this is faith?  Well.  And this is hope?  Unusual.  And this is love.”  It is ridiculous!  I approach the inane when I suggest a thing like that.  For faith abiding, hope abiding, love abiding, these are of the spirit.  They are invisible.  They belong to the real world.

I could also do the same, “One of you bring up here purpose.  And one of you bring up here meaning.  And one of you bring up here idea.”  Do you remember Plato’s philosophical approach?  What you see is temporal; it’s the idea that is eternal.  And he would illustrate it with a chair.  What you see, a chair is temporary and will soon decay.  But the idea of a chair is eternal; it goes on forever.  The real world is the world invisible, it’s the world intangible, it is the world of the spirit.

And when I think of the physical world about me, it’s no different.  Did you ever see an ether wave?  And yet this message I am delivering is carried out to thousands and thousands of people on radio and on television, on ether waves.  I’ve never seen them.  Dick is an expert in those areas of broadcasting—you never saw one either;  ether waves.  Yet the world is filled with those waves upon which these words and these pictures ride to the sight of those who can be on the other side of the world.  Gravity: I have never seen gravity, yet I read where a scientist avowed that the strength of the arm that holds this world in its ninety-three million mile orbit around the sun is as big and as strong and as mighty as a steel beam three thousand miles in diameter, holding this world in orbit around the central sun.  But a bird can fly through it.  I have it here, here.  I don’t see it.  The real world is invisible.

Thought, I haven’t seen thought, yet I am thinking now; you’re thinking now.  It’s an invisible process, but no less real.  So with our soul and with our spirit:  the real me is not what you see with your eye; the real me is on the inside.  The real me lives in this house, and I look at you through the two windows of my eyes.  The me is on the inside of this tabernacle, this wasting house.

So the Scriptures speak to us concerning that intermediate state when I die, against the day of my final resurrection.  And the Bible has a word for that intermediate state.  And they are exactly alike whether it is sheol in Hebrew, or whether it is hades in Greek; they are infinitely conversant.  They are exactly alike: Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament.  It is the place; it is the intermediate state into which we enter when we die.  For example, Israel, in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, Israel is brought the coat, the many-colored coat of his son Joseph [Genesis 37:26-36].  His envious and jealous brothers have sold him to the Ishmaelites, who have taken him down to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar as a slave.  But they have to say something to his father, so they kill a goat, kill a kid, and they dip that many-colored coat of Joseph in the blood, and they take it to Israel, and they say to Israel, “Is this the coat of your boy?”  And Israel looks at it, and Israel bursts into indescribable grief, “This is the coat of my son!”  And he says, “An evil beast hath devoured him” [Genesis 37:33].  And in his indescribable grief, Israel says, “I shall go down to Sheol, unto my son, mourning for him” [Genesis 37:35].  My brother, an evil beast, Israel thought, had devoured him, eaten up the boy.  Yet he says, “In Sheol I shall meet him.  I go to my son.”  That’s the Bible [Genesis 37:35].

Or take again, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Job, Job cries, “O God, hide me in Sheol until Thy wrath be past, and then at a set time remember me!” [Job 14:13].  He did not cease to exist in Sheol, just that God would hide him there until the day of judgment had past, and then remember him [Job 14:13].

Thus it is that God speaks of our life beyond death, beyond the grave.  And the Scriptures say that Sheol and Hades are divided into two parts: Sheol, into Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22-23]; and Tophet, which is a word Isaiah uses in the thirtieth chapter of his prophecy [Isaiah 30:33], to describe a place in the Valley of Hinnom where sacrifice, where children had been offered to Molech, and it was cursed of God [Isaiah 30:30-32].  Abraham’s bosom, into which God’s people are translated [Luke 16:22-26]; and Tophet, where the unbelieving and the lost are condemned [Isaiah 30:33].  Now in the Bible Hades, in the Greek New Testament, is divided into two parts: one is called Paradise, and the other is called Tartarus.  Paradise and tartaros, or “torment,” and in the Scriptures they are presented as temporary [Luke 16:23].

If I had time I’d like to expound the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter of the apostle Paul [2 Corinthians 5].  There he speaks of the fact that Christianity, the Christian faith abhors disembodiment, as nature abhors a vacuum [2 Corinthians 5:2-4].  The very heart and soul of the Christian faith is this:  that we shall not be disembodied spirits, or as Paul calls them “naked, unclothed” spirits, but that we shall be clothed upon, we shall be resurrected, we shall live in a body, we shall be somebody [2 Corinthians 5:1].  You will be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we, raised like our Lord was raised [Romans 6:4, 1 John 3:2].  And the Scriptures say that this intermediate state is temporary [Daniel 12:2].  In the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse, Hades and Sheol are cast into the lake of fire to be destroyed forever and forever [Revelation 20:14].  They are temporary states.

Now last: when we are translated into that other world just beyond the grave, the intermediate state, what is our status as we enter the dark beyond, the day of our death?  To the one who is lost, to the unconverted, to the unbelieving, it is a dark and dreary and dismal creation.  In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke that you just read, it’s called “torment,” torment [Luke 16:23].  In the third chapter of 1 Peter, it is described as a prison [1 Peter 3:19].  In the second chapter of 2 Peter it is named tartaros [2 Peter 2:4]. It is a place where the lost and the damned are kept until the day of judgment, when their works come before God and their evil deeds find an ultimate retribution [Revelation 20:13].  Finally, at the great white throne judgment they are raised from the dead; there they are judged and then forever cast into Gehenna [Revelation 20:11-15].

O God!  Dear God that I might be delivered, that I might be saved.  And Lord, not only that I might find grace in Your sight [Ephesians 2:8], but Lord, could it be that in Thy love [John 3:16] and mercy [Titus 3:5] all in divine presence and all who listen today might find salvation in the loving, atoning grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? [Ephesians 2:8].  Lord, don’t let it be that I face death and the judgment without a Friend who can plead my cause, who can stand by my side, and who can introduce me to the great God as His Friend, and as His Savior [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].

It is too horrible for me to think about the estate of the lost when they die.  But how beautiful and how precious if I can speak of the Paradise, the other part, the other half of Hades, into which we enter when we die.  Our Lord said to this repentant insurrectionist, this malefactor, He said to him, “Today” [Luke 23:43]—and the word is emphasized in Greek; it’s the first word in the sentence there as it is in English; sēmeron, “This day.”  What our Lord meant by that was this:  the malefactor, the insurrectionist, the murderer, being a Jew, thought in terms of the kingdom as being sometime in the future, when the Messiah would come, and deliver Israel from the Roman yoke and exalt Judah among all the tribes and peoples of the world. That was his idea of the kingdom.  “Lord, when You come into Your kingdom; someday, when You deliver Israel from the Roman soldier, Lord, remember me” [Luke 23:42].  And the Lord Jesus said, “Not someday hence, not at a future time or a future kingdom; sēmeron, this day” [Luke 23:43].  You use that word when you pray the model prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name … Give us sēmeron, give us this day our daily bread” [Matthew 6:9, 11].  And you know what it means.  “Give us this day, this day, now, sēmeron.”

It is the same word the Lord uses speaking to this malefactor: sēmeron, “Today, this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].  And where is Paradise?  In the twelfth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, Paul says that he was raised up to Paradise [2 Corinthians 12:4].  Then he says, “I was raised up to the third heaven” [2 Corinthians 12:2].  The first heaven is where the clouds go by and the birds fly through, and the second heaven is where the stars shine, and the third heaven is where God is, where Jesus is.

Another thing about Paradise, where it is:  the Lord Jesus, in the second chapter of the Apocalypse, said to the church at Ephesus, “He 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].  So the tree of life is in the Paradise of God.  Where is the tree of life?  In the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Revelation it reads, “And I saw a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding 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 were for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:1-2].  So the tree of life is in Paradise, and Paradise is the city of God, the New Jerusalem, that the apostle saw come down out of heaven [Revelation 21:1-2].  When I die, therefore, I go to Paradise.  I go to the beautiful city of God.  I go to the New Jerusalem [John 14:2-3; Revelation 21:2-3].

Sēmeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].  Do you notice, “with Me…thou shalt be with Me.”  When our Lord went back to glory, raised from the dead and ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], He took with Him this converted, saved criminal.  Can you believe that, a criminal in heaven?  He took with Him this malefactor.  “Thou shalt be with Me” [Luke 23:43].  Paul says, in the first chapter of Philippians, to be with Christ is far better [Philippians 1:23].  In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans he says, “Nothing, nor death, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love and grace of Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:38-39].  To die is to be with our Lord in Paradise [Philippians 1:23].

And just one other: the Holy Scriptures call it makarios, makarios.  Dr. Merrill, Jesus must have loved that word makarios.  He used it more than thirty times in the Gospels.  And one time the apostle Paul retrieved a makarios that the Lord had said in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts: “For it is more makarios to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35]Makarios, makarios is the Greek word for “happy,” happy, blessed, blessed.  “Blessed are the pure in heart [Matthew 5:8]… Blessed are the peacemakers” [Matthew 5:9].  And how many times did the Lord use it: blessed, blessed, makarios.  Now listen to it again:  Revelation 14:13, “Makarios, happy, 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.”

We are so different from God. We say when we see one die, “How unfortunate,” or, “How unhappy.”  God doesn’t say that.  God says, “Makarios, happy, blessed are these who fall asleep in Jesus” [Revelation 14:13].

O Lord, what a comfort!  No wonder, in the passage you read, the Lord said Lazarus is comforted, makarios [John 11:11].  And when I die, Lord, may I not be afraid, may I not be timorous or filled with trepidation or foreboding; but when I die, Lord, may I look up into Thy face and say, “This day, sēmeron, this day I shall be with my Savior in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].

One of our wonderful Christians wrote:

This isn’t death, it’s glory!

It isn’t dark, it’s light;

It isn’t stumbling and groping

Or even faith,—it’s sight!

This isn’t grief, it’s having

My last tears brushed away.

It’s sunrise, it’s the morning

Of my eternal day!

This isn’t even praying:

It’s speaking face to face;

It’s listening and it’s glimpsing

The wonders of His grace.

[from “This Isn’t Death,” Martha Snell Nicholson]

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21].

Semeron, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].

And that is the appeal we extend to your heart this hour.  To accept the Lord as your Savior, to open your heart heavenward and God-ward [Romans 10:8-13], or to bring your life and family into the circle of this dear and wonderful church [Hebrews 10:24-25], or to answer God’s call in your heart, “Pastor, this is God’s day, this is God’s hour for me, and I’m answering with my life.”  In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, today I have decided for Christ, and I’m on the way.”  In a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come; come.  May angels attend you in the way and make you glad in your soul, as this day, before men and angels, you offer your life in faith and trust to our living Lord [Acts 16:31].  Come.  God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.