The Intermediate State
February 12th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-12-84 8:15 a.m.
And God bless you who are listening to this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor bringing the message entitled The Intermediate State – Where We Go When We Die. This is the first in the concluding series of doctrinal message on the last things, eschatology, the end of the age, the consummation of history, the coming again of our Lord. Next Sunday morning at this hour, the message delivered will be entitled The Rapture of the Church; the imminent return of our Lord for us. And then the following Sunday, the message will concern the pre, and the mid, and the post tribulationist; does the church go through the tribulation? And then the following Sunday will be The Terrible Antichrist; the reign, rise, and ruin of the Antichrist; and so on through these days that lie ahead. This Sunday, The Intermediate State; we shall read Luke 23, beginning at verse 39. Luke 23, verse 39:
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on 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.
Now the text—
And this malefactor said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Amen, verily, truly I say unto thee, Today, semeron,
emphatically the first word in the answer—
Semeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
There is no one of us that can deny our intensest interest in what happens when we die. When we look into the open grave or watch these whom we have loved and lost for just a while, we cannot but ask, “Where do they go? And when I die, where do I go? What lies beyond the grave? And what lies beyond death? Do we still exist? Are we conscious? Are we alive? Even without the body am I still I?” All of us are swept up in that intensest interest in the immediate life beyond the grave. That interest, which is undeniably a part of all of us, is an evidence of our creation in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. It is a part of our humanity, of our intelligence, and of our maturity. It is a part of the glory of man that he probes into the future and looks into the night of death. There is no other creature who does so. Out of all of God’s many faceted creations, it is only man, it is only man who remembers his past history, who seeks to find meaning in the presence and who contemplates the future. There is no other animal who thinks about his death; it is a mark characteristic of the man. And that in turn is an evidence of his image of God: he contemplates death.
That also is the keystone and the very heart of the Christian message: death [Matthew 27:32-51], the triumph of Christ over death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], the resurrection of our Lord from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], and according to the first chapter of Ephesians [Ephesians 1:13-14], and the sixth chapter of the Book of the Romans, we also shall be raised from the dead in the likeness of our Lord [Romans 6:5]. It is God’s intention to redeem the whole purchased possession; not only the soul, the spirit, but also the body, this house of clay.
Now when we look at the resurrection of the dead and these who have died before that great consummating day, there is most evidently a time period between the day of our death and the day of the resurrection of the body. Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses have been dead for thousands and thousands of years; and they still await the resurrection of the dead. What has happened to them between the time of their death and this coming day of their resurrection? Where are they? What of this intermediate period, this state in between? It is only the revelation of God that can tell us. The human mind can never ferret it out.
There has never been a generation of brilliant men comparable to the ancient Greeks. But as they probed and as they thought and as they taught, all that they could express was in their mythological stories of the shadowy figures beyond the dark, cold River Styx. They never found any answer to that question, “Where do we go when we die?” Whether it be the soft sentimentalism of Platonism, or whether it be the brilliant, philosophical Aristotelianism, or whether it be the hard, unbending Stoicism, or whether it be the Hedonistic, atheistic, Epicureanism, they never were able to find any answer, “Is there life beyond the grave?”
Our revelation and our answer is found in the Word of God; it is found alone in the Scriptures. And the Scriptures speak to us lucidly, brilliantly, marvelously; and to us who are saved, encouragingly and comfortingly, concerning the dead and our own coming decease in the Lord.
Number one: Scripture does not know of such a thing as the extinction or the annihilation of the soul. There is no breath, there is no word, there is no hint in the Holy Word of God that we cease to exist when we die. And all of those sentences that we find in the Old Testament that describe the chaotic waste of death refer to the appearance of the body; they do not refer to the soul. Contrariwise, the Holy Scriptures reveal to us that once the soul is created, it is immortal. It is a gift of God that is never withdrawn. It extends in its life throughout all eternity.
The creation of the soul is like the creation of matter: matter is eternal; it cannot be destroyed. Its form can be changed, like burning a log: you don’t destroy it though in the fire, you just change its form; it becomes vapor and smoke and ash. But it still exists. So it is with the human soul: it is never capable of destruction; it is like matter itself. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes is this famous sentence: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit unto God who gave it”; but both are forever in existence [Ecclesiastes 12:7]. It is like our Lord spake in the tenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, “Do not be afraid of him who could destroy the body, but fear Him who can cast both soul and body into Gehenna” [Matthew 10:28]. It is like the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. John saw the souls of those that were martyred for God, for our Lord, at the base of the altar. He hears their voices speak [Revelation 6:9-10]. They are invisible to men, but not invisible to God; and they were not invisible to John in his exalted and supernatural state. He saw the souls of those who had been martyred for our Lord.
Well, immediately the question would come to our minds, “Is it possible, is it possible for existence to be without body, without matter? Is it possible for there to be soul without body, spirit without matter? Is that possible?” If you believe in God, God is spirit [John 4:24], God has no body. It was only in the incarnation of the Word that God took form and substance [John 1:14]. God is spirit, God has no body. The angels have no body. In Hebrews 1:14 they are called “ministering spirits.” If you believe in angels, you believe in spirit life without body. And if you will think at all, you will come to the conclusion that the real world, the actual world, is the world of the invisible, the world of spirit; the intangible world, the real world. For example, the apostle Paul will close his most beautiful chapter in the Bible, “There abideth faith, hope, love, these three”; faith, hope, love, these three. “There abideth forever faith, hope, love, these three” [1 Corinthians 13:13]. Let me ask one of you who are seated here to my left: bring up to me, and let’s sit here, let’s set here on this side of my podium, let’s set here a piece of faith. I want to look at it. And let’s choose somebody here in the center, and I want you to place here on this desk a piece of hope. I’d like to look at it. And I’d like for you on this side, say, Carlyle, you come up here and bring a piece of charity, of love, and let’s set it on this side. And then let’s take test-tubes, or maybe a physicist will bring all of his instruments, and we’ll look at faith and see what it is; and we’ll look at hope and see what it is; and we’ll look at love or charity and see what it is. The idea is ridiculous and preposterous. These are great spiritual entities; they are invisible. Faith, hope, love, these are the three things that Paul says abide.
Or take idea and purpose and meaning. Plato says the real world is the world of idea. The chair that you see is a temporary thing. This chair, it’ll finally dissolve and decay; or that chair. But the real entity that abides is the idea, it goes on forever; same thing with purpose, same thing with meaning. Or take out of this world in which we live an ether wave. I’d love to see an ether wave. You will never see an ether wave: it’s invisible. Or gravity, did you ever see a piece of gravity? Or thought, did you ever see a piece of thought? I could go on and on. When you begin to study and to consider, you will finally conclude that the real world, the actual world is the world of the invisible. This world that is tangible and touchable is temporary and passes away. Just speaking of the fact that it is possible for spirit to be without matter and without body, and the life of the soul after the body has turned to the dust of the ground.
Now this intermediate state, the world into which we enter when we die; the Scripture has two words for it, and they are identical in both testaments. In the Old Testament the word for that intermediate state is called sheol, and the exact translation is found in the Greek New Testament, hades. Sheol in the Old Testament and hades in the New Testament are exactly the same. And they refer to the region, the world into which we enter when we die. For example, in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, when those vile, vicious boys took Joseph and finally sold him to the Ishmaelites who in turn sold him as a slave in Egypt [Genesis 37:26-28, 36], they had to make some kind of a report to their father Israel. So they took a kid and slew it, and then they took Joseph’s coat of many colors and dipped it in the blood of the slain kid, the little goat. Then they brought that coat to Israel, and said, “Is this the coat of your son?” And Israel looked upon it, and recognizing it, cried, saying, “An evil beast hath devoured my boy.” And then he lamented, “I shall go down to sheol unto my son, mourning for my boy” [Genesis 37:31-35]. Now, the boy’s body had been devoured, Israel thought, it had been eaten, it had been consumed; but the boy still lived. In Israel’s mind, he would go down into sheol, into the region of death, there to meet his son Joseph [Genesis 37:35]. Or take again, the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Job: Job cries to God, saying, “Hide me in sheol until Thy wrath be passed. And then at a set season remember me!” [Job 14:13]. Even though he is beyond the grave and beyond death, he is to be remembered by the grace of God in sheol. There is a life into which we enter in an intermediate world when we die.
Now Scripture divides that intermediate life into two compartments. In the Old Testament, sheol is divided into Abraham’s bosom and into Tophet, like in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, Tophet referring to a part of the Valley of Hinnom, where the idolatrous Israelites offered human sacrifice to God, offer their children to Molech; and it was cursed, and it was called Tophet, Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22], and Tophet [Isaiah 30:33]. In the New Testament, hades is divided into Paradise [Luke 23:42], and torment, or as the second chapter of the Book of 2 Peter will call it, tartaros, tartaros; Paradise, and Tartarus [2 Peter 2:4]. Now when we die, we are immediately introduced into one of those two sections of sheol, hades, “paradise,” or Tartarus, “torment.” And I haven’t time—though I would love to do it—I haven’t time to expound upon the word of Paul, the discussion of Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Let me say it like this: as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the Christian faith abhor disembodiment; or as Paul uses the word, “unclothed, nakedness” in the soul [2 Corinthians 5:1-5]. Always the Christian faith looks forward to the resurrection of the body, the clothing of the spirit. And when we are entering into this intermediate state beyond death and the grave, always it is presented as temporary in the Bible. It is until the resurrection of the body, the full orbed purpose of God for His people. And, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation and the fourteenth verse, sheol and hades are to be forever destroyed [Revelation 20:14]. They are to be emptied; it is a temporary state.
Now, may I conclude? When we die, where do we go into that temporary state? An unbeliever, one who has refused the grace and overtures of our Lord, an unbeliever goes immediately into torment [Luke 16:23], into Tartarus, or as the third chapter of 1 Peter describes it, “a prison” [1 Peter 3:19]. A lost soul enters into a prison house, awaiting there to the great white throne judgment, when he will be judged according to his works, when he will be raised in body from the dead, and will be cast forever into Gehenna, the lake of fire, into hell, into an everlasting torment [Revelation 20:11-15]. That’s what happens to the unbeliever when he dies. He immediately goes into the prison house of torment.
What happens to the Christian believer when he dies? Immediately, immediately he is in the presence of the Lord in Paradise [Luke 23:43]. That’s why I emphasized in reading the text sēmeron; in the Greek it is very emphatic. “Lord,” said this malefactor, “remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” [Luke 23:42]. He was a Jew, and as a Jew, he had the common misapprehension of all the Jews regarding the kingdom of the Messiah. To him it was a time coming when they would defeat the Romans and when they would be exalted above all the other tribes and nations of the world. That was his idea of the kingdom. And even though he was being crucified, somehow he had faith to believe that Jesus was going to preside over a coming kingdom like that: triumphant over the Romans and all of the oppressors of the Jewish people. And the Lord said, “Not that. Not some other day, not some other time, not some other age, sēmeron, this day” [Luke 23:43]. You use that word when you say the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name . . . Give us this day, sēmeron, give us this day our daily bread” [Matthew 6:9-11]. You know what that means. “Give us this day, this day our daily bread.” That’s the word, sēmeron, “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise; this day,” immediately, when the Lord entered Paradise, He took with Him arm in arm that malefactor, a criminal, in Paradise [Luke 23:43]. “This day,” immediately, when we die, we are in Paradise.
Where is Paradise? In the twelfth chapter of the Book of 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “I was lifted up into Paradise.” Then he describes it as “the third heaven” [2 Corinthians 12:2-4]. The first heaven is where the birds fly and the clouds roll by. The second heaven is where the stars shine in God’s created universe. And the third heaven, Paradise, is where God is. Now further, where Paradise is, when we enter Paradise, in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the Lord said to the faithful in the church at Ephesus, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will grant that you eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” [Revelation 2:7]. Now if I can locate that tree of life, I’ll know where the Paradise of God is. And in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the apostle John says, “I saw 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, and on either side of the river was there the tree of life. And the leaves are for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:1-2]. So Paradise is the new city of God. It’s the New Jerusalem. John saw it coming down out of heaven [Revelation 21:2]. That’s our home of the soul. And that’s where we go when we die.
Do you notice he says, “Verily I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with Me, with Me” [Luke 23:43]. Here again I wish I had time to expound on that chapter number 5 in the second chapter of 2 Corinthians. He uses a play on several words, and two of the words are ekdemeō and endemeo, “away from home,” and “at home with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:6-8]. That’s why I have in our Reminder, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8], ekdemeō, “with the body”; endemeo, “at home with the Lord”; we’re at home with Jesus. Where He is, we are. “Thou shalt be with Me” [Luke 23:43]. Paul said, “That is my desire, to go and to be with Christ, which is far better” [Philippians 1:23].
And last: it is described in the Bible, this intermediate state even, it is described as makarios, that’s the Greek word for “happy,” makarios. In Revelation 14:13, “Blessed, blessed, makarios, 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”; makarios. That word was so often on the lips of our Savior. More than thirty times you’ll find His using it. Such as in the Sermon on the Mount, “Makarios, blessed are the poor in spirit” [Matthew 5:3]; or, “Blessed, makarios are those who look to God” [Matthew 5:8]. Makarios, one time Paul rescues for us a makarios: “It is more makarios, blessed to [give] than to [receive]” [Acts 20:35]. Blessed are the dead, makarios are the dead” [Revelation 14:13]. And how many times, more than twenty times is it used in the New Testament, beyond our Lord. For example, in Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, that happy hope, that glorious hope: the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” And the Bible closes with that word, in Revelation 22:14. “Makarios, blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have right to enter the gates of the city into the heavenly and beautiful Jerusalem” [Revelation 7:14]. It is better over there than it is here [Philippians 1:23].
This isn’t death; it’s glory. It isn’t dark; it’s light. It isn’t stumbling, groping, or even faith; it’s sight. This isn’t grief; it’s having my last tears wiped 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 wonder of His grace, where we go when we die: with the Lord in Paradise, in the city of God [Luke 23:43]. No wonder John could write, “Makarios, blessed, happy are the dead who die in the Lord” [Revelation 14:13].
And this is our invitation to you: into the love and grace of our Lord, welcome. Into the dear fellowship of this wonderful church, come; a thousand times loved. Or to answer some holy purpose of God, “Lord, this is God’s call and God’s day for me; and I’m answering with my life.” In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; with time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m on the way.” Angels will attend, the Spirit will bless as you come.
Now may we stand? And as we sing our song, welcome. Welcome. Welcome.
A. We cannot hide our
intensest interest in what happens when we die
of our creation in the image of God (Genesis
of Christ over death is the keystone of the Christian faith (Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:22-23)
is manifestly a time period between death and resurrection
Only answer and revelation is found in Word of God
II. Scripture knows nothing of the
extinction or annihilation of the soul
in the Old Testament depicting chaotic waste of death refer to the appearance
of the body, not the soul
Is it possible, life of the spirit without a body? (John
4:24, Hebrews 1:14, 1 Corinthians 13:13)
III. Scriptural revelation of the
A. Words of Scripture
for the place of the departed dead
sheol – exact Greek translation hades (Genesis 37:31-35, Job 14:13)
B. Divided into two
1. Sheol –
Abraham’s bosom and Tophet (Isaiah 30:33)
2. Hades –
Paradise and torment (2 Peter 2:4)
temporary intermediate place for souls (2
Corinthians 5:1-5, Revelation 20:14)
IV. Status in the intermediate world
the lost, unbelieving (Luke 16:22-24, 1 Peter
3:19, Revelation 20:11-15)
the saved Christian believer
Entering into Paradise (Luke 23:43, Matthew
6:11, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Revelation 2:7, 22:2)
with the Lord (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8,
Philippians 1:23, Romans 8:38)
of blessedness (Luke 16:22, Revelation 14:13, Titus
2:13, Revelation 22:14)