THE DOOR TO DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-87 7:30 p.m.
It is a joy for us to welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Door of Death. The text is Hebrews 9:27. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”
On the campus of Chicago University, there is a very large statuary piece that blocks one of the streets. On one side of a small lagoon is a statue of Time, bearded Time with a scythe in his hand. On the other side of the lagoon is a large series of sculptured figures, all of whom are looking at Death. It starts with the children on one side, and they look upon Death with wide-open wonder. Then it rises to the strength of manhood and womanhood, and the young men who are there in the center of the statue and in the center of life are shielding their eyes from the dreadful appearance of Death. The piece of statuary ends to your left with older people and finally an aged woman who is kneeling and with her hands extended welcomes the presence of Death.
What of death? And is there a life after the dreaded visitor has consumed us in his arms? Is death the end of existence? If there is life after death, what is it like and where is it lived? We are confronted with the fact of death everyday of our earthly pilgrimage. In every newspaper in the land, there are columns of obituaries. When you drive through any town or any city, there is the inevitable cemetery. And all of us live in broken families, fathers gone, or mother is gone, or a brother or a sister is gone, or our grandparents are gone, or friends are gone. We live in a world of death. Is there any life beyond it? We have many, many answers.
The answer of the atheist is unthinkable, unimaginable. It is a pipe dream, immortality or any kind of an existence beyond the presence of death. They say we all die like animals. We die like a dog. We die like any other of the living beings. And they say––the atheist––that for us to speak of death is just a part of the scare tactics of the religionist. The skeptic answers in the negative. He scorns anything that might speak of any assurance or a certainty of death.
The Marxist looks upon anything that the preacher or the religionist or the clergyman would say as the opiate of the people. The Hindu believes in reincarnation. Endlessly in a never-ending cycle, we are born and re-born and born and re-born. The Buddhist looks forward in the next life to Nirvana, a final state of no desire, no response, a never-ending life of just nothingness. The Muslim, of course, believes that the men will in the next life have harems. And they look forward to a sensual, exotic existence of some kind of multitudinous, polygamous relationships. The criminal scoffs and laughs, saying all of his friends are in hell, and he’ll enjoy it with them. The playboy says, “Eat and drink and be merry.” Drown the thought in all of the sensuous activities of which this life is capable. On and on, there are responses to what it means to die.
To the Christian disciple, we live and serve in order that we might meet God’s approval –someday in the world to come and that we might live our life in heaven with our Lord. The ultimate answer of what lies beyond death is found only in God, only in His revealed Word, for no one else is able to communicate the truth of life beyond death except our Lord.
I’ve been trying to think this week, Houdini; the great magician was followed by another great magician. And I can’t think of that second magician’s name. Can you remember it? Who was the man that followed the great magical acts of Houdini––a great successor, a famous one? Blackstone, that’s the man—Blackstone. When Houdini faced death, he said to his friend Blackstone, “I will meet you on the anniversary of my death on a certain bridge in Chicago. And you hold this in your hand, and I will knock it out of your hand in order that you might realize that I am alive and there and ready to communicate with you.”
Of course, when the anniversary of his death came and Blackstone stood on that bridge with that book in his hand, nothing happened. It is not in any testimony that we bear. All who have died, that we know anything about, the death to come, the life to come––it lies only in the purview of God. It is only in the revelation of God.
Then what does God say about a life beyond this earthly sojourn? God has many things to say about it, and in these very few minutes, I am trying to summarize it. Number one: God calls death an enemy; 1 Corinthians 15:26; “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” God said to Adam and Eve, “In the day that you transgress, you will surely, surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And in the day that they disobeyed the commandment of God [Genesis 3:1-6], in that day they died. They died spiritually that moment. They were separated from God. And in the day of the Lord, God says, “A thousand years is as a day” [2 Peter 3:8]. In that day of the Lord, no man has ever lived beyond that day. Methuselah is the oldest man who ever lived. He lived to be 969 years of age [Genesis 5:27]. He died in the [year of the] Flood. No man has ever lived beyond that day. “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die” [Genesis 2:17].
Death is an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]. It is an interloper. God never intended it. God intended for us to be immortal forever; to live in His presence as His friend and companion, conversationalist, everything of the enjoyment of one another. God created us for that. And when we transgressed, we separated ourselves from God [Isaiah 59:1-2] and faced the inevitable judgment of death [Genesis 2:17].
Now, when we die, where do we go? We go to a waiting room, a place called, in the Hebrew, sheol, and in the New Testament Greek, hadēs. Sheol and hadēs are great, vast, waiting rooms, filled with the dead. And it is divided into two parts. It is divided into the two parts of torment and Abraham’s bosom, or Paradise. And between the two, there is a great gulf fixed. The Lord reveals that to us in Luke 16:19-26.
What are they there waiting for? In that place of sheol and hadēs, what are they waiting for? They are waiting for two things. They are waiting for the resurrection of the dead. They are waiting for their bodies [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], and they are waiting for the final judgment of rewards [2 Corinthians 5:10].
The Christian when he dies and goes into hadēs is immediately with Christ. As the Lord said to the dying robber, insurrectionist, in Luke 23:43: “Today, sēmeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” And that day, Jesus died. That day, the insurrectionist died. And that day, they were together in hadēs, in Paradise. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul says, “When we are absent from the body, we are present with Christ.” In Philippians 1:23, Paul says, “It would be far better for me if I could depart, and be with Christ.”
When the Christian dies, he goes to the waiting room. He goes to sheol, hadēs––the part that is filled with the presence and goodness of God. He is with our Lord. He is waiting for the resurrection of the body [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], and for the great judgment day of rewards [2 Corinthians 5:10]. The unbeliever is in sheol; he’s in hadēs, in the part that is called torment. And he also is waiting for the resurrection and for the great, final judgment [Luke 16:22-26]. Whether we are saved or whether we are lost, we all go to that waiting room––waiting, for both, whether in torment or in Paradise, the resurrection of the body and the great, final judgment of rewards.
I speak first of the final judgment of rewards. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. The believer, the believer will stand at the end of the age, at the coming of Christ, before the bēma; 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the bēma, the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body.” All of us shall stand someday before the bēma of our Lord. When our Lord comes, we are raptured [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17], and we are standing there before the bema of Christ in our bodies [2 Corinthians 5:10].
First we are resurrected; then we are judged. I’m turning it around because I want to speak of the resurrection last. We are going to stand at the bēma of our Lord. The bēma was the raised platform upon which the judge stood in all of those Greek games and gave the rewards to the victors. In 1 Corinthians 3, we are told of how that judgment is made. “If any man build upon this foundation of his Christian faith, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble; every man’s works shall be manifest: for the day shall declare it, and it will be revealed by fire: and the fire shall try every one’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; though he himself is saved” [1 Corinthians 3:11-15]––just by the skin of his teeth, like a man naked, running out of a burning house.
In Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” And then we have, as I’ve discussed here, the five differing crowns of reward for the Christian [1 Corinthians 9:25; Philippians 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4]. We shall stand at the great judgment bar of Almighty God someday, and we shall be judged according to what we have done in our service for Christ in the days of our Christian pilgrimage [2 Corinthians 5:10].
The unbeliever––in Revelation 20:11-15––the unbeliever shall stand at the great white throne judgment. After he is resurrected, he will stand at the great white throne judgment, there to receive the reward of his deeds—what he has done––a lost man. The Judge, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ and our God—Hebrews 12:23: “To God the Judge of all.” Acts 17:31: “God has appointed a day, in which He will judge the world . . . by that Man whom He hath ordained: and He raised Him from the dead in token thereof––the Lord Jesus Christ.” John 5:22: “The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son.” God, the Lord Jesus Christ, shall be there upon His throne, and He will be our great and final Judge.
Now the resurrections: there are two great resurrections. The first, Revelation 20:5: “This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” [Revelation 20:4-6]. When I say first resurrection, it is not my nomenclature—it is God’s. There is a first resurrection. And that is the resurrection of God’s people. That resurrection will occur at the rapture, when the Lord comes, and the Lord can come any day, any moment, any time [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. There is nothing between us and the rapture, the coming of the Lord, except the day that He has chosen. When the last one who is elected to salvation comes down this aisle and accept the Lord as His salvation, that moment, Christ will come. That’s when our Lord will resurrect these who have fallen into the dust of the ground. First Thessalonians 4:16: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The first thing that happens in the coming of the Lord is the resurrection of God’s sainted dead. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “We shall all be changed, in a moment, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we, we shall all be changed.”
The first thing that shall happen is the dead shall be raised [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. The second thing that will happen is all of us who are left and remain and alive unto the coming of the Lord, we will be immortalized in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. The resurrection is not a resuscitation of this broken body. But it is a re-creation. Why would God speak of a resurrection? Why are we to be resurrected? Why don’t we remain spirits? For two reasons, number one; our bodies are basic to our nature [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. You are you because you are there. And I am I because I am here. And without my being here, and you being there, we’re nothing. We’re blobs.
The second reason is that the Bible abhors disembodiment. That’s one of the revelations of God that sometimes is amazing to me. The Bible, God’s Word, abhors disembodiment. God made this earth. God made this substance [Hebrews 11:3]. He must like it [Genesis 1:1-23]. God made us with a human body [Genesis 1:26-27]. He must like it. Jesus came incarnate in human flesh [Matthew 1:23-25]. God must like it. I am not I without my body. And you are not you without your body. And for you to be a disembodied spirit is alien to the mind of God and abhorrent to the revelation of truth [2 Corinthians 5:4].
May I read it for you? Second Corinthians chapter 5: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, if we die, we have a building of God, a house”––a body––“not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this”––this present body––“we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” [2 Corinthians 5:1-2].
Having been through these hospitals today, and seeing these people in agony––tragically ill––my heart goes out to them. Lord God in heaven, what if we couldn’t die? What if we were confirmed in this house of sorrow and disease forever? That’s why God took out of the garden and away from the hand of Adam and Eve the tree of life, lest he eat thereof and live forever [Genesis 3:22]. I don’t want to live when every breath I take is an agony and my life is a burden to me and a burden to everyone I know and love—I don’t want to live. When my task is finished and my work is done, God says it is better over there than it is here [Philippians 1:23]. Death is a blessedness of God. But, by no means does God intend for us to remain disembodied [2 Corinthians 5:1-2].
Listen. “In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so being clothed we shall not be found naked” [2 Corinthians 5:2-3]––disembodied. “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed,” disembodied, “but clothed upon,” having our bodies, “that mortality may be swallowed up of life” [2 Corinthians 5:4].
That’s why the resurrection: number one; because our bodies are weak—that makes us, us [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. Second; because God Himself abhors disembodiment. He wants us to be like His Son, the Lord Jesus. We are going to look at that in a minute. Now what kind of a body will we have when we are raised, when we are resurrected? [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. What kind of a body will we have? We are going to be like Jesus. In 1 John 3:2, “We shall be like Him.” When we are resurrected from the dead, we shall be like our Lord. Well, what was He like? Luke 24:39: “Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones such as you see Me have.”
We’re going to have a body like our Lord’s: flesh and bone [Luke 24:39]. But it is going to be a spiritual body. He can appear [John 20:11-18]. He can disappear [Luke 24:31]. He can go through that door without opening [John 20:19]. He can vanish out of their sight, just in a moment of time [Luke 24:31]. It will be a creation from heaven. First Corinthians 15:49: “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” Philippians 3:21: “Our bodies will be fashioned like unto His glorious body.” It will be a spiritual body. First Corinthians 15:44: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” Now those two things are antithetical; physical and spiritual. They are the opposites, but in this new creation God puts them together in a miraculous way, and we are fitted for heaven. An airplane is made for the air. A submarine is made for the sea. God is going to fit our bodies for heaven.
A fetus lives in water. A newborn babe lives in air. If you were to try to explain to a fetus the life the child is going to live outside of the mother’s womb, in this world and in this air, he couldn’t realize it. He would stagger at it. Same way with us! When we try to imagine what it is going to be like—O Lord, all God says about it is: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered into the imagination or the heart of a man, those wonderful things God hath in store for us who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. It will be wonderful!
Now, there is a second resurrection. And this brings great sorrow to my heart. I thought I would leave it out; it is such a terrible thing. But if you listened to Merle Flagg as he prayed, what a tragedy. What a tragedy! There is a second resurrection. You remember I said that first resurrection is not my nomenclature. I was quoting the Lord God. There is a first resurrection. That’s the resurrection of God’s saints; God’s believing people [Revelation 20:4-6]. There is a second resurrection. And that is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead; these who die without God; die without Christ; die without hope. This is the second death, and it is described in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation:
I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the heaven and the earth fled away . . .
And I saw the dead, small and great––these that are lost––the second resurrection––saw them stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, and that is the Book of Life: and these dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead in them; and Death and Hades delivered up the dead in them: and they were judged every man according to his works.
And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
There is no more death. There is no more sin. There is no more curse. There is no more sorrow or crying or tears or heartache [Revelation 21:4-5]. And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was also cast into the lake of fire. [Revelation 20:15]. . . . where the beast and the false prophet and Satan the deceiver are living in torment forever [Revelation 20:10].
O God, how could my mind think of it? These who are lost and who die without Christ, raised from the dead at the end of the great millennial reign of Christ, standing before the Lord God Judge. And first, is his name in the Book of Life? [Revelation 20:11-12]. Can’t make a mistake here, the soul’s eternal destiny is in the offing. First, search through the Book of Life: is there a time when he gave his life to Jesus? [Acts 16:30-31]. Is there a time when he turned in faith to the blessed, blessed Lord? [Ephesians 2:8]. Is there a time when he looked to God in repentance, and faith and prayer, and confession, and salvation? [Acts 20:21]. Was there a time when he stood before God’s people and said, “This day, this night, this hour, I accept the Lord as my Savior?” Is there any time in his life when he turned in repentance and faith to the Lord Jesus?
Look through the book. Look through the book. Be very sure. Look on every page. Look in every moment of his life. Look through the book. And if there is not in the Book of Life, a record of his turning in faith to the Lord Jesus, he dies in his unconfessed sin [Revelation 20:12], and he stands at the second resurrection before the Judge of all of the earth, and there he receives the awesome reward of his disobedience and his lack of commitment [Revelation 20:12]. And he is cast into the same lake of fire where Satan is host forever; where the fallen angels are condemned in eternity [Matthew 25:41], and where the beast and the false prophet; where these who have denied God and deceived the world; where they live in condemnation and judgment forever and ever [Revelation 20:10, 13-15].
O God, O God! Save me! Deliver me. In the blood of Christ wash my sins away [Revelation 1:5], and write my name in that Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. And God help us to warn others of the way and the day and to plead with them in a like confession. Lord God, save the people, save the people. That’s why we preach, and visit, pray, sing, do all in our power to bring the saving message of God to these who are lost.
Now may we pray? Our Lord in heaven, these things we read in the Book, the revelations of God, O Lord, my soul trembles. Who is equal to these things? God must help. The Lord must forgive. The Lord must lead and sustain. God must take care of us. And our Lord, in that faith that Jesus is able, we commit our lives unto Thee tonight, all of us in divine presence, again and anew, O God. Having done it years and years and years ago, Lord, I do it again tonight. I confess Jesus as my only hope [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. I look to Him to see me through. Stand by me, Lord, in the hour of my death and take care of me into that other world and take me to heaven, Lord, with Thee. And when I stand at the judgment day at the bema of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:10], grant, Lord, that there will be some good that I have done, for which God can commend me. And what I pray for me, I pray for all of our dear people. And Lord, don’t let anyone in divine presence tonight go out that door, unbelieving, lost. Save us, Lord, please, in Thy precious and wonderful name––able to keep us forever [Jude 1:24], in Thy name, dear Lord, amen.
We’re going to stand now and sing us a hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer any call of the Spirit in your heart, I will be standing right there, you come and stand by me. “God has spoken to me tonight, dear pastor, and here I stand. I make this decision now, and I’m on the way.” May angels attend you while you come, while we stand and while we sing.
A. Statue of death at
B. What of death?
1. We have many, many
2. Ultimate answer found
only in God in His revealed Word
II. An enemy
A. It was not intended(1 Corinthians 15:26)
B. Adam and Eve – “In
that dayâ€¦surely die”(Genesis 2:17)
day they died spiritually – separated from God
“day of the Lord” (Genesis 5:22-27)
III. Where do we go?
A. A waiting room
called in Hebrew sheol, in Greek hades
B. Divided into two
parts, with great gulf fixed between them(Luke
Abraham’s bosom or Paradise
Waiting for the resurrection and the final judgment of rewards
Christian immediately with Christ(Luke 23:43, 2
Corinthians 5:8, Philemon 1:23)
The unbeliever in torment(Luke 16:23)
IV. The final judgments of rewards (Hebrews 9:27)
The believer will stand before the bema(2
Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Revelation 22:12)
will stand before the Great White Throne(Revelation
Judge – the Lord Jesus Christ(Hebrews 12:23,
Acts 17:31, John 5:22)
V. The resurrections
first (Revelation 20:5-6)
1. At the rapture(1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
2. Not a resuscitation,
but a re-creation
3. Christian faith
abhors disembodiment(2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
going to have a body like our Lord’s (1 John
3:2, Luke 24:39, 1 Corinthians 15:44, , Philippians 3:21, 2 Corinthians 2:9)
1. The unbelieving dead