WHAT SHALL I DO THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF ETERNITY?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-94 12:00 p.m.
Remember this is a busy lunch hour: you come when you can, and welcome; and leave when you must. All of us understand, and you’ll not bother me at all. If I am in the middle of a phrase or a sentence, for you to stand up and leave I will not be bothered at all. So you feel free, when you come to the service, just be here for a little while if that is all permitted.
As our pastor announced, the theme is The Great Questions of Time and Eternity. Yesterday, What Shall I Do in the Hour of My Death; today, What Shall I Do the First Five Minutes of Eternity; tomorrow, What Shall I Do at the Judgment Bar of Almighty God; on Thursday, The Cry of Job – I Have Sinned, What Shall I Do; and on Friday, the lamentable appeal to God and the world of Pontius Pilate, What Shall I Do with Jesus Called the Christ.And today, What Shall I Do When I Enter Eternity?
Reading from the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, beginning at verse 19:
There was a certain rich man – Dives in Latin – clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day:
There was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, laid at his gate,
Desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table…
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And being in torments, in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Then he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
May I make two observations by way of introduction? One, it says that these two died, Dives and Lazarus, but they are alive in Hades. Evidently I don’t die when I die. An animal may be in duality. An animal will have a mind, an animal will have a body; but only the man has a trinity of existence: mind, body and soul. So the story begins in Genesis, when God created the man He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul [Genesis 2:7]. So I live in this house: you don’t see me; I’m inside of this structure, this body, and I look at you with my eyes from the inside of my heart.
May I make another observation? These two are translated and transferred instantaneously. There is no such thing in the Bible as the doctrine of some soul sleeping. When I close my eyes on this world, I open them in the world to come. Our Lord said to the thief on the cross, "Semeron, this day, semeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise" [Luke 23:43]. And when Stephen was stoned to death, he looked up and saw Jesus standing. Everywhere else in the Bible our Lord is always presented as seated at the right hand of God. He saw Jesus standing, ready to receive His martyred saint the moment that he died [Acts 7:55].
And there are two words and two sections of each word here in the Bible regarding the eternity into which we shall inevitably go. In Hebrew it is sheol; and the exact meaning is in the Greek word hades. And both sheol and hades, the words that refer to the life and world to come, are divided into two parts. Sheol.I have none in heaven but thee. And tophet, a word used to describe the damned in the valley of Hinnon. Hades, the Greek word, hades, paradisio, "paradise", the home of the beloved; and tarturus, used by 2 Peter to refer to the damned. And the paradisio ultimately becomes the glorious New Jerusalem. And the tarturus becomes gehenna, or the fires of hell.
So we now look at what God reveals to us concerning the destiny of these who die.First, the lost. A man stands before a physician, a doctor, and he says to him, "Doctor, tell me the truth. Don’t hold back anything of my illness. You tell me what it is and what I am to expect." So we stand before God, and we say to the Lord God, "Lord, speak to me the truth. What lies before me when I die?I’m not needing these books on psychology or sociology, I’m not even listening to these commentators on radio, much less the editorials in magazines and newspaper. Preacher, tell me, does God say anything? I know what the world says, the politician says. Does God say anything? What about my destiny and my soul?" And the Lord replies in minute detail here in this sacred Word.
There are two destinies; and the first one is for the man who is lost. Apply that word "lost" to anything and it spells tragedy. Apply the word to health: "This man has lost his health." Apply that word to the eyes: "This man has lost his sight; he’s blind." Apply that word to the mind: "This man has lost his mind." I think one of the saddest things I ever ran into in my life, this sweet wife went to the insane asylum. And when the time was up, the guard opened the door, and there she was on her knees, saying to her husband, "Oh sweetheart, don’t you know me? I’m your wife, the mother of your children;" and no light of recognition in his face. He had lost his mind.
Or the saddest of all, apply that word to the soul. A sweet father and mother called me and said, "Young pastor" – for it happened years ago – "Come and bury our son." He was a young man wayward; died in a tragic accident. And the father and mother said to me, "When you hold the service here in our home, don’t name his name, don’t speak of his life, don’t read a Scripture, just pray and we’ll bury him away."A lost soul.
And of those who spoke of this destiny that is yet to come, none compares to our blessed Lord. And He uses three pictures of what it is to die without God. The first one is separation. Our Lord would speak of the wheat and the tares, of the sheep and the goats, of the fish in a net, of the wise and the foolish virgins, of two who would be in a bed or at a mill; and always our Lord would picture the destiny of the lost with unbelievable terror and sorrow.
You kids up there in the balcony, there is something in my life when I was your age that is as vivid in my memory now as when it happened. I heard an old Baptist white-headed preacher speaking of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, where the sheep and the goats are divided, and these go to everlasting punishment and damnation. And the old preacher began to expatiate on what it means to say goodbye. He said, "We say goodbye to a young fellow going to college. That’s not goodbye." He said, "You see him again. We say goodbye," he said, "to a young fellow entering the army. Chances are that’s not goodbye; you’ll see him again. You say goodbye to your daughter who’s married and going off to another city to live. That’s not goodbye; you’ll see them again. We say goodbye at death. That’s not goodbye," the old preacher said, "in the resurrection we’ll be seeing them again. But," he says, "at the great judgment bar of Almighty God, when the Lord divides us, these into everlasting damnation and these into life without end," he said, "when you see your loved one sent away into hell, that," he says, "is goodbye." Oh! I never forget.
A second picture is one of suffering. He opened his eyes and was in torment, wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth. "And these shall go away into everlasting damnation" [Matthew 25:46]. That’s the most horrible thought I could ever have in my mind.Everlasting, without end, forever and ever and ever, suffering, damnation. I sometimes think of that length of time in terms of if this planet were solid granite, and a little bird came every ten thousand years to sharpen its beak on this granite planet: after he had worn the planet into nothingness, eternity would not have begun. O Lord, what is it to be damned, to be lost, to be sent away into everlasting punishment?
And a third picture: these shall go away into the second death. The Bible uses that word "death" in two ways. My body dies, the separation of the soul from my body. And the Bible refers to a second death: that is, the separation of my soul from God. God is light, and I am cast into everlasting darkness. God is love and grace and peace, and I am cast into everlasting turmoil. And God is rest and home and heaven, and I am a wanderer through all eternity. O God! Save me, please, Lord, have mercy upon me! Please God, write my name in the Book of Life, and open God’s door for me.
The saved, oh! What death brings to us who are saved.The opening of heaven, the vision of our Lord Jesus. Think of closing your eyes on this earth and opening them in glory. Think of stepping on shore and finding it home. Think of grasping a hand, and finding it the Lord’s. Think of breathing new air and finding it immortality. Think of regeneration, and finding it God’s promise for us who’ve found refuge in Him.
So the Bible, the revelation speaks of that world that is beyond death for us who are saved, who’ve found refuge in our precious Lord. A place – that’s the most marvelous thing – "I go to prepare a topos for you. And if I go and prepare a topos for you, I’ll come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also"[John 14:2-3].Topos, there’s no way in the world to translate that but a physical place. This is a topos. Dallas is a topos. Our nation is a topos in the planet. Place: I, when I am raised from the dead, have a physical body, glorified, but a body, a human body; and a body has to have a place. And heaven and the New Jerusalem and my home is in a place. You know I sometimes, I think, "Lord, You say I’m to have a mansion, ‘I’m going to prepare a mansion for you;’ Lord, could it be that my mansion could be on some hallelujah square where I could see our precious Lord come and go every morning?" Place, a real place.
Again, we shall know each other in heaven. We shall recognize, we shall know each other in glory. Did you hear that song Mr. Janis sang for us, "I shall know Him"? In the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, when He appeared they thought they were looking at a ghost. And our Lord said, "Handle Me and see; for a ghost hath not body and figure such as I have. And He showed them His hands and His side. And He said, Have you here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them." They recognized Him by His scars. It was Jesus. It was Jesus.
On the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking to the glorified Lord[Mark 9:4]. How did they know it was Moses and Elijah? Moses had been dead fourteen hundred years. Elijah had been dead nine hundred years. But they knew him. Intuitive knowledge, the knowledge that God has; and they recognized these saints in heaven, and we’re going to recognize one another. You will be you, and I shall be I; and we’ll be together in glory.
One time I got on a plane, sat down and looked over there, and there in that seat next to me was a famous theological professor that I’d heard for the years of my life, heard of him. I had a marvelous visit, just talking to him. Finally I asked him, I said, "Good Doctor, do you have any children?"
"No," he said, "my wife and I do not have any children." Then a little later on as the plane flew by, he turned to me and he said, "When I told you we didn’t have any children, we had a little boy one time. He came home from the school and told his mother, ‘I don’t feel good.’ And the next morning he said to us, ‘Could I just stay in bed? I don’t feel good.’ And they said, ‘Why certainly, son, you don’t need to go to school if you’re not well.’" And later on they called the doctor. And the doctor came and said to the dad and mother, to the professor and his wife, "Your boy has a virulent meningitis, and he will die in a few hours." That father, that professor said, "I took a chair and set it by the bed." And in a little while the lad said, "Daddy, it’s growing dark, isn’t it?" The dad said, "Actually, you’re going blind." Then the little fellow said, "Daddy, if it’s dark, night will soon be here, won’t it?"
"Yes," said the father, "night is soon coming." And the lad said, "Daddy, if the night is here, I ought to get ready to go to sleep, shouldn’t I?"
"Yes," said the daddy, "you need to get ready to go to sleep." And the little boy arranged his pillow, and arranged his clothes, turned over to go to sleep, and said, "Goodbye, Daddy. I’ll see you in the morning." And the professor said to me, he said, "You know, I’m living for that day when I see my little boy in the morning."
I want to ask you, do you think he will? Do you really? Do you think that father will see his little boy in the morning? You think he will? That is the hope in Jesus Christ.We’ll be, we will be with Him, and one another.
Like my sainted father – this is over forty-five years ago – I saw him for the last time before he died. My father used to sing. He’d get those Stamps Baxter books of songs, and he sang by sheet notes. He started the first and sang every song in the book. He had a banjo and would accompany himself. I have heard him by the hour singing. And this time, when I told him goodbye, he sang me a song. You wouldn’t believe it. He sang me a song:
I’ll meet you in the morning, by the bright riverside
When all sorrow has long passed away
I’ll greet you in the morning on the streets gold and wide
At the end of life’s long, dreary day
["I’ll Meet You in the Morning"; Author Unknown]
Do you believe that? Do you believe that I’ll see my sainted father someday? Do you believe I’ll recognize him? And do you believe he’ll know me? Sweet people, I avow on the Word of God and by the truth of Jesus Christ, that is heaven. We’ll know the Lord, and He’ll know us. We’ll know each other, and we’ll praise His name forever.