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One Minute After You Die

Welcome! You Have Arrived

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | June 1, 1997

Selected highlights from this sermon

Heaven. For those of us who have trusted Christ alone as our Savior, heaven will be our destination one minute after we die. There we’ll see angels, loved ones, and best of all, Christ Himself. In the end, we shall be like Him, and we will be with Him.

This is the fourth message in a series entitled One Minute After You Die. So what happens one minute after you die? Well, first of all, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you will see angels. Luke Chapter 16 talks about Lazarus who died, and it says angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom. It makes sense because in the spirit world there are both angels and demons, and if you belong to Jesus Christ, of course, it is the angels that will welcome you into your eternal home.

You recall back in 1956 when those missionaries were killed—those five missionary martyrs. It is now said by those who have told the story since that event so many years ago that they actually saw angels above the trees singing. One woman said that she did not recognize the sound until years later when she became a Christian and she heard the singing on Christian records. There were beings there that were sighted by a number of the people that were involved in the killings.

Again, it makes sense, because angels who guard us, and whose responsibility it is to protect the people of God and to be involved in our lives, would be very interested in something that would be that dramatic, and in a sense so wonderful if looked at from the standpoint of heaven.

What else? Well, one minute after you die, you’ll see Christ and He will know your name. The Bible says that He calls His own sheep by name and He leads them out. I’m so glad that He keeps all those names straight. Those of you with the name Smith, I thought that possibly there would be something that you might worry about, but you need not. He’ll keep them all straight and He’ll distinguish all of those who are His. The Scripture assures us of that.

Well, when we die people bury our body but they do not bury us. They can’t bury you because you will live on, and so I want all of you to have a good time at my funeral, because I’m not going to be there. (laughter) Do you understand? I’m not going to be there. (laughter and applause) I hope that the clapping didn’t mean that you… (more laughter) I wish that this would have happened a lot sooner than I was planning to have it happen.

I want you to take your Bibles today and turn to 2 Corinthians 5, and we will be looking at the text in a few moments, but first of all, I want to discuss with you briefly what it is that stays the same when we make that transfer from this life to the next. We will talk about the differences, and specifically the resurrection body, but let us ask this question. If it is true, as the Bible teaches, that we go from this world to the next without a break in consciousness, and that really one second after we die we are already in the presence of Christ, if that is true, what is it that stays the same?

Well, first of all, personal knowledge continues. Personal knowledge—the knowledge that you had here is transferred over there because you are the same person. Do you remember the rich man who died? The Scripture says that, and this was part our message several messages ago, there he is in Hades and he remembers that he has five brothers. He knew who he was on earth. He knew his family structure. He knew his mother and his father. He remembered the good times that the family had together. All of these things were present to him.

You take, for example, on the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter, James and John had the privilege of meeting Moses and Elijah, they were aware of who they were. There was no need for name tags. Everyone knew what was going on up there, and they became aware of themselves, and certainly that was true of Moses and Elijah because they are the same people as they were here on earth. Oh, I know, sinless now, but the same people. Here’s what the Scripture says: “We shall know even as we are known.” We won’t know everything. We won’t be omniscient, but we’ll surely know more in heaven than we do here today. So personal knowledge continues.

Secondly, personal love continues. You’ll notice again the rich man said, “I have five brothers.” And he said, “Send someone to warn them that they don’t come to the same place.” This man was willing to endure eternity without ever seeing his brothers again if only they would be exempt from the torture that he himself was experiencing. But it was the natural human love, the natural affection that someone has for his family. Of course that continues to the other side.

I speak today to a widow, and your husband has gone on to glory. Does he still love you today? Of course, he loves you. He loves you with a purer love. He loves you in a way that perhaps he was not able to love you here on earth because he is the same person. Is he interested in what you are doing on this earth? Yes! Can he see you and your actions? Probably not! I don’t think the redeemed in heaven are looking down watching us. They are going to have a lot better things to do than to do that, but it is possible that they can receive regular updates if they so wish. I can’t imagine that such a request would be denied them.

I like what Chet Bitterman said. You remember he had a son who died as a martyr. He said, “We have eight children. All of them are living. One of them is living in heaven and the other seven are living here on earth.” Yes, his son is living and he still is Chet Bitterman’s son. That’s another mistake people make, you know, because Jesus said on one occasion that when we die we are like the angels who neither marry nor are given in marriage. They think that somehow when we get to heaven we are going to be sexless like the angels are, that we will be neither male nor female. That’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus meant that in heaven there is no marriage. There is no procreation. There are no baby angels. But Jesus didn’t mean that your mother in heaven would no longer be known as your mother. Of course, she will be known as your mother, and of course you will know her. Again, you will not know less in heaven than you certainly know and feel and understand here on earth.

I refer again to the story I told you perhaps a year and a half ago about Natalie Worley, Pastor Daryl and Jean Worley’s daughter, who when her grandfather died, asked Pastor Worley this question: “Daddy, is it okay if we pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa?” And Pastor Worley told me that he struggled with that awhile and then realized that there was nothing in his theology that would prevent someone praying to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa. And just think of the wisdom of this little girl because she knew much better than millions of other people that one thing you don’t do is pray to Grandpa to get a message to Jesus. You don’t do it that way.

So, let’s remember that when people die they are the same people on the other side, and don’t you dare try to communicate with them in any direct way. The Bible forbids that and there is so much deception in those areas because of evil spirits that take the names and the knowledge of departed ones and these aberrations can sometimes be very, very deceiving. The Bible forbids that, but personal love continues.

Thirdly, feelings continue. We’ve already talked about feelings of love, but just think of the purest joy that you have ever had. How would you describe the most blessed experience that you’ve ever had, free of guilt, free of care, the peace of God filling your heart? Now multiply that many times over. “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

What about feelings, a desire for justice? Will that still be there? You say, “Oh, no, you know, once we die, we’re so perfect we won’t even think about such things.” Of course we will because I shall say it only one more time. We are the same people over there as we are here.

Notice this, and I want you to take your Bibles and keep your finger in 2 Corinthians 5, but turn to Revelation 6. This passage will become important for another reason, as I shall show you in a moment, but in Revelation 6:9 it says: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”

They desired vengeance. And if you don’t like that word then let me change it and say that they desired justice. That’s a human desire, and justice had failed them and there was still a day coming when justice would be brought to their situation, and they said, “How long, O Lord, before justice rules?” They had died but that’s the way they were human. So personal feelings also continue.

Personal activities continue. I can’t prove it scripturally but my suspicion is that if you’re a scientist here on earth you are going to be a scientist in heaven, exploring all kinds of new ideas, and all kinds of different ways of God’s miraculous great creation. You can certainly continue to do that. If you are an artist, you will see beauty and participate in beauty as you’ve never known it. Certainly if you are into music, you’re going to have something to do in heaven, but there are some professions that won’t have anything to do, and that is preachers and nurses and doctors. We’re going to have to be retrained when get to heaven because we can’t continue what we’re doing.

Jonathan Edwards says that the ideas of the saints will extend to eternity. He says, “They will begin by contemplating the providential guidance of God in the lives of His people, and then having contemplated that, they will begin to contemplate the various attributes of God.” And the ideas of God are vast enough and eternal enough to go on forever. Yes, some things will change, but some things will remain the same.

Now, let’s look at the passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 5 because we’d like to discuss the present body that those who die now have. And we wish that the Scriptures were clearer about this, but Paul says: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” That’s 2 Corinthians 5, verse 1. Verse 2 says: “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

What does Paul mean? Now let me say that there is a debate here as to what Paul meant when he said that if we die and if this tent gets put away, we have a building of God eternal in the heavens. And the question is, is he referring to the body, and we’ll put that word in quotes for now, that people have when they die now, or is Paul looking forward to the resurrection body, our permanent eternal dwelling place?

Now, you must understand that there are really only two possibilities here. One is that when you die your body, of course, gets put into the grave, and then your soul or your mind (We sometimes refer to it as the spirit.) goes to God, and some people say that God has a body prepared for you up there–a temporary one. And then after Jesus Christ comes and the resurrection takes place, that one gets discarded and you get your permanent eternal resurrected body. The problem with that view is this: Why all this great emphasis in the Scriptures on resurrection? Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 devotes verse after verse and paragraph after paragraph to the fact that we shall be raised. It is the great hope of the church. If you already have a body in heaven, then why all this emphasis on being your permanent one? The intermediate one may serve just as well.

So, there’s another possibility, and it’s the one I prefer. And that is that the soul takes on the characteristics of the body until the day of resurrection when we get our permanent body. That is to say that the soul is able to think and communicate and talk. Remember the rich man in hell? He said, “Would you send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue?” Communication, hearing, all of the things that are necessary for us to communicate in this world and in the world to come!

Now, what makes me think that souls may have that ability? Well, I hope that you still have your Bible. Turn to the book of Revelation, chapter 6. A moment ago I read about the souls of those who were beneath the altar who were crying out and saying, “How long, O Lord, will Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” Verse 11: “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

Parenthesis! Notice how when people die they die according to God’s schedule and according to God’s will. Those who yet should be slain and be put to death had to be put to death before vengeance would be brought to that situation. But my point is in the beginning of verse 11: “There was given unto them white robes.”

“I saw the souls of those who were beneath the altar.” They are communicating. They are listening, and they can even symbolically, at least, wear a white robe. So I take it that when you leave this life and you go into the next, your soul begins to take on these characteristics so that you recognize Christ, so that you can think, so that you can feel, so that you can communicate. But what about the future body that we’re going to have, the permanent resurrected body? What a glorious, glorious experience that is going to be!

Now some people think that God is going to create it
ex nihilo. That is to say out of nothing. They say God is just going to create all these bodies for us, and they won’t have any connection with the body that we had here on earth. Listen! If that were true why wouldn’t Christ’s physical earthly body be still in the tomb, and then God create a brand new one for Him and He use that? No! There is continuity. That’s why in the Bible the early Christians always buried their dead, because the body was sown into the ground as a seed expected to bear fruit eventually in the Day of Resurrection.

We don’t have time to turn to it, but you know, in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul says: “It is sown a perishable body.” And our bodies are perishing. From the moment we are born they begin to perish. He said, “It is sown in dishonor.” You’ll notice that whenever a body is removed from a building, it is always wrapped in a shroud or a blanket is laid over the body so that you can’t see it. That is out of respect, and the shame of the body, the humiliation, the weakness of the body. Let me say it that way. The weakness of the body! You don’t even want to see it with the human eye. It is sown in weakness. It is raised in strength. It is sown in dishonor. It is raised in power.

Come with me to a hospital room and we’d go through the hallway. Here’s a young woman, 34 years old, but nonetheless dying of cancer. Here’s a man with heart disease. And if we go to another part of the hospital here are children dying of every disease known to man, including some rare diseases that have never been fully analyzed. There are so many different ways to go, and our bodies are weak and perishable. But it is raised in honor. It is raised in glory. Paul says, “It is sown a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body.” Some people have thought that means when we get to heaven we are going to be spirits, or our new body will be a spiritual body. No, not quite! You see, a spirit, like an angel! So far as we know they don’t eat any food. Those are spirits. Those are ministering spirits. But Jesus, after the resurrection said, “Come and touch me.” He said, “Handle me, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones.”

So our body is going to be a physical body with flesh and bones, but it will be recreated so that it will be eternal and indestructible, and we shall have it for all of eternity. This is the promise that we shall be like Him, the Scripture says, for we shall see Him as He is. We are going to be like Christ.

It’s so easy to pass over these truths quickly, isn’t it? But think it through. No more heartache and no more death, and no more expressways and aches and pains, and all the things that contribute to our own existence that oftentimes make us miserable. People with migraine headaches and people discovering that they have back problems, and all of that is gone, and a body that will be like that of Christ.

The next message is on heaven, but let me just tease you a little bit and tell you that it’s going to be a great place. It is absolutely going to be great. Now I can’t speak from personal experience but I do read the text of Scripture, and it lets me know how wonderful it is going to be. And one of the things is that the very desire to move from one place to another will be the ability to do it. When Jesus was in Galilee He could speak the word after the resurrection, and He would be in Jerusalem. And if they closed the door He just moved right on through, and He came right in, and you shall be like Him, for you shall see Him as He is.

Continuity absolutely, but with a difference! They noticed the nail prints in His hands, and yet, of course, in one sense it wasn’t the same body because of God’s sovereign recreation of it. And I assume that in heaven we’re going to look a little bit like we do here on earth so that we can recognize one another and talk about the good old days back at Moody Church (chuckles) which will really not be the good old days once we’re in heaven, but like Christ, and like Him and like Him forever.

You say, “Well, what about children? What about babies?” David, of course, expected to see his child. He said, “I shall go to him. He shall not return to me.” Jesus said (regarding children), “Behold the face of my father who is in heaven.” So children will be in heaven. Will they always be children? You know, James Vernon McGee believes (at least he suggested) that maybe they will be babies until their parents get there, and then they’ll have the opportunity of growing up and becoming adults. That’s possible so that the hands that never had the opportunity of holding that baby will eventually have that privilege. Certainly God will recreate them. They will have eternal bodies. There will be no limitation in heaven. We need not worry about that. Many women who have had abortions struggle with the question of how they will be reconciled to the little ones whom they have aborted. God will make sure that reconciliation takes place so that throughout all of eternity the matters that concerned us here on earth will be taken care of. And a child will be complete and will participate in the full blessings of all that God has prepared for them that love Him.

And sometimes, those of you who have lost a little one, you say, “Well, why does God take a little child?” And I’ve explained before how that when a shepherd wants to take the sheep to a part of the mountain, perhaps up a high precipice where the sheep do not want to go, he will simply reach in to the flock and take a little lamb, one on one arm and another on the other, and he will begin to walk. And as he does, the two mothers begin to follow the little lamb. And after they begin to walk along, the others reluctantly begin to follow too. And sometimes what God does is He gives us little ones and then He reminds us through their death of the fact that heaven is so real, and it is the place where all of us are going. And the affection that we have for this world is lessened as we anticipate meeting on the other side.

Remember that story of the man whose little one was buried in a cemetery, and only he and the minister went to the little grave. And it was a rainy, dismal day, and as the man was weeping over his little daughter who had died, and who they now tenderly laid away, he took the key of the casket and gave it to the keeper of the cemetery. And the minister said, “You know, you think that you’ve given the key of this casket to the keeper of the cemetery, but really that key is on the girdle of the Son of God, the one who has the keys of death and of Hades. And someday He will come and that casket will open, and your little girl will be raised.

Folks, that is the teaching of the Scriptures, and that is our hope. Some things stay the same—the knowledge that we have, the love that we have, the interaction that we remember here on earth. Some things are different. Certainly our bodies are going to be radically different. But in the end we shall be with Christ, and be like Him.

Let me make some very important conclusions. Number one, death, when you stop to think of it, is really not the enemy it appears to be on this side of the curtain. This side of the curtain—mystery? Yes! Fearful? Yes! Entering, as the song says, that vast unknown! And you remember Hamlet wrestled with the possibility of suicide. And then he concluded that “in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” What he’s saying is, “We’d like to commit suicide, but the problem is we don’t know what lies on the other side. It could be worse than what we’re experiencing here.”

What lies on the other side for the believer? Fearsome though death is, the fact is that it is still our enemy. It ruptures relationships. It brings tears. It brings loneliness. It brings heartache. That’s on this side of the curtain. On the other side of the curtain there is happiness, bliss, being with Christ, being with Him forever.

And by the way, those who do wish to commit suicide always remember that what you encounter over there may indeed be far worse than it is here. Certainly there are believers who have done that and they have, I believe, gone to Glory, but it is a fearful thing to show up in heaven at your decision rather than the decision of Christ. Death for the believer, though, is indeed not a fearful event. We will all fear it, absolutely, because on this side terror at times, but on the other side bliss and joy. And of course, as we have emphasized, it is the means that God uses to take us to heaven. You see, the Scripture says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, the way you are now you can’t go to heaven. Could you imagine being in a place that is eternal and having a corruptible body, and so you go to heaven as you are? That would really be a terrible, terrible experience. Here we are. We’re in this wonderful eternal place and here our bodies are aching and filled with pain and weakness. Impossible! So the way in which we inherit the Kingdom is God comes for us and the promise is a new resurrection, a body that fits in with the eternality of our heavenly home. Death, if we see it properly, is a friend on the other side of the curtain.

Second, death is a bend in the road, but it is not the end of the road. It’s just a bend in the road. Your consciousness continues from this part of life to the other. If you are conscious… Of course, many people may not be on this side, but if you died in an accident… Let us suppose you die very, very quickly, the consciousness just continues in a continual stream, and suddenly you are there. You’re the same person but you meet Christ and the angels as we have explained.

Do you remember that story of Dr. Sandhorn, the minister in Iowa? He went to visit this little girl who was dying one Saturday morning, and the little girl was there in the bed mumbling. And she said, “As soon as they open the gate, I will go in.” And then she said a little while later in discouragement, at least the tone of her voice seemed to indicate that, “They let Mamie go in ahead of me.” And then a little while later she said, “They let Grandpa go in ahead of me.”

Well, the pastor left and returned a little later and discovered that the girl had died. And he was so interested in who was Mamie and who was Grandpa, so he got the family together and he asked them. He wanted to follow up. Mamie was a little girl who had lived with them there in Iowa but had moved to New York. And Grandpa was a friend of the family who lived in the southwest. Pastor Sandhorn wrote letters to try to find out the whereabouts of those people and discovered that both of them had died that Saturday morning on September the 16th.

How far away is heaven? It’s just as far as a heartbeat. Boom, you’re gone! It’s just as far as an accident. It’s just as far as that report from the doctor which says that you have six months to live, and it may turn out to be three years, but nonetheless, at the end of the road you die. That’s how close heaven is.

How can Christ be with someone who dies in New York and Iowa and China at the same time? Do not ask me that question because I do not have an answer. All that I know is that Paul says here in 2 Corinthians 5… And we did not comment on it but that’s why he speaks about not wanting to be unclothed, which is another hint that really he is looking forward to the resurrection to have his permanent body, and there is no intermediate body. But you’ll notice it says in verses 6 through 8: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” That’s his preference. But nevertheless he says: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” That’s a choice that God makes.

All of us want to live as long as we possibly can, but I want you to know today that when God’s number strikes, when the clock comes to get you, if you are a believer in Christ, if you have embraced His promises, He will be there to meet you, and all will be well. All will be well!

Yesterday some of us attended a symposium on the city—the changes taking place in the city of Chicago, the poverty and all of these issues that are so important, and it was very helpful for us to be there. One of the things that we did not get a chance to emphasize is that it is a responsibility of the ministers not only to be involved in these issues but to prepare men and women for eternity. There is a life to come. That you will die and stand before God is as certain as the sunrise.

I wish I could say that everybody is going to be in heaven. No, Jesus said the way to heaven is narrow and few there be that find it. Why? It’s because you have to admit your helplessness and your sinfulness, and cleave to Christ. And people say, “I don’t want to do that. I’m a good person,” not realizing that many good persons will be in hell. And a message on hell is a part of this series.

Let me ask you today. Is your trust in Christ alone? Have you given up all hope of impressing Him with your good deeds? Do you see how trivial they are in the presence of God? The Bible says that if you believe on Him there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ. But those who die without Him, it is so fearful, we can scarcely speak about it. Think of Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ. To die is gain.” To abide in the flesh is needful. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

Let us pray. Our Father, we thank you for the revelation that You have given us, and though the curtain that separates us from eternity seems to be thick and veiled, you have in your grace enabled us to take at least a brief glimpse of the other side. Thank You, Father, for those who are even now in Your presence, friends of ours, wives and children and husbands, and uncles and aunts and cousins. Thank You, Father, and we pray today that we might live in light of coming eternity.

Before I close this prayer I want to give you an opportunity to receive Christ as your Savior, even where you are seated. If you don’t know Him, why don’t you just pray right now and say, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. Save me. Save me from my sins. I trust You alone at this moment.” You tell Him that, would you?

Father, we pray that the work that You begin in the lives of people will not end until it has been completed. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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