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View From Death's Door - Part 1 - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, "A grave, wherever found, reaches a short and pithy sermon to the soul." He's right! Cemeteries remind us of our future on this earth--the only real estate we'll hold onto for awhile! But what happens to a believer after death? What about those who have died already? What are they doing now? Today and next week we will look at the experience of the death of the believer and what takes place afterwards.

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5/4/2008
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View From Death's Door - Part 1
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Skip Heitzig
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Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, "A grave, wherever found, reaches a short and pithy sermon to the soul." He's right! Cemeteries remind us of our future on this earth--the only real estate we'll hold onto for awhile! But what happens to a believer after death? What about those who have died already? What are they doing now? Today and next week we will look at the experience of the death of the believer and what takes place afterwards.
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From the Edge of Eternity

From the Edge of Eternity

What happens when a believer dies? What will heaven be like? What about infants and children who die? When do our bodies get resurrected? What will they be like? These questions and more occupy our thoughts from time to time. In this new series, From the Edge of Eternity, we will follow a believer from death into the different stages of eternity: the Intermediate State, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom Age and the Eternal State. Since forever is a long time, it only makes sense that we both understand and prepare for this "ultimate journey".

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Outline

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I. The Ignorance of Death (Vs. 13)

A. It is Widespread

B. It Concerns Loved Ones

C. It Produces Hopelessness


II. The Assurance at Death (Vss. 14-17)

A. Based on Redemption

B. Marked by Relation

C. Leads to Resurrection

D. Ends in Reunion


Some "Grave" Questions:

1.
Why does the Bible call death the "last enemy"? (1 Corinthians 15:26). Why is it an enemy?

2. Why do you suppose people are afraid to talk about death? What feelings arise in you when the discussion comes up?

3. In your own words, what's the difference between good, healthy grief and unhealthy grief?

Transcript

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hearts, minds switched on, Bibles opened up to I Thessalonians chapter 4. Let's have a word of prayer. Lord, through this entire service we have invited you to be our honored guest. You're the one that we sing about, rejoice in, sing to and worship. And now you're the one Lord that we invite by your Holy Spirit to teach us through your revelation the word of God. We're here Lord because we want your answers, your truth, without any kind of agenda pushed, just the pure milk of the word that we might grow thereby as Peter said. We pray Father that you would break through any preconceptions that we might have or walls that we put up and remind us Lord of how much you love us by the future that is in store for us. Thank you Lord for life that goes far beyond this temporary existence. I pray that we might learn and rejoice and that we might be altered because of what we learn. In Jesus' name. Amen.
You know that if you walk into a store where there's magazine racks, there's publications all about life. In fact, there was until a year ago a magazine called Life magazine that for years gave us little snippets and insights into life all around the world. There's magazines about hobbies, about news, about people and many of them use the word life. When I grew up there was Boy's Life and then Girl's Life and then now there's Women's Life. There's a magazine called Mac Life if you really think that Macintosh computer are your life. There's a magazine called Best Life, another one called Natural Life, another one called Vermont Life, and several states have such titles. You'll probably never find a magazine called Death magazine, or Dying Today magazine, or Dead People. You'll find People but it's all of these living people, you'll never find Dead People magazine. Or, you'll never find one called Victorian Cemeteries. Or, a magainze called Deathweek, you won't find that. It's all about living, it's all about life and the focus of publications, the focus of most everyone is what goes on here during this life. But we all know that death is a part of life. We all know, though rarely do we think about it, we don't like to think, it's so unpleasant, that one day the future real estate isn't our own homes with an acre or two or much smaller, but just a little plot of land six feet underground. We'll be there, our bodies, unless the Lord returns anytime soon, we'll be there for a long time. Malcolm Mugridge used to say when he was living here on earth, he said, "I have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, and the foot on earth is on a banana peel." He knew that life was precarious here. It doesn't matter if we work out, if we eat right, if we take vitamins, count calories, pump iron, stretch our faces back; eventually we lose that battle and death will overtake us. There's even a Washington, D. C. undertaker that signs all of his correspondence, instead of like we write "cordially yours," he always ends his letters, "eventually yours," just to remind people where they're all heading.
I've done funerals for over twenty-five years, I've buried hundreds of people: young, younger, middle-aged, old, believers, unbelievers. I've watched many people die over the years including my own mother this last years. And I've learned as few things in doing that and then watching people die. I've learned that you want to live in such a way so that when you die you're going to be missed and you're going to be ready for the future, without any regrets and without any longings that you should have done something different for the future.
I hear a story about three guys, they all died in the same auto accident, they were taken up to sort of an eternal holding tank for orientation. They were all asked this question: If during your funeral, as people are mourning your loss and they're saying things about you and they're weeping over your casket, what is the one thing you'd like people to say about you? One guy said, "Well I'd like them to say that I was a wonderful family man and doctor." The second guy said, "I'd like them to say that I was a great teacher who helped kids out and I loved my wife with all my heart." The third guy thought about it a while and he said, "I think I'd like to hear people say, Look he's moving!" Now there's a guy who lived with some regrets. There's a guy that didn't want to end it all, he wanted to go back, he lived in ignorance and without any assurance. And those are the two things that I want to talk to you about out of this text. I want to talk about the ignorance concerning death and the assurance that as believers we have concerning death. Those two themes emerge side by side in verses 13 through 18 of I Thessalonians chapter 4. 
So let's look at those verses together. "But I do not want you to be ignorant brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. And then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." Now those verses that we just read out of I Thessalonians chapter 4 will occupy our time this week and next week as we look at "A View from Death's Door." And we want to follow those themes of ignorance and assurance that Paul is writing about. Ignorance concerning death and assurance that we can have concerning death. Because this section will answer many questions that we have. Questions like (and we discussed a few of them last and that we said we want to answer some of this series): What happens at the moment of death? When we die, are we unconscious, are we what some people call in soul sleep, since Paul says "those who sleep in Christ," does that mean we're unconscious during that time? When will the resurrection take place? Is it proper to grieve, when a believer dies? Or, though Jesus Christ triumphed over death by resurrection and promises triumph over death to believers (Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in me will never die.') why is it that Christians still die? When will death eventually be over with? If what Paul said is correct, the last enemy that will be defeated is death, when will that take place?
Now just a little background before we jump in and again we're only going to cover part of this tonight, not the whole thing, it'll take at least two weeks to get through it. But here's the deal, Paul on his second trip, he called it his second missionary journey stopped by the town of Thessalonica and there for three successive weekends, Sabbath days, he preached the gospel in the synagogue. People came to faith in Christ. Because of an uproar, a persecution that took place, Paul had to for his own life get out of town. But a body of believers was established there, saved from the Greco-Roman pagan world. Now they're believers in Christ. Paul had been telling them that Jesus Christ is going to come back, be ready for him, he could come at any moment. But time passed, and during that time, relatives, friends, loved ones died and now they're worried. And Paul gets wind of the idea, the fact that they're worried. They're worried because, wait a minute, if Jesus is going to come back and start his kingdom again here, what about my friends? What about my relatives? Those who have died, will they miss out on all of that? They were panicking because some of the people that they though would share in that glory have died and so he writes about that.
So let's consider tonight the ignorance of death. And again, look at verse 13, that's where we want to camp tonight. "I don not want you to be ignorant brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as those who have no hope." Now something that Paul does bring up in this verse that I do want you to notice is just how widespread ignorance of death is. He's writing to Christians and he says, "I don't want you to be ignorant brethren." Who are brethren? Brethren are Christian believers. Now you don't tell somebody, "Look I'm writing because I want to dispel your ignorance," unless there is a level of ignorance among those you're writing to. So even though they were believers in Christ, there ws a level of ignorance about death that they held.
And it isn't ceased from that time onward. I read a story about a man who got up every morning and read the newspaper. But he'd always read the obituaries first. Every day he read the obituaries. Finally he turned to one of his relatives and he says, "I just can't figure out how it is that people can died in alphabetical order."
Well, non-Christians and Christians are uninformed or misinformed when it comes to death and dying. I've always loved the little quip about the four-year-old boy with his dad on the beach. The four-year-old boy grabs Dad, his dad's a Christian man, been in the church a long time. And the little boy brought his dad over to a dead seagull and said, "What happened here?" And the dad came up with the dad explanation, "The bird died and went to heaven." And so the little boy looked down and looked up at his dad and finally said, "Well then why did God throw him back down?" I think that's an excellent question if you're going to explain it like that. We sometimes don't do a whole lot better when it comes to explaining death and the afterlife.
Okay, the people in Thessalonica were surrounded by a culture of ignorance and I want to explain briefly to you what the Greeks and the Romans thought about death just so your know how important this statement in verse 13 is. Most of you know that the Greek culture was filled with mythology. They had several gods in the pantheon of deities that they thought existed and believed in. And one of the lesser deities was a god named Phanatos. Phanatos, we get the idea of death from that. Phanatos was the personification of death and mortality. Phanatos was the offspring of two gods, Nix and Arabos which means night and darkness and he had a twin brother by the name of Hipnos where the idea of sleep comes from. According to their mythology, Phanatos despised human beings and human beings Phanatos. And so there are some Greek stories of how certain people cheated Phanatos, cheated death and were able to live longer than expected. Now that's sort of the nutshell of what Greeks believed. 
The Roman culture displayed as much ignorance as the Greek culture and that's evidenced by reading some of the tombstones you can still find in Rome today. Go down below the city and there's miles of catacombs and many of those graves were filled with the unbelieving remains of people who occupied them. Here's a few of the gravestones: Some were apathetic about life and death and on one tombstone it reads, "I was not, I became, I am not, I care not." Another Roman grave, it's on the tombstone reads, "Live for the present hour since there is nothing else." And yet another gravestone expresses some of the religious superstition that some Romans had, reads, "I life up myt hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm." This is what happened when a Roman died: When a Roman citizen died they laid the body out and they put a coin in the body's mouth, the persons' mouth. Now the coin was to pay the fare to a deity called on Care-on who was the, sort of the guardian in the underworld, the ferryman in the underworld who would convey the person's soul across a river, the River Stooks. And your soul would take the journey across the river where you would be met by three judges who would demand an account of your life, three would be impartial. If you were a warrior or a hero your soul was sent to a place called the Elyssian Fields or sort of an ancient view of Paradise. If you were an honorable citizen, your soul would be ushered somewhere else, if you really perturbed the gods, then you would pay for your misdeeds, you'd pay off the debt to society only for a period of time, there was never a thought of eternal punishment in the Roman world. So that's the ideology, some of them, that these Thessalonians were surrounded with. So it helps to know that when you read this verse, "I don't want you to be ignorant brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope." The Greco-Roman world was empty, hopeless, bankrupt, when it comes to anything eternal. 
And young believers in Thessalonica, though they heard the gospel and rejoiced in salvation and were told that Jesus was going to come, they thought he's going to come like tomorrow, like next week, or like next month. And then months go on and then people die and they wonder, "Well now what's going to happen? Are they going to cease to exist? That's what we've always been taught. Or have they been taken somewhere else? Those are the kind of questions that filled their minds. So the ignorance was pretty widespread. 
Now that ignorance continues today in our modern sophisticated educated world, both among believers as well as in the secular world. I think you know a lot of them already. Ask the average person about death, heaven, hell, the afterlife and they'll probably say things like, "Well, all you've got to do to go to heaven is just die." And that's what I've noticed at funerals, here's a person who lived his whole life without any thought about God at all, suddenly when they die there's some preacher who will wonderful things and now they're in heaven. So all you've got to do to get to heaven is die. Or, people will say, "Well if you're good enough you'll get to heaven. All good people go to heaven." Or, "Everybody goes to heaven." You know you never hear anybody stand up at a funeral and say, "Today we're remembering somebody who's not in heaven." You'll never see that at a funeral, it would be very disturbing to see it. And yet Jesus taught that only very few people go to heaven, right? He said, "Broad is the way that leads to destruction and many enter therein. Narrow is the way that leads ot eternal life and only a few enter therein."
So what do people think? Well the materialist believes in extinction: You live, you die, there's nothing else, no hope to look forward to, no afterlife, nothing at all. Make the best of it because after death you just cease to exist in complete unconsciousness. Other who are a little more superstitious, more along the new age lines will teach absorption, that we're all part of a divine cosmic mind, they'll even call it the Christ mind, and we'll all merge back into that united mind, whatever that means, though I've read stuff, I still don't get what they mean by it.
In other parts of the world, people hold to an animistic belief, tribal religions, that when you die your would stays on earth or goes to the underworld where you merge with the souls of your ancestors and you forever eternally wander, without any joy, without any sorrow at all. 
Hindus believe in reincarnation, that's a pantheistic worldview. It says the soul is recycled from one form to another. It's become very popular in our culture, though even in my unbelieving days it did not seem attractive to me. The idea of coming back here and going through certain experiences again was not attractive to me. I don't want to go through diapers again. I don't want to do another first date ever again. I don't want to have to take high school English ever again. There's just certain things I'd like to just not do. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, it's over. 
One of the big causes of ignorance in our culture over the last several years, I'll say thirty years, is a thing called near-death experiences, which used to be more prominent, doctors will say you read less of them because people are more drugged and sedate when they approach death than they were back then. But there are several books about that, especially from the past. Raymond Moody wrote a book called Life After Life where he interviews several people who have similar experiences. They die, they're pronounced dead, they even hear the pronouncement of their own death. They're out of they're body in this temporary state, they meet friends, they meet relatives and some of them even, most of them even talk about this "being of great light" that they saw who accepted them no matter how they lived, no matter what they had done. This being of great light is waiting for them. Of course I cringe when I read that because the Bible does say that Satan is an angel of light and he masquerades as such and he would love people to live in a cavalier nonchalant way all through their life with no worry about eternity at all. 
Probably the most famous book was on the New York Times Bestseller List for forty straight weeks. It was a book years ago by a woman named Betty Edie, a book called Embraced by the Light." One of the unique things about her experience is she said she saw herself pronounced dead, she went out of her body and she met Jesus Christ she said. But when you read the account, it's not the Jesus Christ of the New Testament. In fact, this Jesus says we're not sinful people that need redemption, in fact all of us, we're spirit beings that actually helped God in the original creation of the earth.
So you have a lot of these stories where people read them and go, "Wow! Here's a person who's been there, they were on the threshold and they saw and now they wrote about it." But you're only getting part of the picture. You're not getting all of those other experiences that nobody wants to write about. You do, "What are you talking about?" Well there was a book put out by a cardiologist named Dr. Marras Rollings, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee. He was not a believer at all in anything supernatural, didn't believe in heaven, didn't believe in hell. Until he watched hundreds of his own patients die and come back. And he wrote a book called Beyond Death's Door. In which he wrote among other things these words: "I'm thoroughly convinced that there is life after death and that there are at least as many going to hell as going to heaven. The turning point in my own concepts occurred when a patient experienced cardiac arrest and dropped dead right in my office. Of course, that alone didn't change my thinking but the fact that this forty-eight-year-old was screaming these words, "I'm in hell! Keep me out of hell!" each time he responded to resuscitation efforts did cause me some concern. And then he wrote, "About fifty percent of the revived persons told of having gone to a place of great darkness, not light, filled with grotesque moaning and writhing bodies crying out to be rescued from this place with overwhelming feeling of eerie nightmarish terror." And so then he writes, "Why is it then that those books aren't written about and those stories aren't published but all the other stories, ‘a bright light, friends, relatives, being of light,' all of that, why are those published? He says, "Because people are too embarrassed to admit them and doctors are too embarrassed to make inquiries into such matters. But nobody can afford," he says "to ignore the reports of these patients. I'm convinced that there is a hell and that we must conduct ourselves in such a way as to avoid being sent there at all costs." Good words to heed. Good words to heed, "Avoid going to hell at all costs."
So Paul writes to dispel ignorance. And the ignorance for the Thessalonian believers was much of what the world around them told them about life and death and the afterlife. And so much of what people today buy is what books are written and what popular philosophers tell them, not what the Bible says.
The second thing I want you to notice also in verse 13 is that this ignorance is concerning the loved ones who had died. "I do not want you to be ignorant brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep." Now he's referring to Christians who have died and yet he uses the term "fallen asleep." He uses it three times. I want you to notice that's the first one. Verse 14, "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus." Verse 15, "For we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep." Now the margin of my Bible, every time it says sleep or asleep says dead or have died. That's in the margin of the Bible. But the word sleep refers to somebody who died. Now we know that by, you keep reading and you understand it, verse 16, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of an archangel with the trumpet of God and the dead (there it is, the dead) in Christ will rise first. So those who are asleep is simply a way of saying Christians who have died. So that begs this question: Why does he use that term then? Why does he say sleep? Does not infer that you're unconscious, does that mean you're sort of in a suspended state of stasis where you don't know what's going on until the resurrection? Is your soul dormant until then? Answer: No. Sleep is a biblical description and the reason it's used is because of the appearance of the body at death, it looks like the person's sleeping. They're laid out, their eyes have been closed. And it has the physical appearance of being still of somebody who's being asleep. The word sleep by the way in all three of these verses is the word coimao. Coimao, sleep. We use it in a modern term cemetery, coimaterion, a sleeping place. But it refers to those who have died. Now that's what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about death and a coming resurrection. Listen to what he said in John chapter 11 about his friend Lazarus. Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going there to wake him up." How is he going to wake him up? A resurrection, right? He had physically died and Jesus was going to physically resurrect him. "I'm going to go wake him up." It's a description. The disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps he'll get better." Whew, it was right over their head. Jesus had been speaking of his death but his disciples thought that he meant natural sleep. So then Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus is dead. Now that's the same description given in Acts chapter 7 when Stephen dies and the New Testament author Luke said, "He fell asleep." It's a New Testament and even an Old Testament description of a person who dies. In the Old Testament sometimes kings, it says "they slept with their fathers." Or, the psalmist, Psalm 13 says, "Revive my life lest I sleep the sleep of death." So, Christians use the term sleep not only because the appearance of the body but because asleep in temporary. You take a nap, you wake up. And the waking up part is the resurrection. So in Daniel chapter 12, verse 2, "Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. That's funny, when you're a child you fight sleep. "It's time to go to bed." "No!" It's like the worst thing in the world. You know it's like the best thing for you, "No, please, let me stay up." Let me just stay up til like four in the morning and ruin my life. No, time to go to bed. Or, how about in the afternoon? "I want you to take a nap." "Oh, do I have to?" It's like punishment when you're a kid. The older you get though, that changes. It's a reward, not a punishment. "I get to take a nap?" Now the reason we're never worried about taking a nap or going to sleep at night is because we know we're going to wake up. So a Christian has no more to fear about death than anyone taking a nap. They're going to get up and that getting up will be resurrection of the body.
Now I want you to turn with me to Luke chapter 16 for a moment. Luke chapter 16, it's got a very interesting story that will help us tonight and in the weeks ahead to get a handle on. And I say it's a story, it's not a parable because whenever you read a parable Jesus will say, "Hear a parable." Or, he'll compare something, it's very obvious. But this is a story, not a parable. Luke chapter 16 beginning in verse 19 Jesus asserts, "There was a certain rich man." Now it's a story not a parable. "There was a certain rich man who as clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus full of sores who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the master's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died." (Everybody goes ooogh when they hear that, when, "Ooogh licked his sores, that's such a graphic, licked his sores, gross.") So it was that the beggar died and he 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. And he cried out and he said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of finger in water and cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, ‘Son remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and likewise Lazarus evil things. But now he is comforted, you are tormented. Beside all of this, between us and you there's a great gulf fixed so that those who want to pass from here cannot nor can those from there pass to us.' And then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house for I have five brothers that he would testify to them lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.' And he said, ‘No Father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead they will repent.' But he said to them, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets or the word of God neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'" Now we could spend a couple weeks on just that parable. This what I want you to notice: It's pretty obvious that after a person dies they're fully conscious, they're fully aware. They're not in some kind of soul sleep, they can feel, they can emote, they're very very conscious. There's pain as well as comfort. Now notice this guy is so alarmed by his situation, being in Hades, he wants to get word back to his brothers. Notice what he says in verse 28, you just can't pass this by, "I've got five brothers, I want him to testify to them lest they come to this place of torment." You know, it's not what some people say, "Yeah man, I want to go to hell. And I just can't wait til people come and join me because we're going to party." Unh-uh, this guy woke up in hell and he's very conscious and he's alarmed and he doesn't want people to follow him there. So, what do we know that happens when a person dies? Or, let's narrow that, what happens when a Christian dies? You're going to be very conscious. You'll be comforted. You're going to feel really good. If you're in pain now and suffering that bad back or that chronic disease or that horrible situation that will cause your eventual death, you'll be conscious but you'll be comforted. That's number one. Number two, you'll be immediately in God's presence. Immediately, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just right there in God's presence. We know that because Paul wrote to the Corinthians, II Corinthians chapter 5 verse 8, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." That's not all he said. He was writing a letter to the Philippians, he was in prison and he said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." And then he said, "You know, I'm in a quandary here, I'm sort of in this straight between two feelings and opinions. On one hand, I want to stay here because it's more profitable for you, I can minister to you. Or, I can be with Christ which is far better." He said, ‘far better.' He wouldn't have used those terms if he thought, "I'm going to die and death ends it all and I go into soul sleep for X amount of years til the resurrection." "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." It's gain, it's far better because for me to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That's why Jesus said and this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Whoever believes in me will never die." Not physical death, you'll go on and experience consciousness and bliss and comfort in the presence of the Lord.
So you'll be conscious, you'll immediately be in God's presence, here's a third thing that we know happens to a Christian when they die, immediately upon death your soul is perfected in holiness. Your old sin nature is eradicated. Boy, I hope you think that's good news. What that means to us is the fight is over, completely over, there's no struggle any more with flesh and blood, with temptation. It says in Hebrews 12 verse 23, it speaks of the "spirits of the redeemed in heaven now made perfect." You're in a glorified state at that point, the fight is over. So what will we be doing specifically then in this heaven, in this other side, in what some theologians (and I'll discuss it more next week) called the intermediate state, because I don't know if you know this or not but you talk about dying and going to heaven, there's a lot more to it than just that heaven. There's phases of heaven that you'll be experiencing in the future. But I want to save something for next time.
The third thing I want you to notice back in I Thessalonians chapter 4 is that the ignorance, whether it's by the Thessalonians or by the Americans, this ignorance will produce hopelessness. Again look at verse 13, "I do not want you to be ignorant brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope." He didn't say, "Lest you sorrow," period. He believes they're going to sorrow, everybody does. But, "Lest you sorrow like those who have no hope." Ignorance about death and the afterlife, like the Thessalonians had about their loved ones, would end up in a hopeless kind of a grief. You've heard of good grief, this would be bad grief, bad grief.
Back in the 1960s, a LSD guru by the name of Dr. Timothy Leary, everybody who lived back then heard of them. He thought he was very cool and all the kids thought he was cool and it's all, you know, get high and tune out, drop out, you know tune in. You know, all that stuff, take LSD. And he laughed about death, he laughed about the afterlife. And he said that when I die I plan to have my body and brain cryonically frozen. And so he would always laugh about death. One of his closest friends who knew him best said these words, "Even though he joked about death, he is as afraid of dying as anyone," said his friend. "Maybe moreso because he really doesn't believe there's anything that comes after this." That's the situation we're talking about here. That's grieving like people who have no hope. For Timothy Leary, for materialists, for a host of others, death is a hopeless end. For a Christian, death is an endless hope. It's not the end. It's the beginning of a whole new phase of existence, the beginning of something much more wonderful in eternity.
Now again I just want to cover this point: Paul is not saying Christians don't grieve. Just simply our grief is different from hopeless people. Hopeless people grieve and people with hope grieve but we grieve differently than people who are hopeless. You see when a believer dies, oh it's great for the believer but it's not great for us. You know, I don't walk up to a funeral and say, "Quit crying. They're in heaven, what are you worried about?" That'd be so cruel and heartless. Yet it's gain for the person who's in heaven but it's loss for the people who are still slugging it out on earth without the friendship, without the love of that person. So we can't be cavalier about it. The Bible's filled with people grieved. Jacob when he thought that his son Joseph was torn by wild beasts, mourned for many days. David, when he heard that his son Absalom was killed, did he go, "Oh, too bad." He said, "Oh my son Absalom, if only I would have died instead of you." And what about Jesus at the funeral of Lazarus? He knew what was coming and yet he said, it says in there, "Jesus wept." Jesus wept. Our grief however is different. It's filled with hope. And you could, if you wanted to write in the margin of your Bible, this is what hope means here, confident expectation. Confident. It's not a guy crossing his fingers and going, "I hope this really works. I hope this faith-stuff like pays off." No the idea of hope here, elpeda, el pedas, means a confident assurance or expectation. In other words, it ain't over yet, it's just the beginning. 
We are assured of resurrection. We're assured of a restoration. We're assured of a reunion. All of the things that Paul will talk about in the next several verses. And that's why he closes out in verse 18, "Therefore comfort one another with these words." And those comforting words are the words we want to look at next time when we look at the assurance part of that text.
Martin Luther was not only a great theologian, he was one who mourned and grieved over the death of his fourteen-year-old daughter. It's an interesting story. When she lay sick and about to die and he didn't know if she was going to live or die, Martin Luther prayed like any dad would, "Oh God, oh God, please, I love her so much. Not my will but your will be done." He would always end his prayers that way. And then he would go over to his daughter's deathbed and say, "Dear sweet Magdalena, would you rather stay here on earth with Daddy or would you rather go to be with your Father in heaven?" And she would always answer, "As the Lord wills, Papa. As the Lord wills." Well she did die, they laid her to rest and at that service Martin Luther said, "Oh my dear Magdalena, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. How strange to be so sorrowful and yet to know that all is at peace and that all is well." Very similar to the hymnwriter who wrote that hymn at sea where his children died, "It is well. It is well with my soul." That's sorrowing differently from people who are hopeless.
So if I were to answer that question that those three guys had to answer, you know, "When you're in your casket and people are gathered around you, what's the one thing you want to hear people saying?" It's not, "He's moving." I don't want to hear that, I'd be, I don't want to come back. I don't want to hear, "He's moving." I want to hear something like, "He's not moving. But he's really living right now." Because that will be the truth.
Our heavenly Father, so many times Paul wrote, "I don't want you to be ignorant." Or, "I want you to know." Or, "This we know." When it comes to these eternal matters, though there's still that veil that we don't see here in the physical realm, in the temporal reality yet. The veil has been lifted by the Lord Jesus, by the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, Peter, John, Isaiah, Ezekiel, others. So we can see and have confidence and not live in ignorance. Lord, as widespread as ignorance is about eternal matters I pray that it would not be so among us. That we would know and in knowing about our loved ones and knowing what we might face even in our short-term future with this thing called death, that we would have hope and not hopelessness. A confident expectation of what is on the other side, that we're going to be conscious, we're going to be with you, present with you. And there's so much more. I just pray that you would ready our hearts for the things we learn in the next several weeks ahead. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Additional Messages in this Series

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4/27/2008
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The Ultimate Journey
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
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What happens when a believer dies? What will heaven be like? What about infants and children who die? When do our bodies get resurrected? What will they be like? These questions and more occupy our thoughts from time to time. In this series, From the Edge of Eternity, we will follow a believer from death into the different stages of eternity: the Intermediate State, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom Age and the Eternal State. Since forever is a long time, it only makes sense that we both understand and prepare for this "ultimate journey."
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5/11/2008
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View from Death's Door - Part 2
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
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How can mortal man penetrate beyond the grave and find assurance and peace for his own heart? Philosophers won't help--they've been for centuries discussing life and death without any resolve. Scientists don't want to tread into the area of wrestling with such questions. Paul solved the problem when he wrote, "For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord." We don’t need to wonder or speculate. Why substitute human speculation when we have divine revelation?
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5/18/2008
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Groaning for Glory
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
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What sort of existence and experiences are departed believers enjoying right now? Is the heaven we go to when we die our final destination? Paul described it as "far better" (Phil. 1:23) but it's going to get even much better! Paul lightly touches on what happens when a Christian dies and awaits the resurrection, but it's enough to give us confidence. Let's consider today the "intermediate" or temporary transitional heaven before the resurrection of our bodies.
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5/25/2008
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Rise and Shine!
1 Corinthians 15:3-4;15:20-28
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My mom used to saunter into my room to wake me up in the morning with a sweet call to "rise and shine!" One day our Savior will give a call for all His children to do the same! This week and next week we will be considering the resurrection of our bodies. Why is resurrection even necessary? What will our resurrected bodies be like? What capabilities will they possess? Will babies always be babies and the elderly always remain elderly when resurrected? As we begin, know this: the idea of resurrection isn't just a New Testament idea; it began long, long ago!
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6/1/2008
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Getting the Body You've Always Wanted
1 Corinthians 15:35-50
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I know I've gotten your attention with the title! This is one of our culture's driving goals--to look trimmer, healthier, younger and stronger than we are. The solution happens to be in the future with the resurrection of our bodies--it will be the body you've always wanted. Scripture gives some wonderful descriptions of the future strength, beauty and permanence of our resurrected body. Let's consider what the Bible says about how you'll look then.
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6/8/2008
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Jesus, Friend of Children
Matthew 19:13-15
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Today's subject is a tender one. The death of infants and children is the greatest fear of any parent. Does the Bible speak clearly about what happens when they die? It certainly does and it also gives great comfort to many who suffer the horrible loss of a little one. In this series on Eternity we must consider this subject since it affects so many and will also help us understand the fate of those who, like children, have diminished capacities.
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6/22/2008
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A Sneak-Peek Into What's Up There
Revelation 4:1-3
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In the early morning of his last day on earth, Dwight L. Moody, awoke suddenly and said, "Earth recedes; heaven opens before me." Those near him thought he was dreaming. "No, this is no dream, it is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go." After that sneak-peek of heaven, Mr. Moody entered his heavenly home. Today lets begin to consider our future home by glimpsing God’s heavenly Throne Room.
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6/29/2008
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What on Earth is Going On in Heaven?
Revelation 4-5
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The above title is more than just a play on words. Although there will be many activities going on in heaven, worship is one of the few things that we can do "down here" on earth that we will also do "up there" in heaven. That means that one of the ways you can get closer to heaven is to engage in biblical worship right now. Let's tag along with John for his extended tour of heaven.
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7/13/2008
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Gold, Silver, or Bronze?
2 Corinthians 5:9-11
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Next month, the eyes of the world will be on the Olympic Games in Beijing. Athletes from all over the world will compete, hoping to win the gold, silver or bronze medals that rank them as being some of the best on earth. This image of receiving an award from a judge on the raised platform of the Olympic Games is what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the future judgment of believers for their works on earth. Let’s see what this means.
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7/20/2008
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Heaven on Earth - Part 1
Revelation 20:1-3
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Mankind long ago gave up on the idea of a future Utopia. The idea of perpetual peace and undisturbed harmony became the stuff of fairy tale books. But that is precisely what God promised He will bring to this earth one day. And even though Satan has exercised a temporary authority over God's creation for several millennia, the story isn't over yet. Jesus Christ, who came two millennia ago as Savior, will return to rule as Sovereign for a thousand years. And no, this won't just be a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of His followers. This will be a literal dominion over a renewed earth. Let's explore this 1000 year phase of your eternal future.
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7/27/2008
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Heaven on Earth - Part 2: The Bad Guy is Bound
Revelation 20:1-3
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This world has been so tainted and marred with sin and Satanic deception that it's impossible for us to even imagine what it would be like with Him out of the way. Thankfully we have a clear description of what that will be like during the 1000 year reign of Christ in the Kingdom Age. Today we see the drama of Satan's arrest and incarceration, as the ultimate "bad guy" gets put away to make way for this future era of peace, prosperity and righteousness.
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8/10/2008
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Heaven on Earth - Part 3: When Politics are Perfect
Revelation 20:4-6
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It's the political season in our country and both sides are ramping up their platform to get as many votes as possible. The country is sharply divided on the two candidates but one thing is certain according to a recent poll: Americans consider both candidates to be risky if elected president. In Christ's Kingdom on earth, Christ will reign and all those who help Him administer will be in a glorified state, thereby minimizing any risk for shady politics. Get ready--you’re going to be part of the future political agenda of the King of Kings.
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8/17/2008
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Six Things That Will Surprise You About Heaven
Revelation 21:1-8
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I began this series talking about all the things I heard people say at funerals about the afterlife, from turning into angels when you die to having to answer Peter's questions at the gates of heaven. I have discovered that most people's (even Christians) ideas about what heaven will be like are vastly different that what Scripture reveals. We turn now to the Eternal State--after our initial experience of the Throne room of heaven, after our bodily resurrection at the Rapture, after the Millennial Reign of Christ. Here's a few things that might surprise you further:
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8/24/2008
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Future-Town - Part 1
Revelation 21:9-21
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Our English word town is related to the German word zaun (tuin in Dutch). The original idea behind the meaning referred to a space that a fence or wall would enclose. The town of the future described in this chapter, also enclosed by a wall, will be so magnificent that even John's depiction leaves us scratching our heads. This is God's revelation of the future Eternal dwelling of all believers. Let's do a walk-through today.
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9/7/2008
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Future-Town - Part 2
Revelation 21:22-22:5
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Today we will conduct a walk-through of your ultimate destination as a believer. We will walk with John as he describes what he saw as he was shown the New Jerusalem. It will be a social environment with such unique features, you'll have to bend and stretch your imagination just a bit. I will sum up this future cityscape by describing five conditions that will exist in God's Town
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9/14/2008
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Living Between Two Worlds
Philippians 1:19-26
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After studying about the believer's death, resurrection and heaven for four months now, maybe you can relate to these words by Puritan author, Thomas Watson, "Spiritual things satisfy; the more of heaven is in us, the less earth will content us." Knowing what we know now about the believer's future world, how can life be different in this present world?
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There are 16 additional messages in this series.