During the Interval
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:1-8
Transcript of our Sermon Audio:
I'd invite you to take your Bible and turn to 2 Corinthians 5. 2 Corinthians 5, why don't you stand as we read God's word together.
We're in a series on heaven, a series I've called, "Life After Life." And this morning, we're coming to look at the subject of what's called the intermediate state. What happens to Christians who die before the rapture and before the resurrection? What are they doing? Where are they? What do they look like? I'm going to try and answer those questions this morning. And Paul answers that question for us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, a message I've called, "During the Interval."
Here's what Paul says, "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."
So reads God's word, you may be seated.
Joe Lewis, the famous heavyweight boxing champion, used to say, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there." Probably true.
Woody Allen, the Hollywood actor and director, said this, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live in the hearts of my countrymen, I want to live in my apartment." I think we can all kind of understand that.
Like it or not, death is part of life. There's no escaping that fact. The last time I looked, the statistics told me one out of one people die. "We must go the way of all flesh," says the Bible. "It is appointed unto man once to die," says the Bible. That's why someone had written on their headstone these words, "I knew this was going to happen." And so do we. And we tend to put the thought out of our mind.
So by observation, we know people die. But through revelation, the word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we believe that the dead rise. That there is a resurrection unto life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By observation, we know we die. By revelation, we believe there will be a resurrection unto life because of our faith in Jesus Christ.
So that raises a question, what happens to our loved ones between death and the resurrection? What happens to people during what theologians call the intermediate state? I want to answer that question. We're in a series on heaven. We started it last week with a look at Colossians 3:1-4, and a reminder that we're to set our affection on things above. Heaven has already begun. We have been born from above. The presence and promise of heaven through the Holy Spirit is already at work in our lives. We mustn't loiter on our way to heaven, as was true of David Brainerd.
That's where we started. But as we continue our series, Life After Life, I want to come and look at this intermediate state. I want to look at what happens to the saints of God during the interval between death and the resurrection from among the dead.
It's a great question. In fact, it was a question asked by the Thessalonians. If you remember, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is answering a question, and he begins that section with these words, "I do not want you ignorant, brethren. I want you to know about those who have fallen asleep in Jesus."
You see, Paul had filled their minds and hearts with the thought of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, the rapture, the snatching away, the catching up of the saints. In the in between, some had died. Conclusion: they're going to miss the rapture. What has happened to them? What will happen to them? And so Paul writes to answer that question. It was a real question, what happens to those who die before the rapture? Those who die before the resurrection, where are they? What are they like? What are they doing?
I actually want to come to 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, because I think Paul fully answers that question in these verses. Now let's put the text in its context. Before we look at verses one through eight, I want to make an argument that this is a very poor and unfortunate chapter division. You do know, don't you, our chapter divisions and our verses are not inspired. We added those for readability and for flow. And they can be very helpful.
But this is a bad chapter division because verses one through eight of chapter five is a thought that's carried over from all of chapter four, especially verses 16 through 18. Look at what Paul says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
And then he goes on to talk about temporality and mortality, and the fact that you and I live in a body that's like a tattered tent that will be folded up and put away, and we will be given a new body that's like a habitation, not made with hands, from God, eternal in the heavens.
So he's carrying on this thought. He's helping us to see the unseen. And the move from the temporal to the eternal. He's already mentioned the fact that his outward man is perishing, his body is shutting down. His body is failing, age is taking its toll. His days are numbered. Martyrdom's not far away. And so, he anticipates the glory that will follow the suffering.
And so, in chapter five, verses one through eight, we carry on that thought as he talks about this glorious expectation of a coming metamorphosis, where we go from the temporary to the eternal, and from the seen to the unseen. Where our outward man will not perish, along with our inward man which is being renewed day by day.
Now, let me outline where I'm going. In these eight verses, Paul talks about three stages of, or experiences, or states of being, and I'm going to outline them for you, explain them to you. The immediate state, the intermediate state, and the immortal state.
Paul is going to tell us what he experiences right now in his body. He's going to talk about if he should die and his body be buried and his soul go to God, what that's going to be like. And then he's going to tell us about a time when his body will be raised and reunited with his spirit, and he will live in an imperishable, immortal, physical house. A glorified resurrected body.
And once I've done that, we're going to come back for the remaining time and look at this intermediate state. And answer the question, where, who, what. Where are our loved ones who have died in Christ? Who are they now in Christ? And what are they doing?
First of all, his immediate state. This is verse one. "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent," speaking of his body, "is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this," in this body, "we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven."
So his immediate state is this, he's on the earth. He's doing the ministry of the new covenant. He's spreading the Gospel. And he's doing it in a body that's subject to debilitation, decay, and death.
Let me show you this, in fact, we'll begin in chapter four and work our way through to chapter five, because as I've said there's linkage here. This is a carryover thought.
So let's talk about Paul's immediate state. Go back to chapter four and verse seven. Here's what he says, "But we have this treasure," speaking of the Gospel, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." He's speaking about his life, indwelt by the life of Christ, and he's admitting that this treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with all of its life giving power and presence, is housed in his body.
And he likens his body to what? An earthen vessel. A clay pot. Cheap, breakable, replaceable. In fact, this phrase, earthen vessel, was even used of garbage pails. And so, Paul's kind of giving this idea, "Hey, you have no idea what you're looking at when you see me. Because inside of me there is a spirit that has been saved, a spirit that someday will absent the body and be present with the Lord, a spirit that will be righteous and perfected among the saints in heaven. But you look at me from the outside in, you don't see that. Because this treasure is hidden. This treasure is inside, you know, this earthen vessel that looks cheap, breakable, and disposable."
Keep going in chapter four, verse 16, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man," what does he mean by that, our outward man? Well, if you understand a biblical view of man, you'll understand that we are bipartite, we are made up of body and spirit. And the outward man is the physical, the body, the fleshly. And the inner man is the spirit. And the outward man is perishing. With every tick of the clock we're getting older. Gravity takes its toll. Time does its destructive work. Paul acknowledges that. That's his immediate state.
In fact, he picks up that thought, doesn't he? In verse one of chapter five, "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent." How does he describe his body? He describes it like an old tent, you know? I don't do much camping. I mean, for June and I, camping is Motel 6, that's about as low as we're willing to go. But for those of you that have camped, you probably have an old tent lying about and weather beaten. And it's been well used, and it's kind of folded up. It may have a hole or two in it, and a rip or two in it. And that's kind of the image.
Paul says, "You know what? I dwell in a tent. My body is a temporal dwelling place, and time takes its toll. And this tent will be destroyed, and in its place I'll be given a new body." He describes as a building that permanent, not made with hands, from God, eternal in the heavens.
You'll notice verses two, three, and four, that he describes his experience in this tattered body of his. He groans. Have you ever groaned in your body? Have you ever felt pain? Hey, some of our congregation live with chronic pain. Unending pain. This is what we're dealing with here. Paul's admitting, "You know what? In this earthly house, this tent, this physical body of mine, I groan in it. I earnestly desire to be clothed with a different body," which he calls a habitation from heaven.
Look at verse four, "For who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life." Look at that language, mortality. Let me just kind of put it all together. What's Paul's immediate state? He's in a physical body. His spirit is housed in a physical body that progressively is becoming dilapidated, weak, uncooperative, painful, a burden. That's where he's at.
And he's longing that that mortality would be swallowed up with life. That that temporary tent would be exchanged for a permanent house. That's Paul's immediate state. And we can identify with that.
I like the story of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. And I think Paul would identify with these words. He was once asked, 80 years old, by a friend, we all ask this of all of our friends, "Well, John, how are you doing?" Here's what that old man said, "John Quincy Adams himself is very well. Thank you. But the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It's tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered. The roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind. And I think that John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it before long. But he himself is very well." So, hey, he would borrow the words, "It is well with my soul, but my body is not as in good a condition as my soul."
So that's Paul's immediate state. What's Paul's intermediate state? Well, it's clear given a preference, he would like to be alive when Jesus comes back. Because hold this thought, resurrection awaits Jesus' return at the rapture for his church. I mean, that's clear. You want me to argue that? Philippians 3:20-21, we wait for the Savior from heaven, who will change our vile bodies, our weak bodies, our dilapidated bodies, our temporary tents, he's going to change them into a glorious body like unto his.
And Paul wants to be further clothed in that new body. He has used the metaphor of a tent for his body, now he uses the metaphor of clothing for his body. And he's basically saying, "Right now I'm clothed with something that's temporary and subject to death. But I want to be further clothed. I want the body that's a habitation from heaven, not made with hands, eternal, immortal. I want that immortality. I want mortality to give way to immortality."
So that's what he hopes for, that's his earnest desire. Look, verse two, "We groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with a habitation which is from heaven." So that would be his preference. He would like to be alive when Jesus comes. Wouldn't you? I love that phrase in the hymn, "Oh to go without dying." Okay? Most of us will die before we get to heaven. But there will be a generation of Christians who will not die.
When Jesus comes, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, what? "Those who have died in Christ will be raised first. But we which are," what? "alive and remain will be caught up together with him into the clouds." That's what Paul wants. He wants to be alive when Jesus comes. But, he's realistic, that may not happen and he may die, because his body is dying. He's very much aware of that. He talks about mortality. He talks about groaning and the burden of his physical existence.
And so he anticipates being unclothed. Did you notice that language, and naked, what did he mean by that? Let me read it and then I'll explain it. "For in this we groan." What is this? That's this tent of verse one. This dilapidated, dying body of ours. "For in this temporal body," let's put it there, "we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven," with a new body, "if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked."
He says, "I want to be clothed with a new body, I don't want to be found naked." Keep going, "For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed." See, he doesn't want to be unclothed. He doesn't want to be in an experience where he has the spirit without a body, because he's in the presence of the Lord. Because when you die it's absent from the body, verse eight, and present with the Lord. And Paul says, "I don't want that. If at all possible, I don't want to experience that. I want to be alive, I want the tent to just be replaced by the habitation that's eternal in the heavens."
But he does acknowledge that may not happen. And by these words he's acknowledging, "You know what? I might be unclothed, I might be naked." Now what does he mean by that? He just means this, that if I die before Jesus comes back, in the in between time, in the interval, in the intermediate state, my body will be buried, that's what Christians do in the hope of the resurrection. My body will sleep in the ground, blanketed in dirt.
But my spirit will immediately depart and go to be with the Lord. Doesn't Paul say that? Look at verses six, seven, and eight, "So we are always confident, knowing," and this is in the continuous tense in the Greek, knowing that as we continue to be at home in our body, while we are on the earth in our body, we are not with the Lord. But, we know this, if we are absent from the body then we'll be with the Lord.
So if that happens, the spirit goes to be with Jesus Christ. The body is buried. And Paul uses this analogy, then at that I'm naked in the sense that my spirit doesn't have the clothing of a body. So here's the kind of thinking you ought to get in your head. Paul talks about being clothed right now with a temporary body that's subject to decay and death because of Adam's sin. And no amount of visits to the spa and bucket loads of vitamins is going to stop that process. It might temporary halt it, but it's not going to stop it.
You are clothed with a temporary body, and someday that tent will have to be folded up. And at that point, you'll be unclothed, naked, wanting, did you notice his language? To be further clothed with the new body that will be given at the rapture and the resurrection.
Are you tracking with me or have I lost you? Okay. I'm not sure what that meant, but we'll keep going.
So that's the point. And there's a few take aways here, this intermediate state, that's the state between death and the rapture. Body buried, waiting the resurrection of Jesus' coming. The spirit goes to be with the Lord.
Now just to reinforce a few things, very important that you understand this biblically, that you argue this, death is separation not cessation. You notice that? The Bible's understanding of death is that it's separation. There are three kinds or types of death in the Bible. There's physical death, it is separation of the spirit from the body. A spiritual death is our separation from God because of our rebellion. And eternal death, or what the Bible calls the second death, is the separation of the spirit or the soul from God forever in hell.
The Bible talks about death in three ways, physical, spiritual and eternal death. Death is separation. Physical death, that's when our life on earth comes to an end, when our heart stops beating, when our brain stops functioning, and life on earth is over. And at that point, the Bible says the spirit separates from the body. There's nothing in the Bible about soul sleep. And there's nothing in the Bible about going to some temporary place called purgatory to pay for your sins.
The unbeliever who dies, their spirit separates from the body and they go to hell. And the believer who dies, their spirit separates from their body and they go to heaven. That's just what the Bible teaches.
And on the believer's side, a couple of examples is here. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, absent from the body, present with the Lord. What about Acts 7:59? Where Stephen says, as he's martyred and dying, "Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit," or, "Receive my spirit." The body will be buried, but the spirit will go into the presence of the Lord.
What about the thief on the cross? "Today you'll be with me in paradise." There's only one of two places the spirit will be, in hell or in heaven. There's no soul sleep, there's no purgatory, there's no suspension of existence, there's no comatose state, no limbo. It's immediately out of the body and somewhere, hell or heaven. And for the believer it's heaven. For the believer it's immediately with the Lord. Isn't that beautiful? Immediately with the Lord.
That's what the expectation is here, present with the Lord. Consciously, gloriously, immediately. That was Paul's expectation when he wrote to the Philippians. "You know what? For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Now if I stay in my body, that's good for you. But if you want to know my preference, I'd rather depart and be with Christ, which is far better." He wasn't going to purgatory, he wasn't falling into some state of comatose. He was going straight into Jesus' presence. He didn't have to go to any place like purgatory, Jesus paid it all. Jesus said, "It is finished, the blood is enough." The death of Jesus covers it all.
So it's immediately. In fact, here's how I know that there's no such a thing as soul sleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:14. In fact, I had an interesting conversation with a lady in the car lot between services who grew up as a Seventh Day Adventist and said she was taught that, and this morning was so helpful.
And the verse I gave her 1 Thessalonians 4:14, let me go to that. That's that passage I referenced earlier. Paul had filled their heads and hearts with the thought of Jesus any moment, imminent return for the church. Some of their loved ones had died and they wanted to know what had happened to them.
See, here's what Paul says, "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren," in fact, I remember hearing a pastor say about a lady who stayed single her whole life, said she had a biblical reason, because as she looked around her church. She said to herself, "I do not want you ignorant brethren."
That said, here's what Paul says, just ignore that silliness. Right? 1 Thessalonians 4, "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," listen to this, "even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord by no means will precede or go before those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend," so on and so forth.
But I want you to notice that little phrase, when Jesus comes back he brings the saints of God with him, whose spirits are with him, raises their bodies, reunites them, then translates those who are alive at the coming of Jesus Christ for his church. It's immediate.
I love the story of Oswald Chambers. You may have his classic devotional, Our Utmost For His Highest. He was a British Army chaplain in the first World War, I believe. Ministered in Egypt. I believe he died on foreign soil. And when the telegram was received back in the UK, it consisted of four words, "Oswald in his presence." That's what happens. Oswald is in his presence. He's with the Lord! We buried his body, but he, the true Oswald who looks through eyes and hears through ears, that spirit, that life that is within him, it's gone to be with God, to await the rapture and the resurrection.
Number three, his immortal state. So he's got an immediate state. He's clothed in a temporal body he calls a tent, that he had loved to exchange for a permanent house, an eternal, immortal body that lives forever. He's hoping that he would be alive to see Jesus come and he would go without dying. But he anticipates, "If I do die, then there'll be a period of time in my life where I will be naked and unclothed." Spirit without body.
But he does anticipate his immortal state. His immortal state. That's when he will be clothed, what he calls further clothed. Let's go back to 2 Corinthians 5:8, break in at verse four. "For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality would be swallowed up by life." Paul is looking forward to that, that exchange. When he will exchange a weak and humiliating body for a glorious body like Christ's. That's Philippians 3:20-21. It's 1 John 3:1-3.
He's looking and longing for that moment at the rapture when his present mortal body should be alive at that time, will be swallowed up by an experience of life and vitality that's out of this world. He would like to go from being clothed to being further clothed. But if need be, he'll be clothed, then naked, then further clothed. He'll be completely made perfect and glorified. That's the Christian's blessed hope. That's why it's called the blessed hope in Titus 2:13.
Doesn't Peter talk about this in 1 Peter 1:3-9, that we've born again unto a living hope? That will come to fulfillment and fruition when Jesus comes back and we will be made like him. That's a wonderful thing, that's a wonderful hope to live with when you're groaning in your body and burdened by your mortality. That's a wonderful thing to die with, when the doctors say, "There's nothing more we can do," or, "Your time has come." It's a wonderful thing to be able to say. Absent from the body and present with the Lord. To be further clothed on a future day. It's wonderful. That is our hope. It's unique to Christianity.
I like the story of Calvin Miller, who taught for many years at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. He knew another pastor who didn't believe what he believed, didn't believe in the virgin birth, the atoning blood, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of the Savior.
He met that friend one day, just surreptitiously coming out of a hospital. And he said, "Well, what are you up to?" He said, "Well, I'm visiting a woman in my congregation who's dying." And realizing this guy believed less than he believed, he said, "Well, what did you tell her?" Oh, he said, "I told her what you believe, because if I told her what I believe it wouldn't be any good." That's shocking.
There are ministers like that, who put on a front. It's just a game to them. They're not ministers of the Gospel. They are blown about by every wind of doctrine. But the Gospel ministry can go in and say with confidence, "It's absent from the body and present with the Lord." There's something terrible about a theology that leaves people hopeless.
But haven't you noticed this? Before we now go double back to the intermediate state and answer three questions. I don't want to miss this, go back to our text and look at verse five. "Now He who has prepared us for this very thing," the very thing is verse four, "when our mortality will give way to immortality, when death will give way to life, when we'll put away that tent and we've exchanged it for a permanent house, a glorified body". God has prepared us for that very thing. In fact, we'll see next week in John 14:1-6, read ahead, that Jesus is right now preparing a place for us! God's prepared us for this very thing. Preparing a place for us right now.
But I want you to notice this little phrase, "Who also has given us the spirit as a guarantee." It's an interesting concept, the Spirit of God has been given to us, right? He's the one that regenerated us when we were dead in our sin. He's the one who has baptized us into the body of Christ, who now indwells us, and as we walk in the Spirit and don't fulfill the lust of the flesh, he fills us. He controls us through the word of God, which he himself wrote. Is the great means of grace.
He enables us for spiritual service. And he causes us to cry, "Abba, Father!" To pray. To groan, that God's will would be done in our lives. He seals us. It's a very important concept in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I'll give you two verses for this. Hang in, I'll read them for you, but write down Ephesians 1:13-14 and Ephesians 4:30. But let me read them for you.
Here's what Paul says, Ephesians 1:13-14, "In Him," that's Christ, "you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation." That's a reminder, nobody gets saved without the preaching of the Gospel. We've got to verbally communicate the Gospel to our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends. Just open your mouth and ask God to use you. "The gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were," notice, "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." The promise of what? The promise of heaven! The promise of immortality. And notice again he uses the same language, "Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, the praise of His glory."
Ephesians 4:30, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit's the guarantee we're going to go to heaven and that our bodies are going to be changed. The Spirit of God, who indwells this body, is promising us a new body. And he whispers that comfort through the word of God. And he meets us in the darkness.
The word guarantee means down payment. Okay? I remember when June and I bought our first home in Saugus. In those days, what was it called? PMI or something? You needed a down payment. You had to raise 10% of the mortgage. And so we scraped that together and with the help of Placerita Baptist Church, we plopped down I think it was $25,000.00, I think the house was $250,000.00. It was cheap back then, man. Those days are gone.
So we put our 10% down. It's what's called, what? Earnest money. It's showing that you're earnest. It's showing you've got liquidity. It's showing the bank that it looks like this person can make the payments. That's why we got ourselves into trouble when we took that away and we got a whole bunch of people in houses they couldn't afford. But that's our word, it's a down payment.
And so, God has put the Holy Spirit in your life, and he's saying this, "I'm good for the rest. I'm good for the rest. I have saved you from the penalty of sin. I am saving you from the power of sin. I will save you from the very presence of sin. I'm going to give you a body not susceptible to death, a body that's going to cooperate, a body that's not going to leave you with bad thoughts and torment you psychologically, emotionally, whatever. Give you a down payment, the Holy Spirit."
In fact, Warren Wiersbe points out something very interesting. In ancient Greek, this word meant down payment, in modern Greek it speaks of an engagement ring. That's a beautiful picture. So let me kind of help you get it. Here's the picture, Jesus Christ died for the church. He calls the church his bride. And some day he's going to marry his church in heaven and he's going to present his church perfect and blameless and without blemish before the Father.
And before he left, he slipped on the finger of his church an engagement ring, the Holy Spirit, who indwells the church, and every believer in the church. And he indwells us, he seals us until the day of redemption. By the way, that is possibly the best verse in arguing for the believer's eternal security.
I was talking to a lady in our church about a week ago in our home. Who had come to our home for a lady's event, and she had come out of a background where they had been taught that you can lose your salvation. And she says, "Pastor, can you help me?" And so I'm going to get her book. But I said, "Here's one verse I want you to think about, the Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption." God doesn't break his engagements. God's going to make good on his down payment. He's not going to lose you somewhere between your conversion and your redemption at the rapture. Beautiful.
Okay, for the time that remains, we looked at three states of being: clothed, naked, further clothed. Okay? In the body, out of the body, someday in a new body. You getting that? Try and get that down. Clothed, naked, further clothed. In the body, the temporal body. Out of the body at death. And then in a new body at the resurrection. So we've argued the immediate state, the intermediate state, the immortal state.
But for a few minutes, let's go back to the intermediate state. Let's try and think about the souls of the departed, our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Pastor, where, who, and what? Where are they? Who are they? What are they doing?
Okay, buckle up, we're going to move quick. Where? Now I've kind of answered that, but we'll go back to it. It's certainly in our text here. Where are they? They're in the presence of the Lord. Look at verse eight, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." Remember what we said, death is separation. It is not a state of limbo. It is not extinction. It is the separation of the body that has now been terminated, the spirit goes to be with God until the resurrection, either unto life or unto death, Daniel 12.
So the departed soul of the Christian is with the Lord. "Today you will be with me in paradise." That's the promise Jesus gave to a rascal, to a thief, to a criminal, who repented one moment and was in heaven the next. He had nothing much to bring to the judgment seat, but he's a great story of God's grace and mercy.
Stephen, as we said, Acts 7:59, "receive my spirit." So, when our loved ones died, we believe that their spirits were received by the Lord. It's interesting, did you notice in 2 Corinthians 12:2 that Paul describes his time in paradise as what? "I was caught up to the third heaven." So we're going to get a little technical right now. In answer to your question, where's my father? Where's my mother? Where's my husband? Where's my wife? Where's my child? Where's my comrade who died on the battlefield at my side, confessing Christ as his Savior? I'll tell you where they are, they're in the third heaven.
You say, "Pastor, what's the third heaven?" Okay, let's keep going. Pretty simple in some ways, although it's a vast study in itself. The first heaven is where the birds fly and jumbo jets scream across the sky, okay? It's the atmospheric heaven. It's where, you know, nutty people jump out of airplanes and parachute.
The second heaven is where the stars are, where the sun is, where the moon is. It's the stellar heavens. And the third heaven is the abode of God, where God dwells. This is paradise, this is kind of what we get a flavor of in Revelation 4:1, John is called up hither, as the old King James says. And as soon as he gets to heaven and his eyes are open and he gives us a tour of it, he helps us see what's unseen. He says, "And I saw a throne and he who sat on it, and the Lamb." And then he saw the 24 elders and the angels worshiping.
He saw in Revelation 6 the souls of those who had been martyred for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. That's what we're talking about. I love what Adrian Rogers said, "The first heaven we see by day, the second heaven we see by night, and the third heaven we see by faith." Paul says that, "For we walk by faith, not by sight. And this is our confidence, absent from the body, present with the Lord."
Hopefully that answers the question, where. And we'll come back next week to talk a little bit more about heaven, where it is, what's it like.
But number two, who? Who are they? In what way have they changed? In what way do they look or whatever? Now if you've tracked with me, and I believe Paul makes this argument, they are what this text calls unclothed or naked. So I'm going to make this argument that our loved ones right now are bodiless. They are the perfected spirits of Hebrews 12:23. They are naked.
I think there are three stages. There's you're clothed with your temporary body. Then if you die between now and the rapture, you're naked and unclothed, pure spirit before the face of God, awaiting that moment when you're further clothed with the body like unto Jesus' body. You say, "Well, if they're spirits, what does that mean?" Well, just, can I remind you, apart from the incarnation, God is spirit? You can be a spirit and a whole person. God's a person.
I think they're conscious, they're present, they're aware. I think they have some means of perceiving each other's presence. I mean, it's interesting, in Revelation 6, John talks about, "And I saw the souls that had been martyred." He saw souls. I can't explain that other than some ability is given to see souls. Is there some form that's given to them? Some physical form that's, you know, not the body as we know it? Maybe.
But there are those who argue that temporary bodies are given. I've never been persuaded by that. I'm not going to fight you over it. And you're welcome to be wrong. I mean, I'm not going to arm wrestle you on that one, you know? I just don't see it.
You say, "But hold on a minute, Pastor, what about Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration? They could be seen. Seems to infer they had a body." Perhaps. But again, a body can be given temporarily in that case, as sometimes we entertain angels in bodily form. But that's not permanent, not even permanently temporal. So I just think it's clear, the spirit goes to be with God. The body is in the ground. They're naked, unclothed. I'll leave it there.
So right now, they are the perfected spirits of the righteous. They're conscious, they're aware of each other, they're worshiping, they're serving, they're enjoying heaven.
Okay, for a few minutes, what? What are they doing? What are they doing right now? Well, I'm going to come back to that in a specific sermon that will be fuller than this, because let me tease you here, do you realize that the heaven our loved ones are in is a temporary heaven? See, I think for a good part of my Christian life, I had this idea that heaven is up there and beyond there, and that's where it is, and we're going to spend all of eternity there.
Of course, that's not true. Because according to Revelation 21:22, the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven. And God's going to make all things new, they'll be a New Heaven and a New Earth. And I believe the true forever heavenly experience is a material one with a material body on the earth. We'll be eating, drinking, talking. I don't know, working, leisure, all that stuff. Marriage, sex, we'll get there. Neither, by the way, in case you just want to know.
But we will redefine life on the New Heaven and the New Earth, but it's very physical, it's very concrete, and it's forever. So just bear that in mind. If Paul went to paradise, which is the third heaven, could I suggest this? It's language I'm borrowing, there will be a fourth heaven on earth. We'll get there, keep coming, bring your friends.
What? What are they doing? I'm going to scoot through this quickly. In terms of their lives right now, their lives are marked by perfection. That's the first thing, perfection. Write down Hebrews 12:23, which speaks of heaven, the life to come, and it speaks of the departed saints, and it calls them the spirits of the righteous made perfect. I'm righteous right now, that's called justification. I have the gift of Christ's imputed righteousness, but I am not perfect. Don't tell me you are. I don't believe you. I know you.
Now we're righteous, but not perfect. But you see, heaven is a state of righteousness with perfection. And that's what glorification is, and that's where our loved ones are enjoying perfection. I'm going to say nothing more than that. I mean, it's ... do we need to say? I mean, we could try and drill down on that, but eye hasn't seen and ear heard, not entered into the heart of man what God has provided for us. Although the Spirit of God has told us some things, it hasn't told us all things.
So it's a life marked by perfection. Number two, it's a life marked by praise. And we, our choir, was that not a good special music piece today? Beautiful. Revelation 5, one of the songs of the book of Revelation. We tend to think when it comes to the soundtrack of Revelation, it's thunder, it's lightning, it's the trumpets of God's judgment. I want to tell you, the soundtrack of the book of Revelation is worship. There are several songs in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 4 and 5, we see presently, right now, the church triumphant along with the hosts of heaven are worshiping the one who sits on the throne and the Lamb. And they're crying, "Worthy, worthy are you. And to you belongs the power and the strength and the honor forever." That's what they're doing.
I want you to know that heaven's not one long church service. Our young people want to know that right away. It's not. But heaven includes worship and singing. In fact, A.W. Tozer said this, and he's right, "I can safely say on the authority of all that is revealed in the word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven." Let that simmer for a while, next time you look at your watch in the middle of the sermon, or you stand in protest because you don't like the song. Are you ready for heaven?
It's a life marked by perfection. It's a life marked by praise. Thirdly, it's a life marked by peace. This is beautiful, isn't it? Let me give you a verse, I'll read it for you. Write it down, Revelation 14:13. It talks about the rest of God's people. "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works will follow them.'"
Now, rest in this case doesn't mean a nap. Alright? Don't be thinking that you go to heaven, you pick your cloud, you fluff it up like a pillow, you lie on it, and you go for an eternal snooze. That's not what we're talking about, no, no, no. Rest in this case is rest from conflict. A sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. The leaving behind of something, and the moving on to something else.
It means that our striving with sin within and opposition without has come to an end. One won't have to fight with the flesh, the world, and the devil any more. And if that doesn't sound good to you, you mustn't be in the fight. You mustn't be working too hard for the Lord. Now this is a beautiful thought, that when I fight one more day against indwelling sin, where I have to keep pushing back against the world that's pressing in. When the devil's on my tail and he's tormenting my mind and my soul, and he's creating circumstances around me that's rather difficult, that all comes to an end! That all gets pushed behind us. It's a beautiful thought.
And our loved ones are enjoying that. Sickness, sin, struggle, that chapter's closed. You know what? Let me tell you about a friendship I enjoyed for several years with a man called Jim, James Tilton. He was an elder with me at Placerita Baptist. Our families hit it off, we were very close. They had kids around the age of our girls, and they grew up together. And James became a good friend. And I mentored him, but in some ways he mentored me. And we met together regularly.
I remember one day, he was a man who deeply desired to be holy. I mean, deeply. And one day he just said to me over a cup of coffee in Santa Clarita, he says, "Phillip, I'm tired of the fight. Tired of the fight. I don't know how long I can keep going. It's hard to be holy. It's easy to float with the stream, hard to swim upstream."
He then left his work, and he was doing very well for himself. Went to the Master's Seminary, applied to be a chaplain to the Marines because he used to be an old Marine. And in the middle of a lot of that training, in a restaurant in San Francisco, really in the middle of health and strength, he just killed over and died on the spot.
I got a phone call, shocked my world. But can I tell you what my first thought was? I whispered it, I don't think my friend heard me, but hopefully some day I can tell him. When I heard he died, my first thought was, "Rest, my friend. Rest." I was envious. The battle for him was over. He went to heaven with his sword held high, like Pilgrim in John Bunyan's story. That's what our loved ones are enjoying.
Finally, prayer. Prayer. If you go to Revelation 6, there's an interesting verse, I just want to finish on as the team comes up. Revelation 6:10, John says this, he says, "They cried," who cried? Well, according to verse nine, "The souls of those who had been slain for the word of the Lord and for the testimony which they held." That could be the martyrs of the church age, or throughout redemptive history. It could be, in its context, tribulation saints. But there are the souls of the those who were slain for the word of God.
They're before the altar of God, and here's what they're praying, here's what they're pleading, here's what they long for. "They cried with a loud voice, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" Interestingly, they are conscious of their own existence in heaven, even as souls. And they are conscious of recent events on earth. They've taken a certain remembrance of earth with them.
Interestingly, there's nothing in the Bible about you and I praying to the dead. Don't do that. That's a false teaching of the Catholic Church, it's not biblical. But the interesting thing is, the dead, the departed pray for us in some sense. They pray for history on earth. They pray for the church that's still going through hell and high water.
And what are they praying? They're in heaven, they're the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and yet they're longing for something even more perfect, the New Heaven and the New Earth, when Jesus will take the armies of heaven, the saints of God, he'll come with ten thousands of saints back to earth, and righteousness will reign, and punishment will rain down on the ungodly.
And those who mock Christ's Gospel, those who take his name in vain, and those who persecute his people will call for the rocks to hide them from the face of the wrath of the Lamb. You realize the saints of God are praying that right now? That's what they're doing. They're perfect. They're at peace. They're worshiping. And they're longing for the fourth heaven, for the New Earth, the New Heaven, the millennial kingdom, eternal state.
Here's my last little story and insight. I think it'll put a kind of capstone on this. Gregory Fisher taught Bible in Africa at the West African Bible College. One day, he was surprised by the question of a student based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The student says, "You know what, Professor? The Bible says when Jesus comes back for his church he's going to shout. He's going to descend with the voice of an angel and he's going to command. What's he going to say? What's he going to shout?"
Now the Professor at that point felt like saying, "You know what? Where the Bible leaves off teaching, we leave off learning." But then he thought, you know what? Early in the day I talked a Christian from Liberia who had fled the civil war, who had been caught by one of the death squads, who had been threatened to be tortured brutally until he would be killed. But he escaped the death squad, grabbed his wife and children, and fled for the border. They eventually crossed the border, but along the way he lost two of his children.
So the Professor had heard that story, and his heart was still aching from it. On the way in, he had noticed just poverty everywhere, and beggars on the street. And he had saw, you know, poverty and what it does to a man's dignity. He'd saw the emptiness that was in their eyes. And then he thought to himself, you know what? I have an answer. I'll tell you what Jesus is going to shout, he's going to shout, "Enough. Enough suffering, enough starvation, enough terror, enough death, enough persecution, enough indignity, enough of my Son's glory being trampled, enough hopelessness."
Our loved ones right now are saying, "Jesus, isn't it enough? Isn't it time? Let's get the armies of heaven together. Let's bring history to a doxological moment when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that you're Lord." That's what they're doing right now. In a sense, may the earthly reflect the heavenly. May we pursue perfection, because that's where we're headed. May we worship Jesus radically. May we rest in his finished work and the sufficiency of his grace. And may we too long for that day when there'll be no crying, no sighing, no dying.
Father, we thank you for this word, we thank you that it has opened a window on to life and a skylight into the next life. Lord, help us to remind ourselves of our temporality, our mortality. Help us to long to be further clothed. Help us to persevere in our pain. Help us to grip all the tighter in the darkness until you fix us. Help us not to put our sword down, but to keep it held high until we get to the gates of glory. Help us to be a victor, not a victim.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Avenge the blood of the martyrs. Exalt your Son. Glorify your people. Fulfill your promises to Israel. We long for it, we look for it, because every man that has this hope purifies himself. For those who are not yet Christian, we pray today that they would indeed put their belief in he who is the resurrection and the life. So that when that day comes for them, though they die, yet shall they live. And it'll be heaven not hell. It'll be joy not sorrow. It'll be hope not despair. It'll be something more rather than something that will never be.
For we ask it all and pray it all in Jesus' name, amen.