What Happens One Minute After You Die? – Program 2

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
Do you fear death? Have you just been diagnosed with a life-ending disease? Is there any comfort for you when you know your death is near?

How to Overcome the Fear of Death


Dr. John Ankerberg: What will happen to you one minute after you die? Today on The John Ankerberg Show, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, says:
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: John, the simple fact is that someday all of us will die. The Bible says that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] Death awaits all of us like the concrete floor awaits the falling light bulb. It WILL happen. And you know, God has created within us the knowledge that there is something that exists beyond the grave.
Ankerberg: The desire of many people to find out what lies on the other side of the grave is so great that some have turned to alternate methods such as channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences to gain a glimpse of what is coming after death. Today, you’ll hear what the Bible says will happen to you one minute after you die. You’ll also learn why the information coming from channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences, which attempt to peek behind the curtain of death, is not to be trusted. We invite you to join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome. We all know that we’re going to die someday, we just don’t know when. Can I ask you, “Do you fear death? So much so that you don’t like talking about it?” Maybe you fear death because you’ve just learned that you have a life-ending disease. Maybe you are young, but you know accidents and tragedies happen. If it were to happen to you, where would you be one minute after you die? What information has God given to us so that we can overcome our great fear of death? My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. He begins by saying that death is really something that can be viewed as a wonderful thing for the Christian. How so? Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: John, I just marvel at the fact that there are many people who do not pay attention nor do they seriously think or plan about death. Yet the fact is that it is inevitable; absolutely inevitable. We will die and we don’t know when. Today we’re going to talk about death, which, incidentally, came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned. They died spiritually. They were dying physically after they sinned. And, of course, they also were dying eternally. But God rescued them from eternal death.
Now, physically, all of us are in a state of decline. We are all dying. Well, if you were with us last time, you know that we stressed the gloomy side of death. We talked about Sheol and Hades. And in a future program we’re going to talk about hell, but for now, we want to talk about the ascent into Glory.
You know, when you stop to think of it and you get some perspective, you realize that death really is something that is wonderful for the Christian. I know that on this side of the grave it’s not wonderful; but on the other side of the grave, it is. I have often marveled at that passage in Corinthians where the Apostle Paul says to the people, he says, “all things are yours; whether Paul,… or Cephas,… or whether life or death.” [1 Cor. 3:21-22] I thought about that and asked myself, What did Paul mean that death was the possession of the Christian? Then I realized, you know, that even in the days of persecution when the pagans were able to take everything from the Christians.
They stripped them of their wealth, of their health, and of their very life. But you know, those early Christians, bless them, they used to say, “There’s one thing that the pagans cannot take from us, and that is death. In fact, they may hasten our death and death is the possession of every single Christian.”
So, I want us to think differently about it. If you’ve believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Scripture says that He came to “destroy the works of the devil” [1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14] and catch this, now, “to deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” [Heb. 2:15]
One day I was eating with a widow. She was terrified of death, just thinking about it all the time, fearful that she might not wake up in the morning. Well, I know that death has its fears, obviously, but Jesus came to deliver us from the bondage of that fear.
Ankerberg: You may say, “I find it hard to believe that God has given us information that will help me overcome my fear of death. But if He has, I want to know what it is.” What does God say? Dr. Lutzer tells us:
Lutzer: John, what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to simply give some figures of speech that are found in the New Testament that will help us get a handle on this business of death and it will help us to view death differently. For example, death is sometimes spoken of as a departure. Remember the Mount of Transfiguration? And Jesus was there and Elijah and Moses and three of the disciples. And the Scripture says that Jesus spoke of His departure. [Luke 9:31] The Greek word is exidos, from which we get, of course, the word that is the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the departure. He was speaking of His departure in Jerusalem, His death. But you know, when you stop to think of it, when the Israelites left Egypt, there was nothing for them to fear in that Exodus, was there? Because they knew that Moses would be with them, the Lord would be with them, and then, of course, eventually they came into the land. They had some struggles along the way but they made it. I like to think of Jesus as having crossed a river and He says now that He is on the other side, “You come because I have already crossed it and I will be there to meet you.” Not only there to meet you, by the way, but with us on this side of the grave, too, to lead us all the way through.
Let me give you a second figure of speech. It is sometimes spoken of as a “restful sleep.” In John 11 Jesus says regarding Lazarus, “Lazarus sleeps.” [John 11:11-12] Now, I have to pause here for a moment, because you know there are some people who believe in what is known as “soul sleep.” They believe that when you die your soul sleeps until the day of resurrection so no one who dies is conscious today. Now, I strongly disagree with that and let me give you a couple of reasons why.
First of all, we find that Moses did not sleep until the day of resurrection, did he? He was there on the Mount of Transfiguration, as I mentioned a moment ago. But furthermore, think of Stephen. You know, when he was being stoned and the heavens were opened and Jesus was standing on the right hand of God the Father, Stephen knew that when he died, Christ would be there to receive him.
Perhaps the most powerful information about this comes to us from the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:43] Now, I have a question to ask you. If you had been that thief, how would you have interpreted that? Would you not have thought that Jesus was making you a promise that you were going to meet in paradise on that very day? There are some of our friends who want to interpret those verses this way. They say, “Well, what Jesus said to him was, Today I am saying to you, You shall be with me in paradise.” But, of course, that violates the grammar of the text. In fact, do you know what I think? Because you know Jesus Christ died before the thief did – the soldiers were surprised that He had died so soon – I like to think of the fact that Jesus died, He was in paradise, and He was already there as the thief entered, waiting for him. Isn’t that good news?
No, it is not true that the soul sleeps. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” [2 Cor. 5:8] You know, when Paul said in the Book of Philippians so very clearly, “I desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better,” [Phil. 1:23] why would he have desired to depart and to be with Christ if indeed he wouldn’t be with Christ after he died, he’d have to wait until the day of resurrection?
My friend, I want you to know that when you die, you die without a break in consciousness. You slip from this life into the next.
Now, here is the good news. Why does the Bible talk about death as “sleep”? It’s not because our soul sleeps, it’s because our body sleeps. And the body sleeps until the day of resurrection and Jesus Christ is going to speak the word and we’re going to be resurrected. We’re going to be discussing that in detail in a future program.
Ankerberg: Let me ask you, right now, is your body weak and tired? Are you experiencing aches and pain? Is your body collapsing all around you and you find yourself almost physically helpless and unable to do anything? If so, these next two illustrations of how God provides for us each step of the way should be of great encouragement to you. Listen:
Lutzer: John, let me give you a third figure of speech. Sometimes death is spoken of as “a collapsing tent.” In 2 Corinthians 5:1, the Apostle Paul talks about this body being destroyed and “we have a tabernacle with God in the heavens.” Well, you know, of course, that a tent is oftentimes used in some very bad weather and it gets tattered and the canvas begins to leak. Isn’t that a picture of our body as we become weary? I’m still a relatively young man but I’m beginning to find that I can’t do what I used to. We’re all in the process of deterioration. And God is going to give us a permanent home. You know, we’re going to be talking about heaven in another broadcast, but let me tell you up-front that when you move into heaven, you are never going to have to pack and move again. Permanent home. And do you remember the story of those people who were out camping and one of them said to the other as they were setting up the tent, “Don’t drive in the stakes too deeply because we’re leaving in the morning.”
Well, I want you to know we used to sing, you know, “This world is not my home.” And it’s not our home! It’s not our permanent home because we’re leaving in the morning.
Let me give you another figure of speech and that is that death is like the sailing of a ship. You know, in 2 Timothy 4:6 the Apostle Paul says, “The time of my departure is come.” And that is really a nautical term. It’s like a boat that has been pushed out to sea. And of course, we know that we are going to enter into the harbor safely.
Let me read from the Hebrews 6. This is what it says: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” [Heb. 6:19-20]
Let me explain the imagery. In those days, as a ship was coming into the harbor, a forerunner would hop off the ship, swim to shore, and there would be a rope on the ship. And then he would tie that rope very tightly onto a wench and he would bring that ship into the harbor. That’s the imagery here. The author is saying that Jesus has gone into the Holy of Holies, and because He is there, we have now an anchor of the soul and Jesus is taking us within the veil. He is the Forerunner.
Perhaps I speak to you today and your ship is battered and you’re tired of the storms and the ship is creaking and you’re weary of the fight out there. Well, I want you to know that if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you will make harbor safely because our Forerunner has made it and we will, too.
Ankerberg: Now, one of the things that we try to do when we know we are going to die is get our affairs in order. Sometimes we are forced to move out of our home into a hospital or nursing home. We feel lonely because it’s not really our home. God knows all about that feeling because He talks about heaven as being our home, our real home. Listen:
Lutzer: John, I’d like to give one more figure of speech. In fact, it’s not really a figure of speech because it is a reality, and that is the fact that heaven is our home.
Do you remember in John 14 where Jesus spoke to the disciples who were discouraged and they were fearful, of course, about the future, knowing He was going to die. They were beginning to understand that. He said to them, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you.” And then He says, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will come again….” [John 14:1-3]
Do you remember the preacher who said, “Well, Jesus is a carpenter and He’s been working for thousands of years to get this place ready.” Well, I want you to know that Jesus Christ is God and in a moment of time, just by speaking the word, that place can be ready. But it has many different dwelling-places. Well, you know, that means there is enough room in heaven for the Old Testament saints: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And by the way, John, if you want to talk to Abraham, that’s fine. And you can talk to him as long as you like because we do have all of eternity, and I will get my turn, too. There are plenty of people I want to talk to. Of course, the major focus of heaven is Jesus Christ but there is no question but that the fellowship of saints is going to be a part of it. And we’re going to emphasize that when we talk about heaven in a future program. And there will be enough room for the New Testament saints. All the people that you wanted to speak to, the people that blessed you because of the books they wrote, the sermons they preached, and the lives they lived. We are all going to be together.
Heaven is our home. You know, I happened to have come from a good home, so I always looked forward to going home. I remember in college, you know, you’d finish that last exam and you’d get on the first bus or take the first train because you wanted to be home. Well, heaven is our home. Isn’t that wonderful?
You’ll remember Enoch in the Old Testament. It says that, “Enoch walked with God and then he was not, for God took him.” [Gen. 5:24] A little girl in Sunday School said when her mother asked, “What did you study in Sunday School?,” she said, “Well, you know, we studied about this man who used to take these long walks with God and one day God said to him, ‘Enoch, you are so far from your home, you’re much closer to My home. So why don’t you just come and live with Me?’”
Well, that’s the way it is. At the end of the day we go to live with God.
Ankerberg: Now, maybe you are anticipating the death of a father, a mother, or another loved one who is near death; or maybe you’ve already lost them. How do you handle grief? Dr. Erwin Lutzer is a loving pastor who has helped many people with this problem. Listen:
Lutzer: John, as a pastor, I’ve had the responsibility of counseling many people when it comes to this topic of grief. And it’s necessary that we say something about it because we can talk about the glories of heaven, but the reality is that death is still our enemy. And because it’s our enemy, we have to know how to handle that transition period. Let me say, first of all, the Scripture says, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Cor. 15:55] If your relative, if your friend, if your wife or husband died and they’re believers in Jesus, the sting has been taken out of death. Still hurts. You know, a bee can only sting you once. Once it has stung, it cannot sting you again. Jesus Christ absorbed the sting of death for those who believe. Therefore, death is still fearful but the sting has been removed.
How do we face this business of grief? And I speak to some of you who perhaps are anticipating the death of a father or a loved one who is near death. How do you handle it? Well, first of all let me say that death is very normal. It’s okay to cry. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. But at the same time there is such a thing as unhealthy grief. There is good grief and there’s some bad grief. I remember a woman, bless her heart, years after her husband died, she would not touch anything in his study. It had to be just the way it was when he died because she thought that if she were to tinker with it or sell the house that she would be disrespectful to him. No. That is unhealthy grief.
You know, in the Old Testament they had a period of mourning that was 40 days. Even if you take 80 days or a hundred days, at some point you have to say that the transition has been made. You know, I’m not saying that you’re ever going to forget or that it is ever going to be easy, but you must move on. It’s a time of “transition.” So feel free to weep. We all feel that pain.
Ankerberg: Are you fearful that when it comes time for you to die or for a loved one to die that you won’t be able to handle it? Down through Church history Christians have written about the fact that God gives us “dying grace” just when we need it. It’s true. Dr. Lutzer describes God’s great loving care for His own:
Lutzer: Now, you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I’m fearful, though, that when the time comes for me to die or for a relative to die, I will not be able to handle it.” Well, you know, it’s been said by some very well known preachers – and I think they are right – that God does not give us dying grace until we need it. Do you remember Corrie ten Boom? As she anticipated the death of her parents and she was wondering how she would handle it. And her father said this.
He said, “Corrie, when we are going to Amsterdam on the train, when do I give you the ticket?”
She said, “Well, Dad, just before I get onto the train.”
And he said, “In the very same way, just when you need it, God’s grace and sufficiency will be there.”
God will be there for you. I promise you. God will be there.
You know, Donald Gray Barnhouse, he lost his wife and he was returning from the funeral and he was trying to comfort his children. And as they were driving along the road, a big huge truck passed them, and, of course, they experienced the shadow of the truck as it drove by them. And he thought of Psalm 23 and he said to his children, “Children, what would be your preference? To be run over by the truck or the shadow?”
And, of course, the children said, “Well, of course, Dad, the shadow.”
I want you to know today that when you know Christ as Savior, you pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” [Psa. 23:4] It’s the shadow of death. Jesus is there with you, and what you need to do is to transfer your trust to Him and believe in Him. The images that we have talked about today are beautiful images that help us come to grips with death. But at the end of the day, what we need to remember is the fact that only those who have faith in Christ will experience the blessed side of death. “He that believes in Him has everlasting life. He that believes not shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Ankerberg: Maybe you’re in a hospital or a nursing home, or an apartment, and you’re afraid you’ll die alone. Maybe you’re caring for your parents, yet you can’t be with them every moment of the day. You’re afraid that you won’t be there when they die, that they’ll die alone. Well, if you are a Christian, neither you nor your loved one will die alone. Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, you can go to Chicago today – which is where I live – and the Drake Hotel has 24 hour valet service. You simply drive up your car and they’ll take it from you and bring it back when you need it. And someone is always there. And I want to remind you today that if the Drake Hotel in Chicago does that, our heavenly Father is there all the time with us.
I have a friend whose mother died in an apartment and her body was not found for two or three days. And he felt so badly. He kept saying, “My mother died alone! My mother died alone!”
And I said to him,” Friend, your mother did not die alone. Jesus was there with her in the apartment.”
And so you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what do we do until we face that moment?” I’d like to read the words of Spurgeon who reminds us that God will give us grace to die but He also gives us grace to live. These words are so good. Spurgeon says: “Brother, you do not want dying grace till dying moments. What would be the good of dying grace while you are yet alive? A boat will only be needful when you reach a river. Ask for living grace and glorify Christ thereby, and then you shall have dying grace when the time comes. Your enemy is going to be destroyed but not today. Leave the final shock of arms until the last adversary advances. And meanwhile, hold your place in the conflict. God will in due time help you to overcome your last enemy, but meanwhile, see to it that you overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
Well, I conclude today by telling you that God is adequate for us when we’re living, and He’s adequate and He’s there when our time comes to die. The most important thing is to prepare for that final moment by faith in His blessed Son. Apart from Him you shall not see the life that God promises.

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