What Happens One Minute After You Die? – Program 3

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. Have you ever experienced a moment when you thought you were going to die? Maybe you were on a train to work, or you were driving in the car, or you were on an airplane, or you were so sick that you thought you weren’t going to make it. Our guest today, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, tells of how one day he thought he was going to die and what he expected to happen if he did. Listen:
Lutzer: John, one day we were traveling along. My wife was driving the car. I was in the front seat, and I felt some real heaviness on my chest. And this fear came over me that I might be dying. I thought I might be having a heart attack. Well, thankfully, it wasn’t that, but I began to wonder, “What would it be like just at that moment of death?” And it’s amazing that driving along like that, the thing that came to my mind first is that I knew that if I died at that moment, that I would see angels. Of course, those angels would then take us into the presence of Christ. You know, that’s what Luke 16 teaches. It says that the rich man died and was buried, and Lazarus, he died – the poor man – and he was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. So I don’t know about you, but I expect to see angels when I die.
You know, sometime ago I read in Christianity Today a marvelous story by Steve Saint, who is the son of one of the missionary martyrs that died way back in, what was it? 1956? in the jungles of Ecuador. And he said that there are people living today who say that when those killings were taking place, when those five missionaries were being martyred, they actually heard beings singing in the trees as the missionaries were dying. And today some of these people say that they did not know what the singing was until years later when they heard Christian records.
Well, we can’t always build our theology on experiences, but an experience like that would be perfectly consistent with the Scriptures because the angels are watching us. They are sent “to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.” [Heb. 1:14] So one of the things that we shall see, when we die, I believe, is angels. But, of course, we want to see the Lord Jesus Christ because He is the One whom we love.
Now, remember, today we’re talking about those who know Jesus Christ as Savior. You have believed in Him. If you’re not a Christian, I encourage you to listen to this program, but also stay with us because we are going to be talking about the doctrine of hell as well as heaven in a future program.
Ankerberg: We all know we’re going to die someday, so what does the Bible teach will actually happen at the point of transition from this life, to death, to heaven? Dr. Erwin Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: John, one of the questions that we have to answer is this: what actually happens at that point of transition? What happens when you die and a moment later? Well, you know, oftentimes we talk about how different heaven is going to be. What I’d like to do in the next few moments is talk to you about that which remains the same when you die. You know, as a pastor I’ve often discovered that people forget that we are the same people after we die as we are here. Now, of course, we’re different in the sense that we have a different way of living. We have a new nature. We are not sinners anymore. And we’ll be talking about the intermediate body or how the saints are in heaven in our next program.
But here’s what I’d like to point out. Personal knowledge continues in heaven. Personal knowledge. Remember the rich man in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Luke that Jesus told about? Here he is in Hades. He is tormented. And what does he say? He says, “Send Lazarus so that he might go and preach to my five brothers so that they do not come to this same place of torment.” [Luke 16:27-28] Notice that compassion and knowledge continued. He remembered his brothers.
Remember the Mount of Transfiguration where you have Peter, James and John. They are up on the mountain and they meet Moses and Elijah. There is, of course, sharing of information and so forth. I like to think of the fact that when we get to heaven we won’t need name tags. And I base that on the fact that I think that Peter, James and John instantly knew Moses and Elijah. But furthermore, the Bible says, “We shall know even as we are fully known.” [1 Cor. 13:12] So you die and you go to heaven. Do you remember your family on earth? Of course you remember your family on earth. Personal knowledge continues.
Personal love continues. I mentioned a moment ago that the rich man, he was concerned about his brothers. Today I speak to a widow, and she says, “Pastor Lutzer, does my husband remember that he was married to me?” Of course he remembers that he was married to you. Does he remember your children? Of course he remembers your children. He remembers where he was in his own family tree and who he is. He’s the same person over there as he is here. Remember that: as he was here. So, let’s keep that in mind.
You know, there’s that passage of Scripture that talks about the fact that Jesus, you’ll remember, in responding to an issue that was brought to Him said that in heaven we are like angels who “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” [Matt. 22:30] Some people have misinterpreted that. They think it means that in heaven we are going to be sexless; that just like angels are neither male nor female, apparently, that in heaven we will not be male or female. I strongly disagree. What Jesus was simply saying is that there are no baby angels and there is no marriage in heaven.
But in heaven your mother will still be your mother. Your father will be known as your father. These kinds of bits and pieces of information and concern will be known; I can assure you of that.
Ankerberg: Many times, those of us who are pastors or in the ministry are asked by people, “Can our loved ones in heaven know what we’re doing here on earth?” Biblically, what is the answer? Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, people often ask me, they say, “Well, can our loved ones in heaven, do they know what we’re doing here on earth?” Well, I would simply say this, that there’s no evidence in the Scriptures that they can see us. My own hunch is that they’ve got better things to do than to watch us. They are in the presence of Jesus. They are rejoicing. But I would say this, that if they wanted to have an update, I really do believe that the Lord Jesus Christ would give it to them. I can’t imagine that in heaven they would desire information that Jesus Christ would not grant them. You know? One day at the Moody Church an associate pastor of mine, his seven-year-old daughter said something very interesting. Her grandfather died. And she said, “Daddy, can we pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa?” Now, my associate said that he was somewhat taken aback. He had never been asked that question before. But as he began to think about it, he thought, “You know, there’s nothing in my theology that says that we can’t pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa.”
Now, you think of the wisdom of that little girl. She knew that if anything, you pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa. You don’t pray to Grandpa to get a message to Jesus. Well, all that I know is that in heaven the needs and the desires of people will be fulfilled. And if they want updates on what is happening here on earth, I can assume that those will be granted to them.
Let me tell you something else that continues. Personal feelings continue. I need to stress this because sometimes we think of heaven in such metaphysical ways that we forget that we’re the same people on the other side. For example, there is joy in heaven. Even Asaph in the Old Testament said that there is joy. “Thou dost guide me with thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” [Psa. 73:24] In the 16th Psalm it says, “At thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” [Psa. 16:11]
Do people, after they die, even have a sense of justice? Oh, yes. You know, the Book of Revelation talks about those who are underneath the throne, and then it says they had died and they were beneath the throne and they kept saying, “Lord, how long will it be until you avenge those who have put us to death?” [Rev. 6:10] Of course.
Let me say also that in heaven I think that various activities continue. By that I mean, scientists may continue to do their work. They may continue to explore the vastness of the universe. Then, of course, I can imagine also musicians doing their work. Our leader of worship at the Moody Church sometimes tells me that when we get to heaven, he’s still going to have something to do, but as a preacher, I’m going to be out of work.
Well, I want you to know that I believe that in heaven “the ideas of God,” said Jonathan Edwards, “The ideas of God will continue to eternity.” I like to think of it this way. We will begin knowing God, but our knowledge of Him will be constantly increasing and we will never exhaust the knowledge of the Lord our God.
Ankerberg: Another question people have as they approach death is, “What kind of body will we have in heaven? If your wife or husband has already passed on, what are they experiencing?” Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: What kind of a body do the saints who are in heaven today, what kind of a body do they have? We know that the great emphasis in the New Testament is on the Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15: “We shall be raised.” [1 Cor. 15:52] We shall be raised. Paul anticipates that and it is so important to our theology. Well, if people in heaven today do not yet have a body, how do they communicate?
Well, there are two different views that have been given about this? First of all, there are those who believe that we have an intermediate body; that is, that God creates a body that the saints in heaven can use until they get their permanent resurrected one. Now, that’s a plausible theory, but I have to wonder, what happens to that body at the day of resurrection? Is it just thrown away, annihilated, discarded? You know, there might be another explanation that I want you to think about. Possibly, our souls, after we die, take on the characteristics of a body. Now, that’s more plausible than it seems. Listen to this text from the Book of Revelation: “And when he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who have been slain because of the Word of God and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell upon the earth.” [Rev. 6:9-10]
Now, that’s what the text says. The souls were beneath the altar and look at what they were doing. They were crying out loud. They were speaking. They were clothed with white garments. So I can’t understand that mystery, but maybe what God does is He enables the souls of those who go to heaven to have those characteristics which they need to communicate. There needs to be communication with words and what have you. There needs to be some visual sight of these individuals so that they recognize one another and are in the presence of Christ. And just possibly, it is that the soul is able to do that.
But here’s the bottom line. Let’s not miss that which is most important. When you die as a Christian, you are immediately in the presence of Christ. You are immediately conscious. There is no break of consciousness. And, as a result of that, you know that all of the faculties that you had here on earth, all of your abilities carry over to the other side. Of that we can be certain.
You know, D. L. Moody, before he died, he said, “Soon you shall read in the newspapers that D. L. Moody has died.” He said, “Do not believe it, for in that moment I shall be more alive than I have ever been.”
I like what Chet Bitterman said. You may have heard the story of how his son was martyred as a missionary. Chet said, “We have eight living children. Seven are on earth and one is in heaven.” It is really true that the moment you die, you are more alive than you have ever been.
Ankerberg: If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, when you die, you’ll close your eyes in this life and open them in the next. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” [2 Cor 5:8] God also promises, “We shall be like Him [that’s Christ], for we shall see Him as He is.” [1 John 3:2] What do these great promises mean? What are the differences between our bodies now and the new bodies that God will give to us when we get to heaven? Listen:
Lutzer: Now, John, I’d like to take out a moment to discuss the resurrection body because that’s the body that we shall have permanently. And in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes four contrasts between this body and the one that we shall have. And by the way, before I get into those contrasts, there are some people who think that God is going to create these bodies ex nihilo, that is to say, out of nothing. No! There is continuity between the body that you have today and the one that you will have. You see, when the disciples went to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning, when they went there, God didn’t just create a brand new body for the Lord Jesus Christ and leave His physical body in the tomb. No. There was continuity. And that’s why they were able to recognize Him. And He could even say to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing.” [John 20:27]
Everything that we know about the resurrection body of Jesus really applies to us. You know, as I think about this, not a one of us would like to die, but it is exciting, isn’t it? Because the Scripture says that eventually “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” [1 John 3:2] What a fantastic hope God gives to us in the Scriptures.
Well, very quickly, let’s look at what these contrasts are. First of all, it says, in 1 Corinthians 15:43, we are sown a perishable body; we are raised imperishable.
Why don’t you come with me. Let’s do some hospital visitation. We go through the hallways and in this room, here’s a young mother, 24 years old, two small children. She’s dying of cancer.
We go across the hall and we visit a man who has had a heart attack and the question is whether he is going to make it or whether he is going to die.
We go down the hall and we discover that someone else is dying from a very rare disease and the doctors do not even know its cause.
And all the way down, we see the deterioration of the body. And the Scripture says that just a kernel is put into the ground – and there is continuity between the kernel and the stalk, between the acorn and the tree – in the very same way a person is buried and then they are raised imperishable. Imperishable.
Let me say also that it is “sown in dishonor,” Paul says. [1 Cor. 15:43] I know that the funeral industry today is able to do some marvelous things with bodies, but the fact of the matter is that every person who dies, we all know that there is that sense of hopelessness, of helplessness, and death is not pretty. And the Scripture says here it is sown in dishonor, but it is raised in glory.
Raised in glory. You take the most humble Christian you’ve ever met – maybe even someone you don’t like very much and they’re believers in Jesus Christ and they die. They are raised, they will receive a body that is a blaze, really, of glory. A body like that of Jesus Christ. A body like that of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful thing we have to look forward to.
It is “sown in weakness.” [1 Cor. 15:43] I don’t have to say anything about that because we all know that, don’t we? But it is “raised in power.”
It is “sown a natural body,” the Scripture says. “It is raised a spiritual body.” [1 Cor. 15:44]
John, I need to clarify something because you have all of these ideas prevalent. Some people think that when we die we’re going to be angels. No. That’s not true. The angels have their separate existence. Some people also think that we’re going to be spirits. No, you’re not going to be a spirit. You’re going to be a spiritual body but there’s as big difference. Remember, after the Resurrection Jesus said to the disciples, “Touch me. Handle me, and see. A spirit does not have flesh and bones.” [Luke 24:39] So you can see that we are going to have a body like that of Jesus Christ.
Now, mind you, as we are going to be discussing later, it’ll be able to go through doors. It will not be subject to the limitations that we know in this life because our body is going to be like that of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Did you know that Dr. Erwin Lutzer’s 16-year-old nephew was killed in a tragic car accident? Maybe you find yourself in similar circumstances today. You’re going to a funeral or you’ve just returned. What hope, what encouragement can you find in such a time? Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: You know, John, as a pastor I have conducted many funerals and when you conduct the funeral of a Christian, it’s a mixed experience, isn’t it? Because on the one hand, you cry and you grieve; on the other hand, you’re delighted because you know that they are with the Lord Jesus Christ. I think of the words of Tony Evans who said, “Have a good time at my funeral because I’m not going to be there!” And I need to remind us that when we weep, we weep for ourselves, not for them, because they are in the presence of Christ.
My brother’s son, 16 years old, was killed in a tragic car accident. Would you believe that he was memorizing verses of Scripture in the back seat of the car? He was on his way to a Scripture Bible Quiz. And he and young woman who was with him also in the backseat memorizing that Scripture, they were killed instantly. They hit some ice and a semi-truck came and smashed the car and that was the end of them. And my brother was weeping so much until my mother said to him, “Remember this, that your son Dallas would not come back even if he could, having seen the glories of heaven.” And that gave my brother some comfort knowing that he was weeping for himself, and that’s fine. We do weep. But we also have the certainty that those who have believed in Jesus are on the other side safely in the arms of Christ.
I like to point out at funerals that when we say that this person is in heaven, we’re not saying that just to make people feel better. Sometimes we are preachers, you know, are expected to say some wonderful things about those who have died. No, my friend; we say it because if they have believed in Jesus Christ, it is true! It is true! Because Christ is the Savior of the world. “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” [John 6:47] And that means you can go from this life to the next and Christ carries you all the way through to the very throne room of God.
Ankerberg: Next week we’re going to talk about the sensitive topic of the death of infants. It is a very difficult subject. Can you think of anything more horrible than the death of a child? What does God’s Word say about that child? Will they know you? What are they experiencing? And what if you’re a woman who has had an abortion? Will you recognize your baby in heaven? And will the baby understand? We’re going to hear from God’s Word on this topic next week.

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