Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The Intermediate State

What happens to us after physical death? The ultimate answer is quite clear (details of timing depending on your eschatology):
  1. Some will escape physical death if they are lucky enough to be around during the glorious rapture, wherein the living saints shall meet Jesus in the clouds.
    Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Th. 4:17, NASB)

  2. For the rest of us, there will be a resurrection of the dead, where the dead will receive incorruptible glorified physical bodies, likened to our Lord and Savior.
    having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.(Acts 24:15, NASB)

    who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Phi. 3:21, NASB)

The question before us: what happens in between death and the resurrection of the dead? The two possibilities are:
  1. Soul Sleep. This is a state of unconsciousness. The effect would be a seemingly instantaneous transition from life on earth to the final glorified state, including your incorruptible body. Thousands of years may have passed, of which you will have no awareness.

  2. The Intermediate State. In this view, your soul, immediately upon death, goes to heaven. There you are made perfect in holiness and enjoy a conscious relationship with Christ (and presumably other saints). In that state you await the bodily resurrection to come at the second advent.

In either case, your first conscious thought after death with be in glory. The intermediate state has the appeal of actual rather than perceived immediacy.

The majority of Christians believe in the intermediate state, but a sizable minority affirms soul sleep. While I am in the intermediate state camp, I would not, and I think most Christians agree, place this issue in the “essential” category.

The reason that there is some debate is that scripture does not speak at length on this subject and a literal reading of scripture sends some mixed signals. There are passages that refer to the dead as "sleeping" which some take to support the idea of soul sleep. However, taking scripture as a whole, with the hermeneutic approach being that the explicit guides the implicit, I believe the evidence favors the idea of the intermediate state.

One verse in support of the intermediate state is Jesus’ comfort to the repentant thief:
And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43, NASB)

Jesus states clearly that he will see the thief today. Yet even Jesus will be without a body for three days. Soul sleep supporters must argue that “it will seem like today to the thief" (who is actually still waiting to see Jesus) or that the comma in Luke 23:43 is misplaced and should be moved from its present location in front of the word "today" to after “today” so that it reads: "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Another, from the Old Testament, is:
then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecc 12:7).

And, let us not forget:
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight-- 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, NASB)

Which indicates that there is a state in which we are (a) absent from the body and (b) at home with the Lord. That is a description of the intermediate state.

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