The Intermediate State

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10. Are there any proofs of life after death?

There are extra-biblical arguments for life after death, but the most reliable proofs are found in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.

Lecture notes:
There are “extra-biblical” arguments for life after death…

Historical argument: history teaches us that the belief in life after death is found among all peoples, in all places, at all times.

Ontological argument: As every idea must have a corresponding reality, the idea of life after death implies that there is a reality of life after death.

Teleological argument: Human beings have such huge capabilities, but they have hardly begun to be developed in our few short years here. We all have a sense of incompletion and look forward to a realization of our ideals.

Moral argument: Conscience testifies to the existence of a moral ruler who will exercise justice and put right all the injustices in this world.

Anthropological argument: The essential difference between the psychic life of man and plants/animals implies a great future existence for man.

…but the most reliable proofs are found in the Bible, in both the Old Testament…
Some verses to look up are: Eccl. 3:11; 11:9; 12:14; Ps. 16:10; 17:15; 49:14-15; 73:24; Job 19:23-27; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Hos. 13:14.  Jesus also says that life after death is implied in Ex. 3:6 (Mat. 22:32).
…and the New Testament.

  • Continued existence of believers (Mat. 10:28; Lk. 23:43; Jn. 11:25f; 14:3; 2 Cor. 5:1)
  • Continued existence of the wicked (Matt. 11:21-24; 12:41; Rom. 2:5-11; 2 Cor. 5:10)
  • Conscious existence of believers (Lk. 16:19-31;Lk. 23:43; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9)
  • Conscious existence of the wicked (Lk. 12:5; Lk. 16:19-31)
  • Endless existence of believers (2 Cor. 5:1)
  • Blessed existence of believers (Matt. 13:43; 25:34; Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4)

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11. What is the intermediate state?

The intermediate state is the irreversible spiritual condition of believers and unbelievers in the period of time between death and the resurrection of the body.

Lecture notes:
The intermediate state is the irreversible…
The intermediate state is not the final unchangeable state. There is still a great change ahead for both believers and unbelievers, but that will not change the direction of the the intermediate state. It is irreversible (Lk. 16:26; Rev. 22:11).
…spiritual condition of believers and unbelievers…
Both believers and unbelievers enter an intermediate (in-between state).  Their bodies are in the grave.  So we are concerned primarily with what happens to their souls. What do their souls experience?
…in the period of time between death and the resurrection of the body.
The two primary states of existence are life before death and life after the final judgment and resurrection of all. The intermediate state is concerned with the in-between stage. There is not so much teaching on this in the Bible because the main focus is on the probation here and the result of the final judgment.
Where were the souls of those who were resurrected and returned to life?
There were seven of these (3 OT and 4 NT):

  1. The son of the widow of Zarephath by Elijah (1 Kings 17:22)
  2. The son of the Shunammite by Elisha (2 Kings 4:35)
  3. The man who was laid in the sepulcher of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21)
  4. The daughter of Jairus (Matt. 9:25)
  5. The young man of Nain (Luke 7:15)
  6. Lazarus (John 11:43,44)
  7. Tabitha (Acts 9:40).

Their souls were in heaven and not some third place specially assigned by God. Although they enjoyed perfect bliss, it did not harm them to return to their bodies. Paul was caught up to the third heaven, and returned to natural life, with deep impressions (2 Cor. 12:2).
What about praying for the dead? (2 Maccabees 12:42-45)
We cannot improve the lot of believers who immediately enter God’s presence. We cannot improve the lot of unbelievers as there is a great gulf fixed. To pray for the dead is dishonoring to God (who has told us that the decision is made), causes needless anxiety, wastes time, and diverts from prayer and labor on matters which could advance God’s kingdom

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12. What is the spiritual condition of believers in the intermediate state?

As soon as believers die they enter heaven and the glorious presence of Christ and His Church, are made perfect in holiness and happiness by Christ, judge and reign with Christ, and await the redemption of their bodies.

Lecture notes:
As soon as believers die…
The intermediate state is immediate and sudden upon death. To depart is to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).  The dying thief was told by the dying Christ that he would be with Him in paradise that same day (Lk. 23:43).

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 57 What comfort does the “resurrection of the body” afford thee?

That not only my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head; but also, that this my body, being raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ.

Second Helvetic Confession 26  We believe that the faithful, after bodily death, go directly unto Christ .

Shorter Catechism 37  What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

Westminster Confession of Faith 32.1 The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

At death there is a judgment of spiritual state and condition based upon the state or condition of the heart (Heb. 9:27). We are also to be judged later according to the things done in the body (Mt. 25:34f; 2 Cor. 5:10).
…they enter heaven and the glorious presence of Christ and his church…
In this present state of “absent from the Lord” we experience close communion with Christ from time to time. How much more when “at home with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:8)
There will also be enhanced and elevated communion with Christ’s church.
…are made perfect in holiness…by Christ…
We will be freed from sin, its roots and fruits, our original corruption and every desire and ability to sin. We will be freed to think, feel, desire, and do right and good. This is more than just the freedom from a sinful body. This is the direct work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul.
…are made perfect in…happiness by Christ (Rev. 14:13; 20:6)…
Part of the result of perfect holiness will be perfect happiness. We will be freed from all that discourages and depresses us – ignorance, suffering, conflict, unsatisfying labor. There is so much change that it is described as the first resurrection (Rev. 14:13; 20:6).  Loraine Boetner:

[The Bible] takes for granted that the characteristics of our nature are permanent, that we shall continue to possess intelligence, affection, conscience, and will. Every passage dealing with the future life assumes that we shall be then as we are now, reverential, social beings, loving God and one another.  This necessarily includes recognition, communion with Christ, and with the angels and the redeemed.

At death the righteous enter a state of consciousness, holiness and happiness which the resurrection only augment and make permanent. The mind loses none of its power or knowledge at the death of the body. On the contrary, it enters on a much higher plane of existence. The soul is freed from the limitations of earth and cleansed of the last vestiges of sin, and finds its mental and spiritual faculties heightened and more alive and active then it ever was before….The intermediate state is therefore, pre-eminently a state of special training and education for the high service of the eternal, perfect kingdom…”

…judge and reign with Christ…
Revelation 20:4-6 tells us that believers will reign with Christ. Other verses indicate that we will judge with Christ. It is difficult to know what this means exactly. It may mean sharing of information, or simply affirmation. It may go so far as consultation and delegation, although the Lord of course does not need advice or help.
…and await the redemption of their bodies (2 Cor. 5:1-8).
Present tense “we have” (v. 1) and the references to “house,” “building,” and “eternal in the heavens” refer to the resurrection body which we certainly “have” in the sense that it is a promised and sure possession.
The terms “desiring to be clothed” (v. 2) and “naked” (v. 3) refer to Christians as being with the Lord in the intermediate state, without their resurrection bodies.
Paul would prefer to be alive at the return of the Lord and be clothed with the resurrection body without having to pass through death (vv. 2-4).
The intermediate state is not as prominent in the Bible as the resurrection of the body because that is the ultimate state. However that does not justify the many misconceptions about that state as if the believer is in some ambiguous state between happy and unhappy, holy and unholy. The intermediate state for the saved is heaven without the body and the final state is heaven with the body (Jn. 11:25-26; Matt. 22:31-32; Ps. 73:24).

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13. What is the spiritual condition of unbelievers in the intermediate state?

As soon as unbelievers die they enter hell and the hideous presence of the devil and his angels, where they experience inconceivable and immeasurable agonies of soul while awaiting the resurrection of their bodies.

Lecture notes:
As soon as unbelievers die they enter hell and the hideous presence of the devil and his angels…
The Bible does not shed much light on the intermediate state of unbelievers, but we can infer it from the opposite experience of believers. One of the explicit references is in Luke 16:26-34 where a rich man’s experience of hell is described. We need not think that there are two places for the wicked, a place for intermediate punishment and a place of final and eternal punishment. The Bible does not distinguish. The devil and his angels appear to be in the same place as unbelievers in both the intermediate and final state (Jude 6-7; Matt. 25: 41, 46).
…where they experience inconceivable and immeasurable agonies of soul…
In both the intermediate and final state of the unbeliever, he is not in a semi-conscious stupor, but endures conscious and unmitigated torment. Probably the degree of suffering is somewhat lesser without the body.
…while awaiting the resurrection of their bodies.
Like the believer, the unbeliever will be raised in his body. However, they are not waiting for deliverance but for destruction, everlasting non-stop destruction. They are not waiting for a better state but a worse state.
The intermediate state for the unsaved is hell without the body and the final state is hell with the body.

Westminster Confession of Faith 32

…the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

Larger Catechism 86

The souls of the wicked are at death cast into hell and their bodies kept in their graves until the resurrection and judgment of the great day.