Christianity postulates that there will be a resurrection of the body at the end of theage. Because many people physically die before that time, in what state of being do theyexist until that time? That state of being is called an "intermediate state"because it stands between our state of being while alive on earth and our final state ofbeing that will include a resurrected body.
In the Old Testament little was revealed by God concerning the specifics of theafterlife. Believers died in hope of what God in his mercy would yet do for them. Theirtrust was in God who would ultimately redeem them, and if the specifics of what wouldtranspire after death were not clear, their faith in God was and from this arose anassurance that God would not abandon them in the darkness. In some instances their faithtook concrete shape, as in Psalm 49:15, "God will redeem my life from the grave; hewill surely take me to himself, " or in Job 19:25-27, "I know that my Redeemerlives and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. Imyself will see him with my own eyesI, and not another." The futureresurrection is spoken of in Daniel 12:2. But what the precise state of those who die willbe was not disclosed in any detail.
In the New Testament, Jesus affirms the certainty of the coming resurrection ( Matt 22:23-30 ; Luke 14:14 ; John 5:28-29 )which, of course, requires the existence of an intermediate state. These passages shedlight on it. In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus affirms the coming resurrection of the dead, butthen says no one is really dead, that is, snuffed out of existence. Because Godsays, "I am the God of Abraham, Israel and Jacob, " they are not dead, butliving. lu 16:19-31 tells us of two who retain consciousness after their demise and thethief is told in lu 23:43, "You will be with me in Paradise today." None of thistells us what the interim body is like, but it does tell us that a conscious existence,morally continuous with this life awaits usParadise or Abraham's bosom for therighteous, torment for those who reject God's offer of mercy.
The apostle Paul looks forward to being with Christ upon death ( Php 1:20-24 ) andbelieved that Christ would bring with him those who had previously died ( 1 Thess 4:14 ). Paulalso says that at the second coming the dead in Christ will rise first ( 1 Thess 4:17 ).These are not contradictory ideas. To Paul, those who die in Christ go immediately intoChrist's presence in a noncomplete (unresurrected) form, there to await his second comingwhen their soul will be reunited with a resurrected body. Those who are alive at thatmoment will be instantly transformed ( 1 Cor 15:50-53 ; 1 Thess 4:17 ).
When reflecting on what it will be like to be in that interim state between death andresurrection, Paul likens it to being unclothed. The soul has shed its body and is naked ( 2 Cor 5:3-4 ). Paulappears to have somewhat ambivalent feelings about entering this state. On the one hand,he does not look forward to being bodiless Greeks thought positively about leavingthe body behind at death, but Jews did not. On the other hand, to be away from the body isto be at home with the Lord, and that is a highly desirable state ( 2 Cor 5:6-8 ). Pauldoes not attempt to describe what the disembodied soul is like; he only knows it is atemporary state. At the resurrection of the dead we will be made complete again, likeChrist in his resurrected body.
Walter A. Elwell
Bibliography. P. Cotterell, What the Bible Teaches about Death; K.Hahnhart, The Intermediate State in the New Testament; A. A. Hoekema, The Bibleand the Future; X. Len-Dufour, Life and Death in the New Testament; H. R.Mackintosh, Immorality and the Future.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Intermediate State'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".