Christianity postulates that there will be a resurrection of the body at the end of the age. Because many people physically die before that time, in what state of being do they exist 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 of being that will include a resurrected body.
In the Old Testament little was revealed by God concerning the specifics of the afterlife. Believers died in hope of what God in his mercy would yet do for them. Their trust was in God who would ultimately redeem them, and if the specifics of what would transpire after death were not clear, their faith in God was and from this arose an assurance that God would not abandon them in the darkness. In some instances their faith took concrete shape, as in Psalm 49:15, "God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself,” or in Job 19:25-27, "I know that my Redeemer lives … and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another." The future resurrection is spoken of in Daniel 12:2. But what the precise state of those who die will be was not disclosed in any detail.
In the New Testament, Jesus affirms the certainty of the coming resurrection (Matthew 22:23-30 ; Luke 14:14 ; John 5:28-29 ) which, of course, requires the existence of an intermediate state. These passages shed light on it. In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus affirms the coming resurrection of the dead, but then says no one is really dead, that is, snuffed out of existence. Because God says, "I am the God of Abraham, Israel and Jacob,” they are not dead, but living. Luke 16:19-31 tells us of two who retain consciousness after their demise and the thief is told in Luke 23:43, "You will be with me in Paradise today." None of this tells us what the interim body is like, but it does tell us that a conscious existence, morally continuous with this life awaits us—Paradise for the righteous, torment for those who reject God's offer of mercy.
The apostle Paul looks forward to being with Christ upon death (Philippians 1:20-24 ) and believed that Christ would bring with him those who had previously died (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ). Paul also says that at the second coming the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ).These are not contradictory ideas. To Paul, those who die in Christ go immediately into Christ's presence in a no complete (un-resurrected) form, there to await his second coming when their soul will be reunited with a resurrected body. Those who are alive at that moment will be instantly transformed (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ).
When reflecting on what it will be like to be in that interim state between death and resurrection, Paul likens it to being unclothed. The soul has shed its body and is naked (2 Corinthians 5:3-4 ). Paul appears 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 leaving the body behind at death, but Jews did not. On the other hand, to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord, and that is a highly desirable state (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ). Paul does not attempt to describe what the disembodied soul is like; he only knows it is a temporary state. At the resurrection of the dead we will be made complete again, like Christ in his resurrected body.
Next time we will look at the question, When?
In this remarkable thing that we know as the Resurrection we see that many things change. What was known of the afterlife before the Resurrection of Jesus was at best sketchy. There are several references to the afterlife, but the Resurrection of Jesus changes everything in that we now have a fuller and more complete understanding of what the ‘afterlife’ is like. One of the references in the Old Testament that we look at is Daniel 12:1-4
12:1 "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people-everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge."
This reference helps us to understand that there will be a resurrection of those who are dead. The phrase “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake” is certainly evocative and helps us to understand that those who die will be resurrected.
Another passage that we need to look at is Isaiah 26:19
But your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
Again here we see the affirmation of the Resurrection. Finally we move into the Day if Resurrection account. In Luke 24 we see that Jesus walks along with two o f the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He was recognizable, but they were kept from recognizing Him.
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
In Matthew’s Gospel we see that the women who went to the tomb encountered the Resurrected Lord and touched and held on to Him.
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
In John’s Gospel we see that Jesus also make s a visit to the Upper Room on the night of the Resurrection and appears to the disciples (except Thomas), and shows them His hands and feet.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Finally we read in the Epistles some accounts of what the Resurrection will be like.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
So, we see that the “dead in Christ will rise first and those who are alive will be changed. Paul also writes to the church at Corinth in his second letter.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
So now the question, what will this be like after death and before the Great Resurrection?
Hmmn. More next time!
Winebrenner Theological Seminary
950 North Main Street Findlay, OH 45840
1-800-992-4987 (toll free)