Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/2 Immediate State


The Intermediate State

In dealing with this subject we must consider first what exactly is meant by the term "intermediate state". It is clear from the Word of God that there is yet to be a final judgment, a resurrection of the dead, and that those who have died up till this present day and will die from now onward will not have reached their final state and place of blessedness.

This is clear from the fact that the resurrection is still future and they have not yet, therefore, received their resurrection bodies. It is also confirmed by the promise in the New Testament of the new heavens and the new earth which are still in the future. We will consider the terms for the future state, the nature of this state and the question as to whether there is an intermediate place as well as state.

(a) Terminology.

There are four terms in all used to express life after death in the Scriptures.

(i) Sheol.

This is the word used in the Old Testament. It is a Hebrew word the derivation of which is uncertain. It may come from either of two similar words. One means "to ask, the other "to be hollow". 

In either case its meaning in the Old Testament seems to be twofold - it refers to the place of the departed dead and also to death in the abstract. It is necessary to keep both these meanings in mind when dealing; with the subject. The general opinion seems to be that Sheol refers to a condition of misery and punishment but never of happiness or good. 

This would appear so in some cases but it is difficult to accept that it is always so in view of the joyous expectation of death that there is in some passages in the Old Testament, e.g. Ps.16:11; 17:15; 73:24, 26. 

The explanation would seem to lie in the two meanings of the word as mentioned above and in the New Testament implication that Sheol was divided into two sections, one for the wicked and one for the righteous (Luke 16:19-31). To sum up, therefore, Sheol was the place of the dead and not the final state of either the righteous or the wicked.

(ii) Hades.

This is a Greek word and its meaning is much the same as Sheol. It is the word used to translate Sheol in the LXX. It is only used eleven times in the New Testament and its meaning seems to vary between "death" as a state or condition, and the invisible world under the dominion of Satan and opposed to the Kingdom of Christ. The references are as follows:- Matt.11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31; Rev.1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14; and finally in some HSS 1Cor,15:55. In most cases the word is translated "hell" in the A.V., but in no case does it really mean this. A different word is used to express "hell" in the final sense.

(iii) Paradise.

This is a Persian word and our word is only a transliteration, It is the word used in the LXX to speak of the garden of Eden and is only used three times in the New Testament. In Luke 23:43 it is used of the dying thief, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise"; in 2 Cor.12:4 it is used by Paul as a synonym for the `"third heaven". 

The final use is in Rev.2:7 where the writer speaks of "eating from the tree of life in the paradise of God". In each case the reference is fairly clearly to life beyond death and to a place of blessedness.

(iv) Gehenna.

This is the word which is always used of the final hell. It will be discussed further when dealing with the final destiny of the soul.

(b) The Nature of the Intermediate State.

The Protestant belief generally is that the intermediate state is one of consciousness and of being in the presence of the Lord. This belief is clearly borne out by Scripture. The word of our Lord to the dying thief, and the reference to Dives and Lazarus both refer clearly to a
state of consciousness. 

This is also true of the words of the dying martyr Stephen and also of Paul in 2 Cor.5:6 and Phil.1:22-24. In the latter he describes death and being with Christ as "far better". Again in 2 Cor.5:6 and Phil.1:22-24 death is spoken of as being with Christ and Rom.8:38 speaks of the Christian's unbroken relationship with Christ. 

Finally Rev.14:13 refers to death as blessedness and rest both of which speak of consciousness. The main view contrary to this is that of 'soul sleep". This view maintains that the soul continues to exist after death, but is in a state of repose as in natural sleep. 

The argument is based on the use of the word "sleep" in the New Testament to mean "death". This is a very weak argument however. The word is a euphemism for "death" and could never have been intended to refer literally to the state of those whom the early Christians considered as having entered into a condition of glorious triumph. 

The idea of "sleep" came from the way the dead seemed to fall asleep, and from the fact that they entered into a state which was so often rest from the tribulations and persecutions to which they were subject because of their faith.

(c) The Possibility of an Intermediate Place.

The fact of the creation of new heavens and new earth leaves open the possibility of there being an intermediate place as well as an intermediate state. The Scriptures, however, are very silent about the matter and there is no possibility of being dogmatic even if we could really understand all that the future life means. 

The soul, after death and before the resurrection, is in what might be called a disembodied state. It has not yet received its resurrection body. Just because it is in this disembodied state, there is no reason why it should not still be in a state of blessedness and in the presence of the Lord. There must obviously be two states but not necessarily two places.

The Roman Catholic Church uses the idea of a separate place in its doctrine of purgatory. A brief word must be said about this. The doctrine is based on 1 Cor.3:15 and teaches that the faithful departed require to complete the process of sanctification by further purification in the fires of purgatory. 

Other passages which are used to support the doctrine are 2 Maccabees 12:42-45; Isa.4:4; Micah 7:8; Zech.9:11; Mal.3:2,3; Matt.12:32; 1 Cor.15:29. These passages, however, can only be used as support by a very forced exegesis. The doctrine led onto the abuses concerned with prayers and masses for the dead and the sale of "indulgences". 

Apart from these abuses the doctrine is quite contrary to the clear teaching of the New Testament concerning the supreme efficacy of the Atonement of Christ.

4. The Final State of the Departed.

This section is placed here because it is the natural conclusion to personal eschatology i.e. the final destiny of the individual soul. The subject is so bound up, however, with the final consummation of all things and the final abode of the wicked and the righteous that it is better to leave the whole consideration of the subject till then rather than indulge in a great deal of repetition.

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