Death and the Intermediate State

THE ORIGIN OF DEATH

The secular world views death as part of the natural order, whereas the Christian sees death as part of the fallen order (Romans 5:12); it was not the original state of man. Death came as God’s judgment for sin. Adam and Eve did not die physically the day they sinned. God granted them grace to live for some time before exacting the penalty. Nevertheless, they eventually perished from the earth.

HOPE IN DEATH

Every human being is a sinner and therefore has been sentenced to death. We are all waiting for the sentence to be carried out. However, for Christians, the penalty has been paid by Christ. Christians see death as the moment of transition from this world to the next. In Philippians 1:19-24, the apostle Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Life on earth was a means to serve Christ, and death was the means to be with Christ. Paul desired to continue his earthly ministry, but he was eager to go home, “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” See also 2 Corinthians 5:1-6.

When we recite the Apostles Creed and say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we are expressing our confidence that our bodies will be raised. Someday our bones will rise again, just as Christ came out of the tomb with the same body with which He went into the tomb, although His body had been dramatically altered. Jesus’ body had been glorified, changed from mortal to immortal (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

We do not know what we will look like in heaven, but there will be recognition. We will have recognizable bodies (Matt. 8:11; Phil. 3:20).

BETWEEN NOW AND THEN

Theologians refer to “the intermediate state,” by which they mean the time between our deaths and the final resurrection. When we die, our bodies will go into the grave, but our souls will go directly to heaven and be immediately in the presence of Jesus Christ. In the intermediate state, each of us will have a soul without a body, but the best of all possible situations will occur later, in the consummation of the kingdom of Christ [when He returns], when our souls will take on imperishable and glorified bodies.

Upon death, we do not, as some heretics have taught, enter into some kind of soul sleep, existing in a state of personal unconsciousness and separated from Christ. The biblical view is that we experience an unbroken continuity of personal, conscience existence such that immediately upon death we are actively in the presence of Christ and of God (Revelation 6:9-10).

[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]