Upon death, the soul, or spirit, of the believer goes immediately to be with the living God. Believers are alive and conscious in this state. In the Bible, there is no idea of a period of soul sleeping. The blessings of Christ are received immediately.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A BELIEVER IMMEDIATELY UPON DEATH?
The intermediate state for the believer is the time in which the spirit, or soul, exists between physical death and the resurrection of the body.
Though the Bible does not devote a lot of space to this topic, there are some basic conclusions we can make. They include the following.
1) The Spirits Of The Believing Dead Are With God
The spirits of departed believers are with the Lord. This Bible clearly teaches this. For example, we read in Ecclesiastes:
“The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 NIV).
The writer to the Hebrews also makes it plain. He wrote the following.
“You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge of all people. And you have come to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven who have now been made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23 NLT).
There are, at this moment, redeemed people in heaven. Their perfected spirits reside in the presence of the Lord while awaiting their resurrection from the dead.
Jesus also talked about believers being with Him in the next world. In His prayer to God the Father shortly before His betrayal, trial and death, He said the following:
“Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation” (John 17:24 CSB).
Jesus desired that those who had trusted in Him would be with Him in the afterlife. This is a further indication that the spirits of the believing dead are with the Lord.
2) Believers Are Immediately In Christ’s Presence At Death
We also discover that, at death, the spirit of the believer immediately enters into Christ’s presence. There are a number of illustrations of this in the New Testament.
The Criminal Next To Jesus
Jesus promised the dying criminal on the cross that he would be with Him immediately after death. Luke records the following:
“And he [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV).
This promise also applies to each of us who believe. We will immediately be with Christ in paradise upon our deaths.
The Testimony Of Stephen: Jesus Is Waiting For Believers
Upon his death, the martyr Stephen called upon Jesus to receive his spirit. We read of this in the Book of Acts:
“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:55-59 ESV).
This is another indication that the believing dead go immediately to be with Christ.
The Teaching Of The Apostle Paul
To The Corinthians, the Apostle Paul also taught that believers would be in Christ’s presence upon their death. He wrote:
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling . . . We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:1,2,8 NIV).
Paul said that being “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord.” The New Living Translation puts it this way:
“Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT).
To The Philippians Paul wrote::
“For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23 NKJV).
Paul says that his death would be far better for him than remaining alive because he would be in the presence of Christ.
The Example Of Lazarus In Jesus’ Story
In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, when the beggar Lazarus died, the Scripture says that he was immediately ushered into the presence of the Lord.
“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:22,23 ESV).
The rich man in Hades saw both Lazarus and Abraham. Each was in a better place than the existence which he found himself. They were with the Lord!
Therefore, from these five examples, it seems clear that believers go to be immediately with the Lord upon their death.
3) The Intermediate State Is Not The Place Of Final Reward
Though there is an in-between state for believers, it is not the place of their final reward. In other words, it is an incomplete state. Final rewards will occur after the resurrection of the dead, which is still future. Though Christians who die go to be with the Lord, this is not the time when they receive their final reward, or their resurrection body. This is something which still awaits them in the future.
4) Believers Are Conscious After Death
Believers, however, are in a state of awareness after their death. Jesus told the religious leaders in His day that God was the God of the living, not of the dead. He reminded them what the Lord had said to Moses at the burning bush.
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32 NRSV).
At the time the Lord made that statement to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been dead for hundreds of years. Yet God said that He “is” their God, not that He “was” their God. This means they were still alive in His presence though they had been physically dead for many years.
This is another indication that there is a conscious existence for the believer after death.
5) Believers Will Live Together With The Lord
Paul told the church at Thessalonica that believers, once united with the Lord, will always be with Him. He put it this way:
“He died for us so that we can live with him forever, whether we are dead or alive at the time of his return” (1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT).
The wonderful promise is that believers will live together with the Lord for all of eternity.
6) The Intermediate State Is A Place Of Rest And Blessedness
We also find something else from Scripture. Those who die in Jesus Christ are in a restful state. The Bible says:
“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until [the number of] their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been, would be completed” (Revelation 6:9-11 CSB).
These martyrs, while in a restful state, needed to rest a little longer before the Lord avenged their death.
We also read that those with the Lord are said to be “blessed.” The Book of Revelation puts it this way:
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13 ESV).
The presence of the Lord is indeed a place of blessing.
7) There Is Activity In The Intermediate State
Though the intermediate state is a place of waiting, it is also a place of activity. We read about this in the Book of Revelation where it describes those believers who have died.
“That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will live among them and shelter them” (Revelation 7:15 NLT).
The intermediate state does not consist of inactivity. In fact, it is a place of service.
8) It Is A Place Of Holiness
The believers who have died are presently in a state of holiness. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John asked an angel the identity of certain individuals. This angel gave the following answer to the prophet:
“And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 NKJV).
The clothes that they are wearing, white robes, speak of holiness. They had been washed white with the blood of the lamb.
9) Spiritual Growth During The Intermediate State
While it may be possible for some type of growth or development in the in-between or intermediate state, the Bible is completely silent on the matter. We do not know, one way or the other, if there is any spiritual growth for the believing dead. If the Bible is silent then we should not speculate. We simply do not know the answer.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
There are other observations that need to be made about the intermediate state. They can be summed up as follows.
1 There Is An Emphasis On The Final State
Though we have some information from the Bible concerning the intermediate state, it is not something that is emphasized. The hope of the believer is the coming of Jesus Christ. It is at that time the dead are raised in a glorified body, judged, and receive their rewards. The intermediate state is only a short interval between this life and the fullness of God’s promises. Hence, this is the reason for the lack of emphasis on the intermediate state.
2) There Is A Limited Amount Revealed
In addition, the Bible only reveals a limited amount of information about what goes on in the presence of the Lord. Paul wrote of his experience.
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 NIV).
We find from these verses that Paul was not allowed to tell what he had experienced. If we knew exactly how wonderful it was, we probably would not be content to remain on the earth for one more hour. Being with the Lord will truly be an incredible experience!
Although believers have a natural curiosity about the intermediate state, Scripture focuses on the time when Jesus Christ returns. At that time, He will raise and judge the dead, and then set up His everlasting kingdom.
The Lord will then bless His people with such wonderful things; things that our minds presently cannot even imagine.
DOES THE DEAD KNOW WHAT IS PRESENTLY HAPPENING ON THE EARTH?
Can the dead watch our every move, and do they think about us? These questions will be answered in part 2 of our series.
(Source: Don Stewart – What Happens One Second After We Die?)