So last week we talked about our final “home” – that is…where do we end up in the “end” – and you can find that blog here. But today, in our second of 5 series, we are going to talk about that space between. Where are all the saints who have gone before us at? Assuming Christ doesn’t come in my lifetime…where do I go? Where is that “in-between” spot?
First off: Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
So let’s define our topic to begin with. We’re talking about the “Intermediate State”. “Intermediate” in its simplest terms means “temporary”. It means not forever or not final. When my family and I drove out to Colorado and back a few years ago we had a few “intermediate” stops along the way. One specifically, that I remember, was in Grand Island, Nebraska – where they have a really nice emergency room that I got to know. That was an “intermediate” place for us. We stayed the night…gave the hospital money – but it wasn’t our final destination. It was a temporary stopping point between Colorado and Ames, IA (out home).
But what about a Christian understanding?
Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines it as the “state of the human person after death and before the resurrection.” So for a believer, we use “intermediate” in the same sense as everyone else – but we have it bound up in hope (as Paul states in our text today). The “hope” as we wait for the final hope. The hope between death and final resurrection.
And for me, the easiest way to think of it is if we believe that when Christ comes again that he will reunite our soul with our body…then the “intermediate state” is our presence with God where soul is with him…but body is not.
So what does that mean?
We must understand that we are made up of body and soul. We read in Genesis 2:7 that when God created he created the body and then breathed life into it (soul). And that when the two (body and soul) united they became a living being. Physical AND spiritual. And while we need both of them to survive here on earth – Jesus makes it quite clear that killing the body doesn’t mean the soul is gone (Matt 10:28) for only God can do that. And this is important to understand, as we are moving forward, because we believe that when we die, unless Christ comes again right now or before we pass away…we believe that the two (body and soul) will be separated but then reunited once more in the New Earth (see “Part 1” blog of the heaven series).
Paul writes in 2 Cor 5:6-8 that while we are at home in the body – we are absent from the Lord…which is why it is better, when he dies, to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord in spirit (something he again affirms in Philippians 1:23). And then he writes in 1 Cor 15 that believers will be resurrected with Christ, in Christ. And we must remember that a resurrection is not just body – it’s not just soul…it’s both. It’s the two reuniting as one and coming to back life. Just as Christ was…so too will we.
And here is where it becomes abundantly necessary to get our theology right: we BELIEVE and AFFIRM that we do not “sleep” and wait for Christ to come. We fully live with Christ, in HIS home, while we await his final coming. It is fully active, interactive, glorious, good, and joyful – for he is the God of the living!
Acts 7:59; Phil 1:23; Rev 6:9, 7:9, 20:4 – they all reflect an interactive place with God. A place where people worship, find joy, and sing in the company of God as they await his second coming – his final coming.
When Paul speaks of those who “fall asleep” he is speaking of those Christians who have died. It’s a term we see not just Paul using but Mark does (Mark 5:39) as well as John (John 11:11) and in many other texts. But it’s important to understand that when we think of “sleep” we don’t think of non-existence. It was a term he used not only because it was one that Christ spoke of but it was an analogy that the people of Thessalonica could understand, for when you sleep your body rests while your mind is active. Paul says that we sleep in Christ…which means we rest in him. All the troubles of the world all the pain from work and all other labors – all those are “rested” from. Matthew Henry writes that in rest we are “still in union with Christ, asleep in his arms and under his special care and protection. Souls are in his presence, and their dust is under his care and power; so that they are not lost, nor are they losers, but great gainers by death, and their removal out of this world is into a better” place.
So what does all of this mean? Why is this important – what implication does it have for us today?
First off – we must be clear when we talk about loved ones who have died and are with Jesus – because 100% of the time, if they are a believer, we are actually talking about the “intermediate state” in which our loved ones is in. So let’s be clear on our theology there. Once THAT understanding is there THEN we can begin to talk about how they are in a good place. Not only is it good but it is better than this. Not only is it better than this but we know that in God’s presence it is pure, and radiant, and glorious. It’s not our final home, it’s our “intermediate state” – our “layover” if you will…but it will be amazing none-the-less. And it is imperative that we understand this transition-layover place not only because it’s biblical, not only do we need to understand this because it’s factual, not only do we need to understand it because IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU AND I (remember…death isn’t a biased attacker) but when we FAIL to grasp and understand the Intermediate State we actually fail to understand the biblical declaration of heaven and of our “final” resting place. Our home here on earth.
You…me…and the saints before us and after us – stand at the gate of paradise today where we will be in splendor and glory until Christ comes again. The entrance to paradise – the entrance into the intermediate state is our physical death. The key to get in, however…is only by way of Jesus Christ. That…is our hope. That when we die our spirits are raised with Christ and we are in splendor and glory until he ushers in the New Heaven and New Earth to which we will live in FULL resurrection.
“Part 3” – the Multitudes can be found here
As usual – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…so what do you think?
Pt 2: The Intermediate State
Pt 3: The Multitude
Pt 4: An Eternity of Worship
Pt 5: Do We Become Angels?