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Don Stewart :: What Happens to a Believer after Death?

Don Stewart
The intermediate state is the time in which the spirit, or soul, of the believer exists between physical death and the resurrection of the body. Though the Bible does not have a whole lot to say concerning the intermediate state of the believer, there are some basic conclusions we can make.

Spirits With God

The spirits of departed believers are with the Lord. The Bible says.

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

The writer to the Hebrews says.

and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).

Christ's Presence

At death, the spirit of the believer enters into Christ's presence. Jesus promised the dying robber on the cross that he would be with Him immediately after death.

And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise' (Luke 23:43).

Immediately Present

The Apostle Paul also taught that believers would be in Christ's presence upon their death.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed, we shall not be found naked. . . We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1,2,8).

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi.

For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23).

Paul says that his death would be far better for him than remaining alive because he would be in the presence of Christ.

Be With Jesus

Jesus talked about believers being with Him in the next world.

Father, I desire that those also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory, which You have given Me because you loved Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

Stephen

Upon his death, the martyr Stephen called upon Jesus to receive his spirit.

And he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'. . . And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit' (Acts 7:55,56, 59).

The usual picture of Jesus is sitting on the right hand of God the Father. But when Stephen was about to die, Jesus stood to welcome him into God's presence. This is another indication that the believing dead go immediately to be with Christ.

Not Place Of Final Reward

The intermediate state is not the place of final reward for the believer. Final rewards will occur after the resurrection - which is still future. Though Christians who die go to be with the Lord, this is not when they receive their final reward, or their resurrection body.

Conscious

Believers are in a state of awareness after death. Jesus told the religious leaders in His day that God was the God of the living. He reminded them what God had said to Moses.

I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32).

With God

When the beggar Lazarus died, the Scripture says.

So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. And the rich man died and he was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side (Luke 16:22,23).

The rich man in Hades saw both Lazarus and Abraham. Each were in a better place.

Live Together

Paul told the church at Thessalonica that believers will always be with the Lord.

Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

Rest And Blessedness

Believers who die are in a restful state. The Bible says.

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of the Lord and for the testimony they held. And they cried with a loud voice saying, 'How long O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants, and their comrades, who would be killed as they were, was completed (Revelation 6:9-11).

Those with the Lord are also blessed.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' Yes, says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them' (Revelation 14:13).

Activity

Though the intermediate state is a place of waiting, it is also a place of activity.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship Him day and night within His temple, and the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them (Revelation 7:15).

Holiness

The believers are in a state of holiness. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John asked an angel the identity of certain individuals.

I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the Great Tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

The clothes which they are wearing, white robes, speak of holiness.

Emphasis On Final State

Though we have some information from the Bible on the intermediate state, it is not something that is emphasized. The hope of the believer is the coming of 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 fulness of God's promises. Hence the lack of emphasis.

Limited Amount Revealed

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 people are not permitted to tell (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

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 for one more hour on the earth. Being with the Lord will truly be an incredible experience!

Summary

After examining what the Bible says about the "intermediate," or "in between" state of the believer, we can conclude the following.

1. Upon death, the soul or spirit of the believer goes immediately to be with God.

2. The Bible also says the believer goes to be with Christ in the presence of the Lord.

3. Believers are alive and conscious in this state.

4. Though it is not their final reward, it is a place of rest, waiting, activity, and holiness.

5. Paul, who was caught up in the presence of the Lord, says that he heard inexpressible things that a person is not allowed to communicate.

6. Although believers have a natural curiosity about the intermediate state, Scripture focuses on the time when Christ returns. At that time He will raise and judge the dead, and then set up His everlasting kingdom.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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