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Don Stewart :: Do Believers Have a Body in Their Intermediate State?

Don Stewart
From the time believers die, until they return with Christ when He sets up His kingdom, they will be in some conscious form in the intermediate, or "in between" state. Exactly what that form consists of has been an object of much discussion among believers. There are three main views:

Option 1: Disembodied Spirit

The believer is conscious as a disembodied spirit - similar to angels who have no physical form. Their glorified body is received at the resurrection.

Option 2: Temporary Body

The believer has a temporary body while waiting for their glorified body.

Option 3: Glorified Body

The believer receives their glorified body at death. There is no waiting for a general resurrection of the dead.

1. Disembodied Spirit

There are many Bible scholars who believe that, upon death, people become disembodied spirits awaiting the resurrection. Consequently there are three steps for the believer: this earthly body, a disembodied state after death, and finally a resurrected body when Christ returns. The disembodied state is far better than living in this body because the believer is with Christ. Yet it is short of all the things that God has promised.

Christ First

The Scripture says that Christ was the first to receive a resurrection body. Paul wrote.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. . . But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20,23).

The righteous will receive their bodies some time in the future. If the saints had received their permanent body upon death, then Abraham, Moses, and the rest of the Old Testament believers, would have been resurrected before Christ. But the Scripture says that Christ was the first.

Still To Come

In several passages, Paul makes it clear that the transformation of our bodies is still future.

For the Lord Himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, and remain, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17).

He wrote about the instantaneous change.

in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52).

We will have a glorious body like His.

He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, by the power that also enables Him to make all things subject to Himself. (Philippians 3:21).

The righteous do not receive their permanent bodies at death. This will have to wait until Christ comes for His people. Hence, there is an interval of time between death and the resurrected state. Resurrection is in the future "at the last trump."

2. Temporary Body At Death

Another theory says that, at death, believers receive a temporary body. They understand this from the following statement of Paul.

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4).

It is argued that Paul's desire was to be clothed with some, temporary, intermediate body. He did not want to be in a disembodied state. According to this view, the three step process would be: an earthly body, a temporary body, and then a glorified body. The glorified body only comes at the resurrection.

3. Glorified Body Received At Death

There is also the view that the believer receives their glorified body upon death - they are instantaneously resurrected. This position says there is no waiting period between death and the new body that God has promised believers. The biblical support for this belief is found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. It is thought that Paul teaches the resurrected body is received upon death in this passage.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).

According to this understanding of Paul, there is no disembodied state between the destruction of our present earthly house, and God's provision of an eternal house. There is no fear of being unclothed. Therefore, when the earthly tent is destroyed, believers immediately receive their new, God-made building. Resurrection is immediate. The resurrection of the dead in the afterlife is existent, but hidden from public view. It will be revealed when Christ appears. Paul wrote.

When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4).

Believers will be revealed with their resurrected bodies when Christ comes. They will not receive them at that time.

Why Wait?

It is argued that there is no reason for the believer to wait for their resurrection body. If the believer will ultimately receive a glorified body, why the wait? Since they are already conscious in heaven in the presence of Christ, why must they wait to receive what He has promised?

No Understanding Of Time

Furthermore, those in the intermediate state would have no understanding of time as we know it. Since there is no real reason for them to wait to receive their glorified body, it is argued that God gives it to them immediately upon their death.

At Second Coming

Therefore, at the Second Coming, all the resurrected saints are brought together and publicly displayed, not raised at that time.

Response

The problem with this view is that it contradicts 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 with respect to the time of the new bodies for the believers. Both these passages emphasize the old bodies of all believers will be changed when Christ returns, not before. To Paul, the resurrection of the body is something future for everyone. Jesus also said the dead will be raised in the future.

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. "Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself; and He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and will come out - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:25-29).

Not That Concerned

The New Testament is not that clear as to the form of the dead in the intermediate state. The main concern of the Bible is with the ultimate destiny of believers and their glorified body. The biblical attitude can be summed up by a statement from Paul.

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).

Ultimately all believers are with the Lord upon death and are enjoying wonderful surroundings. Beyond this we cannot be certain.

Summary

It is clear from the Scripture that believers immediately go into the presence of Christ upon death. As to what form they exist in the intermediate state, it is not that clear. Christians hold to three different views.

1. Believers are disembodied spirits upon death.

2. A temporary body is given to all believers at death.

3. The believer receives their resurrection body immediately upon death.

The Bible is not that concerned about the state of the believer before the resurrection, it emphasizes the resurrected and glorified state.
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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