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The Intermediate State

In theology the doctrine of the intermediate state describes the state of the soul between death and the resurrection and answers the question, "What happens to me then?" What Scripture teaches is, therefore, of vital interest to believers - that after death the believer enters heavenly glory and is conscious of that glory and of his being with Christ. So, too, the unbelieving and unrepentant enter, even before the resurrection of the body, into conscious suffering for their sin in hell.

There are many who deny this. Some teach soul-sleep, that the souls of those who are in heaven or hell are sleeping and not aware of what is happening to them. Similarly, Stephen Perks, a so-called "Christian Reconstructionist," and others with him, teach that the soul passes out of existence at death, to be re-created, we suppose, at the time of the resurrection of the body. This kind of teaching, as Calvin pointed out long ago, is perverse, and "not to be borne" by God's people. It destroys their hope in Christ, renews the terrors of death, and leaves them comfortless in the face of the last of all enemies.

Our hope of glory with Christ is based on Jesus' words to the dying thief, "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Does anyone really believe that Jesus meant, "You will be there but will not know it?" or, "Your Paradise will be that you pass out of existence until many thousands of years have passed and the end finally comes?"

Concerning Phil. 1:23, another passage, Calvin says, "Do they think he wishes to fall asleep so as no longer to feel any desire of Christ? Was this all he was longing for when he said he knew he had a building of God, an house not made with hands, as soon as the earthly house of his tabernacle should be dissolved? (II Cor. 5:1). Where were the benefits of being with Christ were he to cease to live the life of Christ? What! Are they not overawed by the words of the Lord when, calling himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he says, he is 'not the God of the dead but of the living?' (Matt. 22:32). Is He, then, neither to be to them a God, nor are they to be to him a people? (Mk. 12:27)."

But what about those passages that describe the death of believers as sleep (Matt. 27:52; Acts 13:36; I Cor. 11:30; 15:20, 51; Eph. 5:14; I Thess. 4:14)? In light of the passages already mentioned, they cannot mean that there is such a thing as soul sleep. They must refer to the death and dissolution of the body and to the fact that the death of believers, for whom death is conquered, is no more difficult than a "falling on sleep." Nor is it strange that the death of believers should be described as sleep, for it is through death they rest from their labors (Rev. 14:13; Is. 57:1).

Indeed, Scripture suggests that the interval between death and the resurrection, God makes some special provision, that the soul without the body may have the glory He has promised. "If our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (II Cor. 5:1). For this reason to be absent from the body is to be present (lit.: "at home") with the Lord (vs. 8), and we are willing to be absent from the body.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 8
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017


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