After Life?
Huw P L Thomas.

The Intermediate State? Many Christians believe in an intermediate state between physical death and the resurrection. This is based upon the belief that when the soul (person) dies the spirit and body are separated and the soul continues to exist in a bodiless spirit state (but see Human Nature) In the Bible the shadowy realm of death is called sheol (שְׁאוֹל) in Hebrew and in Greek hades (ᾅδης).

Sheol and death are linked and associated (Psalm 49:14). It would appear that Sheol is the state of being dead in the grave in a sort of shadowy, weak inactive state - the rephaim, weak ones, translated in English in some verses as 'departed spirits' (Proverbs 2:18, 9:18, 21:16; Psalm 88:10; Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 26:14). David said of sheol in Psalm 16:10 "...you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will you allow Your holy/faithful one to undergo decay." Hebrew poetry repeats the same idea in couplet verses and here 'my soul' is equated with 'holy/faithful one' and means the whole person. Sheol is tied with decay and is a reference to the grave. For Job to go down to sheol is to go into the dust (Job 17:16. Cf Gen 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Psalm 90:3; Psalm 103:14; 1 Corinthians 15:47). In 1 Samuel 2:6 we see another poetic couplet. '...kills' is equated to sheol and 'makes alive' to 'raises up'. There is death and resurrection. Nothing in between. For more couplets equating death and sheol see 2 Samuel 22:6; Isaiah 28:15, 18; Hosea 13:14; Habakkuk 2:5; Psalm 6:5; Proverbs 5:5. In Isaiah 14:11 sheol is the grave, complete with worms and maggots. No activity in sheol - Ecclesiastes 9:10.

So what happens at death?  Ezekiel states, “… the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, cf. v20, ESV. Click the word soul for the article on human nature). It is not just the body which dies, the person does. The circulatory system stops, the blood no longer sustains and animates, the living soul becomes a corpse. There is no immaterial soul migrating elsewhere. The person is dead. What I am not saying here though, is that the person ceases to exist but that those Christians, from our temporal perspective, are ‘asleep’ (euphemism for death) in Christ (1 Thess 4:13). Not soul sleep because there is no soul to sleep. He or she is dead. For the person/soul who dies, the next conscious moment is resurrection. No waiting place, no disembodiment but instantaneous awareness of resurrection life. What analogy can I use? For those who have been under general anaesthetic, you may understand what I am about to say. A number of years ago I underwent a nasal operation which required a general anaesthetic. Now I recall being taken to the operating theatre and while in the waiting area the anaesthetist gave me an injection and told me to count to ten (which I didn’t reach). Before losing consciousness, I remember looking up at a clock above the theatre door. It was just before 1 pm. In what seemed to me to be seconds I was being shaken by a nurse and began feeling this horrible pain and tightness around my nose. When my eyes cleared I looked up at the clock and it was nearly 5.30 pm. For me, there passed but seconds but those around me had been busy for hours trying to sort out my nasal problem. This then clears up a New Testament paradox. Paul clearly talks about those who are dead in Christ and he states that they will be raised at a point in the future. He also states that to die is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6). In context here, Paul is talking about death and the hope of resurrection (2 Cor 5:1, 4). From my temporal perspective as someone who is still alive my parents, who were both Christians, are dead and their ashes are buried in the local cemetery. From their perspective, at the point of death they immediately experienced resurrection life in, what is for us, still the future, at Christ’s return (1 Thess 4:16; 5:10). For those without Christ, at death they will immediately experience the Great White Throne judgement of God (Hebrews 9:27).
So, as temporal creatures we naturally ask where the dead are now in time as it passes for us but because the dead are not subject to time it is not logical to speak of the dead in temporal terms. A believer who died two thousand, two hundred or twenty years ago is now consciously with the Lord in the resurrection, as is someone who will die in ten or twenty years time, if the Lord has not returned. Are dead believers in the resurrection before those living now? In a sense yes but in eternal terms we all meet the Lord together in one instant. Death is like a funnel shepherding us immediately to the future resurrection. For dead believers that future point is meeting the Lord in the air with those alive when that occurs in time will be caught up alive with those who have died. From the perspective of the living time passes on but for the dead there is no passing of time between death and resurrection.

Some try to reconcile an intermediate state with time by saying the the dead 'sleep' or that the dead no longer exist and will be recreated at the resurrection. Roman Catholics include the idea of pergatory, a place where people are punished to prepare them for heaven. These have no basis in Scripture and do not warrant further discussion.

If Hades is the place of disembodied dead souls/spirits why does the Bible say "And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them...” (Revelation 20:13)"? Is the sea also a place for departed souls/spirits? Of course not. Sheol/Hades is not some waiting place but is a way of describing the state of being dead. It is not a place where all go but a condition of all who are dead.

Problem texts


Luke 23:42–43

The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him '...when you come in your kingdom.' The thief was anticipating the future coming of Jesus the king of the Jews (Cf Acts 1:6, 11) and hoping for resurrection. The thief died and from his perspective, was immediately in the presence of Christ at the future resurrection and taken into paradise (the garden of God).

Luke 16:22-26

Many would interpret Jesus' story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as describing two aspects of an intermediate state, paradise and hell.  But most New Testament scholars think it is a parable and not a statement of theology. Black says of this story, "This is a parable, not an historical account of an actual event. Jesus is not describing the topography of heaven and hell." [1] 


He also states, "The fact that Lazarus has a name is unusual in a parable. It may be this fact and the reality of Abraham that have led many to misconstrue this parable as an historical account. However, the fact that it begins, “There was a certain rich man …” and the fact that one can talk across a gulf between heaven and hell indicate that it should be seen as a parable. The reader should therefore look for the major point(s) and not press the details. This is not a picture of what the afterlife will be like. It is a warning for those who do not share their possessions with the poor." 

So we cannot claim an intermediate state between death and resurrection based upon this.

The passage in context:

Luke 16:1. "Now He was also saying to the disciples [Jesus proceeds to tell them a parable about the use of money]... V. 13 "...You cannot serve God and wealth."... V. 14 Now the Pharisees who were lovers of money... were listening... and scoffing... And he said to them [Jesus turns his attention to the Pharisees]... V.16 [mention of the Law and Prophets which comes up in the following parable]... V.19 "Now there was a rich man... " [Jesus applies the parable to the Pharisees]... 'Father Abraham...' [The Pharisees claimed Abraham as their father - this can especially be seen in John's Gospel]... Luke 17:1 "He said to His disciples, 'It is inevitable that stumbling blocks [The Pharisees again] come'"
Click on each thumbnail to see the diagrams explaining the parable

 "...whatever this story meant in other contexts, it is here used by Luke to address Pharisees who loved wealth and scoffed at Jesus’ position on the subject (v. 14). As Pharisees whose religion was of the Book, their love of wealth found its confirmation in the law and the prophets... Whoever is careful to obey the commands of God shall be highly favored: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock” (Deut. 28:3–4). The equations are quite clear to them: wealth = blessed of God = obedience to God’s commandments. If, then, the parable is to address them, the rich man cannot be an exaggeration of godless materialism but a realistic portrait of a man whose wealth was taken as evidence of God’s favor, a man with whom the Pharisees can identify. Otherwise the story has interest but no power...

"This portrait of the rich man has been drawn to fit the Pharisees before whom he is placed. Whatever confirmation and support the rich man and the Pharisees found in the Scriptures for their love of wealth, it is a fact that the situation presented in the parable is a clear violation of those same Scriptures. The law of Moses specifically required that the harvest be shared with the poor and the transient (Lev. 19:9–10), and the law spelled out other ways to carry out the fundamental injunction, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land” (Deut. 15:7–11)."
Craddock, Fred B.: Luke. Louisville, Ky. : John Knox Press, 1990 (Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), S. 196

1 Peter 3:18-20

Some think this refers to Jesus going to Hades after he died but it is better to understand 'made alive in the Spirit' as referring to Jesus' resurrection (Cf Romans 8:11) and whatever supernatural spirits (no mention of humans) Jesus preached to was post-resurrection (Cf. Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 1:4; Matthew 8:16, 12:45; Gen 6:1-4; Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4).

1 Peter 4:6

"...the “dead” in 1 Peter 4:6 are the Christian dead who heard the gospel of Jesus Christ while they were still alive... This approach is preferable to the long interpretative tradition that identifies the νεκροί as “dead people, in a proper sense, who hear the gospel in Hades, in order to be judged on the Last Day in the flesh, and to live in the Spirit” (Reicke, Spirits, 206). Because there is no other point of contact in 1 Peter for such a suggestion... There is little evidence, as we have seen, for identifying the “spirits” of 3:19 as the spirits of dead human beings, and it seems unlikely that Peter would introduce another whole dimension to Christ’s journey to heaven without further elaboration."
Michaels, J. Ramsey: Word Biblical Commentary : 1 Peter. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 49), S. 237

"The dominant view today is that the dead in 4:6 are those who were evangelized but have since died. The NIV supports this interpretation by adding the word “now”: “the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.” This view would have relevance to the context in reassuring persecuted Christians that those who have died as Christians before them (perhaps some even by martyrdom) will be rewarded by God. Thus 4:5–6 assures them both of the condemnation of persecutors and of reward for Christians."
Black, Allen ; Black, Mark C.: 1 & 2 Peter. Joplin, Mo. : College Press Pub., 1998 (The College Press NIV Commentary), S. 1 Pe 4:6

"...the dead are those Christians who heard and believed the gospel during their lifetime, but afterward died. The translators of the New International Version have inserted the temporal adverb now to help the reader to understand the words to those who are now dead."
Kistemaker, Simon J. ; Hendriksen, William: New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1953-2001 (New Testament Commentary 16), S. 164

Pauline texts

The clear emphasis in Paul's eschatology is the resurrection. So what about those texts that appear to teach an intermediate state?


Philippians 1:21-24

Paul says that death is gain and that a departure to be with Christ is 'much better'. Does this mean an intermediate place for Paul prior to the resurrection. I think not because Paul seems to be contrasting his life in the 'flesh' (in his 'earthly body') with the gain of resurrection life.

2 Corinthian 5:1-10

Many see Paul here referring to a disembodied existence before the resurrection but a careful reading shows that this is not so.

Paul refers to 'the earthly tent' in 2 Cor 5:1. A comparison with 1 Corinthians 15:47 shows that this is a reference to our present existence as 'earthy' or of dust (Job 4:19; 2 Corinthians 4:7. See article on the soul) and when we die ('our house is torn down') we receive the resurrection body ('a house not made with hands').

In 2 Cor 5:2, 4 Paul is saying that in this present existence we suffer ('groan') as we long to be 'clothed' with the resurrection body. In fact, some sort of bodiless existence or soul existence as taught by the Greeks was nakedness, incompleteness and shame, something not wanted and Paul is actually stating that in dying the believer will not be naked because we will be clothed. The mortal (our present bodily existence) will be swallowed up by life (the immortal resurrection body) as he states in 1 Cor 15:53-54.

The Holy Spirit in the believer now is the down payment/pledge of what is to follow death (Romans 8:23).

While we are at home in this earthy body we are absent from the Lord (2 Cor 5:6) but absenting this body means to be home with the Lord at the resurrection (2 Cor 5:8).

Also, absent from this body means appearing at the Judgement Seat of Christ - and that's post-resurrection (2 Cor 5:10. Cf Rom 14:10).

1 Thessalonians 5:23
Paul's anthropology was based upon Hebrew and not Greek thought. This saw Humans as not made up of many parts but as a unity. David Freeman in the Anchor Bible Dictionary says: "Is the anthrōpos [man] in Paul to be comprehended as having two parts (body and soul) or three parts (body, soul, and spirit) or is the anthrōpos a unified being who cannot properly be divided? ...in interpreting Paul at this point one has to deal with the fact of his Hebraic background, in which humanity is looked upon as a whole, rather than as assembled but discrete parts. The human being is seen as a psychosomatic unity there and in Paul as well ... A more accurate use of the term dualism would be for the sort of ethical dualism one sees in the anthropological dividedness Paul identifies in Rom 7:7–24. In his discussion... he points to the unresolved conflict between the ability... to will the right and his or her inability to carry out the right (7:15–20)."
In his commentary on Thessalonians, William Hendricksen states:
"The fact that Paul was not a trichotomist is clear from such passages as the following: Rom. 8:10; I Cor. 5:5; 7:34; II Cor. 7:1; Eph. 2:3; Col. 2:5. Apart from I Thess. 5:23 he nowhere employs trichotomistic language with respect to the nature of man. The conclusion seems valid that also in the present passage he does not write as a trichotomist."
In his commentary Jacob Elias says:
"Would the Thessalonians have understood spirit and soul and body to identify three distinguishable components within human beings? Nowhere else does Paul or any other NT writer include a comparable listing of separable aspects of human nature, although each of these terms occurs frequently in Scripture... Paul and his colleagues pray that the Thessalonians as whole physical, psychological, and spiritual beings might be sustained in anticipation of the triumphant coming of Christ... Other commentators (Bruce: 129–130; Wanamaker: 206–207) suggest simply that the missionary pastors long for the Thessalonian believers as complete human beings to be preserved for the coming of Christ."
And John Walvoord makes the point that:
"Rather than teaching man as having only three parts, Paul was probably using the three terms here to identify the different aspects of personhood he wished to emphasize."
Jon Weatherly quite rightly in my opinion says:
"The combination of three terms here is probably only intended as a means of underlining the comprehensive nature of that protection; it is no more a systematic presentation of human nature than is the combination “heart, soul, mind and strength” in Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27."
And finally, Gerald Hawthorne states:

"...the overlap between sōma and psychē in Paul’s teaching will not sustain the rigid dualism inherent within much Greek thought of the time. As E. Best remarks, “Man cannot be divided into an ‘I’ and a ‘non-I’, a soul and a body; he is a unity and can be regarded as ‘body’ or as ‘soul’ ”.

Freedman, David Noel: The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York : Doubleday, 1996, c1992, S. 3:323
Hendriksen, William ; Kistemaker, Simon J.: New Testament Commentary : Exposition of I-II Thessalonians. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1953-2001 (New Testament Commentary 3)
Elias, Jacob W.: 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1995 (Believers Church Bible Commentary), S. 240
Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:710
Weatherly, Jon A.: 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Joplin, Mo. : College Press Pub. Co., 1996 (The College Press NIV Commentary), S. 1 Th 5:23

Hawthorne, Gerald F. ; Martin, Ralph P. ; Reid, Daniel G.: Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1993, S. 72


Saul and the medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28:5-19)

Saul, in spite of banning necromancy (Cf also, Leviticus 20.27), asks his servant to find a medium (1 Samuel 28:7) and he asked her to call up the prophet Samuel who had died (1 Sam 28:8, 11). It is only the woman who sees the apparition (1 Sam 28:12) and Saul asks for a description to which she replies by saying that she sees a god-like figure (elohim) rising from the ground, an old man dressed in a robe. Saul assumes that this is Samuel (1 Sam 28:13-14) and then the apparition addresses him through the medium (It would have been the medium speaking) claiming to be Samuel (1 Sam 28:15). God has already told Saul that he would not speak to him... even by a prophet (Samuel was a prophet) and Saul states that because God would not speak to him even by a prophet (including Samuel), '...therefore I have called you...' Who did Saul call? Not Samuel himself but a lying spirit! This is made clear in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 where he is accused of consulting a medium and not the Lord. Saul was literally 'seeking into/with the 'ob. The 'ob is both the familiar spirit and the medium as receptacle. The lie given to Saul is shown in 1 Samuel 28:19. Saul did not die the next day as the following chapters of the book show. Also, if Samuel was in some sort of 'blessed' intermediate state how could he tell the apostate Saul that he would be with him? Surely Saul would be in 'hell'? Of course, when Saul died he did join Samuel... in death. Their soul/person was dead and they were in a condition of death called שְׁאוֹל (sheol).

Ecclesiastes 12:7
"Koheleth has no thought of afterlife in his picture of death in 12:1–7. The talk of darkness (v. 2) and the grave (vv. 5–7) rule that out. [The] passage aims to recount a dissolution of the human personhood as a reversal—“return” does not hint at a new status—of the creative process of Genesis 2:7. The body, without which the Hebrews could not imagine full humanity, crumbles to dust, and God withdraws the life-spirit which he had given to energize the body into a “living being.” We should not infer, from the Preacher’s words, any conclusions about what happened after the spirit or “breath” (Gen. 2:7) and the body were sundered. Part of hearing Koheleth in his own time and setting is to resist the temptation to read back New Testament teaching into his texts."
Hubbard, David A. ; Ogilvie, Lloyd J.: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 16 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Nashville, Tennessee : Thomas Nelson Inc, 1991 (The Preacher's Commentary Series 16), S. 243

"After all this, the body having failed, ˒ādām goes to his eternal home (the grave), and mourners go about in the street.
12:6 The picture is of a spring or cistern from which one draws the water of life. The obvious meaning is that death has come.
12:7 “Dust” alludes to Gen 2:7 and 3:19. This is the Teacher’s final meditation on the fall. The return of the spirit to God refers to death. All life comes from God."
Garrett, Duane A.: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1993 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 14), S. 343"

Jesus' last breath
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit (ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα).” (Matthew 27:50, ESV)
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed (ἐξέπνευσεν) his last.” (Mark 15:37, ESV)
“and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (τὸ πνεῦμα ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς τὸν θεόν).” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, ESV)
To give up the spirit in Matthew, is to breath his last in Mark.

Souls under the alter (Revelation 6)
"We conclude, therefore, that by our author the martyr was conceived first and chiefly as a sacrifice to God, and that though his body was slain on earth, the sacrifice was in reality made in heaven, where his soul [being, person] was offered on the heavenly altar. Our text, therefore, has come to represent SYMBOLICALLY the consummation of the idea expressed by St. Paul in Rom. 12:1"
Charles, R.H.: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St John. Edinburgh : T&T Clark International, 1920, S. 1:174

Links and sources:
Compelling Truth

Notes Click for a PDF overview of Old Testament texts on Sheol.
[1] Black, M. C. (1996). Luke. College Press NIV commentary (Lk 16:22). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.