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Trying to understand the Intermediate State
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TOPIC: Trying to understand the Intermediate State

Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months, 1 week ago #5003

This is my first post here in Rethinking Hell, but I'm a person who's been interested in and reseraching "alternative" views on the afterlife and eschatology for quite some time now. There is one topic that has continued to be of interest to me - the so called "intermediate state" - the time between our physical death (whatever that means) and our future ressurection (however that works).

What frustrated me the most as I conducted my research on this was just how abysmally one-sided so many of the articles I read were. So many places would write as if their view, whether that be temporary heaven / hell, unconscious soul sleep, literal non-existence, or any and all in-between... they all acted as if the opposing views were completely impossible or contrary to the "clear word of God." I want to change that.

I like to view the many different theological models describing what might happen right after we die as just that - models. In the same way a scientists should have a fair grasp on the pros/cons of all of the competing models when powerful empircal evidence has yet to present itself, so should theologians be willing consider the validity of the multitide of theological models when all we have to go on is the same finite set of books. Whenever someone says "God's word is clear," one of my favorite pithy responses is "The one thing that is clear, is that it's not clear." I want to dig and understand as many different opinions as I possibly can, and that certainly isn't going to happen if I have tunnel vision.

This is why I greately respect the community here at Rethinking Hell for refraining from being dogmatic about one particular opinion, cordially discussing the many consistent biblical positions, and really trying to dig into the text and figure out what might really be going on.

What I've been trying to do the past couple weeks is build a comprehensive set of visual models to describe what happens (to different people at different times) during this elusive "intermediate state." I've attatched all the ones I've made so far.

All of these different models seem to stem from one's interpretation of these topics:
- The idea of the "abode of the dead" / Sheol from the Old Testament (and its NT counterpart Hades), if such a place is consciously experienced, and if it is indeed some seperate place from "Hell"
- The idea of "abraham's bosom" / the temporary abode of the righteous dead from the Old Testament, and if it really is/was a compartment of Sheol/Hades or simply a representation of Heaven (or if it exists at all)
- The many statements throughout scripture that the eternal consequences of sin are "destruction,"
- The many statement that seem to imply that the first death is like "sleep"
- Jesus' statement to the man on the cross next to him that "Today you will be with me in Paradise." (arguments of whether paradise refers to abraham's bosom in sheol, paradise as a kind of present heaven, or paradise as in the coming future kingdom)
- Interpretations of the story/parable/literal account of Lazarus and the Rich Man
- Reconciliation between the statments of multiple New Testament writers that say both that we will die, be ressurected at a later time, and then be ushered into the new heaven / earth... and that when we die we will be immediately with the Lord.

For those interested, what I'm looking for is critique and (more importantly) suggestions for potentially other models (or variations upon these models) that I haven't thought of yet. I want this to be a community endeavor. As far as I can tell, there dosen't yet exist anywhere online where one can easily acess a full breadth of opinions on the intermediate state, so I want to change that right now. All of the names I've given to these models are completely arbitrary and mostly of my own creation.

The last model, the perpendicular timeline one, is a bit of a brain trip, but I was trying to get at the idea that Lewis and other theologians like him have spoken about... the whole idea that when we die its like "stepping out into eternity." That one is obviously SUPER speculative, but I thought I'd tack it on and see what people thought of it.


EDIT: For people just starting to read this thread, you can find high-res versions of the models (that will update as the thread goes on) here:
Last Edit: 2 months ago by N.J. Killeen. Reason: added link to models

Re: Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months, 1 week ago #5004

  • kgddds
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Interesting topic. I'm also undecided about the interim phase between the first death and the resurrected existence in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

When I hear the Luke 23:43 reference to the thief on the cross and him being that very day with Jesus in Paradise, I'm puzzled by this thought when Jesus is going to the grave for three days. I tend to interpret this along the lines of, "Because of your repentance today, you will be with me in Paradise when that time comes [you'll be resurrected to live eternally with me in the New Heavens and the New Earth]."

When I hear the 2 Cor 5:8 reference supporting "when we die we will be immediately with the Lord," I'm puzzled by this thought because that's not how I interpret what it says. For example, if I have a preference to be on the beach rather than at the office, it's not true to conclude "to be absent from the office is to be present on the beach." Unless you have a beachfront office, leaving the office only starts the journey to the beach. If one knows that to be with the Lord is better than our current state of existence in the body, then to express this preference doesn't necessarily lock in the notion that when you die then "being with the Lord [in an intermediate state of conscious existence]" immediately occurs.

When people say that grandma is currently dancing on streets of gold and baking pies for everyone in heaven the moment she dies, I mainly respectfully just keep quiet because I just do not know.

I didn't study the graphic representations of your various models, but I'd be interested to know which model you think is most likely to be true. Which model tops your list?

The beauty of grace is seen in the glory it reveals.
Grace is glory's seed; Glory is grace's bloom.

Re: Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months, 1 week ago #5005

  • webb
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Welcome, N.J.!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a blurry picture may be worth only, say, ~500. Has the attachment uploader cut your jpgs way down? If it's not the website itself limiting the quality and size, how about uploading versions that are at least 800 pixels wide? That way all the text will be legible. Also, don't let the jpg algorithm fuzz them up as you save them--use at least medium quality.

Technical issues out of the way, I like your mentality of openness and curiosity. It's very possible to be too dogmatic and stiff-minded about things about which Biblical writers say various metaphorical and/or symbolic things. The following logical thinking is too common among Christians:

God would never want me to be confused, therefore God will never say anything that I cannot immediately understand clearly.
The Bible is God's word to me, therefore the Bible will never be confusing to me.
Therefore I will find that the meaning of every passage is clear and that there is one single clear and obvious solution to every appearance of a contradiction or paradox.

People forget that the doctrine of the perspicuity (clarity) of scripture refers exclusively to the idea that God has given the Bible to humanity in such a way that a person does not need an expert to interpret it for them as regards the way of salvation. A person with no expertise, in other words, can pick up a Bible and find the Gospel of salvation in its pages. They can't pick up a Bible and understand everything including mysteries of life after death.

I look forward to looking at your illustrations again.
Last Edit: 2 months, 1 week ago by webb. Reason: edited is to its

Re: Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months, 1 week ago #5006

Thanks for the responses!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a blurry picture may be worth only, say, ~500.

I noticed that the pictures got downsized as well. I do have much bigger copies of them, so I uploaded them to a quick little weebly website, so you should be able to get a clear look at them here:


Let me know if that still dosen't work

And yes, I completely agree with you on the whole buisness of people seeing the Bible as source of "certainity" on all things. It can be very harmful to the way people approach things that aren't actually clear. I have a friend who quite wisely says "Scripture may be inerrant, but your interpretation is not. The trick is figuring out where one ends and the other begins."

When I hear the Luke 23:43 reference to the thief on the cross and him being that very day with Jesus in Paradise, I'm puzzled by this thought when Jesus is going to the grave for three days.

I agree that I'm puzzled as well. When I see people say that this must mean that Jesus and the thief went to the same place after they died, I see this as a non-sequitor. To the time-transcending triune God, Jesus could go and do whatever he wanted for however long he wanted and still be with the man in Paradise (whatever that is) "on that day."

It's pretty clear (to me at least) that "Paradise" in this passage is not referring to a temporary disembodied heaven or Abraham's Bosom, as the proceeding question that prompted Jesus' response has nothing to do with the afterlife. The thief tells Jesus "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." The Jews had developed a belief that that the messiah (usually thought of as a warrior king) would come one day and establish God's kingdom on earth. Some believed there would be a great ressurection and the righteous would be ushered into this kingdom. This was their "Paradise" - the root word literally referring to a garden, echoing the garden of eden. The new, perfect, and eternal "idyllic state." Obviously as Christians we see some clear similarities between this the idea of the second coming and the New Heaven/Earth. Both we and the thief on the cross recognized that this is going to happen in the future.

The thief obviously believes that he is not worthy to be part of such a kingdom, so he simply requests that Jesus (who we can only assume he now recognizes as the messiah) to "remember" him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus' response both assures that man that he will indeed be present in such a future paradise, and that - for him - such a paradise is TODAY. If we truly accept that the thief is referring to the coming kingdom, then Jesus response is essentially "There's no need for me to remember, for today is the day you will be present in paradise."

It really boils down to the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven as "now and not yet." And, honestly, this is where all the controversy over the intermediate state seems to arise from. The Bible seems to say BOTH that Heaven is in the future and that we are immediately there at death as well. Many of Jesus' parables seem to reflect this paradox in a similar manner.

I'd be interested to know which model you think is most likely to be true. Which model tops your list?

Great question. I'm fairly confident (like 90 - 95%) that there is no conscious experience of time passing between death and ressurection. If God is truly immutable and beyond time, then distinguisng between the "present heaven" and the "new heaven" is kind of a tricky buisness. I'm really not yet sure as to how that mechanism works, however. I think most people are weary of the idea of "soul sleep" simply because it implies that (at present) nobody is really anywhere. The dead are just kinda "dead." But to me, being "apart from the body is to be with the Lord" is just as true if you go to a present heaven or you instantly "wake up" at the ressurection. Using that passage as a proof text for either position exclusively dosen't really make sense to me.

And isn't it a beautiful idea that nobody is "waiting" for you in Heaven? The idea of showing up in Heaven with my loved ones all at the same time seems to be a much more beautiful picture (but that's just me).

That being said, even if there is a conscious experience of the passage of time between now and the ressurection in some kind of temporary disembodied state, I see no reason to conclude that the passage of time must be 1:1 with time on Earth. It could be ten thousand years between now and ressurection and only be perceived as like 10 minutes for those in Heaven.

It certainly seems awkward for there to be any kind of "foretaste" of the final judgment immeidately after death (as a lot of pastors seem to say). In traditionalism, why would God subject people to torment only to bring them back and judge them and send them back into torment again? In conditonalism, why would God eradicte souls (or let souls be eradicated) only to bring them back and then eradicate them again? It seems to me that regardless of what your opinion on final judgement is, a conscious intermediate state steps in to make things seem a little bit more complicated.

It really does revolve around Heaven as "now and not yet," judgmenet as "upon death" and "in the future." It seems like the bible is constantly saying both things, and all of these different swirling concepts of Sheol/Hades, the "first death," the final judgement, Paradise, the coming Kingdom, and even Abraham's Bosom are all reflecting upon some higher reality that I'm just not sure we can yet grasp while still humans on this Earth. All of the different intermediate state models are attempting to find some biblically consistent way to plug that gap.

If I had to pick one model that I think is "most likely" true, I'd say it's probably something like the perpendicular timeline model. I think that one, at least, acknowledges that there is something much bigger going on that a simple linear understanding of time. But honestly, I really don't know!

Thanks again!

Re: Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months ago #5009

  • RayB
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When I hear the Luke 23:43 reference to the thief on the cross and him being that very day with Jesus in Paradise, I'm puzzled by this thought when Jesus is going to the grave for three days.

I agree that I'm puzzled as well. When I see people say that this must mean that Jesus and the thief went to the same place after they died, I see this as a non-sequitor. To the time-transcending triune God, Jesus could go and do whatever he wanted for however long he wanted and still be with the man in Paradise (whatever that is) "on that day."

Hello N. J.,

I'd like to offer some thoughts about the “puzzle” with Luke 23:43:

To sketch in some background here is a brief summary of conclusions drawn from Genesis chapters 1 – 3:
  • Man became a living soul, a soul is what a man is, not what a man has.
  • The Hebrew is nephesh – living being, is often mistranslated as 'soul'. The word nephesh is also used to define all the other animals (living beings) God created.
  • Man was not created immortal, immortality is conditional.
  • “In the day you eat thereof you shall die”: death is the consequence of sin.
  • The corollary is that the consequence of 'no sin' is 'no death', and 'no death' = immortality.
  • Therefore immortality is conditional on there being no sin.
  • Mortality and death is for sinners, immortality is for the sinless, those who have been redeemed from their sin.

The notion that the soul is a non-material, immortal entity that survives the death of the body is of pagan origin.
The pagan notion drives the theology that misinterprets certain passages of scripture used to support the notion that non-material souls are immortal and leave the dead body to enjoy eternal bliss in heaven or eternal torment in hell. A soul is not what a man has, it is what a man is, and man is mortal.

* * *

Luke23:43 “And He (Jesus) said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.””

The traditional way of understanding this saying creates the difficulties you have noted with the following passages (and others):

  • Matt 12:40 Jesus had said to the Pharisees “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
  • John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
  • John 20:17 After His resurrection Jesus said to Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
  • Acts 2:31 The words of Peter when he quotes from Psa 16, “he (David) foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” Peter clearly understands David to prophesy that between His death and resurrection Christ would be in Hades, the Hebrew Sheol.
  • The difficulty can be resolved when the passage in Luke 23:43 is punctuated thus: “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” This solution is sometimes wrongly attributed to JWs and is dismissed with disdain as though, for that reason, it is not worthy of consideration. That is a pity because the solution depends not on the opinion of JWs, but on a fact of which few people seem to be aware – Luke did not punctuate his gospel, and neither did anyone else punctuate any manuscripts in his day. MSS were written without spaces between the words, it was not until around the year 900 AD that rudimentary punctuation was first introduced in the western world in the form of a single dot between each word. This can be verified by a little online research. When the passage in question was first punctuated sometime after the ninth century, successive anonymous scribes, copyists and translators performing the task followed their own presuppositions when they placed a comma before the word “today”. Punctuation is not the product of divine inspiration and it carries no weight when determining the meaning intended by the original author of a passage, it can convey only the opinion of the copyist or translator. Is there scriptural evidence to support an alternative punctuation of Luke23:43? Yes, I believe there is: Throughout His ministry to the Jews Jesus frequently quoted the OT scriptures from memory, and Hebraisms fell readily from His lips. The book of Deuteronomy is the book from which He quoted most frequently and with which He appears to have been most familiar. In Deuteronomy alone, which many scholars claim was His favourite scripture, there are over forty uses of the word ‘today’ or its equivalent phrase ‘this day’, and on each occasion it is used to qualify the preceding verb and to emphasize the solemnity of a pronouncement or an occasion, e.g. – Deut 8:1. “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe …” See also: Deuteronomy chs 4:26,39,40; 5:1; 6:6; 7:11; 8:1,11,19; 9:1,3; 10:13; 11:2,8,13,26,27,28,32; 13:18; 15:5,15; 19:9; 26:3,16,17,18; 27:1,4,10; 28:1,13,14,15; 30:2,8,11,15,16,18,19; 32:46. 42 passages. In these 42 passages the word “today” or “this day” refers to the day on which the words were spoken and not to the time when the events spoken of would take place. The emphasis on “today” gives added force and solemnity to the divine pronouncement. In view of Jesus’ earlier words in Matt 12 about being in the heart of the earth for three days and nights, His reassuring words to Mary in John 20 that He had not yet ascended to the Father, Peter’s words in Acts 2 stating that His soul (being) was not left in Hades, and with the testimony of such an abundance of precedents in Deuteronomy alone, there are good scriptural grounds on which to conclude that, on such a solemn occasion, Jesus used the idiom so familiar to Him, and what He actually said to the thief was: “Truly, I say unto you today, you shall be with me in the Paradise….” .....the Paradise that was lost in Eden and which will not be restored until the dawning of the age to come when Christ shall come in His glory and God will dwell with redeemed and resurrected men in the Paradise on the new earth, Rev 21-22. It is also worthy of note that the thief neither expected nor requested to go either to heaven or to paradise on the day he died; his plea to Jesus was that Jesus would remember him when He came in glory to establish His Kingdom. That in itself was a marvelous declaration of his faith in the preaching of Jesus which it is definitely possible he had heard a number of times during the previous three years, Luke 4:42-44, and his belief in his own resurrection at the last day. I agree that the model which is most likely true is probably your perpendicular timeline model. P.S. I'm not a JW!
Last Edit: 2 months ago by RayB. Reason: Failed attempt to adjust paragraph spacing

Re: Trying to understand the Intermediate State 2 months ago #5010

  • webb
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A few little notes on your models.

1. For illustrative purposes it might be good to have stripes in the third part showing that heaven and earth are interwoven/intertwined/completely united in the new creation. As it is the color itself does not help convey that the earth is resurrected and united with heaven.

2. It seems to me that all of your "extinction" models lead to christological problems for Christ's experience of death. On one hand if death = complete cessation of consciousness and of any sense of life, then it seems that humanity succeeded in temporarily rubbing out the second person of the Trinity. On the other hand, if Christ is just kind of having a dreamless sleep, that would seem to be docetism--the doctrine that Christ was not fully human, that Christ did not really experience the limitations and the sufferings that human beings experience, and, in particular, that Christ did not really die.

3. Your instantaneous resurrection model does indeed leave questions about what Christ experienced when he died. I personally read 1 Pet. 3:18-20 as indicating that Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the good news of the atonement that he had wrought in the realm of the dead. Whether we take that literally or not, I think that is what Peter is encouraging us to imagine. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 5.32.1) says that Jesus, in becoming one of us, obeyed the law of the dead, which is (implicitly) that you die, then you spend a a certain amount of time in the company of the dead, then you rise in resurrection. You do not immediately pop to resurrection, let alone fly, without ever having any need for resurrection, to the utter heights of glory in heaven, never again to return to a relationship with the physical creation.

4. Your Perpendicular model reminds me a little of the realized eschatology of C.H. Dodd. It's not too clear from the illustration what relationship exists between the present creation and the new creation. The "eschaton" doesn't seem to interface with the perpendicular eternal dimension in any particular way.
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