The Intermediate State (Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:40-43; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23). When a person on earth dies, they enter a spiritual state, known in scripture as Hades, sometimes translated “hell”. Hades is not exactly a place, but rather a state. Death is the state of the body without the soul, and Hades is the state of the soul apart from the body. Death is physical, Hades is spiritual. Hades can be thought of a “holding place”, as opposed to a permanent residence. We read that “death and hades” will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). There will be no “intermediate state” in the Eternal State, because there will be no more time! However, within the intermediate state, there are two departments or conditions. In the account in Luke 16:19-31 these two conditions are evident.
- Torment. This is Hades for the lost. If the lake of fire is like prison, Torment is more like a county jail. A prisoner might be locked in a county jail (Hades) for the time awaiting his trial, but after his trial (the Great White Throne) he is cast into prison (the lake of fire). We read about this state in Luke 16:23; the rich man “in hades lifting up his eyes, being in torments”.
- Paradise. This is Hades for the redeemed. This waiting-place is called a number of things: “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), “Paradise” (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4), “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), and “present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). To his chagrin, the rich man found that there was a “great gulf fixed” between Abraham’s bosom, where Lazarus was, and the place of torment where he was. We don’t know much about this state, but certainly the prevailing feature is the presence of the Lord, as we know from the aforementioned passages, and others like the dying words of Stephen; “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). William Kelly defined Paradise as “the brightest part of heaven, with Christ”.
As we have seen, there is an intermediate state for both the believer and the unbeliever; one of extreme bliss, the other of extreme torment. The soul is conscious in either place, and there is no way to pass from one to the other. The believer in that state enjoys the fellowship of Old Testament saints (Heb. 11:40). Other scriptures deal with the body during this time; saints who have died are called “asleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4). Nowhere do we read that the soul will sleep (be unconscious) in the intermediate state. From Luke 23:40-43 we learn that the soul enters Paradise immediately after death; “today thou shalt be with me”. In 2 Cor. 5:1-8 we learn that the soul in the intermediate state is apart from the body. But the intermediate state is never held out to the believer as our hope. In fact, in 2 Cor. 5:4 we read that it is not the Christian’s desire “that we would be unclothed” (be separated from our body), but “clothed upon” (with our glorified bodies). However, to be “with Christ” is certainly “far better” than being here on earth with our bodies of humiliation (Phil. 3:21-23), and so we are “willing rather” to be with the Lord than here in the body. Nonetheless, Christians are to look forward, beyond the intermediate state, to the full enjoyment of our eternal portion!