The Intermediate State: Where do Christians go when they die?

2.What happens to the individual person between death and the return of Christ, in the case of Christian believers?

This exam response will briefly discuss what happens to a Christian believer after they die for the period of time between their death and the return of Jesus Christ. It is beneficial to understand that in the beginning humans where created by God made up from a spirit and body which were tightly joined together. (Gen 2:7) Death was not in God’s plan for the perfect creation, and is directly a result of sin. (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12) The death of a Christian believer results in a separation of the body and soul.[1] (Ecc 12:7 & Luk 23:43). This time of separation is commonly referred to as the ‘intermediate state’.

From our earthly experience we can deduce that the body is destroyed after death. The question that remains is what happens to the human spirit. For the Christian believer, the bible’s emphasis of the state of the soul after death is always positive. There is no hint of suffering, evil, sin or persecution. (Rev 6:10 and 7:15ff).

While the scriptures don’t spell out in detail what the intermediate state will encompass, the focus is on the fact that Christian believers are going to be with Christ. The key term is ‘with the Lord’. (i.e. Phi 1:23)

Paul’s writings are often positive about the intermediate state and there is also a sense of incompleteness. The vibe is that there is still something incomplete. Despite this incompleteness the soul is undoubtedly in heaven, with God. (2Cor 5:1-10).

The bible doesn’t lead the Christian believer to expect a gap between earth and heaven. This would exclude the idea of purgatory of which the Roman Catholics petition.

The bible teaches that Christian believers are not conscience in the intermediate state, but does suggest that those who have died or ‘gone to sleep’ are in heaven with Christ. Christians are taught that Christ will bring them with Him when he returns for final judgement. (1Thes4:14).  This raises the question of what ‘joys’ the Christians will experience. J.N. Darby fervently advocates immediate joy for the Christian after death.[2] Darby is often criticised for his dispensational views, although this is the case he helpfully differentiates between the intermediate and eternal states of the Christian after death. He argues that the bible never talks about spirits or souls being glorified. He shows that the human soul is not fully glorified after death, but that glorification is saved for the final judgment and reuniting of body and spirit. Darby suggests that there is an immediate joy for the Christian after death.[3] Others would interpret ‘gone to sleep’ as a death with a lack of conscience and therefore no human emotion.

To what end the human emotions are experienced is open for interpretation however we can conclude that after death, the Christian believer’s spirit is in heaven, with the Lord, waiting for Christ’s return and the final judgement where he and his body will be reunited and glorified for eternity. (Heb 12:23, . 2CO 5:1, Phil 1:23; Acts 3:21, Eph 4:10, John 5:21-30).


[1] M. Driscoll & G. Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, (Crossway, 2010) pp.409-410

[2] J.N. Darby, The State of the Soul After Death, (T. Weston Publishers, 1910)

[3]J.N. Darby, The State of the Soul After Death, , (T. Weston Publishers, 1910)

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