The state of the believer after death is both different and better than what we experience in this life, though not as different or as blessed as it will be in the final resurrection. In the intermediate state we will enjoy the continuity of conscious personal existence in the presence of Christ. Mankind’s probation ends at death. Our ultimate destiny is decided when we die. There is no hope of a second chance of repentance after death, and there is no place of purging such as purgatory to improve our future condition.
“She is not dead but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). Jesus made this comment about Jairus’s daughter when He was about to raise her from the dead. Frequently the Bible refers to death by the figure of “sleep.” Because of this image, some have concluded that the New Testament teaches the doctrine of soul sleep.
Soul sleep is usually described as a kind of temporary suspended animation of the soul between the moment of personal death and the time when our bodies will be resurrected. When our bodies are raised from the dead, the soul is awakened to begin conscious personal continuity in heaven. Though centuries may pass between death and final resurrection, the “sleeping” soul will have no conscious awareness of the passing of time. Our transition from death to heaven will seem to be instantaneous.
Soul sleep represents a departure from orthodox Christianity. It remains, however, as a firmly entrenched minority report among Christians. The traditional view is called the intermediate state. This view holds that at death, the believer’s soul goes immediately to be with Christ to enjoy a continuous, conscious, personal existence while awaiting the final resurrection of the body. When the Apostles’ Creed speaks of the “resurrection of the body,” it is not referring to the resurrection of Christ’s human body (which is also affirmed in the Creed) but to the resurrection of our bodies at the last day.
But what happens in the meantime? The classical view is that at death the souls of believers are immediately glorified. They are made perfect in holiness and enter immediately into glory. Their bodies, however, remain in the grave, awaiting final resurrection.