The Intermediate State

Just got this from Fr. Charles. As soon as I read it, I went and bought the book.

Seriously, is there a more neglected topic among non-Roman Catholics than the state which comes between death and the resurrection of the body? In avoiding the Roman invention of purgatory the Church must at the same time with equal vigilance avoid the gnostic notion of a “souls in heaven” understanding of the afterlife. What follows here is a good primer on what can be confessed about the intermediate state.


From The Theology of the Resurrection, by Walter Kuenneth (1901-1997)

Four things according to Scripture are characteristic of this “intermediate state.”

Those who “are fallen asleep in Christ” rest in the peace of God; they are liberated from the struggle, toil and suffering of their earthly pilgrimage; they “sleep” under God’s eyes and are secure in God’s hands. (I Thess. 4:13ff; II Peter 3:4; Luke 23:46; Hebrews 4:9ff; I Peter 4:19; Matt. 27:52; I Cor. 15:20; Mark 5:39; John 5:24f; 8:51; 11:26; I John 3:2, 14)

Yet at the same time this “resting” is not equivalent to some euphemistic phrase about “being in death,” but denotes the conscious joy of “being at home with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). “The dying of Christians means their departure to the heavenly Kyrios [Lord]” (Ethelbert Stauffer, New Testament Theology). Hence this “intermediate state” is in contrast to “hell” a “life in paradise,” the joyous arrival at the goal, a blessed foretaste of the glory that is in process of fulfillment (Luke 23:46, Rom.4:8).

But thirdly, this life in the light and power of the Risen Christ during the “intermediate state” must not be misunderstood as a monotonous existence in the form of a “sleep of the soul.” Despite all the “resting from their labors,” it denotes activity and conscious personal being on the part of the disciples who have fallen asleep in Christ. It is a question here of their new membership of the “church above” which in intimate union with Christ exercises a priestly service while in the intermediate state. This service takes shape by beginning the “heavenly liturgy” of adoration and praise on the one hand and of intercession and blessing on the other. An effectual working of the “church of the firstborn which are written in heaven” and of “the spirits of just men made perfect” may be legitimately spoken of in this sense (Heb. 12:23 [Rev. 7:9-17]).

Finally, however, it is plain that even in this state of “having come home” there is an element of not yet. This “intermediate state” does indeed mean having reached the goal, but not yet the final goal, not yet the whole fulness of the riches of heaven. It is a partial anticipation of the consummation in the form of communion with Christ — it is a pre-consummation — but not yet the resurrection of the body, not yet the glorification which is bound up with the appearing [in glory] of Jesus…There remains the longing for “a house which is from heaven,” which is “eternal” (II Cor. 5:1ff). The pre-consummated Church of those who “have come home” knows of the dire struggles of the Church militant, and waits for its ultimate victory until “their fellow servants also and their brethren should be fulfilled” (Rev. 6:11). This state of waiting in the pre-consummation is therefore not eternal but lasts until the eschatological reveille which comes with the Parousia [appearing of Christ in glory, Titus 2:11-14] and the consummation of the Church, and on the other hand until the judgment of the world and the resurrection of the dead. For the disciples who have fallen asleep this waiting period of the “intermediate state” strains towards the coming of Christ’s kingdom and the consummation of the whole cosmic world.

The Resurrection of the Body

Mark 12:18-27 (Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-40)
John 5:24-29
John 6:37-40, 53-58
I Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-58
II Corinthians 5:1-10
Romans 8:18-23
Colossians 3:1-4
II Peter 3:11-13 (Is.66:22f)
I John 3:1,2
Revelation 21:1-5

The Intermediate State

Psalm 11:7
Psalm 16:9-11
Psalm 17:15
Psalm 49:14f
Psalm 73:24-26
Luke 16:19-31
Luke 23:43
John 10:27-30
John 11:23-27
Romans 8:38
Romans 14:7-9
II Corinthians 5:1-10
Philippians 1:21-23
Revelation 6:9-11
Revelation 7:9-17
Revelation 14:13



  1. A wildcard in this discussion is the nature of Time. It’s possible that the resurrection still lies in the future for us, but is already experienced by those who have died in Christ.

  2. Great point, Eric. My father (and spiritual father for many years) always said that it would make sense that those who die instantly experience the resurrection of the body, as Heaven is presumable somewhere outside of space and time.

    In a similar vein, as Dr. Jackson of Hillsdale college replied when he was accused of “immanentizing the eschaton”: “Why would I immanentize the eschaton when it’s already here?”

    • Personally, I must confess that I am rather skeptical of the view which suggests that the dead are already experiencing the resurrection, and we with them. God is outside of time, yes, but we are not. Meanwhile, the saints in heaven cry out “How long?” Revelation vi, 9-10:

      When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

      ​Just my thoughts.​

  3. The Book of Revelation does envision a group of souls living in heaven between death and the resurrection and still operating according to Time. It’s not just in the verses Trent quotes, but also in 20:4-6 (and maybe the 144,000 too?). So at a minimum there must be an exception to the theory I suggested. In both ch. 6 and ch. 20, this group is identified explicitly as martyrs. So maybe the intermediate state is just for martyrs? Or maybe the martyrs are mentioned synecdochically because they are the examples par excellence of Christians who are faithful unto death. I don’t know. But I do think that after the “second resurrection,” the martyrs and all of us will escape the bonds of Time, and “know even as also I am known” (I Cor. 13:12). So even as the saints in the intermediate state are asking, “How long?” they are already complete in Eternity. Which isn’t too surprising, because that is true even in this life.

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