Q: What is the Intermediate State?
The phrase intermediate state refers to the condition of people between death and the resurrection of their bodies. At death, the souls of the redeemed (born-again believers in Christ) go immediately to heaven (2 Cor. 5:8). The unredeemed go to hades (Lk. 16:22–31), where they will suffer until they receive their resurrected bodies and are cast into the Lake of Fire at the final judgment (Rev. 20:13).
Nowhere does the Bible mention purgatory or a second chance for salvation. There is only death, and after death there is judgment (Heb. 9:27). Nor does the Bible teach “soul sleep,” the belief that when people die, their bodies and souls sleep in the grave until they are physically resurrected.
Some people teach that when we die, we receive intermediate bodies suited for our new existence while we await our resurrected bodies. Their proof text is Luke 16:19–31, which tells of a rich man who died and was buried but remained conscious. He remembered his life on Earth while being tormented by flames in hades.
However, Scripture makes no mention of him having an intermediate body or a nonphysical, spiritual body. Remember, the Devil and fallen angels (demons) possess no physical or nonphysical, spiritual bodies; yet in the future, they will be tormented in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:10).
The apostle John saw martyrs in heaven being given white robes. They spoke and remembered the past, and they possessed self-awareness and knowledge of others. But John never reported seeing them clothed with temporary bodies. He only saw “the souls of those who had been slain” (Rev. 6:9, 11); their bodies had not been resurrected. Therefore, it appears people who die are souls without bodies until they receive resurrected bodies.
People often ask, “Can the soul and spirit of a person in the intermediate state function in a meaningful way without a body?” Yes! For example, God the Father (Jn. 4:24), Son (before His incarnation), and Holy Spirit (3:8), as well as angels (Heb. 1:14), all function in heaven without having bodies.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1–10, Paul revealed the state of all redeemed people immediately after death. First, their souls and spirits separate from their bodies and move instantly into a conscious state with Christ in heaven (vv. 1–2, 8). Second, their souls are temporarily “naked” or unclothed (vv. 3–4) because they lack resurrected bodies.
At the Rapture of the church (1 Th. 4:13–18), the souls and spirits of all believers will enter their resurrected bodies. Then our works will be judged “before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Thus, believers do not seem to possess bodies in the intermediate state.