Friday, August 12, 2005

Why I Believe in the Intermediate State

As Josh says, there is little on the soul’s life in heaven in the Bible. Little, however, but not nothing. One of the keys to analyzing the Biblical evidence is recognizing the possibility that the Old Testament saints had a different experience, and certainly a different understanding, than that of the New Testament. In this perspective, the gate to heaven for those in the intermediate state in heaven was opened by Christ in his triumphant procession through hell. I find this view makes the most sense of the Biblical facts.

We have to take seriously the passages in Psalms 6:5 "No one remembers you when he is dead; who praises you from the grave?"; Psalm 88:11 "Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in destruction?" A word search of "grave" in Psalms (try here) finds no use of it as a gateway to any kind of life worth living, rather as something which one can only wish to escape. Similar is the description of the grave in Job 3:11-19, in which it is a land of darkness (cf. Job 17:13) and rest and concealment from God (cf. Job 14:13). In the Old Testament, then, I believe man had not yet received his liberation from the curse of death and those who died went down to at best a dreary semi-existence. As an example of this viewpoint, for example, I see no reason to rationalize away the appearance of Samuel after death in 1 Samuel 28.

But as always, there are exceptions. Enoch and Elijah were carried up to heaven bodily. Likewise the body of Moses was never found (Deut. 34:6) and later Jewish rabbis concluded that Moses too had been assumed bodily into heaven. (I don’t think it is an accident that it was these two who appeared as bodily resurrected in the Transfiguration.)

In Daniel and the Apocrypha, the glimmer of hope offered by these exceptions and passages such as Psalm 16:10-11, becomes a settled expectation, although only for the far future:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever (Daniel 12:2-3)


And when [Judas Maccabee] had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain [as martyrs under Antiochus Epiphanes] should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin (2 Maccabees 12:43-45).

Note that in these passages as in Jesus’s confrontation with the Sadducees in Matthew 22, the only issue is the resurrection at the end of time. No intermediate state is in question yet. (Nor be it noted, does this have anything to do with Purgatory, as Catholic apologists have attempted to make it read.)

Yet the Pharisees themselves believed in something more. The author of Ecclesiastes calls us to

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth . . .[before] ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Ecc. 12:1, 6-7).

Of course not all Jews accepted this body-soul dualism. The Hellenized and rationalistic Sadducees denied both the resurrection and the intermediate state. (I regard the usual "Greco-Roman pagans are dualists but Hebrews reject dualism" line to be a gross oversimplification. Philo the Jew and Lucretius the Roman would give a rather different take on this.)

In this regard, Jesus was basically one with the Pharisees (cf. Acts 23:6-9). Hence he too spoke of body (soma) and soul (psyche), the later being liable to be tormented in hell (Mat. 10:28). In the light of this passage, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is harder to dismiss as just a parable.

But unlike the Pharisees, Jesus regarded HIS person as the key to having continuing life after death. When Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise again, she responds by casting her hope in the far future: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But Jesus then tells her (in elliptical language) that in him hope is much nearer: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will love, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:22-25). The natural force of this citation is that Christ is promising more than the resurrection in the far future, indeed eternal life uninterrupted by this death. The same is true of His promise to the repentant thief on the cross. He calls out to Jesus saying "Remember me when you come into your kingdom," an event he seems to regard as far in the future. Jesus then answers saying "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). Again, he is saying in effect, no, you will not have to wait until the far future but today, before the resurrection, you will experience joy.

Another problem for those who deny dualism is the state of Jesus on Holy Saturday. On that day, as we confess Jesus was in hell, was fully God and fully man, yet his body was still dead. His body was dead, but something of His was there. And that something (remember Christ as fully God and fully man has alike a reasonable soul) preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19) and released the first-fruits of the Old Testament dead into the bodily resurrection (Mat. 27:51-53). Now all those who believed in the Messiah to come are in heaven in their souls (Rev. 14:1-5), and a first fruits have already been resurrected, with incorruptible bodies like that of our Lord Christ.

More than that he gave us the promise that we would not rest in the grave as in the gloomy foreboding of David and Job. As we read in the Revelation 14:13:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’

"From now on"–it was not this way in the past. The good deeds of Samuel and Job and the prophets had not followed them until Christ broke the bands of death and Hades. The souls of those who die now are conscious of events going on in earth, crying out in Heaven for justice on the oppressors of the Christian church (Rev. 6:9-11; like Mark Louderback I see no reason not to take this passage pretty much as is).

Of course, to be with God in soul alone is no comparison with the incorruptible bodies we will inherit, but still, even such a "naked" soul is with Christ and rests from the trials of this wicked world (2 Cor. 5:1-10) as it awaits the mansion being prepared by Christ, which is our resurrection body (John 14:2-4).

Originally posted at Here We Stand

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