The Intermediate State of the Soul and Spirit:
Seven Scriptural Proofs
By Elder Mike Montgomery
Job once wondered aloud, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14) Interestingly enough, some Sadducees asked the Lord a similar question but with different motives (Mt 22:24). Everyone is curious about what happens after death. You may be a sincere seeker of truth like Job or a rationalist who won't believe anything that the natural senses cannot perceive, but in every case (even the rationalists), there is a great curiosity.
The sincere seeker of truth will find the answer in the Bible. Granted, there is never enough evidence for the rationalist, but for the one who by faith humbles himself and inquires humbly of God, there is enough information to be gleaned therein to satisfy his hungry soul.
More seems to be said in scripture about the body's resurrection than about the state of the disembodied soul and spirit, but enough can be found to comfort the child of God that the disembodied soul and spirit of the child of God is in an alive, awake, and aware condition. Moreover, it is in a blissful and joyous state. Here are seven proofs gleaned from scripture to assure the sincere seeker of truth that such is the case.
First, the scriptures teach that in the death of the body that the soul and spirit of the Elect goes immediately to God. Further, it is provable in scripture that the soul and spirit of the Elect goes to Heaven and stays there awaiting the resurrection of its body. See Eccl 3:21; 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Php 1:23. Notice especially 2 Cor 5:8, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
Second, the scriptures teach that God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living (Mt 22:32). He is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and this means that they are alive. Of course, we know their bodies are dead, so we know their souls and spirits are still alive and that their souls and spirits are now in Heaven. The scriptures state, "For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him." (Lu 20:38) Notice, this verse says all live meaning they never die but stay alive even at the death of the body. Rachel's soul did not die when her body died as a result of giving birth to Benjamin. It says (Ge 35:18) that "as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin."
Third, the scriptures do not teach that the soul and spirit of the Elect sleeps when the body dies, so it is not only alive but also awake while it is in Heaven, even prior to the time of the body's resurrection. The only thing of the Elect that "sleeps" is the body. When the body dies, it is said to be asleep, but nowhere do the scriptures teach that the soul and spirit sleeps. (See Lu 8:52; John 11:11-13; Acts 13:36; 1 Cor 11:30; 1 Cor 15:51; 1 Thes 4:14; 1 Thes 5:10) It must then be awake, even after the death of the body. The only thing of the Elect that will be awakened is the body. David said (Ps 17:5) that he would be satisfied when he awakened in the Lord's likeness. Surely he is not speaking of his soul and spirit but only of his body's resurrection.
Fourth, the Apostle Paul spoke of an experience (2 Cor 12:2-4) of someone (which I believe was in fact himself) that was caught up into the third heaven, which he further identified as paradise. Of course, he said he didn't know whether this was what we would call today an "out of body experience" but it could have been. Regardless, it was an experience in which he was very much aware of what was happening when it happened and certainly was able to remember it long after it happened. I think that this proves that the spirit and soul of man is not only alive and awake but also aware when it is separated from its body. How much more so the soul and spirit of the Elect when it is separated from the body at the point of the body's death and makes its flight to God in heaven?
Fifth, the regenerated soul and spirit of the Elect longs for one thing and for one thing only and that is to be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom 8:21) The Apostle Paul told the Philippians, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." (Php 1:21-23) It's not better just because we are no longer in a sin-cursed body on a sin-cursed earth but what really makes it better is that when your body dies, your soul and spirit goes to Jesus and this must mean that the soul and spirit has communion and fellowship with Him in a way that is just not possible while in its body. And this communion and fellowship obviously happens before the resurrection of the body. Why else would your inner man long for it?
Sixth, Heaven is paradise (Lu 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4). God's throne is there (Ps 11:4; Isa 66:1). Christ reigns there (Ps 110:1; Isa 9:7; Mark 16:19; Heb 1:3,8). Angels minister there (Mt 18:10, Mt 22:30; Mt 24:36; Lu 22:43; Heb 1:5; 1 Pe 3:22). Where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17). In a place of indescribable joy and liberty, does it make sense that the soul and spirit of the Elect will not be alive, awake, and aware and in a joyous condition? When John (while on the Isle of Patmos) was in the spirit on the Lord's day (Rev 1:10), he heard, saw and learned great and amazing things. I don't think that this was an out of body experience, like maybe the Apostle Paul's was (see my fourth point above), but it surely proves that when one is "in the spirit" that there is a heightened sense of awareness unlike what one experiences when not in the spirit. How much more so in Heaven for the disembodied soul and spirit of the Elect saint where he will truly be "in the spirit" unlike anytime while his body was alive?
Seventh, even if you do not believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lu 16:19-31) is speaking of an actual occurrence, you have to admit that the Lord uses it in such a way as to indicate plainly that He believed that the soul and spirit of the Elect is alive, awake, and aware in Heaven and the soul and spirit of the wicked is alive, awake, and aware in Hell. Abraham's Bosom was (at that time) a well-known Jewish metaphor for Heaven. Obviously, more is being taught than the condition of one Elect saint and one Wicked reprobate after the deaths of their bodies, but at the very least, it is teaching that there is a place of bliss and joy that the soul and spirit of the Elect goes to and there is a place of misery and woe that the soul and spirit of the Non-elect goes to.
More proofs could be given and the ones I have given could be better explained, yet herein is enough for one to see and to understand that this state in which we will exist between the death and resurrection of our body is both blissful and joyous; one in which our soul and spirit is alive, awake, and aware. Is it any wonder then why the Apostle Paul would write that his desire was "to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" than to stay here on this sin-cursed earth?
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The Intermediate State of the Soul and Spirit: Seven Scriptural Proofs