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Question and Answer

Does the Bible teach an intermediate state at death?

Question:

Do the Holy Scriptures teach an intermediate state at death? I know the Westminster Catechism says that a believer goes straight to heaven at death, but the Scriptures seem to say that there is an intermediate state (Paradise) as our Lord told Mary Magdalene after the resurrection not to touch him as he had not yet ascended to heaven. He also told the dying thief that he would go to Paradise at death. I find this confusing.

Answer:

For the Westminster Catechism, heaven is the intermediate state. As Paul says, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, both the Catechism and the Bible teach the intermediate state; that is, when the believer dies, his soul goes to be with the Lord until it is reunited with the body on the great resurrection day. Below is a very helpful explanation from the Westminster Confession 32.1 along with the proof texts. I would encourage you to study the corresponding Bible passages. I hope and pray that this was helpful to you.

WCF 32.1: The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption1 but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them2 the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.3 And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.4 Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

1Gen. 3:19; Acts 13:36

2Luke 23:43; Eccl. 12:7

3Heb. 12:23; 2 Cor. 5:1,6,8; Phil. 1:23 with Acts 3:21; Eph. 4:10

Luke 16:23,24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6,7; 1 Pet. 3:19


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