Megan asks:

Do you believe in soul-sleep after death, where we will awake at the second coming, or that our spirits will be with God immediately after our death? I Googled this the other day, and found scriptural foundation for both answers. What does the church teach? What do you believe?

[This is a Q&A question that has been submitted through this blog. You can submit a question (anonymously if you like) here:]

Thanks for the question, someone asked me something very similar a number of years ago: Q&A – As an Anglican, what do you believe [about the intermediate state]? and I still agree with the substance of my answer.  The focus of that answer is the “What does the church teach?” question and goes to some of the doctrinal formularies, with some of my personal conclusions.  My position is  that after death we will be “with God” in some way, and this is prior to the Lord’s return and the time of general resurrection.

Turning to the “scriptural foundation” that you explored – there isn’t an absolute-proof-text to turn to.  The difficulty is, of course, that the focus of the gospel has more to do with our present state and our final state.  The question of any intermediate state is a technical question that isn’t precisely addressed.

There are, of course, many biblical references in which those who have died are referred to as sleeping – e.g Psalm 13:3, 1 Kings 2:10, John 11:11 etc. etc.  I am unable to find any reference, however, that suggests that this is anything more than imagery.  In fact, it is powerful imagery – sleep as an image of death, from the point of view of those left behind, speaks of both the absence of a person in death, and also the temporary nature of it in the gospel scheme of things.  It is the sense of “they are gone, but we will be reunited one day.”

On the other hand, there are other descriptions of post-death experiences that make very little, if any, sense if that experience is limited to a form of slumber.  Jesus’ assurance to the thief on the cross, that “today, you will be with me in paradise” is the famous example.  Similarly, in Revelation 6 we hear the voices of those who have been martyred, crying out in a loud voice,”How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Clearly, this presumes a post-death, pre-resurrection-and-judgement, conscious existence!

Of course, one of the conceptual problems is as to what this non-sleeping intermediate state is actually like.  This question goes to theological anthropology, i.e. what is a human being after all?  Are we soul, spirit, and body, and what does that mean? Where is our personhood?  After all, Christian thought emphasises the value of the embodied self.  We affirm, for instance, that a violation of someone’s body is not just the wounding of flesh, it is an injury done to their person. It is why we (along with Jesus) mourn death, which is (at the very least), the ending of bodily function.  In the final state we are looking forward not towards an eternal disembodied state, but towards an immortally glorified bodily existence, an “eternal house”. Moreover, this is exactly what we understand of Jesus’ currrent existence as a physically resurrected human being: he has a human body that is real and glorified, and the first fruits of our final eternal life.

So how do we conceive of  ourselves in a disembodied state, if this is what happens immediately after death?  This is where I don’t have a complete answer.  Some resolve it by suggesting that there is no intermediate state at all – sleeping or otherwise – and it’s just that time works differently in paradise and our experience of death is to jump ahead to the general resurrection.  I’m not convinced.  Others suggest (and I lean this way) that it is possible to conceive of personhood without physical referent, especially in an interim or temporary sense.  We are much more than our bodies:  Close your eyes and imagine someone who is very close to you… you will be thinking of and “experiencing” them as much more than just the recollection of their physical face, you are touching upon a deeper sense of who they are.

The biggest question, however, (as it is for many theological things), is “so what?”  What difference does it make to the gospel itself, to our proclamation of the gospel, or to our experience of living out the gospel?  In my reflection I am taking to think about how, while this world is our home, being with Jesus is even more so.  Our “enduring city” is not here.  As Gill and I pass through more and more seasons of life, especially difficult ones, we get a growing sense of what Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 5.  We are of “good courage” and make it our purpose to please Jesus in our earthly life. Yet, we “long to be at home with him” even if that is “absent from the body.”

So here is good news to me (although it is not the whole of the good news): I know that, when I die, I shall be at home with the Lord.  And it is hard to think of such a joyous existence being of nothing but sleep.

Anonymous asks:

Do you agree with the image at the link below regarding after death happenings?
[Image reproduced here]

Thanks for the question.  The answer is “mostly.”  It is a diagram that refers to the “intermediate state” – that state of existence between a person’s physical death and the return of Christ and the final judgement.  I’ve answered a question on this topic previously.

The diagram draws heavily on the Luke 16 parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus which portrays an existence in which there is a “great gulf” between the (righteous) Lazarus and Abraham and the (unrighteous) Rich Man.  I assume the word “paradise” is taken from Christ’s proclamation on the cross to the one crucified next to him.  “Tartarus” is a word from Greek Legend to do with the lowest reaches of the heavens and earth; it is not a biblical word and it is careless to use it.

Within the domain of “all humans” (circle on the left) you have a division between the “Power of Darkness” and the “Kingdom of Christ.”  There is tartaric doom for those who are in the power of darkness and the “unfaithful” in the kingdom of Christ.  I’m not sure what the originator is getting at here but this framework doesn’t sit well with me.  The simple demarcator is Christ as Messiah and those that are “in Christ” by covenant of grace through faith and those who are not.  I’m not too unhappy with “infants” being classified as those childlike innocents to which the Kingdom of God belongs but in my mind individualistic soteriological analysis such as this is unhelpful.  The people of God are in Christ in paradise when they die, that is all that needs be said.

I have no problem with a general resurrection occurring before a final judgement at the end.  I do have a difficulty with what follows that event.  “Heaven” is a nebulous term.  The way we use the word (as in “go to heaven when we die”) is actually more of a referent to the sense of paradise in the intermediate state.  The resurrection glory that follows the general resurrection is not so much heavenly but immortal, glorified, new heavens and new earth including some sense of imperishable physicality.  Consider 1 Cor 15.

And I am of the opinion that the Lake of Fire for those who are not in Christ is not a gateway to eternal torment but the means of the true eternal punishment – eradication of existence itself.  In this sense, unless I can be convinced otherwise, I am something of an annihilationist.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous asks:

Hi Will,

Growing up, I was taught that when a person dies they go directly to heaven or hell. Of course the biblical teachings of the “resurrection of life” and the “resurrection of damnation” seem to contradict this view. To overcome this discrepancy, as I am aware, some teach that the resurrection only involves the physical body and that the dead, prior to their resurrection, are consciously aware and living in “spirit”. This teaching, to my understanding, is not cohesive with Scripture in it’s entirety, and in a number of instances I find it completely incompatible, both in it’s application and to the very nature of God.

I believe the bible is very clear on the matter – The dead know nothing. Unconsciously, ceasing to be, until Jesus resurrects us from the dead. – When we consider the application it truly is remarkable – for within a state of unconsciousness time is no more. Between death and the resurrection is like a “blink of an eye” – and – we all are brought to God at the same time. A remarkably beautiful reunion.

I am curious. As an Anglican, what do you believe?


Hi Anon and thanks for the question.  This is the topic of the Intermediate State and is a subject that has received much debate over the years/centuries.

You specifically ask me “as an Anglican” so I’ll start there.

The 39 articles are not particularly attentive to the “Intermediate State” but they do reject the form of it that is clearly extra-biblical, and that is the concept of purgatory around which a Roman Catholic sacramental system was cemented.  Article XXII clearly states that purgatory is “a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”  In all that I talk about below I am not talking about purgatory.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer includes much eschatological language and expressions of eternal hope – these do not interact with the question at hand because they allude to the final state.  We must note, however, that in the intermediate time the BCP draws upon a framework of “Christ’s Church militant here in earth” and the “Church Triumphant” who in some sense are present with Jesus.  And so we see, for instance:

The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee

— Te Deum Laudamus, Morning Prayer

THEREFORE with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High. Amen

— Preface in Communion

We meekly beseech thee, 0 Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that, at the general Resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight; and receive that blessing, which thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world: Grant this, we beseech thee, 0 merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.

— Collect in Holy Burial

Language such as this implies an intermediate state, associates it with rest and peace  and worship – but does not equate it with the culmination of the kingdom or the ultimate resurrection.  This is  in line with more recently espoused Anglican theology such as that of N. T. Wright (I reviewed the book of his that most engages with this topic) who decries an escapist framework whereby the gospel is couched in terms of departing to heaven when we die, rather than in terms of seeing the Kingdom of God come to this earth in its fullness when we are raised from the dead.  N. T. Wright’s framework only holds together exegetically if some passages of Scripture are seen to be referring to the ultimate resurrection and other passages are seen to be referring to an intermediate state.

You say “the bible is very clear on the matter.”  It would be helpful if you could point me to the parts of the Bible which you draw on to provide that clarity.  It’s hard to engage otherwise.

There are certainly parts of Scripture that do seem to clearly imply an intermediate state.  From the fact that Samuel can appear before the witch of Endor, and the framework undergirding the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, to affirmations from Jesus that the thief on the cross will be with him that day in paradise, and references to a great cloud of saintly witnesses.

I have certain degree of sympathy with your view, and recognise its beauty.  I have a friend, a mechanical engineer, who suggests that in the intermediate state time is shaped as a parabola so that no matter at what point you enter it you get to the end at the same time – we, who die before the parousia, all arrive together to accompany the bridegroom to collect his bride.  That too, has beauty.

In the end, I am comfortable with a post-death pre-resurrection form of existence as the church triumphant celebrates and awaits the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  But whatever the viewpoint, the eventual promise is the same, and that is what is at the heart of the gospel.