The state of our existence between physical death and resurrection is called the intermediate state. In this intermediate state, we exist as souls without bodies. But where do we exist; in some intermediate place perhaps? Many possibilities have been suggested:
- At death all souls descend into Sheol (or Hades), which is sometimes depicted as a gloomy, subterranean abode where souls exist in a weak and dreamy state. Sheol is frequently divided into two sections – Paradise (Abraham’s bosom), a place of bliss for the saved and Gehenna, a place of torment for the unsaved.
- At death, all souls sleep in some unspecified place until each is assigned a new body. However, by no reasonable interpretation can the discourse concerning Lazarus and the rich man support the doctrine of soul sleep (Luke 16:19-31). Nor can the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross have any meaning unless the thief was soon to be consciously with Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Finally, the statement of Paul in regard to being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) cannot be understood if an interval of unconsciousness elapses between the two events.
- At death, souls are housed in various places per Roman Catholic doctrine: Limbus Patrum, Limbus Infantum, Purgatory, Heaven or Hell.
- At death, the souls of the saved transition into a new life in Heaven where they live forever in the presence of God. In the future resurrection, the saved receive new and glorified bodies which serve as eternal dwellings for their souls. Similarly, physical death is also the door through which the souls of the unsaved enter into Hell and begin to experience eternal separation from God. This separation begins, at death, and continues forever even after the unsaved receive resurrection bodies.
Protestantism embraces the idea of an intermediate state but rejects the idea of an intermediate place as explained in the fourth bullet item. It is the general belief of the church that, for the duration of the intermediate state, the souls of both the righteous and the wicked reside in their places of final abode – Heaven and Hell (Luke 23:43; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor 5:8). The souls of the righteous go immediately into the presence of God in Heaven; the souls of the wicked are immediately separated from God in Hell. There is no soul sleep. Later, at judgement, each soul is united with a body. The precise characteristics of our existence in the intermediate state are unclear because Scripture is silent. (See also Sections 1.8, 1.12 and 1.14 of Theology Corner)