The Bible teaches believers to anticipate heaven with hope and joy. People will live forever with God and other believers because of the redemption that Jesus earned for them through his death and resurrection. But what exactly happens when a believer dies? Do they immediately go to heaven or do they have to wait somewhere for a period of time?
According to the Bible, believers go to heaven immediately after they die. Deceased believers will be in the presence of Jesus Christ in the blink of an eye. They will then wait for the final resurrection when they will get new bodies and live on the New Heavens and New Earth.
Is there a period of unconscious waiting before a believer goes to heaven? Is there a time of conscious punishment for sin that a believer must experience before going to heaven? What’s the difference between the intermediate state and purgatory? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Does Everyone Go To Heaven? to learn more.
What is the intermediate state?
The Bible teaches that when believers die, they are immediately in the presence of Christ in what theologians call the intermediate state. The term “intermediate state” isn’t found in Scripture but what it describes is inferred from the fact that believers are immediately in the presence of God, but still await the Second Coming of Christ.
Why is the intermediate state necessary? The death of a believer is the end of their life, but it’s not the end of the world itself. There is a period of time between when people die and the Second Coming of Christ, and all the events that surround it, like the resurrection of the dead. As believers wait, they are fully conscious and with God.
|Going to heaven is immediate|
|Luke 23:34||And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”|
|Philippians 1:23||I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.|
|2 Corinthians 5:8||Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.|
Is the intermediate state a place of waiting for heaven? No. Waiting for a new body and the New Earth isn’t the same as waiting for heaven. Believers are immediately in the presence of Christ. “Intermediate” simply refers to waiting for the Second Coming and the final resurrection that accompanies it, which includes receiving a new body and living on the New Earth.
Is the intermediate state a place of punishment? No. There is no additional pain and suffering that a believer must undergo for the expulsion of their wickedness because Christ died for all their sin, not just some of them.
Is “heaven” the intermediate state or the New Heavens and New Earth? As Christians commonly use the term, “heaven” describes all of it. After death, a believer is never apart from the presence of God. They are with God before and after they receive a new body. They are also with God before and after the arrival of the New Heavens and New Earth. The Bible speaks of “heaven” at times without making a distinction between the two (e.g. Matt. 6:19-21).
Also see Is There Sex In Heaven? to learn more.
|Receiving new bodies is eventual|
|1 Corinthians 15:42-44||So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.|
|2 Corinthians 5:1||For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.|
|Philippians 3:20-21||But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.|
John describes the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21:1-5,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Also, consider Isaiah 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” and 2 Peter 3:13, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
What about purgatory? Purgatory is a teaching of the Catholic church that it readily admits isn’t found in the 39 books of the Old Testament or the 27 books of the New Testament. While this article focuses on what the Bible teaches about believers going to heaven when they die, more information about purgatory can be found below.
Also see Do People Who Commit Suicide Go To Heaven? to learn more.
What is purgatory?
Purgatory is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The term isn’t found in Scripture. Purgatory isn’t a physical location, but a condition or state of being, according to Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).
What exactly is purgatory? According to the Catholic Church, purgatory is a temporary state of purification for believers who lived unrighteous lives while on Earth. In purgatory, people are punished for their sins. When their punishment is deemed to be sufficient in relation to their unrighteousness, they enter heaven.
Is purgatory found in the Bible? Catholic teachers and writers generally admit that there is little biblical evidence for the doctrine in the 39 books of the Old Testament or in the 27 books of the New Testament. However, they find support for it in the Apocrypha (the preferred Protestant term) or Deuterocanonical books (the preferred Catholic term), like 2 Maccabees 12:38-45.
What does 2 Maccabees 12:38-45 teach about purgatory? In this frequently-cited passage, Judas Maccabeus discovers that soldiers that died in battle had secretly held onto forbidden idols. In response, Judas prayed for the dead, believing they could be “set free from their sin” of idolatry (v. 45),
“[Judas] also took up a collection from all his men, totaling about four pounds of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. Judas did this noble thing because he believed in the resurrection of the dead.
If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all of God’s faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin offering to set free from their sin those who had died.”2 Maccabees 12:38-45
Protestant traditions generally reject the doctrine of purgatory as unbiblical. Protestantism rejects the practice of praying for the dead as well as the idea that forgiveness of sin can occur after physical death. The reason Protestants reject the doctrine of purgatory is that there is no basis in Scripture for it.
If Protestants don’t believe in purgatory, what do they believe happens after death? Protestants believe in the “intermediate state,” which is neither a waiting room for heaven or a place of punishment (see above). The table below contrasts the two doctrines.
Also see Did Moses Go To Heaven? to learn more.
|Purgatory||The Intermediate State|
|Nature||A temporary state in which a believer’s sins are punished after physical death. Unbelievers don’t experience purgatory, but go to hell.||A temporary state of being in which believers are in the presence of Christ yet also await their new bodies and the New Heavens and New Earth.|
|Purpose||Since believers who die aren’t perfect, their remaining sin needs to be purged.||There is no purification aspect to the intermediate state. The temporary nature of the intermediate state is only because people won’t receive new bodies and live on the New Earth until the Second Coming.|
|Result||When all sins have been purged, the believer can go to heaven. The prayers of people on Earth can encourage the process.||Believers are in the presence of God immediately upon death, though they await their new bodies. All people will receive new bodies at the Second Coming of Christ.|
|Atonement||Christ’s death doesn’t sufficiently atone for all unrighteousness, making further purging after death necessary.||Christ’s death does sufficiently atone for all unrighteousness, making further purging after death unnecessary.|
The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, along with Protestantism, comprise the three historic branches of the Christian religion. The Catholic and Orthodox branches separated from...
Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity, along with Eastern Orthodoxy, make up the three historic branches of the Christian religion. Catholicism and Protestantism are, by far, the two largest...