Life after death: Intermediate Heaven and the Eternal State

March 24, 2009 — 8 Comments

Richard Baxter, English pastor and author living in the 1600’s,  went through an extreme physical breakdown that left him near death for 5 months.  During that time he meditated deeply on the scriptural teaching on heaven and eternity.  He recovered and later his notes and sermons became the book, The Saints Everlasting Rest.  After this experience, he vowed to spend an hour every day meditating on his heavenly citizenship.

I had rather read, hear or meditate, on God and Heaven, than on any other Subject: for I perceive that it is the Object that altereth and elevateth the Mind…that it must animate all our other Duties; and fortifie us against every Temptation and Sin… click here for a link to the story

I was recently  talking with a sister in Christ (who is facing a life-threatening illness) about heaven and the difference between the final state of resurrection on a restored earth and the after-death state.  There is much mystery but real hope!  I want to re- post a helpful  article from Randy Alcorn’s web site section on Heaven. It’s an article that I believe does an excellent job of explaining the difference.

 

What is the distinction between the intermediate (present) Heaven and the eternal Heaven (the New Earth)?
Answered by Randy Alcorn

When a Christian dies, he or she enters into what theologians call the intermediate state, a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. Usually when we refer to “Heaven,” we mean the place that Christians go when they die. When we tell our children “Grandma’s now in Heaven,” we’re referring to the intermediate Heaven.

By definition, an intermediate state or location is temporary. Life in the Heaven we go to when we die, where we’ll dwell prior to our bodily resurrection, is “better by far” than living here on Earth under the Curse, away from the direct presence of God (Philippians 1:23). Still, the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination. Though it will be a wonderful place, the intermediate Heaven is not the place we are made for. It’s not the place God promises to refashion for us to live in forever.

God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination. If we do, we’ll be confused and disoriented in our thinking about where, and in what form, we will spend eternity.

Will we live in Heaven forever? The answer to the question depends on what we mean by Heaven. Will we be with the Lord forever? Absolutely. Since Heaven is where God dwells, we’ll always be in Heaven. But will we always be with God in exactly the same place that Heaven is now? No. In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll be in Christ’s presence, and we’ll be joyful, but we’ll be looking forward to our bodily resurrection and permanent relocation to the New Earth.

It bears repeating because it is so commonly misunderstood: When we die, believers in Christ will not go to the Heaven where we’ll live forever. Instead, we’ll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and New Earth. If we fail to grasp this truth, we will fail to understand the biblical doctrine of Heaven. Everything hinges on the resurrection. God does not abandon our bodies, nor does he abandon the earth itself.

It may seem strange to say that the Heaven we go to at death isn’t eternal, yet it’s true. “Christians often talk about living with God ‘in heaven’ forever,” Grudem writes. “But in fact the biblical teaching is richer than that: it tells us that there will be new heavens and a new earth—an entirely renewed creation—and we will live with God there….There will also be a new kind of unification of heaven and earth….There will be a joining of heaven and earth in this new creation.”

Let me suggest an imperfect analogy to illustrate the difference between the intermediate Heaven and the eternal Heaven. Suppose you lived in a homeless shelter in Miami. One day you inherit a beautiful house, fully furnished, on a gorgeous hillside overlooking Santa Barbara, California. With the home comes a wonderful job doing something you’ve always wanted to do. Not only that, but you’ll also be near close family members who moved from Miami many years ago.

On your flight to Santa Barbara, you’ll change planes in Dallas, where you’ll spend an afternoon. Some other family members, whom you haven’t seen in years, will meet you at the Dallas airport and board the plane with you to Santa Barbara. You look forward to seeing them.

Now, when the Miami ticket agent asks you, “Where are you headed?” would you say “Dallas”? No. You would say Santa Barbara, because that’s your final destination. If you mentioned Dallas at all, you would only say, “I’m going to Santa Barbara by way of Dallas.”

When you talk to your friends in Miami about where you’re going to live, would you focus on Dallas? No. You might not even mention Dallas, even though you will be a Dallas-dweller for several hours. Even if you spent a week in Dallas, it wouldn’t be your focus. Dallas is just a stop along the way. Your true destination—your new permanent home—is Santa Barbara.

Similarly, the Heaven we will go to when we die, the intermediate Heaven, is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth.

(Granted, the Dallas analogy breaks down big time, since being with Jesus and reunited with loved ones in the intermediate Heaven will be immeasurably more wonderful, to say the least, than a lay-over in Dallas! But hopefully you get the point.)

Another analogy is more precise but difficult to imagine, because for most of us it’s outside our experience. Imagine leaving the homeless shelter in Miami and flying to the intermediate location, Dallas, and then turning around and going back home to your place of origin, which has been completely renovated—a New Miami. In this New Miami, you would no longer live in a homeless shelter, but in a beautiful house in a glorious pollution-free, crime-free, sin-free city. So you would end up living not in a new home, but a radically improved version of your old home.

This is what the Bible promises us—we will live with Christ and each other forever, not in the intermediate Heaven, but on the New Earth, where God—Father, Son (eternally incarnate) and Holy Spirit—will be at home with his people.

Of course, God will no more be confined to the New Earth than He is now confined to the intermediate Heaven. God is everywhere present. But his special dwelling, what he regards as his home (and ours) will be on the New Earth, where He will dwell with His people.

Revelation 21:1-3 is explicit on this point: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth….I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:1-3).

Heaven, God’s central dwelling place, will one day be with his resurrected people, on the New Earth.

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8 responses to Life after death: Intermediate Heaven and the Eternal State

  1. 
    Diane Mattera April 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    very cool!!!! I was recently wondering and praying about this very subject!!

    Thank You,Jesus

  2. 

    Is Jesus in his physical body right now in the intermediate heaven? Jesus told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus and how the rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue, “…because I am in agony in this fire?” Some comentators say this is not a parable but Jesus telling a real story about two real people that existed in his day. Could Lazarus have a non-coporial spirit body with a finger that he could dip into water. Does the rich man have a non-coporial spirit body that is burning in the intermediate state and lips that can be touched that need cooling?
    IS THERE SOME KIND OF PHYSICALITY IN THE INTERMEDIATE STATE?

  3. 

    I am curious to the second comment above. I didn’t see the answer to the question: “Is there any kind of Physicality in the Immediate state”?

  4. 
    Chris Perkins July 1, 2011 at 3:11 am

    I’m just learning about the intermediate Heaven, but it makes me so excited I want to yell off a mountain top! I can only imagine being in the presence of Christ and my loved ones; especially my mother.
    I am curious though – if Christians go to an intermediate Heaven when we die, what happens to non-Christians? If judgement comes after the resurrection, where do the non-Christians go after they die but before the judgement?

    • 

      Here is a transcript from one of several N.T. Wright short videos after his book Surprised By Hope came out. They can be found at 100huntley.com.
      Wright never addresses your question but some would say it is probably a conscious or unconscious waiting for the resurrection and judgement after which being in the presence of God will be either terrifying and a shrinking of our humanity as we reject his image and worship – or – we could hope an opportunity outside of time to still fun into his arms. It’s not a clear picture though for sure.

      (HD) Transcript: “According to the new testament, the time line says that you die, and if you belong to Jesus Christ, then you will be with him, which is the best thing you could possibly imagine. Its a time of rest. A time of refreshment. And delight. I dont think it will be an unconscious time. But its hard to describe, who we will be at that point. We can use the word, soul, if you like. But the bible doesnt use the word soul, that often. So its not necessarily a great help to know if that the best way of talking about it. But then after that time, and its hard to say whether we will experience it for a long time or not, but there are some things that we might. Then God will do something quite new, with the whole creation. And all those who have been, in that resting mode if you like, will be raised from the dead, and will be the new inhabitants of this new heaven and earth together, which God will make. Which will be both very like what we presently know, and quite unlike, because there will be no death, no corruption, no decay. Its hard for us because our minds are conditioned by a lot of Western philosophical thought. Its hard for us to imagine an non corruptible physicality. A body that wont be corruptible and decay. But that is what were promised. And its actually very exciting even though its hard to imagine.”

  5. 
    Deacon Charles E. Miller, BA , MAR, DipBS, Abschlussurkunde in Biblische Studien December 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Dear Fellow Christians,

    I believe that our Christian loved ones exist in spirit in the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:21-23). As one theologian I have met has said, the souls of the blessed take on bodily characteristics until the Second Coming of our Lord and thje resurrection of the body. The New Jerusalem at that time will come to the New Earth, the eternal state of Heaven. That is why it appears the Abraham and Lazarus have bodily characteristics even though the eternal state has not yet come. I think about my parents whose souls are now with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). I miss them terribly; however, I know they are with th Holy Triune God. May the Lord Jesus bless each of you this time of year and for always. As Jesus said, Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come AGAIN and receive you unto myself (John 14:1-3″).

  6. 

    This is so reassuring for me to read this. My mom died 2 years ago and my whole family is saved so I know she is with Jesus, but I miss her so much! I think that the intermediate Heaven must be truly an awesome place and I cannot wait to finally be with Jesus and my mom and all of my other loved ones again. I have some questions though, on the resurrection and if it will truly happen in this life time and if so, will the saved Christians enter the eternal heaven or the intermediate heaven?

    • 

      Hi Allison,
      My understanding is that the final state is one of living eternally on a restored earth with resurrection bodies. Until the final consummation of all things- we are in a blissful state of being in God’s presence (Phil. 1, 2 Cor 5) but we await Christ’s coming to restore all things. lm

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