Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (5) The Condition of the Blessed in the Intermediate State

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
We have spent some time on the meaning of the ÒIntermediate StateÓ; we have looked at various terms such as ÒhadesÓ and Òsheol;Ó we have also considered some wrong views in this connection.
Now it is time to consider the state of those who have died in the Lord. What is it like for them now? Can we know this? Bear in mind that the condition of these blessed is still of a provisional character and that for these three reasons:

1. in heaven, they are limited to heaven and do not yet have the earth, which has been promised to them as an inheritance--the promise is always Òthe new heavens and the new earth;Ó

2. they are without bodies and this is a loss, however temporary. The body belongs to the essence of man;

3. the part can never be complete without the whole: only in connection with the fellowship of all believers can the fullness of Chris's love be known (Eph.3: 18).

However, although we note this provisional character, this does not mean that there is a complete break between what is now and what will be later, after the resurrection. There is continuity, even as there is between our life now and our life in heaven, immediately after death (Jn.11: 26, Rev.14: 13). Revelation 7:9-17 gives us a glimpse into the condition of these saints right now, between death and resurrection. Some of it is described in negative terms: no more persecution, hunger, thirst or heat. Every form of hardship is gone. But there are also positive indications of their life form: the Lamb is their Shepherd who leads them to the living fountains of water, which symbolize eternal life and salvation. The fountains or springs mean that He brings them to the source of salvation, which is God the Father. And the sweetest touch of all is that God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. The tears are not just wiped, nor wiped away but ÒÉevery tear is wiped out of their eyesÉÓ so that nothing but perfect joy and bliss remain. God himself is the source of this perfect salvation.

Their Activity
1.
They Rest - Revelation 14:13. The body, to be sure, rests in the grave but the soul also rests from the toil, sorrow, pain, anguish and, especially, the sin of this life.

2. They See Christ - Physical attributes are ascribed to the soul and just how we must take this, we do not know. But somehow, they hear and see and speak. Without going further into speculating how this is done, we note the centre of all their attention is Christ who is the revelation of the triune God. Here, our eyes are often turned from Christ, because we are self-centred, but there He will be all-glorious and every eye will be drawn to Him.

3. They Hear the glorious choruses of all the redeemed in heaven. Surely, we may believe that each one will hear what the angels, the other redeemed and, especially Christ will have to say to them?

4. They Work - ÒThey serve him day and night in the templeÓ (Rev.7: 15). There will be a variety of work to be done as is clear from Matthew 25:21 and implied in 1 Corinthians 15:41,42. All this will be done in glad service to God. The argument that without bodies these souls cannot work does not hold: angels have no bodies and they are sent to serve.

5. They Rejoice - As is shown by their constant singing. They truly sing while they work. With melodies in their hearts they stand in the joy of their Lord.

6. They Live - As must be obvious from all that has been said. Still, this bears stressing. They do not dream their time away; neither do they float around as if in some trance. They are actively and consciously alive, with Christ. Wherever He is, you find them. He shares all with them. For proof, see Revelation 3:12, 21; 4:4; 14:4; 19:14.

7. They reign - with Christ and assist him in judging (1 Cor.6: 2,3 and Rev.5: 10).

Is There Direct Contact Between The Living And The Dead?
First of all, we should note again that when we speak of the Òdead,Ó we view them strictly from the perspective of this world. They are Òdead to this world;Ó however, as we have just learned, they are very much alive, also in the intermediate state.

There are those who claim there is contact between the living and these dead, initiated either from one side or the other or, even, from both. What about this? We have all heard stories about this and we need to know how to deal with this. Basically, there are three groups who claim to have this ability.

1. The Spiritualists: These are the ÒmediumsÓ who claim they can call up the dead and communicate with them. Much has been made of this in our cold, scientific age that hankers for some Òspiritual excitement.Ó Various movies, which became extremely popular and influential, have dealt with this subject in the last twenty years or so. Accounts abound in all kinds of books and papers, especially in the ÒtabloidsÓ of this kind of contact.

Some even make their living at this kind of thing (the ÒMadam-Zola-and-her-crystal-ballÓ type of thing which you may see in cartoons but which has a basis in fact). According to them, there is such a thing as direct contact between the living and the dead.

2. The Roman Catholics: Part of their dogma is that saints ought to be ÒveneratedÓ (regarded with deep respect--not worshipped) and be asked to make intercession; hence, they call upon the saints. But are the saints actually able to hear such prayers? Among Roman Catholic theologians opinions vary. Some say that angels bring the messages to the saints; others that God tells the saints; yet others, that the saints are able to read such things in the mind of God. Still others believe that the spirits of the saints move from place to place so quickly that they have no need of special informers. This latter view certainly implies some form of direct contact.

3. Some Protestants: Even among evangelical Protestants some have adopted the notion that the saints in glory do actually witness what is happening on earth. This is based on Hebrews 12:1 Ò...we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses...Ó

The Bible's Answers To The Above Views
Scripture is completely opposed to the idea of contact between the living and the dead.

1. Spiritualists: Not only is communion between the two groups impossible but the attempt to do so is expressly forbidden in Scripture (see Deut.18: 9-14). These things (spells, mediums, and spiritists, calling up the dead) were an abomination to the Lord and the cause for the people being driven out of the land before Israel.

This is an area of mystery to us. In 1 Samuel 28 we read of Saul consulting a medium in order to seek advice from Samuel and, according to verse15 and following, Samuel does speak to Saul. Whether this is trickery and deceit on the part of the woman, whether it is delusion on the part of Saul, desperate and seeking in the wrong way, whether it is the work of Satan directly, we do not know. The Bible passes these questions by, presenting the scene as Saul had experienced it--as it always does with witchcraft (think of the ÒmiraclesÓ done by PharaohÕs magicians, Ex. 7:11). We are simply warned to have nothing to do with any of this!

The Lord has made it very clear that we are to be directed by His Word, not by anything else. The scathing words in Isaiah 8:19, 20 are very clear: ÒAnd when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? (NKJ clarifies: Òshould they seek the dead on behalf of the living?Ó) To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.Ó

2. Roman Catholics: It is true that Scripture urges us to intercede for each other (Rom.15: 30; Eph.6: 18,19; Col.1: 2 3, etc.) and teaches us that God will often answer such intercessory prayers (Ex.32: 11-14; Num.14: 13-20), but it never teaches us that we should ask for intercession from those who have left this life nor does it imply that such are in any way still involved in this life. In fact, the very opposite is shown--as we have seen before: they are asleep to the affairs of this life. Job 14:21 teaches that they do not know whether their children are rich or poor. Isaiah 63:16 teaches that Abraham and Jacob are ignorant of what happens here below. There is no such contact between the living and the dead. Veneration of saints, which can so easily degenerate into adoration and worship, is forbidden for it is idolatry.

3. Some Protestants: The explanation of some that the cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1 are actually saints hovering over and watching us, is incorrect. F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on Hebrews, is representative of the position generally held by conservative scholars. He writes,

But in what sense are they 'witnesses'? Not, probably, in the
sense of spectators, watching their successors as they in turn
run the race for which they have entered; but rather in the sense
that by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to
the possibilities of the life of faith. It is not so much they
who look at us as we who look to them--for encouragement. They
have borne witness to the faithfulness of God; they were, in a
manner of speaking, witnesses to Christ before His incarnation,
for they lived in the good of that promise which has been
realized in HimÓ.

In that sense the heroes of faith of yesterday are present with us today.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1.The intermediate state differs from the final state of glory in three main aspects. What are these and why can we say that there is a certain sense in which the intermediate state is lacking?

2.What do you think is the meaning of Revelation 7:9 and 14?

3.Why is the Roman Catholic doctrine of the veneration of the saints so dangerous? In what way could it affect the adoration and worship of the Triune God?

4.How must we interpret 1 Samuel 28:3-25?

5.What is the best way to honour those who have gone to be with the Lord in glory?

6.What do the following texts teach us about recognition in heaven? Philippians 1:23; Matthew 8:11; Luke 16:19-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20; 2 Corinthians 4:14 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

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