Eschatology—The First Period

In his History of Doctrines, Hegenbach, writing on the Intermediate State, Vol. I, 221-222, writes as follows:

The transactions of the general judgment, which was thought to be connected with the general resurrection, were depicted in various ways. Some ascribe the office of Judge to the Son, others to the Father, both in opposition to the Hellenistic myth of the judges in the under-world. The idea of a Hades, known to both the Hebrews and the Greeks, was transferred to Christianity, and the assumption, that the real happiness, or the final misery, of the departed did not commence till after the general judgment and the resurrection of the body, appeared to necessitate the belief in an intermediate state, in which the soul was supposed to remain from the moment of its separation from the body to this last catastrophe. Tertullian, however, held that the martyrs went at once to paradise, the abode of the blessed, and thought that in this they enjoyed an advantage over other Christians; while Cyprlan does not seem to know about any intermediate state whatever. The Gnostics rejected the belief in Hades, together with that of the resurrection of the body, and imagined that the spiritually minded (the pneumatic) would, immediately after death, be delivered from the kingdom of the demiurge, and elevated to the pleerooma. The ancient Oriental and Parsic idea of a purifying fire already occurs during this period in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen. This purifying fire, however, is not yet transferred to this intermediate state, but is either taken in a very general sense, or supposed to be connected with the general conflagration of the world.

Calling attention to doctrines as maintained and the New Dispensation, in the period 80 – 250 A.D., we have called attention to the doctrine of the advent or coming of Christ as confessed by the church during this time. We now call attention to what is known as the Intermediate State, the period of the deceased between his death and resurrection. Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, expresses it correctly when he writes in Volume III, page 724, and we quote:

As all Christians believe in the resurrection of the body and a future judgment, they all believe in an intermediate state. That is, they believe that there is a state of existence which intervenes between death and the resurrection; and that the condition of the departed during that interval is, in some respects, different from that which it is to be subsequent to that event. It is not, therefore, as to the fact of an intermediate state, but as to its nature, that diversity of opinion exists among Christians. 

The common Protestant doctrine on this subject is that “the souls of believers are at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” According to this view the intermediate state, so far as believers are concerned, is one of perfect freedom from sin and suffering, and of great exaltation and blessedness. This is perfectly consistent with the belief that after the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead, the state of the soul will be still more exalted and blessed.

Scripture certainly speaks of this continued existence of the soul immediately after death. This is true of the Old Testament Scriptures. We read in Ps. 73:23-24: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” The thrust of this passage is that the Lord shall guide us with His counsel, and then, as soon as this guidance shall have been concluded, receive us into glory. Hence, the Lord will not receive us into glory long after we have died and our bodies have descended into the grave. That the Hebrews regarded the souls of the dead as retaining their consciousness and activity is obvious from the practice of necromancy, and is confirmed by the fact of the appearance of Samuel to Saul, as recorded in 1 Samuel 28. And it is in this connection that Hodge makes an interesting observation (Vol. III, 7 17), and we quote:

The representation given in

Isaiah 14

of the descent of the King of Babylon, when all the dead rose to meet and to reproach him, takes for granted and authenticates the popular belief in the continued conscious existence of departed spirits.

In the New Testament we have the most explicit declarations, not only that the doctrine of a future state was revealed in the Old Testament, but that from the beginning it was part of the faith of the people of God. The Sadducees, we know, denied not only the resurrection of the body, but also the conscious existence of man after death, and the existence of any spiritual beings. Yet, the Lord, refuting these Sadducees, appeals to the fact that in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, the authority of which the Sadducees admitted, God is familiarly called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and as He is the God not of the dead but of the living, the designation referred to proves that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are living, and living, too, in the fellowship and enjoyment of God. And that the Saviour quotes here from the Pentateuch proves conclusively that this teaching was also taught in the Old Testament Scriptures. 

However, there is, of course, much more proof for this doctrine in the New Testament. In this connection, Hodge makes the following pertinent observation (Vol. III, 724 – 725) and we quote:

In support of the Protestant doctrine as thus stated (the continued existence of the soul, H.V.), it may be remarked, 

1. That it is simply a question of fact. What do the Scriptures teach as to the state of the soul of a believer immediately after death? It is not legitimate to decide this question on psychological grounds; to argue that such is the nature of the soul that it cannot retain its individuality, or personality, when separated from the body; or, that it is a mere function of the brain; or, that it cannot act or be acted upon — can neither perceive nor be perceived except through and by means of the senses; or, that as vegetable and animal life are only manifest and active in connection with some form of matter, in other words, as there requires a material basis for its manifestation and activity. All these speculations, or theories, are, for the Christian, of no account, if the Bible teaches the fact of the continued, personal, individual existence of the soul after the death and dissolution of the body. The Bible does not formally teach anthropology in either of the branches of physiology or psychology, as a department of human science, but it assumes a great deal that falls under these several heads. It assumes that soul and body in man are two distinct substances united in a vital union so as to constitute the man, in the present state of existence, one individual person. It assumes that the seat of this personality is the soul. The soul is the self, the Ego, of which the body is the organ. It assumes that the soul continues its conscious existence, and its power of acting and of being acted upon after its separation from the body. This we have seen to be the doctrine of the whole Bible. The dead, according to the Scriptures, do not cease to be; they do not cease to be conscious and active.

This truth is plainly set forth also in the New Testament Scriptures. We read in Rev. 14:13: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” We call attention to the fact that this Word of God teaches us that the dead are blessed who die in the Lord, and this certainly means that their blessedness occurs immediately after their death. In Luke 16:2: we read: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom the rich man also died, and was buried.” And in the following verse we read: “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom.” This is a very familial passage of Holy Writ. And this Word of God certainly speaks of a conscious state of the soul immediately upon death, with respect to both the rich man and Lazarus. In Luke 23:43 we read: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Jesus spoke this word to the malefactor upon the cross. We need not discuss an interpretation of the passage which would have us read the text in this way: “And Jesus said unto him today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.” This interpretation is too absurd as to merit any consideration. So, to the malefactor upon the cross the dying Saviour gives the comforting assurance that that very day he would be with Him in paradise, and this, too, emphasizes the truth of a conscious state of bliss for the believer immediately upon his death. In 2 Cor. 5:1 we read: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” A detailed explanation of this beautiful passage is unnecessary at this time. It is sufficient to call attention to the fact that the apostle Paul, in this Word of God, declares that when the earthly house of his tabernacle is dissolved, he has a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The thrust of this passage is that the believer, immediately upon death, at the moment of the breaking down of his body; has this building of God in the heavens. And the apostle, speaking for the church of God throughout the ages, declares that we know this; of this wonderful truth the people of God are wonderfully conscious. This text, too, emphasizes the truth of the continued conscious condition of the soul. And, finally, we would call attention to what we read in Phil. 1:23: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” Need we doubt the thrust of this Word of God? The apostle is in a strait betwixt two: to depart out of this life and be with Christ, or to remain in the earthly house of his tabernacle, and he declares that to depart and be with Christ is far better. Now the apostle certainly means to emphasize that as soon as he departs out of this life he will be with Christ. He does not entertain the thought that his being with Christ will occur a long time after his departure out of this life, but that it will occur immediately upon his death. So, from these passages of the Word of God, and many others, it is clear beyond the shadow of any doubt that the Scriptures certainly emphasize the truth that, in the intermediate state, the time between death and the resurrection, the soul exists in a conscious state. The Word of God does not support the theory of a soul sleep; the soul continues in a state of conscious existence.