As we approach Revelation 8, one of the topics that comes up again are the “saints” that appear in 8:4. We saw this also in Revelation 6:9-11, remember.
Who are these people? Are they “awake” as they await the coming of Jesus? And, specifically, the bigger question: “What happens when a Christian dies but Jesus has not yet returned?”
In simple terms, when a true Christian dies, he/she goes straight into something that theologians call the "intermediate state." It's called "intermediate" because it's what happens between our life on here on this planet now and the time we get our perfect, resurrected bodies at Christ’s return.
Let's look at a few (but-not-all-possible!) biblical observations about this topic.
#1 - Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that when we die, we receive a "building from God."
Now, what's this "building"?
--Some think it's heaven itself or a special place in heaven, like Jesus mentions in John 14:2. Others say it might mean the body of Christ, like the church.
--Another idea is that it could be a temporary body for the time between death and resurrection, sort of like the transfiguration (Matt. 17:3) or the souls mentioned in Revelation 6:9-11.
--Lastly, some believe it refers to the final, glorified body we get at the end.
The hiccup here is the use of the present tense by Paul, saying "we have a building from God" instead of "we shall have." This seems to clash with passages like 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 1 Thessalonians 4-5, which suggest that we get our glorified bodies when Christ comes back.
However, sometimes in the Bible, something certain in the future is talked about like it's happening now. So, when Paul says "we have," it likely means we're certain to get it and it's a done deal, not necessarily right at the moment of death.
#2 - When people die, they're not just unconscious until the final resurrection.
According to 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Philippians 1:21-24, and Revelation 6:9-11, those who have died are consciously with Christ. So, there's a clear, conscious existence between a person's death and the big resurrection event. We call this time the "intermediate state."
Paul's language in 2 Corinthians 5 seems to say three things:
--it's good to be alive on Earth to serve Christ,
--it's even better to die and be with Christ (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21b, 23),
--but the best scenario is being alive when Christ returns.
That way, we avoid death altogether and immediately get our resurrected and glorified bodies.
#3 - How can we be sure God will give us these new, perfect bodies?
Paul in 2 Cor. 5:5 mentions the Holy Spirit as the assurance (“down payment”). It's like a guarantee from God that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is working in us, getting us ready for our own upgraded bodies.
#4 - When a Christian dies, they instantly find themselves in the conscious presence of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 explains that being in the body (alive) means being away from the Lord, and being out of the body (dead) means being present with the Lord. So, when a Christian dies, yes, they immediately enter Christ's presence.
Philippians 1:20-24 tells us that when a believer dies, they immediately go to be with Christ. Paul expresses the tension between wanting to be with Christ (through death) and staying on Earth to keep working for the sake of others.
The difference between the "dead in Christ" and living Christians isn't about being more saved or more in Christ. It's about being disembodied (dead) versus embodied (alive). While in the body, we walk by faith, not literally seeing Christ. Death brings us closer, not just spatially but also in a deeper fellowship with Christ.
#5 - The idea of purgatory, where a Christian goes through more purification after death, doesn't fit with these teachings (Heb. 9:27).
There's no indication of a post-death purification process in the Bible for believers.
The concept of "soul sleep," which suggests that Christians are completely unconscious after death until Christ's return, is also ruled out. The Bible's use of "sleep" in relation to death seems more about rest from earthly toil and the absence of pain, not unconsciousness.