At Jesus’ second coming, he will come down through the clouds to sit on his throne as king of the world. Like a good judge, he will reward some of us with forever life and punish others with forever death. We call this the “judgment day.” But Jesus has not returned yet. He’s still at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. So what happens to people who die before Jesus returns?
There’s a special term we use to describe this time. It’s called the “intermediate state.” Intermediate simply means “in the middle.” The intermediate state is the time in the middle between our death and the return of Jesus.
Back when our first father Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he was given a curse from God. In Genesis 3:19, God said, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Adam was formed out of the ground and, through the breath of God, became a living being. But because he didn’t believe God's words and ate the forbidden fruit, he was cursed with death. God promised Adam that his body would one day die and decay back into the dust and dirt from which it was made.
This curse didn’t stop with Adam and Eve – it spread to all of their children, including us. We are all sinners suffering from the curse of sin. And like Adam and Eve, we will one day have a date with death. As sad as it sounds, it’s true. Our bodies will die and decay back into the dust and dirt we are made from.
But as we learned back in question 13, human beings are not just bodies. Men are not mere meat machines. We are also souls! And unlike our bodies, our souls can never die. So what happens to souls when our life is finished? Well, there are actually two answers to that question. Where a soul ends up depends on what a person has done with the good news of Jesus.
For those who believe the good news about Jesus, there is, of course, good news! In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the apostle Paul talks about death. “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” According to Paul, when our bodies die, our souls go away from our bodies to be with the Lord God.
When Jesus died on the cross, there were two criminals crucified next to him, one on each side. Luke 23:42-43 describes something that happened during those painful hours: “Then [one of the criminals] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
As the criminal hung dying on the cross, he asked Jesus to save him: not to save his body, but to save his soul! And what was Jesus’ response? To promise him that he would be in a heavenly paradise with Jesus that very day! Imagine the joy that criminal felt when his body finally died. Immediately, he went from suffering and pain straight into paradise! And that happy transition is exactly what any believer in Jesus can expect on the day of their death.
Sadly, there’s only bad news for those who don’t believe the good news. As the answer above says, “they will be sent to a place of suffering and waiting for judgment.” Jesus once told a story about a rich man and a beggar. Both men died. Angels came and carried the poor beggar off to paradise to be with the Lord. But the rich man? He was sent to a place called Hades, where he suffered in fiery flames!
When a law-breaking sinner dies without repenting of their evil deeds or trusting in Jesus to save them, they are sent to a place of punishment. It is a sad and sorry state. But as they wait for Jesus to return, there’s no happy ending for them to look forward to. Instead, they are simply waiting for judgment day, when King Jesus will send them to a place of forever punishment created for the devil and his angels!