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Richard L. Schafer
(C) November 2010

One of the things Christ accomplished on the cross was to nullify the power that Satan had over the death of believers. This work of Christ made it possible for a Christian to be unafraid of death. (Heb. 2:14-15; Rev. 1:18) In spite of Christís accomplishments on behalf of saints of the dispensation of Grace, some believers still harbor the fear of death. This fear occurs because of a lack of understanding about what happens when we leave this body on earth. The Bible contains an abundant amount of revelation concerning the process we call death and describes an existence after we leave this body on earth.

What really happens when a Christian dies before the Rapture? We know that at the Rapture all the dead church saints will be raised and all the living saints will be changed. Both groups will be caught up together to meet the Lord. At that time all the church/bride of Christ will have glorified bodies like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-3)

Many think the dead Christian exists in the state of a disembodied spirit. In this condition the dead saint is thought to be in a blissful, semiconscious state: a state of inactivity or floating around as a spirit. Others picture death as a state of complete unconsciousness.

Non-Christians have other fanciful imagined concepts of conditions after death. Jehovahís Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists hold to soul-sleep, a belief that the disembodied soul is unconscious until a resurrection. Mormons maintain there are seven levels of heaven that the dead enjoy. Others consider the soul to be extinct after death. Many think humans "return" in another form--reincarnation. All of these views are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture.

The Bible teaches that the believer can have the hope of an intermediate, or temporary, body after physical death; death is when a person is separated from this present body on earth. To understand and to fully appreciate the concept of an intermediate body, it is necessary first to have a foundation of other important Biblical concepts such as the composition of man, what constitutes death and where both saved and lost go after leaving the surface of earth.


The Bible states that man is composed of three parts: 1) a physical body 2) an immaterial soul 3) and an immaterial spirit. (1 Thess. 5:23)

1. Body: The body is the physical part of man. While the body is the source of the five senses, it is the soul that interprets the senses to the mind. In this present life, we are in a body of limitation. (Phil. 3:21, KJV, trans. vile body) Our current body limits the activities of the person and often the mind desires to do more than the body can perform.

The body of the believer is unsaved during our sojourn on earth. It is a body that is made up of cells that are ceasing to function and are being replaced constantly by weaker cells. As a result, the body is dying a little at a time until it finally fails to function. This life cycle is the result of Adamís fall. The present state of the believerís body is described as a tent, or temporary housing for the person. The visible physical body is not the person but only a housing in which the person dwells. (2 Pet. 1:13-14) A funeral is not the end of a person but merely a time of burying a dead body. The body dies; the person does not die.

2. Soul: Contrary to most teaching, the soul of the believer is still unsaved, and will be the last part of a saintís salvation. (1 Pet. 1:9) The soul is that immaterial part of man that gives animation, or life, to the body. (Lev. 17:11, KJV, life is the correct translation of the word soul.) The soul is the seat of the emotions. (Matt. 12:18; 26:38) The soul interprets the five senses to the mind. (Luke 12:19-22; Rev. 18:12-14) After the Rapture, when our body is saved, the soul will be saved and begin to interpret with absolute accuracy sensations to the mind. (1 Cor. 15:42-44)

3. Spirit: Spirit is the immaterial part of man that is the rational part of his mind. (1 Cor. 2:11) By his spirit man knows himself, and thus it is the center of the ego and the will of a person. It is in the area of the spirit that a person is saved when he is regenerated. (John 3:6) Part of the believerís human spirit is joined to the Lordís spirit so that they have one quality of spirit in that area. Thus the Christian has the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 6:17; 2:16) Prior to the Rapture, the Christian is saved in the area of his human spirit that is joined to Godís spirit. The Christianís body and soul will be saved at the Rapture.


Physical death in Scripture is defined as separation. Physical death is a separation of the body from the spirit and soul. The body dies as a result of this separationĖthe soul and spirit do not die. (James 2:26óhuman spirit leaves body at death; Luke 12:20-22 & Acts 5:5, 10--human soul also leaves the body at death). The person, or the ego, of the human spirit does not die. Scripture affirms that a person can still think, express his will and have sensations after leaving this body on earth.

Spiritual death is a separation of the human spirit from God, Who is spirit.

Old Testament Dead

Sheol--Hades (Temporary Hell): The Old Testament presents a clear picture of Sheol as a multi-compartmented place in the heart of the earth.

For a fire is kindled in mine anger, within the lowest sheol, and shall consume the earth with its increase.... Deut. 32:22

Scripture uses a superlative adjective to describe the Sheol (Hell) where the fire is contained. Grammatically a superlative involves at least three levels: Sheol, lower Sheol, and lowest Sheol.

The Sheol of the Old Testament is the Hades of the New Testament. (Ps. 16:10, cf. Acts 2:27) When David was saved, he was saved from going to the lowest Sheol. (Ps. 86:13) However, when he died he was going to a Sheol. (Ps. 139:8) The unsaved are in the lowest Sheol where there is fireĖa place of torment. (Num. 16:30-33; Ps. 9:17; 86:13; Luke 16:20-24) The upper Sheol of the Old Testament, also called Paradise and Abrahamís Bosom, was the place of residence for these saints. (Luke 16:19-30) (Note: during one of Christís ascensions after His resurrection, He moved Paradise from the heart of the earth to the edge of the third Heaven. 2 Cor. 12:2,4)

The Abyss: Between Paradise and the lowest Sheol there is a great gulf called the Abyss. (Isa. 14:9, 15; Rev. 20:1-3) In the future Satan will be confined to the sides of the Abyss. (Isa. 14:19) A group of fallen angels, or demons, that tried to pollute the genetic pool of both humans and animals before the flood, were confined in a part of the gulf called Tartarus. Another group of fallen spirit beings who later attempted the same activity are also imprisoned in Tartarus. (2 Pet. 2:4)


The Account of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

22. And it happened, the poor one died, and was carried away by the angels into the bosom of Abraham. And the rich one also died, and was buried. 23. And being in torments in Hades, lifting up his eyes, he sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24. And calling he said, "Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am suffering in this flame." 25. But Abraham said, "Born one, remember that you fully received your good things in your lifetime and Lazarus likewise the bad things. But now he is comforted, and you are suffering. 26. And besides all these things, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those desiring to pass from here to you are not able, nor can they pass from there to us." 27. And he said, "Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my fatherís house 28. for I have five brothers, so that he may witness to them, that they not also come to this place of torment." 29. Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them." 30. But he said, "No, father Abraham, but if one should go out from the dead ones to them, they will repent." 31. And he said to him, "If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if one out from dead ones should rise." Luke 16:22-31

Between Abrahamís Bosom and the place of torment is a great cavern, equivalent to the Abyss described in the Old Testament. Part of the rich manís suffering is his ability to see Lazarus in comfort. (vss. 23-25) Although the bodies of both men were buried on the earthís surface, they, as persons, were able to experience either pain or pleasure. The rich manís was tormented with fire designed for his body. His soul suffered with emotions concerning his family. His spirit has to endure the knowledge of his brothersí wayward path. Several aspects of this historical account clearly verify the Old Testament revelation about Sheol:

   1. Both the rich man and the poor man are conscious. 

   2. The rich man can see (having eyes). 

   3. The rich man has feelings. 

   4. The rich man has knowledge. 

   5. The rich man has a tongue. 

   6. Both Abraham and Lazarus are recognizable. 

   7. Lazarus can move. 

   8. Lazarus has a finger. 

   9. Lazarus had feelings. 

Taken literally, the facts in this account describe an intermediate body for the rich man and Lazarus to express their persons.

Samuelís Reappearance

God had rejected Saul as king and David was anointed as the king of Godís choice. (1 Sam. 15:23; 16:13-14) The Holy Spirit had departed from Saul and his communication with God was cut off. (1 Sam. 28:6) Saul then sought to restore this communication with God through the witch of Endor. He asked the witch to bring the Prophet Samuel back from the dead. (1 Sam. 28:11-18) To her own surprise the witch was able to conjure up a recognizable Samuel, who resisted being disturbed and was able to communicate vocally with Saul. This passage illustrates that Samuel had personality; he implied that he was enjoying himself in the place from which he had come. He appeared in a physical form which could not be the same as his body that was still in its grave miles away. (1 Sam. 28:3) This appearance indicates that an intermediate body was involved.

Other Old Testament Evidence

Enoch did not die in the normal manner, but was taken directly to upper Sheol as a reward. (Gen. 5:24) He did not see death. (Heb. 11:5)

Jonah communicated to Jehovah from Sheol during his three days of death. (Jonah 2:2; Matt. 12:40)

David said at death he would go to Sheol as a place of rest. (Ps. 139:8)

Unsaved go to the lowest Sheol where fire is contained. (Ps. 86:13)

Unsaved are described as being conscious after death in the lowest Sheol. (Ezek. 32:21-31)

Unsaved are described as being in a place of sorrow (an emotion which needs a body for interpreting the environment and for expression) after death. (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 9:17; 18:5; 116:3)

At the transfiguration, Peter, James and John recognize Moses and Elijah in human forms, although their bodies had been buried centuries earlier. (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36)

On the cross Jesus said that He would be in Paradise when He died. (Luke 23:43) Paradise is identified as a Sheol (Upper) by a prophecy of His resurrection. (Acts 2:25-27)


All the Old Testament dead went to Sheol. The unsaved went to the lowest Sheol. The saved went to upper Sheol. Both the saved and unsaved are seen as being able to express their personalities in their different sections within Sheol. They are aware of their existences and circumstances after death.

There are other compartments called Sheol: the Abyss; the sides of the Abyss; and also Tartarus:

   Upper Sheol (Ps. 139:8; Luke 16:22; 23:43) 

   Abyss (Isa. 14:15, 19; Rev. 20:1-3) 

   Tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4) 

   Sides of the Abyss (Isa. 14:9, 15) 

   Lowest Sheol (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13) 


A translation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 reveals that during Christís three days of death in Paradise, (when His human soul and spirit were separated from His human body) He announced to the imprisoned spirits in the Abyss that He was living proof of the antediluvian failure to thwart Godís plan. They had attempted to pollute the bloodlines from which the Perfect Sacrifice would come.

18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just One for the unjust ones, that He might bring us to God (the Father), on one hand being put to death (physically) in flesh, while on the other hand was made alive in spirit (in the realm of His human spirit). 19. In which (spirit) He took a trip and He made an announcement to the imprisoned spirits 20. who were at one time rebels when the longsuffering God waited out to the end in the days of Noah.... 1 Pet. 3:18-20 cf. Col. 2:15

In the future when Satan and his angels are forced out of Heaven, his angels will be confined in the Abyss. During the second half of the Tribulation demons (fallen angels) will be released from the Abyss and come out ready for action. (Rev. 9:1-12)


Hades, usually translated Hell in the New Testament, is the same as Sheol in the Old Testament. (Acts 2:27, cf. Ps. 16:10) On one of Christís ascensions, before His formal ascension in Acts chapter one, Christ took Paradise and its inhabitants to the edge of the third Heaven. (Prov. 15:24; 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Eph. 4:8)


Our earthly bodies--the bodies we now live in--must be viewed as temporary housing. Peter describes this body as a tent, much like the tent we take camping. When the vacation ends, we roll up the tent, throw it in the back of the car and head home. That tent was a temporary dwelling while we were on vacation.

13. And I think it fitting, as long as I am in this tent, to rouse you in remembrance; 14. knowing that soon is the taking down of this, my tent. (i.e., he is going to die), as indeed the Lord of us, Jesus Christ, made clear to me. 2 Pet. 1:13-14

The body is not the person; the person is housed in a body. However, it is the body that allows the person to operate. The soul, which interprets the bodyís perceptions, can only be expressed through a body. The spirit is also dependent on a body to function through the brain, which is part of the body.

At death, Paul said that he would be with Christ. (Phil. 1:20-24, closely associated with) In this passage Paul is eagerly anticipating being close to Christ. He reveals that this existence with Christ would be far better than his present life. Paul contrasts his life on earth with that life he will have after his death.

20b. ... but with all boldness, as always, also now Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether through life or through death. 21. For to me to live--Christ, and to die--gain.... 23. But I am constrained by the two having the desire to depart and to be closely associated with Christ, for the much better 24. for to remain in the flesh is more necessary on account of (your need of me). Phil. 1:20-24

Paulís tone in this passage is one of viewing death as going from one level of existence and awareness to another level of existence and awareness. His attitude has even greater significance when coupled with the fact that the letter to those at Philippi was written after his stoning at Lystra (Acts 14) and four years after his description of the results of that stoning in 2 Corinthians 12.

1. It is necessary to boast, on one hand not expedient, on the other hand I shall come to (the boast) because of visions and revelations from the Lord. 2. I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago, (whether in body I do not mentally knowĖGod mentally knows.) This one alluded to being snatched up to (the) edge of the third Heaven. 3. And I mentally know the previously mentioned such man (whether in body or outside the body I mentally do not know--God mentally knows) 4. That he was snatched up into Paradise and he heard unspeakable words, which words it is not possible for a man to speak. 5. On behalf of this such one, I will boast, but on behalf of myself I will not boast, except in my weakness. 6. For if I should wish to boast I would not be foolish for I would be speaking the truth, but I will abstain lest anyone reasons me beyond what he sees of me or hears from me 7. and by the excess of revelations.... 2 Cor. 12:1-7

Paul clearly is autobiographical in verse one. He then switches to the third person to emphasize the nature of revelation he experienced, and conversely minimizes his own role. The fourteen years ago coincides with his stoning at Lystra:

And from Antioch and Iconium came upon the scene Jews, even persuading the crowds and stoning Paul, deeming him to have died. Acts 14:19

When the Jews stoned a person they crushed bones, skull, etc., and when they dragged Paul out of town supposing him dead, he really was dead. This event fits the chronology of 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul relates this experience of dying as a result of the stoning. He was restored to life, as was also Lazarus (John 11), since his work was not yet done.

Many truths are revealed to us as a result of Paulís description of his death. Paradise, after one of Christís ascensions, is no longer at the heart of the earth, but now is between the second Heaven (universe) and the third Heaven (where Godís throne is located). After death Paul was able to hear and to see. He perceived that which was around him. He was conscious.

Twice Paul stated that mentally he could not tell if he was in his earthly body or outside of it. This underscores Paulís death as a smooth and quick process--a transition from his earthly body to his intermediate body. It was a painless and sudden experience. This transition from the dead body to the intermediate body was without any trauma. It was an event that took place so rapidly that he was not aware of it. It is interesting to note that after this experience he still wrote, "to live--Christ and to die--gain ... to depart (die) ... is far better (than to live)."

1. For we mentally have known that if our house, consisting of this present tent, should be taken down, we have (at that point) a building from God: a house not made with hands, eternal in quality in the heavens. 2. For indeed in this (earthly tent) we are groaning, greatly desiring our way of dwelling out from the heaven to put on top (of our immaterial parts). 3. Since indeed, being clothed we shall not be found naked. 4. For indeed, we being in our tents groan, being burdened down upon the basis that we do not desire to put off this (present tent), but on the contrary (want) to put on over (the house out of heaven) in order that mortality may be swallowed up by the life. 2 Cor. 5:1-4

The passage is a very detailed and intricate one. In verse one Paul is describing what happens at death before the Rapture. He, like Peter, likens the earthly body to a tent, a temporary dwelling. Paul writes that if this earthly tent were taken down--death, there is a replacement building from God in the heavens. This body is not in the ground or grave where his dead earthly body would be located, but in the heavens. This new house in the heavens is received at the point the earthly tent is taken down. There is no time element in between the two. This is a reference to a body to house his person prior to the Rapture.

Verse two is speaking about the Rapture because in contrast to the in the heavens building of verse one, he desires to be clothed with a manner of dwelling out from the heaven. Verse two is referring to the Rapture when Christ and we all meet Him in the air--out from heaven.

Paul is saying that if he should die before the Rapture occurs, he would receive a body in the heavens. And if he were alive at the Rapture he would get a body which is out of the heaven, his earthly body will be glorified. Clearly, this passage references two different bodies; that at different times would house the same person. And although Paul presents the Rapture as his primary hope, the fact is stated that either way "we shall not be found naked." (verse 3) This fact refutes any possibility of ever becoming a disembodied spirit. Our immaterial parts, soul and spirit, will always be housed/covered in a body.

The truth regarding a temporary intermediate body harmonizes with Paulís other instructions concerning the Rapture:

13. Now we do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning the ones sleeping (dead) lest you grieve as indeed the rest, not having hope. 14. For since we believe Jesus died and He rose, so also God will bring with Him the ones having slept through Jesus. 15. For this we say to you, by a word from the Lord, that we, the living ones, remaining unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. 16. ... The dead shall rise first ... (alive and dead) caught up together ... to meet the Lord in the air. 1 Thess. 4:13-16

Verse 14 declares the dead are brought back with God, yet in verse 16 they rise first from the grave. Jesus brings souls and spirits of the dead in their intermediate bodies, and they join with their resurrected glorified body simultaneously with the transformation of the bodies of the living. The glorified bodies of the saints then living are out of heaven, while the intermediate bodies of those coming back with Jesus were in the heavens with Him. Both groupsí transition to their resurrection bodies will be instantaneous.


The fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians describes the importance of Christís resurrection, a resurrection which is the basis for our hope of future resurrection at the Rapture.

38. But God gives to it (seed vs 37) a body as He wished and to each of the seeds its very own body. (i.e., one plants a wheat seed and a wheat plant grows; here, if a human body is planted, a human body will grow) 39. All flesh is not the same flesh but another one, on one hand for men and on the other hand another flesh for animals and another flesh for birds and another for fishes. (i.e., each type of body has its own unique construction) 40. And (there are) heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but on one hand the glory of the heavenly bodies is different; on the other hand than the glory of the earthly bodies. 1 Cor. 15:38-40

In verses 38 and 39 Paul is referring to the bodies which are existent as he writes: human, animal, bird and fish bodies. In verse 40 he states that there are "heavenly bodies" (bodiesóplural). Christ is the only one with a resurrection body while Paul is writing and until the Rapture. (1 Tim. 6:16) Therefore, the other heavenly bodies referred to must be the intermediate bodies of dead saints waiting glorification. Angels do not have bodies since they are spirit beings, so they are not included in this statement.


Glorified bodies do not require maintenance. Therefore, the promise to New Testament saints that they will eat of the tree of life must refer to those who die before the Rapture. (Rev. 2:7 cf. Gen. 3:22) The saints in Paradise eat of the tree of life to sustain the physical life of the intermediate body. The Church saints in the third heaven will have fruit from this tree made available to them to sustain their non-glorified bodies. (Rev. 2:7)

Dead martyred tribulation saints, who have not yet received their glorified bodies, are seen in heaven wearing white robes (over intermediate bodies) and are expressing emotions. (Rev. 6:9-11)

Paul, when facing execution at any moment said that the Lord would deliver him "unto His heavenly kingdom." (2 Tim. 4:18) The term kingdom implies a ruler, a realm of authority, rules, and activity.


It is evident that when humans die they do not go into any kind of soul sleep. After physical death, both saved and unsaved are able to express their personalities. At death saints are housed in an intermediate body awaiting glorification. For church saints this change takes place at the Rapture. The hope we have for an intermediate body, which is based on a promise from God, is comforting since we will never have to worry about being a naked disembodied sleeping spirit.

Christ has the only immortal or glorified body, prior to the Rapture. (1 Tim. 6:16) However, if we are not the generation alive at the Rapture, our hope is of a smooth transition from life on earth to a conscious awareness, allowing us to perceive and participate in the action around us in heaven with Christ. This intermediate body will be replaced at the Rapture with a glorified one.


1. There are at least three compartments called Sheol. Deut. 32:22 superlative degree.

2. Sheol is in the heart of the earth. Isa. 14:9, 15; Num. 16:30, 33; Jonah 2:2; Matt. 12:40; Luke 16:22-26

3. Unsaved go to Lowest Sheol where there is fire. Deut. 32:22; Luke 16:22-31

4. David was delivered from the Lowest Sheol. Ps. 86:13

5. Old Testament saints went to Upper Sheol. Ps. 139:8; Luke 16:22-31

6. Christ went to Paradise at death. Luke 23:43

7. Christ went to a Hades at death, quoting Psalm 16:8-11. Therefore, Hades and Sheol are the same place and Paradise is one of the Sheols. Acts 2:27

8. An Abyss is between Upper and Lower Sheol. Isa. 14:9, 15; Luke 16:26

9. Satan will be imprisoned in the Sides of the Abyss. Isa. 14:15

10. A special group of fallen angels (demons) are imprisoned in Tartarus, which is either a separate Sheol or a part of the Abyss. 2 Pet. 2:4