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In Christian eschatology, the intermediate state or interim state refers to a person's existence between one's death and resurrection. This period is "intermediate" between death and the last judgment.

As long as Christians looked for an imminent end of the world, they had little interest in an interim state between death and resurrection. Later, the Eastern Church came to admit of such an intermediate state, but refrained from defining it, so as not to blur the distinction between the alternative definitive fates of heaven and hell. In the West there was much more curiosity about the intermediate state, with evidence from as far back as the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (203) of the belief that sins can be purged by suffering in an afterlife, and that the purgation can be speeded up by the prayers of the living. Eastern Christians too believed that the dead can be assisted by prayer.[1]

East and West, those in the intermediate state have traditionally been the beneficiaries of prayers, such as requiem masses. In the East, the saved are said to rest in light while the wicked are confined in darkness. In the East, prayers are said to benefit even pagans.[2] In the West, Augustine described prayer as useful for those in communion with the church, and implied that every soul's ultimate fate is determined at death.[3] In the West, prayer came to be restricted to souls in purgatory.[4] In the Middle Ages, the Western church offered indulgences for those in purgatory.[5] Protestants largely ceased praying for the dead.

Protestants denied the Catholic purgatory. Luther posited "soul sleep", in which the soul is asleep, yet "lives before God" and "experiences visions and the discourses of the angels and of God".[6] Calvin depicted the righteous dead as resting in bliss.[7]


Jewish background

The early Hebrews had no notion of resurrection of the dead[8] and thus no intermediate state. As with neighboring groups, they understood death to be the end. Their afterlife, sheol (the pit), was a dark place from which none return. By Jesus' time, however, the book of Daniel (Daniel 12:1-4) and a prophecy in Isaiah (26:19)[9] had made popular the idea that the dead in sheol would be raised for judgment. The intertestamental literature describes in more detail what the dead experience in sheol. According to the book of Enoch, the righteous and wicked await the resurrection in separate divisions of sheol, a teaching which may have influenced Jesus' parable of Lazarus and Dives.[10]


The New Testament was written in Greek, and the authors used the Greek term hades for the Hebrew sheol.

The gospel of Luke describes hades along the lines of Jewish sheol, divided between the happy righteous and the miserable wicked. Early Christians described hades as the underworld where all the souls of the dead were kept until the resurrection. Hippolytus described hades with a two-way division, with the lake of fire from Revelation used to torment the wicked who are doomed to be cast into it. Prayer for the dead, especially as a mass, dates back to the early Church. Two martyr stories describe the martyrs as praying for the dead to improve the conditions of the dead in an intermediate state.

In the East, the intermediate state was described as light, freedom, and rest for the righteous and the opposite for the wicked. The intermediate state is sometimes described as the presence of God, which delights the believer and torments the unrepentant.

In the West, Augustine wrote that only those in communion with the church are aided by prayer. To the standard two-way division, he recognized separate states for the "not so good" and "not so bad" souls. He insisted that unbaptized babies were excluded from heaven. Gregory the Great confirmed Augustine's understanding that only the saved benefit from prayer, and he connected suffering after death with penance left unpaid in life.

The Venerable Bede and Saint Boniface both report visions of an afterlife with a four-way division, including pleasant and punishing abodes near heaven and hell to hold souls until judgment day.

In the 12th century, the medieval Catholic church defined purgatory, the intermediate state for the saved who have just punishment yet to suffer. The righteous were said to go direct to heaven, and the wicked direct to hell. All Souls' Day commemorates the souls in purgatory. The church sold indulgences to release the donors' departed loved ones from suffering in purgatory, or the donors themselves.

In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation challenged purgatory. Martin Luther wrote that the soul slept unconsciously until the resurrection. John Calvin, in an acerbic response to Luther,[7] described the soul as resting in light. Protestants largely rejected a distinction in fates other than the difference between heaven and hell. They rejected distinctions of fate within heaven or hell and rejected purgatory almost entirely.

Christian teaching


Foretaste of final state

Some theological traditions, including most Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, teach that the intermediate state is a disembodied foretaste of the final state. Therefore, those who die in Christ go into the presence of God (or the bosom of Abraham) where they experience joy and rest while they await their resurrection (cf. Luke 23:43). Those who die unrepentant will experience torment (perhaps in hell) while they await final condemnation on the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9).

I. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.[4] Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.

Westminster Confession 1646, chapter XXXII, Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead

Psychopannychism ("Soul sleep")

A minority of Christians, including Martin Luther[11] and smaller denominations such as Seventh-day Adventists[12], deny the conscious existence of the soul after death, believing the intermediate state to be unconscious "sleep". In this case, the person is not conscious of any time or activity and would not be aware even if centuries elapsed between their death and their resurrection. They would, upon their death, cease consciousness, and gain it again at the time of the resurrection having experienced no time lapse. For them, time would thus suspended, as if they moved immediately from death to resurrection and the General Judgment.


The intermediate state is sometimes referred to by the Greek term hades, even in other languages. The term is equivalent to Hebrew sheol and Latin infernum (meaning "underworld").


The Roman Catholic Church teaches that all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven, a final purification to which it gives the name "purgatory"[13]


Roman Catholic theologians have given the name "limbo" to a possible fate of infants who die without baptism. The just who died before Jesus Christ are also spoken of as having been in limbo until he had won salvation for them.


In Islamic eschatology, Barzakh (Arabic: برزخ‎) is the intermediate state in which the soul of the deceased is transferred across the boundaries of the mortal realm into a kind of "cold sleep" where the soul will rest until the Qiyamah (Judgement Day). The term appears in the Qur'an Surah 23, Ayat 100.

Barzakh is a sequence that happens after death, in which the soul will separate from the body. Three events make up Barzakh:

  • The separation of the soul and the body, in which the soul separates and hovers over the body.
  • Self-review of one's actions and deeds in one's life.
  • The soul rests in an interspace in which one will experience a manifestation of one's soul resulting in a cold sleep state, awaiting the Day of Judgement.

Please note that in Islam all human beings go through four steps of age:

  • The age in the womb is where the body acquires its soul. The fetus is imbued with a soul from God. The soul however, is completely innocent and totally lacking of any worldly knowledge, which is reflected by a baby's helplessness.
  • The age in the mortal world is the stage of life from the moment of birth from the womb to the moment of death.
  • The age of the grave is the stage after death in the mortal world, where the soul is stored in Barzakh (midst) which results in a cold sleep state, awaiting the Day of Judgement.
  • The age of the hereafter or rest of eternity is the final stage commencing after the Day of Judgement and all of humanity has received their judgement from God. If they were righteous and did good deeds based on their own circumstances, regardless of professed religion, they go to Jannah (heaven) and if they have attained little in life, and were unrighteous in their actions—or were despite all evidence shown to them, bent on denying the truth of life once it was presented to them based on their own circumstances they shall go to Jahannam (a spiritual state of suffering). This stage of life commences officially after the embodiment of Death is brought up and is slain, thus Death dies literally, and no one will ever experience or behold the concept of Death everafter. Based on the verdict received which is brought upon by each person's individual deeds, actions, and circumstances in life, the Day of Judgement on which everyone is judged with the utmost sense of justice, each human will spend this stage of life in heaven or hell (which will be a place for purification of the soul so that one realizes the wrongs committed in life). However, those in hell are eligible to go to the state of heaven after being purified by that state described as hell if they "had an atom's worth of faith in them" and the soul is repentful.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article purgatory
  2. ^ "Dead, prayer for the." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  3. ^ "Dead, prayer for the." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  4. ^ "Dead, prayer for the." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  5. ^ "Indulgences." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  6. ^ "Salomon judgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all. For the dead lye there accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when they are awoken, they shall seeme to haue slept scarce one minute." - Martin Luther, An Exposition of Salomon's Booke, called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher (translation 1573). "It is certain that to this day Abraham is serving God, just as Abel, Noah are serving God. And this we should carefully note; for it is divine truth that Abraham is living, serving God, and ruling with Him. But what sort of life that may be, whether he is asleep or awake, is another question. How the soul is resting we are not to know, but it is certain that it is living." - E.M. Plass, What Luther Says, Vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950. p. 385 (cf. Harold A. Schewe: What Happens to the Soul after Death?). "But the soul does not sleep in the same manner (like a person on earth.) It is awake. It experiences visions and the discourses of the angels and of God. Therefore the sleep in the future life is deeper than it is in this life. Nevertheless, the soul lives before God." - J Pelikan, ed., Luther's Works, Vol. 4. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964. p. 313 (cf. Harold A. Schewe: What Happens to the Soul after Death?).
  7. ^ a b John Calvin, Psychopannychia, @
  8. ^ Belief in the resurrection "first became prevalent in Judaism during the time of the Maccabees, after 168 BCE." Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 415
  9. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  10. ^ New Bible Dictionary 3rd edition, IVP Leicester 1996. "Sheol".
  11. ^ "Christian Song Latin and German, for Use at Funerals", 1542, in Works of Luther (1932), vol. 6, pp. 287, 288
  12. ^ 28 fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists[1], number 26 "Death and Resurrection".
  13. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030-1031

See also


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