Good News About the Christian’s Intermediate State
Two words we don’t usually associate with each other are: death and comfort. Yet, in today’s catechism lesson that is what we are going to focus on. For the passing away of believers is a blessed time of grace and love where we are able to see with unveiled faces the glory of God grounded in the promises of His Son Jesus Christ. Sometimes when ministers get talking about things like justification, adoption, sanctification, or things like perichoresis or supralapsarianism it can sound like theological navel gazing, yet there is nothing more practical than getting the gospel right. It makes all the difference to life, from the new birth to death itself.
One of the more affective portions of the Bible for me personally is the story of the internment of Joseph’s bones into the land of Canaan, at Shechem in the tomb of Jacob, hundreds of years after the former’s death. (Joshua 24:32). There is such a lesson for us in that perseverance of the providence of God to answer the prayer of Joseph to his descendants that should teach us much about the way our Father cares for us, even unto the grave.
A great problem in Christianity today is the demand for immediacy. Whether it be in worship, in experience-oriented activities, or the pressing need of freshness in life we are too often seeking that which is really pagan in its outlook. Our faith is a long-term patient faith. It is a generational faith. We see it most clearly when we come to the question today about what happens to us after our mortal bodies fail. There is such a blessing on offer for us that it should keep us in mind of what is most vitally important as the days pass, and that is our right union with our risen Lord, which the tomb cannot destroy or take away.
We’ll look more into this after we read the Q/A below:
Q. 86: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?
A. The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.
Not to hit the providence button again so soon, but we were actually talking about this before our evening service this past Lord’s Day. There can be confusion as to what we will undergo when we die. We all know the Bible to teach that we will immediately go into God’s presence, as Jesus promises the thief on the cross. But what will that be like? Well, our lone catechism question does a lot to answer that for us. Yet, before we get into that too much we might as dispense with the bad news first. The good news is only available to men and women are members of what Q.86 calls the “invisible church”.
We covered that a while back, but it’s worth real quick to remember what it means.
John Calvin says:
. . . that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit… [The invisible church] includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world.
In other words those for whom Jesus has laid down His life, raised from the spiritual dead, and who have believed in Him from the beginning of time, to the present, and even the future until He returns. The contrary is that any man or woman who has denied the Lord, has died in their sins, and received the punishment due to their many transgressions are not in view in this post. We’ve talked about Hell and what it is before. Everything we read in the Q/A is the opposite of that, excepting God’s presence. Those in the Lake of Fire still experience God’s presence, only it is in the fullness of His wrath.
However, notice what we who belong to the Lord should know about what awaits us in the Heavenly places. We are/do: 1) Made Perfect in Holiness, 2) Received Into the Highest Heavens, 3) Behold the Face of God in Light and Glory, and 4) Wait Until the Full Redemption of Their Bodies. So what this tells us is that it will be a conscious place. We will be fully aware of the time between our physical death and the day of our complete glorification in body and soul. Yet, this will not be a boring existence in the largest waiting room ever. Consider for a moment the rapturous anticipation you will feel in the company of the elect, the angels, and the Triune God Himself. There are hardly words we can use to describe it, and in fact the only two people to see it and report back couldn’t give a human understanding to their readers, needing to rely on Old Testament imagery to bring some kind of place to bear on the minds of men. That’s how glorious it was; speaking here of Paul’s telling of the third heaven and John’s visions in the Revelation.
We gain these things as the catechism says only by our spiritual union with Christ.
In closing, it is important to see that our bodies, as well as our souls, remain united to Jesus even in our death. That’s why we bury our dead, because their physical presence is just as much a part of God’s good creation and Christ’s redemptive work as is our souls. That’s one of the things that makes Joseph’s home-going to Jacob’s tomb so beautiful. It gives witness to the love of God for His covenant people, a love you and I share in through our blessed Redeemer. That even through Wilderness, slavery, and the unbelief of others we remain steadfastly in the arms of our Savior.
We should want all men to know this bounty alone found in the Lord of glory. For what remains in this life pales in comparison to what we will know in the life to come.
Here’s some more on the intermediate state:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church