The Believer’s Intermediate State

The Believer’s Intermediate State

In this chapter we will look at the believer’s intermediate state between death and resurrection. Let’s consider the two views:

1. The traditional view is that the disembodied souls of believers go straight to heaven when they die, awaiting their bodily resurrection.

2. Another view is that, like Old Testament saints, the souls of spiritually regenerated believers go to Sheol at the point of physical decease to “sleep” in death until their resurrection.

The latter position is embraced to by many who adhere to literal destructionism, which they support by citing 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and John 5:28-29.

If we genuinely want to know the truth on any given biblical topic it’s important to be honest with the Scriptures regardless of our current view or sectarian bias. We must staunchly follow the hermeneutical rules of “context is king” and “Scripture interprets Scripture,” meaning our interpretation of a passage must harmonize with the surrounding text and with the rest of Scripture. The more detailed and overt passages naturally expand our understanding of the more sketchy or ambiguous ones.

With this understanding, the New Testament denies point blank that believers lie dead in Sheol until their resurrection and clearly supports Christians going to be with the Lord in heaven in a disembodied state. I don’t expect anyone to take my word for it so let’s examine evidence from the Scriptures and draw the obvious conclusion, starting with Paul’s statement that…

“I Desire to Depart and be with Christ, which is Better by Far”

Paul is second only to Jesus Christ as far as New Testament characters go, and the LORD used him to write more of the New Testament than any other person, about one-third (not including Hebrews, which many believe he wrote); and half of the book of Acts is devoted to his missionary exploits. What did God inspire Paul to say on the issue of the believer’s intermediate state between death and resurrection?

Paul made a few plain-as-day statements on the matter. Notice how clear he was about where born-again believers go when they die:


I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Paul wrote this epistle while imprisoned in Rome and the issue of living or dying comes up in verse 20, to which he declares, “to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” For Paul and all believers, the purpose of life itself is the LORD and dying is actually gain , not loss. I think we can all agree that going to Sheol is not gain! In verse 23 he points heaven01out that if he “departs” – that is, he physically dies – he’ll “be with Christ,” which is “better by far” than staying. Verse 24 shows Paul disregarding his yearning to be with the Lord in order to stay and build Christ’s church on earth, which he calls “fruitful labor” in verse 22.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say anything at all about ‘sleeping’ in death in Sheol until he’s bodily resurrected. No, he plainly says that dying is “gain” and that it means to “be with Christ, which is better by far.”

Since the bodily resurrection of the righteous doesn’t take place until the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) and the next stage right before the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6),* this would mean that—if believers went to Sheol when they physically died—Paul and other believers throughout the Church Age would be dead in Sheol until the time of the Rapture. In Paul’s case (and all believers from the first century) we’re looking at around 2000 years of sleeping in death until their resurrection. To be frank, this makes utter nonsense of Paul’s statements in Philippians 1:20-24. After all, how is being dead in Sheol for the next 2000 years “gain” over living for the Lord and producing “fruitful labor” building his church? Why would Paul “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” if, in fact, he wouldn’t actually be with Christ for another 2000 years?

*NOTE: If you’re not familiar with the stages of the resurrection of the righteous, see Chapter Eleven.

Those who hold the position that believer’s go to Sheol when they die argue that—since believers are literally dead in Sheol—their resurrection would seem like a moment of time, even if it took 2000 years. This frankly comes across as forcing one’s biased interpretation into a passage rather than allowing the text to say what it naturally says. The former is an example of eisegesis (ahy-sah-JEE-sis), meaning to import into the Scriptures, whereas the latter is exegesis (ek-sah-JEE-sis), to draw out of the Scriptures.

The plain-sense meaning of Philippians 1:20-24 is that dying is gain because Paul (and, by extension, all believers) go to be with the Lord in heaven unhindered by earthly burdens. Remember the hermeneutical rule: If the plain sense makes sense – and is in harmony with the rest of Scripture – don’t look for any other sense lest you end up with nonsense.

Paul backs-up this position later in this same epistle by calling believers citizens of heaven in Philippians 3:20. Believers are born-again of the seed of Christ by the Holy Spirit and are therefore citizens of heaven. We’re not citizens of Sheol – death! Death has no power over the spiritually regenerated believer!

“Away from the Body and at Home with the Lord”

Here’s another another clear statement by Paul about the believer’s intermediate state:


For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

The “earthly tent” that Paul mentions in verse 1 refers to the human body. The “eternal house in heaven” and “heavenly dwelling” mentioned in verses 1-2 do not refer to heaven itself, but rather to the glorified (heavenly) bodies that believers will receive at their bodily resurrection, which takes place when Christ snatches up his church and, later, returns to the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & Revelation 20:4-6). The nature of these awesome immortal bodies is detailed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, which we’ll examine in the Epilogue: The Nature of Eternal Life.

In verse 4 Paul points out that while we are in the “tent” of our earthly, mortal bodies “we groan and are burdened” because we naturally yearn to be clothed with our heaven12“heavenly dwelling,” our imperishable resurrection bodies. At the time of our bodily resurrection Paul says that what is mortal will be “swallowed up by life” (verse 4). The next verse stresses that God has created us for this very purpose – to give us immortality and eternal life!

Then in verse 6 Paul says that “we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” The obvious implication is that when we leave these bodies, we will be with the Lord, which perfectly coincides with Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:23-24 from the previous section. If there’s any doubt, Paul states in verses 8-9 that “we are confident… and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Does not verse 8 strongly suggest that being away from the body means to be at home with the Lord in heaven, not to mention verse 6? To reinforce this, Paul stresses in verse 9 that we should make it our ambition to please the Lord whether in the body – that is, alive on earth – or away from it. This presents a problem for the view that believers are dead in Sheol during the intermediate state; after all, how exactly can we make it our goal to please the Lord if we’re dead in Sheol and non-existent as far as conscious life goes? It doesn’t make sense, but it does make sense if we go to be with the Lord in heaven and serve in one capacity or another, which we’ll look at momentarily

There’s no getting around the fact that both of Paul’s statements in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 5 declare that being absent from the body (i.e. physically dying) means to be present with the Lord, but only for the believer who’s born-again of the imperishable seed of Christ. Death – Sheol – has no hold on born-again believers. I’ve heard some weak attempts to explain away these two passages, but they always came off as strict sectarians (usually Adventists or JWs) grasping for straws in face of clear Scriptural proof that contradicts their position.

“Whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him”

Let’s observe one more statement by Paul that makes it clear that believers go to be with the Lord in heaven when they physically die and not to Sheol to ‘sleep’ in death until their resurrection.


He [Jesus] died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

“Awake” here refers to believers alive on this earth while “asleep” refers to believers who have passed away. The latter concerns the body ‘sleeping’ in death and not the soul in light of Paul’s clear statements above as well as further crystal-clear evidence we’ll look at in a moment. With this understanding, Paul says that, whether alive on this earth or physically dead, we – believers – will “live together with him,” Jesus Christ.

This of course presents a serious problem for those who say that Christians lie dead in Sheol until their resurrection, but it presents no problem for those who believe – as Paul believed – that we go to heaven to be with the Lord at the point of physical death. After all, you cannot very well “live together with him (Christ)” if you’re dead in Sheol with no consciousness whatsoever until you are resurrected at the Rapture of the Church.

This is a crushing blow to the position that believers go to Sheol when they die.


Peter Will Soon Put Aside “the Tent of his Body”

Consider how Peter phrases his imminent physical decease in this passage:

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, (14) because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. (15) And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

2 Peter 1:13-15

Notice how Peter refers to living in this world as living “in the tent of this body” in verse 13 (other translations say “tabernacle” instead of “tent,” but that’s what a tabernacle is—a tent). He then describes dying in terms of “putting aside” the tent of his body. Peter knew he was going to physically die soon because the Lord made it clear to him (verse 14). He then refers to dying as his “departure” in the next verse.

This agrees with Paul’s statements in the previous three sections: When believer’s physically die it’s only the death of the body because we’re born-again of the seed of Christ and have eternal life in our spirits. As such, our dying is merely a “putting aside of our earthly tent,” a “departure” to go be with the Lord in heaven. Praise God!

Human Souls “Under the Altar” During the Tribulation

Let’s now turn to the book of Revelation to see even more proof that believers go to heaven when they die:


When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The sixth chapter of Revelation involves the seal judgments that will take place during the 7-year Tribulation period that’s coming at the end of this age; this passage details the fifth seal judgment. The text plainly shows tribulation martyrs in heaven in a disembodied state, conscious and speaking to the Lord. In fact, each of them is given a robe and instructed to be patient. Please notice that they are in communion with the Lord in heaven, which coincides with Paul’s statements in previous sections that dying for the believer means to depart this earth and be “at home with the Lord” or “be with Christ,” living “together with him.” Revelation 6:9-11 shows this literally happening in heaven. These are obvious facts about the passage.

Now, someone may “spiritualize” the text and maintain that it’s symbolic of this or that and therefore shouldn’t be taken literally, but we should only spiritualize passages in this manner if there’s clear indication that the language is indeed symbolic. Not to mention make sure there are no passages in the same general context that support a literal interpretation.

The obvious problem with teachers allegorizing certain passages is that there are no rules and the interpreter can spiritualize at whim according to the lens of his or her theology. This type of “methodology” can then be used to “prove” practically anything! Needless to say, if you see a minister doing this it’s a big red flag.

I admit that the reference to souls being “under the altar” in Revelation 6:9-11 sounds somewhat fantastical, but two things: 1. What do we know about the dynamics of this altar in heaven? There could be room for innumerable people under this altar. And 2. nowhere does the passage or context indicate that the language is symbolic (as, say, Revelation 1:20 does). Again, the text plainly shows believers in heaven—referred to as “souls”—conscious, speaking, given garments and instructed to wait. They ask the Lord a question and are instructed—by the Lord—to wait until the full number of their fellow servants are likewise martyred. It sounds like literal souls in heaven to me. Not to mention this passage is backed up by an even clearer reference to martyred believers in heaven in the very next chapter. Let’s look at it…

Tribulation Martyrs “Before the Throne of God” Serving Day and Night

Notice what Christians during the Tribulation will be doing in heaven after they’re martyred for Christ:


After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

they are before the throne of God     and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne     will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger;     never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’     nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne     will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’     ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

This passage shows the multitude of Christian martyrs that will come out of the Tribulation now in heaven wearing the robes given them in the previous chapter. This answers the question of when this is taking place. The elder speaking in the passage explains who these people are, where they are and what they’ll be doing while there (verses 14-15). There is no symbolism — these are disembodied believers in heaven. What are they doing? They’re “before the throne of God and serve him day and night in the temple.”

They’re not yet on earth reigning with Christ during the Millennium because this won’t take place until the second stage of the bodily resurrection of the righteous (Revelation 20:4-6). Again, the events of Revelation 7 take place during the seal judgments, which are the first in a series of three multi-faceted judgments. The second stage of the resurrection of the righteous doesn’t take place until after the Tribulation right before the Millennium.

How do people who reject the idea of believers going to heaven when they die explain this passage? I’ve actually heard some say it applies to the Millennium or eternity. If this were the case, the passage would appear somewhere in Revelation 20-22, not Revelation 7. If it’s a “flash forward,” as they suggest, we’d see evidence of this in the text—even a hint—but there isn’t any. The passage is an account of martyred believers during the Tribulation serving the Lord in heaven. It even expressly states this.

People who try to write this passage off—as well as Revelation 6:9-11—do so out of rigid sectarianism. The idea of believers going to Sheol when they die and ‘sleeping’ in death until their resurrection is a traditional doctrine of their sect and so they desperately try to cut & paste Revelation 7:9-17 and 6:9-11 and place them somewhere in chapters 20-22. It’s sad that people resort to such unsound interpreting measures, obviously due to the pressure of religious tradition. However, mature believers aren’t concerned with what human religion teaches; they’re interested in discovering what God’s Word actually says.  Needless to say, cutting & pasting Revelation 7:9-17 and 6:9-11 and placing them in Revelation 20-22 is an example of un-rightly dividing the Scriptures, that is, incorrectly interpreting them. I’m not saying that we can’t consider this as an option in our search for truth on the issue of the believer’s intermediate state; I’m just pointing out why this option must be rejected.

Believers are Born-Again of the Seed of Christ by the Holy Spirit  

All the above is rooted in the fact that believers are born again of the imperishable seed of Christ:

1 PETER 1:3,23

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

Peter’s talking about spiritual rebirth here, which is a blatant truth of the new covenant:

TITUS 3:4-5

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

For further evidence, Jesus said that people must be born-again to enter God’s kingdom and explained what he meant by saying, “Flesh gives birth to flesh but Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:3,6). Just as your mother gave birth to you, so the Holy Spirit gives re-birth to a person’s spirit when he or she turns to the Lord through the 401026gospel. This spiritual rebirth is what Peter was referring to in 1 Peter 1:23-2:3. He even says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2:2).

Let’s focus on Peter’s statement that believers have “been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). “Word of God” in this verse refers to the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. We’ve been born of Jesus’ imperishable “seed.” Notice how this passage puts it:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

1 John 3:9

In this passage “Seed” is the Greek word sperma and should be translated “sperm.” As such, we’ve been born again of the imperishable sperm of Christ. This is obviously a spiritual rebirth as our physical bodies will wither and eventually die, but we have the hope of the bodily resurrection where we’ll receive a powerful, glorified, spiritual, immortal body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), Praise God!

So what’s my point? Due to spiritual rebirth through the sperm of Christ and power of the Holy Spirit believers have eternal life, which is the life-of-the-age-to-come. We don’t have it outwardly yet—that is, physically—but we have it inwardly. Notice how clear this is in the Scriptures:

JOHN 3:36

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

1 JOHN 5:13

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Because believers intrinsically possess eternal life, death—Sheol—has no power over them. The only part of our being that can die is our body because it’s not redeemed yet. Notice how Paul put it:

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:23

Why does Paul specify the redemption of our bodies? Because believers are already redeemed inwardly via the seed (sperm) of Christ; it’s our bodies that need redeemed. This redemption takes place at the resurrection of the righteous when we’ll receive imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-46 & Revelation 20:4-6).

Our inward self, however, possesses inherent eternal life, which is why the born-again believer doesn’t go to Sheol when he or she dies. Death holds no power over us except for our aging natural bodies. As such, when our bodies die we go to be with the Lord in heaven, awaiting our forthcoming bodily resurrection.

I repeat: Death holds no power over blood-bought, spiritually regenerated believers who intrinsically possess eternal life!

This is not to say, however, that a believer can’t lose their eternal life sometime after being born-again while still on this earth if they choose to walk in unbelief. After all, if it takes faith to be saved, one cannot very well be saved if he or she no longer has faith. Consider it like this: Just because a baby is born into this world doesn’t mean it will make it to maturity. If the infant’s not cared for properly it will perish. Just the same, someone can be genuinely born of God and not make it to spiritual maturity if they’re not cared for properly, which is why the LORD holds ministers accountable (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). See my article Once Saved Always Saved?

NOTE: For more info on how God holds ministers responsible for the vulnerable believers under their care see Hell Know Chapter Eight’s The Judgment Seat of Christ—the Judgment of Believers

Believers “have Faith and PRESERVE their Souls”

The above explains something about the believer’s soul:

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Hebrews 10:39 (NASB)


But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Hebrews 10:39 (ESV)


But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Hebrews 10:39 (NET)


and we are not of those drawing back to destruction, but of those believing to a preserving of soul.

Hebrews 10:39 (YLT)

Because believers are spiritually born-again of the sperm of Christ they have eternal life inwardly and therefore death has no power over their inward selves—mind and spirit. Only their bodies are subject to death. Believers are “those who have faith and preserve their souls” when they physically die. As such, they escape death and Sheol altogether and go straight to heaven when their bodies perish. Why do you think Jesus said:

Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

John 8:51

Unless they’re raptured, the only death born-again believers will experience is physical death. They will never see true death—Sheol—because their souls are preserved from death. When they physically perish they don’t consciously expire; they go to be with the Lord in heaven.

Objections to the Believer’s Intermediate state in Heaven

I’ve heard the argument that there’s too little elaboration on the believers’ intermediate state in heaven between physical death and bodily resurrection, yet the multiple passages we’ve looked at plainly paint the picture of believers alive in heaven with the Lord serving before his throne day and night. What else needs to be said? How much more detail do we require?

I’ve also heard the scoffing objection: “Do we go to heaven, only to be pulled out at the time of the Rapture and then put back in heaven for seven years until the Millennium?” The clear scriptural exposition on the believer’s intermediate state, bodily resurrection, the Millennium and eternal state will set people free on the matter (as Jesus said, “the truth shall set you free”). I realize that religious tradition limits the nature of eternal life to going to heaven and living on a cloud playing a harp forever and that’s about it, but God’s Word tells something different, something more, much more.

Believers only exist in a non-physical state in heaven until their bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), which takes place at the Rapture, as shown in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. For Christian martyrs during the Tribulation they only exist in a non-physical state in heaven until their bodily resurrection at the end of the Tribulation, as seen in Revelation 20:4-6. Those who are bodily resurrected at the time of the Christ’s return for his church—the Rapture—do go back to heaven and later accompany Christ when he returns to the earth to establish his millennial reign, which is when the second stage of the “first resurrection” takes place, again shown in Revelation 20:4-6. This passage shows that the partakers of this resurrection—martyrs of the Tribulation and those still alive on earth at the end—don’t go back to heaven but rather “reign with Christ a thousand years,” which of course refers to Christ’s millennial reign on earth, not heaven.

After that, believers temporarily go “back in heaven” while the LORD renovates the earth and universe, removing all vestiges of sin and death (2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1-4 & Romans 8:21). When this is accomplished, the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, will “come down out of heaven from God” to rest on the new earth (Revelation 21:2,10 & 3:12). This is the eternal home of believers, not that we’ll be limited to the confines of the city any more than you’re limited to the confines of your current home and neighborhood. Since God at this time makes his dwelling with humanity “and he will live with them” in this new eternal era (Revelation 21:3), you could say that heaven and the physical realm somehow intersect. And it’s going to be more awesome than we can possibly imagine! See the Epilogue: The Nature of Eternal Life for details.

Although this is a little complicated, it’s what God’s Word plainly teaches and we’ll examine the sequence of events in more detail next chapter, as well as provide diagrams to help you visual human eschatology. It’s really not that difficult to grasp. In any case, to mock the reality of these events because they’re not simplistic is irreverent and foolish. Besides, they are simple in a sense: There will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous, just as Jesus and Paul said (John 5:28-29 & Acts 24:15); it’s the details of these events that get complex. Furthermore, since when do we reject the reality of something because it’s complicated? Is the human nervous system simple or complex? How about the billions of galaxies in the universe? Need I go on?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Let’s now look at the passage people use to support the idea that Christians don’t go to heaven when they die:


Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Although some people use this passage to support the belief that Christians ‘sleep’ in death in Sheol when they physically die it ironically supports the position that Christians go to heaven to await their bodily resurrection.

Let’s first address the question: Who are “those who sleep in death” whom Paul mentions in verse 13? This is a reference to believers who have already died. “Sleeping insheol09 death” here only refers to the body sleeping in death in the grave (or tomb or whatever the case); it’s not referring to the believer’s soul sleeping in death because the New Testament repeatedly shows that believers are alive in heaven during their intermediate state between death and bodily resurrection, as we have plainly seen in this chapter. In fact, this passage itself proves that believers who have died go to heaven because verse 14 says that, at the time of the Rapture of the church, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Those who have “fallen asleep in him” is a reference to believers who have already physically died – their bodies “sleeping” in the dust. Notice that these believers will come with Jesus from heaven at the time of the Rapture. How so? Because that’s where they already are, not their bodies, but their souls!

Verse 16 shows that the “dead in Christ” – meaning those who have already died and whom “God brings with Jesus” from heaven – will “rise first,” referring to their bodily resurrection where they’ll receive their glorified immortal bodies. Then those believers who are still alive on earth at the time of the Rapture will be transformed physically, receiving their imperishable bodies:

1 CORINTHIANS 15:50-57

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?     Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As noted in the previous section, the resurrection of the righteous happens in stages. Jesus’ resurrection is the first stage, the time of the Rapture is the second stage and the beginning (and end) of the Millennium is the third stage (Revelation 20:4-6). All three together are the resurrection of the righteous. We’ll address this next chapter.

Speaking of which, the “first resurrection” that takes place right before the Millennium offers even more proof that believers go to heaven when they die awaiting their bodily resurrection. Let’s look at that…

“I Saw the Souls of those who had been Beheaded”

The book of Revelation shares John’s revelational vision, which is actually “the revelation of Jesus Christ” according to Revelation 1:1. In this next passage John depicts events taking place in Heaven after the Tribulation and before the Millennium:


I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

John describes what he sees in Heaven and says he “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony” during the Tribulation. Let me repeat: John is in heaven (via his vision) and he sees the souls of believers who were martyred during the Tribulation. They’re in heaven! Nothing is said whatsoever about these souls being resurrected from Hades (i.e. Sheol), as is the case with unbelievers after the Millennium at the resurrection of the unrighteous (Revelation 20:13).


Now some might argue that verse 4 says that “they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years,” which of course suggests that they were fully dead, but this simply means that they came to life physically since their souls are already shown alive in heaven after being martyred for the Lord, just like the martyrs in Revelation 7:9-17 and the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11. Remember the hermeneutical rules: “Context is king” and “Scripture interprets Scripture.” With this understanding, here’s what verse 4 is saying: “they came to life [physically] and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” You see? The addition of one simple word clarifies the statement and settles the matter.

What more proof could anyone need? God’s Word is clear on the issue: Believers go to heaven when they die—in a disembodied form—awaiting their bodily resurrection.

Jesus’ Statement about the Resurrections of the Righteous and the Wicked

We’ve observed from the Scriptures that the resurrection of the righteous takes place in three stages. With this in mind, let’s look at a statement Jesus made about the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous:

JOHN 5:28-29

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

Jesus mentions two resurrections here—a resurrection to life for the righteous and a resurrection to condemnation for the wicked. The Lord doesn’t provide details in this simple statement and the wording makes it seem like there’s only one resurrection of the righteous and that the resurrections of the righteous and wicked take place simultaneously. This is why we have the hermeneutical rule “Scripture interprets Scripture” so we can interpret non-detailed passages like this one with passages that provide more exposition. The other Scriptures that we examined in this chapter prove that the resurrection of the righteous takes place in stages, starting with Jesus’ resurrection, then the the Rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and, lastly, the resurrection that occurs after the Tribulation (Revelation 20:4-6), which presumably includes one that occurs at the end of the Millennium. Only the last one would occur at the same general time as the resurrection of the unrighteous.

Now some will point out how Jesus says that people in their graves will hear his voice and come out, suggesting that believers are sleeping in Sheol, but the word for “graves” here isn’t Hades but rather mnémeion (mnay-MY-on), which refers to a tomb, grave or monument. Hence, for the righteous, Jesus is referring to a bodily resurrection. Furthermore, as we have seen in this chapter, the rest of the New Testament clearly shows that the souls of believers are in heaven awaiting their bodily resurrection.

Of course, this isn’t the case with the unredeemed. They lack redemption and eternal life and therefore go to Sheol when they die to ‘sleep’ in death until their resurrection to face the Great White Throne Judgment where “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire,” which is the second death (Revelation 20:14-15).

NOTE: You can purchase a low-priced book version of SHEOL KNOW, which contains additional material,  here (339 pages); or get the eBook for only $2.99. Both links allow you to “Look inside” the book.

A new Condensed Version is also available! It cuts out all the “fat” and is freshly edited to boot. You can order copies here for only $6.72 (153 pages) or get the eBook for just 99 cents!

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  1. Jesse Andrew Rollick
    Mar 14, 2020

    Mr. Waren:

    I was born into a Baptist home and, as you can imagine, I was taught ECT. But, through a study of the Scriptures, I came to believe what a moderate portion of this sight espouses…before I ever found the site, ha ha. While I believe there is an intermediate state for believers, I still don’t know if I believe the same is not also true for unbelievers…

    …All this is simply one long question of, do you know for certain the dead are unconscious? 2nd question is, how do you justify the Greek-like dualism presented in your human nature article, shown also in your intermediate state article?

    • Dirk Waren
      Mar 16, 2020

      Hi Jesse. Thanks for the interest and erudite feedback.

      Your comments were rather long & meandering so I condensed them to your main questions and will also answer your two follow-up posts here.

      As to your two main questions: Only spiritually unregenerated souls go to Sheol at the point of physical death. Sheol is “the world of the dead,” not the world of the spiritually-unregenerated-but-still-very-much alive. The great amount of data on Sheol in the Bible shows that the dead in Sheol are just that — dead. Sheol is the graveyard of dead souls in the heart of the earth. It’s where soulish remains are stored until their resurrection on Judgment Day (Revelation 20:11-15). For scriptural support, please breeze through all the chapters of SHEOL KNOW; here’s the Contents Page, which provides access to all the chapters. I encourage you to pick up the Condensed Version of SHEOL KNOW (available in print or eBook) since it’s freshly edited and contains some material that’s not in the web-version.

      Concerning your claim that my chapter on human nature and this one feature Greek-like dualism, I didn’t teach from Greek philosophy in these articles, but rather focused on what the God-Breathed Scriptures say, both Old and New Testaments, i.e. the Hebrew & Greek Scriptures. When it comes to Christian doctrine I stick to Paul’s rule for the churches: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

      This answers another one of your questions regarding if I’m a psychopanichist or a thnetopsychist. I’m simply a Scripture-ist. Concerning Psychopannychism, souls in Sheol are not sleeping, but rather dead since the breath of life has returned to God who gave it. The remains of the soul are held in Sheol ‘awaiting’ resurrection. “Sleep” is figurative of death and not literal; when souls are resurrected from Sheol to be judged they are “awoken” from their “sleep.” This reveals the difference between the first death and the second death: Everyone’s resurrected from the first death, but no one will ever be resurrected from the second death; it’s an “eternal punishment,” an “EVERLASTING destruction” with no hope of resurrection (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Hebrews 10:26-27 & Luke 19:27).

      Concerning Thnetospsychism, the reason the person — the soul — dies is because they’re not spiritually regenerated and therefore lack eternal life; thus when they physically perish the breath of life returns to God and the dead soul is housed in Sheol, the graveyard of dead souls, until its resurrection. Spiritually regenerated believers, by contrast, go to Heaven awaiting their bodily resurrection, as this chapter shows from Scripture.

      Regarding Isaiah 14:9-10, this is figurative language and is addressed here. Remember the hermeneutical rule “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Read through all the biblical evidence on the nature of Sheol provided in SHEOL KNOW and you’ll see that it clearly points to the conclusions about Sheol stated above.

      Isaiah 26:14 & related texts are addressed in the unabridged version of SHEOL KNOW (print and eBook). I can send this particular section to you via email; it’s too long to include here.

      As far as Numbers 16:28-34 goes, it is addressed here. The earth literally opened up and swallowed Korah & his followers and “they went down alive into the realm of the dead,” i.e. Sheol. This doesn’t mean that they stayed alive for long because the latter part of verse 33 clearly says that “the earth closed over them, and they perished.” Physical bodies can’t go to Sheol anyway since it exists in the spiritual realm — the dark heavenlies — and not the physical realm. Please notice that nothing is said about them suffering roasting conscious torment in Sheol for thousands of years until their resurrection on Judgment Day. It simply says “they perished.”

      Concerning Psalm 55:15, David was “a man after God’s own heart” and knew the Scriptures well. He was likely thinking of the fate of Korah & his followers when he wrote this by the Spirit – the ground suddenly opening up and swallowing them alive. Notice that David plainly prefaced his statement with “Let death take my enemies by surprise.” You see, David was thinking in terms of the biblical wages of sin for his enemies, DEATH (Romans 6:23), not constant burning torture.

      Concerning tartaroó and why some fallen angels are imprisoned there, this is addressed in my book ANGELS, as well as elsewhere; it’s noted in passing in SHEOL KNOW in the section that covers the “Spirits in Prison.” You can read about it here.

      Please write me at I if you have any further comments/questions.

      Thanks again for your feedback and your interest.

      Your Servant,

  2. Brad
    Jun 3, 2019

    I know their are a lot of near death experiences told by people of hell and heaven. Do you think these experiences (of hell) could be legit and that maybe God is giving them future glimpses of the judgement to come (like in revelations) or perhaps some kind of demonic influence taking place?

    • Dirk Waren
      Jun 3, 2019

      Hi Brad. Here’s my commentary on this topic in chapter 9 of the most recent edition of SHEOL KNOW:

      What about People who Claim to have Visited Sheol Literally or in a Vision?

      This question applies to books like Bill Wiese’ 23 Minutes in Hell (2006) and Mary K. Baxter’s A Divine Revelation of Hell (1993), both claiming to have gone to Sheol (Hades) in visions. I’ve read another minister’s testimony that he went to Sheol in a vision as well. There are others with similar assertions.

      The claim of these people is that they were given these visions in order to be used of God to evangelize the lost by utilizing the horrors of a torture chamber in the heart of the earth as a big club to convince people to repent. In other words, they believe they’re end-time agents of God on an evangelizing mission.

      While evangelization and genuine repentance are always good, these people’s supernatural experiences beg the question: Why did the LORD wait almost 2000 years after the biblical canon was completed to reveal these insanely horrifying details about Sheol? If their visions (or experiences) are to be believed, why aren’t there similar such descriptions of Sheol in the Bible, the Word of God?

      I’ve never read Wiese’s book and don’t need to because a thorough study of God’s Word informs us everything we need to know about the nature of Sheol, as the evidence featured in SHEOL KNOW testifies.

      I did, however, read Baxter’s book and was sickened by its unscriptural portrayal of the topic. Ms. Baxter cites a number of passages at the end of her book to support her hideous visions, including Matthew 10:28. There are two problems with citing this verse:

      1. Jesus was referring to Gehenna in this passage, which is the Greek word often translated as “hell” in English Bibles, and Gehenna literally refers to the Valley of Hinnom, a trash dump/incinerator located outside the southwest walls of Jerusalem (this is covered at the beginning of chapter 2 of HELL KNOW). Why would Jesus use this perpetually smoking trash dump to illustrate the lake of fire or second death? Because it was something all his listeners were familiar with and his message was therefore clear: Those who are God’s enemies will be discarded like trash and eradicated just like garbage cast into Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom.
      2. Gehenna (the lake of fire) and Sheol (Hades) are two completely separate places. In fact, souls in Hades will be resurrected from Hades and—if their names aren’t found in the book of life—will be cast into the lake of fire, as will Hades itself, as shown in Revelation 20:11-15.

      Both of these points reveal the obvious problem with Baxter citing Matthew 10:28 to support her creative vision: The passage applies to the lake of fire and not to Sheol and, furthermore, refers to literal destruction of soul and body and not never-ending roasting torment. Evidently Ms. Baxter doesn’t even realize that there’s a difference between Sheol (Hades) and Gehenna, the lake of fire. Do you think it’s wise to give credence to the visions of a person who doesn’t even understand the fundamental aspects of her topic?

      The bottom line is that we don’t need the visions or testimonies of these types of people to understand the nature of Sheol because everything God wants us to know about Sheol has already been revealed in his Word. This is in line with Paul’s ministerial rule regarding key doctrine: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6), which explains why this book focuses exclusively on what God’s Word says on the subject from Genesis to Revelation and not the dubious testimonies of people who claim to have visions or experiences that just so happen to wholly disagree with what God’s Word teaches.

      I call this tendency to formulate vital doctrine based on dubious visions/experiences the “Eliphaz syndrome.” If you’re not familiar with Eliphaz, he was one of Job’s three “friends” whom the LORD accused of folly in what they shared (Job 42:7-8). Eliphaz was the one who made claims based on mysterious visions/experiences (Job 4:12-21). We can extend mercy to Eliphaz since there wasn’t much — if any — Scripture for him to rely on back then, but modern-day believers have ready access to the entire canon of God’s Word for the purpose of determining proper doctrine and correcting false doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We have no excuse.

      Near Death Experiences and Ghostly Phenomena

      What about “near-death experiences”—NDEs—where people who claim to have died either “see the light” of heaven or suffer torments in some hellish torture chamber or some variation of either? NDEs can be chalked up to one of four things:

      1. Activity of the mind after temporarily dying, i.e. dreams, imaginations.
      2. The person had a real after-death experience. This could be a child or spiritually regenerated person, like the kid in the book Heaven is Real, or an unbeliever whose soul and breath of life haven’t separated yet (I’m not saying that this actually happens; I’m just listing it as a possibility).
      3. We cannot discount what the Bible calls deceiving spirits.
      4. Another possibility is that the person is lying.

      As for apparitions/ghosts, they could be one of four things:

      1. Flashes from the past; that is, picking up residual images of former events.
      2. Demonic activity.
      3. A person who has delayed entry to heaven or Sheol for whatever reason. In the event of a delayed entry to Sheol—if indeed such a thing even occurs (again, I’m just listing this as a possibility)—the soul and breath of life obviously didn’t separate at the point of physical death for some reason (keeping in mind that it’s the spirit of life that gives consciousness to the mind). As such, the person would be temporarily stuck on this plane in a disembodied state. For details see the article on Human Nature at the Fountain of life site or the Appendix of the unabridged version of SHEOL KNOW.
      4. As above, the person may be lying.

      This covers the spectrum of possibilities, although I’m sure there are minor or mixed variants. Even if one discovers evidence that most cases can be pinpointed to one reason, that doesn’t discount that some cases can be attributed to others. I think it’s pointless and perhaps even unhealthy to pursue the topic further since the Torah expressly forbids contact with the dead (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:9-14) and therefore people who are overly interested with the subject are treading the borders. As noted above, Paul gave a rule in the New Testament: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). So, with subjects like this, my advice is to stay within the wise parameters of God’s Word.

      My main problems with NDEs are:

      1. These people didn’t actually die in the truest sense, despite what they say, since—if they were dead—they wouldn’t be here, which is why these experiences are called near-death experiences.
      2. We all know the crazy imaginations that the mind can come up with practically every night when we sleep, how much more so when we almost die or die for a brief time? Since this is so, how can we trust these stories as anything more concrete than dreams or nightmares? Even if many of them agree, too many of them contradict; so we can’t trust them.
      3. We can’t discount lying spirits. After all, the devil is the “god of this world” and his spiritual minions carry out his orders. He’s the “father of lies” and is fittingly called “the deceiver” in Scripture. Consequently, his modus operandi is to deceive.

      In light of all this, if you were the devil wouldn’t you want spiritually un-regenerate people to think they have an immortal soul apart from Christ and that they’ll automatically see a bright light and feeling of warm love when they die, being ushered into heavenly bliss? Of course you would. Why? Because it would steer them away from the gospel, repentance, spiritual rebirth and their Creator.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of people who have near-death experiences say they experienced nothing and point out that, when they were resuscitated, it was like waking up from a deep sleep. Gee, why didn’t they experience fiery torment?

      Lastly, isn’t it a little suspicious that these people have to go outside the God-breathed Scriptures to acquire support for their dubious doctrine? If it were truly biblically-based — as they claim — they wouldn’t have to do this.

      For these reasons it’s wise to stick with what God’s Word says on the subject and not go beyond it.

  3. Gerald Klos
    Apr 2, 2019

    Why did you omit John 3:13,Acts 2:29, 34.and all the old testament passages that state in the grave you are silent.

    • Dirk Waren
      Apr 4, 2019

      Thanks for the feedback, Gerald.

      You’re reading one chapter of a long book on the “intermediate state” between physical death and resurrection. The previous chapter addresses John 3:13, which you can read here.

      Acts 2:29,34 is also addressed in another chapter. All this text says is that David died and his body was placed in a tomb; and that he did not ascend to heaven. Before spiritual regeneration was available through Christ every soul went to Sheol/Hades — the realm of the dead — to “sleep” in death until their resurrection, including Old Testament saints, like David. I mean “sleep” metaphorically, of course, not literally since souls in Sheol are dead and not conscious of anything, as SHEOL KNOW clearly details.

      New Covenant believers, by contrast, have been born of the imperishable seed (sperm) of Christ and intrinsically have eternal life. Read this section and the following one for clear scriptural verification.

      I encourage you to read this chapter again because it plainly shows from Scripture that born-again believers go to Heaven when they physically die to await their bodily resurrection, Christ’s millennial reign and the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 20-22).

      In your other comment (which I didn’t post because I wanted to answer both of your comments in one post) you argue that unsaved souls in Sheol wouldn’t experience any sense of time while “sleeping” in death, which is true, but this isn’t relevant to spiritually regenerated believers who have born of the seed of Christ and possess eternal life (1 Peter 1:3,23, 1 John 3:9 & John 3:36). Hence, death & Sheol have no power over the blood-bought, born-again believer and we go to be with the Lord at physical death (2 Corinthians 5:8 & Revelation 7:9-17) to await our glorious bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-44,55).

      For a thorough study on the nature of Sheol/Hades start with this chapter and breeze through the rest of the chapters.

      God Bless You, Brother.

  4. Jonathan
    Dec 10, 2018

    Serving in the temple day and night sounds very boring. Will the martyrs not be allowed to do anything else?

    Being told God is not going to punish the wicked until a certain number of Christians have been murdered is troubling!

    • Dirk Waren
      Dec 11, 2018

      Jesus didn’t call it the “great tribulation” for nothing.

      As far as serving in the temple day and night goes, the context is Heaven where believers aren’t hindered by the flesh, tiredness, pain, envy, jealousy, rivalry, aging and death. Imagine being high on the best drug the world has to offer, but times it to the nth degree in glorious joy. It definitely won’t be boring.

  5. Libby
    May 11, 2015

    Thank you for your detailed work on these subjects. You have helped me greatly in my search for understanding on the issue of Hell. I first visited your page a year or so ago. At that time, I thought you made a persuasive argument that Christians did “sleep” prior to the rapture. Did you change your views on this or did I just misunderstand? Thanks, Libby

    • Dirk Waren
      May 12, 2015

      No, but Chapter Ten has been posted since that time. The original web-version of Sheol Know was incomplete and only went up to half of Chapter Seven. Chapter Ten wasn’t available until August 29th of last year. You probably read the incomplete version and may have assumed that I taught that the souls of believers go to Sheol until Christ returns for his church. The biblical data contained in Chapter Ten ( compels me to disagree with those who teach that regenerated souls sleep in death in Sheol just as unregenerated souls do.

      Chapter Eleven is the most recent chapter added and goes over the various resurrections, providing helpful diagrams, etc. You can read it here:

      Your Servant,

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