It is taught that when we die we who believe in Christ will be with him right away, but how can we be right away with Christ if he has a glorified physical body that we are supposed to receive only in the resurrection?

This question is aimed at those Protestants who reject both purgatory and soul sleep, while believing in an intermediate state.

  • What are you specifically referring to when you say 'it is taught that when we die we who believe in Christ will be with him right away'? Furthermore, what is meant by 'be with him'?
    – Jecko
    Sep 28 '15 at 12:21
  • I was taught that when we die our "immaterial" soul goes either to heaven to be with Christ, or to hell to be tormented. So this question came to me as I wondered, how is it that my soul that is supposed to be immaterial or bodiless can be united with Christ in heaven when we know that Christ already have a glorified spiritual yet physical body. I mean his soul is not floating around in heaven it possesses a body, so how can we be together if we will only get our body in the manner of Jesus when we are resurrected like him? Sep 29 '15 at 12:20
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    It seems that your understanding of the word 'together' is very physical here. It could be claimed that we are 'together' with Christ here on earth through His Church and the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, we shall be 'together' with Christ as we are departed from our bodies, and this 'togetherness' shall be completed in the resurrection of our own bodies, since it is then that our human forms shall be fully restored and thus able to be in more perfect union with God.
    – Jecko
    Sep 30 '15 at 0:31

Like God, we humans are spiritual beings. Unlike God, we are not just spirit; we are physical, corporeal bodies which are animated by spirit.

Imagine, if you will, a living body. Picture this body standing upright, but perfectly still. Every system in the body is functioning as it should: the heart is beating at 72 times a minute; the oxygen-carbon-dioxide exchange is going as it should as the lungs fill with air and oxygen from the air infuses the blood cells; the brain's synapses are firing and data of all sorts coming from both the inside of and outside the body are being processed properly--smells, sights, tastes, touches, sounds; blood pressure is 120 over 80; the exchange of nutrients and the elimination of waste products are fully functioning; in short, every system is performing optimally.

One thing is missing, however, and that is a spirit. Impossible, you say. Well, yes, but--but, if someone outside of that body I've just described were to pierce the heart of that living body in such a way that the heart stopped beating, the body would begin to die. Within minutes, it would experience brain death and the bodily systems I've just described would cease to function. The body would then begin the steady and inexorable process of decay and decomposition.

A materialist who happens to be observing the phenomenon I've just described would likely say, "Well, we've just witnessed the life/death cycle at work whereby the chemicals comprising the living body are simply rearranged and become part of other chemicals in the ongoing process of life and death--the Great Mandella (wheel of life)." In a playful mood, the materialist might even say, "The dearly departed is in the process of becoming plant food for daisies, which in turn will decay and die, providing food for other life forms."

A Christian, on the other hand, would insist that life does not end with physical death, nor does a dead body, through decomposition, simply provide fertilizer to the soil. To the Christian, physical death ushers the believer into what might be called a segue to eternal life.

Early believers and the apostle Paul referred to deceased brothers and sisters in Christ as those who had fallen asleep in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:18, 20, 51). This "falling asleep" was not just a euphemism, but it was a way of describing the transition from the perishable, mortal, and physical body to the imperishable, immortal, and spiritual body.

Regardless of their eschatology, most Christians believe that that transition will be completed with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, when the dead in Christ shall rise with spiritual, heavenly bodies, like unto our Lord Jesus' body. Regardless of when that return for his own may be, we are assured that our Savior

will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:21).

Or as the apostle John put it,

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:1-2 NASB Updated).

In the interim between a Christian’s death and subsequent resurrection, which will occur when Christ returns for his own, the Christian’s spirit lives on and is in some way “present with the Lord,” the “proof text” of which is 2 Corinthians 5:8, which follows, along with its context:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lorde—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to the Lord (vv.6-9).

A somewhat parallel passage is in Paul’s letter to the Philippian believers,

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better, yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (1:21-24 NASB Updated, includes italics).

Besides the metaphor of sleep to describe the transition from death to resurrection, Paul also uses the metaphor of nakedness (or being unclothed) and the metaphor of a tent and a house (or dwelling):

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NASB Updated, includes italics).

When we combine the teaching in all the above passages, one thing becomes very clear: In death, every believer is alive and in the presence of the Lord. As for what “form” that presence will take, the Bible does not tell us. As the apostle John, whom I’ve quoted above, says,

. . . it has not appeared as yet what we will be . . . (1 John 3:2, excerpt).

Nevertheless, we do know at least two things: 1) that to die is to be in Jesus’ presence, and 2) that to be in Jesus’ presence is to be a living spirit. That spirit may be disembodied (or unclothed), but since Christ through his resurrection is the first fruits of our resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23) we are simply awaiting that day when our spirit and our glorified and sinless body will be united, which was God’s original design for his image bearers.

From that day forward we will never again be subject to death, which will be swallowed up in victory (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54), but we will live forever and "bear the image of the heavenly" Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49), who loved us and gave himself for us.

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    Thank you very much for your answer, it was very clarifying, you showed me scriptures that I hadn't payed attention to regarding our state after we die, specially [1John 3:2]. I appreciate your time and patience. Sep 30 '15 at 3:52
  • @LehiMiranda: You are welcome (or as the young people say nowadays, "No problem"!). I enjoy getting into the word. You know what they say, however: It's not how much you get into the word, but how much of the word gets into you! Don Sep 30 '15 at 4:21
  • I think the problem is when, as the OP communicates, people see us as glorified, perfected, in heaven during the intermediate state. You've represented the most credible version of this, but many people don't respect the subtleties so well. They represent the intermediate state heaven as the eternal existence heaven. Thus resulting in the confusion that that @LehiMiranda so astutely observed.
    – Joshua
    May 5 '16 at 21:10

I can only really answer this from the perspective of evangelical Christianity as I have been taught it, and I'm sure there are some other interpretations out there too. Essentially this comes down to our different perspectives of time.

When someone dies, from the perspective of those of us left behind, they are effectively in a timeless state - fans of science fiction may be familiar with the concept of "stasis" - until the day of judgement. From our perspective, that could be many, many years. But from their perspective, they're not aware of this time passing, and so they are with Christ right away.

There is an added level of complexity, which is that when we are with Christ, we are with him forever. Eternity goes both ways - not just into the future, but to the past as well; this is perhaps best described as being outside of our timeline. I think of this as a ruler on a desk; it has a definite beginning and end, and we are travelling along it. But when we're outside of that timeline, we're able to see the whole thing at once. From the perspective of someone inside the timeline, those outside of it have always been there and always will be there; so this gives us another sense in which those who die believing in Christ are with him immediately (and have always been with him, and always will be with him) - this time from our perspective as well as their own.

These can be tricky concepts to understand and explain; there are also various different views on the matter as I suggested in my opening paragraph. Above I have outlined my own understanding (based on the teachings I've received from several different evangelical ministers so hopefully I haven't said anything too heretical!). But there's no definitive answer as the debate around the concept of God being inside/outside of time rages on. Here are a couple of short articles that put each viewpoint forward:

  • I will try to explain better. I was taught that when we die our "immaterial" soul goes either to heaven to be with Christ, or to hell to be tormented. So this question came to me as I wondered, how is it that my soul that is supposed to be immaterial or bodiless can be united with Christ in heaven when we know that Christ already have a glorified spiritual yet physical body. I mean his soul is not floating around in heaven it possesses a body, so how can we be together if we will only get our body in the manner of Jesus when we are resurrected like him? Sep 29 '15 at 12:29
  • I think my answer still stands; we receive that new body and are united with Christ simultaneously. They are not separate events.
    – Waggers
    Sep 30 '15 at 8:13

In Revelation 6:9-11, John the apostle sees a group of people in heaven before the resurrection has taken place. They had died earlier. They are speaking to God with a loud voice asking a question (proving that they are near enough to Jesus to talk to Him). Then they are given robes (proving that they have enough of a body to wear apparel) and are told to wait a while longer (proving that they are aware of the passing of time, not that they are in a timeless state).

We are not told what manner of body they have, but it's enough that they have minds and voice and bodies human-like to accept robes.

Does this answer your question?

  • Yes that answers it too I think, so would it be right to say that the place Jesus is and the place where we go after we die can be both spiritual and physical/material? Like when Jesus although having a body of flash and bones could also appear and disappear out of thin air? Meaning that he can be both material and spiritual? Sep 30 '15 at 4:51
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    I am telling you what the Bible says. You'll have to draw your own conclusions from it. Read the passage carefully yourself so as not to add or take away from it.
    – Steve
    Sep 30 '15 at 13:11
  • This is a better answer than mine.
    – Waggers
    Oct 1 '15 at 11:13

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