************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 22, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 37 (#3)
Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Cor 5:1-10
"What is Life Like After I Die?"

What happens to someone who dies? Where are they? What is their life like? We ask these kinds of questions when a loved one dies. The Bible tells us about the joy that awaits all of God's children after Christ's return -- namely, a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth. But that day is still in the future. What about our loved ones right now? What is their state between death and the resurrection?

The time between a person's death and their resurrection has a name: it is known as the intermediate state. It is the state in between, the state that is temporary, the state that is incomplete. This term -- the intermediate state -- covers the existence of both the believer and the unbeliever during this time. For each, however, this existence is very different.

I The Teaching of the Confessions
A Precisely where does the soul exist during the period we call the intermediate state? In answering this question I would like to take a brief look at the beautiful answers we find in the church's confessions.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us to confess that "my soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head" (Q & A 57).

B The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q & A 86) says the believer immediately after death has communion in glory with Christ.
... 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.
As for the wicked, they experience something entirely different:
... 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.

To sum up, the church's confessions -- based upon the Bible -- declare that after death the believer is with Christ and the unbeliever is already suffering the torments of hell.

II Sheol, Hades, Purgatory
A When we talk of the intermediate state there are three important words we need to look at: a Hebrew word, a Greek word, and a Latin word.

The Hebrew word is Sheol. According to the Old Testament, human existence does not end at death; after death man continues to exist; he exists in Sheol -- which is the place or realm of the dead. Our Bible version translates Sheol as "grave."

Jacob mentions Sheol when he is told his son Joseph is dead:
(Gen 37:34-35) Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. (35) All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to Sheol to my son." (Cf 1 Sam 2:6)

According to the Old Testament, then, all people go down to Sheol when they die. Both the godly and the ungodly enter the realm of the dead known as Sheol when they die. It is in this light that we are to understand the words of Psalms 30 and 115:
(Ps 30:9) What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?

(Ps 115:17) It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to silence;
To tell you the truth, I have never liked these words. Because they indicate the dead do not praise the Lord. Yet, the book of Revelation shows the believing dead praising God before His throne. The only explanation is that Old Testament believers are limited in their understanding of what happens immediately after death. Their revelation and their theology tells them they go to Sheol, to the realm of the dead. Period.

This does not mean, however, that they believed the state of the godly and the ungodly are forever the same after death. Scripture teaches that Old Testament believers knew the wicked will always remain under the power of Sheol. And, they knew that the godly are delivered from that power. We see this thought expressed by the Psalmist:
(Ps 49:14-15) Like sheep [the wicked] are destined for Sheol, and death will feed on them ... 15 But God will redeem my life from Sheol; he will surely take me to himself.
That's why Abraham could look forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).

B When we talk of the intermediate state, the Greek word is Hades. Hades -- like Sheol -- also refers to the realm or place of the dead. However, Hades does have one difference from Sheol -- it was believed that Hades was divided into two different parts: one part for the wicked, and the other for the believing.

We see this in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. After death the rich man is in Hades where he was in torment (Lk 16:23). The intermediate state for this man was torment and suffering. Lazarus, however, is receiving comfort at Abraham's side.

In his Pentecost Day sermon the Apostle Peter tells us that Christ Jesus "was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his body see decay" (Acts 2:31). Instead,
(Acts 2:24) ... God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
In or by His resurrection Christ shows us that He has conquered death and Hades (cf Rev 1:18).

C When we talk of the intermediate state, the Latin word is Purgatory. Purgatory is a strictly Roman Catholic teaching. It is a place where the godly go to be purged of their lesser sins. Once they have been purged by suffering, by the merits of the saints, and by prayers and masses said on their behalf, they will be released to go into heaven. Neither this word nor this teaching is to be found in the Bible. As a matter of fact, this doctrine is but a denial of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. For notice what happens: Something needs to be added to Christ's death and resurrection.

D What do we learn about the intermediate state from these words?

First of all, we learn that death is not the end. After death people do not stop existing; rather, they go to a place or realm of the dead.

Second, we learn that the ungodly shall forever remain in the realm of the dead with death as their shepherd. Even without their bodies the ungodly already start to suffer the torments of hell.

Third, we learn that the believer shall conquer death and Hades because Christ -- by His death and resurrection -- has conquered death and Hades.

III State of the Ungodly
A The Bible says little about the condition of the ungodly between death and the resurrection. That should not surprise us because the Bible's chief concern is with the future of God's people.

Yet, we are given glimpses of the state of the wicked during the intermediate state. When we turn again to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16) we see that the rich man is in terrible torment. He is described as being in fire and he begs for water to cool his tongue.

B The clearest teaching on the fate of the wicked after death is found in 2 Peter. There we are told that the Lord holds "the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment" (2 Pet 2:9). The ungodly are being treated like the angels who sinned; God "sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment" (2 Pet 2:4). The ungodly are imprisoned by God in Sheol or Hades during the intermediate state. There is no escape for them. While there they are being punished for their wickedness and unbelief.

IV State of the Godly
A When it comes to the state of the godly during the intermediate state, there are three main Bible passages we can look at.

The first passage contains the words of Jesus to the penitent thief upon the cross: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Paradise is the same as what Paul calls the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). It means the realm of the blessed dead and the dwelling place of God Himself. Jesus promised the penitent thief, then, that he would be with Christ in heavenly bliss that very day.

The important thing here is not the place -- paradise -- but the person: "you will be with me," says Jesus. During the intermediate state the believer is with Christ.

B The second passage comes from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi:
(Phil 1:21,23) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain ...(23) I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ...
Notice, Paul calls death "gain" and says the result "is better by far."

Why does Paul say this? Death is "gain" and "it is better by far" to die because then he will "be with Christ." Upon death, the believer has communion in glory with Christ; he or she beholds the face of God and Christ in light and glory.

Again, the most important detail about the life of the godly during the intermediate state is that it is life with Christ.

C The third passage is our Bible reading from 2 Corinthians 5. Listen to just a couple of verses again:
(2Cor 5:6-8) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) We live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

In the present life we are away from the Lord. That is, we do not see the Lord face-to-face. We live by faith, not by sight. Our present fellowship with the Lord, good though it is, still leaves much to be desired. But when we die as a believer, then we will be home -- home with the Lord. Home, of course, is the place where we belong. Home is the place where we find love, shelter, security, fellowship. Here on this earth we are not really at home. But when we die we are with Jesus. Then we are home. Then we are where we belong.

D Let me sum this up. In the intermediate state, says the Bible, the Christian is with Christ. Notice, it nowhere states we are in heaven -- though this is implied. The emphases, you see, is not on the place we are at but on the person we are with. After death the believer is with Christ, at home with the Lord. And, to be with the Lord means joy, peace, happiness; it means no more pain, suffering, sorrow, sadness, tears. It means this because the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death and Hades.

What comfort we get from this. Our loved one didn't really die. He or she didn't stop existing. They are now at home, at home with the Lord. And, death is not our end either. It means we go home, home to the Lord.

E Finally, I need to add that life in the intermediate state is incomplete. It is incomplete for three reasons.

First, it is incomplete because we do not yet dwell on the new earth and have not yet received our full inheritance.

Second, it is incomplete because we do not yet have our resurrection body. God made us in His image as body and soul. So our souls without our bodies are incomplete. Think about this. We don't have a body when we die. We aren't playing our best round of golf ever on heaven's fairway. We aren't sitting at heaven's fishing hole waiting for the big one. And, if we were disabled on earth, we aren't running and jumping and playing in a way we never could in this life.

Third, it is incomplete because the full body of believers is not yet together. Part of the body is missing. It is like life at home when a member leaves for college -- there is a family member who is missing.

What is your life like after you die? For the ungodly, the unrepentant, the unbelieving, it is terrifying. After death there is nothing but death. After death there is nothing but pain, torment, suffering, hell.

For the child of God, however, death is a gateway, a doorway, to a better life with Jesus. Death is the end of a lifelong pilgrimage. Death is a homecoming. Death is when we go to be with Jesus.

I repeat, what is your life like after you die?
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