The intermediate state refers to a person's existence between his physical death and his future resurrection. The words "intermediate state" are not used in the Bible, but Bible teachers often use this term when discussing what happens to a person after death.
What is the intermediate state?
The Bible reveals what happens to the believer immediately upon death. First, when a believer in Jesus Christ dies, he or she is immediately in the presence of the Lord. Paul says, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). Paul expected to immediately exist in the presence of Jesus after his final breath. To be "away from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
So, the biblical teaching is that the believer immediately enters the presence of the Lord upon death. This rules out the view of "soul sleep," which is the belief that a person's soul enters a period of unconscious rest and is later "awakened" to spend eternity with Christ.
Revelation 6:9 is sometimes used in this discussion: "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne." This verse clearly teaches that departed souls are in the presence of God. Specifically, Christian martyrs during the tribulation are there. These are "souls" having no physical body, since their resurrection is yet to come. While this is the intermediate state of those who die during the tribulation, it is not clear if this is the state of believers who die in Christ before that time. At the rapture of the church, "the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Assuming that the rapture occurs before the tribulation, believers during the church age will have resurrected bodies.
Jesus related the story of a poor man named Lazarus who died an entered God's presence. The same story includes a rich man who went to hell and found himself in torment. Luke 16:23 says that the rich man "lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side." This passage affirms that those who have died are conscious. Also, they have a spiritual body of some kind. Lazarus, Abraham, and the rich man were all personally identifiable, and they could see, hear, speak, and feel. The rich man even speaks of Lazarus's "finger" and his "tongue." The indication seems to be that they exist as something more than a disembodied spirit.
Regardless of the exact nature of our existence in the intermediate state, it is clear that believers will ultimately live in a new heaven and new earth with glorified bodies that continue for eternity (Revelation 21-22). Believers can take comfort that in a coming day there will be no more pain, suffering, or sadness, but rather a perfect existence forever in the presence of the Lord.
What happens after death?
Is the concept of purgatory biblical?
Is reincarnation biblical?
When will the resurrection occur?
What does the Bible say about the new heavens and the new earth?
Truth about Eternity