What we believe about the post-mortem state is undoubtedly affected by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the introduction of their sin to the rest of humanity. Both psychopannychists and those who believe in an intermediate afterlife appeal to Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” Adam and Eve introduced death to the human race, yet those who welcome the gospel can have eternal life. Psychopannychists conclude that physical death and physical life are entirely what are being described here, whereas those of us who believe in an intermediate disembodied afterlife would argue that something more than just physical life or physical death should be considered. Are “life” and “death” one-dimensional, or multi-dimensional concepts as seen in Scripture?
There is perhaps no bigger debate surrounding the intermediate state than what composes a human being. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.” The sanctification of oneself that is portrayed in the Scriptures is one where a whole person—not just the physical body and neither just the immaterial consciousness of a person—is to be changed by God. Theological proponents of either psychopannychy, or of an intermediate afterlife prior to resurrection, recognize this fact. The debate, rather, is focused around whether the various components of a person can be separated at all, existing in multiple dimensions.
The Scriptures are clear that human beings are different from the rest of God’s Creation. It is only of man that God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26, TNIV).
Those who believe in the doctrine of psychopannychy are often marked by failing to consider a wider scope and selection of Biblical passages, including the principle of progressive revelation whereby statements made in the Tanach may be clarified by further statements made in the Apostolic Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1-2). Messianic advocates of psychopannychy often base their arguments entirely upon what they read as stated in the Tanach. Robert A. Morey rightly observes in his book Death and the Afterlife, “we cannot base our understanding of death and an afterlife solely upon passages found in the Old Testament…we must recognize that the vision of the Old Testament prophets was intrinsically blurred and, as a result, was vague on most of the details.” Only focusing on the Tanach is a serious problem even for those who just hold to a doctrine of resurrection, and deny any kind of disembodied post-mortem state for the interim.
When surveying the debate over the intermediate state between death and resurrection, there are people in today’s independent Messianic community who are confused. Most of Messianic Judaism’s position on the intermediate state between death and resurrection has been the same as most of evangelical Christianity: a Believer in the Messiah departs this Earth for the presence of the Lord, with the person’s consciousness (sometimes called a “soul”) to be returned to his or her reanimated physical body at the time of resurrection. Today, however, instead of hearing things like “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places…” (John 14:2), many independent Messianics will instead declare “…the dead do not know anything…” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Death is one of the most difficult topics that any human being ever has to deal with. None of us likes dealing with the death of a family member, a close friend, or even people we do not know but still admire. Many people regularly visit the gravesite of a loved one, whereas others have their remains cremated and scattered into the wind. Even if you do not regularly visit a cemetery where your loved one may be buried, thoughts and memories of the deceased will undoubtedly still come to your mind from time to time, and the last memory you may have of such a person—that of your loved one’s funeral—is perhaps what you remember.
Without any doubt, one of the most uncomfortable subjects that any human being has to confront in life is death. You do not have to be that well versed in reading the Bible, to adequately understand that death is a part of living. With the possible exception of those who will actually be alive at the moment of the Second Coming, the biological life functions of each and every one of us will cease. A mainstay, of both Judaism and Christianity, is the firm belief in the future resurrection of the dead. A Scripture passage like Daniel 12:1 unambiguously tells us, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake…” Everyone in today’s broad Messianic movement would rightfully agree that the deceased from all ages will have their physical remains reanimated and resurrected to new biological life.
Yet for many Jews, and many more Christians, questions abound about what is to occur between the moments of physical death and future resurrection. What happens to people? Do people somehow go into absolute unconsciousness, only to then be somehow recreated? Is the death of a human being little different than the death of an animal? Is the death of a human being much different than the death of an animal, with the consciousness of mind, memory, experience, and creativity—often more called in the vernacular to be a “soul”—temporarily held in another dimension until the resurrection?
J.K. McKee of Messianic Apologetics reviews 1 Corinthians 6:12, and whether or not it lends support to the idea that the Torah or Law of Moses has been abolished for the post-resurrection era.