Read Revelation 7:9–17
1. THEIR CONDITION
Never can it be emphasized strongly enough that the redeemed in heaven between the moment of death and that of the bodily resurrection have not yet attained to ultimate glory. They are living in what is generally called “the intermediate” state, not yet the final state. Though, to be sure, they are serenely happy, their happiness is not yet complete.
On this subject Dr. H. Bavinck expresses himself as follows (my translation): “The condition of the blessed in heaven, though ever so glorious, bears a provisional character, and this for various reasons:
a. They are now in heaven, and limited to that heaven, and not yet in possession of the earth, which along with heaven has been promised to them as an inheritance.
b. Furthermore, they are bereft of a body, and this bodiless existence is not…a gain but a loss. It is not an increase but a decrease of being, since the body belongs to the essence of man.
c. And finally, the part can never be complete without the whole. It is only in connection with the fellowship of all the saints that the fulness of Christ’s love can be known (Ephesians 3:18). One group of believers cannot attain to fulness without the other group (Hebrews 11:40 )” (Gerefonneerde Dogmatiek, third edition, Vol. 4, pp. 708, 709).
With this we are in hearty accord. But that does not mean that between this intermediate state and the final state (after the resurrection) there is a complete break, a total contrast. On the contrary, just as there is in many respects a continuity between our life here and our life in heaven immediately after death (see, for example, John 11:26; Revelation 14:13), so also there is continuity between that intermediate state and the final state. It would therefore be definitely wrong to say with respect to the symbols of Scripture which describe the final state that these have nothing at all to tell us with respect to the intermediate state. Jerusalem the Golden belongs indeed to the future but also to the present, in as far as that present foreshadows the future. (That is the position I have maintained in my book More Than Conquerors, an Interpretation of the Book of Revelation; see especially pp. 238 and 243, and to which I still adhere.)
With this in mind it is therefore entirely legitimate to use Revelation 7:9–17 as a basis for a study of the intermediate state.
Now many of the traits found here in Revelation 7 are of a negative character. We learn that the redeemed are delivered from every care and hardship, from every form of trial and persecution: no more hunger, thirst, or heat. Yet, there are also positive traits: the Lamb is their Shepherd. This Lamb leads his flock to life’s springs of water. This water symbolizes eternal life, salvation. The springs of water indicate the source of life, for through the Lamb the redeemed have eternal and uninterrupted fellowship with the Father. Finally, the sweetest touch of all: “And God shall wipe every tear out of their eyes.” Not only are the tears wiped, or even wiped away; they are wiped out of the eyes, so that nothing but perfect joy, bliss, glory, sweetest fellowship, abundant life, remains. And God himself is the Author of this perfect salvation.
2. THEIR ACTIVITY
a. They rest
See Revelation 14:13. The body, to be·sure, is at rest in the grave, waiting the day of the resurrection. But even the soul now rests from life’s competition, its toil, sorrow, pain, its mental anguish and especially its sin!
b. They see Christ’s face
See Revelation 22:4. (Of course, this will be true in an even fuller sense after the resurrection.) The eyes of the redeemed (yes, even the souls have eyes; who will deny it?) are directed to Christ, as the revelation of the Triune God. Here on earth our eyes are often turned away from Christ. One is reminded of the famous painting by Goetze (“Despised and Rejected of Men”), in which you notice how all the eyes are turned away from the spear-riven and thorn-crowned Savior. But in heaven our Lord will be the very center of interest and attention, for he will be all-glorious, and we will no longer be self-centered. We will not be able to turn our eyes away from him.
c. They hear
Will they not hear the glorious choruses and anthems described in the book of Revelation? Will not each of the redeemed hear what all the other redeemed, what the angels, and what Christ have to tell them?
d. They work
“His servants shall serve him.” There will be a great variety of work, as is clear from such a passage as Matthew 25:21, and by inference also from I Corinthians 15:41, 42. It will be willing service, gladly rendered. Do not say that this service is impossible as long as the souls are without their bodies. Are not the angels—who also have no bodies sent out to do service?
e. They reioice
Because every task will be so thoroughly satisfying and refreshing; the redeemed sing while they work. This singing too will, of course, be different after the resurrection. Yet, is it not possible for souls to praise God? Is it not possible for the redeemed to have “melodies in their hearts”? Moreover, they have entered into “the joy of their Lord!”
f. They live
Even during the intermediate state the redeemed actually live. They are not day-dreaming. We must not conceive of these souls as silent shadows gliding by. No, they live and rejoice in an abundant and glorious fellowship (about which we hope to say more later, in Outlines to come). Moreover, it is with Christ that they live. Wherever you find him, you will find them. Whatever he does they do (in as far as this is possible for them to do). Whatever he has, he shares with them. If you wish proof see Revelation 3:12; 3:21; 4:4; cf. 14: 14; 14:1; 19:11; cf. 19:14; 20:4.
g. They reign
They share with Christ in his royal glory.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
A. Questions Answered in the Outline
1. How does the intermediate state differ from the final state of blessedness; that is. in what three respects?
2. Is there then no connection between the intermediate and the final state?
3. What is the picture drawn in Revelation 7 with respect to the condition of the redeemed in glory?
4. What does it mean that the redeemed rest, see Christ’s face, hear, and work or serve?
5. What does it mean that they rejoice, live, and reign?
B. Additional Questions
1. How do you explain “the great multitude, which no man could number” described in Revelation 7:9.
2. What is the meaning of the white robes and of the palms?
3. What is the meaning of their song (Revelation 7:10)?
4. Explain Revelation 7:14.
5. We have said very little about the meaning of the redeemed reigning with Christ (Revelation 20:4). Explain more fully.