Note: This post is the introduction to a series that will unfold here over the next week or two, taken from a paper I wrote last semester (Fall 2011).
Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have tried to gather information from the New Testament (NT) about the intermediate state between death and the eschaton. What, however, does the NT teach about this subject? To provide an answer to this question, I will first place the NT pareschatologies* within their broader Jewish context, then I will survey each NT author’s writings in chronological order, in order to discover what exactly they teach about an intermediate state. I conclude with the argument that the NT does not, in fact, provide a uniform picture of the intermediate state; instead, each author speculated about the intermediate state based on his sources, background, and situation, writing as he saw fit.
* I am indebted to John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 22 for this term. We should distinguish between eschatology (the last things) and pareschatology (the next-to-last things—the state between death and the eschaton).