I have had some direct experiences with death, and I have seen the consciousness of a saint leave his body to enter into the presence of the Lord. I would personally have a great deal of difficulty sitting in an assembly led by a pastor or teacher who actively taught the doctrine of psychopannychy—one who would contentiously confront Believers who have the assurance that their deceased loved ones are in the presence of the Lord, waiting in Heaven until the resurrection, and regard such a belief as being a “lie.” Some pastors or teachers may prefer to be agnostic about this subject, not quite knowing what to believe, and I would place them in a different category provided they largely did not teach on death but instead on living properly here on Earth. But those who actively deny an afterlife in the presence of the Lord for Believers, in spite of the Biblical evidence? No, and not ever.
Whatever one of us believes about the intermediate state—whether we are expecting to fall into an endless unconscious sleep until the resurrection, or be welcomed into the presence of the Lord in Heaven until the resurrection—we are each affected by our personal experience, or lack thereof.
The discussion of whether or not psychopannychy is a valid doctrine of Scripture affects all people who read the Bible, and not just today’s Messianic movement. Yet, it is important to ask ourselves whether the growth of a sector of Messianic psychopannychists has really helped and aided our faith community to accomplish the mission of God. In denying an intermediate state for born again Believers in Heaven, can a better understanding of the resurrection be seen among us? Are Messianic psychopannychists able to counsel those who are dying, or are grieving the recent loss of a loved one who knew the Lord, better than those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife in Heaven?
While we are convinced that the Bible teaches that the consciousness of a born again Believer is transported to the presence of the Lord upon time of death, it is an absolute mistake for any of us to believe that a disembodied state in Heaven is the permanent condition awaiting us in the future. We believe in such an intermediate state because human beings are different than the animals, and they bear a Divine imprint from their Creator. Yet the very fact that such a time is commonly called the intermediate state necessitates a future resurrection and reconstitution of a person’s body and consciousness. It is a mistake that much popular preaching emphasizes “going to Heaven” and often de-emphasizes God’s Kingdom coming to the Earth.
Perhaps the most significant problem that we should have with psychopannychists is what many (but not all) of them postulate about the born again experience.
Most Messianics who have adopted a view of psychopannychy in recent days have not necessarily done so because they have sat down with their Bibles, and carefully exegeted the various passages describing human composition and the death expectations of the Tanach and Apostolic Scriptures. Most Messianics who have become psychopannychists have been sensationalized into believing that going to Heaven upon time of death is a “pagan doctrine.” It is commonly argued that those of us who believe that the consciousnesses of the deceased go to a holding place until the resurrection—known as either Heaven or Hell—have adapted a pagan concept more consistent with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman views of the afterlife than with the Bible.
A fair summary of Scripture passages in both the Tanach and Apostolic Writings depicts that following death the deceased do not enter into an unconscious state, but rather that they do enter into some kind of disembodied intermediate state prior to the resurrection. Yet there can easily be a great deal of confusion between the Tanach and Apostolic Writings, as the Tanach describes all of the dead going to Sheol or the netherworld, and the Apostolic Writings describe the redeemed dead going to the presence of the Lord, presumably in Heaven. For the psychopannychist, this means that Sheol obviously just means “the grave,” and then references in the Apostolic Writings have to be reworked, spiritualized/allegorized out of context, or outright ignored. For those of us who believe that the consciousness of a born again Believer is transferred to the presence of the Lord in Heaven at time of death, there has to have been some kind of transition point within the Scriptures where the righteous dead no longer went to the netherworld of Sheol, but now go to Heaven.
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.”
“I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Yeshua the Messiah has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”
“For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”