One of the most intriguing accounts in 1 Samuel is when Saul visits the medium of Endor (1 Sam. 28:1–25). Samuel’s appearance gives us some insight into what we will experience after we die. Although some commentators interpret Samuel’s appearance as a satanic apparition, the woman actually saw Samuel, and Saul spoke with him. The Bible mentions a few instances where the dead were raised to life, but Samuel was an unresurrected spirit. Samuel’s appearance was unexpected, even by the medium herself, as is evident from her alarm (v. 12). This seems to be a singular event and not the norm.
What is also unusual was Samuel’s appearance. Even as a spirit, he had a recognizable human form. The NIV Bible says Samuel appeared to the woman as a “ghostly figure,” and the Hebrew word used in verse 13 is one used to refer to gods and angels. Samuel’s appearance seems to have been glorious like an angel. In this state, Samuel retained his identity and could recall what he had predicted about Saul’s demise. He asked, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (v. 14). His question implies that Samuel had been in a state of rest or peace. He didn’t want to return. Also, while Samuel retained the memory of things he had said and done, he was untroubled by them.
Theologians sometimes refer to the human condition between death and the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51–53) as the intermediate state. Everyone who dies will have this experience. Jesus affirmed that one’s identity and consciousness continue after death when He promised the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). However, the Bible does not say that everyone who dies will experience peace. In Luke 16:23 Jesus spoke of Hell or Hades as a place of torment for those who die in their sin. For all who have trusted in Jesus Christ “to be away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). But those who die without receiving Christ’s gift of forgiveness by faith will experience the torment of God’s wrath.