2 Corinthians 5:1-11
Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 5:6 have been used by many to promote the idea that when we die, we immediately go into heaven to be with God.
Paul was a Pharisee and was therefore well versed in the scriptures we call the Old Testament. He was a learned man and therefore his depth of knowledge came out in his writing, which sometimes made it quite difficult for the reader in our time to understand. Even the Apostle Peter, when he was speaking about Paul, intimated that Paul’s way of explaining things could be difficult to understand or even misinterpreted by others who liked to stir up trouble. Let’s read what he says in (2 Peter 3:15-16):
“and account (or consider) the long suffering of our Lord is salvation-as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures.”
Reading paragraphs in Scripture in their correct context
As Peter said, those Paul was aiming the message at also found it difficult to get the meaning of what he was saying. It is important, therefore, to look at Paul’s writings, in its context and in relation to other prophets and apostles who wrote on the same subjects. A cursory look at paragraphs in scripture can give us the wrong interpretation; therefore we must look deeper by removing the soil and digging for the gold.
Teachers who find Scriptural evidence to support their own Church doctrine.
There were many during the time of Paul and Peter, who thought of themselves as teachers of the law, yet they had very little understanding of ‘The Way’,that is of Christ, so they would take Paul’s letters and even other parts of scripture and interpret them in a way to prove their own theories and ideas, which caused some to doubt the true message of Christ.
I believe there are such people in our churches today.
Many Christian Denominations Today
It is because of the misinterpretation of scripture that there are so many different Christian denominations today, all saying they have the truth!
So what is Paul saying in our Bible reading? There are two things he is contrasting:
1. Living here and now on earth.
2. The time and place in heaven.
Keeping these in mind, turn with me now to (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
“Therefore we do not lose heart, even though our outward man is perishing; yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Whilst we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Okay – this shows that Paul is comparing living here now on the earth, with the return of Jesus at His second advent to awaken the saints and take them to heaven.
So let’s go back to (2 Corinthians 5:1). Paul says:
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
What does Paul mean by ‘our earthly house, this tent?”
Here he is comparing our human body, which is made from the clay of the earth and will be destroyed by death, and our new heavenly body, which cannot be destroyed. Translating from the Greek, a tent is called a ‘SKENE’, and is associated with the tents that were carried by the children of Israel on their Exodus journey. These tents got old and finally wore out, however in contrast with the new heavenly body the word used in Greek was ‘oikoterion (oy-ko-ter-ion). This means a permanent building - a solid and indestructible tent that was not made from earthly material. As a further analogy, when the children of Israel wandered around the desert, they carried a tent but when they came to the Promised Land, their buildings became permanent. In the very same way we are pilgrims in this world in a corruptible tent, but when Jesus comes we will no longer be pilgrims on the earth. We will receive the permanent building made by God – an immortal body.
According to Paul in Verse 1; whilst we are living in this tent (our earthly body), God has already prepared a new building or a new body ready for us to receive when he returns.
(Job 4:19) explains what our earthly tent is: He says:
“How much more those that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, which are crushed before a moth.”
The body is made of clay. Clay as you know is fragile. It can easily be broken because it is made of a destructible material, which will decay with time.
In (Job10:9), He says:
“Remember I pray, that you have made me like clay and will turn me to dust again.’
In (2 Peter 1:13-15), Peter also talks about a tent:
“Yes I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off this tent, just as our Lord Jesus showed me.”
Peter was referring to what Jesus had said to him after telling him three times to “feed my sheep”. Jesus said:
“Most assuredly, I say to you when you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you wished: but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
(John 21:18). This signified by what death Peter would glorify God.
In Verse 15 of 2 Peter 1, Peter goes on to explain what putting off the tent is:
“Moreover, I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.”
So like Paul, Peter will die and go to the grave and the tent, that is his body, will decay and become dust.
One Body made by God’s Hands
Paul insinuates this in (2 Corinthians 5:1), that the present tent (body), we have, was made with hands but the one that we will receive is not made with hands. Paul is trying to make it clear that our parents came together and made our present body creating us as a child. This is the natural process of procreation, and the child receives the body of clay that the parents have. Of course humans would not be able to pro-create unless God gave them the ability. Therefore our current bodies are as a result of a natural cause by two humans coming together to perpetuate the human race through the centuries. Our next body will not be made of any earthly material. It will be made with heavenly material.
To get a better understanding of the expression ‘made without hands’, let us turn to (Mark 14:58). Here Jesus is being accused in front of the Sanhedrin:
“We heard him say (See also (John 2:19-21), I will destroy this temple that is made with hands and within three days I will build another made without hands.”
Whilst those listening thought he was talking about the Jerusalem temple, He was actually talking about His body, which was human but we know that Jesus received a new body from God at his resurrection from the tomb. (John 2:19-21). A body made by God. In (Hebrews 9:11), it says:
“But Christ came as high priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is not of this creation”.
(Man made the earthly sanctuary; God made the heavenly sanctuary).
A Tangible New Body or Spirit Body?
So will the new body we receive, which is made by God, still be tangible? That is, will we be able to touch each other and things around us? Many think we will be just spirits in heaven? To answer this we must look to Jesus.
Was He a ghost when he came out of the grave?
In (Luke 24:39-43) Jesus says:
“Behold my hands and feet, that it is I, myself; handle me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as I have”.
And when He had spoken, He showed them His hands and his feet, but while they still did not believe for joy, and were amazed, He said to them:
“Have you any food here?”
So they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate it in their presence. If he had been a ghost or spirit He would have had no need of food, therefore by eating it He showed the disciples that He had a stomach and a digestive system to process the food he was eating. So even in a new body made without hands, there will be a lot of similarities to our earthly bodies. The design appears to be the same but the material it will be made of is from heaven.
Now lets look at Verse 2of(2 Corinthians 5):
“For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.”
Paul is groaning within himself saying that he wishes that he could leave his corruptible body and receive his new body. He’s aging and his body feels all the aches and pains we do. He is expecting a new body; therefore he desires to be out of his present earthly flesh and in his new immortal body.
Now Verse 3 which says:
“If indeed having been clothed we shall not be found naked.”
What does being found naked mean?
As I said earlier, we live in our earthly tent received from our parents. When we receive our new bodies we will be clothed with our heavenly tent. When Paul is talking about nakedness, he is talking about the period in-betweenprior to receiving our new bodies. Paul is talking about his death, the period where he will have no body. The time he will be in his grave.
In (Romans 8:23) it says:
“And not only they (that is all creation), but ourselves also, which have the first fruit’s of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption, the redemption of our body.”
(You will notice there is nothing in this passage about an immortal soul leaving the body at death).
In Verse 4 it says:
“For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, (without a body - In the grave), but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.”
So lets bring this all together. Paul is discussing three things:
Period of Nakedness
So the period of nakedness is the period between when we put off our earthly tent (die) and put on our heavenly tent (resurrection). In (1 Colossians4), Paul refers to this period as sleep.
You will notice that Paul doesn’t want to be in the state of being naked Verse 3again:
“If indeed having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.”
Why would Paul not want to be in the grave?
Because he knew that during this time of earthly death, he would be away from God.
This confirms that Paul knew he would not go straight to heaven when he died, otherwise he would be looking forward to his death with joy and would have called death joyous – not a period of nakedness.
We need to look at 3 key expressions in Verse 4
2. Further clothed
3. Swallowed up
If we turn to (1 Corinthians 15:50), you will see that the very three words in of (2 Corinthians 5) are used. Paul is not saying that he wants to lay off his body so that his soul can fly off to heaven at his earthly death. What he is saying is that if his earthly tent is dissolved, he complains, wishing he could receive his heavenly building by missing out on the bit in-between, which he calls nakedness. The sleep of death.
When will Paul receive his new body?
Turn to (1 Corinthians 15:50):
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”
(Flesh and Blood = our current bodies)
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep (that is be naked (die), but we shall be changed.”
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (resurrection), for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.”
“For this corruptible must put on (be clothed with) incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.”
When does immortality become ours?
Paul is say in Verse 51, that some of us shall not sleep the sleep of death– these can only be those that are left on earth alive when Jesus returns to claim the righteous dead from the grave.
“So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written. (See also Hosea 14:14).
“O death where is you sting?” O hades (the grave) where is your victory?”
So to reiterate what I have just said, the Bible clearly instructs that the mortal body does not receive the immortal body until the resurrection. Not at death as is so widely taught in many churches today.
So how can we be sure that we will receive our new building from God?
Paul says in (2 Corinthians 5:5):
“Now he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the spirit as a guarantee.” (Christ left us a deposit – a down payment if you like (2 Corinthians 1:22):
“Who has also sealed us and given us the spirit in our hearts as a deposit.”
(Ephesians 1:13:14) says:
“You were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession to the praise of his glory.”
For those who doubt this to be true Paul writes in (1 Corinthians 15:16-23):
“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen and if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits and afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming.”
In (Daniel 12:13),the Angel Gabriel told Daniel:
“Go on his way until the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.”
Daniel like every human would die. He would sleep in his grave and rest until the time when Jesus would come back and the trumpet would blow raising the righteous dead.
So we can see that our hope of everlasting life will be after we have slept a little while in the grave. When the trumpet sounds, we will be resurrected to immortality. We will not receive a place in his kingdom until Jesus raises us from the dead. Jesus the first fruit was resurrected from the grave, so we as the last fruits will be resurrected in the same manner as he was.
Jesus by his death and resurrection has guaranteed that those who follow him in this life will receive immortality. He has left us the Holy Spirit as a down payment, a deposit, a guarantee that he will take us from the grave to heaven at the resurrection at which time a new body will be given.
Paul again speaks of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee in (Romans 8:11):
“But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also give life to your mortal bodies through his spirit that dwells in you.”
In other words, the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, if he dwells in us, then the same Spirit will raise us up from our graves and will transform our bodies into the likeness of Christ’s body.
Paul is comparing our (corruptible and mortal) bodies with the incorruptible body that Jesus will give us when he comes.
Now lets have a look at Verse 6of (2 Corinthians 5):
“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in this body – our earthly flesh – we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith and not by sight.”
Because we cannot see what is going on in heaven, we take everything by faith. When we get to heaven, we will no longer need to walk by faith but by sight. That’s why Paul says in (Hebrews 11:1):
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
So having faith we believe that what God has said is true, because Jesus came back to life – not because as some believe in the immortality of the soul at death. We have a guarantee, the Holy Spirit that we will also come to life after death at the resurrection.
We have already learned what faith is but Paul implies this in (Romans 8:24)when he says:
“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does one still hope for that which he sees?”
Now lets go to Verse 8 of our scripture reading:
“We are confident, yes well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
No mention in the Bible of an Immortal Soul
Many who believe they go immediately in spirit to God at their earthly death use this paragraph. They add words such as immortal soul. However, there is no inference here that Paul was talking about going immediately to God at his death. Rather he is saying that he would rather be absent from his body, that is his current earthly body and be in his new body where he will be present with the Lord. We have already seen that Paul would prefer not to be naked – that is die and sleep, however he is confident that when he passes through death, his hope is in the resurrection to new life at the last trumpet when the graves are opened and the dead in Christ rise to meet Jesus in the air. And as he and the resurrected saints rise, their bodies will be changed. We can read this in (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17):
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are aliveand remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep– for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the lord in the air: and so shall we be with the lord therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Paul could not have written this if he believed that the dead went to heaven at their earthly death. He says the dead are in their graves (here he speaks specifically of the righteous dead). They have remained in their graves asleep waiting for the resurrection. When these people died – time stopped for them. We have a nightly example of time stopping for us. When we go to bed and fall asleep, the next thing we know its morning. The dead know nothing of what is going on around them until the trumpet sound penetrates the darkness. How they can hear again in the grave is a mystery but they will wake from their unconscious sleep when the trumpet sounds. Everyone will come out of their grave in exactly the same body they went in. As they ascend to meet Jesus in the air, their bodies’ change into the body God has already made for them. As they ascend, those that are living at that time follow those that have come from their graves into the air and their bodies also, even though they have never died, change into a heavenly body. Remember, they will have the same human form as Jesus when he came out of the tomb, so everyone will still know each other. Together the risen dead and the living righteous at the resurrection will go back into heaven with Jesus and the angels.
So Paul is finally saying:
Now Verse 9of (2 Corinthians 5): Paul says:
“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent to be well pleasing to him.” (Present here means in this flesh and absent means in the new body). We cannot be pleasing to the lord when we are naked, (dead in our graves) because we are asleep.
Is there to be a judgment day for everyone?
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of God; that every one may receive the things done in his body (his earthly tent), according to that which he has done, whether it be good or bad.”
According to (Revelation 20),the wicked that were not resurrected by Jesus when He returns for the Saints, will have to wait another 1000 years to receive the judgment passed upon them. The fact that they have to remain asleep for a millennium means they have already been judged. Therefore from this it is easy to conclude that the wicked do not go to burn in an eternal fire when they die. The final judgment of their wicked lives does not come until 1000 years have passed from the time Jesus’s returned to claim the saints and take them to heaven.
Ask yourself a question
Would God reward the righteous before He had evaluated their lives? As an example:
When a skater comes on the ice, he or she has to perform in front of judges. Would the judges mark the skater before skating or after? After naturally. So the judgment of the skater is going on whilst skating. Likewise, we are being judged on our performance now– whilst we are living in our current tent. It is only after the ice skater has finished performing that the judges give their marks. Likewise, when our life is over and we go to our grave, we will either be raised with the righteous or the wicked according to the results of the judgment. (e.g. In the first resurrection of the righteous or the second resurrections of the damned).
On that Day
To further clarify why the final judgment of everyone’s life comes in the future, turn to (Acts 17:31):
“Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man (Jesus) whom he has ordained; therefore he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.”
And (Revelation 14:7):
“Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment has come…”
Notice the verse does not say will come, but has come. The judgment has started; the results come at the end. Therefore, those who have died in the past could not have received either reward or punishment because the judgment day - that is the day when the results are in, has not yet been appointed. Only God knows when this will be.
We are certain there will be a judgment of our lives because Jesus was raised from the dead.
In conclusion I would like to say that even though we have the promise of eternal life when Jesus comes, we can have the assurance of everlasting life right here today. We can have the down payment, the security deposit and the guarantee. (John 5:24) says:
“Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears my words and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life.”
There is no need to doubt any more! If we are certain of our relationship with Jesus we have everlasting life. Don’t worry when your name comes before the judgment seat because you have a guarantee that you will not be condemned.
Does this mean that we are not going to die before Jesus comes? No but (John 6:40) says:
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
When Jesus spoke to Mary at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11: 25.26), He said to her:
“I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall be live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Everlasting life is a guarantee from Jesus – it is not through a belief in an immortal soul. A belief in an immortal soul glorifies humanity. It puts humanity on equal footing with God. This is the lie told by Satan to our first parents. God alone has immortality. (1 Timothy 6:16). We receive immortality as a gift because it was revealed by the appearing of Jesus, who abolished death at the cross and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10. Jesus will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:1).
Rest assured in his promise as Paul says:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the lord, the righteous judger, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8).
May we all be looking for Jesus to return soon?
My thanks to Pastor Stephen Bohr, (Senior Pastor Fresno Central Church USA), for his inspirational sermon on this subject.
IN THE BEGINNING
God did not endow mankind with a separate spirit or soul. He formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed His Spirit into Adam’s nostrils – the breath of life and Adam became a living person (soul). (Genesis 2:7). When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God said:
“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…(Genesis 3:22).
If Adam and Eve had an inherently immortal soul, then God would not have made the statement: ‘and live forever’, neither would there have been the necessity for the Son of God to come to save mankind from sin, if they were already immortal in spirit.