2 Corinthians 5
Absent From the Body

As we browse through the first verses of the chapter, we see that Paul is describing his body as a tent. Losing it would mean death. He compares it to the building God is preparing for him in heaven. Then we notice verse 8: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." From this text, most Christians believe that, at death, the righteous leave their bodies and go to be at home with the Lord in heaven. Since this contradicts many texts in the Bible including some Paul wrote, we need to take a closer look to understand what the apostle is saying here. A careful reading of these verses in context reveals a different picture.

Scriptures taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. 

What do Paul and others teach about the righteous going to heaven?
    At the end of Hebrews 10 is an appeal to the Jewish Christians who had apparently become discouraged. Jesus had promised, ". . .  if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me." When Paul wrote, time had passed and Jesus hadn't returned. The appeal in this letter is for them to not lose confidence. Jesus really was going to come and, if they remained faithful, they would receive what had been promised. Continuing into chapter 11, we read about how heroes of the Old Testament maintained their faith. These include Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. In the last two verses is the conclusion. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised [going to heaven where Jesus was]. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Heb. 11:39, 40). In other words, those who die will not receive their promised reward of being with Jesus ahead of those who will be living at His coming. The idea that people go to their reward at death came from Greek philosophy, was adopted into Catholicism and then by Protestants. We will all receive our reward at the same time—at the resurrection when Jesus comes. The writer was living as he wrote and apparently expected to still be alive at Christ's coming he1139.
    And when will that be? "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." The epistle was written long after Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:8-11). The idea here is that, because Jesus arose from the tomb as the "firstfruits) He has the right and power to raise others to eternal life.
    According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever." (1 Thess. 4:14-17).
    Jesus Himself explained when we will go to heaven. "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2, 3). So we go when He comes to get us. We don't go to be where He is before that on our own. He was speaking to the disciples. He would take them together, not each one at death. In the previous passage, we saw that He will come with a shout and the trumpet call of God. Those living and those called from the grave go together. And we saw that we will meet the Lord in the air.
   "So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (Heb. 9:28). He came the first time as a baby. The second time is to bring salvation — to take many back to be with Him. There are no in between times.
   Listen to Job: "And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:26, 27). Job will see God in his flesh, not as a spirit. Did Job expect this immediately at the time of death? "O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee:. . ." (Job 14:13-15, KJV)
   Here is Hezekiah: "For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living — they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness." (Isa. 38:18, 19). Also see ac0229-34.
   "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun." (Eccl. 9:5, 6).

What did Paul mean by being "absent from the body"?
    Let's examine the passage verse by verse to understand its meaning. In fact, it would be well to consider the end of chapter 4, too. I suggest that you think prayerfully about the text itself before reading my comments in the right-hand column.

 Text, NIV Comments
.1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.    1 - If destroyed, we have Paul is continuing his thought from the previous chapter, comparing the physical and spiritual natures 2co0416
   1 - Building from God The apostle knew that, when his body tent ceased to function, God would have a permanent one for him in heaven. Jesus explained that He would go away to make mansions for us then return to get us jn1401-3. In the present context, there would be no dwelling place – tent or building while He was away.

 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 
 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
 3 if indeed, having been clothed [with incorruptible flesh], we shall not be found naked. (NKJV)
"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'" (1 Cor. 15:51-54, NIV)
  2. - Heavenly dwelling Compare ps119054.
  3 - Clothed ... not ... found naked What is the "naked" condition? Death which, in this case, is between the tent and the building.
 4  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish   to be unclothed but to be clothed with our   heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.    It's frustrating. We want to have the heavenly dwelling and, at the same time, we don't want to be undressed (lose our present bodies at death) to get it. We long for immortality (to be no longer subject to decay and death).
.5  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.    Good news! It is God's plan for us to have this eternal life. He has given us the Holy Spirit (John 16:17-13). Through the Spirit, we have a down payment — an assurance of eternal life. We can have a little of the joys of heaven in our present life.
.6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home [endemeo]  in the body we are away from the Lord. When we consider our present bodies to be our home, we are away from the Lord who has promised eternal joy. ". . . our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil. 3:20)
.7 We live by faith, not by sight.
.8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home [endemeo] with the Lord.
  8 . . . to go away from home out of the body, and to come home to the Lord. (1993 Green's Literal Translation)
We prefer to be at home in the presence of the Lord. This is living by faith (the evidence of things not seen, Heb. 1:1). The idea of coming home to the Lord, in the literal translation, discredits the theory of going away from earth to be with Him in heaven. Paul is "with the Lord" as he speaks. He wants his readers to share his experience. The NIV translation is not accurate here.
.9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home [endemeo] in the body or away from it.
 9 Wherefore we labour that, whether present [endemeo] or absent, we may be accepted of him. (KJV)
   The KJV here is closer to the Greek text. The words "in the body" were added by NIV translators. In fact, the previous verse left us "with the Lord." The Greek reads simply, ". . . whether being at home or being away. . ." Therefore we understand the verse to mean: "So we make it our goal to please him whether at home in the Lord's presence or whether away from that home, in secular activities of life."
.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
  Literally, ". . . things done through the body. . . ."
   Verses 9 and 10 explain that our goal is to please God whether in communion with Christ or dealing with the world we are physically present in. This is because we will be judged and rewarded according to the behavior of our bodies.
.11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
.12 For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
   (Good counsel but not directly important for understanding being "absent from the body.") Paul explains that the judgment is serious. God knows his heart and he trusts that his readers do, too. He hopes his witness helps them respond to those who neglect preparing their hearts.
  11 - Terror From phobos, better translated, "fear." Godly fear is the beginning of wisdom ps11110, pr0910. "Terror" would describe the feeling of those faced with eternal death.
.13 If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.    Spiritual communion is experienced in a totally different frame of mind or way of thinking. (1 Cor. 2:14). Paul compares this relationship to God with the practical way he relates to his readers. Following from the metaphor we are studying, he compares being at home with the Lord to being at home in the body.
Skipping to verse 17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!     Paul is bridging his counsel to a related topic. Those who are in Christ have been born again. They would understand the experience of being with the Lord.
See the rest of the chapter and comments below after some summary thoughts

    What is being away from the body and at home with the Lord? It's a spiritual experience. We come close to the Lord in prayer and Bible study. Could it be a group experience of hysteria or going unconscious or speaking gibberish? I'm convinced that this is not the case. We can discuss the topic in relation to 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. For now, just notice the following verses: " For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." (1 Cor. 14:33). "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints," (Eph. 1:17, 18).
....The first verses in Col. 2 confirm Paul's intention in discussing the spirit and the body (or flesh). co02. Also compare Paul's use of the term "absent in body" 1co0503.

    Paul knew he might lose his body in death. He was confident that God would provide a permanent one to replace it 01. Then he would be close to the Lord. How wonderful this will be! Then he says, we don't have to wait to have some of that experience. God has provided a down payment 05 for those who do not consider their bodies as their real home 06. This spiritual experience is like being away from our bodies and at home with the Lord 08.

How do we know being at home with the Lord is not going to heaven at death?
The Bible descriptions of going to heaven show a different picture. go
The experience in this chapter is only a down payment, not the full reward of permanently living in the heavenly home 05.
From the literal meaning of the Greek, Paul does not recommend going away to be with the Lord. He invites us to "come" to enjoy his experience of being with the Lord 08.
Having experiences with the Lord does not mean leaving our present life because Paul advises his readers to honor God whether in the body or with the Lord 09, 13. We may have both conditions now.
Paul wrote of being "absent in body" to mean he was present with the Corinthian believers in spirit although physically absent. above. Thus, following Paul's terminology, we may be present with the Lord without being in heaven.
The reason for being careful to please God whether in the body or with the Lord is that the judgment is coming. The judgment determines the reward  — who is finally saved. Since Paul spoke of it as future, being at home with the Lord here cannot mean going to heaven at death 10.

 Text, NIV Comments
 13 If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
.14 for Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
 15 And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
  14 - Christ's love The Greek can also read, "the love we have for Christ." The NIV (at the left) is correct according to the context. (So is the KJV which leaves the statement ambiguous) See ro0505, ro0835, ro0839, 2co1314, ep0319. Of course our love for Him is also necessary for the relationship. 1jo0419, jn0316.
  14 - Compels us ac2024, 2co0407-11.
 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ this way, we do so no longer.
.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
.19 To wit, that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
  17 - New creation People continue to be reconciled to God. This is part of what we mean by atonement. Christ died once for our salvation, but we receive His atonement into our lives by claiming His promise and being reconciled to God through Him.
  18 - Gave us the ministry of reconciliation The work of atonement continues as we point sinners to Christ for reconciliation to God and as we continue to claim the blood of Christ for our sins le1711, ep0213.
 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
.21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  20 - Ambassadors From presbeuo meaning "to be older." According to the context, the word "ambassadors" is chosen. Paul was an ambassador and we who know the Lord are charged with this responsibility.
  21 - Sin for us Christ bore the guilt of our sin that we might acquire His righteousness. Amazing grace!

How wonderful God is to promise Christ's presence through the Spirit, now.

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