Absent with the body, present with the Lord
(Note: This article is part of the study with title: Resurrection or life immediately after death ? The reader is advised to also read the other articles of this study.)
As I had promised in the last issue the topic of life after death would be discussed in more articles. The reason is because there are some passages that being considered as controversial require particular attention and examination. This examination will start from this issue with II Corinthians 5:6-8 and will be continued in the next issues as well.
Starting therefore from II Corinthians 5:6-8, we read:
II Corinthians 5:6-8
"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
For many people what the phrase "to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord", means is that when one dies is immediately with the Lord. However, a careful reading shows that this is not what the passage says. Really, what it says is that "WE ARE WILLING to be absent from the body, AND PRESENT WITH THE LORD". The phrase "we are willing" shows that the passage states a will, a wish, which is not a wish to die but a wish "to be absent from the body and present with Lord". Though a full and clear picture of what this phrase means will be possible only after the examination of its context, we can from the outset preclude that it could ever mean that when one dies he is immediately with the Lord for in a case like this, there would be a stark contradiction with I Thessalonians 4:15-17 that says:
I Thessalonians 4:15-17
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those which are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ will rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: AND THUS [i.e. by this way, the resurrection of the dead Christians and the changing of the body of the alive ones] we SHALL always be with the Lord."
If in II Corinthians 5:6-8 God said that when one dies he is immediately with the Lord, then how could in I Thessalonians 4:17 the same God say that "AND THUS (i.e. by the resurrection, and the changing of the bodies) we SHALL always be with the Lord?" Obviously either the Word is wrong, which is impossible, or the interpretation that is usually given to II Corinthians 5:6-8 is wrong. As we will see by studying the context the later is the case. Thus starting from II Corinthians 4:13 - about fifteen verses earlier - we read:
II Corinthians 4:13-14
"We having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, I believed, and therefore I spoke; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you."
What Paul knew by revelation was not that after one dies he continues to live together with the other dead. Instead what he knew and taught was that: "he which RAISER up the Lord Jesus shall RAISE up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you." Paul waited and still waits the resurrection, to be presented, to be together, with those Corinthian believers. The last time he saw them was in the last time he visited Corinth, and the next time he will see them will be when both he and they will be RAISED to meet, together with the alive believers, the Lord in the air. Obviously therefore, the context of our passage is not about death but about its exact opposite: the RESURRECTION of the dead. But let's continue:
II Corinthians 4:18-5:4
"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
When this passage speaks for a "tabernacle" and for a "house" it obviously does not mean a physical lifeless structure. Really, it is not possible "to be clothed upon" with a physical house, nor is it possible by changing it that "mortality might be swallowed up of life". When therefore in the above passage the words "house" and "tabernacle" are used, they are used with the meaning of an ALIVE structure, an ALIVE house. In other words they are used with the meaning of a body which as we know is the "house" of our being1. This is also affirmed by the controversial verses 6-8 that follow the above passage and which speak for a BODY. As therefore the above passage (and others as well - see below) tells us, there are two bodies. The one is the earthly body or house which we desire to substitute with the other that is the heavenly body or house. As the passage says when we will be clothed upon with our heavenly body THEN "mortality will be swallowed up of life". The reader that carefully read the last issue may remember that I Corinthians 15:35-58 says exactly the same. Really there, starting from verse 44 we read:
I Corinthians 15:44-54
"There is a natural [soul] body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual [body] is not first, but the natural [body], and afterward the spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such arethey also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy [the earthly, natural, body], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [the heavenly, spiritual body]. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be RAISED incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY."
When "will death be swallowed up in victory" (I Corinthians 15:54)? When "shall mortality be swallowed up in life" (II Corinthians 5:4)? The answer of the two passages is very clear: this will happen when "this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality". It will happen when this "earthy" house (II Corinthians 5:1) or soul body (I Corinthians 15:44), will be substituted with the heavenly house (II Corinthians 5:2) or spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:44), which in turn will occur when the Lord will come back (I Thessalonians 4:15-17). As I Corinthians 15:52-54 tells us, "THEN [and only then] shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."
From all the above it should be clear that the context of the "controversial" passage of II Corinthians 5:6-8 does not speak for death as a hope but for the changing of the bodies, from earthly to heavenly, and from soul to spiritual, which as we saw will happen in the day of the Lord's coming. With this in mind, let's now reread verses 6-8:
II Corinthians 5:6-8
"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body (the earthly body), we are absent from the Lord (we need the heavenly body to be with him): For we walk by faith, not by sight: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body (the earthly body), and to be present with the Lord."
Being in this body we are absent from the Lord. Do we therefore want to be absent from this earthly body? Of course yes, for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." Does it mean that we want to die? Of course not. Really where does the passage says something like this? In contrast, as II Corinthians 5:4 made clear: "we DON'T want to be unclothed, BUT to be clothed upon". What therefore we should really desire is not to die (be "unclothed") for then though we may be absent from the earthly body we will also be absent from the Lord for we will not have the heavenly body either. In contrast, what we should really desire is to be "clothed upon" with our heavenly body, abandoning the present earthly body. Only then, when our earthly body will have been substituted by our heavenly body, we will be present with the Lord (II Thessalonians 4:17). When will this happen? I Corinthians 15 was very clear: "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."