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2 Corinthians 5:1-10

G.            The New Covenant Hope - 4:16-5:10

1.              the incomparable glory of heaven - 4:16-18

2.              the incorruptible life of heaven - 5:1-5

a.              the prospect of dying - v. 1

1)             earthly death - v. 1a

cf. James 2:26; Eccles. 12:7. Death = the dissolution of the unity between material and immaterial. For "tent" see 2 Pt. 1:13-14; Heb. 11:8-13.

2)             heavenly life - v. 1b

What is the "building from God"? Among the many possible answers, four are most frequently suggested:

First, it is a reference to heaven itself, or an abode in heaven (Jn. 14:2), perhaps even the New Jerusalem.

Second, some say this refers to the body of Christ, i.e., the church.

Third, it is a reference to an intermediate body, i.e., a bodily form of some sort suitable to the intermediate state but different from and only preparatory to the final, glorified, resurrected body (Mt. 17:3; Rev. 6:9-11).

Fourth, it is a reference to the glorified, resurrection body.

Two reasons for embracing view 4: (1) The "building" or "house" in v. 1b stands in a parallel relationship with "house" in v. 1a. Since the latter refers to our "earthly, unglorified" body, it seems reasonable to conclude that the former refers to our "heavenly, glorified" body. (2) The description in v. 1b ("not made with hands," "eternal," "in the heavens,") is more suitable to the glorified body. See esp. 1 Cor. 15:35-49.

The major objection to this view is Paul's use of the present tense, "we have" (not "we shall have"). This seems to imply that immediately upon death the believer receives his/her glorified body. But this would conflict with 1 Cor. 15:22ff.; 15:51-56; 1 Thess. 4-5, all of which indicate that glorification occurs at the second advent of Christ. Furthermore, frequently in Scripture a future reality or possession is so certain and assured in the perspective of the author that it is appropriately spoken of in the present tense, i.e., as if it were already ours in experience. Thus Paul's present tense "we have" points to the fact of having as well as the permanency of having, but not the immediacy of having. It is the language of hope.

It has been argued that perhaps Paul uses the present tense because the passing of time between physical death and the final resurrection is not sensed or consciously experienced by the saints in heaven; thus the reception of one's resurrection body appears to follow immediately upon death. But against this is the clear teaching of Scripture that the intermediate state is consciously experienced by those who have died (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21-24; Rev. 6:9-11). It is clear both that the deceased believer is "with" Christ when he comes (1 Thess. 4:17), and that at death he/she has "departed" to be "with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). It would seem, then, that some kind of existence obtains between (hence, intermediate) a person's death and the general resurrection.

b.              the prospect of living - vv. 2-4

In these verses Paul speaks of his desire to be alive when Christ returns, for then he would not have to die physically and experience the separation of body and spirit, a condition he refers to as being "naked" or "unclothed". Paul's perspective on life and death may therefore be put in this way:

·          It is good to remain alive on this earth to serve Christ (Phil. 1:21a,22a,24-26).

·          On the other hand, it is better to die physically and enter into the presence of Christ (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21b,23).

·          However, it is by far and away best to be alive when Christ returns, for then we avoid death altogether and are immediately joined with the Lord in our resurrected and glorified bodies.

v. 2 - See Rom. 8:18-23. Here Paul mixes his metaphors by speaking of being "clothed with a house." But it is more than simply putting on a garment: it is putting on of a garment over another. The heavenly body, like an outer vesture or overcoat, is being put on over the earthly body with which the apostle is, as it were, presently clad. In this way the heavenly, glorified body not only covers but also absorbs and transforms the earthly one. See Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:53.

The "groaning" here is not because of doubt or fear. It is the hopeful "longing", as of a woman in prospect of childbirth.

v. 3 - If he remains alive until Christ returns he will be found by the Lord clothed with a body (the present, earthly one), and not in a disembodied state. To be without a body is to be "naked". Clearly, Paul envisaged a state of disembodiment between physical death and the general resurrection (cf. "unclothed" in v. 4).

v. 4 - An expanded repetition of v. 2 . . .

c.              our unfailing assurance - v. 5

"From this it becomes apparent that 'the earnest of the Spirit' is not a mere statis deposit, but the active vivifying operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer, assuring him that the same principle of power which effected the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is also present and at work within him, preparing his mortal body for the consummation of his redemption in the glorification of his body" (Hughes).

3.              the intimacy of the intermediate state - 5:6-8

("Let us consider this settled," said Calvin, "that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection" [Institutes, 3.10.5].)

The message of vv. 6-8 is simple enough: far from being an experience of unexpected darkness and despair, death for the Christian means immediate entrance into the glorious light of the presence of Jesus Christ. The structure of the passage should also be noted: vv. 6 and 8 should be read together, with v. 7 being understood as a parenthetical explanation of v. 6b.

a.              in the body, away from Christ - vv. 6,8

IN the body                   =              ABSENCE from the Lord

OUT OF the body         =              PRESENCE with the Lord

Paul's point is this: as one must be either in or out of his body (for there is no third alternative), so he must be either absent from or present with the Lord (for again, there is no third alternative). To the question, "when a Christian dies does he/she immediately enter Christ's presence?" the answer must be Yes. Three thing support this conclusion:

(1) In v. 6 residence in a physical body is contemporaneous with absence from the direct presence of Christ, implying that when the former ceases so also does the latter. Observe the temporal indicators: "while we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord." (2) According to v. 7, walking by faith and walking by sight are the only two possible ways of relating to Christ. When the former ends, the latter begins. (3) That physical death of the believer issues immediately in conscious presence with the Lord is the teaching of Paul in Phil. 1:20-24.

"The Apostle is asking here (in Phil. 1) which is most worthwhile for him, to live or to die. Often has that question presented itself to us, and perhaps we like the Apostle, have answered that 'we are in a strait.' But I fear we may have used the words in a sense far different from St. Paul's. When we have wished for death, we meant to say, 'I know not which alternative I ought most to dread, the afflictions of life, from which death would release me, or the terrors of death, from which life protects me.' In other words, life and death look to us like two evils of which we know not which is the less. As for the Apostle, they look to him like two immense blessings of which he knows not which is the better" (Adolphe Monod).

b.              faith and sight - v. 7

V. 7 is designed to soften the blow of v. 6b, or to explain in what sense being "in" the body entails "absence" from Christ. Our absence from Christ is only spatial, not spiritual (cf. Mt. 28:19-20; Col. 1:27; John 17:23,26). While in the body we do not literally see Christ (at least, most of us don't!), but rather walk by faith in the physically absent and unseen Lord. Death brings us into spatial proximity and visible contact with Christ. Thus death, rather than severing our spiritual relationship with Christ, heightens and enhances it! Death brings us into the immediate vision of our Savior and the increased intimacy of fellowship which it entails.

[Some theological implications:

·          What does this mean for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which teaches that Christians at death must endure additional purification from sins before entering the bliss of Christ's presence?

·          What does this mean for the doctrine of soul sleep, or psychopannychia, which says that Christians at death enter a state of complete unconsciousness, to be "awakened" at Christ's return? What, then, does the NT mean when it refers to death as "sleep"? See Mt. 27:52; Luke 8:52; Jn. 11:11-13; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 7:39; 11:30; 15:6,18; 1 Thess. 4:13.

(1)           Sleep implies rest from earthly toil, the cessation of activity in this realm. Thus one is asleep to this world, but alive and "awake" in the next.

(2)           The imagery of sleep is used to describe death because the body does sleep, in a manner of speaking. I.e., it is at rest, without activity or life. But nowhere does the Bible say that the "soul" or "spirit" sleeps or is unconscious.

(3)           Sleep is used to illustrate that the pain of death as a penalty for sin is gone for the Christian. Death for the believer, rather than something to be feared, is like dozing off for a nap.

See esp. Lk. 16:19-31; Mt. 17:1-8; Mark 12:26-27; Rev. 6:9-11.

·          What, if any, application do these verses have for so-called "out-of-the-body" experiences? ]

4.              the inevitability of divine judgment - 5:9-10

a.              our ambition: to please Christ - v. 9

b.              our motive: judgment by Christ - v. 10

1)             who is to be judged?

2)             what is the nature of this judgment?

See John 3:18; 5:24; Rom. 5:8-9; 8:1; 1 Thess. 1:10. In the judgment of 2 Cor. 5, eternal destiny is not an issue. Eternal reward is. This judgment is not to determine entrance into the kingdom, but reward or status or authority in the kingdom.

3)             characteristics of this judgment

a)             its inevitability ("we must all appear")

b)             its universality ("we must all appear")

c)             its individuality ("each one"; cf. Rom. 14:12)

d)             its mode ("we must all appear"; cf. 1 Cor. 4:5; we do not simply "show up," but are "laid bare" before Him)

e)             its identity ("the judgment seat of Christ"; cf. Mt. 27:19; John 19:13; Acts 12:21; 18:12,16,17; 25:6,10,17; Rom. 14:10)

f)              its judge ("Christ"; cf. Jn. 5:22; Rom. 14:10)

g)             its standard ("deeds done in the body"; cf. Mt. 12:36)

Related questions:

·          What determines whether a "deed" (or word) in this life is good or evil?

·          What are the rewards for good deeds? See Mt. 5:11-12; 25:19-21 (Lk. 19:12-27); 1 Cor. 3:10-17; Rom. 2:6-10; Eph. 6:7-8. See also Rev. 2:7,10,17,23,26-28; 3:5,12,21.

·          What is the recompense for evil deeds? See 1 Cor. 3:10-17.

·          Does 2 Cor. 5 teach meritorious effort and self-seeking obedience?

·          Are the fear of judgment and the hope of reward proper motives for obedience?

·          When does this judgment occur: at physical death, during the intermediate state, at the second coming, simultaneous with the Great White Throne judgment of Rev. 20?

"The books are shut now, but they will be opened then. The things we have done in the body will come back to us, whether good or bad. Every pious thought, and every thought of sin; every secret prayer, and every secret curse; every unknown deed of charity, and every hidden deed of selfishness: we see them all again; and though we have not remembered them for years, and perhaps have forgotten them altogether, we shall have to acknowledge that they are our own, and take them to ourselves" (James Denney).