Absent from the body
by John Accomando2 Corinthians 5:4-8 (“absent from the body”)
Sometimes in Biblical study, you have moments where you find something in a set of verses you’d never seen before.
Regarding 2 Cor 5, some selectively quote verse 8 to argue that we go to Heaven immediately at death, but look carefully at Paul’s wording in the preceding verses:
2 Corinthians 5:4-8: “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. 5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
Where do we read similar words from Paul?
1 Corinthians 15:53-55: “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 PUT ON IMMORTALITY, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
What is Paul quoting?
Isaiah 25:8- “He will SWALLOW UP DEATH IN VICTORY; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.”
When is death “swallowed up in victory”? After the heavenly signs:
Isaiah 13:10- “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”
Isaiah 24:23- “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”
When do those heavenly signs happen? After the tribulation:
Matthew 24:29- “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:”
So what is Paul saying that we “groan” for? That mortality/death might be “swallowed up of life”. When does that happen? After the tribulation and heavenly signs, at the Lord’s second coming. That’s what he’s saying we’re “confident” (2 Cor 5:6,7) of. Keep in mind that Paul was hoping that the Lord’s return would be in his lifetime. So while Paul is saying that we are “willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord”, Paul is not saying that we go to Heaven immediately at death. He was speaking about the resurrection, when we leave our earthly bodies, and get our “heavenly” bodies, and are in the Lord’s presence:
1 Corinthians 15:49- “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
When is that? At His second coming! Paul was talking to living believers about getting our resurrected bodies and THEN being “present with the Lord”.
After all, what had Paul just been talking about? Our affliction, and how it was/is temporary:
2 Corinthians 4:7-12: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus ‘sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:14- “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus SHALL RAISE UP US ALSO BY JESUS, and shall present us with you.”
When are we raised up? On “the last day” (John 6:40), at His coming (1 Cor 15:22-24).
2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 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.”
Again, Paul had the resurrection in sight in 2 Cor 5:4-8 [not individual believers being whisked away to Heaven at physical death while He's still "preparing a place" (John 14:1-3) for us].
What about Philippians 1?
Philippians 1:21-26: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this CONFIDENCE, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.”
What “confidence”? The same confidence he was talking about in 2 Cor 5: the resurrection at the Lord’s second coming. So he had a desire to depart (I interpret that to mean “Abraham’s bosom” based on several key verses) AND to be with Christ. Angie and I were debating this the other day. She said that “depart” and “and to be with Christ” aren’t necessarily talking about the same thing, and now I get it. Paul could just as easily be arguing that he would like to be comforted in Abraham’s bosom (this is where Angie and I disagree, as she believes in “soul sleep”) AND also desire to be “with Christ” (which he explained in 2 Cor 5:4-8 as being a future post-trib event known as the “resurrection”). So nothing in Philippians 1:22-26 necessitates that Paul’s notion of being “with Christ” was something which would be immediate. Yet at the very least, his “departure” would have to offer something beneficial, in order to contemplate dying. I believe that benefit is summarized by the Lord in His description of Lazarus going to Abraham’s Bosom.
Again, this is keeping in mind that the ONLY ones who the Lord described returning with Him from Heaven at His second coming are His angels:
Matthew 16:27- “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his ANGELS; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”
Matthew 25:31- “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the HOLY ANGELS with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:”
Mark 8:38- “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the HOLY ANGELS.”
Luke 9:26- “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the HOLY ANGELS.”
Paul reiterated this, in the ONLY set of verses in which he SPECIFICALLY described who the Lord returns from “Heaven” with (not in 1 Thess 3:13 or 1 Thess 4, and neither did Jude specify in Jude 14,15):
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from HEAVEN with his mighty ANGELS, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:”
Lastly, who are we told John sees worshipping around the throne in Revelation 5:11?
Revelation 5:11- “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many ANGELS round about the throne and the BEASTS and the ELDERS: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;”
No “church saints”.
That should come as no surprise, as Scripture verifies itself:
John 3:13- “And NO MAN HATH ASCENDED to heaven, BUT HE came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
John 14:3- “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Acts 2:34- “For David is NOT ascended into the heavens:but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,”
Ephesians 4:8-10: “Wherefore he saith, When HE ascended up on high, HE led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that HE ascended, what is it but that HE also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? HE that descended is the SAME also that ascended up far above all heavens, that HE might fill all things.)”
Who ascended? Again, the Lord did:
John 3:13- “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”