2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – This We Know!

“Because we know,” Paul writes.

We don’t give up or lose heart in the ministry of reconciliation and we keep our eyes fix on what is presently unseen “because we know” resurrection life awaits us.

This continues the theme Paul introduced in 2 Corinthians 4:14 – God will raise us up from the dead with Jesus! Remember, Paul is committed to the God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8).

What we know, then, is that this Adamic body enslaved to death will eventually be clothed over by the Christic body in a resurrection to eternal life.

Paul carries this theme forward through a series of contrasts based on, as we saw in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, two modes of human existence: Adamic and Christic. What we know, then, is that this Adamic body enslaved to death will eventually be clothed over by the Christic body in the resurrection. In other words, Paul contrasts the present human life conditioned by decay, death, suffering, and fragility with the already in the inner person but not yet human life fully animated in body as well by immortality, eternality, and permanence in the Spirit of God. This contrast between the Adamic world in which we presently life and the eschatological world of conformity the Christ is what Paul has in view.

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5 signal this contrast with varied metaphors.

Outer PersonInner Person
Wasting AwayRenewed Daily
Light AfflictionEternal Glory
What is Seen (Walking by Sight)What is Unseen (Walking by Faith)
Earthly Tent to be DestroyedEternal building from God in the Heavens
Clothed with this TentClothed with Heavenly Dwelling

We don’t give up because not only do we presently experience the glory of God in the face of Christ through the transforming work of the Spirit, we also anticipate (hope) our resurrection from the dead with Jesus.

Scholars debate several questions that arise from Paul’s language.

  • Does Paul believe that those who die in the Lord received their resurrection bodies at death and thus live in their eternal building even now (“we have”—present tense—a building in the heavens), or is Paul simply affirming the certainty of the future resurrection by the use of the present tense?
  • Does Paul believe there is a “naked” state where the dead are without a body, or is “naked” a hypothetical that expresses Paul’s preference for resurrection over the present Adamic body?
  • Does Paul believe the resurrection happens at the second coming of Christ (as 1 Corinthians 15 suggests) or that the resurrection happens at death (and has thus shifted his position from 1 Corinthians to 2 Corinthians)?

Whatever we might say about these three questions, it is incidental to Paul’s primary purpose to affirm his certainty of and confidence in the resurrection in the face of his own ministry struggles and life’s afflictions.

I don’t think it is likely that Paul had a change of theology with the few months between writing 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. It seems most likely that Paul affirms a resurrection without naming when it will happen in 2 Corinthians. Rather, his focus is on the fact of the resurrection and its meaning for ministry rather than describing the sequence of events.

Neither do I think Paul is focused on what is called the “intermediate state”–the time between death and resurrection. “Naked” may refer to such a space but not necessarily. His focus is on resurrection and the contrast between Adamic and Christic bodies. Nevertheless, his comment that those who are away from the body are at home with the Lord does identify his confidence that the dead are present with Christ in some intimate and special sense–something more than the present Adamic existence where we are “in the body” but “away from the Lord.” Something is gained in death, and what is gained is the presence of Christ in some sense that is not available presently.

Paul’s focus is on the resurrection, which is guaranteed by the presence of the Spirit. God is at work in us to renew us by the transforming work of the Spirit, and this pneumatic presence is God’s assurance (a downpayment or an earnest) of a future resurrection.

Given this hope of the resurrection, we are always confident, Paul writes. We are courageous in the midst of our struggles. Despite the travails of ministry and the ever present reality of death, we persevere because we know our relationship with the Lord. We walk by faith, not by sight. We see the struggle, the losses, the deterioration of the body, and death. But we walk by faith because we know the promise of God despite death.  We are courageous because we know that death will not separate us from God. Rather, absence from the body is presence with the Lord.

We walk by faith, not by sight. What we see is this Adamic body of death and the struggles that come with the ministry of reconciliation. That is reason for discouragement, even despair. However, the gospel in which Paul trusts answers that despair with hope. We walk by faith because our future hope is the defeat of death. We trust in the God who raises the dead. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we are confident that God will raise us from the dead with Jesus.

Moreover, we are confident that even in death we will find ourselves in the presence (“at home with”) of the Lord. Literally, the word “at home” is “to be in a dwelling” which is a metaphor for bodily existence or life. Living in the Adamic body, we are away from the Lord whose embodied existence is in the heavens. But when we are absent from the Adamic body, we are “at home” or living in a dwelling with the Lord. In other words, though we no longer have an Adamic body, we do have a dwelling the Lord, an eternal building not made with hands. Perhaps Paul means that we have a resurrection body (eternal building in contrast to this earthly tent). If so, then Paul may envision the reception of the resurrection body upon death. But I think this is uncertain. Paul does not seem to have resurrection in mind when he speaks about being “away from the body” and “at home in the Lord.” Nevertheless, it is quite possible (perhaps likely) that Paul is simply yearning for the resurrection body (“at home in the Lord”) in place of the present body. In that case, Paul is expressing his preference for resurrection over his present Adamic body. To that, I imagine, we can all agree.

Whether that is the case or not, the pastoral point is the most significant element here.  Whatever the present condition of those who have died in the Lord is (whether sleeping awaiting their awakening in the resurrection, consciously living in God’s presence as naked souls, or living in the presence of God with resurrected bodies), we live with courage and boldness because we believe that those who are absent from the body are “at home with the Lord.”

The righteous dead are with Christ. Whatever that means, it is an assuring comfort. God does not abandon the dead but receives them and welcomes them into the presence of the living Christ. They are “at home” with the Lord. And it because we walk by faith and not by sight that we rest in that confidence.

We entrust our living—whether at home or away—to the Lord. Because we entrust it to Christ, we are not distracted from our main goal: to please the Lord. We seek to conform our lives to the image of Christ through daily renewal by the power of the Spirit. We want to become like Christ in every way and live worthy of the gospel of reconciliation. Our identity in Christ moves us to seek this goal and the presence of the Spirit empowers our transformation.

Believers pay attention to this because what we do in the body matters. Every human being will appear before the judgment seat of Christ in order to hear a divine word about how we lived in this Adamic body. We will receive a word of affirmation or perhaps a word of condemnation. What we do in the body—how we live our lives—is the context for whatever word we hear before the judgment seat of Christ.

Our lives matter. Our actions matter. Our words matter. They either reflect who Jesus is or they do not. They are either worthy of the gospel or they are not. At some point, when we appear at the judgment, the discerning will of God will distinguish between good and evil. God will clarify the seeming ambiguity of human moral existence, and the light of God will dispel the darkness, just as God did when God created the world.

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