“We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord”.2 Corinthians 5:8
This is a very common verse used to argue that we leave our bodies behind (at death) and then are present with the Lord, presumably in heaven.
- Consider the following:
- 4:14 says that “just as God raised/woke up Jesus, so God will also raise/wake up us also and will present us with him.” When will we be with Jesus according to 4:14? At the resurrection, not at death.
- 4:16 says that our inner self/man is being renewed day by day. This does not mean that there is a soul inside of our body. Rather, this is our new life/identity in Christ, noting that the word translated “being renewed”, anakainoutai, only occurs one other place (Col. 3:10), in which the same theme of growth is spoken of.
- 4:17 talks of the expectation of an eternal weight of glory. The word “eternal” denotes a characteristic of the age to come, not what happens when we die. The glory which we are awaiting is described elsewhere in Paul in Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
- 4:18 again speaks of the expectation of the unseen eternal things. This is looking forward to the age to come, as the word “eternal” designates.
- 5:1 continues the line of thinking with the opening word “for”. We know that if our earthly body dies, we have another body, eternal, in the heavens. As with other things currently stored in heaven, we don’t go there to get it, rather it comes out of heaven to us.
- 5:2 and 4 say that we groan for this new body. Paul here uses a rare verb stevazomen which is only used one other time in Paul in Romans 8:23 “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
- 5:2 also says we long to be clothed with our body from heaven. Paul does not expect a disembodied, unclothed state. Remember that in 1 Cor. 15:53 Paul says that “this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” This is what Paul says also in 5:4.
- 5:4 says that we do not want to be unclothed. Is Paul battling an erroneous doctrine in the air saying that we have an immortal soul that leaves the body? He argues that we do not want to be disembodied!!!
- Therefore, to be absent from this body will be at the time of being with the Lord, occurring at the resurrection (as described in 4:14). This makes sense with the talk in 5:10 of the gathering of believers at the judgment seat of Christ, which happens at the resurrection, not at death.