Absent From the Body to Be With Christ?

Do not Paul’s words, “absent from the body present with the Lord” and “to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better” show that the believer goes immediately to heaven at death?

The only comfort Paul offered the Thessalonian Church was that the dead in Christ would be resurrected when Jesus comes again (1Thess. 4:13-18). Likewise, 1Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter, puts forward no hope other than the resurrection of the dead.

Looking at 2Cor. 5:8, in context, we note the following:

1. The hope expressed in the context is that of resurrection (2Cor. 4:14);
2. The “earthly tent” is our present mortal body (5:1a);
3. The “building from God”, the “eternal house in heaven” (5:1b) is our future resurrection body;
4. The clothing metaphor (2-4) elsewhere is used of the resurrection (1Cor. 15:53-54);
5. The “swallowing up” of the “mortal” by “life” (5) also occurs at the resurrection (1Cor. 15:54);
6. It is in anticipation of this hope that we “groan” (2,4 c.f. Rom. 8:22f);
7. Paul’s use of such terms as “naked” (c.f. 1Cor. 15:36-27 with 42 and following) and “unclothed” describe the intermediate state and it is clear from the passage under consideration that Paul does not desire to be in this state (3,4) despite how Paul’s Greek contemporaries may have felt.
8. Note lastly that the context concerns our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ (10), which occurs only after Christ returns.
Paul speaks only of future resurrection from beginning to end.

So Paul’s controversial words are best understood as teaching Paul’s preference to be away from this mortal body, having put on his immortal resurrection body as a consequence of Christ having returned.

In Phil. 1:23 the use of the term “depart” suggests a journey in which the beginning is death and the end is being with Christ. The “gain” which Paul has in mind throughout the context is that which comes of dying a martyr’s death.

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6 Responses to Absent From the Body to Be With Christ?

  1. Bill McCracken says:

    While I agree with the major points put forward in this post, I still think that Paul is talking about some type of being “absent from the body”, some type of possible intermediate state between death and resurrection. Paul doesn’t say that he wishes that he were absent from his mortal body and present in his resurrected body, he simply states that being absent from the body is being present with the Lord.

    I’m glad you admit that these words from Paul are “controversial.” But I would enjoy seeing a better exegesis done on this topic rather than just implying that Paul was speaking of his future body. If he was, he should have said “to be absent from this body is to be present in the future body”, a statement he doesn’t make.

    This verse, to me, is a tough one to deal with when confronting those who believe that when we die, we all go to heaven. It supports their view.

    What does Jesus have to say about the “intermediate state”? Surely Paul can’t be the only one in scripture to talk about this subject? Does Jesus shed any light on this?

  2. Chuck McClellan says:

    It would seem that from the perspective of a dead guy, time itself has no meaning, right? (Like division by zero)

    So… even if clocks keep ticking in this “world” for thousands of years beyond his death, the next thing Paul would have been expecting to see would be Christ. Especially in the case of martyrs, as Paul had observed years before with Stephen.

    The phrase “absent from the body” is what he knows folks will perceive in this world five minutes after his heart stops.

    Why does it need to be more complicated than that? I didn’t make it to seminary, so help me out….

  3. Jonathan says:

    would you please elaborate what does Paul mean by saying “to be present with the Lord” after being absent with the body… I do believe in the unconscious survival in the intermediate state but i was having a hard time dealing with this passage. please help me.

  4. Pingback: Afterlife » Blog Archive » Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

  5. David Parker says:

    If Paul knew that to depart this life and to be with Christ was referring to a future time when he would have a resurrection body, THEN he would have contradicted what he said in II Cor. 5……..where he clearly said he did NOT want to be unclothed…….that is without a body.

    In other words, if Paul was going to leave this life and NOT be with Christ……..then he would be unclothed……..right?

    So he meant just what he said, and confirmed in II Cor 5 where he said ”absent from the body, present with the Lord”.

  6. Not all conditionalists believe in ‘soul sleep’, so called. For example, Edward White, the celebrated nineteenth century champion of conditionalism (and author of ‘Life in Christ’, 1846)believed in consciousness during the intermediate state.I believe, as a conditionalist, that the big issue is the ultimate extermination of all that is evil and rebellious. Am I naive to suggest that survival of the soul in the intermediate state does not threaten the basic tenet of conditional immortality? At the same time, it needs to be stated, that ‘soul sleep’ does not weaken the believer’s joy at the prospect of post-mortem existence with Christ; for the time gap between death and final resurrection will be as nothing (cp. the awakening after anaesthetic). Luther and Tyndale believed in ‘sol sleep’, but they did not appear to embrace the doctrine of eventual annihilation. (Please read my thesis on the above website.)
    Ray Bromham

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