2 Corinthians 5
By Arthur Melanson
Are we in heaven now? Is it possible for Christians to be in heaven while still in their earthen vessels? Some preterists think so. We disagree.
How, you may ask, do they come to this rather startling conclusion? What makes them think they are in “heaven now?” The answer lies in their interpretation of the covenantal change that took place in A.D. 70 with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. All preterists agree to the first century return of Christ, but most do not agree to the over emphasis on the change of covenants that would place us in heaven before passing through physical death.
The “heaven now” crowd depends heavily on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 as their proof text for being in God’s living presence. “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Is Paul groaning in the Old Covenant, the body of Moses, or is he groaning in his physical body? I used to believe the former and so taught, but a restudy of the passage made me change my mind. Here are some of the reasons why.
In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul states: “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.” (NIV) The Corinthians weren’t especially astute. They were Christians, but their carnality precluded their understanding of much spiritual truth (see 1 Cor. 3).
Covenantal change is not easy to understand. Paul is writing to Gentile babes in Christ who struggle to comprehend him. He told them they could read and understand what he wrote. It does not seem logical that he then smacked them with covenantal eschatology.
A strong reason for Paul’s “body” to be his physical body is in the text itself. Paul states “that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Being absent from the body connotes we then walk by sight, not faith.
We have had the New Covenant and the fullness of the kingdom of God for almost two thousand years now. If Paul’s “absent from the body” means out of the body of Moses, the Old Covenant, and into the body of Christ, the New Covenant, why do the just still walk by faith? A change of covenants does not allow us to walk by sight, but a change of body from physical to spiritual does.
If we believe that Paul is speaking of the body of Moses in these verses then it turns salvation on its head. Salvation used to be by faith, but now that we are in the presence of God we don’t need faith, because we walk by sight. If we believe this, we believe in a different Gospel than the one Paul preached. You may recall Paul had some harsh things to say about those who preached any other Gospel than the Gospel he preached. Do you believe that Paul would be the one to pervert the Gospel of Christ? Yet if we believe Paul is speaking of an Old Covenant “tent” rather than a physical body “tent,” it leads us to another way of salvation. This is not immediately obvious, but when you study the misapplication of covenant change rather than physical change the danger becomes clear. Why would anyone need faith if he is in “heaven now?”
Peter used the same word as Paul in talking about his “tent,” and no one disputes he spoke of his physical body. “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.” (2 Peter 1:13-15) Tent is often used of the tabernacle. Tents were the only homes of the early patriarchs. Their use was common through all Bible times.
Paul thought of Christians as a spiritual house. He spoke of “this treasure in earthen vessels,” and “the Spirit as a guarantee.” This language doesn’t just pertain to Paul, a Jew, but to all Christians, including the believers at Corinth. The body being the body of Moses puts the emphasis on the Jews; the body being Paul’s physical body puts the emphasis on the church—all the believers in Jesus Christ.
All Christians are a temple, or tabernacle, of the Lord. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) And later in the same epistle Paul penned: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19) He told the Ephesians they were a temple, a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:21, 22)
Jesus Christ called His body a temple. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:19-21) “His body had no particular temple; but it was the temple of His divinity—the place in which, as in the ancient Temple, His Godhead dwelt.” [Adam Clarke’s Commentary]
The point is Paul knew his physical body was a temple, but like the tent in the wilderness, a temporary dwelling. He knew it would soon be dissolved, and he longed for the habitation, or dwelling, from God, in heaven. Because Paul speaks of a personal change from physical to spiritual, his teaching includes all Christians especially the Corinthians! The “we” in 2 Corinthians 5 is a Christian “we,” not a Jewish “we.” “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 5:4)
The last reason has to do with the tenth verse of our text. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Notice, please, that if Paul is talking about the Old Covenant in 2 Corinthians 5, then this is an abrupt change of context. Even the most zealous “heaven now” adherent would admit that a change of covenants does not place us at the judgment seat of Christ. Only physical demise can do that.
Also notice that if Paul is saying his “body” is the body of Moses, then only Jews will be at the judgment seat of Christ. This seems farfetched and artificial. Now, let’s consider that Paul is speaking of the death of his physical body in these verses. Appearing at the judgment seat of Christ is now fully in the context of the passage, and it flows logically from thought to thought. And it includes and teaches the Corinthian Christians to whom Paul writes.
It is my belief that is exactly what Paul intended to do.
II CORINTHIANS 5:4 - PART TWO
This brochure will continue to look at the evidence that the “earthly house,” this “tent,” the “body” in 2 Corinthians 5 is Paul’s physical body, not the body of Moses or the Old Covenant.
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2)
Is Paul groaning in the Old Covenant, the body of Moses, or is he groaning in his physical body? Many contend Paul groans as a Jew under the law (body of Moses), but this flies in the face of what Paul wrote elsewhere. In Galatians 2:19 Paul said he died to the law, and in the next verse he testifies that the life he lives in the body he lives by faith in the Son of God. In Romans 7:6 Paul says that he died to the law, and it no longer has a hold on him. That doesn’t sound like groaning in the Old Covenant. Paul saw himself, and other believing Jews, as dead to the law and married to another—to Jesus raised from the dead. (Rom. 7)
The obvious question is, if Paul was dead to the law then how could he be groaning under the law in 2 Corinthians 5? The idea that Paul’s “earthly house,” “tent,” or “body” is the law, Old Covenant, is false. Paul’s writings elsewhere prove it to be false. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1,2 NIV) The law of sin and death is the Old Covenant.
Covenantal change is important. All eschatology is covenantal. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ in A.D. 70 brought the New Covenant, the kingdom of God. That same Second Coming brought an end to Biblical Judaism or the world that then was—the Old Covenant. We recognize covenantal change as a vital element in eschatology, but we do not believe that is Paul’s subject in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Great harm takes place by putting the wrong interpretation on those verses. We lose out on what Paul is really saying! Vital information is lost, and we no longer understand what it means when the Bible tells us “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.” And “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
Bad interpretation is one area leads to bad interpretations in other areas. We must learn to rightly divide the word of truth.
In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul spoke of himself in regard to visions and revelations of the Lord. In verses 2-4 of that chapter he said: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago; whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows; such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man; whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows; how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Paul speaks of his physical body, and he couldn’t tell if he was in it or out of it when he was caught up to the third heaven. The Greek for “body” is the same in chapter twelve as it is in chapter five.
The point is this—if Paul was using “body” in a covenantal sense in chapter five, then he owed the Corinthians an explanation when he used “body” in a physical sense in chapter twelve. Paul never said, “Look Corinthians, I spoke of ‘body’ earlier as Moses’ body, not my body. Now I’m speaking of my physical body, and I want you to know the difference.” Paul didn’t feel obligated to clear up any misunderstanding resulting from using the same word in two different ways. How come? The reason, of course, is that “body” is Paul’s physical body in both instances. Sometimes the strongest evidence is silence.
The lesson here seems clear—we can look so hard into the writings of Paul that we find ourselves in places Paul never went. Faulty interpretation is the cause. Such is the case of seeing covenantal change in place of physical demise in 2 Corinthians 5. Paul never taught that.
Thus far we have looked at evidence that indicates the “body” is physical, not covenantal in 2 Corinthians 5. Paul’s other writings especially bolster this precept. If we agree that the “body” is indeed Paul’s physical body, then it opens up another problem—or at least what appears to be a problem for preterists.
Paul clearly states that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Yet Paul writes these words before the resurrection that takes place at the time of Jesus’ Second Coming (See 1 Cor. 15:23). We know the Second Coming took place in A.D. 70. Paul wrote his last letter to Corinth in late A.D. 55 or very early A.D. 56. In light of this timing, how can Paul say to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord? The answer lies in “the first resurrection.”
The first resurrection (Revelation 20:5) is a resurrection of firstfruits. Established by type in the Old Testament, firstfruits are part of the harvest but precede the main harvest. All Christians who lived between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Second Coming of Christ in A.D. 70 were firstfruit Christians.
Paul wrote of being firstfruits of the Spirit of God. “And not only they, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:23) James also acknowledges that believers between the cross and the Second Advent were firstfruits. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18)
The time between the cross and the Second Advent is known as “a thousand years,” or the millennium. It is a spiritual, not a literal, period of time set aside by God. The Bible speaks of it in this way: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:4-6)
The resurrection began with Jesus’ resurrection (I am the resurrection and the life). Believers in Jesus no longer had to go to Sheol, or Hades, at physical death. They entered heaven to rule and reign with Christ during the thousand-year millennium. Christ revealed this heavenly scene to John to record for the comfort of the saints. The general resurrection at A.D. 70 is the harvest resurrection when Sheol, or Hades, gives up their dead and all stand before God. (Rev. 20:12)
Paul knew he and his fellow Christians were firstfruits of the resurrection. They were part of the harvest, but they came before the main harvest. The resurrection was underway and had been since Christ rose from the dead. Thus Paul wrote with absolute assurance: “absent from the body—present with the Lord.” Paul was part of the first resurrection.
There is only one way for a Christian to get to heaven—he must “shuffle off the mortal coil.” Covenantal change does not place a Christian in heaven. Paul knew this, and he wanted the Corinthians, and all who read his letters, to know it too. That’s why he also wrote, “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.”
Let’s close by again looking at a heavenly scene populated by Christians prior to the general resurrection of A.D. 70. They are firstfruits. They are the first resurrection.
“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God.” (Rev. 14:3-5)
At home in the body, absent from the Lord. Absent from the body, present with the Lord.
What do YOU think ?
And, "redemption" equals "restoration.
So what does the "seed analogy" of I Cor 15 refer to? Is it the physical body? Is it the "body of sin"? Is it the Old Covenant body? Are the last two synonymous? thanks!
The idea that there will some day be a resurrection of physically dead human corpses is so ingrained in the modern religious psyche that it does not matter what the Bible really says. It is our contention that the Biblical concept of the resurrection involves a spiritual raising of man out of sin-death, [i.e. separation from God caused by sin]; a restoration of man to the presence of God. In Genesis 2:15-17 God told man concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil "in the day you eat thereof you will surely die." Man and woman ate of the fruit; did they die that day? Amazingly, most people will say "No!" because Adam and Eve did not die physically after they ate the forbidden fruit. But this is not the whole story. Death means separation, not annihilation. And Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden the day they ate the fruit! Thus, ADAM AND EVE DIED SPIRITUALLY BECAUSE THEY WERE CAST OUT OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD! If Adam and Eve did not die the day they ate then Satan told the truth and God lied! God said you will die in the day you eat, Satan said you will not surely die, Genesis 3:1ff. Who told the truth to Adam and Eve? Unless one can find Adam and Eve physically dead in Genesis 2-3 then the death they died was spiritual and not physical! Now if we regain in Christ, in resurrection, what was lost in Adam, 1 Cor. 15:22, and if spiritual life, not physical, is what was lost, then physical resurrection is not what the Bible means by resurrection from the dead! Instead, the focus of Bible teaching about resurrection is the spiritual restoration of man from sin- death. The New Testament writers likened life under the Old Covenant to death, because all those under the Law were under the curse, Gal. 3:10f. Paul called the Old Testament the "ministration of death" because all it did was condemn; it could not justify, Romans 8:1-3. He spoke of his struggles under the Old Covenant; he spoke of his past death under it, and lamented "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Romans 7:9-24. Jesus' death and resurrection was the power for the final removal of that law that brought death, Eph. 2. But that Old Law could not fully pass until it was all fulfilled, Matthew 5:17-18; and until the New Covenant law of life in Christ was completely established, Gal. 3:21- 29. This meant that there was a time of transition between the Old Law and the New; a time when those coming out from that Old Law were coming into life--thus they were being raised into resurrection life as firstfruits of the coming perfection in Christ. By being buried with Christ by baptism into death: and like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, there were also resurrected through Christ and walked in the newness of life. (Romans 6:4) They had passed from death unto the newness of life. In Romans 6:1-11 the apostle demonstrates how in baptism the Romans had died with Christ, vs. 3, and had been raised with him, vs. 4. This patently cannot refer to a physical death and resurrection. But notice verse 5: "If we have been planted with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." Is the likeness of his death a physical likeness? If so, they had died physically! But if it be admitted that this refers to a spiritual likeness how does this impact verse 5? Are we to see that in baptism there is a spiritual likeness to the death of Jesus but in resurrection there will be a physical imitation of his resurrection? Who changed the hermeneutic here? Modern interpreters, not Paul, change the nature of the discussion! How is it possible to so radically change Paul's discussion from a spiritual death to a physical life? For Paul, the futuristic element was of the same nature in "likeness." In verse 8 the apostle says "if we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him." The coming life was of the same nature as the death; but the death was not physical, therefore the coming life was not physical Our point is that when that Old Covenant of Death was completely taken away this is called the resurrection! This is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:54-56. The resurrection would be when the Old Testament was fulfilled, vs. 54; it would be when "the law," which was "the strength of sin," was removed, vs. 56. More on all this later. The modern concept of a physical resurrection of human bodies is not consistent with scripture. (See (Ecclesiastes 12:7) It makes physical death the focus of God's threat in Eden, yet scripture denies this. The modern view denies the relationship of the Old Covenant to death and life-- spiritual life. It fails to take into consideration that man stands before God in relationship to Covenant. To live under a Ministration of Death was to be a body of death, Rom. 7:24; 8:8-10. To be delivered from that ministration of death was to be resurrected. This is the Biblical concept of resurrection. The New Testament believers were dying to the Old Law as they were baptized into Christ, Romans 6-7. The Law itself was not dead- -they were dying to the Law; "You have become dead to the law by the body of Christ" Rom. 7:4; "Christ is the end of the law to those who believe," Rom. 10:4. But the Law would pass when fulfilled and the Hebrew writer says it was at that time growing old and was ready to vanish away, Hebrews 8:13. Resurrection is deliverance from sin; sin-death; read Ephesians 2:1. This happens by faith in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" 2 Tim. 1:10. Those who would know the life that will never end, John 8:51, must enter the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to enjoy the salvation/resurrection purchased by Him. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. To have this life one must be in Christ through baptism for this is where one is joined to Christ's death and resurrection.
you wrote:There is only one way for a Christian to get to heaven—he must “shuffle off the mortal coil.” Covenantal change does not place a Christian in heaven. Paul knew this, and he wanted the Corinthians, and all who read his letters, to know it too. That’s why he also wrote, “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.”. And contradict this by teaching that the church was "raptured" before 70 AD. Maybe its time to quit.
Fabulous article. I keep seeing these 'drive by' stabs at the idea of heaven after our resurrection, but never see substance afterward. If I am supposively in heaven, then heaven sucks! Thank you for this expose of the 'heaven now' theory.
Date: 15 Feb 2006
Date: 06 Jul 2006
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