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The phrase "absent from the body" is found in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul states that he is confident in his eternal destiny and longs for the day when he can be "absent from the body" and be present...
In the 2 Cor. 5:6-8, it says, "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." There is no doubt that "being absent in the body" refers to our death. At which time, the "breath of life"(spirit of man") leaves the body and goes back to the Creator (Eccl. 12:7; 3:20-21); this is "being present with The Lord". The body is then buried (goes to hades/hell) where it decays and rots, as in,""For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption;" (ACTS 13:36,NKJV). Also, read: ECCLESIASTES 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. (NIV) ECCLESIASTES 9:10...., for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (NIV) PSALM 146:4 His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (NASU) PSALM 115:17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence; (NASU) Notice that the "spirit of man/ breath of life" that goes back to the Creator is not a conscious component of man. It carries all the memory, education, character, distinctiveness, uniqueness of that particular person. But apart from the body, it is not alive and not functional. As an analogy to a computer, the body is like the hardware with all components but not a "living person" until the "breath of life" was "breathe into his nostrils". Body/dust of the ground/flesh + breath of life/spirit of man= living soul/person (Gen.2:7). When these 2 components of man separate, life ends and the body is not functional, dead. Much like a computer, the memory and identity of that particular person can be stored in a "thumb drive" which can be separated from the computer hardware. But, when inserted into another new computer, it can manifest itself will all that it has stored in memory. Similarly, when our "breath of life/spirit of man that goes at death to the Creator, is given another body, albeit spiritual, both these components make up the person to become alive again. Finally, each "breath of life", while it goes to the Creator, will have its own individualized end, resurrection to life or to judgment, as in "...they that have done good, unto resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto resurrection of damnation". (John 5:29).
Key words in English and their Greek meaning and context: Absent – Gr. Ekdemeo – to go and live abroad, to emigrate. Only used in this chapter. Present – Gr. Endemeo – to be among one’s own people, to dwell in one’s own country. Only used in this chapter. The verses in 2 Cor 5 are often used to support the understanding that the soul/spirit/’immortal’ component of man will be clothed with its heavenly house or body immediately or, alternatively, that the spirit/soul just continues, unembodied, to heaven once 'freed' from the body. The significant problem is that the bible clearly points to the time of resurrection as the one when we’ll receive our new bodies – Rom 8:11 shows it is a physical body and 1 Thess 4 states it happens when Jesus returns from heaven to earth. Also nowhere does Paul state or describe any kind of heavenly non-bodied experience prior to resurrection, So what does Paul mean when he says that being away from the body is to be at home with the Lord, especially if he regards being dead as nakedness, with all the negative connotations, rather than being clothed (the only option being with immortality). It seems contrary to all Paul stands for and his firm grounding in the simple gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4) and the scriptures. Note the Greek deeper contextual meaning of the 2 words translated 'absent' and 'present'. How they are applied in Greek is the notion that present is to be amongst one’s own people in one’s own country, and absent is to have emigrated to live in another country. From John 14 we see that Jesus encouraged his disciples that despite being told that where he was going they could not follow (John 13:33) he said that he would come back and take them to where he would be – earth renewed, populated by believers in resurrected bodies after appearing before the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). So, for Paul, being present with Jesus means one thing only: being with him on his return, and that can only happen after resurrection, not immediately after death. Moreover, Paul would have been very familiar with Abraham's story, that he was looking for a city with foundations, from his life in tents (cf 2 Cor 5:1) summarised in Heb 11, so here Paul makes the same Abrahamic links to other (heavenly) countries and emigration (being absent). In Heb 11:9-10 there is a reference to tents as the dwelling of Abraham, the father of faith, which Paul connotes with our temporary body tent, but he was looking for a city with foundations ie substance, something that would last, a solid home, which Paul connotes to the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15 and here. The picture is of one who is in a foreign land, even though God called him to a physical promised land – Canaan – he still wanted to emigrate, be absent, to another country, a permanent city. Abraham and others of faith didn’t receive the promise of their faith, even after death. They were seeking a country of their own to be present in (present with the Lord), to be amongst one’s own people (of faith and with new bodies). This ‘better country’ comes from heaven, stored up as 1 Peter 1:3-5 says, and is our resurrected body living as described in Rev 21-22to be given on Christ's return. It runs counter to all Paul yearns for to assume he is saying he wants to be away from the body ie dead and, therefore, in the presence of Jesus. The immortal, separate soul is pure pagan philosophy and rejected by Paul. In Phil 1:24 he emphatically states that being alive is better than being dead for the gospels sake, but in both these chapters, what he really wants is to see Christ return and have his mortality (current failing body, old tent) swallowed up, clothed, by immortality (resurrection body, building, mansion from God). Anything less, and we do serious injustice to the majesty of what will be God's most incredible creative work (after resurrecting Jesus): the resurrection of the saints, each new spiritual body a house, as it were, in the city of God.
These verses have been used to advance theories that are outside and contrary to Paul’s simple pastoral message to the church in Corinth. Paul’s writings can be quite confusing at times when read out of context. My advice when reading Paul is that we shouldn’t pick verses outside the rest of the passage. Remember that this was a letter written to a particular group of people in a particular location, at a particular time within a certain context. In order to fully understand the message we need to ask ourselves the questions: What was the writer saying to the reader and what did the readers understand the writer to be saying. This is crucial to get to the real message being passed on. In this particular instance we need to decode the message and understand what Paul meant and what his target audience understood him to be saying. In order to do this we need to read the whole book and understand the times in which he wrote the letter and what motivated him to write. It is only then that we can decide if the message applies to us and if it does how it applies to us. Firstly I thought I should quote from my favorite bible version The Message Bible in 2 Cor 5:6-8: “That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming”. Space permitting I would have quoted the chapter, but I think it becomes clear without deep theological analysis that Paul’s theme here is the hope of resurrection. He is clearly emphasizing that these temporary bodies will perish and be left in this world, when we resurrect we shall inherit our new bodies freshly made by God’s hands. Another thing to consider is that when a person dies time stops according to 1 Cor 15:52. If a person died at 40 years of age it doesn’t matter how long he is in the grave, when Jesus comes to resurrect him he will still be 40 years old. This therefore means that when the lights go off at death the next moment of consciousness is when the tombs are opened and the dead are resurrected "in the twinkling of an eye". It is almost as if to the one who was dead, time never really stopped. The next moment he sees himself clothed in a new body and swiftly floating to heaven when the trumpet has sounded. The conditions under which the church in Corinth was living at the time were getting difficult. There was persecution from the Roman Empire and the Synagogues (Christianity was then viewed as a subgroup of Judaism because the majority of early Christians were Jewish converts). It is against this background that Paul is lifting the expectations of his readers, that it doesn’t matter how hard they suffer in the present body, they should look forward to the new bodies at resurrection time. Indeed Paul himself had suffered so much and longed to “absent from this body” and “present” with his Lord. It is the yearning and hope of every Christian when we suffer and witness our loved ones dying around us and the world getting more evil to as quickly as possible go to heaven. Indeed the whole bible has been written to sinful humanity to know that there is hope for a far better tomorrow. One that we cannot even begin to imagine how beautiful and glorious it is. That tomorrow is real and it is free, all are invited. All it takes is to accept the offer. Your place has been reserved and guaranteed. If you don’t get there your place will be unoccupied. That is how genuine God is with this invitation.
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