Table of Contents
Present With the Lord
What does it mean to be present with the Lord? Paul wrote, “So 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” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). From a surface reading of 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, some have concluded that at death the soul of the believer rises immediately to be “present with the Lord,” and that Paul, enthusiastically desiring to be with the Lord (verse 2), welcomed death.
But in verses 3, 4 Paul describes death as a state of being “naked,” or “unclothed.” He hopes, if at all possible, to avoid this intermediate state, and wishes to be “clothed” with his “house … from heaven.” He says, “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” (2 Corinthians 5:3,4). In other words, Paul desires to be translated without seeing death. “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
In other passages, such as in 1 Corinthians 15:51–54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 2 Timothy 4:6–8; etc., Paul makes it clear that people are not “clothed” with immortality individually at death, but together at the resurrection of the saints. So, in 2 Corinthians 5:2–4 Paul has already announced that “life,” clearly meaning immortal life, comes when one is “clothed upon” with his “house … from heaven” at the resurrection (verse 4), not in the “naked,” or “unclothed,” state of death.
In 2 Corinthians 5: 8, Paul declares the wish to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord,” but it is clear that being “absent from the body” does not mean being disembodied (“naked,” or “unclothed”), for in 2 Corinthians 5: 2–4 he has said plainly that he does not wish this intermediate state and would avoid it if that was possible. To have “life” (verse 4) and to be “present with the Lord” (verse 8) thus necessitates having the “house … from heaven” (verse 2).
The State of the Dead
The Bible declares death to be but a sleep from which the saints will be awakened at the first resurrection (John 11:11–14, 25, 26; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 51–54; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; 5:10). It is not until then that both the living and the resurrected saints will be present with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18). Neither group goes before the other (Hebrews 11:39, 40).
Because we have no consciousness of time in death, it is certainly true that following the moment of death, the believer’s next conscious thought is in his or her glorified body. But that does not happen until the return of Christ and the resurrection.
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Cautious study of Paul’s words thus plainly excludes any possibility of a state between death and the resurrection in which, as disembodied (“naked,” or “unclothed”) spirits, where men go to be “present with the Lord.” Paul is eager to be translated to heaven without having to see death. So, being absent from the body means to be absent from the infirmities of our earthy bodies and death. To be present with the Lord means to have our glorious immortal bodies that we’ll receive when Jesus comes.
In His service,