What does “absent from the body and present with the Lord” mean?

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Absent From the Body Present With the Lord

The phrase “absent from the body and present with the Lord” is found in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthian Church. The apostle writes, “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” (ch. 5:6-8 King James Version).

From a surface reading of 2 Corinthians 5: 6–8, some believe that at death the soul of the believer goes immediately to be “present with the Lord,” and that Paul, eagerly desiring to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5: 2), welcomed death with good courage.

But Paul describes death as a state of being “naked,” or “unclothed. For he says, “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: 4). And he hopes, if at all possible, to avoid this intermediate state, and eagerly desires to be “clothed” with his “house … from heaven.” In other words, he hopes to be translated without seeing death to be home with the Lord (verse 2–4).  

Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that people are not “clothed” with immortality individually at death, but simultaneously at the resurrection of the just at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Let us look at these references: 

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:51–54). 

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17). 

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing“ (2 Timothy 4:6–8).

Thus, in 2 Corinthians 5:2–4, Paul declares that 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 verse 8, Paul shows the desire 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 vs. 2–4 he states clearly that he does not wish this intermediate state and would avoid it if this is possible.  

To have “life” (verse 4) and to be “present with the Lord” (verse 8) thus necessitates having the “house … from heaven” (verse 2). Paul’s statements without doubt excludes any possibility of a state between death and the resurrection in which, as disembodied (“naked,” or “unclothed”) spirits, men go to be “present with the Lord.”  

The Intermediate State

Millions wrongly believe that the soul possesses a natural immortality but not even one time in the Bible is the soul referred to as being immortal or undying. According to God’s Word, man is mortal (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16).

The Bible tells us that when a person dies, he sleeps (John 11:11; Daniel 12:2; Psalm 13:3) in the grave until the great day of the Lord at the end of the world. In death, a person is totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind.

After death a person: returns to dust (Psalms 104:29), knows nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), possesses no mental powers (Psalms 146:4), has nothing to do with anything on earth (Ecclesiastes 9:6), does not live (2 Kings 20:1), waits in the grave (Job 17:13), and continues not (Job 14:1, 2) till the Resurrection (Revelation 22:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53) when he will be given his reward (Revelation 22:12).

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.

For more on the state of the dead, check: https://bibleask.org/bible-answers/112-the-intermediate-state/

Conclusion

Paul is simply saying, in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, that he is confident yes well pleased rather to be absent from the weaknesses of his earthly body (sickness, infirmities and death) and to have a glorified body. He 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,
BibleAsk Team

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