What It Means To Be Absent From the Body
People have probably heard the eulogist read 2 Corinthians 5:8 at funerals that says, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
In order to understand that scripture, it is important to know two things:
- something about the author
- the context of the scripture
Paul, like other writers of the Bible, wrote in their own vernacular. Paul was a tent maker who knew a lot about tents especially that the structures are not set up to last forever. Like our bodies, tents serve a temporary purpose before they are taken down.
Secondly, Paul just didn't pull the scripture out of the air and it appeared in 2 Corinthians 5:8 without it being connected to other things he had said previously. It is always good to read what comes before a particular scripture and what comes after that scripture.
Therefore, in order to understand what Paul meant, it is wise to go back to what he said in 2 Corinthians 4 where he first started talking about the resurrection of the body. Therefore, what he said in 2 Corinthians 5 is part of an earlier teaching.
"The Earthly Tent"
Paul refers to the physical body as the "earthly tent" as he discusses the resurrection of the body and the transformation of the spirit. He taught that death ushers the spirit of the believer immediately into the very presence of the Lord which is a fuller and much higher realm. For the Christian, the very moment he takes his last breath on earth, his spirit goes to be at rest with God. That's why it is better to be absent from the body.
The writer of 13 books of the New Testament discusses this concept in other passages he wrote.
- Indeed, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
- While we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6).
- Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:52, " In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
- According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." This is the rapture even though the Bible never mentions that word.
In order to be present with the Lord, we must be saved before we die and before Jesus returns. While we are alive in this physical life, we are absent from the presence of the Lord.
About 2 Corinthians 4
Before we get to the scripture that most people are familiar with about being absent from the body, we should know that Paul started the conversation back in 2 Corinthians 4 when he was discussing the temporal nature and struggles of his own life. In 2 Corinthians 4:14, he says as Christians, we can have hope because God will raise us from the dead just as He raised Jesus from the dead.
Paul made it clear that he was not afraid of death because something much better awaited him. He was expressing his confidence that he would be resurrected from the dead just as Jesus was resurrected as an example for Christians.
The physical body dies, but the spirit lives on in the presence of God. The body will be resurrected when Jesus returns.
Timeline of Events
- We live and move and have our being in a body (our earthly tent).
- When we take our last breath on earth, it goes back to God who gave it to us when we were born.
- At the exact time of death, the body and the spirit separate.
- The body goes to the grave and returns to dust.
- When the rapture comes, the dead in Christ will unite with the living in Christ and meet Jesus in the air. The unsaved dead bodies will stay in their graves and the unsaved living ones will remain on earth.
- The dead in Christ will be resurrected from the dead, even those whose bodies were destroyed in fires, airplane crashes and in the 911 tragedies. Those in Christ whose bodies were cremated will also be in the group.
- The resurrection of the body comes later when Jesus returns, but the spirit goes to God immediately. In fact, by the time funerals and memorial services take place, the spirit of the saved is already with God while loved ones are grieving in the pews.