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OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

The Believer's Confident Assurance upon Death (14)

2 Corinthians 5: 1-8 (NKJV)

 Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Introduction

In the face of multiple sufferings in the will of God, Paul with the buoyancy of faith lays out for us his open secret for the believer -"Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1: 27). It is not a vain hope or a future illusion, but the object of our faith as we fix our eyes on things which are eternal.  Paul sees the reality of our bodily resurrection as another strong motivation for our walk and ministry.

The certainty of the believer's future is an anchor sure and steadfast. It is ballast for the storms of life and ministry.  It is God's supreme answer to one of the basic demands of the human heart: Who am I? Where did I come from? lastly, Where am I going? While the worldling can only vainly hope, the believer in our passage is more than assured of his glorious future calling. His mind and heart are set at ease.

Death, the Dismantling of our Tent, offset by our Hope       2 Corinthians 5:1

Paul was a tentmaker and so uses his occupation to describe graphically what could be his pending death. He had just spoken of the Asian experience: "we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life" (1:8).  The tent, the standard symbol of the Middle East, was a remainder of the transience of life; at best we are only "sojourners" here (1 Peter 1:17). We can claim no permanent residence ever.

And yet God's glory was housed in a tent in the wilderness. The eternal Son, however, "tented" among us and "we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).  God as always transforms the earthly into the heavenly.

The sharp contrast of the fragile tent with a "building eternal in the heavens" was anticipated by the context in 2 Corinthians  4:17; "for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."We catch a glimpse of the buoyancy of Paul's faith. Death holds no sting for him or for the believer who walks in the grace of his union with Christ.

God's evaluation and destiny of the body

But there is a truth here that we must grasp. The prevalent Greek culture as personified in Plato, the great Greek philosopher (428-348 BC), was the worldview of Paul's age. Its main thrust was the preeminence of the spirit incarcerated in an earthly body. The body had no real value, rather was an obstacle to the spirit. Such a belief ran counter the Hebrew view of the body. The body was a creation of God and as such had the potential of eternal worth. "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Genesis 1: 31).

The fall of man did not alter the value of the body, rather it enhanced the body's role in that Christ would take a body;  in his true humanity would redeem man and provide for a resurrected body. "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14,15). Life in the body now takes on a new perspective, the value of the body and the glorious future that is its destiny in Christ.

 A Realistic View of the Believer who "Sleeps in Jesus"   2 Corinthians 5: 2-4

Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15: 26 Paul had said "The last enemy that will be destroyed (annulled, rendered  void - "katargeo") is death."This is the same verb used above in Hebrew 2:14 and in Romans 6:6 with regard to our sin nature.  Jesus transformed the concept of death from separation to sleep for the believer. There can surely be nor greater reversal of value.

However, sin made its entrance in the Garden of Eden. Paul states is clearly: "Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12). The physical body was now dust to dust. Nevertheless the body becomes the temple of the Spirit in the believer. The body becomes "the casket of the hope of glory"[i] "Now the body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power . . . But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6: 13,14, 17).

Salvation in Christ consecrates the body. We are called to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1, 2). While the body, in a sense, remains secondary to the spirit, it is the object of the benediction: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

While the assured hope remains, the believer does yearn, earnestly look forward to being "covered upon" with a heavenly "overcoat" until we are granted the glorious body when Christ returns for his church and reigns forever.  Paul reminds us that this is the order of the day.  "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 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" (Romans 8:22, 23).

Anyone approaching the age of earth's reality knows the human anxiety facing the unknown, the unnatural, the separation of the spirit and soul from the body. For that reason death is the last enemy but a conquered foe. Conflicted by such a confrontation, Paul is our best spokesman: "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 in life" (5:4).

Death is the temporary unclothing of the believer.  That nakedness was initially covered by Jehovah's covering of Adam and Eve with tunics of skin (Genesis 3:21). Paul insinuates that upon the death of the believer, there is a covering, more literally in Greek an over-robe (John 21:7 same word –Moule, p.36)[ii] for the disembodied spirit awaiting that day of his appearing.

But such a temporary condition was prophesied by Isaiah earlier." He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8). "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes, (Hosea 13:14).  What a consolation that Old Testament saints  shared in the power of the Cross!

An Additional Triumphant Assurance    2 Corinthians 5:5-8

Paul adds a new guarantee to the believer's anticipation of death. "Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has also given us the Spirit as a guarantee" (5: 5).  As if the above were not enough, Paul reminds us of the glorious truth that the gift of the Spirit in regeneration becomes the down payment on our final salvation. 

Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with a paean of praise: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with very spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1: 3) At the close of this Trinitarian Doxology, he outlines from eternity past to eternity future the role of the Trinity and concludes each paragraph with the overriding reason for such grace - to the praise of the glory of his grace (1: 6, 12, 14):  the role of the Father is highlighted in 1:1- 6, the role of the Son in 6b-12 and finally the role of the Spirit in 13,14.  He concludes with the specific ministry of the Spirit: ". . . you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory" (1:14).

The Holy Spirit becomes the actual down payment on our having been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18, 19).  God's word and God's bond end all doubt or future fear.  With that in mind Paul goes on to say that we are always confident knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  He will later repeat this truth to underscores its relevance in verse 8.

Death, then, is an inconsequential fact. Because as he says "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). This is then a win/win situation. Seldom in life are we faced with such a win/win situation.  In the ultimate reality of this life, Christ comes through with the final payment, already ours in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

A Blessed Aside or Parenthesis          2 Corinthians 5:7

In my Spanish Bible which is my area of missionary interest, verse 7 comes as a parenthesis, a blessed parenthesis indeed.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  Bishop Moule describe the Christian walk by his paraphrase "we are walking, living and acting by means of faith, by reliance on an unseen promise, and not by means of Object Visible." (Moule, p.35). Verse 7 is by no means an afterthought but rather the concise expression of the Christian life.

I have often said that the Christian life in its entirety can be summed upon on the human side by the thrice repeated statement of Habakkuk: "the just shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2: 4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3: 11 and Hebrews 10: 38).  To walk by faith defines the Christian life, It is the undergirding truth and the overarching truth.  Faith brings God to us in the fullness of salvation. A faithful God will carry us through the trials of ministry and the ultimate summons to our eternal bliss.

Yours in the Message of the Cross

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

   all exegetical studies on www.kneillfoster.com  Click on name or photo.



[i] Handley C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (London: Pickering & Inglis.) 1962, p.36.

 Ibid, p. 38.