I was at the funeral of a Christian friend the other day and the minister said the deceased is now “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord.” He had taken these words from the Apostle Paul in Second Corinthians 5:6 and 8. Aiming to share comfort with the family and friends, he was applying these verses to the popular belief that our deceased friend was now in a disembodied state, in heaven.
Now, before I give you my views on these verses, I do want to credit this minister for showing concern and care for the family. He appears to be a very compassionate man and dedicated to serving the Lord. And he did share some nice thoughts in his funeral message. Yet, if there’s one thing I would have to take issue with it’s that nothing was said about the greatest comfort we can give to those in grief—the hope of the resurrection and the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, this minister missed a golden opportunity to share a wonderful truth with the many persons who were present—a packed, standing-room-only-crowd that spilled all the way out the door. The wonderful truth I wished they would have heard is that when Paul gave these words in Second Corinthians, he was talking about the resurrection when Jesus comes to give eternal life to all believers, and not about living on in heaven at death.
To put it all in context, here is what the Apostle Paul said in Second Corinthians 5:1-9, according to the Emphatic Diaglott (Benjamin Wilson, The Abrahamic Faith Beacon Publishing Society, Inc., Miami; and The Christadelphian Advancement Trust, Surrey, England, 2004 ed.):
 For we know, That if the tent of our earthly dwelling be taken down, we have a building from God, a house not made by hands, aionian, in the heavens.  For indeed, in this we are groaning, earnestly desiring to be invested with that habitation of ours which is from heaven;  and surely, having been invested, we shall not be founded destitute.  For, indeed, those being in the tent are groaning, being oppressed; in which we desire not to be divested, but invested, that the mortal may be absorbed by life.  Now he who has produced us for this same thing is that God who had given to us the pledge of the Spirit.  Therefore, being always confident, and knowing that being at home in the body, we are from home, away from the Lord;  (for we are walking by faith, not by sight;)  but we are confident, and well-pleased rather to be separated from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.  And therefore we are very ambitious, whether being at home, or being from home, to be acceptable to him.
The reason we can say that these verses apply to future resurrection and not going to heaven at death is because Paul is speaking of a time when “the mortal may be absorbed [swallowed up] by life,” (v. 4). Paul uses similar words in First Corinthians 15:51-54:
 Behold, I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall 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 shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The Apostle Paul is clearly referring to the coming of Christ at the resurrection when believers who are “asleep” in their graves will be awakened to life. Death is an unconscious sleep where the brain and nervous system cease to function as well as the entire body which returns to the dust from whence it was made (Gen. 3:19; Psalm 13:3; 17:5; 146:4; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20; 9:5-6; 1 Thess. 4:16-18). Therefore, one cannot experience any awareness in the state of death. But when Jesus comes he will raise the dead and then they will come back to life and consciousness, just as Lazarus when Jesus raised him from death (John 11). In essence, our Christian friend is now resting in peace in death until the Lord returns. So, how does this point factor into the verses to which the ministered referred?
A closer look at Second Corinthians 5 reveals that in verse 8 Paul does not say that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord as is commonly construed. Rather, it says, “to be separated from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.” These two descriptions are not equivalent. In the same token, you will also note that Paul does not state that his desire is to go “home” to heaven at death.
Paul is actually speaking of our mortal human body as he likens it to, “the tent of our earthly dwelling,” (v. 1). Paul was very familiar with taking down tents as his vocation included tent making (Acts 18:3). Perhaps he was also alluding to the holy tabernacle in the wilderness when this tent-like structure was dismantled and erected as the people moved from place to place. The tabernacle was where God’s presence dwelt as it was filled with his power and glory. In time, the temple of God replaced the tabernacle. Interestingly, Paul speaks of our bodies as being “the temple of God” in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 6:19).
In this present mortal life, the earthly tent of our bodies “groan” due to sin and suffering (v. 2). We long to have our mortality absorbed, “swallowed up” with life—that is, clothed with immortality and incorruption (cp. 1 Cor. 15:54). We do not have immortal souls now but believers will be changed into immortal souls when that “aionian” or “age-lasting” life is received at resurrection. This is the change Job anticipated as he looked ahead to his resurrection to life (Job 14:12-14).
Our heaven-like “building” is not complete yet. That is to say, as long as Christ is still in heaven we are “at home” now in our mortal human body but “away from the [eternal] home” that Jesus is preparing for us. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you…and if I go, I will return that where I am, you will be with me also…” (John 14:1-4). Our true “home” we are from is yet future since Christ is preserving a place for believers to inherit in the coming kingdom on earth.
(PLEASE NOTE: Compare also Revelation 21:1-8 where God will come down, along with the New Jerusalem, and “tabernacle” with the saved. This is a future time when believers will literally be in the presence of God himself. It is not describing heaven at death.)
Paul was correct when he spoke of being “absent from the body,” for when believers enter the kingdom of God at Jesus’ coming they will no longer have mortal, corrupt bodies. Rather, they will be “present with the Lord” having received immortal and incorrupt bodies filled with glory and power just as Jesus when he was resurrected from death (Philippians 3:20-21).
As I think about that minister’s funeral message, I can’t help but remember how Paul used the comfort of the resurrection to instill genuine comfort in us whenever we face the loss of ones we love: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words,” (1 Thess. 4:18). May these words ring true for us!
Good News to you!