“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 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” (2 Cor. S: 1-8).
In any discussion of the state of the believer between death and resurrection it is absolutely necessary, if we are to be at all intelligent as to it, to realize something of the truth of these verses. The first thing that we need to have clear in our minds is that there is an outward man and in inward man. The two are not to be con- founded. There are materialists of different stripes who insist that the only man there is is the man that we can see from day to day, and that when death comes the entire man is laid away in the tomb, as some think, to remain in an unconscious sleep until the day of resurrection. But when we turn to the Word of God we do not find any such confusion of the outward with the inward man. The outward man is the physical man, the man that we see with the natural eye; the inward man is the man who dwells within this body, and that man we cannot see. I look over a great audience and I can see thousands of human forms, but I cannot see the inward man in any instance; I see only the outward. As you look up to the platform and see those of us standing or seated here, you are looking only at the tabernacles, the tabernacles of flesh in which we live.
You cannot really see us, for spirit is invisible to the natural eye. “The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” God is Spirit, and yet God is real. He “maketh His angels spirits” (Ps. 104:4), and yet angels are real. God is a Person; angels are personalities, and you and I are spirit personalities living for a little while in mortal bodies. But now see what we are told in the opening verses of this fifth chapter.
“We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved (that is, if this tenement of clay, this physical body passes away, even though it goes back to its native element, as is so often the case after being put away in the grave, if that should take place), we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Notice the distinction in every instance between ourselves and the houses in which we now live. Our earthly house is dissolving. Today I am looking into the faces of many who are growing old. It is a wonderful thing to grow old in Christ. Personally, I rejoice in every year that goes by. People say sometimes, “I don’t like getting old.” To be perfectly frank, I do, because I feel that every passing year is bringing me nearer the glory land, every passing year is bringing me nearer the time when I shall see the face of Him who loved me and gave Himself for me. Then too every passing year means just so much less conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and you know the Christian life is a conflict. How many temptations we have had to face! At times we have yielded, and other times through grace we have been enabled to overcome, but what a wonderful thing it will be when there is no more conflict, and no possibility of failure.
The old house is breakng down; with some of us the roof is thatched now with white hair, and we are reminded that day by day we shall soon move out unless Christ Himself returns. But we are not disheartened, we are not discouraged, for “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” My hope is brighter now than it ever was; my joy in Christ is greater than it has ever been; the world means less to me today than it has ever meant, and the applause of men means less. But the approval of the Lord means more than it has ever meant. I do not feel that I am getting old, it is just the body, the outward man that is perishing, just the old house that is breaking down. I am just as certain that I “have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” awaiting me, as I am that I am living in this tenement of clay, and that body will be like the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not enter that new body the moment I die. Some have thought that this scripture teaches that when we leave this world we find awaiting us in heaven a body that serves us between death and resurrection, and then in resurrection we shall have a glorified body that takes the place of this intermediate body. But the verse itself contradicts that thought. It says this house not made with hands abides “eternal in the heavens.” Between death and resurrection we pass out of the body and our pure spirits enter into the presence of the Lord.
“In this we groan.” That is a scripture I do not have to expound to you. You live it out; you know what it is to groan. There are many things to make us do so. Some of us used to groan in the bondage of sin, but though delivered from that, we are still groaning as we wait for a resurrection body. There are so many aches and pains and sorrows and sufferings. “In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” That is, we are yearning for the time when we shall have our new body, we are looking forward to resurrection or change at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.
But mark, even resurrection will not be a blessing if we are not robed in divine righteousness. And so the apostle puts in a word here lest people take it for granted that resurrection means salvation, for there shall be a “resurrection both of the just and unjust” (Acts 25:15), “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). And so he speaks of resurrection as a “clothing upon.” “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.” Writing to the church at Laodicea, where a great many who professed the name of the Lord were not really born again, the Saviour says, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). What a solemn thing it would be to stand before God as one risen from the dead and yet spiritually naked in His presence. You say, “Where can we find clothing suitable for the eyes of God?” It is that which He Himself provides. Isaiah says, “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10). And so in that day when we are raised from the dead or are changed by power divine, if we live to greet Him when He returns, we who have trusted Christ shall not be found naked, we shall be clothed in the righteousness of God.
“We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed,” we are not earnestly desiring to die, for that would not be a natural thing for any Christian. The Christian should not earnestly desire to die, and yet should be prepared for it, but he should also be prepared to live for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And then he says that he would rather live to be a help and blessing to other people. And so we hope “not for that we would be unclothed,” but we do long to be “clothed upon.” That is, we would like to live to the second coming of our Lord Jesus to get our resurrection body in that wonderful hour of His triumph, “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” And whether we live or die this is the final goal.
“Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” It is a settled thing with God that some day we are going to have glorified bodies, and as proof of this He has already given us His blessed Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and He is the earnest of the joy that shall be ours by-and-by when we gather in His presence in the Father’s house. Because of this assurance, “We are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” We have no doubt as we think of any eventuality, whether living until Christ comes or dying. Notice that expression, “At home in the body.” I (the real I) am living in this body; the body is my house, my temporary house. I am at home in the body but I am absent from the Lord. He is up there in the glory. True, He has given me His Holy Spirit, as we have just seen, and by Him He dwells within me, but actually I am absent from the Lord. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We take His word for it—faith is taking God at His word. We are living in the body, and are absent from the Lord, but, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” It will be even more blessed for us to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Here then in one verse we have summed up for us the believer’s state between death and resurrection. When death comes for the Christian, in that moment the believer is absent from the body and at home with Christ.
Observe, he does not go to sleep in the body. The “soul-sleepers” insist that in the hour of death the believer becomes absolutely unconscious and knows nothing until the resurrection. You may ask, But has he not scripture for that? Does not the Bible speak of those that “sleep in Jesus?” Does it not say, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51)? Is not sleep unconsciousness? Yes, for the body; it is the body that sleeps; but you see, when my body falls asleep in Jesus, I leave the body. Oh, you say, I cannot understand that. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith believes the Book, and it says, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of this in the first chapter of Philippians. Here we see Paul in prison in Rome, waiting to be summoned be- fore Nero, and he does not know what the outcome will be, whether he will be put to death or set free, and he writes to the Philippian friends and practically says, “Even if it were put up to me to choose, I do not know which I would desire, whether to die a martyr’s death or live a little longer;” but as he meditates upon it he says, “I really believe I would rather live a little longer and preach Christ to people.” “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (ver. 20). Is not that a lovely expression? I want Christ to be made large in my life; I do not want people to think a great deal of Paul but of Christ. I want to be used of God to make Christ seem great in the eyes of men and women, “that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” If I can glorify Christ better by living I want to live; if I can glorify Him better by dying I want to die. The only thing is, I want Christ to loom large in the eyes of people for whom He died. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” There is only one reason to live, and that is to glorify Jesus, and then if I die I will go to be with Jesus, so that will be better. “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” You cannot attach the thought of soul-sleep to that. If Paul thought of death as unconsciousness until the resurrection hour, he would have been in no dilemma. He would have said, “Since death is unconsciousness, I want to live as long as I can in order to preach Christ,” but he says, No; it would be better to die because it would mean to be with Christ.
How did he know it would be far better? Well, you say, he was an inspired apostle and the Lord revealed it to him. That is true, but there is more than that. The apostle Paul at one time had been permitted to have a certain experience which proved to him beyond the peradventure of a doubt that it is far better to be with Christ in heaven than to live for Him on earth. People often say, “We do not know anything about heaven. Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it is like.” But they are overlooking something. Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven, and He says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions (or abiding places).” Who are in those resting-places? All the saints who have gone on thus far. They are over yonder in the Father’s house. And then we have the testimony of this very man, the apostle Paul, for when we turn to the twelfth chapter of this epistle, we find him relating for us a most remarkable experience Which he passed through. When he went through this experience he was not conscious as to whether he was in the body or out of it. That is very interesting. Take our beloved friends who have died in Christ. We may sometimes think of them as in a very imperfect condition if their spirits are in heaven without the body, but Paul says, “If I was in the body I didn’t know it, and if I was out of it I didn’t miss it.” So our dear friends over yonder do not miss their bodies; they are perfectly intelligent and perfectly happy; they are really people even if out of the body. They are in heaven, in the royal garden, in paradise. They hear unspeakable things which it is not possible for a man to utter. Are they able to commune one with another? Oh, yes. Our blessed Lord has told us, even before the work of the cross was accomplished, of that rich man in Hades, who looked across the great gulf and saw Lazarus and talked with Abraham, and among the lost the rich man was a personality, never to be rich again but to be poor. We read of “spirits of just men made perfect.” What communion they have with each other over there! But the best of all is that they are with Christ.