Part One

By John Aldworth

Published Dec. 28 2014

2 Cor. 5:1—9: 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 had wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who hath also 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 present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour that whether present or absent we may be accepted of the Lord.

Verse 8 of this passage is lynch pin for the popular but wrong teaching that at  death a believer goes consciously and immediately to be with the Lord. Calvinists, for example, being mostly Preterists, hold that to be ‘absent from the body’ means to be spiritually ‘present with the Lord’. And this misinterpretation has spilled over to affect almost all of Christendom. But how can this view be true when, to be present with the Lord, would require immortality, and 1 Tim. 6:16 firmly states that as of now the Lord Jesus Christ alone hath immortality?

What’s more our Lord, when on earth, made clear that ‘no man hath ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is heaven’ (John 3:13). Since his words cannot pass away this statement must still be true today in the present dispensation of grace. Consequently there are no believers alive in heaven as yet, which is why we eagerly await the coming day of Christ and his ‘appearing’ to ‘judge the quick and the dead’ (2 Tim. 4:1). This is when He will give immortality (through resurrection) to those He judges worthy of that enormous privelege. 

Flying in the face of such scriptural truths as these, Christendom at large erroneously maintains that believers already have ‘immortality’ and consequently upon physical death are supposedly ‘spiritualised’ straight to heaven. But careful study will show that actually scripture knows nothing of a purely spiritual resurrection. To the contrary, the bible always insists on a future bodily resurrection, whether that be of a ‘terrestrial’ nature, the body fitted to believers in the earthly calling to live down here below, or of a ‘celestial’ form, the body like Christ’s in which believers of the heavenly calling, will ‘appear with Him’ in glory (1 Cor. 15: 40 and Col. 3:4).

If that is so then clearly then the true understanding of 2nd Cor. 5:1-9 has eluded most Christians. Fact is the real meaning has been undermined by the devil’s lie that ‘you shall not surely die’ (Gen. 3:3-4) but, according to him, live on as a soul after death. Such transmigration of souls to ‘a better place’ was the persistent belief of paganism, both in Babylon and Egypt. And because it was pagan this serpent’s lie was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Roman Catholic Church. What’s more, incredibly, the Reformers adopted it too. Like the Pope, they did not bother to read what scripture actually says on the subject, but instead believed the pagan superstition of a supposedly ‘immortal’ soul. This, despite Ezek. 18:20 saying that the ‘soul that sinneth it shall die’ - not live on - and Eccl. 9:5 insisting that the ‘the dead know nothing’. The truth then is that the dead, short of resurrection, know neither supposed torment in hell nor bliss in heaven, as the devil’s doctrine would claim they do. Quite simply, those that trust in God when alive, ‘sleep in Jesus’; those that don’t ‘perish’ without trace when they die.

Fact is that only those saved by grace and chosen in the Lord, who have also ‘continued in the (scriptural) faith and not been moved away from the hope of the (grace) gospel’ (Col. 2:22-23), can be sure of being resurrected in a new body to appear when ‘Christ who is our life appears in glory’, that in is in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).  If you believe with John Calvin that you can get to heaven in a bodiless, purely spiritual transition then you, like him, have indeed been ‘moved away from the hope of the gospel’ for grace-saved believers today. It is important to realise that no such hope of resurrection to heaven existed for the Corinthian believers at the time of the epistle’s writing because the dispensation of grace and the mystery – which is ‘Christ in you (Gentiles) the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27) – had yet to be revealed to the Apostle Paul and then proclaimed by him to ‘all men’.

So, if in 2nd Cor. 5:1-9 souls were not expecting to go to heaven and not to be getting a new body to do so (because their hope was instead to be resurrected to life on earth) then just what did these verses mean to them at the time of writing? I believe they pointed them to an age to come in which they would ‘tabernacle’ with God in a new house of God’s building here upon earth, in keeping with the terrestrial promises made to Israel to which Gentiles in the Acts period ‘church of God’ were made part by being included in the Abrahamic covenant.

Careful study shows that the chapter, far from speaking of believers being spiritually whisked to heaven as in ‘absent from the body, present from the Lord’, talks of their being clothed with immortality while living on earth. Remember theirs is an earthly calling; their destiny to live forever on earth. By contrast the heavenly calling of the prison epistles predestines grace-saved believers to the heavenlies as their future and permanent home (Eph. 2:6, Phil. 3:20, Col. 3:3-4).

What’s more, I submit that the passage does not speak mainly of the individual bodies of believers, but rather primarily of the collective house or tabernacle in which they then lived, contrasted with a new dispensational arrangement in which they would live in a blessed time to come. In other words they were to await a resurrection day that would bring them to life back on earth in a future time.

Accordingly, in verses 1 and 2 the ‘earthly house’ is contrasted with the ‘house from heaven’, not ‘in heaven’, note. And in neither case does ‘house’ mean the individual human body, resurrected or otherwise. Rather ‘house’ (Gk. oikia) is used in the same sense as it is in Matt. 12:4 of ‘the house of God’, in John 14:2 ‘my Father’s house’ and in 2 Tim. 2:20 as ‘a great house’. This ‘house’ then describes the ‘church of God’, the Acts period out calling of both Jew and Greek to salvation in Christ. It also, I suggest, refers to the iconic physical temple still standing in Jerusalem at the time but which was shortly to be destroyed or dissolved by the Roman army in 70AD. The temple was indeed the ‘house of this tabernacle’ in that it actually housed the Ark of the Covenant which long ago had stood in David’s Tabernacle.     

Did that have special dispensational significance in the Acts period? It certainly did. The ‘Tabernacle of David’ is the precise phrase used by James, leader of the Jerusalem church, in Acts 15:14-17, to describe the Pentecostal dispensation out calling of Gentiles:

As it is written, after this I will return and will build again the Tabernacle of David which is fallen down: and I will build again the ruins thereof and I will set it up … That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord who doeth all these things.

This is the tabernacle in which ‘the Jew first but also the Greek’ trusting in Christ (Rom. 1:16) found their ‘habitation in the Spirit’ while on earth in the Acts period. The Apostle Peter also describes this divine but temporary dispensational arrangement as a ‘tabernacle’ in 2 Peter 13-14, contrasting it with his own body which he distinguishes from it by calling it ‘my tabernacle’. Actually this verse is the only one in scripture that calls the human body a ‘tabernacle’. In more than 100 other verses the word describes a dwelling place of God among the people (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:6).

Scripture reveals the important fact that the only furniture in the Old Testament Tabernacle of David was the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat, thus giving open and unimpeded access to the presence of God Himself.  It was a house of mercy and righteousness (Isaiah 16:5).There was no altar of sacrifice, no laver for penitential water baptism, not even a golden altar for incense.

Worship was by way of song and praise for God’s mercy, not washings and animal sacrifices; hence the large body of psalms written for tabernacle services. Importantly, this unrestricted approach to God through mercy and not through law, as still rigorously maintained in the tabernacle of Moses still present in tent form in Israel at that time, was extended widely to Gentiles. There were numerous Gentiles in David’s army and thousands more were employed in the building of Solomon’s temple.

Now most everybody knows that fire from heaven fell on Elijah’s altar of burnt offering on Mt Carmel and that fire from heaven also fell to consume the burnt offerings at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. But few realise that fire from heaven also fell on the altar David built on the Jerusalem mountain top threshing floor he bought from the Jebusite Gentile, Ornan. David built the altar at God’s command to halt the plague that had killed 70,000 men of Israel as a result of David’s sin in numbering Israel (1 Chron. 21:17-26).

When this sacrifice stayed the avenging angel’s sword David declared the threshing floor site the ‘altar of burnt offering for all Israel’. And after David’s death Solomon built Israel’s first temple upon it and placed the Ark of the Covenant and the other tabernacle furniture in the Tabernacle of Moses within it. Importantly, Gentiles played a major role in the temple’s construction. David gathered ‘together the strangers of the land’ (i.e. Gentiles) and set them to work hewing wrought stones to ‘build the house of God’. And Solomon employed Hiram King of Tyre to supply timber and artisans to complete the work.

In this way the tabernacle became the temple. What’s more in the Acts period the then temple served as the physical earthly ‘house’ for both Israel and Gentile converts to her Messiah. The early church met in it and, as late as Acts 21 and following, the temple was still the focus for law-keeping Jews trusting Jesus as their Messiah ( Acts 21:26). Thus it was still ‘our house of the tabernacle’ when the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. Indeed the temple was still at that time the physical meeting place for the Jerusalem church. And spiritually it was the iconic ‘house of the tabernacle’ for both Jewish and Gentile believers in the resurrected Messiah. Thus as the ‘Jerusalem below’ it officially recognised God’s extension of the Jewish salvation to Gentiles, a process that James described as ‘building again the tabernacle of David’, as we have seen.

If you doubt this view, then a study of Hebrews nine, written during the same period should convince you. This chapter gives a detailed description of the ‘greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building’ (Heb. 9:11) which even then was to replace the physical temple in the hearts and minds of Messiah-saved believers.  With their faith now pitched on a spiritual experience of Christ’s ongoing ministry in this heavenly sanctuary then accordingly their hope of life after death lay in seeing this heavenly tabernacle descend to earth as the ‘New Jerusalem’ (Rev. 21: 1-3). 

But in mid-Acts there came a division of believers into separate Jewish and Gentile churches, though both remained under the overall umbrella of the ‘Tabernacle of David’. Gal. 2:7-9 and Acts 15 record the historic agreement to so separate, made by a church-wide Jerusalem conference of apostles and elders. The apostles shook hands on a pact that saw the Apostle Paul and Barnabas ‘go unto the heathen’ and James, Peter and John restrict their ministry ‘unto the circumcision’. The gospel to the Gentiles preached by the Apostle Paul now became the gospel of freedom from law and Jewish ceremonies, while the gospel of the circumcision allowed the Jerusalem church to continue to keep the law and take part in temple rituals (Acts 21:17-26).

Not surprisingly, this situation of two separate gospels, one the ‘gospel of the circumcision’ to the Jews and the markedly different ‘gospel of the uncircumcision’ to the Gentiles led to ongoing discrimination against the ‘uncircumcised heathen’ by the Jewish church.

So much so that Paul had to describe Jerusalem and its temple in Gal. 4:24-26 as ‘Jerusalem which now is and is in bondage with her children’. And to halt the Galatians’ headlong fall from the gospel of free salvation through faith in Christ’s death into Jewish law keeping, Paul had to point them instead to ‘the Jerusalem which is above, is free and is the mother of us all’ as their ultimate destination. There can be little doubt he had in mind the same spiritual realm of residence that he describes as ‘a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ in 2 Cor. 5:1.

Put all this altogether, and it becomes clear that when Paul says ‘…if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” he is warning of the dissolution of the Acts period dispensation under which the gospel of God had gone ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’. The Pentecostal ‘church of God’ under the umbrella of the ‘Tabernacle of David’ would dissolve, i.e. ‘melt with fervent heat’, he warned.

Note that the Greek word for ‘dissolve’ is used twice in 2 Peter 3:12-13 being translated ‘melt; and ‘dissolve’. I would submit therefore that its usage there refers to the same event Paul warned of, namely the setting aside of Israel along with the Tabernacle of David and in the total destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70AD. In Acts 28:28 salvation was ‘sent to the Gentiles’ and in the aftermath the whole prophetic programme and its fulfilment through Israel was put on hold. The Acts period ‘church of God’ was dissolved, Jerusalem destroyed, and their place taken in the merciful dispositions of God by dispensation of the grace of God given to the Apostle Paul for the Gentiles. 

Small wonder then that with this apocalyptic upheaval just ahead the Corinthians were urged to ‘earnestly desire’ to be ‘clothed upon with the ‘house from heaven’, the New Jerusalem, ‘the mother of us all, that existed for both Jews and Gentiles in the Acts ‘church of God’ out calling. Without such a covering they would indeed have been left ‘unclothed’ and ‘naked’ because at that time  the truth of the heavenly ‘high calling of God in Christ Jesus’, the dispensation of the grace of God and the mystery, was still ‘hid in God’ and undisclosed to men.

Further evidence that the New Jerusalem was indeed the true eschatological hope of all Acts period believers who trusted in Christ is found in Revelation 21:2-3:

And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying behold the tabernacle of God is with men and He will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God Himself shall be with them and be their God.

Note that this is also the ‘city … whose builder and maker is God’ (Heb. 11:10) that Abraham looked for. Gentiles saved in the ‘church of God’ during the Acts period entered into that promise of an eternal earthly city come down from heaven as part of being ‘blessed with faithful Abraham’ (Gal. 3:9).

Today of course no such promise applies to grace dispensation believers, who look for no city on earth but who are already positionally ‘seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6). In the Day of Christ that heavenly position will be fully realized for those ‘risen with Christ’, for they will ‘appear with Him’ when Christ Himself ‘appears in glory’ (Col. 3:1-4). ’

That much said, clearly several further questions remain to be addressed in 2 Cor. chapter five and in determining its real meaning for the Corinthians to whom it was written.  A subsequent study will seek to address these.

©John Aldworth, November 2014.



By John Aldworth

Published Feb. 22, 2015

2 Cor. 5:6-9: 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 and not by sight). We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour that whether present or absent we may be accepted of Him. 

Heb. 13:13: Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

What does it mean to be ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord’? The commonly accepted view is that it means to be absent from one’s individual body and present (in a new individual, personal and spiritual body) with the Lord in heaven. But I would beg to differ.

A very different meaning emerges if you put the verse back in its Acts period Pentecostal dispensation context where believers, Jew and Gentile alike, were joined to the ‘Israel of God’ in one body and were seeking to ‘enter the kingdom through much tribulation’ (Acts 14:22).

The key to grasping this is understanding that for the remnant of Israel and the Gentiles who joined them, life in the Acts period ‘Church of God’ was a collective experience. Believers were called and baptised into one body, they were sanctified as one body, experienced the Spirit as one body and expected to be resurrected as one body. Nobody thought of being called, saved or experiencing Christ, still less entering the kingdom as a ‘lone ranger’, that is through purely individual experience.

Yet in Christendom today, nearly 2000 years later, 2 Cor. 5:6-9 is widely interpreted as meaning a personal resurrection to heaven, even though heaven is not mentioned in the verse. Thus, ignoring the seven-fold use of the word ‘we’ in the verse, people persist in reading it as though it meant ‘I’ or ‘me’ when patently it does not.

What’s more it is dispensationally inappropriate. Resurrection into a new earthly life as promised to the Acts period Corinthians Paul wrote to, has been superseded for grace-saved believers of today by the heavenly resurrection referred to in Phil.3:11 and Col. 3:4.

But how can we tell that the ‘body’ referred to means the assembly of believers as a whole, and not the individual body? Because Paul here uses ‘we’ and ‘our’ to describe it, as opposed to his use of strictly individual terms when describing every one judged at the judgement seat of Christ as receiving ‘the things in his body’ (2 Cor. 5:10), for example.

Refusing to recognise that in 2 Cor. 5:6-9 an earthly and collective resurrection experience for the whole of body saints known as the ‘Church of God in the Acts period is being talked about (rather than the prospect of heavenly resurrection held out to those whose hope is in the grace and mystery revelation given to Paul and outlined in his prison epistles), millions upon millions wrongly see these verses as their personal entry ticket to glory. This is despite the fact that today all believers live in what is a very different dispensation, that of grace and the mystery (Eph. 3:1-4).

Being ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord’ cannot be the entry ticket to heaven for the following reasons. Firstly, going to heaven is not mentioned in the passage, though the hope of receiving ‘a house from heaven’ is.

What’s more there is not a single verse in either the gospels or the epistles of the Acts period that talks of anyone going to heaven, still less explains how one might do so. Only in the prison epistles of the Apostle Paul (Ephesians to Philemon) are those saved by grace promised a place in the ‘heavenlies’ and told they will get there by being changed to be one with Christ at his ‘appearing’ (Col. 3:1-4).

Secondly, the prospect of being present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-9) was presented as a one-time collective event that apparently was only for believers of the Acts calling. It was described as ‘our gathering together unto Him’ in 2 Thess. 2:1 and as coming to the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ in Heb. 12:22.

Again it must be stressed that this gathering together wasn’t to be made up of believers going to heaven. Rather it was a gathering to accompany the Lord at his return to earth, that is at his Second Coming. Far from a home in the heavenlies, these saints longed to be with their Messiah in the ‘New Jerusalem’ on earth. This is why the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatian believers that the ‘Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all’ (Gal. 4:26).

It is why in Rev. 21:2 the Apostle John foresaw ‘the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned from her husband’. Note that this city is to come down from heaven to believers down here below; they are not to go up to it.

Thirdly, 2 Cor. 5:6-9 is not applicable to those called to salvation in the subsequent and still current dispensation of grace which superseded the Pentecostal dispensation at the end of the Book of Acts.

Frankly, it is the ‘selfie’ theology of today that interprets 2 Cor. 5:6-9 as meaning an individual experience of ‘going home to be with the Lord’. That is certainly not what it meant to the Corinthian Jews and Gentile believers in Christ to whom Paul wrote.  

Indeed, the actual meaning of this verse has long been obscured by a selfish interest in having one’s personal soul whisked to heaven without a bodily resurrection. But, contrary to such erroneous popular teaching, the verse actually speaks of a collective experience of the Lord’s presence. It is ‘we’, not ‘I’, still less ‘me’, that were to be willing to be ‘absent from the body’.

Paul here is not speaking to any believer individually but, as is his wont, to a collective body as a whole. Remember too he is writing as a Hebrew to both to Jews and to Gentiles who have been ‘graffed in’ to Israel’s salvation and her hope of national resurrection (Ezek. 37:12, Acts 24:15, 28:20, 1 Thess. 4:15-17).

This is why in 1 Cor. 10:1 he tells both Jews and Gentiles in the church at Corinth that ‘all our fathers’, were ‘under the cloud and passed through the sea’, speaking of the children of Israel being led through the wilderness.

How can Gentiles possibly call ancient Israelites in the desert ‘all our fathers’, when they had no natural descent such people, you ask? The next study in this series will attempt to answer that question.

©John Aldworth, February 2015.

To be continued