Though life after death is one of the greatest mysteries in the world, there is no reason to make it more mysterious than it should be. After all, unlike Buddha, unlike Muhammad, unlike Hindus and Shirley McClain types who believe in reincarnation, our Lord Jesus and only Jesus of Nazareth maintained continuity between this life and the next by retaining His body and the continuity of His person. How do we know there is, in fact, life after death? How do we know there is a great communion of the living dead? It was not because we feel like it is so and not because we really wished it so, but because one man, Jesus of Nazareth, actually died at the hands of professional executioners and the very same person rose from the dead three days later and both told and showed us exactly what life after death is like. You could actually touch it by touching Him.
With the resurrection of the Christ the mystery of life after death became a lot less mysterious. It moved from the realm of conjecture and fantasy to a reality grounded in – of all things! – our human bodies. Our human bodies and permanence of person are the things which maintain continuity between this life and the next.
But that is not the way most of the world thinks. It is not the way even most Christians think. People tend to get dominated by a couple of non-Christian ways of thinking. For example, the Greeks thought of the soul being set free from every material constraint, especially the prison-house of the human body. Many Christians believe in this Neo-Platonic concept. Others, like Muslims, have so painted the next life in such physical terms, with streets paved with gold and scores of virgins, that again, escaping from this world means landing in a different one utterly dissimilar from this disposable world. To be sure, Paul does not deal here directly with these misconceptions. He had already given the Corinthians God’s basic teaching on the nature of the heavenly life in 1 Corinthians 15, and it is as simple as this: What is true of the Messiah is true of those united to Him. If He has been raised from the dead, so likewise shall we.
What is true of the Messiah is true of those united to Him. If He has been raised from the dead, so likewise shall we.
But in this passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul explains how “Heaven” is not merely the place we go to when we die, but rather the place where God has our future bodies already in store for us, as I believe N.T. Wright once put it. To make this point, Paul uses a couple of word-pictures to explain that the “unseen” things are already present in this world, but visible only to those whose inner nature is being renewed by the Holy Spirit. Such a theme ties in nicely with last week’s pericope lesson about “seeing” the unseen. Here, however, Paul wants to underscore the preservation of one’s personality into the next life. Individuality is retained in the body of Christ, even in the life to come. A person is not absorbed into Nirvana with their individuality extinguished like the snuffing out of a candle by the movement of the wind. The departed in Christ are the living dead. Since we cannot think of life at all apart from the body, Paul says believers will receive after death new bodies no longer strictly physical in nature but spiritual. They will be spiritual bodies which will have our transformed physical bodies added to them as they rise from the earth in the general resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. The point is transformation of the body empowered not by our soulish energies, but by the Holy Spirit of God Himself. Therefore, they will never decay or die, but will always be glorious – just like that of our Risen King.
It is naturally hard to describe because Christ is the first and only example. So, Paul constructs a couple of illustrations. First, Paul refers to the body as a “house” or “tent.” He uses this picture to contrast “tent” life here as life compared with that of the heavenly and eternal “house not made with hands.” Recall how Jesus speaks this way when He refers to a Temple made without hands (Mark14:58). “Temple” and “house” are synonymous in this context because the Jews called the Temple the “House of God.” Tents represent the insecurity and frailty of this bodily life. They are destroyed when we die, but Christians ought not fret since mansion-temples await us in Heaven and, further, Heaven will ultimately be upon the renewed Earth. There in Heaven, as the entire communion of saints awaits the return of Christ and the physical resurrection of our dead bodies, God will rebuild our lives in a totally secure and permanent fashion, but this time with some bling: Shiny, radiant bodies, reflecting the glory of the Lord. It brings to mind and sheds new light on the words of Christ in John 14: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a placed for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (verses 2-3).
Paul compares “tent” bodies to heavenly “temples” in order to say that the present, balding, fattening, wrinkling body can be and will be exchanged for a better one in due course, minus the extra chin or chins (whichever the case may be) and with no need to wax your legs or mustache. What is more, he says this to underscore the point that being embodied – having a body – matters to God and is a vital part of His redemption of our total persons and the world, and that that should matter deeply for Christians. We will have bodies, spiritual-physical bodies, beginning first with the spiritual body prepared for us in Heaven, which your departed loved ones are already enjoying, while you labor on the treadmill to get that jellyroll off your gut. There we will be clothed with the Holy Spirit in divine glory, fit to inhabit a transformed resurrection body. The dead in Christ are just one step ahead of us. What they wear, I believe, are those glorious white robes spoken of in Revelation. Meanwhile, we wear LL Bean.
[Being] embodied – having a body – matters to God and is a vital part of His redemption of our total persons and the world, and that that should matter deeply for Christians.
The first picture of “tents” and “houses or temples” is combined with the idea of the body as “clothing.” This enables Paul to say a similar thing from a different angle: To pass from this world to the next is like the putting off and putting on of clothes. The Christian hope for the future, then, is not about becoming disembodied but about being re-embodied, not de-humanized but through the resurrection re-humanized. Thus, we will not be “naked” before God or one another.
The resurrection of the body, then, will maintain some continuity to the present body but be quite different in other respects. So, the future is all about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting through embodied life. Consequently, Christians ought to forget about a “rapture” from the body to abide in a perpetual disembodied existence. That is not how the story ends. Instead, the next chapter in global duration is the one initiated by the general resurrection of the body. Look, therefore, for Christ’s return to transform the world, not for an escape from the world. Anticipate Heaven as a magnificent staging area for the global invasion of Christ’s gloriously-robed saints, who are looking to come back here, stomp some devilish-butt, and rejoin their physical natures and rule and reign with Christ on earth in a kingdom without sin, without tears, without litter and graffiti, and without any of the kingdoms of this world.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17).