1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The first few verses of chapter 5 are some of the most difficult to interpret in 2 Corinthians. Some things are very clear, but others are challenging to interpret. Nevertheless, this is a vital passage for Christians to understand their future in heaven. One day we will close our eyes here and then wake up in glory.
Verses 1-10 assure us of resurrection. In the previous chapter, Paul referred to our hope or “weight of glory.” Chapter 5 specifies that our hope lies in the resurrection. Chapter 4 indicates that our physical body is in the process of “wasting away” (2 Co 4:16). The thrust of 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 is that, in adversity, the focus should be on eternal things, not temporal things.
1 For we know
“For” explains 2 Corinthians 4:17. Affliction leads to eternal glory. This is not something the gospel team wished would happen but something they knew would be real. “We know” indicates that the gospel team was confident about what would be their future in heaven. It was not a matter of speculation or assumption. This was knowledge that came from divine revelation. It was knowledge that could not come by experience or intuition.
that if [uncertain] our earthly house, this tent [temporary dwelling],
Paul used a metaphor for our physical body of striking a tent. Tents are temporary places of residence. Jesus “tabernacled” (tented) in this world with a human body. “Earthly” in this context means temporal, as in mortal body.
The use of “if” here implies that the team did not know when their bodies would die. They knew that death was inevitable.
is destroyed [dismantled],
The picture is that of dismantling a tent. It is an image of the body falling apart in death. There is a point when the physical body comes to an end by death. The word “destroyed” can carry the idea of striking or taking down a tent. Death is the end of the temporary existence of the human body (2 Pe 1:12-15). Death is the most-feared enemy.
we have a building [permanent dwelling]
Changing from the metaphor of a tent, Paul moved to that of a building of eternal structure (1 Co 15:35-58). This is an eternally permanent building that God gives when we enter heaven.
The “have” here is a present tense with a future meaning. The idea is to possess heaven as our own in time; it is the permanency of having an immortal body.
God is its architect. He designs the resurrection body. The believer does not receive this building from God at the moment he dies. The Christian does not get his resurrection body until the Rapture (1 Th 4:13-18). However, his soul goes immediately into the presence of God, where he has conscious fellowship with the Lord.
a house not made with hands,
Human beings cannot construct a resurrection body. This is something only God can do.
eternal in the heavens.
Our eternal body is not temporary, like our present physical body, which is subject to corruption and not enduring. The future body of the believer will be an immortal, imperishable body (1 Co 15:42, 52-54). The words “eternal in the heavens” cannot describe a temporary, interim body that Christians will receive after death, as some believe. The believer will receive a permanent body (eternal), a spiritual body (not made with hands), and a heavenly form of existence (heavens). This is the resurrection body (Ro 8:11; 2 Co 4:14).
The bodily resurrection will occur at Christ’s return (Php 3:20-21; 1 Th 4:15-17). The focus in this verse is on the intermediate state of the believer before he receives his permanent, eternal body. Chapter 5 does not differentiate the eternal from the intermediate state. Since the intermediate state is not the final status of our body, Paul placed emphasis here on the permanent state after the Rapture. The last verse of this section (2 Co 5:10) focuses on what will happen after the Rapture—the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is the final evaluation of the believer before God ushers him or her into eternity.
Once we receive the resurrection body, it will never leave us like our present body. When the Christian dies, it is a commencement. It is a time of celebration.
The Christian will have an immortal, spiritual, resurrection body in heaven.
It is one thing to come to terms with our mortality, but it is another to anticipate an entirely new body and life. Death is not invincible to the Christian. Jesus defeated death’s power in resurrection for Himself and for anyone who believes in Him (Php 1:23-24). Christians will be glorified with Him (Ro 8:17). Death cannot separate the believer from his or her lord (Ro 8:38,39).
The grim reaper, which we call death, will leave none of us unharvested except those raptured when Christ comes again.
There is continuity between our present body and our resurrected body. When a Christian dies, his body goes to the grave, but his spirit goes to be with Christ (Php 1:20-25). At the Rapture, Jesus will raise our dead bodies to be with Himself. At that point, both body and spirit will join for eternity (1 Co 15:35-58; 1 Th 4:13-18).