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Having established that the inner man and the outer man each have a “house,” Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:6-8,
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
When most people read this, they tend to isolate it out of its context, and so they miss the main point that Paul was making. The apostle was not speaking of going to heaven to be with the Lord, as most people seem to teach. He was talking about changing houses, which, as we have already seen, is synonymous with receiving the heavenly garment.
To be clothed with the heavenly garment gives a person authority in the heavenly realms. But as we have seen earlier, this merely adds to our present level of authority that we already enjoy (at least to some extent) here on earth. The goal is to have authority in both heaven and earth, even as Jesus enjoyed after His resurrection.
Jesus walked with authority on earth as long as He was limited by an earthly body (or garment/house). But after His resurrection, when He was presented to God at the third hour of the day, He received the heavenly garment which gave Him equal access to heaven as well. He could move between heaven and earth simply by changing clothes. For this reason, He was able to enter the locked room to minister to the disciples and then to disappear at will.
Those clothes are prophesied in the priestly garments under the old system of worship. The priests were supposed to minister to the people in the outer court in their normal, woolen garments. But when they went into the sanctuary itself (Holy Place), they had to change into their linen garments. Likewise, the high priest had to put on linen garments to minister in the Most Holy Place each year on the Day of Atonement.
Under Roman rule, Judea was ruled by King Herod, who appointed high priests who were ineligible by biblical rules. He also took charge of the High Priestly garments. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, quoted various passages in Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, saying,
“The same writer [Josephus] informs us that Herod actually locked up the sacred vestment of the high priest and kept it under his own seal, no longer permitting the high priests to have charge of it. His example was followed by his successor Archelaus, and after him by the Romans.” (Eccl. Hist., V, vi)
Herod did this in order to maintain control of the high priest, who might otherwise be a political rival. Without the sacred vestments, the high priest could not minister in the temple. So Herod was able to keep his appointed high priests subservient to himself.
There is some parallel here between the linen garments of the priests and our own heavenly garments that are currently “locked up” and hidden away in heaven. Hence, when Paul spoke of this in 2 Cor. 5:1, his Jewish readers particularly would have been reminded of the ongoing situation in Jerusalem. Certainly, they were well aware of the political restrictions that had been placed upon the high priests in Jerusalem. As priests of God, we too labor under certain restrictions.
The main difference is this: the rulers who were appointed by the Romans locked up only the high priest’s garments, but God has locked up the heavenly garments of all men until the appointed time.
Meanwhile, only the sacred garment of our High Priest, Jesus, has been granted to Him, giving Him the authority to minister in heaven. When He ministered to the disciples on earth after receiving those garments, He was required to change clothing in order to take on human flesh in an earthly house. That earthly house, of course, was perfect “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), not corruptible and mortal as normal human flesh is.
When the overcomers fulfill the feast of Tabernacles on a historic level, they will be “changed” (1 Cor. 15:51) on the first day of the feast. This will give them perfect human flesh, so that they will be clothed with perfect earthly bodies (or houses). Then on the eighth day of the feast, they will be presented to their heavenly Father as sons of God and there receive their heavenly garments. At that point, they will have authority to minister in both heaven and earth.
Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:6 that as long as we are “at home in the [earthly] body” we are “absent from the Lord.” Why? Because we are not allowed to minister in heaven without being clothed in heavenly garments. Hence, we are barred from heaven, insofar as our whole being is concerned. Mortal bodies are banned from heaven.
Yet this does not mean that we cannot minister in heaven at all. Our spirit has access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), even if our imperfect body and soul is barred from heaven. Likewise, for those called to such a purpose, their spirit has been granted access to the divine court and even the heavenly Council. It should be recognized, however, that one’s access to heaven is not total or complete, because one’s imperfect body and soul is yet barred.
Hence, we are “absent from the Lord” in our current state, even though we enjoy communion with Him on a regular basis here on earth.
Paul inserts a parenthetical thought in 2 Cor. 5:7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” He means to say that as long as we are “absent from the Lord,” our fellowship with Christ is “by faith, not by sight.” The day will come when we will see Him face to face. That day will come when the sons of God as a body are presented to the Father on the eighth day of Tabernacles. Then sightless faith will be replaced by faithful sight.
2 Cor. 5:8 then concludes that our preference is to be “absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” The Greek text literally reads, “to be from home out of the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Essentially, Paul was speaking of an out-of-mortal-body condition (more than just an experience). In the full context of the passage, Paul’s desire was to be clothed with the heavenly garment that was hidden away in heaven, awaiting a future investiture.
Essentially, he looked forward to the eighth day of Tabernacles.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9, 10,
9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Paul’s “ambition” was to please God, whether in this body or in the heavenly one. The stated reason is that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Not all will make their appearance at the same time, of course, because there are two resurrections, each with a different group being presented.
The first resurrection at the feast of Trumpets, followed by the change in the living overcomers at the feast of Tabernacles, will see the first group “appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” This group will receive no judgment at all. As overcomers, “they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” They will rule the Kingdom and cause it to grow until it fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35).
The second resurrection will summon the rest of the dead a thousand years later to the judgment seat, where “each one will be recompensed for his deeds in the body.” Jesus spoke of this general resurrection in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth, those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
We see, then, that in this appearance before the judgment seat of Christ there will be both believers and unbelievers. The believers (non-overcomers) will receive “life,” or, as Paul would say, the heavenly garment that has been reserved for them. The non-believers will be judged by the law according to their deeds (Rev. 20:12, 13).
We must add, however, that when all are summoned to the judgment seat of Christ, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (or profess) Christ (Phil. 2:10, 11). Further, Isaiah says that all will “swear allegiance” to Him (Isaiah 45:23). In other words, they will become believers, for then the truth will be made known to them and all resistance will cease.
Even so, being new believers, they will be given time to grow into spiritual maturity until the Creation Jubilee, when all of creation “will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). At that time, all things will be put fully under the feet of Christ, death (including the second death) will be abolished, and God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:26, 27, 28).
Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 5:11,
11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
The fear of the Lord is associated with the judgment seat of Christ, whereby all will be judged according to their deeds. Knowing that there is a judgment that is coming, “we persuade men” so that they might be able to avoid judgment. There are some who say that because God will save all mankind, there remains no judgment to come. Paul’s words here ought to dispel such a notion. Most of humanity will be saved through God’s righteous judgments.
Righteous judgment comes only through the law of God, which includes provision for a Jubilee, in which debt is limited. Because all sin is reckoned as a debt, it is plain that liability for sin will be judged, but that all judgment is limited by mercy and grace.
As for us, Paul says, “we are made manifest to God.” The word “manifest” comes from the Greek word phaneroo, “to make visible or known; to be plainly recognized or understood.” Paul was saying that God knew his heart completely, and Paul also hoped that the Corinthian church also knew his heart in reading this letter.