The Next Body Is the Best
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (5:1)
The “eternal weight of glory” Paul described in 4:17 includes a new body. That truth was of great comfort to the apostle, whose physical body had been so mercilessly battered by the effects of the Fall, personal sin, hardships, illness, the rigors of life, and persecution that he longed for his incorruptible, immortal resurrection body.
Paul’s confident assertion for we know indicates that believers’ glorified bodies are not a remote possibility or a vague wish. They are a fixed reality, a settled fact based on the promise of God (Rom. 8:18, 23; 1 Cor. 15:35–49; Phil. 3:21), not philosophical speculation or mystical fantasy.
Paul wrote if instead of “when” because, though he was ready to die, he did not see his death as inevitable. He viewed the return of Jesus Christ as imminent and believed it was possible for him to live until the Lord returned. That was his deepest desire, as his use of the plural pronoun “we”in passages describing the Rapture indicates. In 1 Corinthians 15:51 he wrote, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” To the Thessalonians he wrote,
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:15–17)
If he could not live until the Rapture, Paul preferred “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). He expressed that same truth to the Philippians when he wrote of his “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23). Remaining on in the flesh was only his third choice.
The phrase if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down refers metaphorically to death (cf. Isa. 38:12). As a tentmaker himself (Acts 18:3), Paul chose to use the analogy of an earthly tent (the physical body) to describe the soul’s temporary house in this world (cf. 2 Peter 1:13–14). Speaking of the incarnation of Christ, the apostle John used the verb skēnoō, (lit., “to live in a tent”) to depict the eternal God coming into the world and taking a human body (John 1:14). A tent is an apt metaphor for the human body, which is a temporary home for the eternal souls of those whose real home is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and who are aliens and strangers in this world (Gen. 47:9; 1 Chron. 29:15; Ps. 119:19; Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1, 17; 2:11). Just as the tabernacle of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness was replaced with a permanent building when Israel entered the Promised Land, so the temporary tent in which believers now dwell will be replaced one day in heaven with an eternal, imperishable body (1 Cor. 15:42, 53–54).
After death dismantles believers’ earthly tent, they have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. A building suggests something on a solid foundation that is fixed, secure, and permanent. Since it replaced his earthly tent (his physical body), the building from God Paul referred to must be his glorified body, which he would receive after “He who raised the Lord Jesus … raise[d him] also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14).
In Romans, written shortly after 2 Corinthians, Paul expressed the same longing for his glorified resurrection body:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? (Rom. 8:18–24)
The entire created universe, subjected to futility by the Fall, will one day “be set free from its slavery to corruption” (v. 21). In that glorious and longed-for day, writes Paul, believers will experience “the redemption of our body” (v. 23).
Paul longed for his glorified body not primarily because it would be free of physical weakness, blemishes, and defects, but because it would be free of sin. The tent of the body is sin’s home, causing Paul to lament, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (Rom. 7:14); “sin … dwells in me” (Rom. 7:17, 20); “evil is present in me” (Rom. 7:21); and “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). The apostle longed to serve, worship, and praise God in absolute purity, freed from the restrictions of his fallen, sinful flesh. That is the best feature of resurrection reality.
Paul further described the glorified, resurrection body as a house not made with hands. It is not a procreated, physical body. Referring to Jesus’ words in John 2:19, the false witnesses at His trial said, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands’ ” (Mark 14:58). They misconstrued those words as a reference to Herod’s temple, but in reality Jesus “was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21)—that is, His resurrection body. Paul used the same phrase in Colossians 2:11 when he wrote, “you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” But perhaps the most definitive use of the phrase not made with hands is in Hebrews 9:11: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.” That verse equates not made with hands with “not of this creation.” It therefore refers to what is spiritual, transcendent, and eternal, not to what is earthly, physical, and temporal.
Paul gave the most detailed description of believers’ resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15:36–49. He wrote that section of his epistle in reply to those who asked, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” (v. 35). Paul answered that question in four ways.
First, he gave an illustration from nature in verses 36–38:
You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
There is no way to extrapolate from the plain, simple, ugly appearance of a seed the magnificent glory of the flower, tree, or plant that will grow out of its death. So also the glory of believers’ immortal, resurrection bodies cannot be imagined from our perishing, physical bodies.
Second, Paul gave a series of comparisons in verses 39–42a:
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Just as the bodies of men, beasts, birds, fish, heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies differ from each other, so also will the resurrection body differ radically from the physical body.
Third, Paul listed a series of contrasts in verses 42b–44:
It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
The physical body is perishable, sinful, and weak. In contrast, the resurrection body is imperishable, free of sin, and powerful.
Finally, Paul gave the prototype of believers’ resurrection bodies in verses 45–49:
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
Just as they have physical bodies like Adam’s, so believers will one day have glorified bodies like Christ’s. To the Philippians Paul wrote, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20–21). The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
5:1 Apparently for the first time in his apostolic career Paul reckons seriously with the possibility—now a probability—of his death before the return of Christ. Previously, to judge by 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51, he had expected to be among those Christians living when Christ returned. But now, as a result of his recent devastating encounter with death in Asia (2 Co 1:8–11), he realized that he was likely to die before the Parousia, though he always entertained the hope of survival until the advent (see Php 3:20–21).
As a leatherworker (skēnopoios, GK 5010) whose trade included the making and repairing of tents (Ac 18:3), Paul naturally likened his present body to an “earthly tent” (cf. vv. 2, 4) that might at any moment be dismantled or destroyed. This would simply mark the termination of the process of weakness and decay already at work in his body (4:16). But this possibility did not daunt him, for he was the assured recipient of a permanent heavenly house—the spiritual body provided by God (see Notes).
5:1 / Paul commences the first section (vv. 1–5) with a statement that substantiates the idea in 4:17–18, that the expected heavenly glory far outweighs the momentary troubles on earth. At first, the first person plural (we) seems to refer not just to Paul but to believers in general, thus introducing a generally accepted, traditional Christian conviction (we know); however, the previous context always uses “we know” of the apostle’s personal knowledge, albeit a knowledge that has implications for the Corinthians (cf. 1:7; 4:13b–14). Therefore, if 4:7ff. has already been using the first person plural to refer exclusively to Paul, it seems reasonable to assume continuance here, although the apostle’s experience and hope are here, as often elsewhere, prototypical for all believers.
Yet how does Paul “know” that he has an eternal house in heaven? Is the source of his knowledge exclusively Jewish and/or Christian tradition? Or, has he received a special revelation? In answering these questions, it is well to remember that in 2 Corinthians Paul claims to have personal experience with the heavenly realm. As we have seen, the apostle refers to his Moses-like encounter with the throne-chariot of God (2:14) and his speech in the presence of God (2:17). He has seen the glory of God in the face of Christ (4:6), and he has been caught up to the third heaven or paradise (12:2–4). Yet, as we would expect, his own personal experience is often expressed in terms of traditional expectations.
The contrast here is between a transient tent and a permanent house, just as the tabernacle was to the temple (cf. 2 Sam. 7:2, 5–7). Paul knows that if his earthly tent (i.e., his mortal body) is destroyed, he has an eternal house in heaven. The present tense we have suggests that Paul already has the heavenly house in some sense, but that he occupies it sometime after death. This corresponds to the idea in verse 5 of the Spirit as a “deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” In other words, just as Paul already has possession of the guarantee that promises full payment at a specific time in the future, so also he already has the eternal house prepared for him in heaven (cf. John 14:2; 2 Bar. 48:6; 5Q15). This thinking is typical of Paul’s notion of the “already” and the “not yet.” It is likely, therefore, that the “eternal house” is not referring to a continued bodily existence in heaven but rather to a kind of heavenly dwelling that is different from the individual’s resurrection body. According to 1 Corinthians 15:23, 52, the spiritual body is received at the Parousia—unless, of course, Paul’s thinking has undergone significant development since the writing of that passage (so M. Thrall). Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 5:8 contrasts being away from the earthly body with being “at home with the Lord,” rather than with receiving a new body.
The expression that Paul uses for his mortal body is not just the earthly tent (niv) but rather “our earthly house of the tent.” The language is drawn from 1 Chronicles 9:23 lxx, which refers to the tabernacle as “the house of the tent” (cf. also 1 Chron. 6:17 lxx). Just as the tabernacle was the temporary dwelling of God from the time of the wilderness wanderings and until the building of a permanent temple in Jerusalem, so also Paul’s mortal body is merely temporary. In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul refers to the body as “the temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” It may also be significant for Paul’s metaphor that the glory of God filled the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–35), for Paul is arguing in context for internal criteria for evaluating his apostleship.
The eternal house in heaven is not built by human hands. This term occurs elsewhere in connection with the temple (cf. Mark 14:58). The contrast here is between what humans make and what God makes (cf. Acts 7:48; 17:24). In Jewish tradition, the eschatological temple will be built either by God himself (Jub. 1:17; cf. 1:27; 11QTemple 29.8–10; Sib. Or. 5:420–425) or by his Messiah (Tg.Isa. 53:5). The Qumran community evidently understood itself as a sort of interim, spiritual temple, a “sanctuary of men,” until the eschatological temple could be built (cf. 4QFlor 1.2–7). Very likely, Mark 14:58 reflects a similar idea of a spiritual temple composed of Jesus and his followers. According to Matthew 12:6, Jesus says, possibly referring to himself, “Something greater than the temple is here” (cf. 12:41–42; Luke 11:31–32; John 2:19–21). Hence, when Paul refers to a house not made with hands, he evidently looks beyond believers as the present temple of the living God (2 Cor. 6:16) to the corresponding heavenly reality (cf. Gal. 4:26–27). The word oikos, house, is frequently used of the temple of God (cf. 1 Kgs. 7:31; Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46; John 2:16; Acts 7:47, 49). Moreover, eternal house(oikos aiōnios; Heb. bēth ʿôlāmîm) is a common name for the (Solomonic!) temple in Jerusalem (e.g., Josephus, Ant. 8.107; Gen. Rab. 54:4; 99:1; Num. Rab. 9:26, 32, 42; 10:24; b.Yoma 44a, 53a, 67b; b.Sukka 5b; b.Soṭa 16a; b.Mak. 12a).
Paul evidently knows the heavenly temple through his prior merkabah experience (cf. T. Levi 3:4: the Great Glory dwells in the holy of holies in the third heaven). The fact that he holds open the possibility of an out-of-body experience during his ascent to the third heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2–4) shows how he may have conceived of a bodiless existence in heaven before the resurrection at the Parousia.
5:1. The apostle began with a statement of confidence. We know that certain things are true. Paul had already taught these truths to the Corinthians, and he was confident they had not forgotten them.
Life in the physical body is like living in an earthly tent because this body is being destroyed. All human bodies suffer the processes of aging and death. Yet, Paul, his company, and to some extent all believers experience intensified destruction of their earthly bodies. Suffering on Christ’s behalf aggravates the decay that the Fall brought upon the human race. As Paul put it in the previous chapter, we are only fragile jars made of clay.
Paul was sure that his readers knew another truth as well: all true believers have a building from God that will replace the earthly tent. The present bodies of believers are only temporary homes; we wait for a permanent house. In Paul’s day people used tents while they traveled and while they were building permanent homes. Paul had in mind tents in which people lived as they waited for permanent dwellings to be built. Peter used this same metaphor (2 Pet. 1:13–14), and the Old Testament also speaks of earthly life as a tent (Isa. 38:12).
Paul described the building from God as an eternal house in heaven. His words are difficult to understand, and they have been the subject of controversy. At least two prominent outlooks have been taken. First, some interpreters think Paul spoke of believers receiving permanent heavenly bodies when they die. This understanding agrees with Paul’s personal focus in this discussion. Yet, it seems unlikely because Paul taught that believers’ bodily resurrection would occur at Christ’s return (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 4:15–17).
Other interpreters suggest that Paul spoke of the heavenly temple of God providing protective cover for all believers. This view appeals to the expression, not built by human hands, which the writer of Hebrews uses to describe the heavenly temple (Heb. 9:11). This interpretation is possible, but it is questionable.
The third and most likely possibility is that Paul referred to the future resurrected bodies of believers, focusing on the eternal state without differentiating it from the intermediate state. According to this view, Paul did not address our heavenly experience before Christ’s return. Because the intermediate state is not the goal that believers are to keep in mind, it is overshadowed by the permanent state after Christ’s return.
The last verse of this section (5:10) supports this third view. Paul did not direct his attention to the human condition during a long intermediate state. Instead, he focused on the day of judgment. The contrast he set up in 5:10 was between what is done “while in the body” and how we will “receive what is due.” Paul referred to the individual believer’s glorious resurrection body, but had in view the reception of that body on the last day.
5:1 For we know that if our earthly tent in which we live is taken down, we have a house from God, an eternal house not made with hands, in heaven.
- “For we know.” Paul introduces this verse with the words for we know (see also 1:7; 4:14; 5:11). In light of the preceding verses (4:16–18) that speak of the outward and the inward person and of looking at that which is unseen, Paul reminds his readers of his former teachings on the resurrection. He can say “we know” to remind the Corinthians of the doctrine he taught them in person and later through his correspondence. His instruction is neither at variance with nor different from that which he taught in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. Nothing in Paul’s earlier writings conflicts with his present discourse, nor are we able to detect a gradual development of the resurrection doctrine. This chapter provides no evidence that he had to correct or change his initial teaching.
Knowledge of the life hereafter does not originate in our human minds. Through the Holy Spirit, God reveals the assurance of our own immortality to us, so that we meet death cheerfully. But what do we know? Paul confidently answers, “We have a house from God, an eternal house not made with hands, in heaven.” Before we look closely at his answer, we must consider the conditional clause that qualifies it.
- “That if our earthly tent in which we live is taken down.” Some scholars stress that Paul had to oppose Gnosticism, a religious and philosophical system that taught that matter is evil and the soul good. As such, the soul sheds its outer covering at the time of death and is set free. The question, however, is not whether Paul was opposing incipient Gnosticism and thus used Gnostic terminology to be effective in his dispute. Although Greek philosophy taught that this earthly life is comparable to living in a tent, Paul exhibits an Old Testament background. A tent, as the tentmaker well knew, is a temporary dwelling that is readily taken down. He alludes to Moses’ tent of meeting outside the camp of Israel; in this tent, God spoke to Moses face to face (Exod. 33:7–11). This earthly tent that subsequently became the tabernacle was a reflection of God’s presence among his people as his glory covered the tabernacle. Further, even Aaron’s high-priestly garments reflected God’s holiness and glory. Yet both the tabernacle and the garments revealed transitoriness. The tabernacle was taken down when the Israelites moved to another place, and the garments were removed whenever Aaron’s priestly duties ended.
In the first eight verses, Paul uses a series of three metaphors (tent [vv. 1, 4], clothing [vv. 2–4], and home [vv. 6, 8]). The first illustration that Paul, the tentmaker, uses is that of a tent. He compares our physical body with a temporary dwelling place. And he may have thought of the Feast of Tabernacles, during which the Jews lived in temporary shelters for seven days to celebrate the end of the harvest and to commemorate the forty-year wilderness journey of the Israelites. The metaphor of taking down a tent points to the approaching end of not only our physical body but also our entire earthly existence. Indeed, Peter mentions living “in the tent of this body” that would soon be put aside (2 Peter 1:13–14; compare Isa. 38:12; Wisd. of Sol. 9:15). The word earthly is used as a contrast to heavenly, as a reminder of the first man taken from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:47), and ethically as a place of sin.
Paul literally writes, “if our earthly house of the tent is taken down.” He describes the house in terms of a tent to stress its transience. The probability that this tent will be destroyed in a single action is real, for death marks the end of a person’s earthly body and life. But Paul does not know when the dismantling will occur. If Jesus should return during his lifetime, Paul would not have to think about death.
Earlier Paul wrote that he had endured a near-death affliction (1:8). This incident reminded him of life’s brevity and the possibility of dying before Christ’s return. But we cannot deduce from this event that in the interval between writing I Corinthians and II Corinthians Paul changed his mind and no longer expected the return of Christ in his lifetime. Paul had survived a number of near-death experiences; the stoning in Lystra (Acts 14:19) serves as an example. And in his list of sufferings, he writes that he had been repeatedly exposed to death (11:23). Knowing firsthand the brevity life, Paul realized that the gospel had to be preached to all nations before the Lord would return. He also knew that his missionary task had just begun and would remain unfinished at his death (compare Rom. 15:20, 24, 28).
- “We have a house from God, an eternal house not made with hands, in heaven.” The second part of this verse is a source of constant debate, because Paul’s words are enigmatic and at places hard to reconcile with the entire context. If there is a contrast between the earthly tent and the house in heaven, why does Paul write the present tense (“we have”)? The answer is that New Testament writers frequently penned a present tense with a future meaning that is determined by the context. One example is in the Gethsemane narrative, where prior to his arrest Jesus says, “The Son of Man is betrayed in the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45). Just as Jesus knew the nearness of his betrayal, so Paul knew with certainty that a heavenly home was waiting for him (see John 14:2–3).
Is a house from God a resurrection body that believers receive at the time of death? If so, we must think in terms of three successive bodies: an earthly, an intermediate, and a resurrected or a transformed body. But why would the dead have to be raised at Jesus’ return if they already have a resurrection body? Scripture speaks only of our physical body that either dies and is raised at Jesus’ coming or that meets the Lord at his return and is transformed (1 Cor. 15:42, 51; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 4:15–17). The Bible fails to provide details on our house in heaven.
We admit that Scripture portrays people of the hereafter in terms of the physical form in which they left this earth. Samuel is described as an old man (1 Sam. 28:14); Lazarus in heaven has a finger, and the rich man in hell has eyes and a tongue (Luke 16:23–24); the saints in heaven are dressed in white robes and hold palm branches in their hands (Rev. 6:11; 7:9). But the writers of Scripture use anthropomorphic language. That is, they depict the dead as human beings with flesh and blood, for they know of no other way to portray the departed. Scripture states unequivocally that the departed saints are spirits; their bodies rest in the dust of the ground and their spirits have returned to God (Eccles. 12:7; Heb. 12:23).
What is the meaning of the word house? This noun is qualified as being from God, eternal, not made by human hands, in heaven. Some scholars interpret the word to signify the corporate body of Christ, that is, the church. They point out that in the Greek, the term oikodomē (house) refers to the church and not to an individual body. To support their interpretation, they rely on a few passages from the Pauline epistles, especially 1 Corinthians 3:9 (God’s building); Ephesians 2:21 (the building or holy temple; by extension, the body of Christ); Ephesians 4:12, 16 (the body of Christ).
However, the context in which an expression is used always determines its meaning. Here the context for the word house differs from that of the passages that speak of the church. Furthermore, whenever Paul refers to the church as the body of Christ, he puts it not in a future context but in a present setting. In verse 2, Paul notes our longing to be clothed with a heavenly tent in the future. This interpretation proves to be incongruous if we already belong to Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27).
Other scholars think that the house in heaven is the temple of God that is awaiting the believer at the time of death. When Christians enter this building, they in effect enter God’s presence. Supporting this interpretation is the fact that the concept not made with human hands appears also in the description of the greater and more perfect tabernacle in heaven. That place is the very presence of God (Heb. 9:11). An objection to this interpretation is that the symmetry of verse 1 suffers, because an earthly tent and a heavenly house represent not a physical body and God’s temple but a physical body and a spiritual body.
Perhaps we should think of this heavenly house as a place that supplies a covering in the form of divine glory (4:17; Rom. 8:18), a glory of immeasurable worth. Even though we enter God’s presence, where we are clothed with glory, we eagerly await the redemption of our bodies, namely, the resurrection of our bodies (Rom. 8:23).
The link between the preceding paragraph (4:16–18) and this verse is undeniable. Earlier Paul spoke of the outer and inner person, temporary troubles and lasting glory, the visible and the invisible things. In verse 1, he speaks of an earthly tent, that is, our physical bodies brought into the world through human effort. He contrasts this temporary tent with a permanent house that originates with God and belongs to an entirely different order. The house is God’s very presence that at the portals of heaven envelops the believer with eternal glory. Paul teaches that if he should die before Jesus’ return, then his soul would enter and be in heaven without his body until its resurrection at the consummation.
5:1 In verse 1, the apostle speaks of our present mortal body as our earthly house, this tent. A tent is not a permanent dwelling, but a portable one for pilgrims and travelers.
Death is spoken of as the dissolving of this tent. The tent is taken down at the time of death. The body goes into the grave, whereas the spirit and soul of the believer go to be with the Lord.
Paul opens the chapter with the assurance that if his earthly house should be destroyed (as a result of the sufferings mentioned in the preceding chapter) he knows he has a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Notice the distinction between tent and building. The temporary tent is taken down, but a new, permanent house awaits the believer in the land beyond the skies. This is a building from God, in the sense that God is the One who gives it to us.
Furthermore, it is a house not made with hands. Why should Paul say this? Our present bodies are not made with hands; so why should he emphasize that our future, glorified bodies will not be made with hands? The answer is that the expression not made with hands means “not of this creation.” This is made clear in Hebrews 9:11, where we read, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” What Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 5:1 is that whereas our present bodies are suited to life on this earth, our future, glorified bodies will not be of this creation. They will be especially designed for life in heaven.
The believer’s future body is also described as eternal in the heavens. It is a body that will no longer be subject to disease, decay, and death, but one that will endure forever in our heavenly home.
It might sound from this verse as if a believer receives this building from God the moment he dies, but that is not the case. He does not get his glorified body until Christ comes back for His church (1 Thess. 4:13–18). What happens to the believer is this. At the time of death, his spirit and soul go to be with Christ where he is consciously enjoying the glories of heaven. His body is placed in the grave. At the time of the Lord’s return, the dust will be raised from the grave, God will fashion it into a new, glorified body, and it will then be reunited with the spirit and the soul. Between death and Christ’s coming for His saints, the believer might be said to be in a disembodied condition. However, this does not mean that he is not fully conscious of all the joy and bliss of heaven. He is!
Before leaving verse 1 we should mention that there are three principal interpretations of the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens:
- Heaven itself.
- An intermediate body between death and resurrection.
- The glorified body.
The house can scarcely be heaven itself, because it is said to be eternalin the heavens and “from heaven” (5:2). As far as an intermediate body is concerned, the Scriptures never mention such a body. Moreover, the house not made with hands is described as eternal in the heavens, which would not be true of an intermediate body. The third view—that the house is the resurrection body of glory—seems to be the correct one.
5:1. Few chapter divisions are more unfortunate than this one since what follows (5:1–10) details the thought expressed in 4:16–18. Failure to appreciate this fact unduly complicates these already difficult verses by removing their contextual constraints.
Paul had referred to his mortal “body” (4:10–11) as “wasting away” (4:16). Now he compared his body to a worn-out earthly (epigeios, “on the earth”) tent (skēnous) soon to be destroyed. In Christ’s incarnate body He “lived (eskēnōsen, lit., ‘tabernacled or tented’) among us” (John 1:14). This is why the eternal perspective (2 Cor. 4:17) should be maintained (the second Gr. word in 5:1 is gar [“for”; trans. now in the niv], introducing the reason for what preceded). An earthly body is temporary; a heavenly body is eternal.
The reference to the heavenly body as a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands is reminiscent of Jesus’ description of His own resurrection body as a temple “not made by man” (lit., “not made by hand”; Mark 14:58). Second Corinthians 5:1 briefly summarizes what Paul had earlier written to the Corinthians about the nature of the resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:34–54). The confident assertion, we know, was based on the argument set forth in 1 Corinthians 15.
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 Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (pp. 109–111). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 352–353). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 166–170). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1837–1838). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Lowery, D. K. (1985). 2 Corinthians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 565). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.