By Pastor Glenn Pease
Most of us could tell true stories of our forgetfulness that allowed us to put a book, a casserole, or some other object on the top of our car, and then get in and drive off. Some of these stories will have sadder endings than others, but it is not likely any of our stories could match that of Paula Horowitz of Amherst, Mass. The object she absentmindedly placed on the top of her car was a $31,000 violin that was thirty years older than the United States of America.
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra had loaned this valuable instrument to her son Jason, who was the concert master for the local youth symphony. She put it on the top of her car and drove off, and where the violin landed nobody knows. Police say witnesses reported seeing and empty violin case by the road, but no violin. The woman said, "In one minute's carelessness I feel like my life has been destroyed." She groaned in grief for her loss.
That is rare to bear such a burden because of the loss of a musical instrument, but all of us at sometime will have to groan in grief because of the loss of the instrument called the body. The body is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a pain and a burden. There are those who teach that Christians should not have bodily pains and problems, but should always be in a state of ideal health. All of us could wish this was true, but the facts are, and the Bible makes it abundantly clear, our bodies are a part of a fallen world, and they lead to groaning.
Paul in verse 2 and 4 says we groan in this present body. The Greek word he uses here twice is stenazo. This is the primary New Testament word for groaning and sighing because of life's burdens. Someone said, "the optimist says this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist believes it. "Paul was one of the greatest optimist of history, but he never believed this was the best of all possible worlds. It is a lost and fallen world, and in Rom. 8:22-26 Paul uses the word groan three times. In verse 22 he writes, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of child birth...." In verse 23 he writes, "Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
Paul is making it clear that we live in a fallen world and our bodies are subject to all sorts of sufferings. The only was to escape is to get out of this body into a new body which is not subject to all the burdens of a fallen world. Anyone who promises you a life in this earthly body without burdens is offering you something that God has never offered. In verse 26 of Romans 8 Paul even says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Even God enters into the burdens of this fallen world.
We see it especially in the groans of Jesus. It was a messed up world that Jesus came to. That is why He came. It is the sick who need the doctor, and this is a sick world. But Jesus also got sick of the folly of man, and he sighed under the burden of it. In Mark 8, right after Jesus fed the 4,000, one of His greatest miracles, the Pharisees came to Him and asked Him for a sign from heaven. There blindness was more than He could tolerate. Jesus knew what frustration was all about, and in verse 12 it says, "He sighed deeply and said, why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given it." And Jesus left there. Don't let anybody tell you that a good Christian should never be frustrated with this fallen world. If it was a pain and a burden to Jesus, it is folly to expect to live without groaning.
We also see a positive side of His groaning. It is usually a negative response to the negatives of a fallen world. But it can be a sympathetic sighing. We see this in Mark 7:34. A man who was deaf and who could hardly talk was brought to Jesus. It was a sad sight to see a man made in the image of God in so pathetic body. It was not the work of art He created. It was totally defective and flawed. Jesus was moved with compassion, and verse 34 says, "He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh (this is the same Greek word stenazo) He said to him "be opened" and the man was healed.
There are whole sermons preached on this sigh of sympathy, and we could spend the rest of our message on it, but for now, I am just trying to establish beyond a doubt what we already know. This is not the best of all possible worlds. It is a fallen world where much in it is not the will of God. Jesus felt the burden of it with bodies having lips that could not praise the Creator; with eyes that could not see the wonders of His creation; with ears that could not hear the good news of His love. Jesus hated what sin had done to this world and to man, that is why He came to die, so that sin might not have the final word, and that man might have the chance to live in a sin free body in a sin free environment.
While Jesus was here in the flesh He, like Paul, felt the burdens of the body with its weakness, defects, and handicaps. When Paul groaned about his body he was in good company, for Jesus did it as well. Those who pretend that this tent can be patched up permanently and never wear out are trying to create their own paradise on earth. But it is a foolish paradise. The wise Christian will do his best to keep his body in shape, but he will not make this flimsy tent the foundation of his hope. Those who do are facing inevitable disillusionment, for there are no earthly tents that do not tear and force their tenants to evacuate.
Christians should aim for a life of good exercise, good diet, and a healthy life-style, but they should also recognize that these things are used as a humanist escape from the reality of aging and death. The Christian has to face up to the reality that nothing man can do can make this fallen world the paradise that only God can make. Everything made by man is doomed. Only the God-made body, and the God-redeemed world can be the focus of the Christian hope. That is why Paul groaned and longed to be clothed with the heavenly body God had for him. He could have said with the poet Frederick Knowles-
This body is my house-it is not I.
Here in I sojourn till, in some far sky,
I lease a fairer dwelling, built to last
Till all the carpentry of time is past.
This body is my house-it is not I.
Triumphant in this faith I live, and die.
The Christian is not an either-or person: Either a pessimist or an optimist, but a both-and person. He is both a pessimist and an optimist. When he looks at this fallen world and these tent-like bodies, he is a pessimist about any man-made scheme to develop immortality. The hopes of cryonics to freeze people until they find the cure for the disease that killed them, and then bring them back to life, is the world's version of the health and wealth gospel that pretends this world can be the best of all possible worlds. The Christian is skeptical about all attempts to make this fallen world a paradise. But he is optimist about the God-made body he will enter as soon as he leaves this tent body of time.
Paul says that when we are clothed with that heavenly dwelling the mortal will be swallowed up by life. As soon as we die we begin to live as never before. This tent we dwell in now is a hindrance to life. We cling to it because it is all we know of life, but it is only when we leave this body that we really live. The abundant life is possible on a temporary basis even in this tent, but for permanent and persistent living of the good life we need the body not built by human hands.
The question is, when do we get this heavenly body so we can get on with the joy of abundant living where all groaning is gone? This was the hope of the Old Testament saints: And environment of joy where sighing will be no more. In Isa. 51:11 we read of this hope- "The ransom of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing: Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." This has ever been the hope of God's people. When does this kind of life begin?
If we say, as many Christians do, at the resurrection when Christ comes again, we are unconsciously creating a Protestant purgatory. The Christians who hold to this idea of a disembodied state until the resurrection do not intend to create a purgatory, but that is what they do. For if Paul groaned longing to be clothed with the heavenly dwelling, and he still does not have that dwelling, and neither do any of the dead in Christ, then they are left to groan and sigh, and wait until the resurrection.
This is a rather grim picture of the intermediate state, and makes it a major disadvantage to die before the rapture. Paul's whole point in writing to the Thessalonians is to make it clear it is not a disadvantage to die before the rapture, for the dead in Christ will be the first to be raised, and they will come with Christ in His second coming. But if they have been in a disembodied state for centuries, that does not sound like the ideal. Patience would need to be the basic virtue for those who died before the rapture, for they are going to have to wait for who knows how long to put on their heavenly bodies. Paul and other New Testament Christians have been waiting for nearly 2,000 years, and this seems to be a very inefficient plan that makes early Christians suffer a purgatory that the last Christians do not have to endure. The whole idea of the dead in Christ having to wait for centuries to enter into the heavenly body is absurd the more you think about it.
On the other hand, the more you think about what Paul is saying here, the more logical it becomes that we enter the God made body as soon as we leave this one. The Biblical evidence for this is abundant. Consider first of all the major issue of the book of Hebrews which is that the man made earthly tabernacle was a copy of the heavenly tabernacle. In other words, we have a parallel here with the man made tent and the heavenly dwelling. In Heb. 9:11 we read, "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation." This perfect heavenly tabernacle existed before the earthly one and was a model for it. Heb. 8:2 says that Jesus "serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man."
All that was done on earth in the temporary tent of the tabernacle was a mere shadow of the real and eternal event of the offering of the Lamb of God in the sanctuary of heaven. Heb. 9:24 says, "For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one: he entered heaven itself." The parallel is that our earthly tent, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, is also just a copy and mere shadow of the original and God-made body in heaven. The temple on earth was destroyed, but the temple in heaven is not touched, and Jesus as our high priest goes on ministering and interceding for us. The God-made temple is a present reality even if its man-made copy is long gone and non-existent. You can see the parallel with the present body as a tent, and the heavenly habitation not made with hands. This intermediate state body is a present reality, and not something the dead in Christ have to wait for until the resurrection.
The resurrection body is clearly distinct from this present heavenly body. In I Cor. 15 Paul writes much about the resurrection body. It is clearly linked to this present body. He writes in verses 42-44, "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable, 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." The resurrection body is our present tent-like body glorified and made everything it is not now. It comes out of the grave, but it began its existence on earth. The body he is writing of in our text has its beginning in heaven. It is not raised up, but is God-made from scratch.
The body Paul is writing about here in II Cor. 5 is a heavenly dwelling that has no connection whatever with out present tent. It is a body we now have ready to enter when we move out of this tent. Every reference we have of a created being in heaven has a body. When Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mt. of Transfiguration they had clearing identified bodies. These are not their final resurrection bodies, but bodies God made for them for these many centuries of heavenly dwelling. Enoch was taken into heaven without dying, and it is a logical assumption that his body was transformed so that he has been in a body all these centuries. If not, it is certainly no advantage to get to heaven before the resurrection. But Paul says it is in Phil 1:21:
"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." And in verse 23 he writes, "I desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better." Paul knew he would not be a naked soul waiting in anxiety for the day of resurrection.
He also had the promise of Christ which he gave to His disciples, and then to all the children of God in John 14:1-3: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." This is a very exciting and comforting passage unless you push the fulfillment off to the day of resurrection, and fail to see it is the very thing Paul is writing about-the intermediate state.
The room, or mansion as the King James Version has it, is this very heavenly dwelling Paul is referring to in II Cor. 5. If you push this off to the second coming, you have made it an issue that greatly troubles the heart rather than relieves it of trouble as Jesus intended. If Jesus is not going to have these rooms ready in the Father's house until the resurrection, then Jesus has lost something radical in His new body. He created the whole universe in six days, and now He has spent nearly 2,000 years and does not even yet have these rooms ready for His disciples. That does not sound like the Carpenter we see in the New Testament. He said, " All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me." Jesus does not need to labor for centuries to get ready. It is only logical to assume that these rooms in God's house are ready now for all who entered heaven. To think there is a lack of housing in heaven, and that anyone has to wait for centuries is totally inconsistent with the nature and power of Christ.
Jesus knew all of His disciples would be dead in a matter of a few decades. His promise was not that someday at the end of history they would be with Him in the Father's house, but that they would be with Him soon. The thief was there the day Christ died. It is nonsense to think that the disciples were not there the day they died. If this is not so the disciples had more need for comfort than they could ever dream, for they have been homeless for 20 centuries, and are not even yet in the Father's house, if this only takes place at the resurrection of the body.
The obvious truth is Jesus had these places ready before any of disciples died, and each of them as they died did just what Paul expected to do. They left their tent and entered their home in heaven not made with hands. The alternative is too ridiculous to think of, for it would mean Jesus has been a prodigal carpenter roaming all over heaven neglecting this project, and leaving the disciples waiting somewhere in a homeless state-disembodied, and not yet in the Father's house. You are free to choose which you think is reality, but I choose to go with Paul and believe the house in heaven is ready now for all who die in Christ.
Again, let me remind you, this glorious hope of an immediate heavenly dwelling does not undermine the significance of the final resurrection body. The first two bodies of man have their limitations. The one we are in now is very limited, and we experience so little of the spiritual realm. Paul even says to be at home in this body is to be away from the Lord. It is a severe limitation to be in this body of flesh. In the body we get when we die we will experience the glory of being with Christ and all the joys of heaven, but we will then be limited in what we can experience of the physical creation. God let Moses and Elijah come back into time to experience some of physical life again, but this was a rare exception. None of the New Testament Christians ever got that opportunity. That is why the final resurrection body is still the hope of all God's people. Man is not complete until he can enjoy all that God's has made both physical and spiritual.
The whole point of the new heaven and the new earth is that in our final resurrection body we will be able to enjoy a new earth. The saints in the intermediate state have a foretaste of heaven, but they do not have it all, for they cannot now enjoy the new earth. That will be a spectacular example of the creative power of God. We will be able to experience what life would have been like in an eternal Eden with no sin. The intermediate state is marvelous beyond our comprehension, but the best is yet to come when that heavenly body and our earthly body are united in an eternal combination that makes us fit to enjoy the best of both worlds-heaven and earth. Our first body can enjoy earth, and our second body can enjoy heaven, but our third and final body will enjoy both forever and ever. Calvin called the intermediate state body the commencement of the building to be completed at the resurrection.
Without a body there is no enjoyment of any kind for man. The idea of being disembodied is not new. The pagan world had this view of the intermediate state long before the New Testament. If we go back to Homer in about 1900B.C., we get a picture of just how comforting the intermediate state is if you believe it is a disembodied state. Odysseus has three encounters with the dead in Hades while he is yet alive. The first is with his mother. He described the experience-
"Longing filled my heart to clasp the shade of my dead mother.
Three times my heart drove me to make the attempt. Three
times she slipped from my hands like a shadow or a dream.
Bitter distress grew even greater in my mind, and I cried out:
My mother, why won't you stay when I try to embrace you?
Even in Hades surely we can throw our arms around each other
and weep to our hearts content. Can it be this is some phantom
sent by the Queen of the Dead to torment me?
Alas, my child , replied my dear mother..... This is what death
is like for all men.....There is no strength left in flesh and bones,
they have been destroyed in the blazing funeral pyre, and
ever since life left the whitened bones, the spirit has fluttered
and flitted about."
The interesting thing here is that Homer could conceive of a better way. He could see that having a body that could be felt, and which could still be a means of contact and expressing of love would be wonderful, but he had no idea how this could be once the body was destroyed. He had no revelation as we have about a body ready and waiting, and one that loved ones could embrace.
If the idea of a disembodied state is true, then Christians have nothing to offer the world that they did not already have in paganism. This is one of the most powerful arguments for the reality of the intermediate body. It makes Christianity unique, and makes the after life so much more a paradise then what you find in the Old Testament or in pagan literature.
There are incidental arguments for the intermediate body that are based on the symbolism of revelation. The dead in Christ, who are the saints of heaven, wear robes of white. A strange garment for a disembodied soul. I have never seen a disembodied soul but I suspect it would be hard to keep a robe on without a body. This is being silly, but on purpose so as to emphasize the necessity for the intermediate state body. Equally absurd is the picture of the saints playing on their harps. I've never tried it, but I'm sure it is no snap even with fingers. Take these and the rest of the body away and you really have a challenge. For a disembodied spirit, the harmonica seems more appropriate, or one of the woodwinds. But enough of nonsense. The point is, a body is necessary to make sense out of the intermediate state.
There are no disembodied beings in heaven. Even the angels are in bodies. Revelation 7:11 pictures this clearly. "All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God." It you can tell me how an angel can stand and also fall on his face without having legs and a face, then I will consider the idea of disembodied angels, but I suspect nobody has any such explanation. Bodiless beings are just not a part of any picture we have.
Why would any Christian hold to a disembodied state? It was the result of an over reaction to the theologians who said the resurrection of the body is not necessary. We get a body after we die and are with Christ, and so the resurrection at the end of history is not needed. This led to strong reaction of those who exalted the resurrection at the last day. They rejected the idea of a body immediately after death. Christians are always doing this: Taking part of the truth and rejecting the other part when the solution is to see that both sides are true. Both the intermediate state body and the resurrection body are valid truths. The Christian hope is based on the reality of both of these bodies, for there is no time in the plan of God when His children will be without a body.