By Pastor Glenn Pease
Carl Sagen is one of the leading minds in our world in the realm of astronomy. He has played a major role in the space expeditions to the planets. He is responsible for a record which was on board the Voyager's one and two. It is now wondering between the stars, and it will tell any aliens who intercept the space craft about earth. I was impressed in reading his book Broca's Brain to find him in a very subtle way giving thanks to God for the kind of universe He has given us. He writes, "For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown, and at the same time much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull--a universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence."
He is saying, God gives us plenty, but keeps plenty hidden also, so we have the joy of endless discovery. This is true also for the unseen realm called the intermediate state. What happens to us between the death of our body and the resurrection of our body? This period is called the intermediate state. God has revealed some fascinating facts about it, but has also concealed so much that it is a mystery that makes men curious, and sends them searching the Bible for every hint that opens up some light on the subject.
Here in II Cor. 5 Paul tells us some very interesting things about the intermediate state. It seems strange that Paul wrote more about heaven to the earthy and sensual materialists of Corinth than to anyone else. Paul knew that the only way to get people to overcome their earthiness was to get them to set their affections on things above. Heavenly minded people do more to change the earth for the better than those who affections are only earth centered.
John Wesley proved this in eighteenth century England. You think we live in a decaying society now, but the books and plays of that day were so immoral, and language so foul, they would be considered offensive even in our day of declining morality. Prostitution was sky high, and the way they had of disposing of the fruit of their sin was even worse than the abortion scandal of our time. They just gave birth to their babies and then let them die. 74.5% of the babies in 18th century England died before the age of five. The rich brought their way out of every sin and crime, and the poor were hung at a rate of 10 to 15 a day for 160 different offenses. The church did nothing for it too was corrupt.
Then came Wesley, a man with heaven on his mind. He preached it and taught it, and people began to change their ways. Justice and morality were restored. Babies started to live again, and the death rate fell from 74.5 to 31.8%. People's health began to improve, more flowers were planted, and the whole earthly scene was changed, because people were challenged to become heavenly minded. The prayer, Thy will be done as it is in heaven, can only be answered when people know more about heaven. It is not possible to be so heavenly minded you are no earthly good, for if you really are heavenly minded you will do earth a lot of good.
It is important that we know all we can about heaven, for it becomes a key factor in what we do on earth. This was certainly the case with Paul. Note, first of all--
I. PAUL'S ASSURANCE.
Paul begins this chapter, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." Paul was fully assured that the death of his body was a loss of a tent and a gain of a building. It is not much of a threat to tell the homeless, I will destroy your tent, if by so doing you made them eligible to live in a mansion. No wonder Paul was not afraid to die, for he said it was far better to die and be with the Lord. Paul knew he had a better body awaiting him.
This body of time is but our temporary dwelling, and Paul calls it a tent. It is as if this life was but a nomad journey, but our body, after we die, is a permanent residence, where we settle down for good. Paul was a great pioneer. He lived in tents often as he traveled the world, but no man wants to do this forever. Even Paul longed for the day he could settle down and have a permanent address he could call home. He knew this was what God had waiting for him when his tent was no longer fit to house his spirit.
Paul was not putting his body down by calling it a tent. He was just emphasizing that by comparison his earthy body was no big deal in light of the body God had made for him in heaven. The comparison is between a tent and a building. Take your pick, Paul would say in our day-a night in the campground or a night at the Ramada Inn. This life is roughing it. The life to come is luxury at its best. Having this kind of assurance makes it easier to face death, and to except the death of loved ones. It is better than trading in your tent for a pop up camper, or even a luxury hard top, or motor home. It is trading in your tent for your own permanent Holiday Inn. Paul was not frightened by that kind of trade, but looked forward to it with anticipation.
Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day's march nearer home.
It is surprising how many of God's people have lived in literal tents. All of the great people of God for centuries lived in tents. There are many references to this in the Old Testament. In Heb. 11:9-10 we read of Abraham, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
This life has been, for most of God's people, a tent life. It has been temporary, and not settled and secure. They have always looked for their security to the place God has built for their permanent residence. It has been called the city, the mansion, the house, the building, the room, or the body. God has built them all for His people, and designed them to fit the personally and uniqueness of each of His children. In the light of this assurance, the presence body is seen as tent-life. John Oxenham wrote-
Fold up the tent! The sun is in the West
This house was only lent
For my apprenticement
And God knows best.
Fold up the tent!
It's slack ropes all undone.
It's pole all broken, and it's canvas rent,
It's work is done.
Paul made tents, and slept in them for many a night. He knew it was not the top of the line dwelling. He did not fear that men would destroy his body, for that would only propel him into the building God had waiting to house him, and he knew it would be far better. This robs death of its sting, when you have this kind of assurance. If I see my house burning down, I will not be devastated if I have been assured I can immediately move into a mansion prepared for just such an emergency. Loss of something is not so tragic if the loss is more than compensated for by what is superior to the loss. If I lossed a hundred dollars, but am given a thousand dollars to compensate, I will not morn the hundred dollar loss. That is how Paul saw death, and, the thus, he was facing it with assurance rather than anxiety.
Paul would have loved the story of the three pigs, for it illustrates his faith. The wolf, like Satan, can huff and puff and blow our weak house down, but that is not our last resort. The brick house awaits us, which is beyond his strength. It was this assurance that enabled Paul to close chapter four of this epistle with these words of encouragement, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light momentary troubles are achieving for us and eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." Paul was full of assurance, but he was no Pollyanna. He faced the reality of troubles in his earthly tent, which was wasting away, and this lead us to look at--
II. PAUL'S ASSUMPTION.
He says, if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, and thereby assumes that Christians can and will die, and their bodies be destroyed. Paul did not assume that all Christians would escape death and be raptured into heaven without enduring this negative detour. I have known many Christians who hoped to live till the rapture, but they did not. It is a legitimate hope, but it also wise to assume that you will die, and that your body will be destroyed in one way or another. The Christians who gets too attached to his body will tend to fear death more. After all, when you live in one place for 40 or 50 years, you tend to become attached to it and get offended by the very thought of being evicted.
It is healthy to assume that this old house will one day be unfit for habitation, and therefore, I must give thought to my second home, which is a heavenly habitation. Not everybody can afford a second home by the lake, but every Christian has a second home already, by the river of life, where the winters of this world are gone forever, and there is everlasting summer. All death can do is make you move out of your tent into your summer home. Paul's assumption is that the body, our present tent, can be utterly destroyed, and it has no relevance to our being in the new place God has built. In other words, we do not have to worry about the fate of our bodies, as if that had any bearing on our destiny in heaven.
I have to admit that cremation of the body has given me strange feelings, and the thought of my godly aunt being cut up in a lab so a medical student can learn about the body has given me shivers, but the fact is, this text makes it clear that the destruction of the body does not in any way affect a believer's entrance into his heavenly home. The body can be buried and turn to dust, or burned and turned to dust or blown to dust in an explosion. That does not make any difference in terms of our eternal destiny. The Greek word that Paul uses here for the tent being destroyed is used nine other places, and five of them refer to the destruction of the temple, which was total, with not one stone left upon another. The temple ceased to exist, and so does our body.
The fate of ones body does not hinder the destiny of the soul and the new body. The thief on the cross was promised he'd be in paradise that very day. His body was likely thrown into the city dump and burned. Christians have been burned, fed to lions and other creatures, and have had their bodies blown to pieces, and in other ways destroyed. None of this matters, for the building God has prepared for us to dwell in does not depend on the tent we dwell in now being whole and undamaged. If this was the case, Christians would have followed the old Egyptian practice of mummification of the body to preserve it. Christians are not anti-body, and they do not encourage disrespect of the tent we now inhabit, but neither do they feel that its destruction is any detriment to their destiny in the new body God has waiting for them. The third thing we want to consider is--
III. PAUL'S ANNOUNCEMENT.
Paul announces to the Corinthians the good news that they do not need to fear that death in robbing them of their body will leave them as naked spirits. We do not enter at death into some vague disembodied state. Paul announces that we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. At no time is a Christian like the disembodied demons who look for a body to inhabit, even a herd of pigs if necessary. A legion will inhabit one human body if they can, for they have no body of their own. God made man to be a body oriented being, and so even after the death of their physical body they are immediately endowed with an after death body. No where is there a picture of a human being who is disembodied--that is a spirit without a body. It is inhuman to be a spirit without a body. That is to be a ghost.
In Luke 16 we see even the rich man in hell with a body. He had eyes to look up and see Abraham, and he had a tongue he longed to have cooled. The lost as well as the saved have after death bodies. A human being is not a human being without a body. There are some theologians who do not like to admit this is so because it seems to them to detract from the resurrection of the body. If we already have one right after we die, what is the big deal about the great resurrection at the second coming of Christ? The big deal is that only then will we be complete as Jesus is complete. Jesus is an eternal man with His human body raised up to be combined with His God made body. This makes Him the only complete man in the universe right now. No one else will be complete until the great resurrection of all God's people.
When Jesus died, His body was buried, and He took on His eternal spiritual body. When He rose from the dead His spiritual body entered into His body of flesh and transformed it into the final body that was both earthly and heavenly. He could eat, talk, and the nail holes in His hands could be touched. He was physical, and yet He could go through walls, disappear, and change His appearance so He was not recognized. He was both physical and spiritual. This is the ultimate body, and we will only be fully like Jesus when we too are raised up in our earthly bodies to be combined with our heavenly body.
Meanwhile the saints in heaven do not float about like a vapor with no body. When Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, they were not spirits only, but bodies that could be recognized and identified. Every picture we have in the Bible of a person in the intermediate state has a body. When Christ comes again, all the dead in Christ will come with Him, and be reunited with their earthly bodies. Those who are alive will be instantly transfigured so that their earthly and heavenly bodies become one. Then, and only then, will all the redeemed be like their Lord.
Paul's point in his announcement is, do not fear the loss of your tent, for you are not left naked, but are immediately given a new and greater body as a heavenly habitation. Do not fear death, for those who have this new body will come with Jesus, and play an active role in the resurrection. Those alive at the second coming will be spectators as they are changed in a twinkling of an eye. But those in the intermediate state will be in on the whole thing, and have a far more exciting adventure. Many Christians feel it is to be a great honor to be alive at the second coming, but, the fact is, it is a greater honor to be among those who come with Christ. Do not feel bad for Christians who have died, for they are the first to get their complete and eternal body.
This complete body will be able to, like Jesus in His complete body, travel between heaven and earth, and manifest its earthly identity so that for all eternity Christians will be able to link themselves to their earthly identity, and be known by all who knew them in history. But just as Jesus took on another identity in His resurrection body, so we will be able to do likewise. This is only speculation, but it is a logical conclusion that we will be able to look like we want to look. After all, God and His holy angels are beautiful, and all heaven and earth will be beautiful. It is a logical assumption that all the redeemed will also be beautiful as the eternal bride of the Redeemer.
Until that glorious consummation of the union of the resurrection body and the spiritual body, the Christian is not waiting naked for history to end, so he can get back into a body. This would be a worse fate than soul sleep between death and the resurrection. If you were not conscious, you would not care that you had no body,but to be conscious and have no body would make the intermediate state a sort of purgatory where you wait in torment to be clothed.
There are many Christians who think this is the case, but it makes a mockery out of Christ's promise to the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. What a false encouragement if that thief is still waiting to be clothed with a body to replace his earthly body. Paradise loses its appeal if for 2,000 years that thief has been there as a naked disembodied spirit, longing like the demons in legion for a body to possess. Christians who believe there is no body after death, until the resurrection, have robbed Christians of the very comfort and encouragement Paul was offering the Corinthians in this announcement.
The whole point of Paul's teaching is, we are never without a body. We have an earthly body, and when we move out of it, we have an intermediate body, and at the resurrection we get an eternal body which is the perfected combination of the other two. The intermediate body is no mere shack. It is eternal, and is a building God has made for us. Death will take us from a tent to a temple, from a cottage to a castle. Paul makes a point of stressing this house in heaven is not made by human hands. It is not man made, but God made, which means it is a special creation of God.
We do not know of any body that is not man made. Made by man is the mark on every body we have ever seen. This body which is not man made is a mystery to us, and we have to take it by faith. It sure solves a lot of problems that theologians have about the resurrection body. People wonder about all sorts of problems with bodies scattered as ashes, or at sea, eaten by sea creatures, or even buried and being taken up into the plant world. How is God going to get it all together for a resurrection. If God can make a body for us that is ideal and glorious, and permanent, without one molecule of our earthly body, I don't think we have to worry about God's ability to raise up the physical body.
This passage makes it clear, we do not have to worry about anything concerning our after death experience, for our heavenly habitation will be far superior, and so death will be gain and not loss. These marvelous bodies that boggle the minds of scientists, as they study their complexity, are mere child's play compared to what we will dwell in the moment we fold up this tattered tent, and enter our permanent palace. In a very real sense, nothing of who we are is ever lost, and it will be a part of our eternal being. We all follow the three fold pattern of Jesus. His first body was the physical body which began at conception. That is where we all begin. It is a temporary tabernacle, but part of it will be a part of us forever, just as the body of Jesus is a part of His eternal being.
The second body of Jesus is the one He had in His intermediate state, when He left His body of flesh on the cross, which He entered again on Easter morning in His resurrection. This is our second body as well. The one we have after we die, and until we are raised again at the resurrection. The third body of Jesus was His resurrection body, which was the combination of the heavenly and the earthly. This is our final body as well. Of these three bodies, the most mysterious is the middle one--the intermediate state body. Millions of Christians believe in the reality of this body, but millions of others do not. They are convinced of all sorts of other ideas about the intermediate state. For example--
1. Many believe in soul sleep. The soul does not need a body after death because it goes into a state of unconsciousness, and has no need for a body until the resurrection. The Anabaptist held to this view, and some Baptists do to this day. A number of the cults also follow this view.
2. The most wide spread idea is that after death the believer is in a disembodied state until the resurrection. In other words, there are only two bodies of man-the now body which is temporary, and the resurrection body which is forever. There is no middle body at all. The problem with this popular view is that it ignores the enormous amount of evidence that man is never naked, but always clothed with the body. We will consider this evidence in another message. Let me close this message by going back to our first point which was Paul's assurance. Paul says if our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building from God. Note his present tense which says, "We have." This building is not something we will have at the resurrection. It is a building we have now. If not so, Paul is still waiting to enter what he thought he had, for the resurrection has not yet happened. He groaned, longing to be clothed with his heavenly dwelling. If this does not happen until the resurrection, Paul is still groaning after nearly 2,000 years. If this be so, it is a rejection of his whole point in comforting the Corinthians. We will examine this in another message, for I have a great deal of evidence to support the conviction that Paul expected to slip out of his tent, and not be naked for 2,000 years, but enter immediately into his heavenly habitation.