2 Corinthians 5:1-5. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
What happens when we die?
Of course you’ve asked this question, at least in your own mind. If you’ve grown up going to church, you’ve probably asked your Sunday school teacher or pastor this question once or twice over the years. Or maybe this is something you’d rather not think about. As a culture we’re not very good at talking about death.
Maybe you think of death as either ushering you UP into Heaven or DOWN into Hell. Heaven of course is where we float around playing harps. Just yesterday I received a text from a church friend who, speaking of someone that had passed away, said that she was now “God’s angel.” Or just look at Michelangelo’s depiction of the afterlife…clouds, floating, and I’m not sure what is happening down there at the bottom.
But this isn’t how Paul describes life after death. He describes the transition as like a house. We go from a tent to a building. In fact, we already have a building from God. Our body is a humble tent now, but one day it will be a big brick building. This is guaranteed. Our new building is waiting for us.
Then he switches to a clothing metaphor. We are clothed now, but one day we will be further clothed. We will put on more layers when we die, and we won’t be naked.
What does all this mean? It means that we will live forever physically. Tents are physical. But so are buildings. Clothes are physical. But so are more clothes. If we were just a soul or spirit, we would be naked. But we won’t live forever naked, we will live forever clothed. The word Paul uses means putting on clothes over top of clothes you are already wearing. In other words, we will live forever with our existing body, just way better. That is, we will live forever in a glorified spiritual yet physical body. A physical body whose mortality will be swallowed up in life [zoe]. Christ’s life.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
When we are united to Christ we undergo two major transformations. One inner and one outer. Paul has already walked us through our inner spiritual renewal. We are being transformed by the Spirit into the image of Christ in the inner man. Life is at work in us spiritually even as death is at work in us physically.
2 Corinthians 3:18. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 4:16. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
But it is not just our inner man that will be renewed and transformed. Our bodies will also be transformed. In a moment. In the “twinkling of an eye.” At the resurrection of the dead as Christ returns to claim us as his own.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
“To live is Christ” means that all of this is our hope. Our longing. Our guarantee by the Spirit. We will live forever. We will never be “homeless.” We will never be “naked.” We will experience everything eternity has to offer physically, in a body. A body that will be perfectly suited for the indwelling life of Christ. God has prepared us for this. Until then we groan.
How do you see the afterlife? Are you convinced that you will live forever physically with God? Does this excite you? Confuse you? How does your union with Christ prove what Paul is saying? How might your physical immortality change how you live today?
This is still one of the best songs about the physicality of the afterlife. Classic.