When we die, will we be immediately in the presence of God?
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
In our passage, the Apostle Paul wrote:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him (2Co 5:6-9, NKJV).
The point of Paul’s statement is that when we are living on earth in our human bodies, we are absent from the physical presence of the Lord. His Spirit, however, is always with us (Mat 28:20). While here on earth we walk in his presence by faith. However, when we die, we are confident that we will be in His physical presence.
The Lord in this context is the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, for all three are mentioned in our passage. The Father and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in 2 Cor 5:5, and the Son is mentioned in 2 Cor 5:10. The entire passage is about our entry into the presence of God upon the death of our body.
In the book of Leviticus, we read of the sacrificial system given to the Israelites for the forgiveness of sin. There we learn that there must be some payment for sinning. There were animal sacrifices, which required the shedding of blood, there were the burnt offerings, there were food sacrifices that consisted of expensive foods such as olive oil, fine flour, etc. Even though God provided a legal way for the forgiveness of sins, those sacrifices were only temporary. Thus, every time someone sinned, that person was required to make some sort of sacrifice for the forgiveness of that sin. The book of Leviticus outlines those sins and their required sacrifices in detail.
The sacrifices are given to the priest at the Tabernacle and later the Temple for disposition. Here are some of the rules the priest must follow when offering burnt offerings to God:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering: The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen trousers he shall put on his body, and take up the ashes of the burnt offering which the fire has consumed on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments, put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place (Lev 6:8-11, NKJV).
Let us focus on the clothing. The priest performing the burnt offering ceremony must change into special clothes before the ceremony, and then must take off the special clothing and don his normal attire after the ceremony. The special clothing is required during the ceremony because the priest performs it in the presence of Almighty God (“on the altar before the LORD“—Lev 6:14, NKJV). The word ‘LORD’ in all caps signifies Yahweh.
The reason for the change of clothing is because the normal attire of the priest, who is a human man, is worn most of the time and the man, because he is human, sins while in his normal clothes. The priestly clothes are holy (Ex 28:2, 4). Holy means set apart or sacred. Sin is not allowed in the presence of God, thus special clothing only worn by the priest and only used in the performance of priestly duties are allowed in God’s presence. The normal everyday clothes represent man in his sinfulness, while the priestly garments represent the absence of sin. As John Gill wrote in his Exposition of the Entire Bible1, the priest wore those special clothes, “because in these he was to minister in the holy place, and perform holy service;” and because these garments were “typical of the holy human nature of Christ our great High Priest, and of his spotless righteousness, and of the garments of sanctification, both outward and inward, that all believers in him, who are made priests unto God, are arrayed with.“
Why? Because if the priest was not wearing those special clothes, he would be considered not clean, but sinful:
Exo 28:43, NKJV They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.
Note also, that when the priest must leave the altar, he must remove his priestly garments and put on his worldly garments, because the priestly garments are holy and set apart from the sinful world (Lev 6:11).
In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7, Solomon wrote about our ageing and death. He writes that as we age and get closer to the time of our passing, we get weaker, our vision dims, our hearing lessens (Ec 12:3, 4), we think less about worldly things (Ec 12:1), and there are fewer of us in our age group (Ec 12:3). In verses six and seven he wrote, “Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecc 12:6-7).
In verse 6, the loosing of the sliver cord, the breaking of the golden bowl, the pitcher shattered at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the well are euphemisms for the death of our human bodies. In verse 7, Solomon tells us that once we die, our body returns to the earth from which it came, and our spirit returns immediately to God, Who gave it.
The question has been asked, “When our spirit returns to God will we be an ethereal or disembodied spirit?” The answer is no.
2Co 5:1, NKJV For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Our earthly house or tent refers to our human body here on Earth. When it is destroyed refers to the physical death of the human body. When we die, the “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” refers to our immortal, incorruptible body we will have in heaven in the presence of God.
2Co 5:2 NKJV For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,
Our groaning is the trials, tribulations, afflictions, suffering, sweat, hard labor, etc. that we endure while in the body on Earth (See Gen 3:17). We desire the habitation or body we will inhabit in heaven that suffers none of the difficulties we suffer in here on Earth in our human bodies.
2Co 5:3 NKJV if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
This is the proof verse that verifies we will not be an ethereal or disembodied spirit when we die. We will be clothed with that “building from God; that house not made with hands, which is eternal in the heavens.” We will not be naked, that is, ethereal or disembodied spirits, but we will be clothed with an eternal, imperishable body.
2Co 5:4 NKJV For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.
Our desire is not to die and be without a body, but to be in heaven in an immortal body when we die. Our eternal life provided by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior swallows up or does away with mortality. This verse tells us that there is an innate desire for eternal life and presence with Almighty God that is baked into our DNA when we are knitting together in the womb.
2Co 5:5 NKJV Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that we who are believers in Christ will not be disembodied spirits when we die, but that we will clothed with immortal bodies. For our summary, we will refer to what Paul wrote in First Corinthians:
Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won’t die or decay. The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true, “Death has lost the battle! Where is its victory? Where is its sting?” Sin is what gives death its sting, and the Law is the power behind sin. But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory! My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile. (1Co 15:53-58 CEV2)
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
Mark Oaks, August 13, 2019