Question: In 2 Corinthians:1:8-10, Paul speaks of the hope he has of his future deliverance from the great trouble he had in Asia, deliverance by “God which raiseth the dead.” He expects to be delivered by the resurrection....Paul will rejoice with and over the Corinthians not when he goes to heaven but “in the day of the Lord Jesus,” when the saints are resurrected. He says that our confidence is in “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you....” Isn’t it strange that if we are to “go to heaven” the Bible never explicitly says so? It speaks often of the resurrection...of the...day of our Lord [and] of the dead who are described as sleeping, but never of anyone rejoicing in heaven.
Paul expected to be presented to the Lord on that day...[not] when he died and went to heaven. He says, “If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God...eternal in the heavens...our house which is from heaven...” (2 Corinthians:5:1,2). Notice it is a house (resurrected body) FROM heaven, not IN heaven. And when did Paul expect this house from heaven to be given to him?...Verses 6-8: “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” From what Paul has said about the resurrection, the day of the Lord, his rejoicing on that day, being clothed with a resurrected body, to be “absent from the body...present with the Lord” is not to be in heaven immediately upon dying but in his new body at the resurrection.... In verse 10 he says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
When will that be? When Christ returns, raises our bodies and establishes His Kingdom: “...the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom...” (2 Timothy:4:1)! Paul said he wished to be clothed with a new tabernacle...rather to be present with the Lord than in his present body. The moment after Paul dies, the next thing of which he will be conscious is the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of the saints. In all humility, I would suggest that those who use 2 Corinthians:5:6-8 to “prove” that the dead are conscious in heaven are twisting the scriptures.
Response: In 2 Corinthians:1:8-10, Paul refers to trouble he had in Asia, from which he was delivered. This is past and accomplished, having nothing to do with the resurrection. He trusts also that the Lord will likewise deliver them from future troubles. His reference to “God which raises the dead” does not mean that deliverance from trouble in Asia will be deferred until he is raised from the dead— it is a recognition of God’s great power.
The fact that Paul will rejoice “in the day of the Lord Jesus” because of the resurrection of the body in final victory over death does not even imply, much less say (as you suggest), that he will be in an unconscious state after his death and will not rejoice until that time.
The Bible never speaks of our going to heaven? Are you suggesting that the “Father’s house [of] many mansions” to which Christ promised to take us (Jn:14:2,3) is not in heaven?! Paul’s declaration that we will be caught up “to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”(1Thes 4:17) does not say that Christ will take us to heaven?! Then where will we “ever be with the Lord”? I know you believe in the Rapture, so perhaps you mean that other than at the Rapture there is nothing about taking us to heaven.
Consider this: “...the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom [and] comforted” (Lk 16:22-25). Jesus told the believing thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Clearly, believers before Christ’s resurrection were taken to the “paradise,” where Abraham (and presumably all other believers) resided in conscious bliss. The fact that before Christ’s ascension the place to which the believing dead went is distinguished from heaven is proof enough that upon death believers were always taken to a place of conscious existence. If all were unconscious until the Rapture, there would be no need to distinguish between where they went, then and now. Surely, Paul’s declaration, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord [who we know is in heaven]” could only mean that “paradise” was emptied at the resurrection, and, from that time on, believers who died were not taken there but to heaven, as it is today.
Furthermore, Paul declares that those who “sleep in Jesus [i.e., who died with Christ] will God bring with him” (1 Thes:4:14) to be reunited with their resurrected bodies at the Rapture. “Bring with him” from where? Obviously, from heaven, where they must have been with God and Christ. This again clarifies what Paul meant by “absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
And no “rejoicing in heaven”? Certainly those in heaven who “shall reign on the earth,” as Christ promised His disciples, and who sing the new song in front of the throne unto the Lamb who was “slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rv 5:9) are rejoicing! Will the marriage of the Lamb to His bride (Rv 19:7,8) be a somber affair, with no rejoicing?! The Bible says, “Let us be glad and rejoice...for the marriage of the Lamb is come”! Perhaps you mean there will be no rejoicing in heaven before the Rapture. But David said, “In thy presence is fulness of joy...” (Ps:16:11). That sounds like rejoicing in heaven long before the Rapture.
The statement that our new bodies are “from heaven” doesn’t mean they were formed in heaven but that they are created by the God from heaven. Of course, we only get new bodies at the resurrection; but this doesn’t mean that our souls and spirits, which are “absent from the body, and...present with the Lord” (2 Cor:5:8), have been unconscious in His presence. What would be the point of being “present with the Lord” in an unconscious state? And why would Paul desire this with such passion? To say that “absent from the body...present with the Lord” means “not in heaven immediately...but in [a] new body at the resurrection” makes no sense. How can we be “absent from the body” and at the same time be in a new body?! Clearly we must be present with the Lord during the time we are “absent from the body.”
If Paul, at death, could only look forward to knowing nothing until the resurrection, why did he write: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil:1:21)? To be unconscious and know nothing is gain compared with serving Christ? Why did he have “a desire to depart and to be with Christ” and call that “far better” if he would be unconscious until the resurrection?
Proof that “absent from the body, present with the Lord” means to be consciously in Christ’s presence isn’t confined to 2 Corinthians:5:6-8. As mentioned above, Christ told the believing thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). What would “paradise” mean to an unconscious person? Surely “paradise” was “Abraham’s bosom,” where the beg- gar Lazarus went upon dying (Lk 16:22). Abraham was conscious, as was “the rich man in hell.” How will “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God [cry] with a loud voice” for vengeance upon those who killed them if they are unconscious (Rv 6:9-11) until their resurrection?
That Christ “shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Tm 4:1) does not refer to the “judgment seat of Christ” for the saints but to a judgment of the lost on earth when “before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them...as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-46). The judgment of the saints for reward or loss takes place in heaven. Obviously, that will have to be after the Rapture, when all the saints are there— but it doesn’t mean that those who previously died are unconsciously “with Christ”!