J. A. Trench.
Article 51 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
As to 2 Corinthians 5:1, do not let us make difficulties for ourselves by putting into the verse what is not there. Nothing comes out of heaven in that verse. The dissolution of the body is in view, and the contrast is drawn between "our earthly house of a tent" — the most transitory of all dwelling places, so easily shifted from one place to another — and a building, and that "of God," in contrast with being "made with hands"; eternal in the heavens, instead of temporal and earthly.
The conscious knowledge of it (oidamen), of such a condition makes us groan (would God it were more commonly the effect!), earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with, or "to have put on," our house which is from (ek) heaven, i.e. heavenly in character. The third verse answers to many another warning note, in the first epistle especially, that all the profession that he has to deal with may not be real — that in the day when there will be no more an unclothed spirit (i.e. spirit apart from body), some will be found awfully naked as never having had Christ as their righteousness; verses 1 and 2 then only belong to true Christians. Then in verse 4 he develops the thought of verse 2 and explains the designed use of the expression "clothed upon." We groan, but not to be unclothed — not to lay down the body in death — but to be clothed upon, which brings in (in one of its effects) the true normal hope of the Christian, that is, the Lord's coming, which is so ingrained into the Christian's life that it does not need to be stated, when all that is mortal will be swallowed up by the power of the life we possess in Him.
Nothing is stated in the passage of the time or manner of the transference from our earthly condition to the glorified one that awaits us, of which the Holy Ghost in us is an earnest; only that we find there, it was no shrinking from the dissolution of the body that made the Apostle turn to the effect of the Lord's coming, for in verse 6 he reverts to the former with all the additional confidence that the knowledge of God's purpose, and the earnest of its accomplishment gives — "knowing that if present in the body we are absent from the Lord," for (ver. 7) we walk by faith, and not in the actual sight of the things we enjoy, "willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord." Thus we have the clear disproof of the thought imported into verse 1, that those who have gone to be with Christ are in the body.
The deeply serious error of such an idea is, that it is the denial of resurrection from among the dead, of which Christ's resurrection was the first-fruits, and that we shall share with Him "at His coming." For in the great chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, the time and manner of our being endued with a body of glory is given us. For if first we have the resurrection of the dead, and the order of it proved by Christ's (vers. 1-23), we have, secondly, that our bodies shall have part in it (vers. 35-49), and finally the manner of its accomplishment — "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump … the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." It is the first action of the hour that is coming (John 5:28-29), in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth, though (with a thousand years between) that coming hour will take in the resurrection of the unjust.
If the theory of 2 Corinthians 5:1 in question could be maintained, to whom would the resurrection apply at His coming? Not to those who have fallen asleep, for each one got his glorified body when he went to be with Christ, and not to those who are alive and remain, for "whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." The power of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life will be made good to such in the same twinkling of an eye by their being "changed"; the corruptible putting on incorruption, and the mortal immortality. The character of the change, and the time of it, being also more particularly defined in Philippians 3:20, where "we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory," by the magnificent display of His power.
If, again, it had been true, would it not have been strange that the Apostle should keep it back from the Thessalonian saints who were sorrowing over those that had fallen asleep, while they had learned to await the Son of God from the heavens, as though they might miss something at His coming? But that rather in the express revelation then first given for them and us (1 Thess. 4:15-18), they are comforted by the fact that they will be the first objects of the attention of the Lord Jesus when He comes. "The dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air."