Eternal in the heavens
2 Corinthians 5:1 An epistle to give hope in the resurrection
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
2 Corinthians 5:1 NASB1995
When I’m trying to get an initial understanding of a verse I’m studying, I sometimes find it instructive to look at the “title” (if any) given to the chapter by those who created a particular translation, and also at the titles used by commentators writing about that chapter.
For 2 Corinthians 5, for example, the NASB translation of the Bible titles this chapter as “The Temporal and Eternal”, the NLT calls it “New Bodies”, the venerable KJV uses “A House Not Built With Hands”, and the NKJV uses the title “Assurance of the Resurrection.” As for the commentaries, Enduring Word uses “The Christian’s Destiny”, Chuck Smith “The Building of God”, and A.R. Fausset “The Hope of Eternal Glory in the Resurrection Body.”
Judging from the wide variety of titles, you’d think that all of the translators and commentators are reading something different, yet they’re all referring to the same chapter. While the titles vary widely, most commentary agrees on the general gist of what Paul was writing in this epistle to the church in Corinth.
Paul used this section of the epistle as an explanation to the early Christians as to what to expect after death. As a tent maker by trade (he used this skill to earn income so as not to burden the people he ministered to), Paul made an analogy that most readers of the time would understand. A tent is generally a temporary structure in which to live for a short time before moving on to another location. By analogy, our earthly bodies are our “tents” until they are “torn down” by death, at which time the believer moves into a “building from God” — a resurrection body.
A destroyed tent, as envisioned by DALL-E 3
He starts the verse with the definitive statement that “we know”, as Christians can know what the next world is like since we know what God’s Word says. The Greek word καταλύω (katalyō) was used by Paul and translated as “torn down” in the NASB95 translation. A better definition of katalyō is “destroy, demolish”, giving the first part of the verse a more conclusive feel of the finality of death.
I did find it odd that this translation says “if the earthly tent is torn down”. Paul and the recipients of the epistle were familiar enough with life and death that it’s surprising he didn’t use the phrase “when the earthly tent…” instead. The NLT translation does use “when”, but most other translations follow the ancient Greek in which this was written, which uses ἐὰν (ean) — a conjunction meaning “if”, denoting some uncertainty. Paul’s reasoning for using ἐὰν escapes me… but I’m sure he had a reason!
When our temporary earthly bodies are destroyed by death, we’ll be moving into resurrection bodies crafted by God, not by man. Our stay in that new house won’t be temporary, but eternal! Our salvation, bought with the blood of Jesus on the cross, isn’t just for our souls — resurrection saves our bodies as well. Whenever I see more grey hair in the mirror, a wrinkle or spot that wasn’t there yesterday, and my hearing and eyesight gets a little worse, I think of what Charles H. Spurgeon said, and it makes me smile:
"The righteous are put into their graves all weary and worn; but as such they will not rise. They go there with the furrowed brow, the hollowed cheek, the wrinkled skin; they shall wake up in beauty and glory."1
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, I thank You for my life and the knowledge that by Your grace and through my faith, I am a new creation in Christ. My earthly dwelling, this human body, will be replaced with a glorious resurrection body formed by You, my Lord and Savior. Remind me daily that this world is not my home, and that I have citizenship and an eternal inheritance awaiting me in heaven. I praise Your holy name, AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)