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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-21

6. Concerning the Future. The Ministry of Reconciliation.


1. The Earthly and the Heavenly House. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8 .)

2. The Judgment Seat of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:9-12 .)

3. The Constraint of Love. (2 Corinthians 5:13-16 .)

4. The Ministry of Reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 .)

The certainty of the future things is brought more fully in view. The apostle had given the great doctrines concerning the resurrection of the body, the coming of the Lord and the blessed hope in his first epistle (chapter 15). In the closing verses of the preceding chapter, he mentioned again the fact of the believer’s resurrection and presentation in the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:14 ) and spoke of the eternal things, the coming glory. And so he continues: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The earthly house of this tabernacle is the body of the believer, the earthen vessel in the previous chapter. It is called a tabernacle (a tent) because it is only the temporary lodging of those who are by grace but strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Yet in this earthen vessel, this frail tabernacle, there is a divine indweller, the Holy Spirit. The apostle speaks of the dissolution of our earthly house, “if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved.” He does not say “when we die,” but only states the possibility that the tabernacle might be dissolved. The dissolution of the mortal body of the believer is not presented therefore by the apostle as a certainty, but only as a possibility. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” was the blessed mystery revealed through the apostle in his first epistle (1 Corinthians 15:51 ). The change of the body of the believer is the certainty, but its dissolution is not. But if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved “we know we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” What do these terms mean? What is the building of God, the eternal house in the heavens? Some have identified it with the Father’s house and its many mansions of which our Lord speaks. But this house of which the apostle writes cannot be heaven, the Father’s house, for it is said to be from heaven and in the heavens. Others have invented a temporary body. They teach that when the believer dies he gets at once a kind of an ethereal body which he will possess between death and resurrection. This is a speculation contradicted by the word “eternal.” Nowhere in the Word of God is it taught that the disembodied spirits of the redeemed are to be clothed with a body before resurrection takes place. The body of the believer in its present state is compared to a tabernacle; the building of God, the house not made with hands, refers to that which the believer shall possess in the future, no longer an earthly house, a tabernacle, but something permanent, of supernatural origin. It is quite evident that the apostle means by way of contrast the spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44 ), which is in store for the believer. This fact is stated once more, but the purpose of these words is not to convey the thought that this house is to be possessed immediately after death: the emphasis is upon “we know” and “we have.” The Spirit of God assures us of the certainty of it. Thus positively every child of God can speak.

“For in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” The groaning is not on account of infirmities, hardship, privations or unsatisfied desires. It is deeper than that. It is the longing for the promised glorified condition with which we shall be invested. “It is the groaning not of a disappointed sinner, nor of an undelivered saint, but of those who, assured of life and victory in Christ, feel the wretched contrast of the present with the glory of the future.” If we, beloved fellow-believer, live close to God, enjoy the fellowship with His Son into which grace has called us, then even in the fairest scenes and in the most attractive earthly conditions, we shall know something of this groaning and longing to be clothed upon with that which is from above and which will fit us to be the vessels of the exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. (The knowledge that at any moment one may change the prison garments of mortality, and as a chosen companion of the King of Kings be found in the likeness of the Lord of Life, must generate a longing for that moment to arrive. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”)

“If so be that being clothed upon we shall not be found naked.” This again is another warning corresponding to the one at the close of 1 Corinthians 9:1-27 . All human beings will be clothed upon with a body, for there is a resurrection of the bodies of the just and the unjust. The wicked dead, standing before the great white throne, will be clothed upon, but, not having Christ, they will be found naked for their eternal shame. And so the apostle warned of the possibility that even among the Corinthians there may be some who, destitute of Christ, only professing to be Christ’s, would then be found naked.

Then again the apostle speaks of the groaning in this tabernacle, the body of our humiliation. His desire is not to be unclothed, that is, unclothed in death, when the body is put into the grave; he desires to be clothed upon, to be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. For this the apostle groaned; and this is what we wait for and not for death. When the shout comes from the air and His voice opens the graves of His saints, we who are alive and remain shall be changed (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ). No death then but mortality will be swallowed up of life. Then our mortal bodies will be quickened. And God has wrought us for this very thing; the evidence of it is the indwelling Spirit, who has made the body of the believer His temple. Then the apostle describes a twofold condition, “at home in the body (the tabernacle) we are absent from the Lord”; and “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” The latter statement is a complete refutation of that evil doctrine called “soul-sleep,” i.e., an unconscious state between death and resurrection. The believer who dies goes into the presence of the Lord and is consciously present there, waiting with the redeemed of all ages, “to be clothed upon with the house from heaven.”

Linked with all this blessed teaching is the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10 ). All, whether saints or sinners, will have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ; certainly not at the same time. There is no universal judgment, when the righteous and the unrighteous appear together before the judgment seat of Christ taught in the Bible. The Saints of God will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, when He has taken them from earth to glory, not at death, but when He comes with the shout in the air. But for His blood-bought people, who constitute His body, who will then be clothed with the house from heaven (the glorified body), there is no more judgment in the sense of condemnation. His own blessed lips have given us the assurance of this. (See John 5:24 --that blessed word!) Nevertheless, there is a judgment seat of Christ for believers. The word “appear” in 2 Corinthians 5:10 is “manifested”. We must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ. Our works and our ways as Christians will then be brought fully into view; all will be brought into the light. Nothing can be concealed, and the believer receives the things done in the body.

“But there is more than this. when the Christian is thus manifested, he is already glorified, and, perfectly like Christ, has then no remains of the evil nature in which he sinned. And he now can look back at all the way God has led him in grace, helped, lifted up, kept from falling, not withdrawn His eyes from the righteous. He knows as he is known. What a tale of grace and mercy! If I look back now, my sins do not rest on my conscience; though I have horror of them, they are put away behind God’s back. I am the righteousness of God in Christ, but what a sense of love and patience, and goodness and grace! How much more perfect then, when all is before me! Surely there is great gain as to light and love, in giving an account of ourselves to God; and not a trace remains of the evil in us. We are like Christ. If a person fears to have all out thus before God, I do not believe he is free in soul as to righteousness--being the righteousness of God in Christ, not fully in the light. And we have not to be judged for anything: Christ has put it all away” (Synopsis).

And thus the believer has no more fear of death, for he knows what awaits him; and the judgment seat of Christ has also no terror for him. But the words of the apostle apply equally to unbelievers. The occupant of the great white throne (Revelation 20:1-15 ) before which the wicked dead appear and will be manifested, is the Lord Jesus Christ. They will be judged according to their works and condemned to eternal darkness and conscious punishment. In view of this the apostle states, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”

And how can we persuade men to flee the wrath to come, unless we preach the Gospel to them? Beautifully linked with this is the constraining power of the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14 ). In his ministry, service, walk and everything else, the great apostle knew this mighty constraint of love. And the cross and its glorious work looms up before his vision, in view of that love manifested there. In Him who, died and who liveth, we are called as well as equipped with power to live unto Him. In faith, as dead with Christ and risen with Him, we look to a risen and glorified Christ in whom we are a new creation, “old things have passed, behold all things are become new.”

Having reconciled us unto Himself by Jesus Christ, He has also given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Having brought us into this blessed position through grace, He calls us to make it known to others and lead others to Him. What we have received we are to use in our ministry. And every reconciled one is called into this service to exercise the ministry of reconciliation and be a soul-winner. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin, He hath made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is the great message of the true minister, and all believers can be true ministers and proclaim the message in Christ’s stead and point sinners to the cross, where He who knew no sin was made sin for us, where redemption full and free is offered to all.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/2-corinthians-5.html. 1913-1922.
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