I understand the concept of “soul sleep,” but doesn’t the Bible say that I have a home in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1)?
The belief that we go to heaven when we die is widespread within Christianity and without it. This in itself illuminates a truth buried in every human heart, that there must be more to life than this life. But despite its popularity, the Bible does not talk much about going to heaven. Rather, the Christian hope of Scripture travels in the other direction: Jesus is bringing heaven to earth in the resurrection at His return (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3).
The hope of resurrection is the clear emphasis of the New Testament (Acts 23:6; 24:15). So is 2 Corinthians 5:1 an exception? Let’s look at the text closely: “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.”
First, Paul contrasts our earthly and eternal “tent,” a common metaphor for the body. It’s the same word John used for Christ’s Incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us” (John 1:14). Paul’s tent imagery echoes his teaching from 1 Corinthians, where the body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19). And his contrast of a corruptible natural body with an incorruptible resurrected spiritual body (15:42-53) parallels his contrast of our destructible “earthly house” with “a building from God . . . eternal in the heavens” in 2 Corinthians 5:1.
Second, Paul describes this eternal house as “from God” and “from heaven” (vv. 1, 2). We are not going to it; it is coming to us. Unlike popular pagan thinking of the time, Paul does not view being “found naked” (without a “tent,” or disembodied) as our hope (vv. 3, 4). Rather, he anticipates us being clothed, with a heavenly body prepared in the heavens and coming to us from there.
Lastly, it is plain from 2 Corinthians 5:1’s wider context that Paul’s “tent” imagery has the resurrection of the body in mind. Our groaning to be clothed and “mortality . . . swallowed up by life” (v. 3, 4) echoes resurrection passages like 1 Corinthians 15:54 and Romans 8:22, 23. Most significant is the immediate context of 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul has been talking about Christ’s return, the resurrection, and temporal vs. eternal since 4:14: “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus.”
While 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 is not talking about what happens when we die, it does assure us of a heavenly hope and home to come. As Jesus promised, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3).
So what happens between our earthly and eternal tents? Paul describes it best: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “Sleep in Jesus” suggests that in death we not only rest in Him but also will awake with Him. It means death itself does not — and cannot — separate us from Christ, for we are in Him: “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
Elder Jason Overman
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