A couple weeks ago I did some research through the scripture to understand what Heaven will be like. What I found was encouraging and has helped me to understand some other passages of scripture that I had previously read, but that now stand out, as I have been reading through the books of Corinthians. This is the passage that caught my eyes yesterday:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corinthians 5
As I read this passage my mind immediately took me to the garden of Eden, to chapter 3 of Genesis that says, “they realized they were naked“. Months ago I studied this part of Genesis and came to understand that this nakedness was being used as another way to say sinnful. Think about being naked for a minute. Now imagine standing naked in the middle of a busy marketplace. It is an uncomfortable feeling because you are exposed. There is nothing hidden when you are naked. For Adam and Eve, once they realized they were ‘naked’ – standing completely exposed in their sinfulness – they decided to hide from God. Why would they hide from Him when He already knew what had happened?
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” – Isaiah 6:5
In the above passage Isaiah gets a peek into Heaven and sees God! He is so distraught at the thought of his uncleanness being before a holy & righteous judge that he curses himself. He is literally in agony and pain and would rather die than God look upon him and see his filthiness, his ‘nakedness’. This is why Adam and Eve hide. It’s not because they are literally naked and don’t want God to see their private parts – He made them! – it’s that they don’t want God to see that they have sinned because they know He is holy. Holiness is perfection, righteousness, worthiness of praise. No one is holy, only God. Adam and Eve had known righteousness but chose instead to serve themselves, and now they know death. It’s in this realization that they try to ‘cover up’ their acknowledgment of their sin using leaves so that they can stand before God. But “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” – Isaiah 64:6
In the 2 Corinthians passage Paul describes our current bodies as ‘tents’. The writer of Hebrews uses this idea in chapter 11 when speaking of the faith of Abraham. It says, “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” This ‘promise’ given to Abraham was not just for actual land (the earthly promise was fulfilled to the Jewish nation through Joshua) but it was also for a spiritual land: Heaven. The promise was to inherit the land forever. Forever means forever. Land is temporary. We know this because we have seen it laid to waste and we know from Revelations 21:1 that this earth (and it’s lands) will pass away. Just like land, tents are temporary dwellings that aren’t made to last forever.
So then, the ‘tent’ spoken of by Paul is our earthly body. It’s the same body that Adam and Eve realized as they indulged in the very first sin. God wasn’t joking when He told them ‘if you eat of it you will surely die‘. They went from heavenly dwellings to tents. In that moment of decision to disobey God they lost the ability to stand before Him as clean and righteous. They were now exposed, sinful people, worthy of death for their disobedience to God’s 1 and only law for them. They were now cursed to wander the earth in their ‘tents’ that they created for themselves through sin.
Oppositely, Paul describes our heavenly dwelling as something not made by man. Man makes sin. God does not. God makes righteousness – He IS righteousness. It is God who is the architect and builder of the eternal. Unlike Adam, when Christ was on earth he never once disobeyed the 600+ laws set forth by God over the centuries since Adam’s fall. Christ perfectly fulfilled the law, and then obeyed God again when told it was time to be the sacrifice for all the sins committed by those who had and would trust God and live by faith. Christ willingly paid the penalty required for sin – death. Then, because Christ was not just a man but also God, he defeated death and raised to new life – eternal life. Christ is the embodiment of the ‘eternal structure’ made by God, because he IS God. And amazingly, He offers us a place in this ‘eternal house’ if we believe that He is who the scriptures claim, and if we are willing to sincerely make Him our King. Once our sin has been revealed we have a choice – try to cover it up and hide from God, or hand our lives over to Him and let Him cleanse us.
Now then, the ‘eternal structure’ is something that doesn’t perish like our earthly ‘tents’. The eternal structure is made up firstly of Christ – He is the cornerstone, the one making it all possible, the one in whom everyone else must line up. The foundations of the structure are the prophets who foretold of Christ’s coming through visions given by God, and the apostles who worked alongside Christ to advance His Kingdom and prove His message. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” So what is the structure, that is built on the foundations, that lines up with the cornerstone?
“You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22
Paul writes the letters of Corinthians to people who have faith in Christ. He knows them to be fellow believers in the person and work of Christ, and who have given their lives to Him. It is the people of God, those who are saved, who are the building blocks in the eternal dwelling that God is building. Now that we understand all the background into this very in depth passage, let’s re-read it as we understand it:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed (if we die), we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (the foundation being the apostles & prophets, Christ as cornerstone). 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling (we don’t want to live in this current tent – body of sin), 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked (to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness means our sins our forgiven and we can stand in the presence of God unashamed). 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (our mortal bodies that won’t last forever cause us grief because we still have to deal with sin, but when we are with Christ in heaven we will be free from the presence of sin). 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (The Holy Spirit is our seal, our confidence in the fact that we will indeed some day be made clean and able to be in God’s presence. God has placed Himself inside of those who are His, and unlike us He cannot lie or change His mind.)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'” – Revelation 21:1-4