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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

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Verses 1-5

A Building From God

2 Corinthians 5:1. This passage connects directly to the end of the previous chapter. There Paul says that he is not discouraged though his body had fallen into a state of exhaustion through suffering. Here he says why he is not discouraged. In chapter 4 he drew a comparison between our life on earth with all the troubles and difficulties with all that waits for us when we are with the Lord. What is waiting for us with the Lord? The answer is in 2 Corinthians 5:1 “a building from God.” For a Christian there is no uncertainty about it. That is why Paul says “for we know”. This concise statement rules out any doubt.

Chapter 4 makes clear that “the earthly tent which is our house” – the body that we have now – “is torn down”. Peter also calls his body a ‘tent’ (2 Peter 1:13-2 Chronicles :) with which he means that our body is a temporal home in which we will not dwell for eternity. A tent is also a mobile home which means that the earth is not our permanent residence.

So it is with your body. The body which you now have is not the body in which you will spend eternity, for our body shows too many marks of sin. Our body is called “the body our humble state” (Philippians 3:21). God cannot be satisfied to have you with this body with Him in heaven. No, He has something far better for you.

He already has a building for you and this building is not made by human hands but He Himself designed it and built it. This building is not like your present body which is temporal and related to the earth. The building God has prepared for you is eternal and related to heaven. It also belongs to heaven. This building from God is the body you are going to receive when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to take you up.

2 Corinthians 5:2. Now “we groan”. I wonder if you know of this groaning. We groan because we experience the limitations of our body. Groaning is an expression of grief for which there are no words. We groan when we are depressed and when we come across things which we would like to be otherwise but we do not have the means or the way to change them. You have new life and you long to serve the Lord but you are facing hurdles. It is because you are living in a world which is absolutely against the will of God.

You experience discouragement when you share the gospel with people, for they either resist or ridicule. They scoff at God and persecute those who stand up for the Lord Jesus. Then you feel the urge to get released from that ‘earthly tent’ and be clothed with the “dwelling from heaven”.

“To be clothed with” means that our body is a clothing over which another clothing will be pulled so that the clothing underneath will be completely hidden. With “clothed” is meant that our body will be changed at the coming of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:3. At a first look this verse appears to be difficult. When you do not compare and collate it with the previous and following verses you could even think that there are certain ambiguities in this verse. If 2 Corinthians 5:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:4 are clear then you can understand this verse also.

In 2 Corinthians 5:3 the matter is regarding being “clothed” in contrast to “not be found naked”. To be clothed means to have a literal body. ‘Naked’ means to stand before God on your own account. Despite his apron made out of fig leaves Adam felt so when he stood before God after he sinned (Genesis 3:7-2 Samuel :). He no longer felt this nakedness after God provided a covering for it. God used the skin of an animal for this. That means an animal was killed for this purpose. Adam’s nudity was covered on the basis of the death of an innocent animal.

From this you learn that in order not to be found naked you must be clothed upon with a clothing that is provided by God himself. This clothing is the Lord Jesus. The one who does not have this clothing to cover his sins and stands naked before God cannot be clothed with the dwelling from heaven at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Only those who are clothed in the spiritual sense in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:1) will be clothed with that dwelling from heaven.

Although this book has been written for believers perhaps there is someone among the readers of whom it has to be said that despite being clothed he will be found naked should the Lord come at the very moment when he reads this. Then I suggest that such a one should not read further, but go down on his knees and confess his sins to God. He will accept you when you come to Him just as you are.

When you truly repent for your sins, God forgives you on the basis of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. A song which I often sing on the streets along with other believers says in essence that He still wants to forgive you whatever your sins are and when you hand over everything to Him you will be free immediately. This is a great invitation. Accept Him.

2 Corinthians 5:4. Only believers will be “clothed” which means that their bodies will be transformed at the coming of the Lord Jesus. But the meaning is still stronger. In fact the under clothing not only completely disappears but it ceases to exist. The under clothing is swallowed up by the upper clothing and nothing is left. Thus the old is completely replaced by the new (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-1 Timothy :).

What Paul writes becomes still clearer in that he says that he would rather prefer to be clothed than to be unclothed. When the body is compared to a clothing ‘unclothed’ then can only mean to die. To die is like putting off clothing. Paul would therefore rather prefer to experience to be caught up and transformed at the coming of the Lord than first to die and be raised at His coming. So strong was his desire for this house in heaven. Would you emulate him?

2 Corinthians 5:5. The one who did this is eagerly waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus and for all that is related to that event. Everything has been prepared by God and the beauty is that God not only prepared all things for you, but He also prepared you. The proof is that He has given you His Spirit as pledge (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22) once again to see what I have written about this pledge there.

We have already been given the Spirit Who gives us courage because we can look forward to the building from God. The Spirit Himself has come down from heaven and He sees to it that we do not feel at home on earth. But we know for sure that we have an eternal house in heaven.

Now read 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 again.

Reflection: Why do you or do you not long for heaven?

Verses 6-10

The Judgment Seat of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:6. The two-fold statement that we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16) is followed by the also two-fold statement “[we are] always confident” (2 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:8). You get this confidence when you no longer look to the circumstances but only when you look upwards or forward. When you look forward you will see all that you will receive when the Lord comes. When you look upward you see the Lord Who helps you moment by moment.

That does not make you blind to what is happening around you. It is indeed clear to you that as long as you live in the body you are absent from the Lord. This knowledge now is the determining factor for your life as a Christian.

2 Corinthians 5:7. Your life is determined by the things which you do not see, but they are definitely there. Faith is being sure of what we hope or yearn for and it is the evidence of what we do not see with our own eyes at the moment (Hebrews 11:1).

You do not need faith for what you can see with your own eyes. You are sure it is present there. But to see the things the Bible speaks about – and which are also really present – you need faith. The one who does not live by faith but is led only by what is seen has no right to call himself a Christian. Faith is the fundamental principle for the Christian. Being a Christian and faith (in the biblical sense of the word) inseparably belong to each other.

2 Corinthians 5:8. We are not yet present with the Lord and still have our earthly body. But although we are not yet present with the Lord, we do not lack confidence because we have the Lord with us. But we prefer to end our stay in the body and go to the Lord. “To be absent from the body” happens when we die. This must be well distinguished from being clothed upon of which you read in 2 Corinthians 5:4. The latter (here in 2 Corinthians 5:8) refers to the rapture of the church. Whoever dies in faith is immediately after his death present with the Lord Jesus in heaven. He no longer suffers under his sinful nature neither of enmity. He is perfectly happy.

Paul speaks very personally about his desire to depart and be with Christ. He calls it “far better” (Philippians 1:23). But he also adds that he has a task on earth. That is why the Lord let him live here still. This applies to you also. I hope that, although you are young and perhaps have many ideals, yet you want to be present with the Lord. That it is not so far yet is because the Lord wants to use you in His service. This is a great privilege.

2 Corinthians 5:9. Make it a point of honor to speak and act in a way that your life pleases the Lord. When your life’s goal is to live only for the Lord, it does not then make any difference whether you are “present”, which is to live in the body on the earth, or are “absent”, which is to be at home with the Lord in heaven. Wherever you are you will make the Lord Jesus rejoice by living for Him and asking His will in everything.

2 Corinthians 5:10. You might ask how you can still be pleasing to Him when you are “absent”. If you die then there is no more work you can do for the Lord, isn’t that right? But there is still something that is called the “judgment seat of Christ”. I would like to elaborate on this as it is important that this judgment seat leaves an indelible impression on you. Every Christian including you must stand before it. This moment is at the coming of the Lord. Please note that the coming of the Lord is something other than the death of the believer. At death a believer goes up to be with the Lord. The coming of the Lord means the Lord Jesus will come in the air to take the believers to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

At His coming the Lord Jesus will first bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5). You will look back on your life together with the Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it will be like a movie in which you will see again all that you did in and with your body on the earth. Nevertheless there is a difference between the times when you did them and now when you see them again. The difference is that you see your life as the Lord Jesus always saw it.

What He especially will bring to light are your motives which led your life. There will be things of which you thought that the Lord would be happy about, but of which the Lord will show you that your own glory was also connected with it. There will also be things to which you did not attach much importance, but of which the Lord might say how particularly He appreciated them. Before the judgment seat of Christ everything will be put in the right perspective and measured with the Divine standard. There will not be any indiscrimination in the reward and a mistake is impossible. Everyone will receive a reward due to him and will be convinced of the genuineness of his method of validation. There will be no protest.

When I think of the judgment seat of Christ I desire to be well pleasing to Him at that place so that He will be able to say: “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23). The one who makes it his aim to live well pleasing to the Lord will receive the due honor before the judgment seat when his life on earth comes to an end. There will not be a marked difference between the judgment of the Lord and the judgment of the servant. We will not be surprised by His judgment although we can be mistaken.

We could have erred in our judgment but isn’t it still beautiful to hear the judgment of the Lord and be at last completely in agreement with His judgment of our life? The reward for what we have done in our service to the Lord will be presented in the form of authority over cities in His kingdom (Luke 19:16-Psalms :). The Lord Jesus will erect this kingdom after we have been revealed.

May be you are afraid of appearing before the judgment seat of Christ, fearing that you will be assigned to hell by the Judge. Do not let this thought frighten you, for it will not be so. Just bear in mind that the Judge Who sits on the judgment seat is your Savior Who died for your sins on the cross. God has already judged your sins there and you will not be subjected to His judgment again (cf. John 5:24; Romans 8:1). God is not unjust and He will not punish sin twice. This appraisal of your life has nothing to do with your eternal destiny, but with a reward you will receive for your life as a believer on the earth.

May be there are a few things in your life of which you know that they are not pleasing to the Lord and therefore you are still a bit afraid of the judgment seat. That you can change. Unreservedly confess to the Lord all that could hinder your joy when you think of the judgment seat of Christ.

Now read 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 again.

Reflection: How do you imagine the judgment seat of Christ will be?

Verses 11-15

One Died for All

Before we start with 2 Corinthians 5:11 let me share a few more thoughts about the judgment seat of Christ. The Lord Jesus will pronounce His judgment from the judgment seat at three different interludes. Three different groups of people will appear before the Judge at three different intervals. We can say there will be three different sessions:

1. The first session will take place when the church is caught up and all the believers are revealed. We saw this already in 2 Corinthians 5:10 of this chapter.

2. The second session will take place when the Lord Jesus has returned on earth (cf. Matthew 25:31-1 Corinthians :). He will sit on “His glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31) and all the nations of the earth will be gathered before Him. The nations will be judged by Him according to their attitude towards those He calls “these brothers of Mine” who preached the gospel of the kingdom during the time of the great tribulation.

3. The third session will take place at the end of the millennium. In this session the judgment seat is the “great white throne” (Revelation 20:11). Before this throne will appear all the people who have lived on the earth and died in unbelief. They are people who never repented for their sins and returned to God. They will be judged according to what is written about them “in the books” (Revelation 20:12). On the basis thereof they will be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

2 Corinthians 5:11. The thought of the judgment seat should urge you to live for the glory of God and to warn people of the impending judgment. You know “the fear of the Lord”, don’t you? Paul had no doubt about it and therefore he persuaded men. “Persuade” is a not friendly requests but an insistent warning. The judgment seat has an impact upon your life to live for the glory of God, and this also impacts others. You will share the gospel with them.

Paul was not afraid of the judgment seat. He was quite transparent before God. He was always conscious of the fact that God looked into his inner life and he was pleased with that. Also before the Corinthians his life was always transparent and he had nothing to hide from them and hoped that they would see this in him. Some people spoke ill of him saying that he was after his own glory. Once suspicion is sowed it is difficult to judge the innocent victim – in this case Paul – properly and sincerely.

2 Corinthians 5:12. He adds to refute the charge that he is after his own glory. He matters not about himself but on the contrary about them! By his manner of life they had reason to boast. The Corinthians accepted the gospel not from some stranger, but from someone who stood behind his message with his whole life. There were many other preachers who came to them with an outward appearance. Their aim was self-acclamation. They merely kept an outward appearance and they did not speak from their heart. They were mainly concerned with their name and fame. They could perhaps rouse the audience with their speech, or they could boast of their lineage. Paul spoke to their heart and fed their soul leaving behind no grounds for self-glory.

2 Corinthians 5:13. He wanted to serve the believers. People could say that he was sometimes beside himself, ‘in ecstasy’. Others could say that he was out of his mind. Let such people just talk. Anyone who reads the Word of God with love and rejoices in the Lord Jesus will end up in intense joy and delight. God and the Lord Jesus are everything to them. I hope you also know such exhilarating moments.

But you can also be sober-minded as Paul was. Then you can speak to your fellow believers about every day activities like eating and drinking or about your work, marriage etc., of course in the light of the Bible.

2 Corinthians 5:14. The love of Christ is the only right motive for all that you do. His love was so great that He gave Himself to death for sinners. That the Lord Jesus had to die speaks volumes about the condition to which mankind had come. That means every man is dead. Death means there is no life for God. We “were dead in … trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

The fact that the Lord Jesus died for all shows that there was no one who lived according to God’s expectation. The death of the Lord Jesus shows how hopeless was and is the condition man brought himself to with his sins. Man could not free himself. How can a dead person do anything?

The uniqueness of the gospel message is that the Lord Jesus has done what no man could do, namely, to give life to men who are sentenced to death. This became possible because He did not enter death because of His own sins. He never did anything that deserved the death sentence. He took this place voluntarily and out of love and for the sake of others so that everyone who believes in Him passes from death to life (John 5:24).

2 Corinthians 5:15. For the second time it is said that He died for all. Now it has become possible for everyone to be saved through what He has done. Every man is dead. The Lord Jesus voluntarily took death upon Himself and made Himself one with the condition in which every man found himself. That does not mean that every person is now saved. Salvation from sin and the judgment of God will benefit only the one who personally and sincerely confesses his sins and believes that the Lord Jesus died in his place on the cross. The one who has done this lives and will continue living. He has passed from death to life as mentioned in John 5 (John 5:24) to which I already referred.

It was so with you also. The life that you received is Divine life. When you were dead you were living, but you lived for yourself. That was not the real life. The life that you now received is the eternal life which is not the life in which you are the center of attention. God has given you this life so that you can live for the One Who died and rose again for you. The Lord Jesus is the center of the new life that you have received.

It is a privilege to live for the Lord Jesus, you may always think of that. But here it is presented as a normal thing, nothing exceptional but as a natural course of life. The Lord Jesus died in order to show you the true meaning of life and let you live the real life. A person really lives only when he serves God and Christ. He has been created for this purpose. Every person who lives for himself has missed the actual goal of his life. Unfortunately there are plenty of Christians who do not understand this.

God and the Lord Jesus know that you will find the greatest joy and satisfaction, if you live for Him Who died and rose again for you. Every devoted Christian will testify to this.

Now read 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 again.

Reflection: How does ‘the love of Christ’ work in you?

Verses 16-21

In Christ a New Creation

Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, God showed how He judges everything on earth. Since the fall of man God is not able to find anything here in which He could have His joy. Soon after the fall God had to testify that the wickedness of man was great. Of the earth He had to conclude that it was corrupt before His face and filled with violence (Genesis 6:5-1 Kings :). That never changed since then, although God gave man countless blessings.

The greatest blessing, doubtless, is that the Lord Jesus came to the earth. How many blessings He spread around Him! But what did men do? They filled up the measure of their wickedness by crucifying the Lord Jesus. Now as for God the measure filled up and reached a stage where He really couldn’t do anything with man. The fallen man was set aside. He is no longer useful.

2 Corinthians 5:16-Esther :. Then God starts working in a different and new way. He makes all those who believe in the Lord Jesus a new creation. As for God the one who believes that the Lord Jesus died and rose again is placed in another area. There the way of living is totally different, with a completely different attitude and motives and a different goal. Your relationship with your family members and your neighbors has changed. You regard no one according to the flesh.

What does that mean? Do you now need to no longer listen to your parents, your teachers or your boss? Do you now have nothing to do with what others say? No, this is not what is meant here. ‘Regarding no one according to the flesh’ means you view people around you and things around you from your new position and not any longer in the earthly way. You are still living on the earth and you are standing in earthly relationships, but you yourself are a new creation. Paul even goes to the extent of saying that he now knows Christ in a way other than what is according to the flesh. What he means is that he didn’t see Christ as Man on the earth but as the glorified Lord in heaven. For when the Lord Jesus came with the intention of being accepted by His people, they rejected Him. Consequently the establishment of His kingdom on the earth is postponed and now He is in heaven.

The old has passed away, for God does not expect anything from man anymore. God tried everything to bring something good out of man but without result. For the Christian everything is new. He is connected to and made one with a Christ in heaven and not on earth. His life’s realm is where Christ is because he is in Christ. This is how God sees you also.

2 Corinthians 5:18. God Himself invented all. He found a solution to bring you into this new position. With your old nature you couldn’t be placed in Christ. Therefore God reconciled you with Himself. Reconciliation is a necessity when there is enmity between two parties. There was hostility between God and man. God was not man’s enemy, but man was God’s enemy. Man became the enemy of God by his sins. It is not God Who must be reconciled to man but conversely man must be reconciled with God.

Man could not provide a solution but God provided one for him in Christ. Reconciliation proceeded from God. The power of reconciliation is such that God changed man, His enemy, into His friend. Through Christ God brings the reconciled man to a new relationship with Himself. Isn’t it great?

Paul draws the conclusion that the ministry of reconciliation has been given to him. In a certain sense you also may draw this conclusion. The one who is reconciled will testify to it.

2 Corinthians 5:19. That Christ was in the world is proof that God wanted to reconcile the world to Himself. By sending His Son into the world God made a reconciling gesture to the world.

The reconciliation itself was to take place only through the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. He came to reconcile and “not counting their trespasses against” people and to settle a score with the world. The Lord Jesus said: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

But the world did not know Him. That’s why reconciliation of the world is still future. The Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God has already accomplished the requirements for this reconciliation of the world on the cross of Calvary (John 1:29). Also Colossians 1 speaks about the future reconciliation of the world (Colossians 1:20). The verses following show that reconciliation already applies to all who have accepted the Lord Jesus.

The ministry of reconciliation consists in carrying out “the word of reconciliation” in word and life, which means the preaching concerning reconciliation. The message must now be carried out by all who are reconciled. You know what it means to be reconciled. You were an enemy of God and the wrath of God rested on you. But by Him you have been made a new creation in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:20. You are still in a world hostile to God, and Christ expects that you are acting as an ambassador here. An ambassador is the one who represents the interests of his own country in another country and gives an impression as good as possible of his home country in the foreign land. In the same way you are here as an ambassador for Christ. You have the great privilege and the great responsibility to represent Christ here and bring His message in word and deed. God wants to appeal through your whole life to the conscience of the people who are to be reconciled to Him.

But God does not want this to be done in a haughty manner. You can talk to people persuasively and confront them with the truth of God in a way that scares them, but you always must take care that you give your message with all humility in agreement with the spirit of the One Whom you represent. That’s why it says: “We implore [you] on Christ’s behalf.” This kind of persuading is unfamiliar to the world where people want to persuade with impressive arguments and evidences to degrade and discredit others.

2 Corinthians 5:21. “Be reconciled to God” is an invitation from the God of heaven and earth Who gave His own beloved Son to death. God not only gave Him to death but put to death His Son Himself. The Lord Jesus is here referred to as the One “Who knew no sin”. He was the sinless One. He had nothing to do with sin and had no part in it. Therefore He was the delight of God in His whole life as He had always been in heaven before He became Man.

This unique Man was made sin by God. That did not happen in His life time on earth but only in the three hours of darkness on the cross. There He was identified with sin that found its way into the world. There the complete wrath of God against sin was turned on Him. There sin was judged and blotted out before the face of God.

That the righteousness of God manifested itself in the judgment of His Son is seen in everyone who has accepted reconciliation. God is righteous when He sees you in Christ, because Christ made all well for you. God relates everything to that. All that God made of you, you are because of the work of Christ.

How much we have to think about and to thank God for. What reasons we have to tell others about it!

Now read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 again.

Reflection: How can you be an ambassador for Christ?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/2-corinthians-5.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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