Explaining “absent from the body and present with the Lord”
Below we see from 2 Corinthians, one of Paul’s earlier writings, how that Paul at that time had hope of being ‘Raptured alive.’ Paul obviously preferred the idea of immediately be “clothed upon” with his glorious spirit-body (cf. 2Cor. 5:6-8 below) as he would have at the time of being Raptured from the dead or alive when the Lord comes in the air for all grace age believers.
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (KJV)
Note how that the context of 2 Corinthians 5 here below reveals that Paul obviously writes in these verses referring to himself as a ‘living soul’ in a physical body knowing that unless he is Raptured alive, he would one day lay in his “grave” decaying, and thereby leave his … soul “Naked” [v2, below], Unclothed [v4, below].
1 For we know that if our [our soul’s] earthly house [our body] of this tabernacle were dissolved [decayed], we have a building of God, an house [glorious spirit-body] not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be CLOTHED UPON with our house [spirit-body] which is from heaven: 3 If so be that being Clothed we shall Not Be Found Naked.
4 For we [as living souls] that are in this tabernacle [dying body] do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be UNclothed, but [be] CLOTHED UPON [our soul would be clothed with our new, glorious, spirit-body], that mortality [death] might be swallowed up of life.
5 Now he that hath wrought [fashioned] us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather [if it were possible] to be Absent From The Body, and To [Ultimately] Be Present With The Lord. 2 Cor. 1:1-5)
Paul knew the order of things and that the “Judgment Seat of Christ” is to come soon after the Rapture, wherein rewards witll be given for good service to the Lord.:
9Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ [soon after the Rapture]; that every one may receive [reward of] the things [works] done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 2 Cor. 5:1-10 (KJV)
Paul’s epistle to the Philippians was one of Paul’s later prison letters written about 5-7 years after 2 Corinthians, about 5-6 years before his beheading in Rome. This sets the context for his words in Philippians. Early on, in 2 Corinthians Paul had already expressed his knowledge of the possibility of his body dying and decaying and thereby having his soul become Unclothed, Naked in “the grave.” Paul knew the God-ordained sequence of events and that in any case he would ultimately be “be present with the Lord”
18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. 19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by [my] life, or by [my] death. 21 For to me to live is Christ [Christ’s gain], and to die is [my, Paul’s] gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh body], this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not [I don’t know].
23 For I am in a strait [perplexed] betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to [not immediately but ultimately] be with Christ [at the Rapture]; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you [the Philippians]. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; Philippians 1:18-25 (KJV)
Please take time to digest the above verses and my several inserted parentheses. Paul’s words need to be seen in the context of all his writings. Note his understanding in 2 Corinthians 5 and consider that information when reading Philippians 1, which was one of Paul’s latter 7 epistles, being written after Acts 28:28 when Israel had Fully Fallen. So long as the Nation Israel still had a chance of receiving Christ and the Kingdom, the Rapture of the grace-age believers was imminent so as to leave planet earth for heaven before Christ sets up His kingdom on earth. But after their Fall Paul’s expectation of an Imminent Rapture of “the body of Christ” was ‘gone’; Paul then knew the Gentile age was to last.
Philippians 1:18-25 may seem to indicate that a faithful grace believer will be present with the Lord immediately upon death. (This passage is similar to 2 Cor 5:1-10 all above). But Israel’s kingdom was now in abeyance. So now physical death and a time in “the grave” was Paul’s expectation… rather than an immediate transforming ‘change’ into a glorious “incorruptible body” when Raptured alive.
After Israel Fall, being temporarily set aside due to their unbelief (Acts 28:28) it was then known that the Lord would not return to set up His earthly Kingdom imminently. Rather, Paul knew a considerable time might pass during which the Gentiles would be called to salvation “by grace through faith.” The possibility Paul remaining ALIVE until the Lord’s return at the Rapture was then not to be expected. Rather, that hope was passed onto later generation of faithful grace believers such as us who would live not just hundreds, but thousands of years after Paul’s day.
So, Paul in Philippians is speaking of his Preference regarding living or dying. He no longer mentions the hope of remaining alive until the ‘body exchange’ that would occur at the Rapture of the living.
Paul was desirous of being with the Lord and expressed that Whether He Lived or Died, Christ could and would be ‘magnified in Paul’s service or in his Raptured glorious new spirit-body.’ Thus, Paul elaborated, stating “to Live is Christ and to Die is gain.”; but this appears to be a double ellipsis (a contraction whereby some words are implied but missing. Philippians 1:20 above indicates that Christ would be served in either case whether Paul lived or died.
21For me to live is Christ’s gain, and to die is Christ’s gain, But if I live in the flesh [body] this [Christ’s gain] is the fruit of my labor. Philippians 1:21
While it was more fruitful if Paul remained alive, death might have seemed a blessing to this man who was in prison, so he did confess that he was in a “strait betwixt” the two. Ultimately, Paul’s heart’s desire was that He would prefer to depart from this life and be with Christ even if it was after a time of sleep in “the grave,” which would be far better than to be in prison.
Therefore, we as believers should now realize that departing from this life does not imply Being With Christ Immediately. Paul knew the timeline of events and he knew death for him meant a time of sleep in “the grave.” Therefore, Paul wrote this below to comfort to the distressed believers of Thessalonica.
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead [the sleeping ones] in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV)
Many, many, other Scripture suggest there would be a time spent within “the grave” such as these below. But time will not be discernable to those in the grave. We shall awake as though NO Time had passed.
12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. 13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath [Tribulation period] be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Job 14:12-14 (KJV)
So, the recognition of this time in “the grave” spent in the “sleep” of death does not conflict with Paul’s “desire to depart, and be with Christ.” Such words might easily be spoken by any man who expects to fall asleep in death (depart) and then awake sometime later to “be with Christ.” And since there is no awareness of the passage of time while asleep in the grave, death and its sleep could be and should be perceived as a doorway to resurrection into Christ’s presence.
Thus, the verses we’ve considered do not explicitly state that Paul would be with the Lord as a soul or spirit immediately upon his death, but simply outline a man’s longing and desire to be with the Lord.