What Does “Absent From The Body” Mean?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so what does he mean by this?

The Great Equalizer

It seems that death and taxes will always be with us, and although the rich can sometimes find loopholes for their taxes, there is no loophole from escaping death, the ultimate payout in wages for our sinful life, but thankfully God offers the free gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23). If not for God’s grace, none of us could be saved, because not one of us is good enough, and the Apostle Paul says there are no exceptions (Rom 3:10-12). We all fall infinitely short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), and no amount of good works will ever help us because they are not acceptable to God (Isaiah 64:6). We need a righteousness outside of ourselves, but that’s where Jesus Christ helps us. It was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21), so that’s why it’s called the “good news.” We had very bad news in our standing before God without Christ, but it’s the best of news with the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed on our behalf, and that is essential because, the Apostle John says that “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27). God demands holy, sinless perfection, but God supplies what He demands, and that is the very righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. The righteousness we need is found only in Christ and nowhere else, certainly, not in ourselves (Acts 4:12)! The statistics are alarming…ten out of every ten die, but none need die outside of faith in Christ.

Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false

The Temporal

The Apostle Paul was explaining the critical importance of the gospel, and it was “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1 Cor 15:3b-6a), so there were hundreds of eye witnesses, including the disciples, who saw the resurrected Christ. Even though Jesus’ earthly body died, Jesus as God never did, as He told the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), so that shows that even though Jesus’ body died, He never did and those who die in Christ shall live again too (John 11:25-26). Jesus’ body lay dead, but Jesus is God and God cannot die. All of us will die someday, unless Christ’s return precedes that, so there is an appointed time for us to die, and after that, comes the judgment (Heb 9:27), however, Paul says that those who have perished have not died in vain. They will live again, just as Jesus said (John 11:25-26), but we must all face the fact that “by a man came death, [but] by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:51-52). We will be made alive if we have trusted in Christ, but if you die in Adam alone, meaning you die without Christ, there is an eternal separation from God that is irrevocable. That’s why it is critical that you trust in Christ today, while it is still called “today” (2 Cor 5:2). If you harden your heart to this message of hope, you may find it harder to hear His voice, that being the voice of the Holy Spirit.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

The Eternal

There will come a day when all flesh will be joined with the body. The Prophet Daniel wrote of the last days, saying “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:2-3). To be clear, those who die are instantly with the Lord, but not in body, at least not yet, but they are in His presence. Paul states that “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1), so Paul could say “we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6). Most of us would agree with Paul that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8), so what he is saying is, if we are away from the body, we are with the Lord, or “at home with the Lord.” This means that those who die in the faith are present with the Lord after their death. There is no indication there is a waiting period. Jesus told the thief on the cross that that same day he would be with Him in Paradise, and not later, or in a 1,000 years, or after the millennium, but “at home with the Lord,” so to be “away from the body” is to be “present with the Lord.”


I have done many funerals, but if the person who has passed away has trusted in Christ, I say, “It’s not really goodbye, but see you later.” For those who have rejected Christ, it is goodbye, and it is forever. There is one thing about a gravesite. I believe it’s not burial ground, but resurrection ground, because the person is not really there…only their body is, but that too will change someday, for all who believe in Christ will enter into the New Jerusalem, and they will do so with an eternal body; a body that can sit down and eat a meal. Remember, believers have a great banquet to look forward to. It is the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, where the Bridegroom and the Bride or the church, celebrate the great feast in the presence of the Lord (Rev 19:6-9). You too are invited. Isaiah the Prophet writes, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). If you have not yet trusted in Christ, that invitation is still open; at least for now, while it’s still called today (2 Cor 6:2).

Here is some related reading for you: What Happens Right After You Die?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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