Jefferson reflects on the verses about earthly tent when the tent he is using on the Appalachian Trail is beyond repair.
throwing away the old tent
Like we did so many times before, my wife and I packed up our cheap, five dollar tent in my expensive backpack, and headed out for a day of tramping and camping. Our favourite place to do this is the Appalachian Trail, over 3,500 kilometres of amazing wilderness, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, U.S.A. The trail has a number of sleeping shelters within it, so we did not often have to set up our tent. It was small and old, and not so protective, so we only packed it as a last resort. This time, however, we were not going to go out for several days. We had only enough time for a day’s walk, then we were going home. So, we decided not to stay out on the trail, but in a nearby campground – hence the choice to set up our tent.
Bad idea. The rains came, and they persisted. That little tent which had been just right on warm Summer nights when the elements were cooperative, proved to be somewhat less than adequate. Our clothing was drenched, our sleeping bags were soaked, and we endured a night without sleep as we waited for the soggy morning.
When morning came, our wet clothing and sleeping bags were to be rescued because the campground had a coin laundry on site. Good idea. But we decided that the tent was beyond rescue. We ditched it in a dumpster. It was time to throw away the old tent.
Interestingly, the apostle Peter spoke of his soon death using similar words :
“Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.”1
Is that what Peter actually said, and what did he mean? It would be helpful to explore that statement more fully.
The statement is better understood by reading it in its wider context. Here are verses 10 to 15 in a modern version:
“…make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin. 11 For thus an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be richly provided for you. 12 Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. 13 Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, 14 since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. 15 Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.”2
Peter is expecting to die soon, and he reflects back on the fact that Jesus had revealed that he would die as an old man, before Christ’s return.3 He refers to his coming death as the removal of his old tent. Interestingly, He does not say that he will immediately go on to possess his new tent. Many assume that he is talking about shedding his old body and immediately receiving a new, glorified body. If Peter believed this, he would have had a good opportunity to teach it here. But he stops short. The only thing he teaches about his death here is that the present tabernacle (body) will be put off.
The apostle Paul had said something similar. He spoke of death as the putting off of the earthly house.
“For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed, after we have put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked. 4 For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”4
Paul had mentioned the next expectation. He expected to put on a heavenly house after he took off the earthly one. But, again, what Paul actually said comes short of what many of us were taught in Sunday School as kids. Paul did not say that the putting on of the heavenly house would happen at death. Silly of him to miss that opportunity. Instead, Paul implied that there would be an embarrassing period of nakedness, which he did not want, but which would be inevitable before getting the heavenly dwelling.5
Of course, Paul had explained more about this event in his previous letter to the Corinthians:
“…if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him.”6
So, if we are to read our Bibles as if they were actually inspired by an all-knowing Holy Spirit, the sequence of death to resurrection according to both apostles is as follows:
- physical death (the putting off of the present tabernacle/earthly body).
- the intermediate state (being unclothed/without a living body/being asleep).
- resurrection (the putting on of the heavenly house/being made alive again).
I know that is not what so many have been taught, but that is the sum total of what Peter and Paul taught in these scriptures. The sequence does not require a conscious intermediate state to reconcile the actual statements. One does not have to borrow an unbiblical concept from pagan philosophy (the immortality of the soul) to understand them. The statements are simple and clear without that kind of syncretism.
Penny and I have not yet purchased our replacement tent. It is late in the season, and we have a move planned, so we are waiting for the appropriate time. Until then, we have to do without one. The Bible describes the Christian’s death like that: a period of waiting for a better tent, not the automatic reception of one.
Read More Articles
- Defending a bit of unconsciousness
- The Unconscious Intermediate State | Scaling the Wall (part 1)
- The seed picker speaks | Acts 17
- 2 Peter 1:14 KJV.
- 2 Peter 1:10-15 NET.
- John 21:18-19.
- 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 NET.
- 2 Corinthians 5:3,4.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19-23 NET.